License request day: Barbara

Reading a deranged drama by Osamu Tezuka always makes me want to read another deranged drama by Osamu Tezuka. They’re like peanuts. So the recent arrival of Tezuka’s The Book of Human Insects from Vertical (which is awesome) has triggered this craving and sent me on the hunt for the next possible gekiga license from the God of Manga. Fortunately, there’s one that’s already been published outside of Japan that sounds like it would be an excellent follow-up to Insects.

I’m not sure where Tezuka’s two-volume Barbara originated, other than that Kodansha originally published it, but it’s been released in French by the Akata imprint. Like Insects, it’s about a novelist, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.

The novelist, Yosuke Mikura, is really popular, and two power brokers want to marry him off to their daughters to raise their own profiles. Little do they know that Mikura is kind of a super freak when it comes to amour, and he finds his own romantic prospect in the form of our titular gamin.

Of course, Barbara has her own baggage. She’s described as a “young hippie alcoholic,” which is more than enough on its own to sell me on the title. Tezuka’s weird blend of sympathy and contempt for counter-culture characters is always riveting to read, and it usually results in a number of mean-spirited giggles, at least wherever I happen to be reading.

Better still, translations indicate that Barbara is kind of a bitch and gives our sex-crazed auteur a run for his money. Insects also left me eager to see another complex, difficult woman character emerge from Tezuka’s pen, and Barbara seems to fit the bill. (If she’d just been an inspiring waif, I’d have probably picked Gringo or something like that.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’d still love to read lots and lots of Tezuka’s general-audience work (Rainbow Parakeet comes to mind), but his whack-job seinen will always jump to the top of my to-read pile.

This brings us to a mini-contest. I happen to have a clean, extra copy of The Book of Human Insects, so here’s the deal: email me at davidpwelsh at yahoo dot com with your choice for a Tezuka license request by midnight Saturday, Oct. 15, and your name will go into the hopper to receive said copy of Insects. If you don’t need a copy but still want to weigh in on your Tezuka wish list, leave a comment! Or do both!

From the stack: Bakuman vol. 3

I probably wouldn’t have picked up Bakuman (Viz) on my own. I can’t remember the exact reasons for that decision, but I’m sure they had something to do with the notion of people who make comics making a comic about people who make comics. It’s not a favorite subject unless the people who make those comics happen to be French.  But Viz sent me a review copy of the third volume, so I figured, “Why not?” Now, in spite of the fact that Bakuman has few of the elements I usually look for in a comic I’m likely to enjoy, I have to go find the first two volumes.

So what are those things that I usually like that are absent here? For one, I like engaging protagonists. Writer Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated Takeshi Obata (you may recall them from Death Note, also from Viz) tell the tale of would-be mangaka, writer Akito Takagi and illustrator Moritaka Mashiro as they try and build their careers. They’re in high school, but that’s not improbable on its face, and they seem to be making some traction. Unfortunately, they’re boring people. Neither displays the quirky passion that makes for a great shônen hero with a dream.

For another, I like a story with stakes. While the stakes are enormous for Takagi and Mashiro, I didn’t share their urgency at all. Maybe I’ll be better able to invest in their dreams after reading the first two volumes, but that still leaves the fact that these boys don’t have much going for them. On the subplot front, each has a girlfriend of sorts. Mashiro’s wants to be a voice actress in anime, and Takagi’s is the sporty, outgoing type. If either girl ever went an inch beyond type, I can’t remember it. And I also like interesting female characters, so there’s another strike.

And while I generally have no problem with dialogue-driven storytelling (hi, Fumi Yoshinaga!), Bakuman indulges in this approach to a ridiculous extreme. I remember thinking that the final volume of Death Note was just one big word bubble, and Bakuman shares that tendency to natter. It’s all tell, and virtually no show.

So why do I feel compelled to pick up the previous and future volumes? It’s because I suspect that Bakuman’s failings as shônen are entirely the point. Why else would Ohba and Obata go to such lengths to have their characters articulate what makes great shônen manga, to fully explore its key elements, only to willfully avoid incorporating them into their own actual manga? I’m casting my vote with “intentionally postmodern.”

Ohba an Obata talk a lot about manga, not simply as a creative process but as a profession. They talk about the vagaries of popularity, the self-perpetuating structure of magazines like Shônen Jump, the tyranny of reader polls, the weird formula of creative inspiration and commercial instinct, and so on. It’s not quite cynical, but it’s certainly frank, especially when you consider the fact that it actually runs in Shônen Jump, the very magazine it routinely criticizes. Of course, the criticism is generally reasoned and sounds fair, but still.

Without the almost clinical self-examination of the manga industry, there really wouldn’t be anything to take away from Bakuman. But the examination is there, and it’s undeniably compelling. I don’t really care if Takagi and Mashiro become big successes or fail miserably, but I don’t think I’m supposed to care. I think I’m supposed to enjoy the fact that Ohba and Obata are peeling back the curtain and showing that the creation of thrilling fantasy can be very dull indeed.

Update: Deb (About.Com) Aoki spreads the word about Viz’s Bakuman Fan Art Contest.

We have a Drunken winner

Congratulations to Julia on winning the copy of Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics). As you may recall, I asked entrants to pick a manga-ka who should receive the curatorial treatment. Here’s Julia’s choice:

“I’m going to pull a selfish-license-request and go with Machiko Satonaka, another older era shojo manga artist. I’ve fallen in love with what I’ve seen of her artwork, especially the historical and period pieces and would love to read something longer by her, even if it’s short stories. I think she’d fit in nicely with the classic manga line.”

Other recommendations included:

  • Eiichiro Oda for “a passion and determination that are hard to match in any author.”
  • Hagio assistant Yukiko Kai, “who has earned comparisons to such masters of modern Japanese literature as Yukio Mishima and Osamu Dazi from her fans deserves to be more well known to the English speaking world.”
  • Katsuhiro Otomo, so that we can “have those lesser-known stories from an acknowledged master more widely available.”
  • Shio Sato, “based entirely on the fact that [the entrant] love[s] ‘Changeling’”.
  • Yuu Watase, best known for some big hits here but who also has “quite a number of short stories under her belt, with several small anthologies of her work published in Japan.”
  • Reiko Shimizu, “an older shoujo mangaka, though not of the same generation as Hagio.”
  • By the way, one of the entrants asked a question I can’t answer, so I’ll throw it out there:

    “Just out of curiosity, you don’t happen to know if any of Ursula K. LeGuin’s works have been adapted into manga, do you? Moto Hagio’s A,A’ really makes me think of Left Hand of Darkness.”


    From the stack: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

    A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, the Fantagraphics collection of short stories from across Moto Hagio’s career, is one of those books that spoils you. It’s so lovingly conceived and beautifully produced, and the material it contains is so strong that it’s hard not to envision who might be next to receive this generous treatment. Hagio, one of the founders of modern shôjo manga and great contemporary manga in general, certainly deserves as much of a gracious spotlight as publishers are able to provide.

    We all knew this already based on work like They Were 11 and A, A Prime and the loving profile and the interview by Matt Thorn in that great issue of The Comics Journal. Thorn is back to select and translate the stories here, and really, every great manga-ka should have as devoted and talented an admirer. A Drunken Dream and Other Stories is obviously a labor of love.

    It’s also vibrant reading. When you consider vintage material, there’s always the awkward question of whether this material is being republished for archival completion or because it’s as good today as it was when it was first published. Prevailing market conditions may not be especially friendly to a virtue-based publishing strategy, but Fantagraphics is just the type to at least partially ignore those conditions for the sake of the canon. Fortunately, Hagio’s work passes both tests, historical significance and timeless excellence.

    The oldest work here, “Bianca,” is potent and alive. It’s about a brief, intense relationship between two young girls, and Hagio hits all the right notes. Visually, it tracks closest with what might come to mind when one thinks of “classic shôjo,” and it has a fascinating psychological directness that balances the glowing sweetness of the illustrations.

    From there, it’s fascinating to watch Hagio set aside visual delicacy for a style that matches her unflinching commitment to emotional detail. Take “Hanshin: Half-God,” a tale of conjoined twins. One is beautiful but virtually unable to function, with her bright, starved, ugly sister literally doing all of the heavy lifting. The amount of punch Hagio derives from the scenario is just staggering. Her grasp of an emotional triangle in “Marié, Ten Years Later” is almost as assured. She captures the wistful sadness of a trio of friends forced apart by jealousy and individual need.

    All of these stories aren’t created equal, obviously, though they all make sense in curatorial context. Having now read Hagio’s more grounded stories, I find (maybe blasphemously) that I have a little less patience for her tales that are tinged to some degree with science fiction. The centerpiece, “A Drunken Dream,” is lovely and accomplished, but the fantasy elements feel like a distraction in light of how much she can do without the extra trappings. It’s not that she’s clumsy in their execution, but the more naturalistic stories are just so piercing. Who needs jumpsuits and telepathy when you’ve got such a complex emotional core?

    Of course, a little weirdness can be tremendously advantageous, as in the gorgeous, lengthy “Iguana Girl.” In it, a smart, sensitive girl builds a satisfying adult life in spite of her mother’s neurotic cruelty. The mother sees the girl as a repulsive lizard, and the girl’s self-image agrees with the mother’s. Hagio’s rendering of the iguana girl is kind of cruelly accurate, but she finds ways to tinge the reptilian expression with sadness and regret. Even with the scaly flourishes, Hagio gets to the heart of ways a parent’s opinion can shape a child.

    I could find something to say about every story here, but I’d rather you just read them. You could even read the introduction by Trina Robbins if you absolutely must, but it doesn’t tell you anything Hagio doesn’t show in her stories. (“Make sure to have tissues on hand!” Sigh.) And after you’ve read them, I wonder if you’d agree with me that there should be more collections of this nature – short, representative works that introduce a creator over time. (And I’d love to see a companion volume of Hagio’s boys’ love stories. I have to suspect that one is in the works, as it seems bizarre for it to have so little presence here when that’s one of the reasons Hagio is a living legend.) I know that they probably aren’t easy to assemble, what with rival publishers and shifting creative fates, but I think it’s an amazingly persuasive way to sell a talent and perhaps open up demand for their longer works.

    And since I’ve ended up with a clean, extra copy of the book, I’d like to give it away. So I’ll do one of my slapdash contests. Email me at DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com and name a creator who you’d like to see get the “Drunken Dream” treatment with a brief argument in their favor, and I’ll pick a winner to receive my spare copy. Deadline will be Sunday, Sept. 5, at midnight.


    It seems just right that the manga chosen for Vertical by Adopt a Manga grand prize winner Alexa would be so very different from the manga she won. I’ll let her describe it.

    “I’ve decided to suggest Kyoko Okazaki’s Helter Skelter.

    “It’s a one-volume manga. The art might strike some as ugly (though I personally find it quite stylish), which is ironic considering the main character, Ririko, is searching for perfection. She’s selfish, volatile, cruel to those around her, but beautiful; a model who’s utterly afraid of becoming insignificant, old, and of course, ugly. Thus she undergoes mysterious modifications to keep herself beautiful at all costs and some of the consequences on her physical and mental state are quite shocking.

    “If I was to compare Helter Skelter to other Vertical titles, I would liken it to Black Jack and To Terra. It’s similar to Black Jack in that it deals with the effects surgery can have on the mind and body, but from a feminist perspective. And like Keiko Takemiya, Okazaki is a female mangaka who continues to be relevant and revolutionary. Okazaki was hurt in a drunk driving accident years ago, and has been rehabilitating ever since. This saddens me, because I myself am a young woman, and want to see authors like Kyoko Okazaki who aren’t afraid to take on heavier subjects and portray women realistically as opposed to the soulless and stupid objects of desire.

    “I think Vertical Inc is a company that isn’t afraid of diversity in the manga they release, and I think Helter Skelter is a smart and insightful josei title that can appeal to a variety of manga readers– from the polished critics to hipsters in need of showing off their varied literary diet.”

    I’m persuaded! Now, let’s move on to the second-prize recipients.

    Erica Friedman breaks out the classic yuri:

    “I would very much like to see Paros no Ken (aka Sword of Paros.) It’s a trilogy that could well be printed in a single volume. It’s classic shoujo and since Rose of Versailles will not be coming to Western shores in this lifetime,and Ribon no Kishi is also not yet being brought over by Vertical, it would make a good stand-in.

    “By Igurashi Yumiko and Kurimoto Kaoru, it makes a great ‘classic’ shoujo story that would appeal to the cross-gender fans, Yuri fans, the BL fans and straight romance fans all at once. It’s adult, dark, ambiguous and disturbing and, at the same time, is a touching romance between a poor, abused serving girl and her ‘prince.’

    “It has all the bells and whistles.”

    Jim Hemmingfield stays in the classic quadrant, wishing for:

    Hakaba no Kitaro / GeGeGe no Kitaro (9 Volumes) by Shigeru Mizuki

    Kitaro is one of the all time classics of manga by Shigeru Mizuki, one of Japan’s most beloved manga-kas. GeGeGe no Kitaro is a cultural phenomenon in Japan, and the franchise remains popular to this day over 50 years after his first outing in Mizuki’s manga series. It would not be hyperbole to say that Kitaro’s image in Japan is as synonymous with Manga as is Astro Boy’s. Despite this, apart from an impossible to find three volume bi-lingual release, Kitaro’s adventures in manga form have never been translated into English. Two factors that I would imagine contribute to this are the age of the manga (classic releases are normally not picked up by western manga publishers) and the subject matter, which is very much rooted in Japanese folklore/yokai which could be seen as to alien for non-Japanese readers, unfamiliar with the legends associated with the characters.

    “I feel that Vertical Inc would be able to publish Kitaro and do it justice. The reasons for this are:

    “1- Vertical has already gained a reputation for publishing highly regarded manga classics.

    “2- Vertical is not known just for its manga, but also for various other Japanese books that cover a wide spectrum of Japanese culture, which I feel the addition of Kitaro would benefit from and enrich.

    “I feel that if Vertical released Hakaba no Kitaro and provided good notes with each volume and, perhaps, some background on the mythology regarding the different yokai involved in the stories then it would surely be a success; hopefully not one that would only be restricted purely to manga fans but also fans of Japanese culture, people interested in folklore and mythology etc. And, basically, anyone who enjoys a classic piece of storytelling, with wonderful characters and art, that appeals to a broad spectrum of people, regardless of age.”

    In a somewhat more contemporary vein, we have Nicole’s choice:

    “I suggest Ami Sugimoto’s Animal X: Aragami no Ichizoku. There are three series covering 16 volumes in the Animal X story, but Aragami no Ichizoku’s four volumes make up the first series and stands solidly on its own. It has a somewhat older art style like some of Vertical’s releases, but in its own way is beautifully detailed, attention being paid to not just the characters, but the atmosphere and backgrounds. While released as a non-explicit BL series in Japan, this label becomes rapidly becomes fuzzy–while both ‘romantic leads’ identify as male, one of them is genetically engineered to be a fully functional hermaphrodite.

    “Ridiculous premise, you say? Yes, it is. However, the way in which this character in particular deals with his gender and sexuality confronts societal norms. He sees himself as a man, but he doesn’t see himself as part of a gay couple as part of him is female. Would he have any interest in the man he learns to love if he were a normal man? Can he balance the male and female aspects inside him?

    “The other characters have their own issues to deal with, as well as with each other; a woman whose fiancé isn’t who she thought he was. A scientist trying to cure a disease in a scientific community that shuns him. A boy whose whole community is razed to the ground in the name of public safety. A daughter bent on bringing honor to her family in the only way she sees left.

    “Despite the off-kilter premise of Animal X in general, the stories of the characters in it are told so that one forgets the scientific implausibility of the world and see the highly personal, intertwining stories of the people therein.

    “Even if some of those people happen to be able to morph into dinosaurs.”

    Audra knows that you can’t go wrong with comics originally published by the creator of Emma:

    “My suggestion is Kaoru Mori’s new series Otoyomegatari.

    “The art is superb and her storytelling is second to none. I strongly believe there’s an audience for her work here in the US as I find her work transcends simply ‘manga’. She’s also had a lot of critical success with her work Emma. Since CMX will no longer be pursuing titles, this would be a wonderful opportunity to scoop this gem up!”

    And last but not least, there’s Sam Kusek’s suggestion:

    “I wanted to throw my two cents at you for a series called D-ASH with story and art by Miya Kitazawa & Manabu Akishige. It is the story of a young track star, who tries to balance his sexual awakenings & desires with actual legitimate relationships and the entirety of his future resting on the soles of his feet as he grows from a fairly idiotic young man into an adult. It is a series that runs 5 volumes and would require an adult rating or heavy editing, as they are some sexual scenes in it.

    “I think this might be an interesting direction for Vertical to go in. It isn’t specifically a sci-fi or fantasy title by any means but deals more with the human condition and how our bodies play almost a larger part in our lives than our minds do. The track star element appeals to a lot of different crowds and the subject matter is not ostracizing by any means. In fact, it is just the opposite, a series that would attract a lot of readers outside the typical manga crowd.”

    Thanks to everyone who entered and to Vertical for founding the feast.

    Aligning your Chi

    Need more inducement to enter the Adopt a Manga Contest to win a copy of Chi’s Sweet Home? Here are a couple of favorable reviews for your consideration.

    Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey highly recommends it for all ages:

    “But Chi is more than just cute kitty antics; it’s a thoughtful reflection on the joys and difficulties of pet ownership, one that invites readers of all ages to see the world through their cat or dog’s eyes and imagine how an animal adapts to life among humans.”

    Michelle (Soliloquy in Blue) Smith gives the book an A-:

    “Although unusual for manga, the full-color artwork in Chi’s Sweet Home is absolutely gorgeous. It’s vibrant without being garish, and is such an integral part of the story that I find it impossible to imagine how this series must look when it runs in Morning, at which point in time the art is still black-and-white. I don’t think I even want to know!”

    Click here to find out how to enter.

    Announcing the Adopt a Manga contest!

    The bound-to-be-adorable Chi’s Sweet Home, written and illustrated by Konami Kanata, arrives next week courtesy of Vertical, and that publisher has been kind enough to sponsor a give-away of some copies of the manga.

    I haven’t read it yet, but Chi’s Sweet Home, featuring the charming adventures of an orphaned kitten, has a special place in my heart. It was the first of my license requests to be fulfilled by a publisher. The thought of that lifts my spirits in these dark and contracting days, so that’s helped me decide the theme for this contest: Adopt a Manga.

    To enter, please suggest a manga that you think is particularly appropriate for Vertical and briefly explain why. (It’s wide open, really, as they publish both classic and contemporary works.) Ed Chavez and I will pick the ones that seem most suited to Vertical and, should more than one entrant suggest the same title, we’ll pick the entry that most succinctly and effectively makes the case.

    One lucky entrant will receive copies of the first and second volume of Chi’s Sweet Home. Five other entrants will receive copies of the second volume. Deadline for entry is midnight Eastern Standard Time Tuesday, June 29, with winners announced on Wednesday, June 30. To enter, email me at DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com.

    All over the map

    Congratulations to Lorena (i ♥ manga) Nava Ruggero, who won a copy of Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators (Fanfare/Ponent Mon)! What tops Lorena’s wish list?

    “I would love, love, love to see Hataraki Man translated into English. I don’t care what anyone says — I love Moyoco Anno’s hyperactive artwork and frustrating, yet amazingly evolving characters.”

    Renee (PopKissKiss) finds it hard to pick just one:

    “Like you, my manga translation wish list is huge (Saint Young Men, Tokyo Crazy Paradise, most of Moto Hagio’s work, etc.), but I’ll go with Hotaru no Hikari, mostly because I’ve never heard you talk about it and it is josei (and excellent). It is also 15 volumes long, and will never, ever be translated. Ever. *cries*”

    One of Sean (Kleefeld on Comics) Kleefeld’s wishes has already come true:

    “The work I’ve most wanted to see translated into English is Bakuman, which I believe Viz is in fact going to start releasing later this year. Following that, I’d like to see the complete collection of Blueberry stories in English. The last several haven’t been translated at all, and none of them have seen print in English for almost 20 years. And the original Blueberry stories haven’t seen English-language print editions since the 1970s!”

    Rin Mori makes it clear:

    “A graphic novel that I would like to see published in English is the Japanese manga Boku no Hatsukoi wo Kimi Ni Sasagu by Kotomi Aoki.”

    Matthew J. (Warren Peace Sings the Blues) Brady notes my tendency to beg, then heads to parts less known:

    “Since The Manga Curmudgeon regularly covers Japanese comics that need to be translated, I wanted to think of something besides the usual manga suspects (any untranslated Tezuka/Hagio/Umezu/etc., Saint Young Men, Drops of God, Billy Bat, and so on), but no titles spring to mind immediately. I know there are tons of amazing French comics, and I’ve seen examples of fascinating-looking work from Mexico and South America. So, for lack of a title that I would be excited to hear any news about, I’ll say I would like to see a translation of the Brazilian comic Gara Tuja that Dash Shaw mentions in this post. Why not?”

    Like me, Alexander (Manga Widget) Hoffman looks to the fabulous prizes:

    “I’m really actually interested in your thoughts on the 1st annual Manga Taisho awards nominees. The Taisho awards are almost predictive, at least in 2008, of what is coming down the pipeline in the USA. The list is quite ridiculous, actually. Ooku, Kimi ni Todoke, Moyasimon, Natsume’s Book of Friends, Flower of Life, and Yotsuba&! all grace this list. I’ve heard speculation about Kinō Nani Tabeta? from Fumi Yoshinaga (Tabeta means eat, so I think it’s ‘What Are You Eating Today?’) being licensed, but perhaps that was just one of your license requests. Anyhow, I’m interested in two series off the 2008 winners list;

    Umimachi Diary 1: Semishigure no Yamugoro serialized in Flowers; and

    Gaku serialized in Big Comic Spirits (which actually won the award in ’08)”

    Katherine Farmar takes us to Belgium:

    “Your latest competition compels me to write; there is one title above all others that I’d like to see translated into English, though it would be difficult (for reasons that will become clear). That title is the autobiographical Belgian graphic novel Faire Semblant C’est Mentir by Dominique Goblet, which blew my tiny little mind when I read it two years ago and still constitutes a benchmark for how good the comics medium can be and what it can achieve that no other medium can manage. I wrote a blog post about it when I first read it, back when I still had a blog.”

    Maré Odomo led a mini-wave:

    “Pretty sure Ping Pong by Taiyo Matsumoto hasn’t been officially translated into English.”

    With more Matsumoto love from Andrew hot on the heels:

    “I’d personally like to see either Takemitsu Zamurai, or the rest of No. 5 by Taiyo Matsumoto translated into English.”

    Jon Chandler notes that…

    “anything by Manga Taro would be amazing. and Kizu Darake No Jinsei by the guy who did Tough would be high on the list too.”

    Nick Muller weighs in:

    “Took me a while to think up which Fukumoto manga I’d write up in this mail but since most of the other options are almost impossible to get licensed (Akagi & Ten are about Mahjong plus they move at a very slow pace, and while Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji is more likely to get licensed, content-wise, it’s more than 40 volumes long), I’ll pick Legend of the Strongest Man: Kurosawa.

    “It’s basically a story about a 44 year old man who lives a miserable live and fails in all his tries to improve it, who ultimately even gets caught up in a fight with delinquents (the latter is where the story focuses on after a first couple of volumes of showing how miserable Kurosawa is and making the reader feel sorry for him). “

    You can’t really argue with Tony Theriault’s general principle:

    “I’ve been a fan of Astro Boy since I was too young to know it was Japanese. I recently picked up a biography/art book about Osamu Tezuka, and it made me realize how much stuff he did. Some of it isn’t translated into English, but most of the other translations are Italian or Spanish, which I can’t read. I would LOVE to read everything he’s ever written that’s been published in Japan. Some of the stories I’ve read blurbs about in my book sound so good.”

    And Zoe (Manga Kaleidoscope) Alexander has a yen for more Ai Yazawa:

    “I would love to see Ai Yazawa’s Kagen no Tsuki (Last Quarter) released in English someday. Quite frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up yet, considering the popularity of NANA and Paradise Kiss. Geneon even released the live-action movie here a few years back. Seems like it would be a great licensing pick to me, especially since it’s only three volumes long, but maybe the powers that be feel it won’t appeal to Yazawa’s English fanbase? It is different from NANA and PK, since it’s a supernatural title with a mostly younger cast of characters, but it’s still really good. Perhaps after Vol. 21 of NANA is released, Viz will consider it while waiting for Yazawa to recover from her mysterious medical problems and (hopefully) get back to work on NANA. I have my fingers crossed, both for Kagen no Tsuki and Yazawa’s health to improve.”

    Thanks to everyone who entered!

    Free to a good home: Japan

    Fanfare/Ponent Mon has re-offered Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, a marvelous anthology of short works by Japanese and European comic artists. To observe the occasion, I’m going to give away a copy of this great book.

    Here’s what Tom (The Comics Reporter) Spurgeon had to say about Japan in his weekly “This Isn’t a Library” round-up:

    “I don’t know why this is being offered again now, and don’t know of any length of time that this anthology of nouvelle manga wasn’t available, but it’s a killer line-up, a nice concept (manga creators doing places they live; French creators doing places they visit), it’s consistently attractive, and has to be one of the seminal books of the last decade. Like if you wanted to portray 2006 in shorthand, this is one of the comics you put beside your character’s bed.”

    And here’s Jog’s take over at Comics Comics:

    “I don’t usually mention items Diamond happens to be ‘offering again’ on a given week, since I probably somehow covered them the first time, but I think I’ll make a big, big exception for this excellent 2006 Fanfare/Ponent Mon anthology, unfortunately somewhat notorious for being hard to track down. No more! Probably the most expansive example of participant/co-editor Frédéric Boilet’s notion of nouvelle manga, the project devotes its 256 b&w pages to eight stories from residents of Japan about the area in which they live or come from, and eight stories from French visitors about areas they are assigned to visit. A big storm happens to arrive while the French artists are traveling, affording their contributions an extra linkage.”

    So here’s the drill: to enter, simply send me an e-mail mentioning a comic or graphic novel from anywhere in the world that you’d like to see published in English. Nation of origin doesn’t matter, just the desire to be able to hold a translated version in your hands. Of course, not everybody’s first language is English, so if you’d like to see a comic or graphic novel translated from English (or any other language) to your language of choice, that’s obviously fair game.

    You must be 18 or older to enter. I’m perfectly willing to ship internationally, though it will be cheap, and it will be slow, so I’m just warning you right now. Deadline for entries is 12 noon Eastern Standard Time Sunday, May 9, 2010, and entries should be sent to DavidPWelsh at Yahoo dot Com. The winner will be chosen at random and receive a copy of Japan.

    After the jump is a Flipped column I wrote on the book for Comic World News in March of 2006.


    Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators

    Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators (Fanfare/Ponent Mon) is spectacular. It’s almost certain to be one of the best books of 2006.

    How could it have been otherwise? Frédéric (Yukiko’s Spinach) Boilet has assembled some of the finest comics creators in the world (eight from Japan, nine from France) to share their varied perspectives on Japan.

    If it sounds a bit like a travelogue or a class assignment (you have 10 to 16 pages to capture a culture… go!) it isn’t. There were no apparent constraints on the participants, other than that their contributions be inspired by their settings (eight cities positioned along the length of the archipelago).

    And there are no constraints in the work that results, which runs from autobiography to slice of life to fable. Japan provides a canvas, but it’s ultimately about what the creators bring to the experience. Their contributions are varied and wonderful – funny, troubling, absurd, expansive, precise, and moving, by turns.

    One of the greatest pleasures of the book is the opportunity to “meet” creators for the first time. I was prepared for the artistry of Kan (Kinderbook) Takahama, Joann (The Rabbi’s Cat) Sfar, and Jiro (The Walking Man) Taniguchi, but I was particularly thrilled to be introduced to participants like Kazuichi (Doing Time) Hanawa, Fabrice (Journal) Neaud, Moyoko (Happy Mania) Anno, and Aurélia (Angora) Aurita.

    Aurita’s piece, “Now I Can Die!”, is a real marvel. It’s simultaneously exuberant, crude, and perfectly structured. Aurita plays with time, moving backwards through her stay in Tokushima as new experiences mingle with her oldest memories. She renders herself in a joyfully chibi fashion while playing straight with her surroundings. Past and present and reality and fantasy intersect in fresh and wonderful ways.

    A concrete sense of place combines with a meandering, generous spirituality in Hanawa’s “In the Deep Forest.” The story follows a simple hike from a temple to the mountaintop above it, with musings on faith, nature, and hope. Hanawa’s illustrations are beautiful, and his perspective is compassionate and expansive.

    Anno’s “The Song of the Crickets” is a sweet, simple meditation on a shared sensory experience. It’s almost too simple, but the pictures are so absorbing and the composition is so lovely that you’re drawn in anyways. Boilet does something similar with “In Love Alley,” a couple’s captured moment framed in a walk down a Tokyo street. The mundane mixes with the erotic as Boilet’s focus draws closer to the duo.

    I’m particularly desperate to see more work from Neaud after reading “The City of Trees.” As Neaud explores Sendai, seeing its sights and eavesdropping on its people, he peppers his narrative with flashes of his inner life. Experiences can unexpectedly call to mind bits of his own pain or heighten his sense of isolation. But they can also please and soothe him. It’s three-quarter travelogue, one-quarter confessional, all rendered with a wonderful eye for detail.

    There are playful pieces in Japan, and they’re charming in varied ways. David Prudhomme creates a fable about missing shoes in “The Gateway.” François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters combine conventional travelogue with absurdist social commentary in “Osaka 2034,” filled with clever observations on class, consumerism, and the abiding power of low culture.

    Nicolas de Crécy’s “The New Gods” examines the power of pop culture in a different but equally imaginative way, cramming his pages with consumer sensory overload and human foibles. Little Fish’s wordless “The Sunflower” is a precise mini-parable about the place of nature in an urban landscape.

    And what about the known quantities? Takahama kicks things off with “At the Seaside,” another of her emotionally precise but deeply felt meditations on love and ambivalence. Taniguchi’s breathtakingly detailed visuals beautifully serve “Summer Sky,” a tale of unexpected love penned in by cultural mores and expectations.

    Having reveled in Sfar’s playful, humanistic The Rabbi’s Cat, I found “Waterloo’s Tokyo” to be a real surprise, though not an entirely pleasant one. It’s a scathing walking tour of cultural stereotypes, eastern and western. They’re presented largely without comment as Sfar records the observations of his friend, a Frenchman who has moved to Tokyo and married a Japanese woman. The counterpoint between Sfar’s endearing visuals and the rather ugly sentiments on display is certainly effective, but it’s a troubling piece. Still, it fits – like the rest of the contributors Sfar is using his unique skills as a creator to capture a mood or moment.

    Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators is everything an anthology should be, with diverse and impressive talents exploring a shared subject that still provides them with all the space and inspiration they could need. Each piece is effective in its own way, and their collective artistic power is really, truly spectacular.

    Now, if Boilet could only be convinced to do a companion piece, France as viewed by the same 17 creators. They could do a world tour, and I would happily join them for every destination.

    Ono, oh, no

    Congratulations to Sean (Kleefeld on Comics) Kleefeld for winning two books by Natsume Ono!

    “As for one person’s output that I’ve seen at both ends of the spectrum, I’m going to call out Bruce Jones. He’s not especially a favorite author of mine, but I do generally like his work overall. I was especially taken with Somerset Holmes (from Pacific Comics) back in the day, and I believe that was the first time I had encountered his work. It’s been more than a few years since I’ve gone back to see if it still holds up, but most of his work since then has been good.

    “That said, his Captain America: What Price Glory? was a train wreck of a comic. I had high hopes between his writing and Steve Rude’s art, but it turned out to be just a mess. I went so far as to email editor Andrew Lis directly to list out all the problems I had with it. He was kind enough to respond and said, in effect, ‘Yeah, we weren’t too happy with how that turned out either.'”

    As so many of us do, Sam (Manga Recon) Kusek turned to manga for his mixed emotions:

    “My example of two works from the same creative type that are quite different for me, are Hiro Mashima’s Fairy Tail and Rave Master. Rave Master was one of the first series that I first started reading and while it started off in a really interesting way, the story got really convulted as time went on.

    Fairy Tail is a series that has the same interesting and fun elements that Rave Master had at its start, but has found a way to keep that interest going for a long while. It also represents Mashima’s progression as a story writer and overall artist.”

    Alain Mendez turned to classic science fiction:

    “I think my big divide on a creator in their works is Isaac Asimov. I love the Robot series with the Caves of Steel being one of my favorite books. On the other hand despite being critically acclaimed I found the Foundation Series completely boring and unengaging.”

    All the world is a stage for Alex Brown, but not all of it is worth being in the audience:

    “The play I loved: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard. Also a wonderful movie. Clever, funny, and thought provoking all at once. Plus it totally plays with Hamlet which is wonderful.

    “The plays that disappointed me: anything else. To my mind he’s never hit the heights of r&grd (heh) despite further cleverness.

    “Oh I just thought of another one: Don Delilo. The book White Noise by him is terrific, a great deconstruction of life in the modern age. But everything else he’s written is too clever by half, it’s lost its soul.”

    Lorena (i heart manga) Nava Ruggero sometimes finds Weezer to be… a little asthmatic:

    “Another great contest! In terms of conflicting reactions, I’d have to say my favorite band, Weezer, has done this to me a number of times. Their blue album was the first CD I ever bought (I had only bought tapes up to that time) and it blew my mind with its happy-go-lucky music and, at times, dark lyrics. I was also blown away by their sophomore album Pinkerton. Sadly, they’ve since produced other albums whose names (or corresponding colors) aren’t worth mentioning. And just when I thought their latest album Raditude might bring me back to high school, I was disappointed again by an album with too many ‘lows’ and not enough ‘highs.’ Oh well!”

    Sheli Hay applies game logic to the idea of mixed results:

    “Any author that I love that has a huge body of work could fall into this category. There is always that one book/story/production that you treasure more than the others. But I think the series that has me forever on a hook is Final Fantasy. There are few stories that I love more than FFVII. A lot of comic authors dissappoint and delight like Ono, but FFVII is so unique in that is traps you for hours of your life. Not the hour is takes to take in a manga, or the couple hours it takes to digest a novel, but literally days of your life.

    “And when those days are so flippin’ great? Of course you want more. But here is where Squaresoft/Squareenix has done me wrong. No game that they have produced has been good as FFVII. So they, more than anyone else, has me on the precarious edge of a wholly devoted/never what to speak to them again relationship.”

    Lori (Good Comics for Kids, Manga Xanadu) Henderson faces the Watase conundrum:

    “The first shojo series I read was Ceres Celestial Legend by Yuu Watase, and I loved it. Good characters and drama, touches of horror and a bit of a sappy ending. I was thrilled when Absolute Boyfriend was announced and hoped for another great series. I was seriously disappointed. It started out okay, and just went downhill from there.”

    Matthew J. (Warren Peace Sings the Blues) Brady is sometimes driven to reach for the remote:

    “I’ll go with Aaron Sorkin, whose Sports Night was a show that I really liked, being just the right age to learn to appreciate well-written dialogue. I never watched much of The West Wing, so I can’t comment on his creative evolution there, but Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was such a disappointment, especially since it started out so promisingly, but immediately sank to tiresome plots, ridiculous contrivances and misunderstandings, and almost self-parodic dialogue, before being mercifully cancelled. It seems that Sorkin’s career still has yet to recover.”

    Rij knows that sometimes it’s not the money, just the time that you’d like back:

    “Iain M. Banks, with or without the middle initial is an author who’s capable of producing books I fall in love with on the first page. Unfortunately he’s just as capable of producing works that make me want to throw up and books that I just want to forget ever wasting time on. I love Consider Phlebas, The Bridge, Crow Road and many more. The Wasp Factory is not a bad book, really, I just never want to touch it again as it is the only book I’ve read in 30+ years that has made me nauseous. It’s been years and I still remember the scene in vivid detail. Song of Stone on the other hand was just bad. Uninspired, gratuitous with both sex and violence, boring and even the compulsory twist near the ending left me more annoyed at it’s stupidity than in any way surprised. I’m just glad that I didn’t waste any money on that, wasting time was bad enough.”

    Matthew (365 zines a year) Murray ponders the obscure:

    One Night @ the Call Centre was a novel (written in English, published in India) by Chetan Bhagat. I found it in a guest house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and despite the back cover mentioning ‘god’ I picked it up (when you sit on buses all the time while travelling you read a lot of books), read it, and rally enjoyed it! It wasn’t religious, and it gave me an incredibly interesting look into modern Indian culture that I really had no idea about.”

    “So when I found Bhagat’s first book Five Point Someone I was really excited! Except it wasn’t as good at all, and in fact I can now barely remember anything about it. I think it was just a typical ‘students at university book’.”

    Thanks to everyone who entered!