Previews review December 2010

Hey, what’s this phone-book thing lying here on my coffee table? Why, it’s the Diamond Previews catalog! Let’s look inside!

Okay, the excitement doesn’t really begin until we reach page 275, specifically the Fantagraphics listings, specifically the debut of Shimura Takako’s Wandering Son. What’s it about?

“The fifth grade. The threshold to puberty, and the beginning of the end of childhood innocence. Shuichi Nitori and his new friend Yoshino Takatsuki have happy homes, loving families, and are well-liked by their classmates. But they share a secret that further complicates a time of life that is awkward for anyone: Shuichi is a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino is a girl who wants to be a boy. Written and drawn by one of today’s most critically acclaimed creators of manga, Shimura portrays Shuishi and Yoshino’s very private journey with affection, sensitivity, gentle humor, and unmistakable flair and grace. Volume one introduces our two protagonists and the friends and family whose lives intersect with their own.”

Any value-added aspects worth mentioning?

Wandering Son is a sophisticated work of literary manga translated with rare skill and sensitivity by veteran translator and comics scholar Matt Thorn.”

Sold! Wandering Son is up to 12 volumes in serialization in Enterbrain’s Comic Beam, which is clearly one of the most fabulous magazines in human history.

Flipping onward to page 284, we discover that NBM is publishing another of the Louvre comics, produced in partnership with the legendary museum. This one’s called The Sky over the Louvre, written by Bernard Yslaire and illustrated by Jean-Claude Carriere. This one sounds a bit less fanciful than the previous three, Glacial Period, On the Odd Hours, and The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert. This time around, readers are taken “back to the very origins of the Louvre as a museum: the tumultuous years of the French revolution.” I don’t think we have enough comics featuring Robespierre.

Ever onward to page 288! We’ve got sensitive drama and art history, but how to round that out? Why, with gritty, contemporary detective fiction! In this case, I’m talking about the hardcover collection of the first volume of Stumptown (Oni Press), written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Matthew Southworth. It’s about a down-on-her-luck private eye in the Pacific Northwest named Dex who gets the chance to cover a gambling debt by finding the casino owner’s missing granddaughter. Dex is a fun, tough character, and the mystery is twisty and amusingly grimy.

Toward the back of the only part of the catalog I bother to read, we learn that two manga publishers will be launching new series that originated in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume magazine. This is generally a good sign for a shôjo series.

On page 300, we encounter the first volume of Touya Tobina’s Clean-Freak: Fully Equipped (Tokyopop), which tells the undoubtedly heartrending tale of a mysophobe going on his first school trip. On page 312, we learn of the first volume of Izumi Tsubaki’s Oresama Teacher (Viz), which sees the leader of a girl gang exiled from the city to an isolated school in the countryside. Wackiness presumably ensues.

Guest review: A Drunken Dream and Other Stories

By Erica (Okazu) Friedman

A Drunken Dream and Other Stories
Written and illustrated by Moto Hagio

Every genre, whether it is based on content (horror, romance, action) or age and gender, (shoujo, shounen) develops tropes. Tropes do not develop overnight. They are created by the creators – who use their training, their inspiration and the input of mentors, peers and editors to inform their work. Tropes are also driven by tension from the marketplace. Fans get used to certain things, or those who do the buying require certain conventions. Tropes that are successful are measured by sales – if Book A sells a lot of copies and it has Vampires, you can be sure that Book B and C will have Vampires too (or Zombies, or whatever the hot meme of the day is.) And publishers create tropes, when costs allow or don’t allow for certain things. If the market is doing well, then you might see extras packaged with a title. After three volumes of that title with extras, you can be sure that fans will start to expect extras with that next volume.

One of the fascinating qualities of fandom is that when fans have been around a long time, and still love a genre to death, they become dismissive of the tropes and start looking – in that same genre – for something more. I’m guilty of this myself and have created a nickname for stories that fit neatly within the boundaries of the most typical tropes of Yuri. I call those stories “Story A,” and yes, I absolutely mean it dismissively.

So, when people who have read a million shoujo stories look at the genre, they tend to be very offhand about it. “Spunky young heroine who makes friends easily. Hot older guy she falls instantly in love with. Sullen and withdrawn guy her own age who she’s clearly going to end up with in the end. And of course a tragic past full of secrets. But again, shoujo is not where you go for originality.” (With apologies to Sean Gaffney who is not at all dismissive of these things – in fact, he embraces them with fervor.)

What this means is that anyone who does NOT read the genre, is likely to read all these jaded, dismissive accounts of the genre (often by people for whom the genre is not intended) and assume that that’s just the way it is. Couple this with the natural tendency of the “critic” to pretend their condescension is in some way objective and …yes, I’m going to say it…the unrelenting, aggressively clueless sexism of about 80% of the men involved in the comics industry and their less creative, but no less vociferous male counterparts in comics criticism…you get a world of upturned noses and sniffiness at anything created by, or worse – for – females.

Shoujo manga is aimed at girls. Young girls are casteless in the world of entertainment. Basically no one gives a crap about them. The color pink is regurgitated at them endlessly as if being 9 and female means that one is essentially color blind to any other color. And heaven forefend that anyone, anywhere, that makes books for girls should EVER be taken seriously.

Except Moto Hagio. Her work, we are told sniffily, is NOT LIKE those other, pinker, sparkle-pony-er kinds of shoujo. This is *serious art,* that we are meant to take very seriously. You can tell it’s serious and important, because male critics deign to look at it at all.

Humility, thy name is shoujo manga.

Moto Hagio is a woman who drew manga for girls. Young girls – girls of the age where it is perfectly acceptable for many people to eroticize them, but not to take them seriously as people, with their own requirements, fantasies and interests. She took them seriously. No surprise, as she had been one herself. As hard as this is to believe I also was a young girl once. Moto Hagio’s works talked *directly* to the young girl I had once been.

I began this review noting that fans have a tendency to dismiss what they are already familiar with. The first story of this collection, “Bianca,” is exactly that kind of story. It’s been done, we say with a handwave, many times. True. But never have I seen it done this well. In 12 pages, Moto Hagio tells me a story I’ve read any number of times before – and tells it to me in a way that makes my heart feel like it’s so *full* of something that it might explode. Art, I’m told, should evoke a reaction. Is gripping my chest and taking heaving breaths enough of a reaction to call this ‘Art?’ Or is my reaction supposed to be more objective? Then… It called to mind the reaction I had when first encountering Stonehenge and realizing that I was in the presence of something masterful, precisely because it was not meant to be so when it was created. (I have always thought that Stonehenge was a Public Works Project – meant to keep people productive and busy so they felt like they earned their food at the end of the day.)

This collection may, in fact, not be the best way to encounter Moto Hagio’s work. Collections have an agenda, and fans are not typically subtle thinkers. I’ve seen a number of reviews that fall prey to the belief that the stories in this collection beat the same drum over and over. There are certainly themes that repeat, some more than others; Being Different; Perception; Family

Family is something that is addressed repeatedly in Moto Hagio’s work. She talks frankly about the tension between her and her parents, especially her mother. This is a theme she explores from many different angles – family as the obstacle to a life, rather than a support; family that you create for yourself being as powerful, even more powerful than blood relatives. Call me typical, but as a girl, something like “Iguana Girl” would have rendered me into a sobbing heap of sympathy. Of course I understood *exactly* what Rika was feeling! No one I know wouldn’t. We’re all Outsiders, we’re all Different. For those young readers who might be LGBT, can you imagine the power of this story? Different? You don’t know that half of it….! And for those readers, the idea that Family is something you create for yourself will still resonate as a powerful message.

Perception of self is another unavoidable theme in this collection and I think it’s probably fair to say in her body of work as a whole. What characters see themselves as, what others see and what “reality” is are three entirely distinct things. In most stories, the lines between these are blurred enough that the reader might not be able to clearly differentiate which they are perceiving at any moment. “A Drunken Dream” is titled well. We have no “reality” to hang on to, no idea if any portion of the story is real or not. In “Autumn Journey” the truth of Johann’s “reality” completely changes the Luise’s life and we’re left not really knowing how things will turn out for either of them (albeit, we’re left hopeful that it will all turn out well.) “Hanshin Half-God” and “Iguana Girl” are clearly the vanguard in this theme, with altered perceptions presented as both real and false at the same time. And in the “Child Who Came Home,” the reality we’re presented is nothing more than a desperate delusion. Through all the stories, there is a very strong emphasis on individual perception being at odds with the consensus perception of the people around them – something that would have resonated deeply – or jarred horribly – for the Japanese audience. “Girl on Porch With Puppy” is an object lesson of what happens to people who fail to conform in a society that values the group over the individual.

Shoujo manga is (often dismissively) summed up as stories of the heart. But shoujo manga is not just about romance – it is about emotional interplay. Where shounen heroes gain physical power, shoujo heroines gain emotional power. Shounen heroes beat their enemies to make them their friends – shoujo heroines love their enemies until they love them back. Th characters here are lovable – which is a risk we take with these stories. We’re not sure that the heroine will be plucky or that everyone will love them back. But like most contemporary shoujo, A Drunken Dream contains stories of emotional interaction, and emotional growth that comes from communication.

Moto Hagio is, like all other “classic” writers, doomed to be over-thought by adults, when if you just handed the average teen her work without making an assignment out of it, it would probably go over well. (Better yet, make is slightly forbidden, like Death Note.) Fantagraphics has done a lovely job with the book and in doing so has all but guaranteed the separation of Moto Hagio from her *actual audience* – teen girls.

I think there’s a real risk, though, in over-analyzing this volume. Moto Hagio’s stories are, as I said at the beginning, masterful largely because she did not set out to be so. She wrote from the heart, stories that girls could understand, enjoy, identify with. She was the Stephanie Meyer of her time and only now, when we look back on a body of literature that spans decades, we see that it’s a little silly to dismiss it (or glorify it) because it’s shoujo manga. What A Drunken Dream offers is as much or as little as we want to see. If we stare too hard past the cute girl looking back at us in the mirror, we might in fact see the deathly crone behind her…but why would we want to do that? Can’t we just take the cute girl at face value? Isn’t she “important” enough on her own?

Moto Hagio is a woman, who draws stories for girls. She is a Master of her Craft. She is a groundbreaker in her field. None of these statements are contradictory.

A Drunken Dream is a must-read for any serious student of manga. While you’re getting a copy, buy one for a niece or friend – and don’t tell them it’s “important.” This way they’ll be free to just enjoy it, tropes and all.


To celebrate Thanksgiving in the laziest way possible, I thought I would mention some ongoing comics that debuted (if only in print and in English) in 2010 so far for which I am grateful. And there’s still more than a month left.

And here are some stand-alone works that made the year sparkle.

The manga industry may be correcting itself, but we’re still getting great books, don’t you think? The images above are all linked to commentary of varying lengths. And added thanks to everyone who makes the comics blogosphere and twitterverse such a delightful place to visit.

Upcoming 11/17/2010

I read the second volume of Hisae Iwaaka’s Saturn Apartments (Viz) last night, confirming my feeling that this is one of the best new series of the year. (I feel that way about several titles in Viz’s SigIKKI program, but which one of them I like best depends on which one I’ve read most recently.) For those who need a refresher, this is slice-of-life science fiction about the people who wash windows on a satellite habitat orbiting an environmentally devastated Earth.

Though episodic in a lot of ways, it does follow a single protagonist, Mitsu, who is following in his late father’s footsteps in a perilous, under-appreciated profession. Mitsu spends a significant portion of this volume considering his father’s legacy, or perhaps trying to construct what that legacy might look like. He talks to his father’s co-workers, now his co-workers, about how his father approached his work and, less directly, how he might have felt about it. As a neophyte, he’s also asking about the specifics of a dangerous job he still hasn’t mastered, so there’s an extra layer of intention in the question-and-answer sessions.

I enjoy series that have a strong grounding in a particular profession, whether that profession is realistic or fanciful. The grubby-fantastic quality that Iwaaka gives to her cast’s working world is very appealing to me, and I like the ways she resists canonizing her characters as salt-of-the-earth types. While she draws them in an innocent, vulnerable style, she writes them with a bit more frankness. The get cranky, hold grudges, drink too much, work too hard, get careless… they behave credibly and recognizably, in other words.

Other noteworthy items on this week’s ComicList include the 9th volume of Takehiko Inoue’s extraordinarily good Real (Viz). Melinda (Manga Bookshelf) Beasi named it her Pick of the Week, because she has excellent taste that way.

The other highlight of the week has to be the second collection of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics). The publisher describes the comics as “witty and sublimely drawn fantasy [that] eases into a relaxed comedy of manners,” which is perfectly true. It’s really a treat of a series, one that I bought in pamphlet form and will buy in its collected state, which almost never happens.

What looks good to you?

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.

    Upcoming 9/1/2010

    It’s an interesting week in ComicList terms. Let’s go right to the pick of the week, shall we?

    That would be Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories, the first result of the Fantagraphics-Shogakukan team-up that’s being curated by Matt Thorn. It’s a deeply glorious book that brims with Hagio’s psychological and emotional insights. I plan on posting a review on Thursday. You can order a signed copy from the publisher.

    If that doesn’t slake your appetite for classic manga, Vertical is kind enough to offer Osamu Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song in two paperback volumes. It’s an example of deeply crazy Tezuka, with the added bonus of lots and lots of sex. If you can resist that description, you’re stronger than I am.

    One of last year’s big books is now available in paperback. David Small’s Stitches (W.W. Norton) offers a beautifully rendered and stunningly bleak look at a miserable childhood. It’s a really great graphic novel.

    There are also new issues of three very different and very entertaining pamphlet comics. First is the second issue of Avengers: The Children’s Crusade, following the Young Avengers as they search for the Scarlet Witch to the dismay of most of the rest of the residents of the Marvel universe, who seem happy to assume that the longtime heroine is evil and crazy. Next is the penultimate (I think) issue of Brandon Graham’s King City from Image, whose website is so terrible that I won’t even bother trying to find a link to additional information on the comic. And last is the fourth issue of Stumptown, a smart tale of a down-on-her-luck private investigator from Oni.

    What looks good to you?

    Updated: I forgot one big pamphlet offering, the arrival of Veronica 202 (Archie Comics) and Riverdale’s first openly gay resident, Kevin Keller. I hope I can find a copy so I can be appropriately derisive when conservative groups condemn the comic.

    Previews review September 2010

    There’s lots of desirable material in the September 2010 Previews catalog.

    Before we get to that, I feel I should note that Del Rey manga is still launching new series. Its latest is Ema Toyama’s I Am Here! It’s about a young girl who overcomes her shyness through blogging. I fell asleep halfway through typing that sentence, but there you have it. It originally ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi magazine. (Page 267.)

    It seems like it’s been forever since the gorgeous hardcover collection of the first set of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting stories. Fantagraphics will release 384 more pages of charming comics about the family-of-choice residents of a falling-down castle along the way. (Page 278.)

    Ever since I read Glacial Period (NBM), I’ve wanted someone to publish more comics by Nicolas De Crecy. NBM obliges again with the first volume of Salvatore: Transports of Love about a successful auto mechanic who happens to be a dog. Congratulations, NBM, on joining the elite circle of publishers who have fulfilled one of my license requests. You may join Vertical and Fantagraphics in the Silver Courtesy Lounge. (Page 290.)

    I’m generally not the target audience for books from PictureBox, but I love Renée (The Ticking) French, so I’ll be all over H Day. It’s a no-doubt surreal look at how French copes with migraine headaches. (Page 300.)

    It also feels like it’s been a long time since Top Shelf published the first volume of Lars Martinson’s Tōnoharu. The second volume examining the life of a North American English teacher in rural Japan can be found listed on page 310.

    Bless Yen Press for digging and finding unlicensed Fumi Yoshinaga, specifically Not Love but Delicious Foods, about a hard-working, hard-eating lady and her foodie friends as they restaurant hop through Tokyo. It originally ran in Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, which is one of those magazines that seems to run whatever the hell kind of comics it pleases. (Page 321.)


    I’m barely able to form coherent thoughts about Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories (Fantagraphics). It’s an amazing collection of her work, and I hope it just causes an explosion of interest in her work. I’ll try and write something proper about the book later, but a passage from her interview with translator and curator Matt Thorn really struck me. In it, she’s talking about the Tezuka story that made her want to become a manga-ka:

    “I sympathized so much with the situation of the hero, that I found myself reading the book as if I were him. I completely synchronized with him.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use that word, “synchronized,” to describe that experience, and I find it really lovely. I also think that Hagio evokes that synchronization with increasing facility over the 40-year span represented in this collection. I mean, she has that knack from her earliest stories, but she just gets better at it until she doesn’t even need words to pull it off. It’s just breathtaking.

    You can view some pages over at Amazon, but I hope Fantagraphics post some other samples for preview, because I honestly think seeing anything from the book’s midway point on would convince someone to buy it. Reading Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey’s review will also go a long way towards that.

    Huge thanks to Deb (About.Com) Aoki to take time out of her insane Comic Con International schedule to pick up a (signed!) copy for me. I owe her forever.

    Link of the day

    Over at The Comics Journal, Shaenon Garrity has published a perfectly gorgeous interview with Moto Hagio:

    MH: In America, comics were always seen as a boys’ thing?

    SG: Yes, or at least that was the case for many years.

    MH: So now there’s a great big market opening up.

    It’s really the only thing you need to read today.