Upcoming 5/13/2009

What’s on deck with this week’s ComicList? Not The Lapis Lazuli Crown, as I misread, which actually comes out May 20, but CMX does offer the 14th volume of Kiyoko Ariyoshi’s classic ballet shôjo, Swan.

Brigid Alverson offered a preview review of the first volume of Sakae Esuno’s Future Diary (Tokyopop), and it sounds intriguing:

“Despite one cringe-inducing scene of violence toward the end, this is great escape reading, with plenty of action and an interestingly twisted premise.”

Fantagraphics offers a big hardcover collection starring one of my favorite characters from Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar stories, Luba. Here’s a bit of the solicitation:

“These ‘America’ stories — over 100 of them, ranging from quick one-page blackout sketches to bona fide graphic novellas — were originally published in a number of different comics and reprinted in a trilogy of oversized paperbacks. Luba finally collects in one compact, affordable hardcover the entirety of these tales, showcasing Gilbert Hernandez’s wicked wit, great compassion, and uncanny understanding of how human beings love, squabble, and ultimately find a way to make it through this life.”

Upcoming 2/11/2009

A quick look at this week’s ComicList:

A panel from Lewis Trondheim's blog-comic, <i>Little Nothings</i>

A panel from Lewis Trondheim's blog-comic, Little Nothings

All due respect to the other fine items shipping on Wednesday, but the clear pick of the week is the second print collection of Lewis Trondheim’s excellent, observational blog-comic, Little Nothings, this one called “The Prisoner Syndrome.” The first collection was a real treat, one of the most entertaining books of 2008.

Here’s some good timing. DrMaster is releasing a set of two volumes of Yuki Fujisawa’s Metro Survive right on the heels of their inclusion on the 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. It sounds like just the thing for people who enjoyed Minetaro Mochizuki’s tense survival drama Dragon Head (Tokyopop), which was everyone, right? Or at least everyone who read it?

Linda Medley’s gently fractured fairy tale Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics) is one of the few pamphlet comics I still buy. It’s a real charmer, though I always suspect I’d do better to buy it all in a big collected chunk. That’s probably because I was introduced to the series that way. If you haven’t had the pleasure, I strongly recommend you track down the hardcover collection of the first volume of stories.

I need to get on the stick and catch up with Park SoHee’s charming royal soap opera Goong (Yen Press), as I seem to be about a volume behind. The fourth shows up on Wednesday.

More summer reading

There’s a nice mix of promising items in the May 2008 Previews catalog. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Dark Horse gets a jump on a 2009 movie with the release of a repackaging of the first two volumes of Osamu Tezuka’s classic Astro Boy. It’s probably Tezuka’s best-known property, and I’m grateful that Dark Horse has made so much of it is available in English, but honesty compels me to admit that I haven’t felt any burning need to read all of it. (Page 56.)

I’ve heard good things about Kerry Callen’s Halo and Sprocket, and Amaze Ink/SLG releases the second volume of the series and offers the first again. Any series that inspires fan art by Andi Watson must be worth a look. (Page 206.)

Broccoli offers a series that looks both adorable and odd. It’s Honoka Level Up!, by Akiyoshi Ohta and Matsuda98, and it features a really young character developer “getting caught up in the confusing politics, crushing responsibilities, and difficult developmental aspects” of the video game industry. Salary ‘tween manga? Why not? (Page 247.)

Have you been suffering through Kio Shimoku withdrawal since the conclusion of Genshiken? Del Rey is here for you, offering the Genshiken Official Book and the first volume of Shimoku’s Kujibiki Unbalance, the property that inspired microscopic obsession among Shimoku’s gang of geeks. (Page 266.)

Fantagraphics switches gears with the work of the very gifted Los Bros. Hernandez, going straight to the trade with Love and Rockets: New Stories. I’m partial to Gilbert’s work, but both are gifted, and this sounds like an appealing way to consume their work. (Page 298.)

I can’t say I’m entirely sold by the premise of Ray Fawkes and Cameron Stewart’s The Apocalipstix, due from Oni Press. Josie and the Pussycats after Armageddon? I just don’t know. But I’m crazy enough about Stewart’s art that I’ll certainly have to sample it. (Page 320.)

I sort of glazed over on a lot of the manga announcements that came out of the New York Comic-Con, but when Kate Dacey takes the time to point out a title, and when it’s a title that Lillian Diaz-Pryzbl heartily endorses, I’m game. It’s Natsumi Itsuki’s Jyu-Oh-Sei (Tokyopop), and it’s described as having a classic shôjo sci-fi feel. (Page 353.)

Speaking of Kate, I’m guessing she’s as excited as I am to see Yen Press release the second volume of Jung-Hyun Uhm’s Forest of Gray City, originally published by ICE Kunion. A working woman takes in a sexy male roommate to share expenses in this beautifully drawn josei-style manhwa. (Page 389.)

From the stack: Human Diastrophism

In the stories collected in Heartbreak Soup (Fantagraphics), Gilbert Hernandez erected the Central American town of Palomar and populated it with an indelible citizenry the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen in comics. In the stories collected in Human Diastrophism, Hernandez lays siege to Palomar and its residents, introducing a daunting array of outside forces that threaten the apparent idyll. Archeologists, surfers, leftist ideology, and even a plague of monkeys chip away at the community.

The most obviously sinister is a serial killer who seems to be targeting victims at random. There’s the obvious threat to life and safety, but the crime wave is most telling in its individual effects. As one might suspect from Hernandez, it’s less a mystery or crime drama than a catalyst for personal and sociological seismic waves. There are moments that have the tension of the thriller, but these chapters are most notable for the personal and moral conundrums they trigger.

I’m perpetually amazed at how well Hernandez can juggle seemingly disparate narrative elements. The cast is absolutely sprawling, but no one gets lost. With figures as outsized as Luba, that heartbreaking, voluptuous monster, or passionate, impressionable Tonatzin, searching and failing to find the thing that will fill the void, it would have been simplicity itself to put someone in the driver’s seat. And while that still would have resulted in a marvelous comic, Hernandez’s shifting focus and diffuse point of views make things even richer.

It’s all ultimately about Palomar, even when it isn’t set there. The bulk of the second half tracks expatriates from the hamlet who are trying to build new lives in the United States but keep getting drawn back to their home, either emotionally or physically. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bittersweet connection to a place be articulated as well as it is here. And since the characters have been impeccably and richly conceived, there’s no limit to their possibilities.

The short pieces are also marvelous. My favorite follows sexy, outgoing Pipo as she goes from being the prettiest girl in Palomar to a woman of surprising power and substance. Broken down in sixteen-panel grids, Pipo narrates her personal journey as a sort of film strip unfolds visually.

I really can’t say enough about these comics. The world that Hernandez has created is so rich in detail and possibilities, and the characters are so engrossing, even when they’re horrid. If you’ve never read these stories, you really should, not because of their place in some abstract comics canon, but because they’re spectacularly, richly entertaining.

Upcoming 11/21/2007

If I’m up to date with my reading, it’s only slightly, you know? I’m just about done with the second volume of Gilbert Hernandez’s wonderful Palomar stories, Human Diastrophism, which I’ll probably get around to reviewing later in the week. (It’s not that you need me to tell you how great these stories are. I just feel like it, okay?) This week, Fantagraphics is delivering the third volume, Beyond Palomar. (Don’t even get me started on New Tales of Old Palomar, or I’ll be forced to admit that I’m waiting for the trade.)

I’m not waiting for the trade with Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (also from Fantagraphics). Would it read better in big chunks? Probably, but patience has never been my strong suit.

Go! Comi sent me a complimentary copy of Aimee Major Steinberger’s Japan Ai: A Tall Girl’s Adventures in Japan, a cute journal/sketchbook detailing Steinberger’s otaku pilgrimage. I like Steinberger’s friendly style of illustration, and I almost always enjoy travel comics. (Even ones that partake of the kind of travel I’d never consider, though Steinberger seems to be as much a fan of hotels and consumerism as I am.)

Upcoming 9/12

This is one of those weeks at the comic shop that doesn’t look especially overwhelming at first glance, but becomes a buffet upon closer scrutiny.

In fact, I couldn’t really select a Pick of the Week, though I think I’d have to give DC the Publisher of the Week. How do they accomplish this, you ask? Variety.

First there’s a new volume of Kaoru Mori’s Emma, which is a bit late but no less welcome for it. Then there’s the first release in the second wave of Minx books, Confessions of a Blabbermouth by Mike Carey, Louise Carey, and Aaron Alexovich. M. Carey contributed the script for the excellent Re-Gifters, easily my favorite book in the line, so this will definitely merit a read. And while I found DC’s last effort at reviving the franchise completely incomprehensible, John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad stands as one of my favorite super-hero team books ever (though it rarely featured any actual heroes). I don’t see any obvious deterrents to coherence in the solicitation for the new mini-series featuring Ostrander’s cast, so I might have to give it a try.

That said, DC has Viz hot on its heels, and the manga publisher seems to be going for the “massive show of force” technique. Yes, lots of Naruto is on the way, but there are also new volumes of excellent ongoing series like Beauty Pop and Gin Tama, and a really, really lovely treatment of Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkonkinkreet, with three volumes of weirdness packed into a satisfyingly hefty package. I’m about halfway through it, and it’s pretty amazing.

If the Suicide Squad thing tempts me sufficiently, I’ll be picking up three whole floppies this week. The other two are the eighth issue of the second volume of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (Fantagraphics) and the fifth issue of the endearing Maintenance (Oni).

And last but not least, Tokyopop reminds me that I don’t need to lead a life void of Meca Tanaka manga just because Omukae Desu is done. The third volume of Pearl Pink is out, which puts me only one volume behind. (I know. That’s how it starts.) Because I’m not reading enough quirky comedies about would-be teen idols.

Upcoming, 6/27

Another Wednesday approaches, bringing some fun stuff with it.

The fact that I probably prefer it in collection doesn’t keep me from really enjoying individual issues of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting (Vol. II #7 this week from Fantagraphics). I just wish they were longer. In this case, that’s a compliment. One of the very small handful of titles I still collect in floppy form.

I’ve really been enjoying the individual issues of Jim Massey and Robbi Rodriguez’s Maintenance (Oni), a workplace comedy about janitors in a mad scientist think tank. Not every joke scores, but more than enough do to make the first collection worth a look.

One of my favorite features in the first issue of Otaku USA was Jason Thompson’s interview with novelist Tou Ubukata. A manga version of one of Ubukata’s works, Le Chevalier D’Eon, illustrated by Kiriko Yumeji, begins its English-language life courtesy of Del Rey. Gender bending, demon fighting action in pre-Revolution France, and a heroine whose outfit makes you think a tiny bit more kindly about all of those swimsuits and high heels from Marvel and DC.

Vertical delivers the concluding volume of Keiko Takemiya’s science-fiction classic To Terra… I’m really curious as to how the story will wrap up, as it seems like things could end very badly for… well… everyone involved. Is it terrible that I’m kind of hoping for an unhappy ending? It’s not that I wish the characters, human or Mu, ill. It just seems like such an enticing alternative. (And if you know how it turns out, and you probably do, please don’t spoil it for me.)


Who’s the weird, green-haired tyke all the manga readers like? Yotsuba&! Yes, the fourth volume of Kyohiko Azuma’s much-loved, long-dormant series arrives Wednesday in better comic shops everywhere courtesy of ADV. I’ll let you absorb that for a moment, then distract you with the knowledge that Tokyopop has picked up Ai Morinaga’s delightful Your and My Secret, along with 37 other titles. ADV squeezed out a single volume of the series years ago, then left us all hanging.

Fantagraphics releases Human Diastrophism, the second collection of Gilbert Hernandez’s richly entertaining Palomar stories. Information can be found by scrolling down this page, and while they’re a step up from ADV by having information on recent and upcoming releases at all, I’d really love it if they’d give a blogger a break and start building some pages that would let me link directly.

Speaking of gender ambiguity, Go! Comi delivers the fourth volume of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare. (And Go! Comi has updated its web sight to profile two upcoming releases, Ryo Takagi’s The Devil Within and Takeru Kirishima’s Kanna.)

It had to happen sooner or later, and if I’m going to be entirely honest, I’ll admit that I’m happy it’s sooner. Can you imagine what Death Note (Viz – Shonen Jump Advanced) would have turned into if it had been one of those 20-plus-volume monstrosities? The very suspenseful series ends with the 12th volume this week, which seems just about right in terms of length.

From the stack: Maggie the Mechanic

One of the first things that struck me about Jaime Hernandez’s Maggie the Mechanic: A Love and Rockets Book (Fantagraphics) is how many qualities the title character shares with the stereotype of a shôjo heroine.

She’s clumsy, spacey and boy-crazy. Her romantic notions and general haplessness lead her into absurd situations, and while she’s prodigiously gifted in a particular field (mechanics, in this case), her lack of confidence keeps her from excelling. She even gets her own variations on the upskirt phenomenon.

Another thing that struck me early was how little the fantastic genre elements in these early stories bring to the party. How, I asked myself, can stories with dinosaurs, rocket ships, super-heroes, evil billionaires, lady wrestlers, and civil wars be so boring?

Take the first long-form story in the collection, “Mechanics.” Maggie has joined her crew (including dreamy celebrity wrench-wrangler Rand Race), and Hernandez heaps the trip with genre elements – mysterious industrialists, tribal legend, tropical disease, political unrest, lady adventurers, you name it. It’s told in a series of letters home to Maggie’s friends, which mostly serve to demonstrate how ill-suited she is to serve as the center of this kind of story. She spends most of her time waiting for things to happen. Maybe that was the point, but I felt like it took ages to make it, and I ended up excessively eager to see brief interludes with the recipients of Maggie’s letters.

A second, similar adventure, “Las Mujeres Perdidas,” is much more effective. The genre elements are scaled back, and Maggie takes a much more active role. Hernandez strips her of some of her illusions of high adventure and romance, but he does so without cruelty or condescension. It’s not that Maggie can’t survive this kind of madness, but the experiences fail to satisfy. Instead of reducing the friends back home to a bemused audience, Hernandez illustrates how much they care about Maggie. There’s an emotional core and a seriousness of potential consequence that “Mechanics” lacked, and it indicates a transition from genre mash-ups to emotionally driven narrative.

And god, the transition is welcome, because I never like Maggie as much as when she’s interacting with the folks back home. Not to mention the fact that I absolutely love the folks back home.

There’s Maggie’s best friend, Hopey, a feisty punk-rocker with a complex emotional core that pings nicely off of Maggie’s own. Underneath the goth-supernatural trappings, Izzy is a genuinely haunted soul, though often funny and generous. Penny Century is a hoot – a sexpot would-be superhero with a playful spirit and a rapacious hunger for life. Pretty much everyone in Maggie’s everyday life makes a vivid, specific impression, putting them miles ahead of the outsized figures of her adventures as a mechanic.

By the end of the volume, Hernandez seems to have settled his focus on this rowdy, emotionally layered crowd. If he sticks with them and keeps the wackiness on the margins, I’ll be with them for the long haul.

Suddenly next fall

When I do these trawls through Diamond’s Previews catalog, I generally try and limit my focus to new series and graphic novels. Sometimes, that’s just impossible.

After over a year and a half in limbo, ADV will release a new volume of Kiyohiko Azuma’s delightful Yotsuba&! I could stop right there and be perfectly happy. (Page 217.) I won’t, obviously.

A new collection of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s funny fantasy adventure, Girl Genius (Airship), is always good news. The sixth trade paperback is listed on page 221, and I’ve reviewed previous volumes here, here and here.

David Petersen’s beautiful Mouse Guard (Archaia) was one of the surprise hits of last year, which leads me to suppose that the sequel, Winter 1152, will also be a hit, but not a surprising one. (Page 230.)

Aurora enters the Previews fray with two listings: Makoto Tateno’s Hate to Love You, described as “Romeo and Romeo,” and Chihiro Tamaki’s Walkin’ Butterfly, a shôjo series about an aspiring model. (Page 238.)

I had expected more of a wait for the second volume of Adam Warren’s sweetly subversive, cheerfully shameless piece of cheesecake, Empowered. Apparently not, which is certainly good news. I reviewed the first volume here. (Page 45.)

Dark Horse dabbles in shôjo with Kazuhiro Okamoto’s Translucent, about a girl who’s starting to turn invisible. My teen-angst metaphor sensors are pinging, but in a good way. (Page 47.)

If Tokyopop’s Dragon Head and Viz’s The Drifting Classroom aren’t adequately feeding your need for student survivalist drama, Del Rey launches Tadashi Kawashima’s Alive. There goes that metaphor sensor again! (Page 272.)

I must have been experiencing a shortage of serotonin last weekend, because I ordered a big box of Fumi Yoshinaga manga from Amazon. I read it all in a sitting, and I think my aura transformed from a dingy gray to a cloud of flowers that were sparkling in a slightly ironic fashion. I really recommend it, and manga publishers like Blu, 801 and Juné seem determined to keep these mood-elevating supplements in ample supply. Juné launches Don’t Say Anymore Darling (page 289) and releases the third volume of Flower of Life (page 290). I don’t know why DMP is publishing it in the Juné imprint [Edited to note that they actually aren’t, and I’m just blurring things in my feeble brain], because there doesn’t seem to be any ai among the shônen, but I don’t really care, because I love the series to a positively embarrassing extent.

Fantagraphics releases the second volume of Gilbert Hernandez’s marvelous Palomar stories in Human Diastrophism. (Page 302.) I reviewed the first volume here.

Go! Comi adds more shônen to its line up with the first volume of Yu Yagami’s Hikkatsu. (Page 308.) In it, the protagonist can use martial arts to repair appliances. Since the ice maker in my refrigerator has been on the fritz for weeks, this concept appeals to me.

While the concept of Oni’s The Apocalipstix doesn’t really speak to me – post-apocalyptic rocker girls! – I’m crazy about Cameron Stewart’s art, and he’s teamed up with writer Ray Fawkes for this original graphic novel. (Page 335.)

Back on Yoshinaga patrol, Tokyopop’s Blu imprint offers Truly Kindly, a collection of shorts from the mangaka. Let’s see… I love Yoshinaga, and I love manga shorts. We’ll mark that down as a “yes.” (Page 365.)