Manga chic

Manga Month may still be down the road a ways, but it seems like it’s Boutique Week on the ComicList, with welcome arrivals from smaller publishers.

Take the pick of the week, Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms from Last Gasp. The U.S. publisher of Keiji Nakazawa’s legendary Barefoot Gen offers another perspective at Japan after the atomic bomb, and I’ve heard nothing but enthusiastic responses from people who’ve read it in scanlation or Japanese.

Fresh on the heels of MangaBlog’s interview with Stephen Robson, Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases the third volume of Times of Botchan, scripted by Natsuo Sekikawa and conceived and drawn by the superb Jiro (The Walking Man) Taniguchi, and re-offers Yukiko’s Spinach, written by Frédéric Boilet and drawn by the fabulous Kan (Kinderbook) Takahama.

Gullywasher offers Danica Novgorodoff’s Isotope Award-winning mini-comic, A Late Freeze, which I really enjoyed.

Okay, CMX is an arm of DC, so it’s not really boutique-y, but Kaoru Mori’s Emma feels boutique-y, and I’m holding on to this theme with my fingernails. The third volume ships on Wednesday, and it’s lovely.

And Blu offers Hirotaka Kisaragi’s Innocent Bird, which I bought over the weekend because it seemed like it would be enthusiastically tawdry but turned out to be sort of interesting and thoughtful instead. I liked it, but I can’t say I’m not a little bit disappointed by the smut shortage. Stupid plastic wrap.

From the stack: A LATE FREEZE

I knew Danica Novgorodoff was a talented designer based on her work on the First Second fall catalog. She’s also a wonderful comics creator in her own right, as illustrated by her mini-comic, A Late Freeze.

Novgorodoff combines a marvelous design sensibility with equal portions of absurdity and romance in this short tale of love between a bear and a robot. With the exception of a few well-chosen captions and bits of dialogue, images tell the story here.

They’re incredibly varied in style and tone. They show wintry natural landscapes, tawdry commercial sprawl, tense action, and tender moments of connection, but they always feel linked and of a piece. Novgorodoff informs them all with warmth and a decidedly quirky sense of humor.

A Late Freeze is a really marvelous example of an illustrated narrative. All of its elements come together to serve Novgorodoff’s unlikely love story. I’d offer more specifics about the plot, but a significant portion of the pleasure is watching it unfold, and I’m disinclined to spoil it for anyone.

And if you need any additional persuasion, A Late Freeze won the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics over the weekend.

(You can view preview images and purchase A Late Freeze at Novgorodoff’s web site.)

From the stack: MAN ENOUGH: a queer romance

I could be a serious mini-comic junkie if more of them were available locally. One of the major pleasures of SPX was being able to gorge myself on them and discover the work of creators like Bill Burg, Justin Hall, and Raina Telgemeier.

Another SPX encounter popped up in my in-box when I got an e-mail from Bill Roundy offering me a copy of his new mini-comic, Man Enough: a queer romance. It’s a really charming date comedy that makes excellent use of the short-story format.

Man Enough begins with David and Ethan meeting at a party. They flirt, connect, and make a date, even though David is a bit startled by the fact that Ethan is a pre-operative female-to-male transsexual. They chat with friends about the impending date, disguising their mutual infatuation with low expectations.

The date itself consumes much of the book. David’s instant attraction to Ethan is at odds with his preconceptions about what he’s looking for in a romantic partner. Ethan just wants to enjoy the evening without the hassle of playing “Trans 101 educator.”

It’s a nice conundrum for the characters, but Man Enough happily emphasizes the romantic elements. David and Ethan’s preconceptions and defenses fall away as the date progresses, and their initial connection overcomes their individual anxieties. It’s sweet, funny, and uplifting without being the slightest bit preachy.

Roundy has a wonderful way with dialogue and pacing. David and Ethan are both vivid characters, and there’s a really nice balance to the way they’re portrayed individually and together. Roundy isn’t as good an illustrator as he is a writer, but he does nice work with facial expressions. They really help sell the emotional arc and the individual beats.

Man Enough is a really fine example of one of the things a mini-comic creator can do – flesh out a quirky, personal story in a short format without losing any of the emotional layers. I liked it a lot.

(Man Enough: a queer romance will debut at the Alternative Press Expo April 8 and 9. It also features a full-color back-up strip written by Roundy and illustrated by Tim Fish, originally published by Young Bottoms in Love at


Potential bias alert: My college of choice had a ridiculously pretty campus nestled (no, seriously, it was nestled within an inch of its life) in rural, western Ohio. It was all Georgian red-brick buildings and mature trees shading winding paths. I was always fascinated by the campus squirrels, because they seemed so well groomed and purposeful. They were like a rodent version of Disneyland employees. And I always thought they were up to something, that they had a really organized union and a break room, maybe in the attic of the art and architecture library.

So early-adulthood nostalgia might leave me predisposed in favor of The Complete Chip Danger: Daredevil Squirrel, a mini-comic by Bill Burg. I don’t think so, though, because this is an entertaining, well-crafted adventure.

It was originally published in 25 installments (24 chapters with an autobiographical intermission) in the Guilford College student newspaper during Burg’s time as an undergraduate. Each page is a chapter (except for the two-page conclusion), and Burg does fine work making the installment stand alone while contributing to the overall narrative.

It’s told from the perspective of Arthur, an average campus squirrel whose life is changed by friendship with the title character. Initially put off by Chip’s seemingly pointless recklessness and low standing with the rest of the squirrel community, Arthur comes to admire the daredevil outcast, especially after Chip helps Arthur through a low point.

Their relationship has ups and downs, though, as Arthur always has some ambivalence about Chip’s behavior. Arthur loves the thrill of leaping from roof to tree, but he’s haunted by thoughts of his own mortality, and he doesn’t understand how Chip can be so heedless. But there’s more to Chip than Arthur suspects, and it’s surprisingly moving to watch Arthur come to understand his friend. Like most animal stories, there’s real sadness here, but it’s balanced with plenty of comedy and adventure.

It’s densely written, but it never feels over-written. There’s plenty of narration and charming dialogue, but it never overwhelms the accompanying visuals. It’s a fine balance of words and pictures. (At $2 a pop, it feels like a ridiculous bargain for the amount of material you get.)

It’s also wonderfully drawn. Burg manages to make each of his characters distinct without going overboard. (As other species of squirrel blend into the campus community, the task gets easier.) He also does a nice balancing act between capturing realistic moments – squirrels scurrying up and down tress, foraging, making wild leaps – and some charming anthropomorphizing, which I won’t describe in any detail because it’s fun and surprising to watch it unfold.

The Complete Chip Danger is just a really impressive comic. It’s a simple, engaging story told with real craft and imagination. And it provides a satisfying answer to just what those squirrels were up to on the quad.