Upcoming 11/30/2011

There’s really only one item of interest to me on this week’s ComicList, but it makes the trip to the local comic shop worthwhile.

It’s the second volume of Nicolas de Crécy’s Salvatore, An Eventful Crossing, from NBM. Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey and I discussed the first volume at some length and found it intriguing if a little bit unnerving. I’m looking forward to this one, even if it puts me a bit on edge in ways I can’t quite describe.

You can check out what my Manga Bookshelf colleagues are eagerly anticipating this week, and you can read our thoughts on some recent releases in a heaping helping of Bookshelf Briefs.


Previews review November 2011

It’s kind of an odd month in the Previews catalog from Diamond. There’s a lot of great stuff, but there’s very little immediately exciting debut material. (There is a fair amount of on-the-fence content, and I could certainly use your feedback on that front.) Let’s start with a few new editions of previously published material:

Dororo Complete Edition, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, NOV11 1117: If you haven’t read this brilliant, Eisner Award winning piece of supernatural shônen, this will provide an excellent opportunity to pick up all three volumes in one shot. While it makes me sad that Tezuka ended this series early, the material he did finish is just magnificent: scary, sad, funny, bleak, gruesome… the whole package. This is one Tezuka title that I can recommend without any reservation or qualification.

Girl Genius Omnibus Vol. 1: Agatha Awakens, by Phil and Kaja Foglio, Tor Books, NOV11 1104: This web-to-print success story has been around for a while, and I’m glad to see it get some hardcover, prestige treatment. It’s about a mad scientist who learns that she’s even madder and more inventive than she suspected. Spunky, scrappy Agatha finds herself in a million different kinds of steampunk peril, and it’s great-looking, fast-paced fun.

Now, onto some less chunky but still worthy items:

A Treasury of 20th Century Murder: The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, written and illustrated by Rick Geary, NBM, NOV11 1052: I love these crime histories for their smart writing and great, detailed art, but I tend to wait for them to be available in paperback. It means I have to wait a bit to enjoy Geary’s take on highly controversial cases like this one, but I can be patient.

The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Vol. 12, written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki, Dark Horse, NOV11 0055: On the other hand, I can’t be any more patient with this title than the publication schedule demands, and damnation, does that schedule demand a lot of patience. Still, this is one of my very favorite Japanese comics ever, and I always get giddy at the prospect of enjoying more misadventures of a group of supernatural investigators.

We’ll wrap up with one on-the-fence item that I didn’t feel like wedging into this month’s poll:

Gentlemen’s Agreement Between a Rabbit and a Wolf, written and illustrated by Shinano Oumi, Digital Manga, NOV11 0962: As you know, I always like to investigate unknown boys’-love quantities before investing in them, so I’d appreciate any feedback either on this title or on Oumi’s work in general. This one sounds promising – a workplace romantic comedy about two guys who work for an advertising agency. The whole predator-prey framing is a little on the nose for me, but I’m certainly open to anything about grown-ups with jobs.


Stargazing Dog

I can’t critically address Takashi Murakami’s Stargazing Dog (NBM) without first admitting a bias and then describing some personal circumstances.

I freely recognize that I’m overly sensitive to portrayals of the pet-human relationship in any kind of fiction, and I have a huge number of deal-breaking tropes. For instance, I hate when pets are put at risk to prop up an antagonist and show how very, very evil that person is. I also hate shamelessly manipulative portrayals of the loss of a pet, pushing extremely personal buttons because the storyteller knows that it works.

On the personal front, I’ve lost two dogs this year. In January, our beautiful lady finally succumbed to old age at about 18 years. Over the summer, our boy dog (who will always be our boy dog in spite of the fact that he was about 12 years old) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which was one of the more awful surprises we’ve experienced. (On the bright side, we’ve also adopted a sweet, hilarious little dachshund-Chihuahua mix who is a constant source of joy.)

So that’s the head space I was in when I picked up this book, which is about a man who loses pretty much everything but his beloved dog. When I say that, no matter how sad this story becomes, I never felt manipulated and that I was always reassured that Murakami was coming from the best, most genuine place in his storytelling, I think I have a certain level of authority in that opinion. If you’re like me in that you’re extremely wary when it comes to sad pet stories, be reassured in the case of Stargazing Dog.

Murakami’s human protagonist isn’t in a great place. He’s lost his job, he has health problems, his daughter is in the thicket of adolescent bitchery, and his wife has decided it’s all too much and is filing for divorce. The last remaining bright spot in his life is the family dog, Happie, brought home during the daughter’s more benign years but eventually becoming the father’s most loyal and constant companion (and vice versa).

That development represents the kind of astute choices Murakami makes in crafting the narrative. He shows the evolution of the relationship between man and dog, establishing it in incremental, unexpected ways that make it more persuasive in the long run. Murakami also shares the dog’s point of view, but he takes a very restrained approach to that, keeping the animal’s thoughts on a basic level that still manages to be extremely moving.

The pair embarks on an ultimately ill-fated journey that I really can’t bring myself to describe, mostly because I don’t want to spoil anything. But Murakami uses the trip and its individual events to reassert the foundational loyalty of the human-dog relationship to the point that, no matter the sorrow they may encounter, the uplift provided by that bond is what the reader ultimately takes away at the end. That’s kind of a magnificent accomplishment. (There’s also a sequel story, “Sunflower,” which goes to some less benevolent places using the main story as a framing device. It’s fine stuff too, but its effectiveness is entirely dependent on its grounding in Stargazing Dog.)

I love Murakami’s style of illustration. It straddles that line between stylized cartooning and very human vulnerability, not unlike Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (Last Gasp). I could have done without some bits of awkward copy editing. That’s always the case, but it’s particularly true with a story that just begs to flow effortlessly because it’s so finely crafted. The presentation is attractive overall, though.

This is an extraordinarily lovely comic. It’s sad in the best kind of ways, using sadness to make an extremely worthwhile point about a fine and enduring kind of relationship. Given where my head is on the nature of that bond, it could have been devastating, but I ultimately found it wonderfully reassuring.


Upcoming 10/5/2011

It’s a huge week of eagerly anticipated arrivals on the ComicList, so let’s get right to it!

Drawn & Quarterly releases the collection of Kate Beaton’s super-smart, super-funny Hark! A Vagrant strips. I’ve read some of these online, mostly in the context of someone linking to individual strips and rightly noting how super smart and super funny they are, but I’ve resisted reading all of them, because I wanted to hold the book in my hands and enjoy all of these comics in dead-tree form.

NBM delivers Takashi Murakami’s Stargazing Dog, which is about a down-on-his-luck guy who gets through tough times with the help of his loyal canine companion. Early word on this is that it’s lovely but will probably make me cry buckets, so I’ve stocked up on handkerchiefs. Here’s a preview.

If you missed it in hardcover (as I did), Emblem Editions gives you a paperback opportunity to enjoy Scott Chantler’s Two Generals, which portrays World War II through the eyes of average soldiers. Chantler is a marvelous cartoonist, as evidenced by his Northwest Passage from Oni Press, so I’m really excited about this one.

Osamu Tezuka’s The Book of Human Insects (Vertical) reaches comic shops. I reviewed the book last week; it’s excellent, particularly for fans of Tezuka’s unique brand of noir.

Viz is also dumping a ton of new titles on the market, many of which were discussed in the current Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week and Bookshelf Briefs. Of the series I’ve not yet personally mentioned, I would highlight the fourth volume of Kazue Kato’s increasingly excellent Blue Exorcist and the ninth volume of Yuki Midorikawa’s always lovely Natsume’s Book of Friends. I’m also led to believe, by a reliable source, that Toshiaki Iwashiro’s Psyren becomes a lot better than the first volume would suggest, which is certainly possible; most of the first volume of Blue Exorcist was flat-out awful, and that’s become one of my favorite shônen titles.

But enough about my incipient poverty; what looks good to you?


Upcoming 8/17/2011

If your comic shop is of the Diamond dependent stripe, you may be disappointed by this week’s ComicList, as there’s next to no manga in evidence. Never fear, though! There is one exciting arrival to please the discerning comics reader.

That would be the fourth volume of Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings: My Shadow in the Distance (NBM). Trondheim’s self-deprecating, autobiographical comics are always funny and observant in just the right ways. I reviewed the third volume, Uneasy Happiness, for the inaugural Not By Manga Alone column.

Of course, for those served by more diversely sourced comic shops, you can take a look at the Manga Bookshelf Pick of the Week roundup, and you can peruse this week’s Bookshelf Briefs for our takes on a variety of recent releases.

By the way, a new alphabet begins this week, but I think I’ll keep the theme a surprise. I’m sneaky that way!


Previews review August 2011

Okay, I normally don’t dwell on this sort of thing, but I just have to make an observation about the covers in the DC section of the current Previews catalog. These are mostly the second issues of the publisher’s big re-launch of its super-hero line presumably to make it more accessible to people who wouldn’t normally pick up a comic about Superman or Batman or Green Lantern. Here’s my observation: the covers of these comics look exactly like these comics have looked for the last twenty years, possibly pinpoint-able right to the late 1990s. So this should be interesting, since it really does seem like an example of the scientific method. If all other things are equal, and DC changes one thing – the volume of back story in play to theoretically confuse or bar a casual reader from entry – will people who did not previously care about the Justice League suddenly start caring about the justice league? Time will tell! Let’s move on to things I will actually purchase!

Princess Knight vol. 1, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, Inc., AUG11 1232: The most actually exciting thing in the catalog is the English-language debut of Tezuka’s game-changing shôjo classic. Some of us have been waiting years for this to happen. Years.

Hark! A Vagrant, written and illustrated by Kate Beaton, Drawn & Quarterly, AUG11 1018: Beaton’s super-smart comics “takes readers on a romp through history and literature — with dignity for few and cookies for all — with comic strips about famous authors, their characters, and political and historical figures, all drawn in Beaton’s pared-down, excitable style. This collection features favourite stories as well as new, previously unpublished content. Whether she’s writing about Nikola Tesla, Napoleon, or Nancy Drew, Beaton brings a refined sense of the absurd to every situation.”

Two Generals, written and illustrated by Scott Chantler, Emblem Editions, AUG11 1060: This is the soft-cover edition of Chantler’s acclaimed historical graphic novel.

Tesoro: Short Stories 1998-2008, written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, Viz Media, AUG11 1256: This volume collections some of the earliest professional work by the gifted creator of series like Gente and The House of Five Leaves. So you should probably buy it.

There’s also the 2011 edition of The Best American Comics from Houghton Mifflin. I’ve made it this long without reading one of these, so I doubt my streak will be broken, though the guest editorial duties of Alison Bechdel may make me waver.

And here are new volumes of ongoing series that you should seriously consider buying:

That’s… like… a lot.


Previews review July 2011

I know it’s probably inappropriate to rob you of your right to vote during the week if Independence Day, but there just isn’t enough new material to run either dubious manga or BL polls. There are a couple of new titles that look perfectly awful, but I can’t bring myself to run the risk of ever having to read either of them. And there’s only one new BL title due. As if to compensate for this, Previews is packed with tempting debuts and new volumes of beloved series.

The madness begins with Kodansha Comics providing all of the Sailor Scouts you can handle. There’s the first volume of Koji Kumeta Naoko Takeuchi’s Codename: Sailor V (order number JUL11 1144, $10.99), the prequel to Sailor Moon that has never been published in English, and there’s the first volume of Kumeta Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon itself (order number JUL11 1150, $10.99). Kodansha rather cheekily describes this as “the biggest manga launch of 2011 from any publisher.” I can’t really argue with the truth of that. Of course, if it’s so big, you might get the details on your web site.

I’ve never heard of this book, but I trust NBM, so I’m on board for Takashi Murakami’s Stargazing Dog (order number JUL11 1174, $11.99). This two-volume series originally ran in Futubasha’s Manga Action. It’s about a depressed loner whose life is vastly improved by the adoption of a dog.

Not content with one amazing debut, Vertical doubles up, first with Uumaru Furuya’ No Longer Human, an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Osamu Dazai (order number JUL11 1258, $10.95). Furuya updated Dazai’s tale of an emotionally troubled man for his three-volume adaptation, which ran in Shinchosha’s Comic Bunch. Side note: Dazai’s novel played a key role in Mizuki Nomura’s excellent light novel, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime (Yen Press).

If there’s been a manga series that received more attention from mainstream media than Tadashi Agi’s The Drop of God (order number JUL11 1259, $14.95), I can’t think of it. This wine-soaked seinen title follows the rivalry between a wine critic and his brother as they compete for the right to inherit the contents of their father’s legendary cellar.

Viz has a ton of new volume of great series, but the only noteworthy debut is a 3-in-1 release of X by CLAMP (order number JUL2011 1279, $19.99). I can’t find a link for it anywhere, but Viz promises a deluxe collector’s edition restored to its original orientation. As for the story itself, the end of the world is near, and super-powered people are taking sides in Tokyo. The series ran for 18 volumes in Kadokawa Shoten’s Monthly Asuka.

New volumes of ongoing series:

  • xxxHOLic vol. 17, by CLAMP, Del Rey, order number: JUL11 0986, $10.99
  • The Summit of the Gods vol. 3, by Yumemakura Baku and Jiro Taniguchi, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, order number JUL11 1106, $25.00
  • Black Metal vol. 2, by Rick Spears and Chuck BB, Oni Press, order number JUL11 1195, $11.99
  • Twin Spica vol. 9, by Kou Yaginuma, Vertical, Inc., order number JUL11 1260, $10.95
  • One Piece vol. 58, by Eiichiro Oda, Viz Media, order number JUL11 1271, $9.99
  • Cross Game vol. 5, by Mitsuru Adachi, Viz Media, order number JUL11 1286, $14.99
  • Kamisama Kiss vol. 5, by Julietta Suzuki, order number JUL11 1261, $9.99
  • Bunny Drop vol. 4, by Yumi Unita, order number JUL11 1300, $12.99

That’s kind of hefty! Start filling your change jars now!


Previews review May 2011

After a couple of months of fairly jam-packed Previews catalogs, I suppose it could seem petty to complain that the current listings seem a little slender. There aren’t even enough debuts to manage a dubious manga poll for the month. Fortunately, there are some highlights worth noting.

Book of Human Insects, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, item code MAY 11 1268: How can one complain about a month that offers the English-language debut of crazy Tezuka seinen? This one originally ran in Akita Shoten’s Play Comic and has been published in French by Casterman as La femme insecte. It’s a mystery about an unscrupulous and manipulative woman. Vertical promises “more twists and turns than MW,” which hardly seems possible.

Veronica #208: Veronica Presents Kevin Keller #2: written and illustrated by Dan Parent, colored by Rich Koslowski, Archie Comics, item code MAY 11 0836: Okay, I missed mentioning the first issue of this, but Kevin (Robot 6) Melrose’s preview of part two of the mini-series about Riverdale’s newest resident, who happens to be gay, reminded me to be excited. (And just as a side note, who would have predicted that Archie would have proven to be the nimblest and most risk-friendly of pamphlet publishers? Not me, that’s for sure.)

Until the Full Moon, written and illustrated by Sanami Matoh, Kodansha Comics, item code MAY 11 1129: This isn’t a debut, per se, as the series was previously published by Broccoli Books. I thought the first volume was kind of dull back then, but I’m among the many who hold a special place in my heart for Matoh’s Fake (Tokyopop), so I thought this book’s return was worth mentioning.

That’s pretty much it as far as debuts go. Here are some particularly enticing new volumes of ongoing series.

Little Nothings volume 4: My Shadow in the Distance, written and illustrated by Lewis Trondheim, NBM, item code MAY 11 1142: These are smart, charming, observational-autobiographical comics from an incredibly talented creator, and they’re incredibly easy on the eye. You can check out a bunch of them at Trondheim’s blog for NBM.

And here’s a by-no-means complete list of new volumes of ongoing series that I’m looking forward to reading:

  • 20th Century Boys vol. 16, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, Viz Media, item code MAY 11 1241
  • Arisa vol. 3, written and illustrated by Natsumi (Kitchen Princess) Ando, Kodansha Comics, item code MAY 11 1122
  • Black Jack vol. 17, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, item code MAY 11 1269
  • Book Girl and the Captive Fool, written by Mizuki Nomura, Yen Press, item code MAY 11 1281

I’ll post another blind date experiment with the current batch of boys’-love candidates tomorrow.


From the stack: The Sky over the Louvre

I adored Nicolas de Crécy’s Glacial Period, the first in NBM’s translations of graphic novels created in conjunction with the Louvre. It was funky and imaginative and had interesting things to say about art and the value of cultural history. I keep hoping the subsequent offerings in the series will offer the same feeling of discovery, but none has reached similar heights for me. I don’t regret buying and reading any of them, but I’m not in a rush to read any of them again.

That state of mind persists with The Sky over the Louvre, co-written by Jean-Claude Carrière and Bernar Yslaire and illustrated by Yslaire. It follows key players in the French Revolution during the earliest days of the Louvre’s tenure as a public institution. There’s fascinating potential to explore the intersection of art and politics and individual express in a time of national turmoil. Carrière and Yslaire take advantage of that intermittently, but the story is structured oddly. It veers from intensely personal to dryly polemic without any predictable rhythm or apparent design.

Carrière is a legendary screenwriter (The Tin Drum, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie), but it seems his skills as a storyteller aren’t portable to the graphic-novel form. The script he’s developed with Yslaire relies heavily on bits of expository text that open and sometimes close individual chapters. They provide context and valuable information, but they seem less like crafted prose than captions. Dialogue leans toward the weighty and stylized, and individual voices tend to get lost. The angelic young muse sounds very much like Robespierre, which doesn’t seem right.

Yslaire’s art is certainly striking, particularly the limited palette of colors he uses to accent the pages. His characters have a strangely cadaverous look, even looking decayed from time to time. It helps articulate the contradiction between revolutionary ideals and the men who execute them for their own purposes. It’s often delightful to see these corpses talk about the corruption of the aristocracy as they pursue their own contradictory, hypocritical agendas. There are some stunning tableaus, and the panels featuring more sinister, shadowy content are wonderfully expressive. I also admire the way reproductions of art from the period, particularly portraits by Jacques-Louis David, a key player in the narrative. They’re beautiful for their own virtues, and they pop, but they fold in to the overall narrative well.

Undeniably awkward as the historical content is, there are some genuinely gripping sequences, perhaps because they’re mostly invention. David, ordered to create masterworks for events celebrating the new Republic, allows himself to be waylaid by a beautiful young man who challenges David’s revolutionary principles. The boy, Jules, is barely a character, speaking almost exclusively in convenient metaphors, but David’s reaction to him offers the most compelling, charged moments in the comic. Sequences where David tries to force Jules into the posture of a young martyr of the revolution – for purely artistic purposes, surely – have an effective creepiness to them.

Maybe the whole book should have been invented rather than trying to adhere to the specifics of history. Those parts of the book are certainly more successful than the speechifying.


Previews review April 2011

Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, let’s check out the choice items in the current Previews catalog, shall we?

Eden: It’s an Endless World! vol. 13, written and illustrated by Hiroki Endo, Dark Horse, item code APR 11 0039: It’s been ages since Dark Horse released a volume of this often excellent science-fiction, as it apparently doesn’t fly off of the shelves. I’m glad to see them sticking with it, at least whenever finances permit. It originally ran in Kodansha’s Afternoon.

A Zoo in Winter, written and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, item code APR 11 1049: Taniguchi takes an autobiographical look at his early days as a manga-ka. For my tastes, this isn’t the most promising subject for any comic, but I always admire Taniguchi’s work, even if the specific topic triggers a lukewarm reaction. It originally ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic.

The Quest for the Missing Girl, written and illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, item code APR 11 1050: This is one of Taniguchi’s best pieces of genre work, combining his obsessions with mountaineering and noir, and it’s being offered again for those who missed it the first time around. It originally ran in Big Comic.

Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei vol. 9, written and illustrated by Koji Kumeta, Kodansha Comics, item code APR 11 1084: Of all of the resumptions in this month’s listings from Kodansha, this one fills my heart with the most gladness. It provides often blistering satire of contemporary Japanese culture and has a sprawling cast of insane schoolgirls. It runs in Kodansha’s Weekly Shônen Magazine.

A Treasury of 20th Century Murder vol. 4: The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti, written and illustrated by Rick Geary, NBM, item code APR 11 1110: Gifted cartoon historian Geary takes a look at the highly controversial trial of two accused anarchists.

Chibisan Date vol. 1, written and illustrated by Hidekaz Himaruya, Tokyopop, item code APR 11 1166: I admit to being generally suspect of Tokyopop’s new arrivals, but this one immediately struck me in a positive way: “On the crescent-shaped island of Nantucket lives Seiji, a young Japanese artist pursuing his dreams. This charming, slice-of-life story filled with warmth and pathos follows a cast of fascinating characters on the island.” There are some gorgeous sample pages in the catalog, and the plot sounds right up my alley. It’s running in Gentosha’s Comic Birz. Update: It’s been brought to my attention that Himaruya is also the creator of the very popular Hetalia Axis Powers, also from Tokyopop. I haven’t calculated precisely how this influences my enthusiasm for Chibisan Date, but I suspect it lowers it.

There are new volumes of two great series from Vertical:

  • Chi’s Sweet Home vol. 6, written and illustrated by Konami Kanata, item code APR 11 1205, originally serialized in Kodansha’s Morning.
  • Twin Spica vol. 8, written and illustrated by Kou Yaginuma, item code APR 11 1206, originally serialized in Media Factory’s Comic Flapper.

La Quinta Camera, written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, Viz Media, item code APR 11 1230: I believe I’ve mentioned this one before, and there may have been squeezing involved simply because I’m such a fan of Ono’s work. It’s slice of life about five men that live in an Italian apartment building. It originally ran in Penguin Shobou’s Comic SEED!

In other Viz news, there are new volumes of several series that I love a great deal:

So, those are my picks. What looks good to you? And be sure to help me pick a boys’-love title and vote in this month’s dubious manga poll!