The year in fun (2007)

From a fun comics standpoint, 2007 was absolutely awesome. You know how I know? I had a hard time keeping the list below to 26 items. Okay, it’s an arbitrary number, and I could have just listed everything, but I thought I would make a stab at some pretense of discernment.

I’m not saying these are the best comics of 2007, though I’d put several in that category. I’m never entirely comfortable with that label, because I haven’t read everything and worry that my tastes are too narrow to make a reasonable stab at such a project anyways. But I have no trouble telling which comics I had a lot of fun reading, so here they are.

(Doesn’t the jump create a breathtaking level of suspense? Well, doesn’t it?)

(Updated because I can’t keep my years straight.)

  • 10, 20, and 30, by Morim Kang (Netcomics): Korean josei, basically, following three women of different ages and temperaments as they manage romance (or the lack of it), work (or the lack of it) and family (or an excess of it).
  • Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly): In my defense, this came out really early in 2007, so I must have been confused and thought it was on last year’s version of this list. Because seriously, it’s one of the best graphic novels of the year and delightfully fun to boot. A sensible, ambitious young woman in the prosperous Ivory Coast of late 1970s keeps her head as the people around her leap into amusing, romantic misalliances.
  • Azumanga Daioh Omnibus, by Kyohiko Azuma (ADV): It’s tough to pick which delights me more: the resumption of publication of Azuma’s Yotsuba&!, or this big fat bargain collection of his very funny comic strips about a group of high-school girls and their eccentric teachers.
  • Black Metal, by Rick Spears and Chuck BB (Oni): Antisocial metal-heads discover their secret destiny while playing old vinyl backwards. Very funny, with appropriately and appealingly crude visuals.
  • Bloody Benders, The, by Rick Geary (NBM): I should probably feel some kind of regret that Geary will never run out of gruesome tales to fuel his Treasury of Victorian Murder series. I don’t, because they’re consistently brilliant, informative, insightful, and unsettling. For the high-minded voyeur in all of us.
  • Empowered, by Adam Warren (Dark Horse): Warren is amazingly skilled at walking a thin, frayed tightrope between lurid spandex cheesecake and a witty repudiation of the same. Terrific characters and genuinely funny, imaginative takes on potentially repetitive scenarios make all the difference.
  • Flower of Life, by Fumi Yoshinaga (Digital Manga): When people bemoan the fact that so many manga titles center on the trials and tribulations of high school students, they can’t be talking about this one, can they? I’m just going to come right out and say it: it’s every bit as good as Antique Bakery, which means it’s absolutely great.
  • Gin Tama, by Hideaki Sorachi (Viz): This one’s all about attitude: coarse, goofy, hyperactive attitude. A fallen samurai takes odd jobs in a world that’s handed the keys to alien invaders. There’s enough canny satire to balance out the low-brow antics, making this book a very pleasant surprise.
  • Glister, by Andi Watson (Image): A really delightful combination of fantasy, manor-house comedy, and singularly British sensibility. This book manages to have a warm heart and a tounge planted firmly in its cheek.
  • Honey and Clover, by Chica Umino (Viz): Okay, so this goofy, romantic tale of students at an art college is still being serialized in Shojo Beat and hasn’t come out in individual volumes yet. It’s hilarious.
  • Johnny Hiro, by Fred Chao (AdHouse): In a year that offered more genre mash-up comics than I can count, this was probably my favorite for the underlying realism of the young couple at its center. Giant monsters and ninja sous-chefs are just part of the challenges urban life presents to Johnny and Mayumi.
  • Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip Book Two, by Tove Jansson (Drawn & Quarterly): Everyone knows these strips are timeless, international treasures, right? And that Drawn & Quarterly deserves some kind of cultural prize for getting them back in print? Okay, just checking.
  • My Heavenly Hockey Club, by Ai Morinaga (Del Rey): Under the flimsiest pretext of sports manga lurks a goofy love letter to two of my favorite deadly sins, sloth and gluttony. Easily the best screwball comedy that came out last year.
  • Northwest Passage: The Annotated Collection, by Scott Chantler (Oni): A handsomely produced collection of one of my favorite comics of 2006, featuring treachery and adventure in colonial Canada.
  • Parasyte, by Hitoshi Iwaaki (Del Rey): Okay, so the art is dated and, well, frankly just plain bad in a lot of ways. (Many of the high-school girls in the cast look like they’re pushing 40.) But there’s just something about a boy and the shape-shifting parasite that’s taken over his hand that warms my heart.
  • The Professor’s Daughter, by Joann Sfar and Emmanuel Guibert (First Second): There are certainly better, beefier works by Sfar, but this is still charming, beautiful stuff, with Sfar’s endearingly cranky voice getting a lovely rendering from Guibert.
  • Re-Gifters, by Mike Carey, Sonny Liew and Marc Hempel (Minx): A snazzy little story of romance, martial arts and self-esteem that avoids every single Afterschool Special pitfall through solid characterization, tight storytelling and spiffy art.
  • Ride Home, The, by Joey Weiser (AdHouse): I have yet to find a gnome living in my car, but maybe it just knows I’m on to it thanks to this charming, all-ages adventure about embracing change.
  • Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, by Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni): This series of a young slacker in love just gets better and better, which hardly seems possible. Great characters, a spot-on kind of magical realism, and plenty of twists and turns to keep things fresh and moving.
  • Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil, by Jeff Smith (DC): The Mary Marvel sequences are enough to put this on a Decade in Fun list, but Smith’s re-imagining of the origin of Captain Marvel is delightful from top to bottom.
  • Shortcomings, by Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly): Not all comics about whiny losers who are unable to sustain interpersonal relationships are intolerable. Some, like this one, are absolutely delightful and have what may be the year’s best dialogue.
  • Suppli, by Mari Okazaki (Tokyopop): Damnation, how did this one slip under my radar for so long? In this beautifully drawn josei title, an advertising executive throws herself into work after the end of her seven-year relationship. It’s exactly the kind of book tons of people have been begging for: funny, intelligent, moving and grown up.
  • Umbrella Academy, The: Apocalypse Suite, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse): It’s hardly the first comic to portray the super-team as a dysfunctional family, or maybe even the 50th, but it’s a clever, fast-paced, wonderfully illustrated example all the same.
  • Venus in Love, by Yuki Nakaji (CMX): Aside from the novelty of its college setting (as opposed to the shôjo standard, high school), this book has ample low-key charm. A straight girl and a gay guy become friendly rivals when they realize they have a crush on the same classmate.
  • Welcome to the N.H.K., by Tatsuhiko Takimoto (Tokyopop): I can take or leave the manga this novel inspired, but the source material is tremendously appealing reading. It’s like if David Sedaris wrote a novel about straight, dysfunctional Japanese people.
  • Wild Adapter, by Kazuya Minekura (Tokyopop): Charismatic, emotionally damaged boys pose their way through the stations of the noir cross. Mostly style, but what style, and a reasonable amount of substance to keep you from feeling entirely frivolous. (If frivolity isn’t a worry, you can easily ignore the substance.)
  • Quick comic comments: Shifts

    I’m happy to report that Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! (Dark Horse) makes an exhilarating return to form with the ninth volume. Endo leaves the cartels and brothels of South America behind for a thrilling, multilayered hostage crisis in Asia. Rebels have occupied an oil facility owned by evil empire Propator. The facility itself is less meaningful to the rebels than shedding light on the plight of their people, who are the targets of systematic cultural assimilation. As Propator tries brutally to put a lid on the situation, other forces are working to broadcast the situation as widely as possible. In other words, the forces of money, politics and media are swirling around in the kind of crazily complex yet strangely humanistic way that Endo executes so very well.

    Endo folds in a number of new narrative elements and characters with apparent ease. I’m particularly impressed by the introduction of the rebel group. With so many outside forces pulling the strings, they could easily come across as idealistic dupes, but Endo gives them a much more layered portrayal. They know they’re out of their depth, and the knowledge sparks dissent over method and means. But they’re strangely admirable all the same, and it’s fascinating to watch their leader, Marihan, walk a tightrope of morality, influence and survival.

    On the other hand, there’s the fifth volume of Marley’s Dokebi Bride (Netcomics). I’ve always had the sense that Marley doesn’t have much of an attention span for the various plot threads she weaves together, but it’s usually part of the book’s charm. It generally seems more expansive than scattered.

    This time around, the shift in focus is rather jarring. Things open with a blistering, extremely effective confrontation between troubled Sunbi and a rival shaman. The fallout pushes Sunbi’s family situation from difficult to impossible, and she runs away. Suddenly we find ourselves in what I can only describe as an Afterschool Special produced by Lifetime. Sunbi winds up in a community of runaways and fades into the background as her new, emotionally damaged roomies suck up all the oxygen. If there was anything particularly surprising about their woes or if it all influenced Sunbi in the slightest, it might not have been a problem. Unfortunately, there wasn’t and it didn’t, so I found myself clinging to the brief glimpses of what was happening back at home with Sunbi’s endearingly bratty stepsister.

    Don’t get me wrong. I like Dokebi Bride a lot, particularly for Sunbi’s belligerence. (She’s earned it, to be honest.) I even like the general sense that it isn’t going anywhere in particular, or at least not very quickly. But with so many inviting side streets already on its narrative map, a big detour into social problem drama territory didn’t do the book any favors.

    Upcoming 11/29/2007

    This week’s ComicList constitutes almost an embarrassment of riches. Maybe it’s because of the extra day before shipment. There’s even a three-way tie for Pick of the Week, with some serious runners-up.

    Any week that offers a new title from Fanfare/Ponent Mon is going to be special. This boutique nouvelle-manga publisher has a sterling track record for quality, and I can’t imagine that new work from Jiro Taniguchi will do anything to undermine it. With The Ice Wanderer, Taniguchi seems to be channeling Call of the Wild, offering six man-versus-nature short stories. The subject matter isn’t automatically my cup of tea, but it’s Taniguchi, so it will be gorgeous.

    A new paperback volume of Rick Geary’s A Treasury of Victorian Murder series (NBM) is also cause for celebration. The Bloody Benders might well be subtitled “Deadly Inn on the Prairie” from the solicitation text.

    It’s a great week for Del Rey in general, but I have to make special mention of the last volume of Kio Shimoku’s Genshiken. Nothing much has really happened in nine volumes, but the characters are so great that I really don’t care. The charming interpersonal dynamics and the insanely detailed art are more than ample compensation.

    As to the rest of Del Rey’s large-ish slate of releases, I’ve gone from really liking Fuyumi Soryo’s ES to absolutely loving it. The seventh volume arrives on Thursday, and the tension ratchets up considerably as Soryo forces just about everyone in her cast into dark and dangerous corners. On the lighter side, there’s the third volume of Ai Morinaga’s very funny anti-sports manga, My Heavenly Hockey Club. I devoted half of last week’s Flipped to Ryotaro Iwanaga’s very promising Pumpkin Scissors, so go take a look if you haven’t already.

    I don’t think I’ll ever be inclined to read comics online if there’s a print alternative. Take Morim Kang’s 10, 20, and 30 (Netcomics). I sampled some chapters via the Internet and liked them a lot, then read the first paperback and liked it quite a bit more. Either way you consume it, it’s got charming cartooning and wonderfully rounded characters offering multi-generational slices of life. The second volume arrives this week.

    I’m still kind of on the fence about MPD Psycho (Dark Horse), written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Sho-U Tajima. I read the second volume over the weekend, and while I found it less aggressively lurid than the first, I thought it was a little harder to follow. I’m inclined to give Otsuka a lot of leeway based on his work on The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, so I’ll stay on board for a bit longer.

    I was quite taken with the first volume of Kyoko Shitou’s The Key to the Kingdom (CMX), a race-for-the-crown fantasy adventure. I’m eager to see what happens in the second installment.

    Upcoming 8/22

    With a relatively lean week on our hands, you’d think it would be easy to single out a pick of the week, but it’s a tough call.

    Fond as I am of comics about food, I can’t wait to check out a comic starring food. In this case, it’s David Yurkovich’s Death By Chocolate – Redux (Top Shelf). I’ll just let the first sentence of the solicitation do the talking:

    “Agent Swete — an unlikely hero comprised of organic chocolate and a member of the FBI’s Food Crimes Division — and his sharp-tongued partner, Anderson, investigate a series of bizarre, food-inspired crimes.”

    Sold! (“Food Crimes Division” inspires a lot of unkind Sandra Lee jokes, but I’ll spare you.)

    I’m a sucker for both hype and manga that lives on the border of shôjo and josei, so I’ll have to pick up a copy of the new Shojo Beat from Viz. It includes the debut chapter of Chika Umino’s Honey and Clover, an eagerly anticipated Kodansha Award winner about a group of students at an art college. It sounds right up my alley.

    A new issue of Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules! is always worth noting.

    Netcomics re-offers the first volume of Morim Kang’s 10, 20 and 30. Katherine Dacey-Tsuei has already made an extremely persuasive case for the book over in her latest Weekly Recon column, so I’ll just point you there.

    Oh, and it’s Viz Signature week at comic shops with new volumes about endangered elementary school students, saintly doctors and the serial killers who fixate on them, and ruinously endowed assassins. Choose your poison.

    Quick comic comments: Fourths

    Not long ago, I posted a list of my favorite comics created by women. Not long after that, an Amazon shipment showed up containing fourth volumes of two series that could be added to the list if they keep building on their strengths.

    The first is Marley’s Dokebi Bride (Netcomics), which neatly invests magic-girl storytelling with shockingly raw adolescent angst. For those of you who haven’t been following the series, it’s about Sunbi, granddaughter of a village shaman who is forced to move to Seoul after her grandmother’s death. Sunbi has inherited the maternal line’s ability to interact with spirits, but she’s untrained in the responsibilities and dangers of a shaman’s existence. Between the abilities she neither wants nor understands and a reintroduction to a father she barely remembers (not to mention his new wife and stepdaughter), Sunbi’s adjustment to her new circumstances is going fairly poorly, to say the least.

    Sunbi doesn’t want to acclimate to either the supernatural or the everyday. What little mastery she’s achieved of her shamanistic heritage is used to keep people at a distance, no matter how benevolent their intentions may be. (And it’s to Marley’s credit that characters like the stepmother aren’t one-dimensional obstacles; she recognizes that negative reactions to her brittle heroine are natural, even reasonable.) But the sense that Sunbi must reconcile the disparate elements of her life is pervasive. She’s at a dangerous crossroads, and watching her navigate the territory is very compelling.

    Then there’s Fuyumi Soryo’s ES (Del Rey), which combines a character-driven sensibility with science-fiction suspense. Brilliant but socially awkward Dr. Mine Kujyou has found herself in the middle of a cold war between two mysterious, powerful creatures. Isaac and Akiba are the results of genetic engineering, invested with chilling psychic powers and nothing resembling conventional morality. Akiba takes a benignly curious view of humanity, for the most part, but Isaac views them with a sociopath’s disinterest, playing brutal games that accentuate (and punish) the uglier aspects of human nature.

    As the fourth volume begins, Akiba has recognized the threat Isaac poses, though their shared origins leave him ambivalent. Kujyou is out of her depth, both scientifically and interpersonally, but her efforts to gain understanding on both fronts are compelling to watch. And Isaac’s hostility towards humanity is almost understandable, given the cruelty of the circumstances of his creation. Soryo carefully explores the triangle that they form, probing the emotional and philosophical questions it poses.

    Monday links

    ComiPress provides a fascinating look at the uncomfortable position faced by some Chinese fans of Japanese manga and anime:

    “The question of ‘Is enjoying Japanese manga and anime an unpatriotic act?’ has been a great point of debate in China. The topic has caused many problems, and many young Chinese people are torn between their anti-Japan feelings and their love for Japanese manga.”


    I’m always glad to see Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s books get the attention they deserve, so this piece in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin (found via MangaBlog) was much appreciated. I like this introductory analogy, too:

    “But it’s a bit like wine in a sense: Sure, there are products for the masses, but there are also products that true connoisseurs can enjoy even more.”

    I do think the pleasures of Kan Takahama’s Kinderbook are much more readily apparent than these reviewers did, though.


    At Kate no Komento, Katherine Dacey-Tsue casts an understandably wary eye upon the next evolution of Tokyopop’s web presence:

    “What I don’t like about the site are the gimmicky labels that Tokyopop has assigned to the buttons on the navigation bar. They seem like the handiwork of a marketing consultant, rather than someone who actually uses websites.”

    Glancing at the image, I tend to agree that the tags aren’t immediately useful in terms of navigation. I’ll readily admit that this might be a generational thing for me.


    At the Manga Recon blog, Dacey-Tsuei increases my anticipation for Morim Kang’s 10, 20, and 30 from NETCOMICS:

    “Those deformations, oversized sweat drops, and flapping arms capture the way we really experience embarrassment, fear, betrayal, and attraction: in the moment, one’s own sense of self is grossly—even cartoonishly—exaggerated, even if that moment seems trivial in hindsight.”

    This reminds me very much of my reaction to Rica Takashima’s charming, low-fi Rica ‘tte Kanji!? (ALC), which is a definite inducement to give the book a shot.


    For this week’s Flipped, I talked (via e-mail) to Simon Jones about ero-manga imprint Icarus. So you know at least one smart person was involved in the creation of this week’s installment.

    Quick manga links

    At MangaBlog, Brigid chats with Yen Press guru Kurt Hassler about the imprint’s possible manga magazine and other schemes so crazy they just might work.

    TangognaT is celebrating the fourth anniversary of her blog by giving away some awesome books.

    The Beat points to T. Campbell’s sum-up of the webcomics panel at the New York Comic Con, with plenty of focus on Netcomics and its business model. The recently announced Netcomics/Yaoi Press partnership is one of the things that has (not safe for work) Simon Jones wondering if digital delivery’s time has finally come.

    Boy, I categorized the hell out of this one, didn’t I? Fear my flagrant abuse of WordPress functionalities!

    Previews review

    It’s time again for a trawl through the current edition of Previews. There’s lots of interesting new stuff, but there are also new versions of excellent comics that have been published previously and re-lists of some great books.

    The first in DC’s Minx line of books, The Plain Janes, rolls out in this edition, and DC provides some preview pages that look nice. It’s interesting to see how much effort DC is devoting to getting these books in comics specialty shops, but I sure hope there are concurrent efforts in the kind of outlets where the target audience actually shops.

    On the CMX front, there are a few attractive preview pages of Tomomi Yamashita’s Apothecarius Argentum, another period poison piece. But will it be completely insane?

    The solicitation for 801’s Affair by Shiuko Kano catches my eye with phrases like “real adult relationships.” It’s also a collection of shorts, which is one of my weaknesses.

    I’ve already enjoyed David Petersen’s terrific Mouse Guard (Archaia) in floppies, but I’m glad to see that the publisher hasn’t wasted any time in putting out what will surely be an attractive hardcover collection.

    The manga-with-princess-in-the-title wars rage on as Del Rey debuts Yasunari Mitsunaga’s Princess Resurrection. The tiara and the chainsaw balance each other out rather nicely, don’t they?

    Also from Del Rey is the first volume Hitoshi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, which has generated considerable anticipation. It’s one of their “older readers” books at the $12.95 price point.

    Drawn & Quarterly re-lists the first volume of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jannson Comic Strip for anyone who may have missed it. I’m crazy about this book and will mention it at any opportunity.

    The story described in the solicitation for Gipi’s Garage Band doesn’t immediately grab me, but First Second has demonstrated impeccable taste in the books they choose to publish, and I’ve been wanting to sample Gipi’s work.

    I like the idea of the multi-generational story described in the blurb for Morim Kang’s 10, 20 and 30 from Netcomics. I’ll have to swing by the publisher’s site and sample a few chapters when they become available.

    Oni focuses on new versions of already-published material, collecting Scott Chantler’s terrific Northwest Passage in an omnibus edition and delivering a “Definitive Edition” of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s bottom-of-the-world thriller Whiteout. They also re-list a bunch of great books from their catalog, so if you’ve missed stuff like Past Lies, Capote in Kansas, or Banana Sunday, now’s your chance.

    New from Oni is James Vining’s First in Space, a 2006 Xeric Grant recipient, telling the tale of “a chimpanzee Americans trained for the first sub-orbital spaceflight.” I’m intrigued, but my “sad animal story” radar is pinging.

    Say what you will about the prospect of OEL from Avril Lavigne. It’s bound to be The Rose of Versailles compared to the Bratz Cine-Manga (Tokyopop).

    Tokyopop’s Blu imprint delivers more Fumi Yoshinaga in the form of Lovers in the Night. How many of her titles are left to license? It’s like we’re in the middle of a Yoshinagalanche. That’s not a bad thing, obviously. I didn’t like the opening gambit of Gerard and Jacques, but the series of explosions in the second volume was one of the funniest pieces of cartooning I’ve seen all year.

    Top Shelf delivers a new volume of Andy Runton’s Owly, A Time to Be Brave, which would be generosity enough for one month. But after taking a look at the preview pages for Christian Slade’s Korgi (via Blog@Newsarama), I realize that they’re determined to spoil me.

    Wednesday again

    It’s a short trip through this week’s ComicList, though there are some choice items on offer.

    Fantagraphics delivers the fourth issue of the second volume of Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting. The stories are delightful and the characters engaging, though I find myself starting to wonder if the reading experience wouldn’t be more satisfying in a big, collected chunk than in individual floppies.

    Netcomics offers the fourth volume of Marley’s Dokebi Bride, one of my favorite series. (Marley will be attending this year’s New York Comic-Con, along with Doha of The Great Casby fame.)

    With all of the understandable excitement over To Terra…, it might be easy to forget that Vertical is still releasing beautifully produced paperback versions of Buddha. The fifth volume arrives in comic shops tomorrow.

    Shaman Warrior, the other title in Dark Horse’s manhwa line, makes a belated arrival to keep Banya company.

    And Tokyopop’s only offering for the week is a re-issue of the second volume of Fruits Basket, which must mean the series is still drawing new readers in addition to the legion who are already enjoying it.


    As people talk about downloadable comics, one thing that puzzles me is how rarely anyone mentions Netcomics, which has been offering pay-per-view versions of chapters of its manhwa titles since its inception. They aren’t downloadable comics per se, as you don’t get a file to keep on your hard drive, but the publisher has been offering inexpensive digital delivery of their manhwa for almost a year now.

    I like Ed Chavez’s take on the Netcomics model, viewing it as the equivalent of a digital anthology. It allows readers to sample different titles cheaply (for around a quarter a chapter), possibly being driven to pick up the print versions if something really clicks, or motivating browsers to follow a title on-line with more frequent doses of a favorite story than paperbacks provide.

    So good for Devil’s Due and Slave Labor, but once again, good ideas don’t necessarily equal new ideas.


    I was happy to see Graeme McMillan put out a call for resources on comics for younger readers at Blog@, thinking it would result in some attention for great sites like No Flying, No Tights, and possibly introduce me to some other resources. And there’s some of that in the comments section, particularly from Kat Kan, but there’s also plenty of “Why can’t they just read Justice Society?” on display.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to see a Marvel-and-DC-centric response to the question, even though it wasn’t central to the question in the first place. No one’s really saying that some Big Two titles aren’t great choices for younger readers (though it’s probably easier to point to ones that aren’t), and the suggestion that all-ages comics are automatically condescending and moralizing is just weird to me. Neither of those failings are exclusive to comics for kids, are they?

    And really, are “all-ages comics” the same thing as “comics for kids”? My definition of a great, all-ages book is one that someone from any age group can enjoy, and the ones that I place into that category don’t talk down to any of their potential audience members, no matter how old they are. Some of my favorite comics and graphic novels are aimed at readers much, much younger than myself, and I like them because they’re great stories, executed with skill and imagination, and populated with interesting, appealing characters.