Previews review June 2011

All right, now that the polling is underway, let’s take a look at the sure bets in the current edition of Diamond’s Previews catalog. Will start with the exciting and/or noteworthy debuts:

Velveteen & Mandala, written and illustrated by Jiro (Freesia) Matsumoto, Vertical, item code JUN11 1294: A Vertical debut is always worth noting, and this one looks intriguingly odd. It portrays a pair of teen-age girls struggling against the zombie apocalypse when they aren’t fending off the totally worse thread of boredom. The single-volume series originally ran in Ohta Shuppan’s Manga Erotics F, an unpredictable but always promising source. I believe this is Matsumoto’s English-language debut.

Habibi, written and illustrated by Craig Thompson, Pantheon, item code JUN11 1212: Have I mentioned lately that I’ve never mustered the energy to finish Thompson’s Blankets? I found what I’ve read of it to be hopelessly mopey and overwritten, though undeniably easy on the eyes. But it’s always worth noting when Thompson releases a new brick, because it happens so rarely. This time, he “explores and celebrates the beauty and cruelty, the complexity and depths of the Islamic world.” Set your phasers on “Gush.”

Animal Land vol. 1, written and illustrated by Makoto (Zatch Bell) Raiku, Kodansha Comics, item code JUN11 1169: I’m succumbing to the adorability of the cover and the premise. An orphaned raccoon dog finds an abandoned human child and decides to raise it in a world occupied only by animals. Zatch Bell had some deeply hideous and unsettling character designs and a cripplingly annoying anime adaptation, so those are points of concern, but I’m game for a volume or two. The series originally ran in Kodansha’s Bessatsu Shônen.

Moving on to the “offered again” category:

  • Korea as Viewed by 17 Creators, by various, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, item code JUN11 1123: Curious about this Eisner-nominated anthology? This is probably one of your better shots at scoring a copy.
  • Gon vol. 1, written and illustrated by Masashi Tanaka, Kodansha Comics, item code JUN11 1172: In case you missed these insanely kinetic, wordless comics about a baby dinosaur the first couple of times they were released.
  • Carnet de Voyage, written and illustrated by Craig Thompson, Top Shelf, item code JUN11 1246: This collection of travel stories is the Thompson comic I’d enthusiastically recommend.

And, lastly, new volumes of ongoing series that particularly catch my eye:

  • Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei vol. 10, written and illustrated by Koji Kumeta, Kodansha Comics, item code JUN11 1176: So glad Kodansha is picking up this hilarious, unsparing satire.
  • Amelia Rules! Vol. 7, The Meaning of Life… and Other Stuff, written and illustrated by Jimmy Gownley, Simon & Schuster, item code JUN11 1239: Wonderfully observant comics about a spunky, imaginative middle-schooler and her friends.
  • Butterflies, Flowers vol. 8, written and illustrated by Yuki Yoshihara, Viz Media, item code JUN11 1275: Probably a guilty pleasure, and one I’m a bit behind on, but I always get some quality cringing chuckles out of this series.
  • Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You vol. 10, written and illustrated by Karuho Shiina, Viz Media, item code JUN11 1278: A joyous deconstruction, subversion and celebration of shôjo tropes.
  • House of Five Leaves vol. 4, written and illustrated by Natsue Ono, Viz Media, item code JUN11 1291: The best of Ono’s works to be published in English so far, which is saying something.

What’s on your wish list?


Upcoming 2/3/2010

I was surprised to discover that Tsutomu Nihei’s Biomega (Viz) isn’t an adaptation of an existing video game. Its set-up and execution are exactly like a good first-person shooter, with a well-armed guy on a tricked-out motorcycle entering hostile territory with a mission and a subset of shifting objectives. There’s melee combat with a horde of shambling zombies, timed vehicle rescues, and malicious opponents in the form of a shadowy government conspiracy. There’s even a holographic wrangler providing useful information and reminding the protagonist of pending tasks. A more suggestible person might try and turn the book’s pages with their Xbox controller. (It doesn’t work.)

With its fast pace and progressively escalating stakes, Biomega actually does a better job capturing the experience of playing a video game than comics that are actually adaptations of existing franchises. As a result of that, the characters are thin and serviceable and their consequence is a distant second to event and spectacle, but there’s rarely a shortage of either of those ingredients. It’s also drawn extremely well, with clear, kinetic staging and some inventive bits of design (but not too many, because if you stare at how neat things are, the zombies will get you). There’s also a talking bear with a rifle for reasons that are probably no more complex than “just because,” but he’s welcome, as he keeps things from being entirely functional.

Biomega isn’t a book that inspires any contemplation, and it only takes itself as seriously as it absolutely must. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, any more than there is spending a few hours shooting digital zombies in the head and making a last-minute motorcycle jump from a burning building. It’s a time-waster executed with style and craft. (Review based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)

Now, let’s move on to the rest of this week’s ComicList, which offers a bounty of potentially appealing books for young adults:

I picked up Raina Telgemeier’s mini-comics at a Small Press Expo a few years ago and really liked them a lot. It was no surprise that publishers asked her to work on adaptations franchise properties like Ann M. Martin’s The Baby-Sitters Club (Graphix) and X-Men: Misfits (Del Rey). But it’s especially nice to see that Graphix is giving her original work such lovely treatment with Wednesday’s release of Smile. It heightens the average obstacles of life in middle school with a big bout of dental drama.

I expressed my enthusiasm for Chris Schweizer’s Crogan’s March (Oni) over the weekend, so I won’t repeat myself.

Collections of Jimmy Gownley’s terrific Amelia Rules! have been available for a while now, but they’ve found a new home at Simon & Schuster. One of those trade paperbacks, Superheroes, is due out Wednesday, and if you haven’t sampled the series yet, this is a perfectly good opportunity.

It’s also time for Viz’s monthly mangalanche, and the emphasis is on titles from their Shojo Beat and Shonen Jump lines. There’s lots of good stuff on the way, but I find myself unproductively fixated on the first volume of Ultimo, a collaboration between Stan Lee and Hiroyuki (Shaman King) Takei, with assists from inker Daigo and painter Bob. With that many credits, it’s easy to suspect that Lee has already been a bad influence. To be honest, I’m not quite ready to issue a verdict on the book, but please do go read thoughtful reviews from Erica (Okazu) Friedman and Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey. In the meantime, I’ll continue my fruitless stare-fight with the book as I try and figure out what it is about it that irritates me so.

Previews review January 2010

I generally don’t read the text pieces in Diamond’s Previews catalog, but the latest issue reveals that the distributor has declared March 21-27 “Women in Comics Week.” I’ll need to collate my thoughts on how Diamond has chosen to celebrate this particular event, so that’s really just a note to me at the moment. Let’s move on to the highlights of this installment, shall we?

The best news of the month is that Simon & Schuster is releasing a volume of new terrific comics by Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules! Tweenage Guide to Not Being Popular (page 290): “In Jimmy Gownley’s first original volume in two years, Amelia and company rise and fall through the ranks of nerd, geek – and cheerleader? – in a daring attempt to not be unpopular.”

Should I be excited about Yumi Unita’s Bunny Drop from Yen Press (page 306)? It’s josei, so I feel like I should be. It’s about an immature bachelor who adopts his grandfather’s illegitimate little daughter. In a shônen context, that would probably be super gross, but I think we’re on much safer ground with a josei approach. It was originally published by Shodensha in Feel Young, and it’s been published in French by Delcourt.

There’s no question as to whether or not I should be excited about the arrival of the first print volume of Natsume Ono’s House of Five Leaves (Page 301), one of the inaugural series from Viz’s SigIKKI initiative. It’s a wonderfully odd story of a down-on-his-luck samurai who finds himself mixed up with a gang of seedy but alluring kidnappers. You can sample it online here. If I’m going to be totally honest, the other SigIKKI launch, Seimu Yoshizaki’s Kingyo Used Books, lands somewhere in the middle of the pack in my list of SigIKKI favorites. It’s a strong pack, though, so that’s not really a criticism. It’s a funny, sentimental, episodic look at why and how people love comics. You can sample it online here. (Page 301.)

And now for a quick sampling of new volumes of some terrific series:

  • 20th Century Boys vol. 8, written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, Viz, page 301
  • Black Jack vol. 10, written and illustrated by Osamu Tezuka, Vertical, page 306
  • Fire Investigator Nanase vol. 4, written by Izo Hashimoto, illustrated by Tomoshige Ichikawa, CMX, page 131
  • Itazura na Kiss vol. 2, written and illustrated by Kaoru Tada, DMP, page 250
  • The Name of the Flower vol. 4, written and illustrated by Ken Saito, CMX, page 131
  • Ôoku: The Inner Chambers vol. 3, written and illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga, Viz, page 301
  • Time and Again vol. 2, written and illustrated by JiUn Yun, Yen Press, page 307
  • Previews review October 2009

    The October issue of Diamond’s Previews catalog offers lots of promising material from all over the place. Let’s get down to it.

    EmpoweredComicI’m always happy to see more of Adam Warren’s brilliant Empowered. This time around, Warren and Dark Horse take a different approach, offering the struggling super-heroine in “traditional comic-book format.” It’s 32 black and white pages for $3.99 featuring two stories – a desperate battle in a secret, super-hero mausoleum and the always-alliterative musings of the Caged Demonwolf. (Page 26-27.)

    StolenHearts1It’s always wise to keep an eye on CMX’s shôjo offerings, as they’re usually pretty charming. New this month is Stolen Hearts, written and illustrated by Miku Sakamoto. It’s about a girl who befriends “the most intimidating guy at school” and becomes involved in his family’s kimono shop. I’m always looking for underrepresented careers in manga, and kimono model certainly qualifies. It was originally serialized in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume. (Page 120.)

    AfrodisiacA few years back, the big blogosphere hit was Jim Rugg and Brian Marucca’s Street Angel from SLG. A much-loved supporting character from that book gets a shot at solo stardom in Afrodisiac from AdHouse Books. It’s written by Maruca and drawn by Rugg and promises “cats, gats, spats, and feathered hats.” (Page 188.)

    KingofRPGs1You may know Jason Thompson as the author/editor of the invaluable Manga: The Complete Guide, but he’s also a creator of comics. He’s authored King of RPGs, illustrated by Victor Hao, for Del Rey. It’s a “send-up of manga, gaming and geek culture,” which is subject matter well within Thompson’s sphere of experience. Thompson is also updating the guide and giving away manga over at (Page 242.)

    Talk about long-awaited! I can’t remember the first time I heard about Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators, but it appears at long last in the pages of Previews (page 250, to be precise). I can’t find any information on Fanfare’s site, but if Korea is half as good as Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, it will be a must-buy.

    TreasuryFamousPlayersI’m crazy about Rick Geary’s Treasury books, but I’m cheap so I wait for the paperback versions. Happily, NBM slates the soft-cover version Geary’s A Treasury of 20th Century Murder: Famous Players for publication. It examines the murder of early Hollywood director William Desmond Taylor. (Page 271.)

    I loved Crogan’s Vengeance, Chris Schweizer’s first look at the long saga of the Crogan family and its cross-century adventures. The second volume, Crogan’s March, is due from Oni Press, looking at life in the French Foreign Legion. (Page 274-275).

    MercuryThe gifted Hope Larson delivers her next work, Mercury from Simon and Schuster. It looks to be a mystery surrounding a magnificent mansion in Nova Scotia. But really, it’s Larson, and that’s pretty much all you need to know. (Page 285.)

    Even with setbacks, the last few months might be pinpointed as the beginning of Tokyopop’s comeback tour. They announced a bunch of titles in August, and one appealed to me in particular. It’s Kou Matsuzuki’s Happy Café, a romantic comedy set in a restaurant. I find it very hard to resist romantic comedies set in restaurants, even if they feature that old warhorse, the clumsy shôjo heroine. It was originally published in Hakusensha’s Hana to Yume. (Page 289.)

    notsimplePage 301 promises more goodness from Viz Signature. My poor, poor wallet, how you will weep. New to the imprint are Natsume Ono’s not simple. Ono is the creator of House of Five Leaves, and I’ve become very intrigued by her work. not simple is told backwards and follows a young man as he travels the world in search of his sister. It was originally published in Penguin Shobou’s Comic Seed! and was later picked up by Shogakukan.

    AllMyDarlingDaughters1And, of course, Viz triggers squeals across the internet by offering more manga from Fumi Yoshinaga. It’s All My Darling Daughters featuring an adult woman who still lives with her mother until mom’s new boyfriend drives a wedge into the family. It was originally published in Hakusensha’s Melody.

    Last, and certainly not least, Yen Press continues to rack up manga karma by rescuing Kiyohiko Azuma’s Azumanga Daioh Collected Edition from limbo. This makes me so happy that I will simply run the solicitation in its entirety: “The classic returns! This four-panel comedy chronicles the everyday lives of six very quirky high school girls. Meet the child prodigy Chiyo, the animal-loving Sakaki, the spacey out-of-towner Osaka, the straight-laced Yomi and her best friend Tomo, and the sports-loving Kagura throughout their high school lives. As the first four-panel comic to gain popularity in the U.S., Yen Press is proud to present the complete fan-favorite in a single volume, complete with all the original color pages and an updated translation so new and old readers can enjoy the best, most authentic Azumanga available!” (Page 306.)

    Upcoming 6/18/2008

    What evil lurks in the heart of this week’s ComicList? Plenty, thanks to Kazuo Umezu, but it’s the good kind of evil.

    Viz drops two handsomely produced volumes of Umezu’s Cat-Eyed Boy. Fans of Umezu’s deadly roller-coaster ride, The Drifting Classroom, might be surprised at the almost leisurely way the horror unfolds in this series. (I know I was.) But it’s not an unpleasant surprise, and there’s some wonderful material in the first volume, which I received courtesy of Viz. I’ll definitely be seeking out the second. (I’d still heartily recommend The Drifting Classroom, if you haven’t read it yet.)

    I’m such a fan of Yuu Asami’s A.I. Revolution (Go! Comi). I love the beautiful, old-fashioned art, the mix of character-driven stories and high-tech espionage, and the way that Asami’s yaoi donjishi roots show more and more with each successive volume. The hunky boy robots never quite make out with each other, but they always look like they’re on the verge, which makes me giggle. The fourth volume arrives today.

    A new comic by Hope Larson? Yes, please, thank you. The creator of Salamander Dream (AdHouse) and Gray Horses (Oni) delivers Chiggers, via Simon and Schuster. It’s about shifting friendships at summer camp.

    Summer reading

    Okay, so Previews order forms are due tomorrow. I never promised to be timely, and there’s good stuff available.

    I’ve made my feelings about Kaoru Mori’s Emma abundantly clear, so I’m excited the follow-up, Shirley (CMX). It’s a collection of shorts about English maids, and I’m sure it will be lovely. (Page 125.)

    I’m not really the audience for books about making comics, but I admire the work of Jessica (La Perdida) Abel and Matt (Odds Off or, L’Amour Foutu) Madden enormously, so I’m sure Drawing Words & Writing Pictures (First Second) will be a valuable resource. (Page 291.)

    Though I’m convinced there must be many more juicy and telling crimes from the Victorian era, Rick Geary’s shift to A Treasury of 20th Century Murder won’t keep me from greedily consuming The Lindbergh Child (NBM). Geary’s true-crime comics are some of the best reads out there. (Page 317.)

    A new comic from Hope Larson is always cause for celebration. Simon & Schuster offers Chiggers, a tale of summer-camp complications between two best friends. (Page 332.)

    There’s something about Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball books that puts me off, but I’ve liked what I’ve read of his silly, charming Dr. Slump. Viz rolls out another all-ages adventure, Cowa!, which has the added benefit of starring baby monsters. (Page 374.)

    Enticing as the prospect of a new shot at Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk is, I think I’m more excited about the impending arrival of his series, Real (Viz). It’s another sports series, this time about wheelchair basketball, and it won the Excellence Prize at the 2001 Japan Media Arts Festival. (Page 379.)

    They aren’t exactly debuts, but I’m happy to see new installments of former ICE Kunion titles showing up in rotation from Yen Press. I’m particularly looking forward to the second volume of Soo Hee Park’s Goong, the tale of an ordinary girl set to marry a member of the royal family. (Page 382.)

    Or as I like to call it, "Poverty Month"

    It’s Manga Month again in Diamond’s Previews catalog, and there’s quite a mix of stuff for varied tastes. Oddly enough, there’s isn’t a Manga Month spread at the front pointing to items of particular interest or even any indication of the occasion on the cover, but why dwell?

    Dark Horse has been making some interesting choices lately, stretching further and further out of its seinen mold. This month, they’re offering four books from Akiko Ikeda’s Dayan Collection series of children’s books featuring “the mischievous cat… and his woodland friends.” The illustrations look gorgeous. Dark Horse has a bunch of preview pages up at its site. (Pages 30 and 31.)

    Del Rey really gets on the Manga Month bus. I’m most interested in the first volume of Faust, “a fiction magazine showcasing innovative short works by young authors. Deb Aoki interviewed Faust editor Katsushi Ota over at not too long ago which really whetted my interest. (Page 256.)

    In addition to new volumes of lots of series I love, there’s also the debut of the Odd Thomas graphic novel, In Odd We Trust, by Dean Koontz and Queenie (The Dreaming) Chan. I haven’t read Koontz’s Odd Thomas novels, but it’s about a guy who talks to the dead, and it’s drawn by Chan, so I’m almost sure to like it. (Page 256.)

    Drawn & Quarterly’s third collection of the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Good-Bye (Page 283), will undoubtedly get lots of well-deserved attention, but I’m more drawn to the possibilities of Seichi Hayashi’s Red Colored Elegy. It follows “the quietly melancholic lives of a young couple struggling to make ends meet” during “a politically turbulent and culturally vibrant decade that promised but failed to delivery new possibilities.” (Page 284.)

    I’m only going by what Go! Comi’s solicitation tells me, but I like the concept behind Shino Taira and Yuki Ichiju’s Bogle, promising a contemporary teen-girl Robin Hood. (Page 293.)

    Netcomics offers another title with a josei vibe, Wann’s Talking About. “Three lonely women in search of “happily ever after” in one modern city filled to the brim with difficult men.” (Page 316.)

    That sound you just heard was probably Kate Dacey’s head exploding. Viz is offering a second edition of Rumiko Takahashi’s One-Pound Gospel, forbidden romance between a budding boxer and a beautiful nun. (Page 375.)

    General head explosion will probably result from the announcement of two fat collections of Kazuo (The Drifting Classroom) Umezu’s Cat Eyed Boy. Horror fans will undoubtedly want to take note, as Umezu is an insanely gifted practitioner in this genre. Here’s some early, illustrated enthusiasm from Same Hat! Same Hat! The softcover books offer about 500 pages a piece for $24.99, but you can hack about a third off of that price if you pre-order at Amazon. (Page 377.)

    In addition to a fair number of former Ice Kunion titles, Yen Press deliver’s the first volume of a manga that instantly hooks me with its title: Shoulder-a-Coffin, Kuro! by Satoko Kiyuduki. I don’t even care what it’s about. (Page 379.)

    In the realm of comics not from Japan, there’s still plenty of interest. Phil and Kaja Foglio and Cheyenne Wright offer the seventh volume of Girl Genius: Agatha and the Voice of the Castle. I really enjoy this funny adventure series, which is also available online. (Page 203.)

    Based on the strength of La Perdida, I’ll read just about anything by Jessica Abel, even if it’s about underemployed hipster vampires. Abel collaborates with Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece on Life Sucks from First Second. (Page 289.)

    I really need to read Matthew Loux’s Sidescrollers (Oni Press), which has gotten tons of praise. Loux has a new book coming from Oni called Salt Water Taffy. The new quarterly series follows a bizarre family vacation to a small fishing port in Maine, and it looks like it will be a lot of fun. (Page 317.)

    New comics from Hope Larson always make me happy. Her latest is Chiggers from Simon and Schuster, which promises friendship crises at summer camp. Larson is one of the most imaginative visual storytellers around, so it should offer an intriguing on familiar-sounding material. (Page 337.)