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.)

Upcoming 2/6/2008

After a couple of slow weeks, things kick back into gear in the comic shops.

I’ve often suspected that my cats have struck up demonic alliances, so it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s a comic based on that premise. It’s Ubu Bubu (SLG) by Jaime Smart. Here’s a preview.

Dark Horse delivers the second volume of Mi-Kyung Yun’s gorgeous, folklore-steeped soap opera, Bride of the Water God.

Go! Comi offers new volumes of two of my favorite ongoing series, each of which turns the traditional school setting upside down. Setona Mizushiro’s Afterschool Nightmare (now at volume six) makes adolescent anxieties manifest in a surreal dreamscape. Hideyuki Kurata and Tomomasa Takuma’s Train + Train has an entire planet as its classroom. Experiential learning is so trendy these days.

Looking for something gorgeous and restful? Look no farther than the second volume of Kozue Amano’s Aqua (Tokyopop), in which a young girl learns to navigate the waterways of Neo Venezia.

Also from Tokyopop is the third volume of Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn. I was really looking forward to this series, but I must admit that it’s testing my patience. I hope the characterizations start to deepen beyond survival-adventure stock figures and that the story comes closer to meeting the standard set by Iwahara’s thrilling illustrations.

Previews review – Jan. 2009

It’s Diamond Previews time again. Let’s dispense with the formalities and get right to it.

There’s a clear and present Pick of the Month (that I probably won’t pick up at the comic shop because it will be widely available at a better price elsewhere). Pantheon is releasing the second volume of Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat, which is certainly cause for raucous celebration, at least in my house. The debut volume was my first exposure to Sfar’s work, and I’ve been watching like a hawk for more of this intriguing story. (Page 327.)

I’m not familiar with the work of Ulf K., but Top Shelf’s solicitation for the Hieronymus B. graphic novel is intriguing. The book is being simultaneously released by five international publishers, and the preview pages at the publisher’s site are appealing. (Page 354.)

I was thinking yesterday that people using “with Oscar-winner so-and-so” to entice viewers to watch a given movie should only be able to use the phrase when the cited individual actually won and Oscar for the movie in question. I’m thinking along the same lines when I see a publisher say a book is like Scott Pilgrim, even when the book is being released by the publisher of Scott Pilgrim. Maybe they could give Bryan Lee O’Malley some kind of signet ring, and he could grant approval for use of the comparison, but he’s probably too self-effacing to go along with something like that.

Anyway, Oni is pitching Lars Brown’s North World to fans of not only Scott Pilgrim, but Gross Point Blank, Lord of the Rings, and Buffy, which is some kind of ultimate ven diagram of geekery. There’s no information up on Oni’s site yet, but you can check out the webcomic here. It looks like fun in a game-logic sort of way, with Brown blending role-playing game elements with comedic slacker angst. So… yeah… like Scott Pilgrim. (Page 326.)

If Tom Spurgeon’s holiday interview with Simon Gane made you want to read something Gane has drawn, you really couldn’t do better than Paris, written by Andi Watson. It’s a gorgeous, romantic mini-series that seemed to have been conceived with the sole purpose of letting Gane draw the hell out of it, which is all the purpose it really needs. SLG offers the collected version again in case you missed it. (Page 213.)

DC releases a full-color omnibus collection of the first sixteen issues of one of the best super-hero comics of the last fifteen years, James Robinson’s Starman. It’s got gorgeous Tony Harris art, a terrific cast, and a really nice generational-hero set-up without ever seeming like an airless exercise in continuity flogging. It’s kind of pricey at $49.99, so I would probably be inclined to wait for a paperback version if I didn’t already own the collected issues in one form or another. (Page 92.)

And last but not least, one of my favorite manga series comes to an end. Tokyopop releases the final volume of Minetaro Mochizuki’s Dragon Head. Mochizuki has served up some incredible thrills and chills in ten volumes of character-driven survival drama. I still can’t understand why this series wasn’t a big hit. (Page 351.)

Upcoming 10/10

Just because Jason Thompson’s Manga: The Complete Guide (Del Rey) is clearly the must-buy item on this week’s ComicList doesn’t mean it’s the only item worth mentioning.

If it weren’t for the Guide, the pick of the week might be the fifth volume of Kiyohiko Azuma’s absolutely delightful Yotsuba&! (ADV). Cardboard robot battles! A trip to the beach! Grapes! What more do you need?

Yes, they hunger for brains, but how do zombies really feel? Someone must have already asked this, but nothing comes to mind. This archly emo look at undead eaters of human flesh comes in the form of J. Marc Schmidt’s Eating Steve from Slave Labor Graphics. I’ve heard good things about Schmidt’s Egg Story, and the Eating Steve preview has some nice bits in it.)

I’m curious about CMX’s new wave of titles aimed at mature readers, particularly Kanako Inuki’s Presents. The excerpt that ran in a CMX sampler over the summer wasn’t too inspiring, but John Jakala’s review convinces me that it’s definitely worth a look. (But I really love “comeuppance theater.” “Tonight on ‘When Bad Things Happen to People Who Totally Deserve Them…”)

Adrian Tomine’s Shortcomings (Drawn & Quarterly) has gotten great reviews all over the place, so I’m sure I’ll take a look at it at some point. I’m guessing it will be all over chain bookstores, and the right convergence of opportunity and discount will arise somewhere down the line.

How have I managed to go this long without reading Lat’s Kampung Boy (First Second), even in the face of universal critical acclaim? And now the follow-up, Town Boy, is due. Must… catch… up! (Not with the help of Amazon, though. They have one of those “buy both” offers that actually allows you to pay about 75 cents more for the two titles than you would if you just added them to your cart individually, which leads me to believe that the buy-two pricing hasn’t caught up with the individual costs.)

Beyond lots of Fruits Basket product (which I hasten to note that I heartily endorse, because the series is very moving and surprising), Tokyopop offers two books that I’m eagerly anticipating. The first is the debut volume of Kozue Amano’s Aqua, which sounds lovely. There’s also the second volume of Yuji Iwahara’s King of Thorn. The first installment didn’t quite reach the heights of Iwahara’s Chikyu Misaki (CMX), but it was very solid, and it’s Iwahara, so I’ll happily stick around on the assumption that it will reach those heights eventually.

The excerpt from Yearbook Stories: 1976-78 that ran in Top Shelf’s Seasonal Sampler was extremely likable, so I’ll definitely look for it the next time I’m in a big city with a comic shop with a wide selection. It’s written by Top Shelf honcho Chris Staros and illustrated by Bo Hampton and Rich Tommaso.

Even factoring out the extra volumes of Naruto, Viz sure has a heck of a lot of product moving this week. Some of it, like Strawberry 100%, is resolutely awful, in my opinion. Some offerings, like new volumes of Bleach and Nana, are as welcome as sweater weather.

Yen Press rolls out three licensed titles, all of which sound like fairly standard bookstore fare, and none of which quite grab my attention the way With the Light did. I do like teen detective stories, so I’ll probably give Spiral: The Bonds of Reasoning a look. Or maybe not, after reading Katherine Dacey-Tsuei’s take on the book. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of other options.

Previews review

It’s time for a look through the latest Diamond Previews catalog! (Only slightly related, but it’s also time for a lot of publishers to updated their web pages!)

Sometimes all it takes is a gorgeous illustration to make me want a book, and that’s certainly the case with Mi-Kyung Yun’s Bride of the Water God (Dark Horse, page 44). In my defense, the plot sounds interesting too, with a human sacrifice getting even more than she bargained for.

Sample pages (and great-looking art) go a long way towards piquing my interest in Mike and Louise Carey and Aaron Alexovich’s Confessions of a Blabbermouth (DC – Minx, pages 118-120). The fact that it’s about a blogger probably doesn’t hurt either.

For those of you who passed on Andi Watson and Simon Gane’s Paris (Amaze Ink/SLG, page 218) in single issues, it’s being released in collected form. The story is okay – two very different girls meet and fall in love in the City of Light – but the art is truly wonderful.

I snickered at part of the solicitation for Hoyuta Fujiyama’s Ordinary Crush (DMP – Juné, page 286) – “in an all boys school where 90% of the students are gay” – until I remembered the rumors about some of the parochial schools in the area where I grew up.

Well, lots of people have been wondering about the health of Ice Kunion, given shifting shipping dates and an unresponsive web site, but they’ve got listings in this month’s catalog (page 309). Take that for whatever it’s worth, which might be nothing.

My adorability sensors have been triggered by Mizuo Shinonome’s Chibimono (Infinity Studios, page 319). It’s about a guardian spirit for household items with some serious memory problems.

Bryan Lee O’Maley’s Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together (Oni Press, page 330) is almost here. That is all.

Vertical offers more classic stuff from Keiko (To Terra…) Takemia with Andromeda Stories (page 368), the first of a three-volume science fiction story.

There’s no cover image to lure me, but I’ll give anything in Viz’s Signature line a look. The latest addition is Taiyo Matsumoto’s TEKKONKINKREET: Black and White. (Okay, so it’s just a repackaging of a series that Viz has published previously. It’s still nice that they’re giving older, weirder books from their catalog another shot at an audience.)


Another reason to bookmark Kevin Melrose’s Comics, Covered: he does interviews, this time with versatile comics creator Andi Watson. Watson’s “Princess at Midnight” was one of the highlights of The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga, and Paris was one of my favorite comics of last year. And because I’ll take any opportunity to praise Paris artist Simon Gane, I’ll pull this quote from Watson:

“I think Simon was hoping to get away from the detail-oriented stuff he’d done before but I kept throwing the full-pagers at him because he does them so well, the research and attention to detail, the way he’ll dress a set, dress the characters and then have them interact, gush, gush, gush. So it’s fulfilling, but in a different way. It’s like Christmas every time I get pages in from someone like Simon. I can’t wait to open up all the files and see what amazing work he’s done.

“It’s also kind of depressing as an artist because you know you’re not as good.”

Watson goes on to note that a collection of Paris is due out from Slave Labor in July, complete with new illustrations from Gane. I don’t usually buy collections of comics I already own, but I’m sorely tempted.

Tween scene

There’s some good reading on comics for tweens floating around this morning. First is an interview at Comic Book Resources with Jim Rugg, who will be providing the art for Cecil Castelluci’s Plain Janes for DC’s Minx line.

Rugg provides an interesting look into his creative process, how his approach to Plain Janes differed from his work on the much-loved Street Angel (Slave Labor Graphics), and the impossibility of pleasing all the people all the time:

“In order to maintain the commitment necessary to produce a comic, I need a high level of enthusiasm for the material. I’m not trying to make work for some future audience, I’m trying to make a page or scene or story that appeals to me. I value clarity when I’m designing a page or sequence but to imagine what other people want is impossible because every single person wants something different.”

I think the please-yourself approach tends to result in the best comics (and any creative work, really). It can also result in some pretty terrible ones, depending on who exactly is at the helm, but even then I’d rather see something awful that comes from a specific, personal place than a comic by committee.

That brings me to the one point of the interview that made me shake my head a bit. I think Rugg has some generally good points about brand names being less meaningful in the long run than the quality of the product they represent, but this argument struck me as kind of circular:

“The only way a name matters is if it’s something atrocious, something hard to remember or pronounce – Minx is fine, and just in case it does matter, DC commissioned focus groups in order to test various names. Minx won. So assuming that the name of an imprint/company does matter, I will defer to the teenage girls in the focus group rather than my opinion or the opinion of other adults.”

Oh, well, if the focus group liked it… It’s probably just a personal aversion, but focus-group endorsement actually makes me less enthusiastic about a marketing choice, even though I know a lot of my beloved manga lives or dies on audience feedback. But I’m a geezer. And probably kind of a hypocrite.

(For supplemental reading, check out Jennifer de Guzman’s inaugural column at Comic World News, where she talks about the migration of talent from smaller publishers like Slave Labor to Minx.)

Elsewhere, conversation continues on the great Archie experiment. Johanna Draper Carlson has been doing a fine job of tracking reaction and developments, and ICv2 has a column from comics retailer Steve Bennett on the subject. Bennett makes the (to me) reasonable argument that presenting different versions of iconic characters for specific audiences is a good thing:

“Meaning, this isn’t an either or situation, you can have classic and post-modern versions of characters existing side by side with each other. DC is already selectively practicing this. To appeal to the mainstream super-hero reader there’s the Trial of Shazam Captain Marvel and for everyone else there’s Jeff Smith’s upcoming rendition of the classic incarnation. It’ll probably come as no surprise that I prefer the utter wish fulfillment of the original, but until a lot more kids start coming into Dark Star I can’t ignore the way copies of Trial of Shazam has been flying off our shelves.”


As a fan of books like Leave It to Chance and Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, I think there’s always room for more young adults navigating mysterious, supernatural landscapes. For that reason, I think Dave Roman’s Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery (Slave Labor Graphics) is a very welcome arrival.

Agnes is an orphan living in the creepy city of Legerdemain. Instead of a bucolic Central Park at its core, Legerdemain has an enormous cemetery. Agnes can communicate with the dead, benign and malignant. To make ends meet, she’s followed in her grandfather’s footsteps, opening a detective agency focused on helping the dead complete their unfinished business and the living cope with the pervasive, sometimes hostile weirdness around them.

So in addition to the aforementioned books, Agnes is following in the increasingly rich tradition of protagonists in series like Bleach, Dokebi Bride, Kindaichi Case Files, and Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service. She holds her own. Agnes is a little sullen, but she’s curious and resourceful. Legerdemain is often as strange to her as it is to the reader, and watching her uncover its secrets is rewarding.

Roman has obviously invested a lot in developing Agnes and her fictional world. In addition to the four stories that showcase Agnes solving very different mysteries, Roman has included extensive text pieces that offer a wealth of insight into his heroine and her city. (If Roman isn’t considering a possible prose novel featuring Agnes, he really should.)

The book earns its anthology tag by featuring the work of four different illustrators (Roman is joined by Jason Ho, Raina Telgemeier, and Jeff Zornow). The tones of the four stories are crafted to suit the style of the collaborator. Telgemeier’s piece has her trademark loopy sweetness. Zornow’s looks and reads like something out of Priest.

It’s an audacious approach to introducing a character, but I’m not sure it’s entirely successful. The stylistic shifts have the effect of pushing Agnes into the background. While the stories cohere in the sense that they credibly occur in the same fictional world, the protagonist becomes secondary, and I’m not sure if that’s the most effective way to manage her debut.

But the package as a whole, comics and prose, ultimately makes a very convincing argument for Agnes’s appeal. She’s a well-defined, sympathetic heroine who lives in an intriguing world. I’d just like to see a more focused approach to telling her stories that lets her shine.

From the stack: PARIS 1

If Andi Watson’s script for the first issue of Paris (Slave Labor Graphics) is a bit slight, it doesn’t really matter, as it would have needed to jump through absurd hoops to compete with Simon Gane’s fabulous illustrations. Watson wisely stands back and lets Gane do the heavy lifting, presenting highly stylized, richly detailed images of the City of Lights in the 1950s.

Juliet is an American studying art. Deborah is a rich English girl visiting the city for the first time. Juliet has to churn out portrait commissions to pay her tuition. Deborah is prevented from seeing the city by her snobbish chaperone. They meet when Juliet gets a commission to paint a portrait of Deborah, and they click when Deborah has some interesting and unconventional ideas for the commission

That’s pretty much all that goes on in the first issue in terms of narrative. Watson provides solid if minimalist introductions to his characters and their circumstances. There’s nice chemistry between his leads, and the supporting cast – the frumpy chaperone, Juliet’s bloviating tutor and bohemian roommate – rounds things out with dashes of humor.

But Gane is the main attraction here. Paris doesn’t really look like any other comic on the stands, with the possible exception of Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat. Watson has scripted a number of showpieces for Gane’s lavishly detailed, imaginative style.

Establishing shots of a variety of settings are breathtaking, from sidewalk cafes to hotel lobbies to Juliet’s Latin Quarter digs. They’re glorious and numerous, but they never seem like travelogue material. Instead of interrupting the momentum of the story, big panels and splash pages contribute to its flow, immersing readers in the city and connecting them to its inhabitants.

Character design is exaggerated and appealing. Gane likes to draw characters in profile and uses the perspective to give added detail (like the chaperone, with her hawk-like nose). Wardrobes have specificity and texture, from Juliet’s rolled-up denim to Deborah’s starchy dresses. Juliet’s art-school activities allow Gane to reproduce works by Ingres and others, loyal to the source but investing them with enough of Gane’s own visual vocabulary to ground them in the comic.

So maybe Paris is an experiment in style over substance, with Watson purposely receding as a writer to let Gane do what he does best as an illustrator. Given the gorgeous results, I’ve got no problem with that.