Previews review March 2011

The March 2011 edition of the Previews catalog is packed with noteworthy items, so let’s get right down to it.

My pick of the month would be Kaoru (Emma, Shirley) Mori’s A Bride’s Story (Yen Press), page 355:

The newest series from the critically acclaimed creator of Emma, A Bride’s Story tells the tale of a beautiful young bride in nineteenth-century Asia. At the age of twenty, Amir is sent to a neighboring town to be wed. But her surprise at learning her new husband, Karluk, is eight years younger than her is quickly replaced by a deep affection for the boy and his family. Though she hails from just beyond the mountains, Amir’s clan had very different customs, foods, and clothes from what Karluk is used to. As the two of them learn more about each other through their day-to-day lives, the bond of respect and love grows stronger.

Yen Press is proudly publishing Kaori Mori’s beautifully-illustrated tale in a deluxe hardcover edition.

If you’re like me, you would have been sold at “Kaoru Mori.” The series is ongoing in Enterbrain’s fellows!

CLAMP fans will be pleased with the arrival of another handsome omnibus treatment of one of their series, Magic Knight Rayearth, from Dark Horse (page 56). It originally ran in Kodansha’s Nakayoshi and was originally published in English by Tokyopop. Dark Horse’s version will be done-in-one, collecting all three volumes.

DC’s Vertigo imprint offers a new paperback printing of Howard Cruse’s Stuck Rubber Baby, a semi-autobiographical tale of a young gay man coming of age in the turbulent American south of the 1960s (page 130). Monkey See’s Glen Weldon provided a lovely overview of the book.

A new release from Fanfare/Ponent Mon is always worth noting, even if you’ve never heard of the book before. This month, they solicit Farm 54, written by Galit Seliktar and illustrated by Gilad Sliktar:

Farm 54 is a collection of semi-autobiographical stories that address three important periods in the life of the protagonist, Naga, growing up in Israel’s rural periphery… While these Israeli childhood stories take place in the shadow of war an occupation, they also reflect universal feelings, passions, and experiences.

Kodansha Comics lists new volumes of several of the series it picked up from Del Rey (pages 296 and 297):

  • Fairy Tail vol. 13, written and illustrated by Hiro Mashima
  • Rave Master volumes 33-35, written and illustrated by Hiro Mashima
  • Shugo Charai vol. 10, written and illustrated by Peach-Pit
  • Arisa vol. 2, written and illustrated by Natsumi Ando
  • Negima! vol. 29, written and illustrated by Ken Akamatsu
  • Ninja Girls vol. 5, written and illustrated by Hosana Tanaka

Speaking of comebacks, if the recent Manga Moveable Feast piqued your interest in Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen, Last Gasp rolls out new printings of the first two volumes (page 297).

If you’re interested in seeing people do amazing things with the form of comics (and don’t care much about story or character), Picturebox unleashes more work by Yuichi (Travel, New Engineering) Yokoyama in the form of Garden (page 308). Being of somewhat more conventional tastes, I think I’ll hold off on this one.

Update: Over at Robot 6, Sean T. Collins interviews Yokoyama and shares several preview pages of Garden.

I may not be able to show suck restraint with Gajo Sakamoto’s Tank Tankuro from Presspop, Inc. (page 308):

The roots of Astro BoyTank Tankuro pioneered robot manga during the pre-World War II period in Japan. First published in 1934, Tank Tankuro was one of the most famous manga characters of the era. Tankuro is said to be the first robot ever to appear in Japanese comics. He and his villain, Kuro Kabuto, famous among Japanese SF fans for his resemblance to Darth Vader, laid the foundations for such manga greats as Tezuka, Sugiura, and Fujiko.

Christopher (Comics212) Butcher is very excited about this, which is almost always a good sign.

And, because someone who is not me but clearly has every right for their dreams to come true demanded it, Viz releases a new edition of Oh!great’s Tenjo Tenge which, they promise, is “Finally UNCENSORED!” It’s about dorks who like to fight, with plenty of fan service to help keep your interest (page 333). I wish I could find a copy of the cover image, because it positively screams “Not for me.”


Upcoming 8/18/2010

It may not look like there’s any new manga of note on this week’s ComicList, but a lot of the stuff that I mentioned last week is actually shipping this week. Kate (The Manga Critic) Dacey has a handy run-down, and she also has a timeless warning on Japanese comics to avoid. (How could I have forgotten Pretty Face?) And there are a couple of very promising items due for arrival on Wednesday.

Goldilocks and the Seven Squat Bears isn’t from Japan or Korea, the usual sources for books from Yen Press, but it’s been written and illustrated by Émile Bravo, so it’s likely to be very, very good. Bravo brilliantly illustrated My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, written by Jean Regnaud and published in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon.

I really enjoyed Aaron Renier’s Spiral-Bound (Top Shelf), and I sometimes find myself wondering when his next book will arrive. The answer is apparently “Wednesday,” thanks to First Second and in the form of The Unsinkable Walker Bean. Here are the details:

“Mild, meek, and a little geeky, Walker is always happiest in his grandfather’s workshop, messing around with his inventions. But when his beloved grandfather is struck by an ancient curse, it falls on Walker to return an accursed pearl skull to the witches who created it—and his path will be strewn with pirates, magical machines, ancient lore, and deadly peril.”

Update: I inexcusably missed this one, but I have to mention the new Vertigo graphic novel Dark Rain because it’s been drawn by the incredibly gifted Simon (Paris) Gane. It’s a thriller set in post-Katrina New Orleans, written by Mat (Incognegro) Johnson. There are some preview pages over at Techland.

From the stack: The Unwritten vol. 1

The Unwritten (Vertigo) is entirely about stories within stories, or at least about stories that break the boundaries of the page to influence the real world. It centers its attention on the adult son of a revered author of fantasy fiction, specifically a series of novels about a young wizard and his two friends who battle evil. Tom Taylor shares a first name with his father’s protagonist, Tommy, and Tommy shares just about every meaningful quality with that other boy wizard. It’s an appropriation that strikes me as more functional than resonant, and it could verge on seeming at least a little envious of the critical and commercial success of the Harry Potter franchise, but the creators manage to avoid that.

Tom’s author father disappeared years ago, and Tom is making a living off of being the son of the creator of Tommy. Tom treats Tommy’s fans with warm cordiality that evaporates into sullen discontent as soon as they’re out of earshot. Writer Mike Carey does a nice job playing up the awkwardness of unearned celebrity. Tom would rather make his way on his own merits, presuming those merits ever assert themselves, but he’s got to eat (and drink), and his father’s estate is tied up in litigation. Tom’s situation deteriorates when a mysterious young woman casts his entire identity into question in front of an auditorium full of fervent Tommy admirers. Is he Tom Taylor, son of a famous author, or is he just a prop acquired by that author to inspire his fictional child? Or is he actually that fictional child, bled into the real world?

So Tom is thrust into a strange, mystical conspiracy about stories and their power and begins what seems likely to be a world tour of fiction, starting at the birthplace of Milton’s Satan (possibly not really, as some sources claim the villa was built after Milton’s death, but the story works better if he had) and Shelley’s monster. As if that weren’t name-dropping literary import enough, Carey sprinkles in references to Agatha Christie, Kevin Williamson, Laurell K. Hamilton, and others, all while launching Tom on a metaphysical quest right out of a Dan Brown novel. It’s like a best-seller list with a plot.

And honestly, it’s pretty good. Artist Peter Gross does a nice job with the material, aided by colorists Chris Chukry and Jeanne McGee and letterer Todd Klein. My problem with the series is that I don’t care much about Tom or Tommy. Tom is a hapless whiner at this point, hampered by people who may be his allies and menaced by mysterious forces that are more postures than characters at this point. Even Tom seems to know that he’s irritating and largely superfluous. As for Tommy, well, I’ve already got Harry Potter.

I did like one of these collected chapters very much. In it, Carey uses the career trajectory of Rudyard Kipling to tease out the underlying conspiracy that plagues his contemporary protagonist. It succeeds in being sly and even moving in ways that the other chapters probably intend to be but don’t quite achieve. Kipling’s story and the way it reflected the colonial impulses of his time is re-framed, and though it doesn’t say anything meaningful about the plight of the colonized, it’s very useful to the ongoing narrative. And it gives the reader the chance to speculate over which other authors owe their success to diabolical agreements.

Monkey business

During last week’s round of perfectly justified disdain over the latest list of comics you can use to convert your female significant other to the one true hobby, Neil Gaiman also turned a year older, and I almost posted something in the Birthday Book category about how people who like comics should really read his Sandman series (Vertigo) when they get a chance, but is it really the first comic you’d hand to someone who’s never read a comic before? (Sandman almost always shows up on these lists, and it could be a good choice with the right victim. If the unwashed is into prose fantasy, chances are that person may have read one of Gaiman’s novels, and noting that Gaiman has also written a highly regarded, widely available comic book that covers many of his usual themes seems like one of the fairer conversion gambits out there.) I decided not to write it, because it seemed like too much work and not in the spirit of the Birthday Book shout-out, but I remained sorely tempted to simultaneously sing the title’s praises and express skepticism about comics evangelism, because how often do you get to do both at once?

Over at NPR’s excellent Monkey See blog, Glen Weldon has done precisely what I’d kind of thought about doing last week, but with much more rigor than I would have managed:

“But here’s the thing you don’t often hear about Gaiman’s series, which ran for 75 issues, helped establish and grow the marketplace for comics aimed at adults, and remains one of the most literate, imaginative and intricately plotted accomplishments in long-form comics storytelling out there:

“Its barrier-to-entry is remarkably high.”

Good stuff.

It's over now, so I guess I should move on

Have I mentioned lately that I’m fixated on Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo (Vertical)? I have? Well, too bad. I mention the hell out of it in this week’s Flipped over at The Comics Reporter.

Upcoming April 30, 2008

Glancing at the ComicList for Wednseday, April 30, 2008, I can’t help noting that it’s a strong week for Good Comics for Kids:

Dark Horse delivers the entire Dayan Collection, four hardcover children’s books by Akiko Ikeda. They’re about a mischievous cat, and Ikeda’s full-color illustrations look absolutely beautiful.

CMX delivers the fourth volume of Masashi Tanaka’s Gon, wordless, beautifully drawn stories about a tiny dinosaur with a big appetite for life.

Skewing slightly older is the fourth volume of Alive (Del Rey), written by Tadashi Kawashima and illustrated by Adachitoka. This series started with two gripping volumes that propelled its primary story – malevolent forces surreptitiously invade the planet and trigger a wave of suicides, and only a handful of people suspect what’s truly happening. The third volume was sort of a digression, with the heroic principals sidetracked from their quest by tangentially related perils. That threw me a bit, but it’s still a very entertaining comic with great characters and eye-catching art.

Would I hand the first volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Dororo (Vertical) to a kid? I’m not really sure. On one hand, it’s Tezuka, and everyone should read some Tezuka. On the other hand, it’s on the gruesome side, packed with bloody battles and some seriously dark content. It’s about a young man, Hyakkimaru, who lost all of his body parts thanks to his father’s ambition and greed. Hyakkimaru is forced on a quest across a war-ravaged landscape to seek and destroy the demons who took his body in trade. He’s joined by young thief Dororo, whose background is almost as harsh. But it’s Tezuka. So I’ll recommend it to everyone else, and they can decide when their kids are ready for it. How’s that for evasion?

Upcoming 9/19/2007

This isn’t one of those weeks where you can complain about the overwhelmingly mainstream nature of the manga market. (I guess you could, but there are sufficient counter-examples to undermine your position.)

Yen Press releases the eagerly anticipated first volume of Keiko Tobe’s With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child. (Okay, it’s eagerly anticipated by me, but I’m sure I’m not alone.) Isn’t it time that Yen or Hachette built a web site for its graphic novel line? I can’t even find information on the book on the Hachette site. Edited to note that I didn’t look hard enough: Connie from Slightly Biased Manga pointed me toward Yen’s starter site. The logo looks kind of funereal to me.

Fans of Keiko Takemiya’s To Terra… (and I’m one of them) will be happy to see the arrival of the first volume of Andromeda Stories from Vertical. Fans of Keiko Takemiya who happen to live in Vancouver will be even happier, as she will be paying a three-day visit to the University of British Columbia Sept. 19-21. Details are here. Once again, I find myself wishing I were in Canada.

For as long as Viz runs Chica Umino’s Honey and Clover in Shojo Beat, I will recommend you pick up the new issue of Shojo Beat. I already got mine at a bookstore, but the Umino-enriched magazine shows up in comic shops tomorrow.

Okay, this next one runs right down the middle of the bookstore aisle, but that doesn’t mean Kyoko Shitou’s The Key to the Kingdom (CMX) isn’t a promising and engaging fantasy series debut.

I really enjoyed the first issue of Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro, sent to me by AdHouse. It’s funny, imaginative and sweet, and the second issue arrives in some comic shops tomorrow. (Chao has a delightful blog with lots of sketches, pages and designs.)

Top five

Here are five items that struck me as particularly noteworthy from the current Previews catalog, and since orders are due tomorrow, I thought I should get off the pot and mention them.

  • The Vinyl Underground #2 (Vertigo): I must have missed this last month, but this issue’s cover image has the word “detectives” spray-painted on it, so it caught my eye. Then I noticed that the art is being provided by the splendid Simon (Paris) Gane and Cameron (Catwoman) Stewart. I’m not familiar with writer Si Spencer, but the prospect of Gane and Stewart drawing “a red-hot group of occult detectives” would certainly be hard for me to pass up. And looking at Spencer’s Wikipedia entry, I notice that he wrote for Eastenders, one of the best soap operas ever. Sold. (Page 125.)
  • Azumanga Daioh Omnibus Edition (ADV): I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to catch up with this series by Kiyohiko (Yotsuba&!) Azuma, and 682 pages for $24.99 is certainly that opportunity. Yay! (Page 213.)
  • The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert (NBM): I don’t have any prior knowledge of this work from Marc-Antoine Mathieu, but the cover image was striking, and the solicitation text pretty persuasive when it describes Mathieu as an artist “who marries the stylings of M.C. Escher with the paranoia of Franz Kafka.” Also, I just can’t resist it when NBM publishes a comic about the Louvre. The first, Glacial Period, is offered again, if you missed it. Oh, and if you’ve been longing to learn more about the assassination of James Garfield (just trust me that you have), NBM offers another crack at Rick Geary’s The Fatal Bullet. Oh, NBM, when did you slip me that love potion? (Page 328.)
  • The Annotated Northwest Passage (Oni): I believe I’ve mentioned (ad nauseum) how much I enjoyed this series when it was in paperback installments. This is a gorgeous collection of the historical adventure series, with lots of extras to supplement Scott Chantler’s terrific, wonderfully illustrated story. And for $19.95, the hardcover package is a steal. (Page 330.)
  • Andromeda Stories Vol. 2 (Vertical): More classic sci-fi from one of the Magnificent ‘49ers, Keiko Takemiya. To be honest, I found the third volume of To Terra… kind of rushed. It had a different kind of momentum than the first two, and I’m not sure it was entirely successful. But I admire Takemiya’s work enormously overall, and I love collections of short stories, so there’s really no down side. (Page 362.)
  • Quick comic comments

    Welcome to Tranquility #1 (DC – Wildstorm): The premise for this series sounds a bit like an arc from Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, which is never a bad starting point for a look at the margins of a super-hero culture. Writer Gail Simone has set a murder mystery in a retirement community for “maxis,” powerful heroes and villains living together in relative peace during their twilight years.

    Being a person of intelligence and sensitivity, Simone largely resists the urge to ridicule the citizenry’s mental and physical decline. Being a writer who thoroughly explores the scenario at hand, she can hardly ignore it. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but I think she does a nice job. Not everyone ages into an AARP commercial, and when people start with the kind of faculties possessed by the citizens of Tranquility, the results can be kind of frightening when they start to lose them.

    Simone tells the story through the eyes of someone in her prime, Tranquility Sheriff Lindo. The character has her own tricky balancing act to pull off. She’s protective of the citizenry in several ways – she’s responsible for safety and order, which can require taking a hard line, but she’s also sensitive to their dignity and respectful of their accomplishments. It’s the sandwich generation conundrum through the eyes of law enforcement, and her handling of the conflicting demands makes Lindo immediately sympathetic.

    The down side of having such a well-developed protagonist is that there perhaps isn’t enough time to take full advantage of the setting. As Lindo grudgingly baby-sits some visiting reporters, readers get glimpses of Tranquility and some of the people who live there, but the supporting cast can pass by in a bit of a blur. Introducing marginal characters in strong, specific ways is generally one of Simone’s strengths as a writer, and she succeeds more often than she fails, but the crowd can get a bit daunting.

    It seems to overwhelm artist Neil Googe as well. Tranquility itself looks appealingly Rockwellian, but character design can be iffy. Googe is better at rendering action and motion than acting and emotion, so Simone’s script isn’t served as thoroughly as it could be.

    But the book has definite potential. I like the underlying premise, and I’m a sucker for a murder mystery, so I’ll stick around and see where it leads.


    Crossing Midnight #1 (DC – Vertigo): This is another series off to an intriguing if not completely satisfying start. Writer Mike Carey introduces readers to twins Toshi and Kai, born and raised in contemporary Nagasaki. Their thoroughly modern parents indulge their paternal grandmother, a survivor of the atomic bomb who insists they offer a prayer to the family shrine during the pregnancy. What harm could it do?

    Mom and Dad would have been better off sticking to their principles, as the act of appeasement has unexpected, decidedly unpleasant consequences. Toshi, the younger of the twins, evaded the eye of the sonogram and surprised her parents with her arrival. The surprises continue as she finds she’s immune to physical injury. Carey takes an interesting direction with Toshi’s emotional reaction to her “gift” and does a nice job illustrating its impact on the family dynamic.

    The story is nicely structured, but there’s an underlying detachment to Carey’s writing. The events of Crossing Midnight are never quite as urgent or intense as I think they should be. The book feels at times more like an artfully rendered case study than an organic story, more impersonally observational than visceral. (As an example, I generally hate the device Carey uses to establish the extremity of the menace Toshi and Kai face, but it just kind of rolls past here.)

    I do like Jim Fern’s pencils, which are detailed and precise. It’s clean, clear rendering with some nice flourishes of imagination, and Fern’s work gets solid support from inker Rob Hunter and colorist José Villarrubia.

    In the end, though, Crossing Midnight is kind of chilly, which keeps it from being very chilling.

    (This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)


    Hero Squared #4 (Boom! Studios): I’m starting to wonder if Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis aren’t intentionally embodying the indie-spandex divide in their appealing super-hero parody. Sure, Captain Valor is a morally monochromatic Superman archetype, but I’m finally picking up that Milo is just as much of a pastiche of the common stereotype of the artcomix protagonist, so neatly summarized by Shaenon Garrity.

    It’s probably taken me much longer to realize this than it should have, but it tickles me to think that Hero Squared is offering equal-opportunity mockery.

    The suspense is killing me!

    Well that was a pleasant surprise. I thought NBM was only shipping a new printing of Rick Geary’s The Borden Tragedy, but a copy of the paperback version of The Case of Madeleine Smith showed up in my reserves yesterday. New installments of A Treasury of Victorian Murder are always gratefully accepted.

    Speaking of the accused Glaswegian, she’s made her way onto the list of nominees for the American Library Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. (Yes, I’m still obsessively tracking those. Thanks for asking.) Nominations are now closed with a projected drop date for the final list in mid-winter of 2007.

    It’s a little hard to tell what joined the list when, but accounting for my shaky memory, recent additions include:

    • Action Philosophers: Giant-Sized Thing #1 (Evil Twin)
    • American Born Chinese (First Second)
    • Brownsville (NBBComics Lit)
    • Chocalat (Ice Kunion)
    • Crossroad (Go! Comi)
    • Fables: 1,001 Nights of Snowfall (Vertigo)
    • Infinite Crisis (DC)
    • Inverloch (Seven Seas)
    • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service (Dark Horse)
    • Livewires: Clockwork Thugs, Yo! (Marvel)
    • Pride of Baghdad (Vertigo)
    • Same Cell Organism (DMP)
    • To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel (Simon and Schuster)
    • Young Avengers Vol. 2: Family Matters (Marvel)

    I hope the nomination list is still available after the final roster is chosen, because there are some great books on it. But barring some bizarre failure of decision-making, it’s hard to see how the final list could be anything but excellent.

    (Edited to note: If I missed anything new to the nominations, let me know, and I’ll add it to the list.)