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Composition Problems

Today on the site, we have a report from the new Naoki Urasawa exhibit in Los Angeles.

The Japan House gallery is accessed through its storefront, which is filled with a range of tastefully made, lovingly displayed Japanese housewares, decorations, and books. “This is MANGA!” features some elaborate installations, such as a “tent” of banners bearing series of striking Urasawa panels, as well as a map showing where he’s been published throughout the world. There’s a mannequin wearing the costume of “Friend,” the cult leader villain of 20th Century Boys, from the Japanese movie trilogy adaptation of the comic. A table out front has laminated recreations of notebooks Urasawa kept when he was young, which show off his early artistic progression.

But the show’s main element is a series of three-sided displays throughout the gallery, each of which is dedicated to a specific Urasawa series. With manga-style arrows helpfully telling visitors where to start and how to read, each side follows the process by which a manga page goes from concept to completion. This is illustrated via original art from Urasawa, with a wealth of nēmu (storyboards) provided for the show. There are around 400 pieces of such art in the exhibition, giving patrons a detailed look at the nuances of comic art, and helping laypeople understand how things like layout and framing play into one’s understanding of a scene.

Nathan Chazan is here, too, with a review of Michel Fiffe's licensed GI Joe comic.

Blessed with the opportunity to tell his own stories at whatever pace he wants, Fiffe reanimates the cliches and visual licks of the comics that clog the quarter bins (and our hearts). Whether in the '80s superhero analogizing COPRA or the continuity calculus of Bloodstrike: Brutalists, Fiffe’s artistic exuberance doesn’t just make good comics, it makes for comics that make you want to read comics.

With GI Joe: Sierra Muerte, Fiffe continues his foray into personalized expansions of the quarter stack with an official tie-in comic from IDW, the patron saint publisher of glossy new toy commercials. Unlike previous works in this vein from Fiffe, there are some serious constraints on what he can do in this book. COPRA had the benefit of being an original story, albeit one populated by familiar faces with serial numbers filed off, and even Bloodstrike was continuing a narrative that honestly few people remained attached to (at least not moreso than Fiffe). GI Joe is not the media force it was in the mid-'80s, but it still is one, and Fiffe has both fan and publisher expectations to bear in mind on this title. There are genuine external constraints on this book - he can’t push the formula too far. And besides which, Fiffe is a diligent fan himself in many respects, and the house style of GI Joe is not quite as outlandish as some of the material he’s riffed on in the past. As such, there is something of a ceiling on the excitement of this comic that I haven’t really felt before in his comics. The storyline is captivating, but a little boilerplate, and the parade of characters tossed by the reader in issue one are entertaining but it’s hard to have much attachment to them without the excitement of prior familiarity. Even the visual flair seems a little tampered down in comparison to other Fiffe books, although still wildly experimental in comparison to anything else on the Wednesday racks.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Interviews & Profiles. At Smash Pages, Alex Dueben interviews Cathy G. Johnson about her new YA comic, her work as a teacher, and her podcast, among other things.

Drawing a Dialogue is a comics scholarship podcast that I do with my friend and peer e jackson, and it’s about putting comics into historical and educational contexts. So we’ll take a topic that pertains to comics, such as transgender identity or autism, and then we will share academic research with our listeners to broaden our collective understanding of comics. My segment of the podcast is particularly about education. I am part of the equity and inclusion committee at the school I work for now, and it’s something that we talk about a lot, that people’s knowledge about subjects limits us and can gatekeep others. This is also true in publishing and the art world. So our effort with the podcast is to take knowledge out of the ivory tower and change the conversation around comic books, to hopefully create a more equitable future.

The New Yorker has an ultra-brief interview with Jaime Hernandez.

Nadja Sayej at The Guardian has a brief profile of Robert Crumb to go along with his current exhibit at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York, images of which have been posted over at The Paris Review's site.

—Reviews & Commentary. I usually try to avoid spending much time covering superhero movies, but because this is an issue that also bleeds into comics, I thought I'd link to two recent articles on complaints that Captain Marvel demonstrates a too-cozy relationship between Marvel and the United States military.

Behind the language of representation and inclusion, some critics see evidence of a problematic relationship between Captain Marvel and the Air Force, which had an active role in the film’s production, received numerous plugs throughout its promotion, and assisted in publicizing the movie. The film comes at a time when the Air Force faces a severe shortage of pilots (especially women), a recent “readiness” crisis due to its fleet of aging aircrafts, and a worsening epidemic of sexual misconduct. Even with all this baggage, the Air Force plans on expanding back to Cold War-levels, making public opinion more important than ever.

Over the course of the production, the Air Force gave the film access to Air Force historians, Edwards Air Force Base, and Air Force-operated F-15Cs, according to Lt. Col. Nathan Broshear, director of the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office, who was the project lead officer for Captain Marvel. During the film’s pre-release marketing, the Air Force performed at least two flyovers to publicize its opening, one at Disneyland and another at the Hollywood premiere. Broshear says that “all costs are passed on to the production company.”

Derik Badman writes about a recent Sam Glanzman collection.

[The] first issue is just totally crazy. The Admiral of the submarine has this long vision of the destruction of New York City due to the effect of what “the Enemy” has done in the Mariana Trench to cause sea levels to rise. In a most unusual move, throughout all four of these issues the antagonist is always just referred to as “the Enemy”, never seen, never named, never explained in the even the slightest way (are they aliens? is it a they or a single individual? why do they keep trying to destroy the world via created natural disasters?). I do notice on rereading a panel that shows a mysterious looking clawed glove crumbling a map of the United States, but the sketchy panel borders on that image make it read like another vision not a glimpse of the actual Enemy (oddly, it reminds me of the gloved antagonist in the Inspector Gadget cartoon).

—Misc. Eli Vally and Meghan McCain had an interesting exchange on Twitter last week.

Monster Brains has a great gallery of Gahan Wilson cartoons up right now.


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