COLUMNS

The Corrections The Corrections

I Want To Know My Father’s Name. Tell Me His Sweet Name Again!

Division Chief Kosaku Shima Volume 1
By Kenshi Hirokane
Published by Kodansha Bilingual Comics, 2000

shimReaders of this website’s Joe McCulloch might recognize this one, the strangely compelling study of a man who goes to work, forever. “Strangely” doesn’t quite fit the comic in its native land, where the story of Kosaku Shima’s career is of such widespread popularity that the character’s eventual promotion was reported upon as if it were a real-world development in corporate coronation. (An eventual full-page article published in that bastion of comics criticism, The Economist, soberly proposing that Japan would do well to copy the managerial style of this fictional hero served as my own introduction to the character.) Alas, an English translation of the little Division Chief who could (and does, always better) continues to escape those of us who hunger for him, the only exception being, well, this: a format routinely described as being for the people its fictional word so lovingly portrays. A businessman’s manga in bilingual publication, for the traveler who’d like to catch himself up before he touches down in Japan. Or the U.S.? It could go either way. The story is tiny–166 pages just isn’t enough when the focus is on a man who thinks the company should recycle its products packaging materials and the multiple pitch meetings he’ll attend to calmly convince his superiors that such a costly endeavor is the right move to make. The story winds its way through a few forest of subplot–a superior’s illness, a long distance relationship–but it’s ultimately just a brief taste, a confirmation that what you’ve always heard about this comic is absolutely, 100% true: it’s about a businessman who works very hard, and that’s absolutely it. It doesn’t hurt that the comic (and its translator) shows no inclination towards the non-Japanese reader whatsoever–you can watch, but you better keep up–resulting in a reading experience that’s refreshingly free of the American tendency towards thanking the reader for merely touching the page. Is it an argument for Japanese business practice as being superior? It’s possible, but it feels like that description sells its ambitions short–this isn’t a comic about what the Japanese worker is like, it’s about what the Japanese worker should strive to be like. It’s the light itself–the lighthouse is just where it chooses to visit.

Sinner Volume 1, Number 4
By José Muñoz & Carlos Sampayo
Published by Fantagaphics, 1989

tcjA long, involving story about a white man who ends up knee deep in the problems of black men in Harlem, the opening pages of “Viet Blues” feel very, very familiar: it’s the same opening you find in too many stories about a burned-out white dude discovering his conscience amongst the brown people who live north of Lincoln Center. It’s easy to hear that pro-defense argument rising up, the “well you’ve got to remember that Munoz and Sampayo were heavily influenced by pulp in these stories and they aren’t privileged Americans anyway” sort of phrase except–except it turns out to be unnecessary, as the story isn’t about what you’d thought it was anyway. This isn’t a story about a white guy solving anything, he doesn’t even take the time to sober all the way up for half the page count, and the survival and success that the conclusion brings isn’t one which he has any agency for–he’s essentially a pre-X-Files David Duchnovy, pawing through other people’s tawdries, suckling up whatever juicy bits they’re willing to pass on, being tolerated because he has a well behaved dog. It doesn’t mean “Viet Blues” isn’t predictable at times–of course the innocent hitchhiker is gonna get murdered, of course we haven’t seen the last of the monster in the pinstripe suit, and yes, if the room has blinds, a monologue is coming.

tcj_0001It’s the art that should be the main draw, and while it is, there’s such a keen sense of loss around these gremlins and ghosts. The impact has been sapped by the legion of imitators and other well-meaning thieves. Frank Miller’s Sin City and Sinner are at this point so entwined in a certain way that it’s difficult for the shadow of Marv and perversion–and all that cornball dialog!–not to be felt over Sinner‘s pages. At the time, it probably seemed like Keith Giffen’s famous thievery would be the ugly footnote, but now his stupidity (foolishness?) seems almost quaint alongside the Miller effect. If there was more–and there is more, a lot more, it’s just beyond the reach of the monolingual hordes–it might be a different story. Instead it’s this, a brief passage to the world that should’ve been.

Checkmate! #5
By Paul Kupperberg, Steve Erwin, Al Vey, Julianna Ferriter
Published by DC Comics, 1988

checkmateCheckmate! was an ’80s comic set in the DC universe that centered around a semi-secret spy organization set up under an almost medieval hierarchy, with its various bodies of power structured into the differing categories of chessboard pieces–kings, queens, pawns, etc. The coolest were the knights, characters of varying identity dressed in bright yellow and blue outfits that could only work in superhero comics, and even then, only because the kind of humor on tap was always a fat guy spilling food on his clothes. “Laugh at this,” Steve Erwin’s art officiously proclaims, “Everything else is important.” (In Checkmate!, the fat guy was played by Harvey Bullock, on loan from Batman comics.) Checkmate! comics usually focused on ’80s concerns–terrorists, drug tycoons, guys who wear aviator sunglasses–and the heroes usually focused on defeating them while ladling out the self-disgust of someone who has to do a job for someone they don’t particularly like or respect. It was a comic for people who would rather not vote for Republicans or Democrats, even though they know in the end they’ll go for whichever guy at least doesn’t say horrible things about imaginary welfare moms. Checkmate!, if we’re being honest, was for teenagers who take themselves way too seriously. But it was also the kind of comic where, every once in a while, one of the characters would say something along the lines of “But unlike the sergeant, my hands aren’t tied by rules and regulations about where I got and how I obtain evidence…”

checkmate_0001“M.T. Cavanaugh” is a wonderful name for a bad guy. It’s the kind of role you can see J.T. Walsh slip into like a wetsuit. Isn’t it lovely how that one henchman is sitting down on the tree stump? Listening to old M.T. spin a yarn about murder and empire building? If I wasn’t about to tell you that he’s the type of blowhard so convinced of his own potency that he’ll freely explain the entirety of his nefarious plans the second he’s convinced he’s won–even if he hasn’t figured out who it is he’s talking to, or checked to see if that costumed stranger might have an eight-inch knife attached to a spring–you’d probably have guessed it just by drinking in that mustache.

checkmate_0002An orange, short-sleeved cowboy shirt with bolo tie and brown pants? This guy really is the best. And while you’ll have to take my word for it, there’s a yellow and white dreamcatcher–those things small children make at summer camp–stuck to the front of what is certainly a ten-gallon hat. Was there an M.T. Cavanaugh Jr? Is that his handiwork? (And can we thank him for that panel-breaking stake as well? I’m gonna!)

checkmate_0003There’s a lot to like about this sort of comic when you put it on a grid and start checking off boxes–it’s heavily organized stuff, a comic that treats the DC universe it inhabited as if that was a place that makes logical sense, a place where real people might live, and hope, and dream. Somebody has to repair these cities and keep these people alive long enough so that Darkseid or Amazo or some Crisis can come along and kill a bunch of them, right? Why can’t it be a guy who takes his ungrateful and belligerent children to work for a visit, only for them to remain unimpressed by the gigantic spy organization out of which he deals in the accounting of death, the bureaucracy of counter-terrorism?

checkmate_0004Alas, it doesn’t really work. It’s charming, certainly, and it goes without saying that it’s far  more competent and easy to read than a lot of what one finds from this company’s current product. But like every other superhero comic that pulls the “let’s talk about real people, let’s talk about their concerns” card, Checkmate! is ultimately outclassed by the most meager of television’s fare. None of these people are believable, the villain’s multitude of traits makes him the only one that’s compelling, and it’s impossible to gather what the point of it is. Entertainment has jokes, or drama, or thrills–it brings something to the table, it doesn’t just ruminate on the idea that tables exist, demanding gratitude and reverence for the most meager of named attributes. Charm’s a five-minute trait, and Checkmate–well, it isn’t marriage material.


29 Responses to I Want To Know My Father’s Name. Tell Me His Sweet Name Again!

  1. Hooray, Tucker reappears with his “critic” hat on ever-so-briefly before returning to his new corporate job– which I recall is either for a comic company or involves him clubbing baby seals, either sounds possible.

  2. Joe McCulloch says:

    My favorite part of that volume of Kosaku Shima would definitely be the bit where he’s just finished saving that one little company from the evil venture (VULTURE) capitalist, and he comes out and delivers what has to be the most bloodless and achingly *polite* telling-off in the history of the comics medium… it’s like the part in every Mark Millar comic where the superhero comes from behind to win, except with HAL the computer as Captain America.

    Oh, I also really dug the part where his boss is showing him his rad-ass corporate account hotel suite and the boss is all “you can take some ladies up here, you know” and Shima goes “I don’t really have anyone to bring,” and the boss is like “yeah… it’s just nice to be alone sometimes,” like this macho king dick act he’s been putting on just fades away and it’s kind of a relief to everyone. I joke about the studied dullness of the comic, but Hirokane actually can sneak up with a deft piece of characterization every so often, something pretty real… I like the tension between fantasy idealism and observation, I guess? Like how the series readily admits that corporate advancement is more a matter of building connections than specific merit, though Shima is soooo fucking good he winds up naturally making the ‘right’ connections anyway?

    I also appreciate that the sex scenes are roughly Gilbert Hernandez-level, but not quite Birdland.

  3. ant says:

    Great little piece on Sinner, Tucker. I’ll have to re-read Viet Blues soon, it’s definitely my favourite along with the last (?) issue that features the artist and writer themselves. Was it the last issue? I was lucky enough to to bag #’s 1,3,4 and 5 for a song a few years ago and they’re some of my most prized comics but I’m not sure how long the title lasted for. Also got the Titan Joe’s Bar collection for a ridiculously low price (4 quid, score!), I’ll pick up anything I can by Munoz at this point. Can anyone elucidate on the “famous” Keith Giffen thievery? What did he steal? The art style? Anyway some more information would be appreciated, tried Google but it’s no help, so I appeal to the learned and scholarly readers of this illustrious organ!

  4. Tucker Stone says:

    Hey Ant–I’m pretty sure the fifth issue is the last one that Fanta published, yeah. I don’t know the situation in the UK–I have what I think is a different version of Joe’s Bar.

    The Giffen stuff began here and continued for a few issues and public interviews: http://www.tcj.com/the-comics-journal-no-105-february-1986/

    I’m sure we can impress upon Mr Hodler and Mr Nadel that there’s some value in repurposing that article, although I don’t know who owns the piece. You can also read more about it on Giffen’s Wikipedia page–but trust me, that article is the real meat you’re looking for.

  5. Jeppe says:

    Kosaku Shima! Yes!

    I managed to find the last couple of volumes of the bilingual edition in Mandarake a few weeks ago. The otherwise very polite Japanese cashier didn’t quite manage to hold back her look of disbelief when checking out the books.

  6. Joe McCulloch says:

    I’m sure to many residents of Japan a Shima Kosaku passion is akin to one of us encountering somebody who’s really into Judge Parker

  7. James says:

    The picture that heralds this article on the TCJ home page is just—->choke<—awful.

  8. Tony says:

    It’s a sadly safe bet that Kim Thompson would have gotten around to re-release Sinner in complete book form sooner or later. BTW, José Muñoz himself dropped by to leave his condolences some weeks ago:

    http://www.tcj.com/amazing-hero-kim-thompson-1956-2013/#comment-298326

  9. steven samuels says:

    Wikipedia has a little bit on it. See this issue of the mag.

  10. Tim Hamilton says:

    AH! That José Muñoz art just depresses me with it’s ability to make me stab my eyes out with envy.

    Don’t worry guys! I stopped myself. Then I saw that cover from the 80′s with it’s implied genital mutilation by
    aircraft, culminating in certain death.

    If I’d stabbed my eyes out, I would have missed that.

  11. Lightning Lord says:

    Nothing about the recent Brian Wood: Asshole Sex Freak controversy? Surprising, if only because of the prior venom directed at him by Stone and Company.

  12. Tim O'Neil says:

    I’m willing to be more generous with Giffen’s use of Muñoz in hindsight because he obviously did not stop developing the moment he started aping Muñoz. He did a couple years as a straight homage and then moved on, still keeping many elements of Muñoz while incorporating other influences (such as when he out-Imaged the Image founders on LOBO: INFANTICIDE and TRENCHER, or beat Tom Scioli to the punch with his fantastic Kirby swipe of recent years). He’s one of those rare mainstream guys whose art evolves considerably over time and is usually interesting even when the stories he’s illustrating are sub-standard (which is often).

  13. Nate A. says:

    Huh?

  14. tucker stone says:

    Lobo Infanticide and Trencher are both amazing. Heckler’s also worth looking at.

  15. ant says:

    Thank you!!!

  16. Oliver says:

    Am I angry at Giffin for appropriating Muñoz? I guess I am.

    Let me put it this way — Walter Hill is a good director, but nevertheless if we lived in a world where ‘Last Man Standing’ was more highly regarded, and its director more famous, than either ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ or ‘Yojimbo’, I think anger would be entirely justified.

  17. Tony says:

    In what world is Keith Giffen “more highly regarded” than José Muñoz?

  18. Dan Coyle says:

    “I don’t want to make comics, ever, and I don’t ever want to have a professional job in comics past the one I have right now. They have nothing to threaten me with, nothing they can take away from me. I don’t need review copies or advance previews or insider access. I don’t need to be liked by people with no talent. I don’t need to hear the gossip about who is sleeping with Paul Levitz’ ex-girlfriend or the latest Scott Snyder office meltdown. Those are the things they try to ply you with: “Here’s a story, the real story, about why Mark Waid doesn’t work here anymore.” Go away.”

    –Tucker Stone, December 2011.

    Less than two years. I’m impressed.

  19. mateor says:

    If you want to be a man of principle, you need to get your money on BEFORE you have children. That is where I always felt I went wrong, anyhow.

  20. Lightning Lord says:

    Man, if we’re accusing Tucker Stone of all people of being a sellout… Well, comics blogging might fold in on itself like a dying universe.

  21. I think that is more financially succesful as the measure of higly regarded. But I’m presuming.

  22. Michel Fiffe says:

    You’re reaching, Coyle. Pulling a quote about Stone’s rejection of mainstream insider politics to criticize his getting a real job with a publisher that has nothing to do with that world is strained.

    (NoBrow = corporate job? On point, Bitterbaum.)

    You may be right, though; fuck Tucker Stone for wanting more than being a blogger from the “Gonzo/Jackass/Vice school of village burning” (remember, being mean & funny makes you an empty clown in this Serious Business). But hey, look: he’s still here! Who in their right mind would leave this audience behind?

  23. David says:

    There was something written about it but it was shortly deleted :(

  24. Dan Coyle says:

    the very concept of selling out broke in half the moment Warren Ellis went back to Marvel, singing for his supper. But this shit is still fun.

  25. Dan Coyle says:

    What that quote says to me is that Tuckatoon is fed the fuck up with comics and would be happier not reading, talking, or thinking about them at all.

    But then who would he have to validate himself against?

  26. Pat Palermo says:

    While we’re at it, I just picked up the COPRA compendiums at the Brooklyn Comic Arts Festival, Michel. They’re wonderful! It’s like Lynn Varley and Klaus Janson ran away from mean ol’ drunk Frank Miller’s house and had a beautiful baby.

  27. Rob Barrett says:

    Fiffe’s work is amazing stuff.

  28. mateor says:

    Those very few people who fell for ‘Not Selling Out’ in the nineties are the only ones invested in passing it down. Like EddieVedder or whomever.

    I saw a video just composed of Eddie falling over in concert and it was real funny. But not as funny as the time he got up off the ground and writing ‘Pro-Choice’ on his arm in magic marker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>