There was no way I could resist the grandfatherly-yet-terrifying gaze of actor/filmmaker/beloved video game designer Takeshi Kitano, even if the 10/10/12 issue of Big Comic hadn't been the newest one I could find at the Japanese bookstore in New York City. It's getting harder and harder to find - Books Kinokuniya (across the street from Bryant Park) seems to have caught on that it's more fannish stuff that picks up the regular customers, and the only other curious-looking adult type at the rack was pouring over a shojo magazine like it was an alien artifact.
The hell with all that; I love Big Comic. Established in 1968, it's among the oldest seinen manga anthologies still going today, 300+ pages for ￥300, delivered every two weeks to a particularized audience of guys facing, experiencing, or at least contemplating middle age. "Comics for Men" means 'old souls only,' and that credo often seems to extend to the contributors, many of whom have known many decades of service to Japan's storied comics industry. This aspect helps me maintain perspective as a non-Japanese reader; half the fun of 'reading' untranslated manga for me is pouring over the internet for elusive bits of information on semi-familiar titles, validating that yes - that's the guy I thought it was, the mangaka everybody used to talk about in North America, who seemed to drop off the face of the Earth. He's still working, still knowing a circulation of maybe half a million... but foreign appeal is a capricious thing.
For example, last week I cracked some immeasurably stupid joke about the US elections -- in stark contrast to the unspecific stupid jokes I crack most other weeks -- using an image from Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President, a 1997-2001 political thriller by Kaiji Kawaguchi, who is probably still best remembered in Japan for a megahit 1988-96 series titled The Silent Service, which saw the captain of a US/Japanese nuclear submarine declare the vessel an autonomous nation so as to coerce the bullying superpowers of America and Russia into disarmament. He's produced plenty of additional comics since then -- one of which, Zipang, an alternate history WWII scenario, was briefly available in English via Kodansha International -- and above we see his current project, Hyōma no Hata - Revolutionary Wars, a 19th century historical drama created in collaboration with writer Osamu Eya, which began its serialization last year and has already seen its fourth collected volume released.
Another one! Remember this guy?
It's hard to believe Junji Ito hasn't had a comic newly translated to English since Dark Horse's Museum of Terror series sputtered to a halt with vol. 3 in 2006; Uzumaki was maybe 'the' horror comic around the turn of the millennium. Since 2010, Ito has been working with writer Takashi Nagasaki -- editor and/or co-writer of a large portion of the Naoki Urasawa catalog, which I think qualifies him as the single most-ignored creative contributor in the annals North American comics criticism, just behind every letterer -- on Yuukoku no Rasputin, a horror-tinged tale of intrigue in which a young Japanese man is jailed on charges of having leaked sensitive information to Russia.
Man, check out that Wolvertonian lineup of grotesques! Big Comic is published by Shogakukan, which also (jointly) owns Viz, and I can only blame the recent contraction of the North American manga market for the absence of this series in bookstores today - maybe when Ito & Nagasaki have drawn closer to the end we'll see some activity. A sixth collected volume is due in Japan next month.
But wait - how about someone we'll all recognize?
That's right, it's 90-year old Drawn and Quarterly superstar Shigeru Mizuki blasting through his new ongoing series ("Is that even safe?" asked a friend), GeGeGe no Kakeibo, something of a variant on GeGeGe no Nyōbō, a 2008 autobiographical novel by his wife, later adapted into a television drama and a feature film. Both titles, of course, are plays on Mizuki's signature yōkai series GeGeGe no Kitaro (which D&Q will soon be releasing as simply Kitaro), and Mizuki's comic version seems to focus mainly on his struggles toward success in monster comics - think of it as his A Drifting Life.
The first collected edition of GeGeGe no Kakeibo was released about a month and a half ago, and I actually saw it sitting around at the store, but I didn't want to spend the $18 or so asking price. It's kind of a myth that manga are always way cheaper than American comics; while true in the youth comics realm, a nicer-looking, handsome-feeling older readers production can clean you out pretty quick. Granted, I did wind up wasting ten bucks on some hideous otaku magazine (4-Koma Nano Ace) because I'd never looked inside one before, so maybe I'm just untrustworthy... like, this is the kind of shit I found in there:
It's funny, sometimes you'll see an ad or two for anime in Big Comic, if one of its features has somehow gotten itself adapted, but really the only magazine I've seen this year with ads for lots and lots of anime was 4-Koma Nano Ace, because this is where a not-inconsiderable portion of the rapidly aging, shrinking domestic anime audience has gone to in terms of taste: teenage girls romping around, being cute, and serving up the sort of overtly-sexualized-yet-never-quite-explicit fanservice we all used to associate with 'bad girl' comics back in the American '90s. The above spread boasts of a special 25-minute anime Blu-ray to come packaged with a limited edition of vol. 4 of the collected Upotte!!, a Kitsune Tennouji series about schoolgirls who are the personification of various firearms. Sexy firearms, whom the monied and devout fanboy can now see topless in a HOT SPRINGS EPISODE, as the tasteful screengrabs to the left subtly indicate.
Obviously, this is a different type of Comics for Men, with most series comprised of four-panel gag strips that occasionally break out into 'full' comics, a la Azumanga Daioh, one of the more presentable crossover selections of the style. I guess I'm just old-fashioned, although in the interests of fairness, I will note the aqua socks on the girl to the far left, which is the sort of nod to bona fide fashion that tends to escape girlie artists of the North American comic shop school.
Plus, I got a free doily:
But enough of that.
Big Comic is prone to international '90s flashbacks too, as Yutaka Todo, artist of the cop action series S - Saigo no Keikan, has a sort of jagged, squinty look to his hulking characters' faces that recall vintage Rob Liefeld associates... Marat Mychaels, perhaps? Is this the kind of middle-aged mainstream comics we'd have to expect from our industry? I wonder if writer Yoichi Komori demanded at least one of these dudes work some office time so he'd be bursting out of a button-down shirt and tie? It looks to be a big hit for the magazine, with eight collected volumes out so far and a live-action television series apparently on the way. I do like this flashback effect:
Some of this effect looks to be crazy crosshatching -- see the head in the upper left -- but I think the image is also being degraded somehow, probably through some digital means, although team S might be going old-school and breaking out the photocopier.
There's a similar effect in the final series I'm going to spotlight today - the mighty Golgo 13, which has been running in Big Comic since the '60s; frankly, the magazine is cheap enough (or US comics are expensive enough) that I sometimes think of the whole affair as 'the new issue of Golgo 13,' with lots and lots of bonus features. It's always a thrill to see if I'm lucky enough to get a chapter where Takao Saito's titular super-assassin actually shoots someone - other times I'm saddled with the myriad talking heads that make up approximately 4/5s of every storyline. And while I wasn't *perfectly* lucky this time around, I did get to witness a treacherous act of violence upon a hapless woolly creature:
Haunting detail from the next page:
I don't know if that's zip on the pyre or finger smudges or a digital blur of some sort, but I do know it adds all the power necessary to mark this crime as punishable only by a bullet between someone's eyes from a tricky distance. Which leads us all the way out to the inside-back cover of the 10/10 Big Comic, and a fine example of the sort of adult-oriented advertisements we can expect from this august publication.
HELL YEAH, OFFICIAL AIRSOFT GUN! This is so much better than rifles that look like anime teens! It even comes with a fucking suitcase! Boy, I think the fun of next year's con season is gonna start at the train station!
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.
Nurse Nurse: I also went to the Brooklyn Comics and Graphic Festival last weekend, where I didn't find the manga influence on arty young East Coast cartoonists quite as strong as other years. Still, while Katie Skelly's Nurse Nurse would probably be too visually loose to run in Big Comic -- I'd think it more of an IKKI type -- its well-dressed space voyagers recall Leiji Matsumoto's, and there's real visual gains to be witnessed over the course of the seven minicomics (and a new chapter) collected in this 160-page Sparkplug release, funded in part by an Indiegogo drive earlier this year. Sample chapters; $15.00.
17 X 23 Showcase Vol. 1: Being the latest import arrival from Nobrow -- looks like the Stuff That's Been Available Through Various Means Though Not Diamond Spotlight this week -- and the start of a new softcover series similar to the old Drawn and Quarterly Showcase line, if a little more regimented. Five cartoonists (or creative teams) receive 10 pages to tell a story, although I notice that one of the entries in here actually gets 12 - luckily, it's the best in show, a series of biographical sex, birth, love & agony vignettes from Nairobian writer Reuben Mwaura and cartoonist Joe Kessler, whose new solo comic Windowpane attracted some nice attention at the show. Other contributors include Isaac Lenkiewicz, Henry McCausland, Nick Sheehy and Kyle Platts; $15.95.
Passage: I don't know why this 32-page Tessa Brunton comic is on Diamond's list as an undesignated new release -- pretty sure Sparkplug published it more than a year ago -- but I don't remember mentioning it before, so be aware of its potential presence in comic book stores. Odd stories of eccentric parents; warm and funny. Samples; $6.50.
Scene of the Crime: I suspect much of the universe's allotment of crime comics attention will be going to DC's graphic novel version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this week -- or maybe not, that thing's late to the zeitgeist even by comics standards -- but Image is nonetheless prepared for spillover/connoisseurship with this new oversized hardcover collection for a 1999 Vertigo crime series from writer Ed Brubaker, teamed with Michael Lark & Sean Phillips, the latter of whom would eventually become Brubaker's primary collaborator on such creator-owned genre efforts; $24.99.
Rock Bottom: More Image hardcover reprints - this was a 2006 release from AiT/Planet Lar, in which writer Joe Casey took the old superhero notion of a man growing rocky skin as a forum for statements about living life. Art by Charlie Adlard of The Walking Dead, which may well raise the profile of the whole thing these days. Heck, maybe that first volume of Pat Mills' Savage will even come back into print; $19.99.
Cross Game Vol. 8 (of 8): Talk of serial manga and aging artists reminds me of an essay I wrote last year for the dearly-departed comics crit website The Panelists, in which I argued that sports manga legend Mitsuru Adachi's airy, lyrical aesthetic has a distinctly pragmatic aspect, in that its myriad glimpses of blowing grass and clouds and things allow for easy deferral to studio assistants who may not be able to work at the character art that generally betrays Adachi's own hand; in this way, Adachi truly masters the weekly pop manga grind, insofar as he transmutes all potential shortcomings into something not only attractive, but recognizably him. This is the 376-page finale to Viz's present series of his, a baseball-themed coming-of-age drama I've liked quite a bit; $14.99.
Neon Genesis Evangelion 3-in-1 Edition Vol. 1: Meanwhile - you might have thought you'd realized that Victoria's secret was that she's a nerd, but really I think history has revealed Neon Genesis Evangelion to have been one of the last great 'mainstream' television anime, a 1995-96 harassment of the militarized mecha suit genre that became an X-Files-like sensation in Japan. As with a lot of top-tier original anime, a manga tie-in series debuted just prior to the show's initial airing, boasting full sequential art by the series' popular character designer, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto. Popular, and busy, since the series is still intermittently running today, having released a stately 13 volumes in 17 years (which is really only 'slow' by youth manga standards, if we're gonna be fair). As luck would have it, a new series of Evangelion movies is now in production, with Part 3 of 4 set to hit Japanese theaters this weekend, so Viz has elected to release a new line of 500+ page omnibus collections of Sadamoto's manga, with all the color bits and everything. Maybe all of these alternate retellings of the original story will end at the same time, whereupon we will all Be Invoked; $19.99.
Where is Jake Ellis? #1 (of 5): I can't say I was an enormous admirer of Who is Jake Ellis?, a 2011 Nathan Edmondson-written Image series that struck me as flaunting a clever high concept -- action dude has an imaginary friend of sorts who 'coaches' him through his amazing feats -- and then spinning its wheels until ending on a glorified advertisement for a longer series. Still, as the two or three dozen hyperventilating blurbs from assorted comics reportage outlets on the first series' back covers will attest, I am very much in the minority in that regard -- I'm also the dipshit who bought 4-Koma Nano Ace -- and, at the very least, the series did introduce a big-ish audience to artist Tonci Zonjic, whose Lobster Johnson: Caput Mortuum one-shot last September with Mignola & Arcudi may well have been a perfect disposable superhero comic (a longer series by the same team, Lobster Johnson: The Burning Hand, is due from Dark Horse this week). Anyway, this is Edmondson's & Zonjic's second series, again from Image. Preview; $3.50.
Tarzan: The Once and Future Tarzan: Collecting another Dark Horse Presents serial as a no-fuss 32-page color comic - this time it's veteran cartoonist Thomas Yeates taking the famous Viscount Greystoke on a trip through time, with scripting by Alan Gordon. Preview; $3.50.
The Boys #72: But while Tarzan might swing away forever, other stories do reach a permanent end. So it goes for writer Garth Ennis and artist Darick Robertson, creators of this lusty inquisition of the heroic ideal in the comic book superhero idiom, promoted initially as a violent parody at a DC satellite studio, then severed away and taken to Dynamite, only to reveal itself as hugely uneven but generally attention-maintaining blend of alternate history world-building, Bronze Age-type spandex soap opera and... violent parody. It all ends here, with both creators handling an extra-length series finale, bedecked with pin-ups and a cover gallery. Preview; $4.99.
Locke & Key: Omega #1 (of 7): More a beginning of an end, this. I'm not super-familiar with this Joe Hill/Gabriel Rodriguez suspense series from IDW, but it's picked up a lot of admirers since its 2008 debut; it's broadly about a gaggle of young folks and the mysterious house in their family. This miniseries will wrap up the main plot; $3.99.
Deadpool MAX HC: This was briefly a favorite of some alternative-minded superhero readers around the time of its 2010 debut, owing to Kyle Baker's eccentric blend of digital modeling and caricature-prone cartooning, and David Lapham's amusing attempts to recontextualize marvel lore as a series of weird delusions, although attention seemed to wane around the time it relaunched as a sequel series after 12 issues and an X-mas special. I often thought it felt sort of hamstrung by dishing up ribald gags and then backing away from any particularly gruesome images - signals of Marvel never quite knowing where to go with its 'adult' line. Anyway, latecomers/lapsed readers can now get everything here in a 440-page hardcover omnibus; $34.99.
Berkeley Breathed's Opus: The Complete Sunday Comics Strips from 2003-2008: In contrast, I don't know if this was a favorite of anyone's -- I'm trying to recall the critical reaction, and all I'm pulling up is old Journal message board posts about airbrushed van art -- but IDW is nonetheless committed to collecting all of Breathed's newspaper strips, and this 21st century weight-throwing attempt to stake out a larger, lusher space in a shrinking venue may yet go down as a last stand for more than just a single artist. It's 288 pages, with comments by the creator; $39.99.
The Complete Torpedo Vol. 1 SC: Just a softcover edition kicking off for IDW's recent line of translated crime comics from Enrique Sanchel Abuli & Jordi Bernet, with Alex Toth along for a few early chapters. Don't have it? You can get it; $17.99.
Autobiographical Comics: Life Drawing in Pictures: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week - a 192-page Elisabeth El Refaie study of the mainstay alt-comics genre, considering 85 works in producing "a long overdue assessment of... key conventions, formal properties, and narrative patterns." Published in hardcover by your funnybook friends at the University Press of Mississippi; $55.00.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: WOW, MICKEY MOUSE - Floyd Gottfredson & co. return for another 280 big gulp of vintage newspaper strips in Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 4: House of the Seven Haunts, which sees large birds running amok, ghosts spreading terror, and Goofy finally addressed by his proper Christian name; $29.99. WOW, DONALD DUCK - Carl Barks is in charge of 240 pages of re-colored comic book stories in Walt Disney's Donald Duck: A Christmas for Shacktown, gathering up some fine early '50s material; $28.99. WOW, CHARLIE BROWN - a pair of '60s holiday treats for Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day form the bulk of Charlie Brown's Christmas Stocking, a 56-page, 5.75" x 5.75" seasonal fancy; $9.99. WOW, CANNIBAL FUCKFACE - motherfuckers are gonna get ripped to shit in Prison Pit Book Four, a 116-page continuation of Johnny Ryan's raging flume of blood and cum, and a top-notch example of the manga influence on Comics for Everyone today; $12.99.
What? You're still here? Oh - you think the post's unbalanced, huh? As luck would have it, I bought a third manga magazine this weekend: the October 2012 issue of the monthly, 850+ page Afternoon, another seinen anthology, albeit of a younger outlook.
Older folk like me will remember Kenji Tsuruta, who, for a hot minute in the mid-'90s, looked like he might blow up with this whimsical sci-fi/fantasy series called Spirit of Wonder. But he never did a lot of comics; most will probably recognize him as character designer on the anime series Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, for which he drew a tie-in manga which never got released in English.
His present series in Afternoon is titled Wandering Island; the same magazine runs Blade of the Immortal, and Tsuruta's art is not so far away from Hiroaki Samura's, in that it's lithe and painterly in a way where you could imagine it being very popular in the twilight of a time where manga became appreciated, incompletely, for not looking so much like their youth-targeted peers.
How very indistinct these artists get, as tastes change. A wandering island indeed.