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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/15/14 – How Many People Can Say They’ve Drawn the Biggest Comic There Was?)

JacoShark

Okay, show of hands – how many of you even *knew* Akira Toriyama not only released a totally new 217-page comic last year, but that it was published near-simultaneously in English? I ask because the Festival de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême is nearly upon us again, and last year’s festivities were marked by hints of conflict in the Grand Prix voting, which purportedly resulted in popular candidate Toriyama receiving an ad hoc commendation for the occasion of the show’s 40th anniversary while another cartoonist was selected for the top honor. Truthfully, this situation summarizes Toriyama’s present status in North America as well – unavoidable in terms of legacy, but rarely all that immediately accessed.

Mind you, it didn’t help that Jaco the Galactic Patrolman was only ever distributed to subscribers of Viz’s digital anthology Weekly Shonen Jump; as far as I can tell there’s no print edition planned, nor do I even think can you even download the comic separately. Indeed, I can’t even find any evidence to the series existing in collected form in Japan, which is startling when you consider how quickly most manga serials are compiled into books, and how well Toriyama’s books used to sell – Dragon Ball began a huge colorization effort last year, befitting what used to be the top serial in a magazine which enjoyed a circulation of nearly six million copies per week at its 1990s height.

But then, you can’t say Toriyama wasn’t prepared for a certain disinterest this time around. In his foreword to the first English chapter of Jaco, the artist laments that he just doesn’t have the stamina to create manga on his own anymore, and thus elected to devote the project to doing exactly what he wanted. The would be little Dragon Ball-style action, he warned, and basically nothing in the way of a deep or dramatic plot. “Some parts might only make sense to Japanese people, and even they might not get some of the old jokes.” It would be, in summary, a work of “nostalgia,” a celebration of 45 years of Shonen Jump in Japan, hearkening back to a time American readers could never quite appreciate.

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There’s a hell of a lot of schtick in Jaco – proper situation comedy, much of it springing from its eponymous alien cop’s inability to understand the planet on which he’s become stranded, and the antagonistic/dependent relationship he develops with a aged, reclusive genius and (later) a peppy young girl with a talent for science. Toriyama’s art, as you can see above, remains nimble and lively, but there’s a rather defiant childishness to the work that joins it to both the artist’s own name-making work on Dr. Slump — or even its late ’70s predecessor Wonder Island — as well as the oldest and most unsophisticated iterations of tokusatsu television.

In other words, Toriyama’s comic is unlike really anything else in the contemporary shonen scene, many examples of which remain extended fantasy combat serials in the tradition Dragon Ball personified for a while. Take the series Viz started running in Weekly Shonen Jump after Jaco ended: Seraph of the End, a monthly horror-action serial by Takaya Kagami, Daisuke Furuya and Yamato Yamamoto, its debut chapter punctuated by the graphic, on-panel murders of young children by vampires, and its action driven by a hot-blooded, revenge-crazed teen who can’t wait to joint the post-cataclysm armed forces because he’s jonesing to kill some motherfuckers that need putting down. It is brazenly, unashamedly sensational and militaristic, while also hewing to cozy, time-tested character-building formulae, with art that neither excels nor challenges, but also won’t risk putting off potential customers in the manner of a seinen hit like Attack on Titan.

It is, of course, already up to its fourth collected volume in Japanese, though I’m perhaps drawing a false equivalency; Toriyama was never going to play that game again.

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Some megastar artists, like Rumiko Takahashi and Takehiko Inoue, will probably continue cranking out hits until they slump over dead atop the drawing board. Others, like Sailor Moon creator Naoko Takeuchi, become disenchanted with the process of producing pop manga, and effectively retire from the scene. As such, it’s not enough to observe that Toriyama hasn’t created a work since Dragon Ball to match its popularity, but that he hasn’t attempted anything of its back-breaking scope – since 1995, he’s contented himself with works like Cowa! and Sand Land: weekly serials that only run for a short, concentrated period. And even then, the pressure is on: “I wasn’t thinking about my age and was only getting two hours of sleep a night,” the 58-year old author confides in a behind-the-scenes bonus segment, which basically tracks with the famously bleary-eyed schedule worked by Eiichirō Oda, creator of One Piece, the almighty Dragon Ball of today.

From this perspective, there is a poignancy (if not really a profundity) to some of the action in Jaco. Toriyama is not so reclusive as the elderly researcher whom Jaco comically ‘befriends,’ but he is a genius of sorts, and just as the old man in the comic secretly endeavors to build a time machine to warp himself back to happier days, so does Toriyama simulate a sprightlier past in the pages of his comic. In fact, if you’ve heard anything about Jaco, it’s probably the fact that several prominent members of the Dragon Ball cast appear in the final chapter – the work, as it turns out, is a secret prelude, but what’s striking to me is how Toriyama places both the plot action and the very tone of the work, so uncomplicated a children’s comic, as specifically pre-Dragon Ball, as if to take himself back, for a little while, to the place he once occupied before the rigors of unprecedented fame, perhaps, evaporated his desire to keep making comics every damn week.

What I’d give for a nothing-held-back interview with Akira Toriyama, one long enough to allow the angst lurking around the edges of his promotional chats to run free! Popularity in manga is unlike popularity in any other comics tradition – maybe a lot of these exist in Japan, and there’s just never been a call to translate them. That’d make for a commemorative prize for all of us.

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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 identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column. 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.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

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Miracleman #1: ALAN MOOOOOORE!! Fists were thrown in the air last week as one of this year’s still-viable Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême candidates released his newest and spiciest dispatch from old Northampton, but while reactions have landed all over the map — and I’m afraid I totally agree with this damning analysis of Moore’s answers to critics of his usage of the Golliwogg character in various League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics — there’s no denying that the man’s influence over the superhero genre remains strong; just last week DC’s Detective Comics #27 saw Batman warped into a sinister ‘ideal’ fantasy that smacked mightily of “For the Man Who Has Everything.” Marvel, meanwhile, has cut out the middlemen altogether and legally acquired this long-suppressed (and Moore-disowned) exercise in genre interrogation from the pages of Warrior and ye olde Eclipse Comics, drawn in these early pages by Garry Leach. Expect new lettering and updated Steve Oliff colors (extensively defended here), and a whole lot of supplementary texts/Mick Anglo reprints to bulk the package up to 64 pages. Preview; $5.99.

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Excel Saga Vol. 27 (of 27): And speaking of long-awaited events – it’s maybe difficult to ascertain right now if you weren’t there at the time, but about a dozen or so years ago, Excel Saga was a semi-big deal to Japanese animation enthusiasts, gleefully deviating from its manga source material to parody anime devices in the scattershot manner of MAD and its progeny. Its popularity was such that Viz elected to publish artist Rikdō Kōshi’s droller original in English, starting in 2003, and it soon became inevitable that the localizations caught up to the series’ monthly serialization in Japan. Well, that run is over now, and thus comes the same publisher’s very last compilation, just in time to enjoy a new iteration of Kōshi’s modest celebrity: he’s the artist on Koukaku no Pandora – Ghost Urn, Masamune Shirow’s first longform comics serial since Ghost in the Shell closed shop in ’97. Looks smutty – hope to see it soon; $9.99.

PLUS!

♥♥♥ Hearts: Being a new Toon Books release from Brazilian-UK artist Thereza Rowe, presenting what looks to be a lot of searing color compositions and paper-cut-out-type images in detailing a fox’s quest for her lost heart. It’s 9″ x 6″, 32 pages, probably quite handsome. Samples; $12.95.

Monsters! and Other Stories: Gustavo Duarte is another Brazilian artist, working with a lot of smooth, curvy lines. His book too is playful, depicting creatures on the rampage across 152 wordless pages, though this time the publisher is Dark Horse. A two-color 7″ x 10″ softcover. Preview; $12.99.

Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #3 (of 4): The latest-to-comic-book-stores of these Tom Neely-fronted music personality parody books — I believe the series is already complete in the wider world — this time featuring contributions by MariNaomi, Justin Hall, variant cover artist Shaky Kane and others; $5.00.

Black Dynamite #1 (of 4): This is an IDW miniseries based on the 2009 blaxploitation parody film, which I frequently heard mentioned in comparison with Jim Rugg’s & Brian Maruca’s Afrodisiac from around the same time. The official comic is notable for the presence of penciller Ron Wimberly, who picked up a great deal of appreciation for his 2012 Vertigo graphic novel The Prince of Cats; here he’s inked by Marvel veteran Sal Buscema, presumably on hand to add authentic ’70s comic book flavor. The writer is Brian Ash, who’s provided scripts for animated cartoon versions of The Boondocks and, indeed, Black Dynamite. Preview; $3.99.

Carbon Grey Vol. 3 #2 (of 2): We’re often talking about the newest debuts over at Image, but sometimes series end as well, like this dense, painterly political intrigue/fantasy-SF action comic from Hoang Nguyen, Khari Evans, Paul Gardner & Kinsun Loh – a large group of creators who funded more than half the overall project though multiple Kickstarter campaigns, which is one of the options you might elect when producing creator-owned serials with no cash upfront. I believe this one is double-sized; $4.99.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth #115: Yet some series remain perpetually in the midst of things! Lapsed or inattentive fans, though, will want to know that this issue of the Mike Mignola/John Arcudi megaseries welcomes back the prodigiously talented James Harren for a five-issue run. While you’re at it, Craig Fischer has some commentary on the series’ use of female characters here; I definitely cosign his appreciation of Kate Corrigan (and “The Universal Machine” totally is the best-ever B.P.R.D. story, though I’d caution it only *really* works if you’ve read two dozen or so immediately preceding issues), but for me there was also something subtly terrific about how Guy Davis would always draw mega-deadly-cute-girl archetype Liz Sherman as unkempt and sorta greasy, like she didn’t have time to bathe very much – who the hell would? Preview; $3.50.

Annoying Orange Vol. 4: Tales from the Crisper: And finally, since I quite enjoyed Bob Levin’s examination of post-underground comic book endeavors yesterday, I’ll draw attention to this continuing NBM/PaperCutz series by Dope Comix veteran Mike Kazaleh, who did some funny animal work for Fantagraphics before embarking on an extensive career in kids’ franchise comics. I presume that’s the type of thing we’re in for here with this comic-based-on-a-web-video-series, made in collaboration with Scott Shaw!, although the cover suggests this is also going to be an EC parody, and nothing’s got more kinship with the old underground that that; $7.99 ($11.99 in hardcover).

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16 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (1/15/14 – How Many People Can Say They’ve Drawn the Biggest Comic There Was?)

  1. Andrew White says:

    Is there a reason someone of Toriyama’s stature wouldn’t be allowed to complete a comic at a slightly more leisurely pace and then have it serialized weekly upon completion?

  2. Dave says:

    I read the first couple installments of Jaco, and I was somewhat surprised by the title character’s design – he’s really not very expressive at all. Which is surprising coming from Toriyama, who’s so great at facial expressions. Anyway, I’m really curious about whether it gets good. The first bit was boring as hell.

  3. Joe McCulloch says:

    I’ve wondered about that too… Toriyama has mentioned that Jaco was actually supposed to come out at the same time as the Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods movie (a deadline he missed due to illness), so I’m guessing there was a bit more time pressure involved with this one than normal…

  4. Joe McCulloch says:

    I sort of like the design… definitely trying to emphasize body language; I like his gesticulations while foreign that gun. Still, I kinda doubt the rest of the series will have much effect if the first chapters bored you – it’s all super-low key without any particular urgency to any given event, very much an amble of a story…

  5. Chris Duffy says:

    I liked Cowa and Sandland, so maybe I’ll like Jaco…when if/ it comes out as a book!

  6. Ryan Holmberg says:

    I want to read this new Toriyama, but in Japanese. Manga never sound good in English.

    Actually I don’t want to read it. I was in Tokyo for a couple of weeks at the end of November. There are new autobiographies out by Buronson (Fist of the North Star) and Yudetamago (Muscle Man). I desperately wanted to read them but have a phobia of getting into my childhood. Toriyama was there every day when I was growing up in Japan in the 80s, between reading Shonen Jump every week on the way home from school, watching Dragon Ball on prime-time (I can still sing the theme song in karaoke from childhood memory, like the Star Spangled Banner), and playing Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior). As an only child, I used to spend endless days in the bamboo forest (sounds perfect, right?) behind our house fighting imaginary foes at the Tenka’ichi Budokai, with some Gundam and Kenshiro mixed in. A couple of years ago, I was horsing around with my niece in Mumbai when suddenly she blared “kame hame ha” and I thought I would explode simply from the shock of hearing that in India. (Dragon Ball Z is big on Indian TV). In looking at those Jaco pages, I realized Toriyama is my default image of manga.

    “What I’d give for a nothing-held-back interview with Akira Toriyama . . .”
    I’ll try!

  7. michael L says:

    “Manga never sound good in English.”
    What a piece of work you are to say such a thing! Anyway I thought your Mysterious Underground Men translation was impeccable, one of the most effective ive ever read! keep at it!

  8. Frank Santoro says:

    Nice back handed compliment!

  9. Ryan Holmberg says:

    I’ll put it this way then: Manga always sound better in Japanese, which is exactly what you would expect I suppose. Probably since I read Japanese fluently and usually read manga in Japanese, reading a manga in English just always feels dubbed, now matter how skillful the translation, even if I’ve never read the original Japanese. I just know that the person is really speaking Japanese, even though English words are coming out of their mouth.

    Thanks for the compliment about the Mysterious Men translation. I personally thought it was a little flat. Doing translation tuned me in more carefully to dialogue in comic books. I really envy the good writers — being able to simulate the sound of speech with abbreviations, phonetic shorthand, et cetera, and keeping it terse, or keeping it hopping with artificially elongated syntax. I realize some of it’s learned pattern, but Segar, Gottfredson, Crumb, Charles Rodrigues — these are just people I’ve been reading lately and been impressed simply by the wording/spelling of dialogue independent of the stories and humor. For Mohicans, I was looking at bad Indian comics from the 50s, the kind of things Sugiura had his hands on, and aiming for some of that stilted quality, at least when the Indians spoke. For Mysterious Men, I don’t remember looking at anything in particular, but really wished I could do it in a Gottfredson style. Part of the problem too is historical slang — how would someone on the street in the 40s in a moment of excitement have said x. Ideally, with old manga, I would like to do that, to set the manga in the English of its contemporary time, or at least the cartoon English of its time. But, I don’t have the knowledge or practice to pull that off.

  10. Phil Larrabee says:

    Well lah-dee-dah! None of us should read foreign comics or watch foreign films until we are fluent in the language, I guess. Excuse us for being cretinous plebes, your highness.

  11. Oliver says:

    Dubbing isn’t necessarily an inferior means of presentation. Didn’t Hayao Miyazaki say he thought Jean Reno’s French dub of Porco Rosso fit the character better than the original Japanese actor?

  12. Phil Larrabee says:

    Chris Marker and Stan Kubrick both preferred dubbing as well

  13. Ryan Holmberg says:

    Phil, I didn’t suggest that. I was stating a personal preference based on my own reading experiences and having the option of being able to read the material in either Japanese or English.

  14. Ryan Holmberg says:

    I think the Porco Rosso issue is interesting. It’s set in Italy, right? Just a hypothesis, but perhaps Miyazaki preferred the dubbing because it put the character more fully in Europe . . . French, Italian, whatever, I don’t know if Miyazaki spoke anything other than Japanese, so maybe it was just enough that the language was from that part of the world.

    This reminds of something I thought while doing the Mysterious Men translation. Did Tezuka think his characters were speaking English? He gives most of them American names. It is probably set in his fantasy version of the US. Sometimes they say “Okay” and other short English phrases. When they shoot guns, the guns speak American, going “Bang.” By having the words from their mouths in Japanese, did he thinking he was dubbing into Japanese?

    As for the Marker and Kubrick preference for dubbing, if that is true (from a quick google search of “Kubrick” and “dubbing,” however, I am seeing a lot of complaints from Kubrick on the subject), I am guessing they preferred it to subtitling, not to the original voices.

    For translating manga, subtitling speech balloons seems silly, and where would you put the text anyway? Shogakukan put out those “subtitled” Doraemon and Bakabon volumes years ago, where the gutters were made bigger to accommodate the second language (if I remember correctly, they put the Japanese in the gutters) — but they were designed for language education, I assume. On the other hand, I am a proponent of “subtitling” sound effects (putting a small unintrusive English version beneath the original Japanese like a tag), but that is mainly for visual reasons, since usually sound effects are part of the graphic design. To erase and replace them is essentially editing the drawing, though I fully understand why publishers prefer that method.

  15. Ryan Holmberg says:

    After writing that last comment, I had another thought.

    Since childhood, I have loved Dario Argento. I probably watched Suspiria two dozen times in elementary school alone. The other movies I think I only first saw later.

    Anyway, Suspiria was of course dubbed into English (side note: this was in Japan, so there were Japanese subtitles). I don’t know how Argento worked . . . I seem to recall reading somewhere that he had his actors mouth bad English, just so it would better match up in the dubbing. Or that his actors were speaking multiple language simultaneously, because it didn’t matter, it was going to get dubbed — my memory is mixed up. Probably the Italian was also studio-recorded after the fact. Whatever the case, even as a child I could tell that something was strange about the dialogue, that the speech and face didn’t really go together. I don’t mean that I thought that those ethnic features mis-fit that vocal accent, but that the facial gestures, that raised eyebrow, that mouth cringe, et cetera did not go with that English verbiage and intonation. If that person was really speaking English like that, their body language would be different. But that was part of what I liked about Argento, it added to the strangeness, like everyone had the wrong heads screwed onto their necks, or their vocal boxes and brains had been transplanted.

    At some point, I remember seeing an old Argento in Italian with subtitles. Maybe it was Inferno. And I thought it was awfully wrong, it was ruined. It made all the tacky expressionistic settings and bad acting and sloppy confusing storytelling stand out. The aesthetic balance was destroyed.

    I imagine, if a life-long reader of manga in English learned Japanese later in life and then began reading manga in Japanese, they might experience something similar. That for them, potentially, manga should be in their own distinctive English and manga characters speaking Japanese is awkward.

    My point is that the preference for original language versus dubbing/translating is case by case and based on habits formed by prior experience with the material. I am not saying, “One can only truly appreciate a work of literature in its original language.” What is lost and gained in translation in terms of nuance and connotation is a different matter, I think, from the aesthetic effect of the translation.

  16. Joe McCulloch says:

    Kodansha did a number of those too… still the only legit English releases of Shima Kōsaku!

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