It is with great regret that I announce my abject failure to secure even one lousy goddamned manga from the beautiful Kinokuniya bookstore across the way from Bryant Park on my weekend trip to NYC. Oh, I had a wonderful time regardless – met up with some great people, nearly bought my weight in comics. But untranslated manga simply wasn’t in the cards this time, which I only later realized would upset this column’s exciting tradition of peering momentarily into the Japanese comics mainstream and coming away with lovely, enigmatic images of robots and naked dudes and shootings. Such treasures would be particularly valuable today, as the manga-in-English scene continues what I’ve perceived for a while to be a retraction into surer, salable bets; a recent 66-title strong 2012 New Manga Preview by the redoubtable Deb Aoki revealed about five interesting books for my purposes (although this might be cool, I dunno), all of them releases from the usual suspects, all of which I already knew were coming.
But I still managed to be a little surprised this weekend — and I think my column is still going to be a tiny bit on target — in that the primary purpose of my visit, the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, proved to be international in its outlook. Take for example the above page from SF Supplementary File #2B, a minicomic by Japan-based artist Ryan Cecil Smith. As you might guess from the title, it’s an offshoot of Smith’s larger SF genre comics project, but it also represents a typical, inescapable, and uniquely Japanese type of hand-crafted comics festival item: the dōjinshi fan comic, based entirely (and generally without explicit authorization) on a preexisting commercial work. Smith has done this sort of thing before — his two–part Two Eyes of the Beautiful was based on work by horror manga icon Kazuo Umezu — but this new work came packaged inside a larger show debut, the CCC 9.5 ‘anthology’ (actually a box filled with items from the Closed Caption Comics crew, with which Smith is affiliated), thus forcing it to blend in with visual exercises and designer patches and other things, and prompting the reader to accept (or at least consider accepting) it as part of a broader artistic pursuit – one iteration of creativity, and a valid one.
This is despite the story being “drawn” from a 1979 episode of Queen Emeraldas, an offshoot (ha ha, a supplement!) of mangaka Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Pirate Captain Harlock saga of interstellar manly gallantry and hard life lessons. I don’t know if Smith is doing a beat-for-beat copy — despite some anime-fueled name recognition, virtually none of Matsumoto’s actual manga are available in English — but there’s certainly an acute capture of the old Harlock fists-clenched determined angst to be had in here, with the comparatively delicate, almost hesitant strokes of Smith’s lines drawing out the psychic fragility of the space pirate cast, framing a typically screaming Matsumoto metaphor (shot into a lifeless world of silver rain and endless ocean!) as an achingly direct emotional appeal. If only I’d known a standalone issue #2A was available separately at the CCC table, with a concluding #2C to come early this year!
And that wasn’t even the most evocative sample of the format around. Not with Brandon Graham taking the most necessary of next steps in making your own comics about Japanese anime/manga characters: having them fuck everything in sight. Comiket? Tokyo? Biggest comics convention in the world? LOADED WITH PORN, much of it concerning the extracurricular activities of beloved characters created by someone else.
So it goes for Graham’s contribution to issue #2 of Thickness, a smut anthology edited and published by manga blogger/translator Ryan Sands and cartoonist Michael DeForge (a man of no small manga influence to these eyes, who himself contributes a variation on the beloved anime theme of awkward gender swapping). Put simply, it’s an extra-dirty adventure for the Dirty Pair, a disaster-prone duo of scantly-clad intergalactic troubleshooters whom nobody who watched any anime at all in the ’80s or early ’90s could possibly avoid. It was a popular enough franchise to spawn its own American variation — which launched future Empowered creator Adam Warren into wider visibility — but Graham’s unofficial porn version emphasizes the Japanese characteristics of the team’s logo and names to better fool around: heroine Kei’s name is presented as an icon of a key, which (naturally!) leads to lock-filling implications while foreshadowing many additional puns to come.
The fact that the distinctly female Kei is put in the ‘key’ position is indicative of the freewheeling potential of unauthorized works, where sci-fi instruments can be employed for the heroine to adopt both female and male sexual attributes (at one point she even knocks a dude up), most appropriately for (again) a bigger comics project: a collection of dirty stories determined to split its contributors as evenly as possible between men and women, and allow for any brand of pleasure. In the end, Graham’s Kei really just wants to fuck herself, which given her own malleability seems less indulgent than comprehensively adventurous – a girl as her own galaxy.
But even outside of fan-work, the look of some BCGF exhibitors reflected its own interesting flux. Witness 2011 Hot Young Thing Jonny Negron, who seemed to pop up in 1/3 of the comics I bought at the show, some of which I held in my hands, waiting to pay, as a prominent comics figure spent whole minutes singing praises to the artist’s face. There’s a formidable seinen look to some of his work, I think, particularly this piece from issue #2 of the aptly-titled Chameleon, a pink-papered anthology comic of vignettes edited by Negron and Jesse Balmer.
It’s a piece titled Violence City, and its disposition is essentially to replicate the heated first few minutes of an old-time side-scrolling beat ’em up video game, assuredly of Japanese origin. Widescreen panels capture as many characters in head-to-foot action as possible at once on the play field, the perspective leaping every so often into the mise-en-scène of a cutscene cinematic, freezing activity into sheer brutal posing. Clenched and awkward, Negron builds absurdity from repeating perspectives, in and out and in and out, fists throbbing, fluids pouring, suggesting a city as a single, endless street of unlimited combat, a life in hell, a story with a nominal beginning and no ending. Comics shows can seem like that too, but not this time; I found what I needed.
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.
Black Jack Vol. 17 (of 17): Aw, but proper manga isn’t too far away! Maybe in a busier week this would go further down the list, but the time seems right to honor this gala concluding installment of publisher Vertical’s effort to present Osamu Tezuka’s berserk episodic medical adventure series in its most expansive in-print form. That doesn’t mean it’s complete, though, as you’ll discover across a whopping 44 pages of supplementary material, much of it given over to charts listing the original publication order and dates of every single one of the 231 stories translated over the course of the entire series – that’s 12 short of the full run, as Tezuka ‘sealed’ certain episodes from reprinting. Note that if you shelled out for the special hardcover editions of vols. 1-3, you received one of the suppressed adventures per book as a bonus, thus making this English effort even more extensive than its Japanese reprint counterpart; $16.95.
The Eyes of the Cat: Ah, but surely not so much as a panel will be missing from this 56-page debut collaboration of Moebius and Alejandro Jodorowsky, initially published in 1978 as a premium item Les Humanoïdes Associés would give away to readers ordering a certain number of albums at once. You can sort of sense this ephemeral origin in the book’s call-and-response structure, alternating between minimally narrated shadowplay on left-hand pages with gorgeous, almost woodcut-like full-page ‘silent’ images on the right – it’s a really fun, creepy, effective comic that will take under five minutes to read, probably, which could scare some readers away from this 750-copy, 12″ x 16″ deluxe hardcover keepsake from Humanoids. The day after the show this weekend, a bunch of us went old comics hunting, and I foisted a newly-liberated copy of the 1990 Stephen R. Bissette-edited horror anthology Taboo 4 on the group; it reprinted The Eyes of the Cat in full as a feature story, which is maybe a more efficient way to encounter it, though Moebius’ art is certain to look nice all extra-huge. Samples; $69.95.
Bakuman Vol. 8: Lest I seem overly negative toward the manga mainstream — and in a week seeing new volumes of Naruto (53) and One Piece (59)! — be aware that Viz has a new volume of this manga-creation-as-sports-manga series ready to drop (and plenty more to come, given that Death Note creators Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata are already up to vol. 15 in Japan, with a new one set to hit in less than a month); $9.99.
P. Craig Russell’s Library of Opera Adaptations Box Set: Oh man, I hope The Death of Klinghoffer‘s in here – wait, shit, this stuff mostly hails from Russell’s old Night Music series with Eclipse (though some of it dates back to Star*Reach in 1977, while other bits advance as far as 2004), so I guess I’m not getting the response I want. Just like those emails regarding my Mr. A libretto. But anyway, buckle in for 440 aggregate pages of operatic extravagance, including The Magic Flute, Parsifal, Salome, Ariadne and Bluebeard, Pelléas and Mélisande, Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana and more, spread across three softcover volumes. A few samples; $44.99.
I Thought You Would Be Funnier: Also in repackaging comes a new Boom! hardcover gift edition of a 2010 paperback collection of cartoons submitted to the New Yorker by Shannon Wheeler, who by sheer hand-on-my-heart coincidence is writing on exactly the same topic elsewhere on this site today; $17.99.
Johnny Hazard The Newspaper Dailies Volume One: 1944-1946: A new Hermes Press collection of Frank Robbins aviation material, 288 pages; $49.99.
glamourpuss #22: This showed up in some of the east coast stores last week, so I can say with confidence that this issue of Dave Sim’s ode to photorealist strip art features a 10-page Zatanna spoof which at one point doubles as a parody of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. C’mon left coast, look at this face; $3.00.
Hellblazer Annual #1: A pox on DC for invoking the title and numeric designation of one of my all-time favorite things they’ve published, the original 1989 Hellblazer Annual #1, being one of the all-time great ‘person rants about stuff’ exhibits in ostensible genre comics. Jamie Delano, Bryan Talbot, Dean Motter. Not to trash Peter Milligan & Simon Bisley, who’re doing this new one (on a totally different topic), but… still; $4.99.
X-Statix Omnibus: Meanwhile, Marvel compiles what’s probably Milligan’s best-known work of the ’00s, a celebrity-focused riff on Marvel mutant team comics, 2001-04, notorious in its day for unpredictable plotting and a bleak sense of humor. Mike Allred was the primary artist, although segments are also drawn by Darwyn Cooke, Paul Pope, Philip Bond, Marcos Martin and others. A 1,200-page brick including side-stories, anthology pieces and a 2006 revival miniseries; $125.00.
Jack Kirby’s Fourth World Omnibus Vol. 1 (of 4): Yes, now we can sell ’em all in softcover! Still, superhero fans who somehow haven’t read it yet can now do so at a different price point; $39.99.
The Art of Herge, Inventor of Tintin: Volume 3 (of 3): 1950-1983: THIS WEEK IN TANG-TANG! A 12″ X 9″, 206-page Philippe Goddin tome from Last Gasp, again presenting chronological drawings and works by Hergé, with commentary; $39.95.
Grant Morrison: Combining the Worlds of Contemporary Comics: Finally, your book-on-comics for the week, a 256-page University Press of Mississippi package examining works by the influential (though not exclusive) superhero specialist. The writer is academic and longtime excellent comics blogger Marc Singer, recently interviewed by the Mindless Ones en mass in anticipation of the book’s release. Contents and samples; $25.00.