As part of my ongoing efforts at throwing my life away, I recently obtained a promotional booklet for the July 16 release of the video game Yo-Kai Watch 3. That's the Japanese release; the North American release is scheduled for the 5th of whenever, since there's Japanese material dating back to 2014 still awaiting localization - games, cartoons, comics, etc. Yo-Kai Watch is a very big deal in Japan, and there's doubtlessly a thousand hoops through which to jump for everyone to be satisfied; so many, in fact, that a big tangle is inevitable.
Yo-Kai Watch 3, you see, has several of its major characters exploring the exotic and fanciful world of the United States of America, complete with "Merican" (メリケン) versions of several familiar and easily-merchandised yōkai spirit creatures previously established by the franchise, as well as some new faces. However, the North American localization of the Yo-Kai Watch games, cartoons and manga thus far have elected to shift *everything* to a vaguely American locale, complete with less ethnically distinct names for many characters ("Keita" becomes "Nate", for example). At the beginning, the cartoon style of the character designs facilitated such national (and, unavoidably, racially-tinged) modification, but now there is clash - witness above the debut of Tomnyan, the Merican version of the series' superstar character, Jibanyan, a red cat yōkai. Tomnyan is exactly the same character, but blonde-haired and blue-eyed; what will this mean in a localization where we've been coaxed into thinking that everyone is maybe sorta white? My personal guess is that they'll end up splitting hairs between regions of the U.S., that helpful melting pot. Tomnyan... Tomcat... Tom Cat. Tom Sawyer, cards, dice - he's a riverboat gambler!
There are other ways to communicate "U.S.A." via visual shorthand, though. For example, the game's packaging seems to be adopting a comic book aesthetic - which is to say, a form of comics quickly recognizable to a Japanese audience as indigenous to the U.S., and separate from manga. In practice, this means the big Ben-Day dots and booming, isolated sound effects of Roy Lichtenstein and the '60s Batman television show, and all the other equipment of comics-proximal pop art. I also suspect there may be some superhero parody going down, as any major family entertainment franchise must consider here in the imperial phase of Marvel Studios pictures and other global megahits, but it's the faux funnybook blow-ups that's really the key, extending even to the franchise's collectable toy line.
Yet while it may chafe the comics lifer to see gallery appropriation and superheroes held up as the criterion of the Merican look (if the localization crew is really hardcore, they'll throw an apostrophe on the front of that, Bil Keane style), they can take solace in the suggestion that other aspects of comics flow so fluidly among world traditions that they can't so readily be designated to any one nation; they are a shared language. And anyway, I suspect somebody at Yo-Kai Watch HQ has read some other comics regardless:
Or maybe they saw a poster somewhere.
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, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. 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. You could always just buy nothing.
Kramers Ergot 9: Or so the title page says. The legal indicia insists that the complete title of this new Sammy Harkham-edited anthology is the delightfully formal "Kramers Ergot Vol. 9: Evil Fully Determined", though the cover seems to shorten everything to "Kramers 9", and the spine calls it simply "Kramers", with additional potential subtitles like "Rot in Hell" and "War & Peace" scattered about. All of this is my way of saying that Kramers Ergot surely needs little introduction to readers of this site; it remains one of the colossal art comics forums, famously encapsulating the avant-garde of the English-language scene in the early '00s, then offering singular and increasingly divisive curatorial experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed 2012's physically small and extremely bleak Kramers Ergot 8, but this new 296-page edition -- its first with publisher Fantagraphics -- restores the phonebook dimensions of vols. 4-6, with more of an emphasis on humorous work, if I'm reading the website solicitation right. Contributors include Kim Deitch, Renée French, Michael DeForge, John Pham, Gabrielle Bell, Antoine Cossé, Al Columbia, Julia Gfrörer, Tim Hensley, Jerry Moriarty, Lale Westvind, Archer Prewitt(!), Johnny Ryan, Anya Davidson, Ben Jones, Manuele Fior, Matthew Thurber, and many others; $45.00.
Sun Bakery #1: Another type of anthology here, the classic one-artist-show. But since the artist in question is shōnen speed stylist Corey Lewis, the mind drifts from Eightball to a Japanese comics magazine, albeit one that's 48 pages long and extremely focused on activity. There was an earlier issue of the series self-published through a Kickstarter campaign, but there shouldn't be any repeat stuff in here. (However, I *think* parts of the series will be used to reprint Lewis' 2005 kickball comic PENG!.) A Press Gang release via Alternative Comics; $5.99.
Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam and Other Stories: The latest release from Simon Hanselmann, one of the cartoonists of today who're always worth your attention. And, you know, in case your attention has strayed, this 160-page, 6" x 8.75" Fantagraphics hardcover collects various Vice strips and print works like the fine 2013 Floating World broadsheet story St. Owl's Bay, along with "surprises," per the publisher. Preview; $19.99.
Murder by Remote Control: Dover continues its run of very interesting comics reprints with this 1986 Ballantine graphic novel pairing mystery novelist Janwillem van de Wetering with artist Paul Kirchner of Dope Rider and the bus. "I wanted to work with stereotypes only," the writer (who died in 2008) told the New York Times when the book first appeared, noting American book publishers' disgust for comics and identifying explicitly 'American' themes for the story - "the fight between the will to produce, to be materialistic, and to be rustic and live peacefully with nature." Some high-tier comics crit from Gahan Wilson behind that link too ("I wished that the drawings had occasionally been a little more ethereal when depicting subjects vaporous and dreamy; their continuing solidity never quite gets past the literal kind of make-believe you encounter in circus posters where you know the wild mountain gorilla's victim is really a showgirl or in those old Victorian toy paper theaters where the dancing fairies are, for all their tights and spangles, obviously pantomime actors subject to gravity."); $12.95.
The Gods Lie.: Your manga pick of the week is this 2013 work by Kaori Ozaki, last seen in English via the long-running shōjo series Immortal Rain, which Tokyopop partially translated roughly a decade ago. This is a different kind of comic - a melancholic slice-of-life piece set among adolescent kids, serialized in a seinen magazine and presented complete in one 216-page volume by Vertical; $12.95.
Johnny Boo Goes Like This!: The seventh in this Top Shelf line of colorful James Kochalka hardcover comics for kids starring a funny little ghost. Musing recently that readers of his adult-oriented comics "maybe even thought I had died," the artist has also drawn attention to an upcoming five-issue revival of his very good 2005-07 teen superhero spoof SuperF*ckers, set for launch in the summer; $9.99.
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #12: Being the penultimate issue of this unorthodox and highly personal IDW toy franchise team-up series from writer/artist Tom Scioli and co-writer John Barber, as striking and fascinating an aberration as anything mainline media license comics has ever seen. The grand finale will be extra-long, and should arrive in about two months. Preview; $3.99.
Madballs #1 (of 4): Speaking of toys, this new project from ROAR Comics relates to the 1980s foam-balls-with-ugly-faces franchises, which has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years. I'm mentioning it here because one of the backup stories is by the always-excellent Dan Zettwoch, while another comes from a very aggressive pulsing fantasy illustrator called Scarecrowoven. The creative principals are writer Brad McGinty (himself a prolific illustrator/cartoonist) and artist Brian Smith (of the all-ages fantasy series The Stuff of Legend). Preview; $2.99.
Criminal: 10th Anniversary Special: Following their recent Image mystery series The Fade Out, creators Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips return to their multi-generational crime saga homestead for a 64-page installment set in the 1970s, incorporating bits of the contemporaneous b&w comics magazine scene a la 2014's Savage Sword of Criminal one-shot. Where there is color, it's by Elizabeth Breitweiser. Available in both comic-book and authentic magazine-sized editions. Preview; $4.99/$5.99.
Aliens: 30th Anniversary - The Original Comics Series: This, on the other hand, is not a new comic, though a valuable glimpse into the vagaries of (again!) media license comics. The work of writer Mark Verheiden and artist Mark A. Nelson, the 1988-89 Aliens miniseries established both publisher Dark Horse and the franchise itself as a venue for quality genre comics work with some unique visual appeal and scriptwriting panache. However, once the 1992 Alien 3 movie arrived, the comics were altered in reprint to conform to the film series' continuity. This 8" x 12" hardcover now restores the work to its original form, presented in b&w across 200 pages. Samples; $39.99.
Flash Gordon Dailies: Dan Barry Vol. 1 - The City of Ice: It may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think on his body of work, but that is indeed Harvey Kurtzman's name on the cover of this 224-page Titan collection of the earliest Flash Gordon strips fronted by Dan Barry. Kurtzman briefly contributed writing and layouts to the run (previously reprinted in the 1988 Kitchen Sink release Flash Gordon: The Complete Daily Strips 1951-1953), though Harry Harrison wrote many more - Frank Frazetta and Jack Davis are also credited among the contributors for this batch; $39.99.
Wally Wood's T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents - Artist's Edition Portfolio: Wally Wood was another EC veteran who assisted on the Barry Flash Gordon, although this IDW release concerns the Tower Comics superhero team Wood co-created in the 1960s. It's not a shelter-from-hailstones book like much of the Artist's Edition line, but a suite of original art facsimiles - 12 pages, all reproduced at their original 15" x 22". The publisher put out a similar edition of the classic 1975 Jim Stenstrum/Neal Adams Creepy short "Thrillkill" a while back, which is now available for fifteen bucks if you don't mind dinged corners; $49.99.
Fearless: A Cartoonist's Guide to Life and Drawing: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week - a 240-page Reader's Digest autobiography by Philadelphia native Robb Armstrong, creator of the syndicated newspaper strip Jump Start, which has been running since the 1980s. The 240-page hardcover is promised to combine "personal stories with simple drawing tutorials and original illustrations," along with photographs and such. Preview; $24.99.
This week's front page image is from the Yo-Kai Watch manga by Noriyuki Konishi, but not any of the chapters available in English yet. This English was in a Japanese edition! U!S!A! U!S!A! U!S!A!