Last week saw the release of a new all-in-one VIZ hardcover edition of Gyo, a 2001-02 serial from the popular horror artist Junji Itō; a more recent (i.e. 2014) collection of shorts, Fragments of Horror, is due later this year from the same publisher. However, just this past weekend, Kodansha announced its own entry in the Itō licensing sweepstakes: Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon & Mu, a 2009 collection of comedic autobiographical comics. Hedging its bets, the publisher seems to be positioning it as "horror/comedy," but be aware that the 'horror' of the book exists strictly as an engine for the comedy, to the point where the whole thing verges on becoming a one-joke book - 'Junji Itō adds wildly disproportionate horror comic emphasis to domestic scenes.'
Luckily, it's a good joke. Itō's work tends to recall the horror manga master, Kazuo Umezu, in its blend of viscerally disgusting images/situations and odd, bleak humor born of absurdity. Unknown to English translation, though, Umezu also enjoyed great success with straight-up humor comics; it's not so odd that Itō would explore some of the same ground, although his visual approach to comedy is quite different from the antic cartooning I've seen of Umezu's. Instead, Itō starts from a place of terrific, staid realism, which he then dots with inappropriate bursts of grotesque exaggeration. The two pages above are indicative. Itō draws himself as basically realistic, but as he grows more and more upset with his fiancée's success at riling up the cats -- the author's now-wife, whom I presume does not have purely white eyes, is drawn as a sort of humanoid yōkai throughout -- his mouth becomes monstrous and unreal, only for the level of stylization to dial back just enough for him to look silly on page 2. Similarly, the cats, when playful, are a riot of bouncy activity on page one, while Itō's utter failure at delighting them is underscored by the two reverting to very stiffly realistic (and likely photo-drawn) form on the following page. Turds in the litter box punctuate Our Man's defeat.
This is pretty much the cadence of the book throughout - if Kodansha is going to do a direct localization of the Japanese book, there'll even be a color insert with photos of the real cats in question, so you can fully appreciate how true-to-life the artist operates. I know I came away with an even greater appreciation of Itō's particular talents; there is a lot of really funny drawing in here, and coupled with the eternally-popular cat ownership premise, I can see this clicking with audiences beyond the mainline manga readership. Here's hoping the publisher can get it into those hands.
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.
A Sailor's Story: Being the first in a new Dover Publications line of comics reissues, and this is a good place to start. Sam Glanzman is the sort of longtime professional who's worked for seemingly every publisher under the sun -- from Dell & Charlton to Valiant & Vertigo -- with this particular slate of work originating in the Marvel Graphic Novel line of the '80s. It's a suite of autobiographical comics about life in the Navy, drawn with intelligence and sensitivity. Glanzman, who is now 90 years old, just had some new comics in DC's 2012-13 Joe Kubert Presents anthology series, which were quite stylishly mounted and lively - he's still got it. A 176-page, 8.25" x 11" presentation, with bonus unpublished material and appreciations by Max Brooks, Larry Hama and Chuck Dixon. Interview & samples; $19.95.
Milt Gross' New York: A much longer-lived re-publishing endeavor is IDW's with Craig Yoe, and here is the latest from that - a 104-page edition of a 1939 book Milt Gross put together as an extension of his That's My Pop! newspaper strip to tantalize parties interested in all things NYC on the occasion of the World's Fair. Purportedly unseen since its initial publication, as the torn 'n tattered cover design eagerly gestures. With texts by Jim Steranko and Yoe himself. Samples; $24.99.
Copra: Round Two: Few things can be more a conflict of interest than a comic written and drawn by a Journal contributor and published by an entity involving a second Journal contributor -- both of whom are friends of mine, and one of whom I just collaborated on something with four days ago -- but I do like this bloody superhero team comic from Michel Fiffe, here wrapping up its first big storyline via issues #7-12. The comic book series is now up to issue #21, so there's lots for Bergen Street Comics Press to catch up on; $19.95.
Norman Vol. 1: Not quite the sort of French comic Titan has been bringing over of late, this 64-page hardcover comes from writer/artist Stan Silas, who brings a quasi-anime approach to this 2011-13 series about a little boy who's crazy about horror movies, and very eager to replicate the exploits of his many onscreen heroes; $14.99.
Orion By Walter Simonson Omnibus Edition: Simonson's millennial revival of Jack Kirby's Fourth World stuff may not have been the most talked-about superhero comics work of 2000-02, but it was pretty well-regarded by people interested in Kirby evocation, which is a good deal more popular right now. Hence, a terrifying 752-page DC hardcover collecting all 25 issues, along with some added late '90s stories. Some pretty interesting guest artists throughout this project; $75.00.
Kaijumax #1 (&) Jupiter's Circle #1: Two comic book debuts. Kaijumax is the newest thing from veteran cartoonist Zander Cannon, an Oni comic book series about a prison for giant monsters, presented in full color. Jupiter's Circle is a spinoff of the Mark Millar/Frank Quitely Image series Jupiter's Legacy (the first collected volume of which is also due this week), basically there to hold the infrequent main series' place through superhero stories set in the past. Millar remains the writer, with Wilfredo Torres now involved as artist. Kaiju preview, Jupiter's preview; $3.99 (Kaijumax), $3.50 (Jupiter's).
Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #6: The latest from this very unique Tom Scioli/John Barber IDW franchise crossover series, which is worth mentioning whenever it turns up. Preview; $3.99.
Wild Stars - The Book Of Circles Recalibrated (&) Wild Stars II: Force Majeure: I think there should always be a place in comics for life-spanning personal missions - the kind of series that started out as voluminous prose stories made for no money in your spare time, then transformed into comics you wrote, drew and printed yourself, years passing between efforts... something you cram into a dense personal website to set the record straight. That, basically, is the story of comics retailer Michael Tierney, who's put a whole lot of Wild Stars out into the world, drawn by himself, David Brewer, the late Dave Simons, Armando Gil and Frank Brunner since 1984 but mainly in '01 & '02; I still have quite a few issues, having found a bunch of 'em in a small shop over a decade ago. I had no idea what the fuck I was looking at. These two softcover books come from Tierney's own Little Rocket Publications; the first is a 296-page compendium of most of the extant comics, while the second is a 332-page prose novel wrapped around the remainder of the comics. Official site; $19.95 (each).
Comic Book Creator #7: Your magazine-on-comics for the week, from editor Jon B. Cooke and TwoMorrows Publishing. The focus of this issue is Bernie Wrightson, who gets a 43-page career-spanning interview. There should also be the start of a multi-part chat with longtime humor artist Batton Lash, along with other small features for 84 pages in total. Sample; $8.95.
Cerebus: High Society - The Digital Audio/Visual Experience: And finally, your... additional comics media of the week, i.e. an eight-disc dvd box set from IDW presenting a video depiction of High Society -- the 25-issue, 1981-83 Cerebus storyline -- in its entirety, with writer/artist Dave Sim doing voices for every written word, save for those written by Aardvark-Vanaheim co-founder Deni Loubert, who supplies her own voice. (I've been hoping to do this myself with Fantagraphics' upcoming Guido Crepax books, but I keep getting ambiguous responses like "no.") Folks who backed the High Society Kickstarter a while back had this stuff available for download, but who doesn't like an exciting physical item? I am not made of stone; $39.99.