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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/29/13 – Le cirque sexuelle)

Provided you didn’t spent the entirety of last Sunday smothered in episodes of Arrested Development — I wound up seeing two episodes myself without any intent, they were just playing at someone’s house — you’ve probably become acutely aware of the book to your left: Le Bleu est une couleur chaude, a 2010 Glénat release from writer/artist Julie Maroh, who would subsequently win the Prix du public (a general, popular vote award) at Angoulême ’11. Despite this local renown, I have yet to locate any detailed review of the book in English, certainly not dating from the time of its original release, and not even following the announcement that Arsenal Pulp Press — Canadian specialists in alternative culture works, including a handful of comics releases — would be releasing an English edition under the title Blue Angel in the Fall of 2013.

I suspect, however, that something may be forthcoming in light of Sunday’s announcement that Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour(!) film adaptation of this 160-page comics album — La Vie d’Adèle, aka: Blue is the Warmest Colour — had won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, one of the few remaining film festivals at which the receipt of a major prize carries a tangible glamor and some reward of international exposure. This, of course, makes Kechiche’s film the first ‘comic book movie’ to take the Palme, finally avenging Brenda Starr‘s crushing loss to Wild at Heart.

I like the look of that cover, though. Immediately, I notice a certain sharp-edged, rather Ai Yazawa quality to the art, which speaks to a certain influence manga has been exerting over the direction of French comics for a few years now. A peek inside only confirms this suspicion:

Image purloined from Glénat’s website.

This is actually a tiny bit reminiscent of Kan Takahama, a player in the short-lived Franco-Japanese nouvelle manga scene in the ’00s. Perhaps such efforts require no label today; the fusion of approaches is simply understood.

Ditto.

Anyway, Blue is the Warmest Colour attracted less attention at Cannes for its BD roots than the apparently intense and prolonged erotic scenes between its primary characters: a confused teen girl and the Bilal-headed older woman (speaking of international exchange) who coaxes out her sexual identity. The film enjoyed tremendous critical acclaim at Cannes, though the only review that stands out in my memory is a prominent dissent, that of Manohla Dargis of The New York Times, who derided the film as a slog through heteronormative male-driven images of female sexuality, oblivious to the tiresome representational norms it reinforces at every turn. In short, it is artificial: salesmanship of exoticised ‘queer’ images for the delectation of the privileged majority.

Naturally, this got me thinking about popular recent comic books.

Never, ever, in all of my life have I seen more hetero guys excited over unabashed male-driven gay pornography than I’ve seen with The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, a recent manga release by PictureBox, Inc. It is undoubtedly a hot thing among comics readers of a certain arty inclination, the conversation surrounding it spiked with a certain cocksure sense of one-upsmanship – “Yes, yes, but what did you think of the guy with the needles through his ballsack? Or the guy who’s drugged until he cums and shits? Or the dude who plows two guys’ heads open with a pistol while a hook suspends his dick by the urethra? IT’S FUCKING NUTS.”

I account for myself in this number. By my fascination with marginal, weird, extreme works, I’ve encountered a fair amount of extreme, violent, ero-guro manga porn of the sort that accomplishes a certain transfiguration of the psyche after a while, obliterating visceral reactions and leaving the reader in a numb and super-focused state so that catalogs of brutality register in the manner of a child accepting basic arithmetic. A hook pierces somebody’s cock and I titter like I’ve seen how four can be reduced by two. Indeed, it’s easier with Tagame’s work, because I find nothing arousing about erotica involving only men, and so I lack any stray twinge of primal response that I might know, in the manner of a primal man, from even a crude drawing of naked female breasts, metaphorically scratched onto a cave wall.

And it would be the height of banality to suggest that Tagame’s book would be received in a different way if the strong, semi- or non-consentual content — not the *only* content of the book, mind you — depicted women as recipients of the author’s punishment. I mean, of course; that’s a totally different set of representational issues and political concerns and historical backwash. Context matters, and it is context, not text, that concerns me.

I realized, before long, that my responses to The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame were that of a connoisseur of horror — a ‘big tent,’ liberalized genre take — while the evident intent behind the book was to create a particularized erotic atmosphere. Gengoroh Tagame, the artist, clearly finds this work sexually appealing. Chip Kidd, a driving force behind the book, apparently shares that impulse, going so far as to commission a new story from the artist, loosely approximating certain characteristics of his (Kidd’s) own life. There is no statement as to the intent of the book’s publisher, though there are many possibilities: Tagame’s art is attractive and interesting, and there has never been a collection of manga erotica released in English with an intended domestic audience of gay men. And, the publisher might also be counting on a little extra kick from the shock/horror appeal I have described as active in my own reading of the book, and which I suspect, from only my anecdotal observations, is powering some of the hype behind the work as a publishing ‘thing.’

There is a risk here.

Depictions of male homosexualty in manga in English have historically focused on images created by women for the erotic consumption of other women. This, arguably, is a seizing of minority (male homosexual) space by a majority (female) concern. Likewise, I fear that my own reactions to Tagame’s work represent an insidious othering of male homosexuality, an annihilation of the potential for empathy in the wake of a generic fascination, a Horror that fundamentally relates to my own calculus as a ‘jaded’ and ‘informed’ reader who’s seen lots of craaaazy shit, bro, excusing any substantive analysis of the privilege from which I benefit each and every day. The players in Tagame’s dramas are thus fictive in the manner of stop-motion creatures or slashers in masks, and can be compartmentalized as apolitical phantoms of raw shock – in short, I’ve made the work about *my* pleasure, in a way that denies the problematic aspects of engaging with the pleasures of others. I have sold the exoticism to myself, and what a bunk deal is is.

Again, this is not the fault of Tagame or Kidd or anyone involved with putting together the work itself – it a problem of context, of a book that unfortunately stands as essentially the only depiction of gay erotica by-men, for-men in the manga arena at the moment. PictureBox has now announced a follow-up volume, set to explore the broader scene of gay manga, and it will be most welcome. Until then, in the spirit of vainglorious fretting that forever haunts this column, I invite curious het male readers to engage in rigorous flagellation of their motives and responses, toward a better understanding of the delicate position such extreme content inhabits in a diverse comics ecosystem. It is inevitable for readers to find uses for a book beyond the intent of the author, but every reader can benefit from a greater cognizance of how, inevitably, they read.

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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, 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.

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SPOTLIGHT PICKS!

In the Kitchen with Alain Passard: Inside the World (and Mind) of a Master Chef: Okay, so the last food comic featured on this site didn’t do so well, but I’m thinking a lot of you will be up for the new Christophe Blain, which is to say a new 96-page, 7.25″x 9.25″ hardcover Chronicle Books translation of the Issac the Pirate/Gus & His Gang creator’s 2011 account of three years spent observing the revered chef of the title. Recipes included, I’m told. Maybe not one to burnish the standing of Blain with critics prone to dismissing his recent output as empty reinforcement of bourgeois aesthetic norms, yet I would nonetheless be interested in seeing how his super-slick cartoon pace adapts (or does not adapt) itself to journalistic concerns. French samples; $16.95.

Obituary Man: Also French-related this week, albeit by way of Quebec, comes this 84-page story from Philippe Girard, who has released two prior English editions with the same publisher, Conundrum Press (that’s 2010′s Ruts & Gullies: Nine Days in Saint Petersburg and 2011′s Killing Velazquez). This one promises exploits by “[a] nondescript man who gains indescribable energy from reciting the eulogy at the funerals of strangers,” possibly as a counter-action to his own lingering ennui. Worth a flip-through, probably; $15.00.

PLUS!

Tales of the Buddha (Before he got enlightened): Back in 2008, I recall reading the debut issue of Wasted, a digitally-distributed Scottish comics magazine of drug comedy, fronted by longtime 2000 AD and Batman writer Alan Grant. It was a very mixed bag, and I don’t even know how many issues it lasted, but one product of the endeavor appears to be this 80-page Renegade Arts Entertainment compilation of anarchic religion ‘n comedy strips by Grant and artist Jon Haward. See a Western take on the Jesus & Buddha: bros theme! With colors by Jamie Grant and an introduction by John Wagner; $14.99.

Journalism TPB: I’m not sure how much attention this 208-page Metropolitan Books collection of short pieces by Joe Sacco got upon its initial release last year, but I thought it was a really strong book, with an especially interesting set of comments by Sacco himself exploring the ‘project’ of his nonfiction approach to comics. This is a new softcover edition, and it is recommended. Preview; $22.00.

Fury MAX #12 (of 13): Speaking of international strife, unless something has changed since the solicitations I’ve read, this is the next-to-last issue for Garth Ennis’ & Goran Parlov’s admired fog-of-war saga, following the famous Lee & Kirby soldier on a tour of 20th century American military misadventures. Things got especially disgusting last issue, and I don’t expect it to let up now; $3.99.

Adventure Time 2013 Annual: Also among the more talked-about not-so-recent-anymore comic book launches is Boom!’s Adventure Time, commemorating its success here with an old-fashioned, extra-length Annual. Note the presence of Roger Langridge as writer/artist of one story among six total features. Langridge preview; $4.99.

Adventures of Superman #1: A print edition of that digital-original Superman anthology series that was going to have a story by Orson Scott Card, but now does not. I’m told the results are pretty good, with contributions by Jeff Lemire and Jeff Parker & Chris Samnee, among others. Lemire samples; $3.99.

Doctor Strange: The Oath: Is this the most superhero-heavy my column has ever been? Nonetheless, since Marvel compilations tend to drift in and out of print, it’s worth noting this new edition of a 2006-07 Brian K. Vaughan/Marcos Martin mystic arts miniseries, as both principals are much, much more popular now than they were seven years ago, and presently working on The Private Eye, a pay-what-you-want digital comic full of even more pronounced Ditko licks; $19.99.

The Wake #1 (of 10): About ten years ago, when Vertigo-published projects by famous superhero writers were more common, there would be a sort of guessing game that would inevitably break out upon every first issue: how much of the audience on board for shared-universe DC serials would stick around for non-superhero (or even ‘alternative’ superhero) projects from the same writer and (basically) the same publisher? I think anything over 30,000 copies sold was considered pretty good back then – typically less than half of what said writers would be moving on a decently popular cape series. I bring this up in retrospect because it rarely happens anymore — everyone sort of takes this stuff to Image now — yet here is an honest-to-god brand-new Vertigo miniseries by Batman family superstar Scott Snyder, drawn by the very good Sean Murphy of Punk Rock Jesus and the Grant Morrison-written Joe the Barbarian (itself a rather late entry in the sweepstakes). Scary shit deep underwater at the Arctic Circle is promised. Preview/interview/hype; $2.99.

Absolute Top 10: Of course, sometimes these offbeat projects wind up owned and forever exploited by DC, even if only as (perhaps welcome) reprints. As such, here is a 592-page slipcased 8.125″ x 12.25″ hardcover omnibus compilation of what I believe is everything Alan Moore ever wrote for his millennial cops-in-a-city-where-everybody’s-a-superhero concept, an amusing take on a Brian Michael Bendis/Ed Brubaker ‘superhero comic-as-crime comic-as-television procedural’ that gradually transitions into an almost Pat Mills/Garth Ennis-style pisstake on caped mores. Includes the complete 1999-2001 original series, drawn by Gene Ha & Zander Cannon, plus the 2003-04 Smax spin-off/fantasy spoof (art by Cannon) and the 2005 prequel graphic novel The Forty-Niners (art by Ha), with some odds ‘n ends; $99.99.

Star Wars Omnibus: Wild Space Vol. 1: There’s actually a bunch of Alan Moore stuff reprinting this week – a new printing of Watchmen from DC, for example, and, potentially more interesting (if definitely not as good comics), this 480-page Dark Horse compilation of rare and random licensed comics, culled from premium pack-ins and British publications among other sources, including what may be all of Moore’s early ’80s Marvel UK stories with John Stokes, Alan Davis and Adolfo Buylla. Other British contributors include John Wagner, Steve Moore and Steve Parkhouse, along with Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, Len Wein, Gene Day, Klaus Janson, Walt Simonson, Carmine Infantino and others; $24.99.

X-Men #1: I’m old enough to laugh involuntarily at the very particular ballsiness of titling a comic simply “X-Men #1,” and here it’s to a rather specific end, as Marvel is now launching a mutant superhero book with an all-female cast. The writer is Brian Wood and the artist is Olivier Coipel, and this will be, in all likelihood, the most-discussed comic book of this New Comic Book Day of May 29, 2013. Preview; $3.99.

Jeffrey Jones: The Definitive Resource: Finally, your book-on-comics of the week, a 178-page Vanguard production cataloging the complete works of Jeffrey Catherine Jones, popular fantasy illustrator, elusive comics presence and documentary subject, who died in 2011. With appreciations by [s]tudio mates Bernie Wrightson & Michael Wm. Kaluta. Available in softcover and hardback editions; $24.95 & $39.95, respectively.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Diverse offerings from two conflicted sources. First there’s PictureBox, with Mere, a 5″ x 8″, 180-page softcover collecting an assortment of ultra-small-run minicomics created by C.F. in 2012 – comprised of sketches, patterns and fragments & stories in comics form, the package forms a sort of roughshod summary of a fantasy publisher, not dissimilar in approach from the PictureBox’s DNA Failure, a British small press concoction from earlier this year; $19.95. Meanwhile, Fantagraphics presides over the return of the very fine ’90s alt cartoonist-turned-tattoo specialist Graham Chaffee with Good Dog, a 96-page, 8.25″ x 10.25″ hardcover parable for all ages (CONTAINS LIGHT CUSSING), concerning a stray dog who navigates the concept of — yes — goodness; $16.99. In the spirit of cats & dogs living together, Fanta also has a new softcover edition of The Cat on a Hot Thin Groove, a 2003 compilation of Gene Deitch’s mid-century covers and cartoons for Record Changer magazine; $35.00. Hipsters!

Thank you for reading this column. Here is your President Shima Kōsaku panel of the week:

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7 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (5/29/13 – Le cirque sexuelle)

  1. Future Man says:

    Thank you for offering a critical analysis of the Tagame book. This was a release that had really piqued my interest, but I was worried about how it would stand alone in the context of the English reading audience. I already felt the sense of objectification and otherness from the images I’d seen excerpted.

    In Japan, the prevalent availability of manga in the mainstream market would allow a work like this, appealing to a sub-culture within a minority group to more easily be found by it’s intended audience. However, the culture that this work is written for is so outside of the realm of the English language comic market’s reach that this material seems fated to miss it’s most appropriate audience and be subjected to readings of the material for its shock/horror appeal. The question must be raised of the place for a book like this in the American comics market as it exists. As if the mainstream American market isn’t already submerged in a culture of homophobia and white nationalism, this is indeed a risky approach from the publisher, looking to have this book find an audience that will engage with it as the author has intended. In that respect, I’m happy to hear that PictureBox will be releasing another work of gay erotica to provide a better context for which to view the Tagame book within.

  2. jlo says:

    Enjoyed your review of Tagame! It’s such an unusual, great book. For gay guys, too, this book is tough to pinpoint. Some scenes start off kind of hot, but as the story keeps going, it’s horrific! For me it’s mainly about marveling at the terribly masculine, erotic grotesqueness. I guess I don’t want straight dudes to think all gay guys get hot n’ bothered by this comic…well, aside from the first few pages of each story!

    • Joe McCulloch says:

      Yeah, I definitely should have been clearer that the same shock effect can very well occur with gay readers as well… Tagame implies as much in his interview toward the back. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Joe McCulloch says:

    UPDATE: For what it’s worth, Julie Maroh herself has also now expressed some strong reservations over the sexual content in Blue is the Warmest Colour

  4. Kit says:

    including what may be all of Moore’s early ’80s Marvel UK stories with John Stokes, Alan Davis and Adolfo Buylla.

    This wording was thrillingly broad until I realised I’d mentally skimmed past the words “Star Wars.”

  5. Joe McCulloch says:

    RELATED: Here is a nice interview/profile of Tagame in which he gets into the specific intent behind his depictions…

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