To your left you see an image from a better age of Mark Millar, captured in Image’s excellent recent edition of Tales from Beyond Science. The year was 1992, and Millar had pitched a thorough revision of the Tharg’s Future Shocks line of short stories to 2000 AD assistant editor Alan McKenzie; the “[s]hocks,” it was agreed, had become anything but. What resulted was among the first of the 22-year old writer’s many revisions of comics properties deemed insufficiently thrill-laden, though it’s rarely Millar who comes to mind when you think Tales from Beyond Science; surely, instead, it’s Rian Hughes, the feature’s one and only artist, and the commanding design presence behind the current bookshelf edition.
That said, I suspect many will find the young writer’s stories to be intriguingly uncharacteristic. Elliptical and eerie — largely unconcerned with the strictures of plot drama — Millar’s four tales seem plunked down from an alternate dimension where, instead of longtime mentor Grant Morrison, it was famed British comics enigmista John Smith (himself author of two of the series’ installments) who served as the lad’s compositional role model. Yet as we can see, Millar cannot help but wink toward a beloved favorite from a dominant genre across the ocean: “This is an IMAGINARY STORY… Aren’t they all?”
Millar, as you may be aware, has taken a lot of heat lately for certain statements made to the New Republic as to the facility of sexual violence in his work, specifically that rape functions identically to decapitation in establishing a villain’s maleficence. The piece is titled “‘You’re Done Banging Superheroes, Baby,'” quoting with glee from a juicy bit of misogyny in Millar’s & John Romita, Jr.’s Kick-Ass 2; this, in turn, inspired one of the better responses to the article, as Journal contributor Tim O’Neil examined how a subsequent line of dialogue from that very sequence — “…it’s time to see what evil dick tastes like” — was appropriated from fellow 2000 AD veteran Garth Ennis’ signature series Preacher. The trick is, Ennis, by contextualizing the line in a fevered dream sequence suffered by his protagonist, plainly intended the line as a condemnation of the hero’s possessive, Manichean capacity, while Millar (much in the spirit of the Alan Moore line snatched above) merely employs it for lazy, surface characterization as a veritable excited utterance.
Inevitably, my mind soon wandered to earlier travails in violence and context.
You may not recognize the image above, but I assure you it’s a watershed moment in international comic book relations. The writer is Lee Marrs, veteran of late- and post-underground comics such as Wimmen’s Comix and Star*Reach, while the artist is one Keizo Miyanishi, making his English-language publishing debut. The forum was a Heavy Metal-styled perfect bound anthology titled simply Manga, a one-off effort from a consortium of American-interested Japanese comics professionals so obscure today that no consensus has even been reached on the book’s year of publication – maybe 1980, ’81, ’82.
What is certain, however, is that Manga was carefully tailored to flatter majority American impressions of how comics were ‘supposed’ to look. Katsuhiro Otomo made his English-language debut in that book, though he had probably not even begun his name-making Akira serial in Japan; his occidental influences would nonetheless prove valuable. It goes without saying that no female mangaka were included, despite the magnificent popularity of shojo manga art in the prior Japanese decade. Marrs, ironically, appears to be the only woman involved in any capacity with the project whatsoever.
And Miyanishi — who is also credited on-page with the story’s “concept” — perhaps was selected for the almost stereotypically ‘Japanese’ quality of his drawings, vaguely approximating the bodily contours of Yamato-e painting: the original narrative pictures. Titled “Midsummer’s Night Dream” and pregnant with allusion, Marrs’ & Miyanishi’s story plunks Hikaru Genji into a spicy (yet tasteful) encounter with two spirits who concoct a verily faerie-tamper’d romance with a mystic woman whose passion unlocks the icy man’s soul to “the wonder of sharing.”
Yet looking at the above images — the pursed lips, the obsessive, ovular shade beneath the eyes — the attentive reader might wonder how much was really being shared.
Keizo Miyanishi was a porn artist. Maybe he still is. In the 2010 Top Shelf anthology AX: Alternative Manga — the only other English-language book to publish a story of his, a similarly international takeoff on Dostoyevsky titled “Les Reskolnikovs” — Ryan Holmberg notes that Miyanishi followed an apprenticeship under Mamoru Misaki with a number of works informed by the 1970s boom in erotic comics, though by the time Manga rolled around he had apparently shifted his energies into standalone illustration, as well as the irregular musical project Onna, for which he serves as lyricist, vocalist and guitarist.
(At this point, the management requests you open this link in a separate tab and allow it to play for the remainder of the column; just tell your boss it’s part of the spreadsheet.)
As it happens, I have since come into possession of Lyrica, a 1994 Japanese-language compilation of Miyanishi’s ero works. It is from there I have taken the above image, which succinctly essays the artist’s fascination with male and female anatomies, delicious confinement and vulgar poetics, as evidenced by the rightward vision of proud Mt. Pepe. Sequence, however, is required for a fuller view:
I especially appreciate panel 7 in the first page, depicting the male character’s arousal as all but tearing through his fancy satin briefs. There is pragmatism here, yes — obscenity busts still occur in Japan today, as they did in the ’70s, mandating assiduous (if often nominal) obscuring of the genital region — but from that, like so many Japanese porn artists, Miyanishi coaxes fine effect from textural sensations; it is never so much the blunt details of congress with him, but the prospect of fabric peeled down ready flesh, of captured glances and unreal, metaphoric depictions of intense arousal: hair standing on end, warmth flowing like spilled syrup, and rocky emotional terrain blinking to and from existence in the heat of excitement.
Do not fuck with me, gentle reader. I know of the superiority of this aesthetic. I saw what happened when the first hentai specimens were released into the Eros Comix ecosystem; it was like Days of goddamned Future Past, with the cast of Super Taboo tracking and killing the weird, mutant strains of NA smut theretofore active as agents of social release.
And so, we return to violence.
There are several ‘period’ tales in Lyrica, which we might compare with Miyanishi’s Manga outing from around the same time. While the American-aimed story lingered on the healing properties of Good Sex, however, the artist’s domestic output — no doubt subject to whims of editors mindful of their magazines’ ecchi audience, granted — is filled with erotic images of annihilation. See the blood just above; no plasma I’ve encountered behaves like that, but its special viscosity denotes a certain mania to Miyanishi’s drawing, eager to draw spindly globules of gel from any orifice, a sticky mess prompted by the thin, phallic arrow protruding from the downed samurai’s belly in panel 3, and juxtaposed against the more outrageously penile form of a busy snake.
Soon after, in this one, a woman is depicted laying upon the ground, spread-eagle in parted robes, with a curious bird absently pecking at her bloodied vagina. She picks herself up, and maneuvers over to what I presume is her murdered lover. She tends to the dead man’s prick, which cannot rise, and then, with some skin-on-metal pomp, draws his katana and thrusts it upward between her legs, joining him in oblivion.
My therapist insists that my desire to ‘read’ comics in a language I cannot understand is indicative of a conflict-adverse pattern: if I can never *completely* read something, I can evade the disagreements that arise from adopting a firm position on matters of taste, thus avoiding pain. Likewise, the act of composing a dubious metaphoric ‘response’ to the week’s Mark Millar controversy allows me to benefit from the cheap heat generated by a goofy-ass New Republic profile — one not concerned with (or cognizant of) Millar’s forebears enough to note that a SIICKKKK idea like “What if the U.S. government started giving away superpowers as a recruitment tool?” was straight-lifted from the likes of Marshal Law — while foreclosing on the complexities of direct confrontation with touchy emotional and political issues, thus avoiding pain.
In the end, though, Millar is like Nickelodeon Gak – if I concentrate, and bunch up my fist, I can hold him in my hand, but the second I relax, the whole slippery mess falls through my fingers and stains the rug. Fundamentally, I agree with Sarah Horrocks that Millar is just too fucking banal to raise my blood pressure; I understand the offense he causes, and I can appreciate the restorative effect some of his works might have on canards re: depictions of women in the greater media sphere, but by god is Kick-Ass some training wheels shit compared to half the images in Lyrica, which traffic in blood-spattered, rape-tinged depictions as the very core of their being. And because I’m a lifelong conformist and An Uncreative Person, I’m attracted to the extremes of art, which allow me to siphon off some vaporous transgression, intoxicating me with visions of a off-center existence I lack the fortitude to pursue.
Or, alternately, as I reply to my therapist, MA’AM, by gazing toward the personalized, marginal, outer limits of otherwise lucrative offense, I hope to isolate something empathetic and communal and Real in the commercial sphere, much in the way that, conceptually, a column juxtaposing summaries of upcoming issues of Buck Rogers with personalized depictions of rare gunge disinterred from the funnybook cemetery is meant to spark some willful recognition of commercial context as a transient aspect of the autobiography that is a soul’s interface with creative works. “My god, you’re a pretentious git!” she blurts, running a fingernail across my leg. “Through the use metaphor, I hope to demonstrate intuitive connections between works otherwise presumed several in the post-monocultural period,” I murmur. Then we kiss, forever.
With Keizo Miyanishi, what I think is Real about his work is the grotesque artifice through which he communicates desire’s burn, stretching ‘erotic’ characteristics until they are faintly horrible, while still carrying the signal of pleasure. In this way, tantalizing images of a young girl’s sampling of unfamiliar bodily fluids become commingled with a woman having an eye pecked out whilst being impregnated by a randy gamecock, afterward laying an egg for an obese housemate to devour. I wonder if knowing what the dialogue says would aid in my understanding of these direct-yet-elusive drawings, or if the desirous meaning afforded to them by Miyanishi’s creeper line would supersede logic entirely, relegating a decapitation, yes, to an orgasm’s burst.
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.
March Book 1 (of 3): MAINSTREAM COMICS. That’s the real super taboo here at the Comics Journal, but while many will undoubtedly be chattering about Infinity — the new Marvel tentpole series from Jonathan Hickman and various (Jim Cheung this time) (it’s got Thanos) — I have nonetheless elected this comic book debut of United States Representative John Lewis (D-GA 5th District), detailing a tumultuous life in pursuit of civil rights over 128 b&w pages drawn by the always-interesting Nate Powell. Co-written by Andrew Aydin, published by Top Shelf. I think this is the first comic I’ve seen with a Bill Clinton pull quote since Double Impact Hellina in ’96! Preview; $14.95.
Amazing Facts & Beyond! with Leon Beyond: There’s been a few minicomic collections of this funny fake trivia strip by Dan Zettwoch & Kevin Huizenga (and occasionally Ted May) — an honest-to-gawd local weekly print comic that ran from 2008 to 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri’s Riverfront Times — but I’m glad to see a proper Best Of arriving from Uncivilized Books in the form of a 9″ x 8.5″ landscape-format hardcover, packing in 240 pages of extremely useful tidbits. Everybody involved in this is crazy-talented. Samples; $24.95.
Holy shit, did I really make a Bill Clinton joke up there?
Bad Break: Being another of Humanoids’ all-in-one editions of French genre comics, this time a 216-page hardcover collecting a 2003-04 crime series by Philippe Riche (whose The Alliance of The Curious was released late last year), in which assorted parties are on a dead man’s trail. Note that the publisher also has vol. 4 (of 6) in its line of giant-sized standalone albums for Moebius’ and Jodorowsky’s The Incal this week, if you are so inclined. Samples; $29.95.
Mark Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales Artist’s Edition: People really love these IDW Artist’s Editions. I know folks who seem to visit comic book stores exclusively to hunt ’em down, especially the older stuff. Nonetheless, because the publisher remains committed to exploring all avenues of lavish comic book drawing for its patented (not really) ‘original art, original size, b&w-reproduced-as-color-to-pick-up-every-hint-of-process’ presentation, here is a collection of the final six issues (#9-14) of Schultz’s well-remembered 1987-96 dinosaur adventure throwback series, which begat the short-lived children’s media franchise Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, but is best recalled as a haven for old-timey adventure strip rendering; $95.00.
The One Trick Rip-Off + Deep Cuts: I’ve mentioned this 288-page Paul Pope compilation before, when Image first released it back in January, but I think a new softcover edition is apropos to today’s subject matter, given that some of the collected material pertains to Pope’s days as a struggling mangaka at Kodansha in the 1990s. Plus, a newly-colored crime serial from Dark Horse Presents, and lots of shorts; $19.99.
Knights Of Sidonia Vol. 4: Plenty of manga-by-Japanese due this week too, and while I’d also be interested in Viz’s release of Q Hayashida’s Dorohedoro vol. 10 and the Neon Genesis Evangelion 3-in-1 Edition vol. 4 (of 5), my heart would still belong to Vertical’s new Tsutomu Nihei joint, a truly curious and beguiling fusion of anime space opera tropes with globs of the artist’s very particular interest in bio-horror spectacle; $12.95.
Otto’s Backwards Day: There’s also more than one 6″ x 9″ kids’ hardcovers out tomorrow from the redoubtable Toon Books, and while Geoffrey Hayes will probably bring the thunder with Patrick Eats His Peas and Other Stories (what other stories *are* there?!), I must draw some attention to this 40-page Frank Cammuso story, created in collaboration with underground comics great Jay Lynch, following up on 2008’s release of Otto’s Orange Day. Sample; $12.95.
It Came! #1 (of 4): New British pick #1, from writer/artist Dan Boultwood (I’ve seen him in the high-quality kids’ anthology the Phoenix), in which a giant robot threatens England, and the author guarantees lampoon. From Titan Publishing, which has really ramped up these comic book releases. Preview; $3.99.
Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde #0 (of 3): New British #2, seeing Peter Hogan & Steve Parkhouse resume their spaceman-on-Earth mystery series at Dark Horse, an amiable bit of entertainment from what I’ve read so far; $3.99.
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century #1 (Of 4): Told ya. Actually, a number of shops (mine included) somehow got this in last week, but don’t let not being first (loser) dissuade you from this new project by writer/artist Howard Chaykin, in which the Philip Francis Nowlan creation is re-imagined as a leftist agitator warped to a post-class war America and pulled into battle against the Chinese power elite. Published by Hermes Press. Preview; $3.99.
Savage Dragon #190: And finally, when I saw the issue number I went and looked up the solicitation text, figuring that Erik Larsen might be doing a ‘countdown to issue #200’ kind of deal – AND BY GOD HE IS. That alone is worth a mention on this rather light August week; $3.99.
That’s right, it’s a light week! THAT’S why I posted all those dirty pictures up above! You guessed it! Ha ha ha, now the column is done! My editor is blowing me kisses. I DECLARE MYSELF THE MARK MILLAR OF THIS COLUMN, SEE YOU AT THE BANK MOTHERFUCKERS!!