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THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/25/13 – Tropical Malady)

TropicBoat

Yo, English adaptations confuse me! For instance, yo, does the female character’s usage of “yo” above — a tendency she retains for about 1/3 of writer/artist Satoshi Kon’s Tropic of the Sea, before Kon, the translation, and/or Heaven itself lays off — denote some regional dialect at play? The character is indeed an outsider – a local girl who’s gone away to the city, and come back changed. My assumption is that Kon in engaging in a certain amount of linguistic humor, which translator Maya Rosewood is interpreting as an American ‘city’ cadence. It’s a little distracting, although I’m nowhere near capable enough with Japanese to really evaluate whether the quality of the language is down to Kon, or if Rosewood is attempting some sort of 1:1 equivalence for the artist’s own (possibly irregular) deployment of regional accenting…

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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!

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Tropic of the Sea: So yeah, in case you didn’t find it last week, here is Diamond’s official release to comic book stores of this 236-page Vertical edition of a 1990 manga by the late cartoon filmmaker Satoshi Kon, as adored a figure among certain factions of Western anime connoisseurship as can be imagined. It’s easy to see why: Kon was theatrically-minded, highly cognizant of developments in the visual arts outside of the otaku bubble, and driven by a sense of iconoclasm that placed his works in direct opposition to provincial narrative expectations and the socio-political status quo. I will confess, however, that I still think 1997’s Perfect Blue remains his apex as a filmmaker: a vehemently feminist recalibration of Italian giallo movie tropes in the service of isolating the misogyny and sexual exploitation saturating the Japanese pop idol scene. Subsequent films elaborated on the director’s fascination with troublesome culture hidden in plain sight — the cinematic history of Millennium Actress (2001), the societal outcasts of Tokyo Godfathers (2003) — though his reputation in the West gradually became more and more dependent on a narrative tendency to blur the line between reality and fantasy, a thematically apropos scheme Kon himself advanced well into the realm of self-reference (some might say self-parody) with Paprika (2006), his final longform work prior to his 2010 death from pancreatic cancer. He was 46.

Those expecting a nascent trippiness from Tropic of the Sea will be disappointed. It’s a doggedly straightforward narrative conspicuously built along three-act screenplay lines; were Kon a younger man born into a different culture, we might have accused him of releasing a ‘movie pitch’ comic, though it’s more likely he remained firmly under the influence of Katsuhiro Otomo, on whose Akira Kon had served as art assistant, and whose imminent World Apartment Horror and Roujin Z (both 1991) would facilitate Kon’s respective entries into cinema and animation. It is a markedly Otomoesque comic in terms of visual approach, mannered in its imitative character designs (see above) and generally lacking in the master’s sense of dramatic impact. When Kon, in a 1999 afterword, declares that his review of the work “made me blush incessantly,” I believed him; this is really just a hair above juvenilia.

That said, if you are willing to accept Kon as a fundamentally political artist — as opposed to a rather square purveyor of readily-explicable psychedelia — there are some hints of future works tucked away, particularly the author’s 2004 television project Paranoia Agent: a scolding, red-cheeked harangue on the manifold failures of postwar Japanese society disguised as a surreal suspense thriller. Tropic of the Sea, in contrast, is readily comparable to an ’80s American teen movie — in which a ragtag crew of disaffected local youths oppose a sunglasses-wearing real estate slickster plotting to bulldoze a sacred shrine into an offshore landfill, among other sins of progress — though it’s actually an allegorical paean to the mystic succor of nature and ancient tradition (and, quietly, an acknowledgement of the limits of such). Such opposition to urbanity is readily in line with some of the early Garo cartoonists, which suggests a deeper comics tradition from which Kon may have drawn, had the weekly serialization of the project not literally almost killed him – check out that afterword for the full story, a memento mori for the rigors of cartooning by a man who knew damn well by then a different fate was in store; $14.95.

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Rebetiko: Meanwhile, over in Europe, SelfMadeHero presents 104 color pages by French artist David Prudhomme, translating a 2009 album (which I believe won the nonfiction-oriented Le Prix Regards sur le monde at Angoulême) tracking a group of 1930s Greek musicians on a trip to pick up a friend from prison and party the night away under the nose of repressive authorities. A 6.5″ x 9.5″ hardcover, distributed in North America by Abrams. Samples; $22.95.

PLUS!

The Lost Boy: As always, I am pleased to showcase comics about which I know absolutely nothing, and that certainly goes for this super high-profile 192-page YA release from Scholastic’s Graphix line, following a kid in a new town who gets caught up in a weird mystery about a missing boy and strange happenings and etc. The author is Greg Ruth, whom the internet tells me was a contributor to Duplex Planet years ago and creator of a ’90s Caliber series, Sudden Gravity, though I recall him best as artist for one of Steve Niles’ many ’00s horror series: Freaks of the Heartland. Looks pretty slick ‘n inky, probably worth a flip. Samples; $12.99 ($24.99 in hardcover).

Sin Titulo: For a good while, this Cameron Stewart mystery joint was the designated webcomic for people who don’t read webcomics, perhaps owning to Stewart’s popularity as an artist for various high-profile DC projects. It remains pretty well-regarded today, but now even the too-aged-to-be-believed among you can rise from your rockers to enjoy this Dark Horse print edition, 168 pages in a 9″ x 6 3/4″ landscape-format hardcover; $19.99.

Judge Dredd: Trifecta: Crossovers tend to have a pretty bad reputation in American action comics, but maybe that’s because we tend to see individual comic books as fundamentally autonomous entities, in spite of the shared-universe focus of so many examples of the form. We can imagine, at least, that our favorite creators are good-natured players of the corporate game, cannily acknowledging the extra-narrative requirements of their participation while sneaking in all sorts of juicy individualistic treats with a naughty snicker; such is the self-starting spirit that makes this country great! Crossovers, however — in the same manner as high-profile tales of editorial interference — have a way of splashing water in our faces. No, you can’t always do what you want. There are writers out there who are more important than you, and, to some extent, they will dictate your activities.

But what about a crossover of equals? One that only requires the purchase of a single anthology comic? Such was the plot of 2000 AD in late 2012, whereby three ongoing storylines set in the Judge Dredd universe — old reliable Judge Dredd by Al Ewing & Henry Flint, the noir-tinged The Simping Detective by Simon Spurrier & Simon Coleby, and the antic comedy of Low Life by Rob Williams & D’Israeli — unexpectedly revealed themselves as different facets of one large saga, without any prior announcement by the publisher; a Carl Critchlow-drawn magazine-length finale eventually tied up all the loose ends. I suspect this 176-page Rebellion hardcover compilation of all relevant content will suffer a bit from lack of surprise; a *lot* of the fun came from following the different bits as zig-zagging serials peeling around totally unrelated features. But all of the involved creators are very accomplished, and it’s a rightly slam-bang story full of weird threats and breathless incident, perhaps functioning as a decent sampler of its long-lived forum’s wares. Preview; $31.99.

Button Man: Get Harry Ex: On the other hand, this John Wagner/Arthur Ranson mercenary crime-thriller contraption probably doesn’t count as a ‘crossover’ between 2000 AD and its short-lived 1990s competitor Toxic!, although the strip’s rejection from the latter did facilitate the former’s interest in accepting creator-owned material for publication, so all the better. This is a 304-page Simon & Schuster omnibus collecting all of Ranson’s contributions to the project, totaling three storylines from 1992 through 2001; a fourth adventure was released in ’07 with Frazer Irving as artist, but I don’t think it’s in here. Pretty great value on this one; $29.99.

Benny Breakiron Vol. 2: Madame Adolphine: More from NBM/Papercutz’s wee lil’ editions of kids’ superhero comedies from Peyo, creator of the Smurfs, with additional visual contributions by Willy “Will” Maltaite. Very professional, sturdy 1960s Belgian comics entertainment. Tom Spurgeon review; $11.99.

Sex Criminals #1: Probably the best-looking of the comic book debuts of the week, this is a new Image ongoing from Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky, apparently concerning bank robbers who can stop time with the force of their orgasms. Ken Parille recently isolated “cuteness” as a prominent agent in Fraction’s Hawkeye work, and I get the impression that this series will traffic in a not-dissimilar tone, though I’m pretty much always up for anything out of the front of Previews that swears to favor sex over violence in terms of sensation, and Zdarsky’s always a funny guy. Preview-interview; $3.50.

Jupiter’s Legacy #3 (of 10): Intrigued? Hey, here’s your chance; $2.99.

Henry and Glenn Forever and Ever #2: More from Tom Neely’s music culture/situation comedy spoof, now with guest stories by Josh Bayer and Mark Rudolph. Note that this Microcosm/I Will Destroy You series is actually up to issue #3, although comics stores probably won’t have the newest one yet; $5.00.

Eerie Archives Vol. 14: This newest Warren magazine collection from Dark Horse warrants some caution; insofar as issues #65-69 of the original run are collected, a solid 1/5 of the content in here is replicated from the publisher’s Eerie Presents El Cid hardcover from last year, which picked up all the bits & pieces of a Gonzalo Mayo-illustrated fantasy series, while a not inconsiderable portion of the rest is Paul Neary Hunter material, which Dark Horse has also given its own collection. That said, you will find a good 20 pages of Alex Toth in here, along with some prime José Ortiz, and a smattering of Esteban Maroto and Berni Wrightson, the latter via his classic The Muck Monster; $49.99.

Archie 1000 Page Comics Extravaganza: What the fuck, that’s a lot of Archie. My understanding is that this is basically a supermarket digest-sized deal, so I guess it’s on the other end of vintage compilations? The solicitation suggests that Dan DeCarlo will have a bunch of stuff reprinted, but I’m personally hoping for someone to sneak in one of Al Hartley’s hardcore Christian pieces around page 808; $14.99.

Empowered Special #5: This is the latest in Dark Horse’s line of comic book offshoots for Adam Warren’s manga-format superheroine cheesecake comedy/dramas, notable for the presence of Takeshi Miyazawa, a Canadian-born artist who did a good deal of work for Marvel in the ’00s before taking off to Japan to author the two-volume manga series Lost Planet: Bound Raven. I believe he has since completed a few more American assignments, although this may be the highest-profile of the lot (at least until a Jonathan Coulton-related Kickstarter project reaches fruition). Preview; $3.99.

Bokurano: Ours Vol. 9 (of 11) & Ōoku: The Inner Chambers Vol. 8: A double-shot of mature readers manga for men and women, as Viz gently pushes its seinen and josei wares toward the point of completion. Bokurano is the emotionally raw robot comic from Shadow Star creator Mohiro Kitoh, while Ōoku is the male harem historical fantasy by Antique Bakery creator Fumi Yoshinaga; note that the latter is still ongoing in Japan, and expecting the release of its tenth volume toward the end of October; $12.99 (each).

Soho Dives, Soho Divas: Finally, here is your not-a-comic for the week – a 360-page Image edition of Rian Hughes’ life drawing sketches and filled-out color designs for burlesque performers, expended from a 2010 sketchbook release. Hughes, of course, is a prolific illustrator and logo designer apart from his scant comics interiors; did you know he illustrated a whole line of UK children’s books written by Geri Halliwell? It’s true! Expect spice of a different sort from this one. Samples; $29.99 ($49.99 in silky hardcover).

CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: The further I get from Yuichi Yokoyama’s World Map Room, the more I like it. The artist himself declares the work “gekiga,” as opposed to the ‘manga’ designation you might give his earlier books, and much in the way historical gekiga sought to place post-Tezuka comics in line with darker mystery and crime influences, World Map Room pulls back Yokoyama’s perspective from people merely *existing* in a hyper- aestheticised reality of furious potential and kinetic energy, to characters who have been made suspicious and neurotic by their life on Planet Y. Amazingly, the mere addition of paranoia to the artist’s world makes his otherwise undisturbed approach seem 1,000% more humane, even as his cast’s gradual penetration into the corridors of power takes on a sinister atmosphere, like we’re being led to observe the irrevocable state of something ruined and lost. Extra points for a Drowning by Numbers-style hidden numeric countdown to…! The feel-bad hit of the Japanese art comics year, supposedly part one of a four-volume opus, although this may just be a conceptual flourish; $19.95.

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18 Responses to THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/25/13 – Tropical Malady)

  1. Michael Grabowski says:

    That translation also brings to mind ” ‘Ja think I’m a cowboy?” which would be really amusing if that was the artist’s intent.

  2. Sean G says:

    I thought ‘Yo’ was just short for ‘Yosuke’, the lead male’s name.

  3. BPP says:

    Soho Dives, Soho Diva’s has had about 4 delay notices on it, including one last week. Amazon now pitches it for landing Mid-October.

  4. Joe McCulloch says:

    Whaaat? Oh shit, you’re blowing my mind here…!!

  5. Thrills says:

    I stalled on Paranoia Agent when it got to the episode where they imagined it was a hyper-dull fantasy narrative, played out with no wit or intelligence. Up ’til then, I was enjoying the episodic ‘kid with bat appears on rollerblades at the end, bops someone on the noggin’ thing.

    I’ll get back to it soon, though, I mean, I paid £20 for the thing.

    Another thing I’m willing to pay around £20 for is that Button Man collection. Some great work in there.

  6. Dave says:

    The capital Y seems to back up that theory.

  7. Joe McCulloch says:

    Yeah, Paranoia Agent is a real grab bag of stuff, not all of which coheres well with the central metaphor… I don’t think the episodic structure especially flatters Kon’s tendencies. Still, flawed as it is, I find it difficult not to admire the sheer shoot-for-the-moon auteurist ambition of the damned thing…

  8. Zack says:

    i really enjoyed Paranoia agent, and though still far from perfect, i think many of it’s criticisms come from no one really getting what they wanted/assumed they were going to get. from an Otaku perspective (or even just a mondern anime fan), it can be pretty dull stuff comparatively. most modern anime and manga tries so hard to be a hundred things at once, while never truly being anything of worth; they fill up 500 page volume after 500 page volume really only to be read once so it’s audience can hurry along to the next title, and it’s a constant barrage of flashy content that the reader expects for each volume. Paranoia Agent, though as random and flashy as it appears at times, for those fans, is pretty tame, though for fan of a more subdued narrative structure or central continuous theme find it a little hard to follow the episodic nature of the story. i think many of the offhand anime references can be off-putting for some people, and i would still agree that Perfect Blue is probably his greatest success, but all of his work has included in some form a criticism of mainstream anime culture, if not a criticism of Japanese culture at large. i think his work always reflected much of the man he was, i would imagine struggling to justify his interests while finding relative success and freedom in a medium he seemed to also disdain. he was a Japanese man highly critical of Japanese society and anime whose greatest revolutions in film were because he worked in anime. it’s hard to call oneself a fan of anime or manga, but there were really some incredible pieces of work in both departments; it’s a lot like calling yourself a fan of movies when 95% of films that get released are absolute shit.

  9. Joe McCulloch says:

    Yeah, I’d agree with this… definitely the rub with Kon is that his criticisms didn’t really come from inside the sphere. Like, he was never gonna be an Akiyuki Shinbo, a Gen Urobuchi. You take Madoka Magica, which was an *enormous* success among otaku – I didn’t make it very far through that show, but I’m confident in presuming it serves up all the genre goodies while cocking a skeptic’s eye. That’s how you do it if you want to make the money; people will probably congratulate you for your ‘respect.’ Kon’s criticisms didn’t even take the form of popular anime; he really did desire to push things in a different direction, and for that he suffered…

  10. daustin says:

    Sex Criminals looks like it will be WAY too cute for tolerance, though who knows. Plus, the premise reminds me of a terrible Nicholson Baker book I read many years ago called Fermata – I did not want to reminded of that book.

  11. LLJ says:

    I think Kon in an interview somewhere said that Paranoia Agent just used most of his leftover ideas he had lying around that didn’t make it into his films. So it can feel a little fractured and haphazard at times. I find myself admiring Paranoia Agent, but it’s not easy to love. I think it’s more a show to take in casually than a show to delve head first into, because it doesn’t really encourage marathon viewing sessions like more populist anime (and modern TV shows in general) do.

    It’s interesting that Perfect Blue isn’t usually considered his best film among anime fans, despite displaying what seems to be a lot of elements that would appeal to them. I am guessing, as Joe mentioned above, that its use of seedy Italian giallo elements combined with its rather harsher treatment of its themes of exploitation and sexual violence makes it less a “crowd pleaser”. I think it’s clearly his best film too, but the more crowd pleasing Millennium Actress tends to get the most accolades, despite being (I feel) a little too cute for its own good at times.

  12. Thrills says:

    LLJ, maybe that was my problem, I did dive headlong into watching Paranoia Agent, and, as I say, hit a wall about 4 or 5 episodes in when it just suddenly got deathly dull. I should probably get back into it by watching it weekly, as intended.

    I really love Perfect Blue, but felt rather angry with certain elements I won’t get into for fear of spoiling it for anyone reading. Kind of lazy misogyny in places, though I get that it’s for the most part in the service of the themes it’s exploring.

    I’m torn as to what my favourite Satoshi Kon is – I am a huge fan of Paprika’s atmosphere and general ‘pop’ nature, though like your criticism of Millenium Actress, I feel it gets a tad cute in places.

  13. Joe McCulloch says:

    Having since read the book, it’s less cute than wholesome; definitely the kind of raunch you can show to your open-minded grandparents.

  14. Iznogoud (pronounced “eeznogoode.” Get it?) is a French comic book series that saw the light of day in the 1960s, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Jean Tabary. I remember liking the comic books very much as a kid. The series is about Iznogoud, the helper, or Grand Vizir, of the Caliph, who actually wants to be Caliph in his place, a desire immortalized in the French phrase “Je veux être calife à la place du calife.” An amazing thing about this story is that it was called one of the bestIslamic Comic Books but the Islamic thing in the whole story is that caliphate nothing else. Amazing!

  15. Zack says:

    In response to your response, Joe, and some of the comments below, I think the main thing that traced back his outsider response was his criticism in the first place. He has mentioned, in several reviews, his up and down relationship with otaku, and I think like fans of anything, anime fans don’t like criticism within their own camp. Perfect Blue, with it’s Hitchcock, Lynch, and Giallo influence, came off as a little too cinema-y, and it’s use of an otaku as pseudo-villain/insane-creeper (something he would explore further with Paranoia Agent and Paprika) probably alienated fans of anime status quo. Why watch an anime that portrays anime fans in as antisocial, dillusional narcassists that live in dark rooms surrounded by sexualized models of cartoon styled women when it could be so close to your own level of obsession? It’s like a funhouse mirror; the image reflacted back is distorted and exaggerated, but it’s still obviously you.

  16. 'LWV says:

    Paranoia Agent is definitely my favorite Kon work. It’s meaner and more concrete without sacrificing invention. ( I had completely blocked that fantasy episode though. There were a lot of “generic fantasy ” episodes around then, I remember one in Welcome to the NHK and a few others.) I like everything he’s done, but this is the Goldilocks zone for me.
    It still probably could have used an extra “plot” episode or two inserted in the middle of the third disc.

    @Thrills: if you’re watching the UK version, there’s going to be a minute or two censored out of episode 8 that will make it unnecessarily confusing. It’s a cool standalone episode, so it’s not too disruptive to skip it or stream it somewhere else. It’s definitely worth pushing on.

  17. Thrills says:

    Cool, ta for the advice! I plan to get back into it this week, spurred on by the comments here.

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