THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (6/8/11 – The Hero They Couldn’t Reboot)

To your left is a comic I found in church last Sunday. Or, specifically, my friend Chris Mautner found it, and I tore it out of his hands so hard that I nearly toppled a looming plaster gargoyle into a Dreadstar poster that may have been hanging there since the spread of Christendom to the region or the Epic Illustrated serialization, whichever came first, I'm not going to look it up. Also, strictly speaking, were were in the basement of a church, which one weekend per month transforms into a one-man comic-con dealer's room, with stacks and boxes and fragrant heaps of material coiling throughout a small maze of stony rooms, all of which seemed to have at least one copy of Dazzler: The Movie displayed somewhere as a type of talisman, although Chris insisted that he kept seeing the 1987 Larry Hama/Ron Wilson graphic novel Wolfpack, so it could be the comics were choosing us, like familiar spirits.

Regardless, I have no explanation, occult or otherwise, for the presence of Young Hip magazine in the temple, being a straightforward collection of pornographic manga from Wani Magazine -- best known in the West as originating publisher of the color comics/illustration anthology Robot and its Japan-only sibling Gelatin -- its fourth issue hailing from the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Ninety, which some readers of this column will be delighted to know was 21 years ago. So, if you happened to celebrate the birth of your child, let's say, by purchasing Young Hip #4, the hip, happening smut rag for hepcats ("Exciting Comics For Men"), that child is right now staggering down my street after last call spewing obscenities at their friends while I'm trying to scan in vintage hentai images for the Comics Journal dot com. Such is life, blessed reader.

Reading through Young Hip is a strange experience, in that you suddenly realize exactly how little the setup of Japanese comics magazines have changed over the last two decades. From its opening bits of color to the scattered humor bits -- I enjoyed a three-pager about a woman performing acupuncture on a samurai's balls -- even down to the formatting of the text segments in the back, this anthology might as well have been published last week, to the point where I was flipping through for signs of some weird put-on. Nope: it's just that some industry traditions have attained a permanency unfamiliar and odd to a foreign comics scene given to so many upheavals in format, content, etc. Indeed, the real giveaway that Young Hip is something slightly different is in the art, both in that it embodies the popular styling of years ago and that it frankly lacks the consistency of big ticket popular manga art - a lot of the drawing in this thing is real amateur hour stuff, fitting for smut's typical positioning as a gateway for dōjinshi artists to work professionally.

I did like the image above, however, from Long Night, a "Lady's Comic for Young Men" by an artist I cannot identify (another temporal giveaway is a lack of web addresses, and therefore a lack of online translation options I use to research this stuff, being tragically monolingual). I'm really fascinated by the little zip squares in the first panel, which context suggests is the dissipation of moisture, giving that fresh-from-the-tub feeling. I also love how everything in panel two below the bedpost is constructed from ink strokes of varying direction, most of them the same weight, save for those chunky scratches that make up the bed cover pattern. It's a reminder that a porn artist is a bit more likely to be giving a solo rendition of pop manga styling, so typically the product of various assistants or a whole backing studio.

Oh right, another giveaway that it's 1990: a 'tentacle' story. Wani had provided subgenre progenitor Toshio Maeda with a serializing forum for his famous Urotsukidōji and Demon Beast Invasion in the '80s, so it makes sense that this unidentified sample would likewise crop up in another Wani magazine. This is a good page, although most of the story depicts the main tentacle monster taking its time getting the heroine undressed before getting walloped in the kisser by a strapping superhero guy in an ascot. I know there's a lot of superhero revamp talk going around lately, so I'd just like to personally add: ascots.

Truthfully, and by way of further apology, I have no idea of this particular story is being serious or not - several of the stories in Young Hip #4 work through familiar ero scenarios only to toss in some wacky twist or reversal at the end. This extends even to the comparably rougher stuff, which raises an issue of its own: if a male, heterosexual, square-in-the-target-audience reader happens to find depictions of rape unappealing or distasteful or morally repugnant, they are just shit out of luck with a magazine like this, which intersperses sappy my-first-time schoolgirl shenanigans with 'surrendered to the Yakuza' stuff (or, you know, tentacles) as, presumably, a means of appealing to a wide enough audience to ensure continued stability for the publisher. It's a fine object lesson, then, of (fictional) sex-as-commerce, in that the potentially disgusted reader is asked to kindly bite their lip and move on to the next feature if rape, by some chance, is not as arousing as the artists and publisher had assumed it would be.

On a less elevated level, I'll also cop to flipping through this thing and momentarily wondering "ok, am I going to get arrested over this," which is to say I was skimming the contents to try and asses the relative youth of the characters therein, eventually deciding that since the magazine was from 1990 all the drawings must clearly be above the age of majority. Still, I mean: we're in a cellar. Kind of boxed in. I could just see myself climbing up into daylight, only to find Judge Dredd standing in the portal going "a little reading material, citizen?" before uppercutting me into a 360º mid-air flip down the stairs. Fascinatingly, I managed to pick up another comic which reflected these selfish concerns; Dazzler must have guided my hand!

This is Lea, a 1989 English release of a 1985 album by writer Serge le Tendre and artist Christian Rossi, the debut of their series Les errances de Julius Antoine, which say two further volumes released in 1987 and 1989, neither of which were translated. It was an Acme Press release, distributed by F*nt*gr*ph*cs, although the latter entity was not their exclusive partner - Eclipse was distributing Aces, a magazine-format anthology of period noir comics at around the same time.

It's a really lovely piece of work on a visual level; I think Rossi did his own colors, which shift depending on mood. This early party scene is really blown out, almost monochromatic, offering an almost sickly character to this failed seduction. And god that seventh panel! - Rossi is excellent at balancing realist body language and convincing 'acting' with cartoonier elements, often cropping up the farther a character stands from the foreground. I can't recall any other appearances by this artist in English, but I'd love to be proven wrong.

Here's some comparatively hotter colors, as our pale, shadow-soaked 'hero' subconsciously acts on his desire for an acquaintance's high-spirited, sexually-active 15-year old daughter while reaching for a distinctly phallic gear shift. Le Tendre carefully sets up the character as interested in younger girls in general, but content to channel his energies into cartoon art - in a bit of possible wish fulfillment, he's also given a gorgeous, devoted friend-with-benefits, and really pretty much the eye of every pretty adult woman he meets. Maybe it's irony. Somewhat inexplicably asked to mind the 15-year old while her parents are away, Our Man eventually collapses into drunken agony, which makes his position all the more difficult to explain when the child turns up dead.

It's your famous wrong man scenario -- Hitchcock is less alluded to that outright cited in the text -- but with a uniquely bitter denouement seeing the mystery more-or-less solve itself after the hero is pummeled into hamburger by a public whipped into a frenzy by allegations of his perverted desires and all conclusions drawn therefrom. The nasty joke is: it doesn't matter. The hero loses his job, his woman, and all of his friends, in that everyone decides it's no longer time to tolerate a kinda creepy guy, even if he never actually hurt anyone. Shunning is preferable for a good society, but Lea depicts this as pushing its protagonist more and more toward making society's nightmares come true, as he is left with few remaining choices for keeping his attentions on what might be beneficial to others.

Sour work, and none too complex; the term 'exploitation' comes to mind, in the sense of a work blending thrills with a potentially dubious message - after all, the protagonist's all-penetrating gaze certainly extends to Rossi's depictions of the doomed underage heroine topless and in her underpants. Yet this even hearkens back to a slightly less cautious time in comics distribution, and speaks of an interest in content, context controlling the value of images, in spite of the juxtaposition of it and Young Hip in one location suggesting that maybe Adult comics are valued primarily in terms of heat at consumer items. God only knows in this church.


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.



Nick Cardy: The Artist at War: Apropos of nothing, I think I'll devote this week's spotlight to direct communication with older comics artists, although this 6" x 9", 128-page Little Eva Ink production would be the overall I'd-want-to-flip-through-this compulsion pick anyway. It collects sketches made by Cardy during his service in WWII, with notes. An included dvd features a half-hour of additional interview material. This is a signed edition, although I'm not sure Eva Ink is planning to release anything beyond a more limited variant with a sketch included; $39.99 ($150.00 w' sketch).

Joe Simon: My Life in Comics: I believe this was previously titled Joe Simon: The Man Behind the Comics!, which is still the title Diamond's list uses. It's a 256-page Titan Books presentation by Simon himself with Steve Saffel, apparently focused on getting down exactly what the title says. Perfect for breaks in your online discussions of Titan's reprints of various Simon/Kirby works; $24.95.



Dean Motter's Mister X: The Brides of Mister X and Other Stories: Being a 320-page Dark Horse collection of later outings for Motter's mystery architect, focused mainly on the 1989 Vortex series. The title storyline was written by Jeffrey Morgan and pencilled by Shane Oakley, after which D'Israeli takes over as penciller (the constant inker is Ken Holewczynski). Note especially the added presence of the 1990 Mister X Special, by Peter Milligan & Brett Ewins of Strange Days. Samples; $49.99.

Preacher HC Vol. 4: Also in hardcover thickness, Vertigo brings more from one of its quintessential '90s series, covering issues #34-40 by Garth Ennis & Steve Dillon, with a trio of special issues drawn by Peter Snejbjerg, Richard Case and Carlos Ezquerra; $39.99.

Li'l Abner Vol. 3: And over in the Golden Age of Reprints wing of the hardcover compilation station, IDW has more Al Capp, from 1939 and 1940; $49.99.

Empowered Special #2: Ten Questions for the Maidman: Another find in the church cellar (part of the stack I unfortunately had to put back) - big stack of Adam Warren's old Dirty Pair comics, certainly among the more prominent examples of an American artist working through a Japanese property for local comic book consumption (some of the tentacle series had those too, Americanized editions of La Blue Girl and Demon Beast Invasion with new art). This, however, is the latest Dark Horse release from Warren's signature series -- a cheesecake-laden superhero satire about a heroine that can't seem to keep herself together -- a side-story comic book with b&w and color art by, respectively, creator Warren and guest Emily Warren. Preview; $3.50.

15 Love #1 (of 3): And speaking of Eastern influence, here's a previously unpublished relic of an early '00s time at Marvel as the House of Ideas attempted to cope with the manga boom in various, mostly unsuccessful ways. It looks to be an honest-to-god attempt at doing an American sports manga, a romantic tennis epic written by Andi Watson and drawn by Tommy Ohstuka, with a Marvel-owned character (Millie the Model!!) as the protagonist. Note that this issue is 56 pages long, hence the higher price. The fact that this was originally announced for 2003 -- and I think it may have been sitting completed in a drawer for a long while -- tells you all you'll need to know about the continuing non-popularity of sports manga in North America. Preview; $4.99.

Slam Dunk Vol. 16 (of 31): But... but who can resist? Actual megahit sports manga from Takehiko Inoue; $9.99.

Black Jack Vol. 14 (of 17): Going even older, it's a little difficult to believe that Vertical is on the brink of completing this huge Osamu Tezuka reprint project, but numbers don't lie. More from the world's most amazing surgeon-for-hire, as it's been; $16.95.

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. 1: This, in contrast, is a contemporary anime tie-in manga, which 95% of the time indicates disaster as surely as the sound of bees swarming indicates a tornado (or, potentially, an oncoming swarm of bees), but exceptions must always be considered for the Ghost in the Shell franchise, Stand Alone Complex being its television anime iteration focused to a greater than average extent on techno-thriller plotting. So: a manga version of a television anime variant of a theatrical anime adaptation of a manga. Of interest to longtime manga-in-English readers is the presence of artist Yu Kinutani, creator of possible the most obscure manga release from a 'major' North American publisher, Viz's oversized 1990 "Spectrum" edition of Shion: Blade of the Minstrel; I'd flip through this just to see how Kinutani's Yoshitaka Amano-ish art adapts to the staid, 'realistic' environs no doubt in full effect. From Kodansha Comics, with a vol. 2 forthcoming; $10.99.

Flashpoint: Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown #1 (of 3): Probably one of the odder DC event crossover tie-ins/spin-offs anticipated, a showcase series for the Grant Morrison-driven revival of the classic monster character as written by Jeff Lemire of Essex County, Sweet Tooth (a collected vol. 3 is out from Vertigo this week) and a number of recent superhero projects which with I am not familiar. The artist is Ibraim Roberson. Preview; $2.99.

Spongebob Comics #3: There's usually some fun artists in this kids' license series, and it seems this one's got Ramona Fradon of various Silver Age superhero projects, among others; $2.99.

glamourpuss #19: So I was flipping through a back issue of a pretentious fashion magazine, POP #23, which (ooh, pertinence!) had Takashi Murakami setting up a Britney Spears/lolicon manga mash-up photo shoot, inspired by Eiken auteur Seiji Matsuyama's Okusama wa Shōgakusei series in subtle protest of proposed Tokyo restrictions on sexualized depictions of virtual youth - since it's Takashi Murakami, the Britney Spears character was, in fact, modeled by Britney Spears, which made it all a lot better, though I'm unsure if she was aware of the political slant of the endeavor. Anyway, later on in the issue, I was momentarily dumbstruck by what appeared to be Dave Sim modeling some menswear, possibly as part of a highly elaborate scheme to insert himself into his glamourpuss series without upsetting the fashion magazine photo reference concept. However:

Obviously this is not Dave Sim, and in fact is Mr. Cedric Notz of Gstaad, Switzerland (photographed by Tung Walsh, styled by Tamara Rothstein), but oh how excited I was! I blame Takashi Murakami, Chris Mautner, church, and, to a lesser extent, Dazzler: The Movie, which really should be warning me about this shit; $3.00.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Ok, we all know who's publishing this column, BUT - I think there's some pretty strong stuff this week. Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Vol. 1: Race to Death Valley introduces the awesome daily strip exploits of Floyd Gottfredson, as well as a bevy of collaborators and predecessors, including Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks themselves, with a whole lot of supplements; $29.99. Congress of the Animals sees Jim Woodring send his Frank character into an odd new world; $19.99. And Isle of 100,000 Graves marks Jason's first collaboration with another writer, Fabien Vehlmann, for a tale of piracy; $14.99.