THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (9/4/13 – The Hard Labor of Reportage)


Words of wisdom from Osamu Tezuka; hopefully we can all commit this stern lecture to heart as Labor Day festivities in the U.S. fade again into memory. Obviously, this is not a self-portrait; if anything, the thick, heavy outlines remind one of the great 1990s mainstream alternative mangaka Gatarō Man, although it's really a different '90s project from a different nation that springs to mind.

The image, in fact, is from The Untold Story of How Osamu Tezuka Created His Black Jack, a serialized work of shonen manga biography(!) from writer Masaru Miyazaki and artist Kouji Yoshimoto, which is set to resume production quite soon in the pages of Weekly Shonen Champion, the Akita Shoten boys' magazine in which Tezuka's original Black Jack serial ran so many years ago (and which has profited from several remakes throughout the years, including a mid-'00s iteration from Kenji Yamamoto, one of the contributors to the Glenn Danzig porn anthology Verotika East, which I mentioned last week).

The images you see here have been scanned from a 40th anniversary omnibus Akita Shoten released in 2010 -- a real cook's tour of Weekly Shonen Champion, ranging in subject matter from the barely-dressed heroines of Go Nagai to so the barely-dressed moe girls of Takahiro Seguchi -- so the serial dates back at least that far. It seems production may have gotten a jump from the announcement of an upcoming Japanese television movie adaptation of the material, which will feature a member of the popular boy band SMAP as Tezuka - a great idea, I'd suspect, as there's lots of potential for hot, sexy moments in manga creation.


Yet 'reading' the chapter of The Untold Story included in the omnibus, I was struck by how much the work resembles that of Joe Sacco, another big fan of hearty outlines. Moreover, the story employs a very similar means of communicating reportage through comics: several eyewitness accounts to the events in question are depicted, communicating to the just-off-panel author(s) (Sacco might place himself in the panel, admittedly), after which the comic moves into a vivid depiction of the events described.

Typically, with this brand of super-literal 'here is the person speaking, here is their story' display, I would draw a line from Sacco to Harvey Pekar; the style of direct communication is very much grounded in an old tradition of post-underground nonfiction comics, which now has a way of making Sacco appear rather stately and traditional. I don't know of the historical lineage for this style in manga, however, as very few biographical series have appeared in English unaccompanied by delicious tie-in angles or an impregnable fog of kitsch.

Perhaps Tezuka remains prominent enough that a comic *about* him would seek a balance between humanization and superheroic feats above all else; you can do that quite easily, if Miyazaki interrogates the right goggle-eyed observers while Yoshimoto draws manga no kamisama sweaty enough. All I know is that if we can see an honest to god Hergé bio in English, the reliable Tezuka market might benefit from a similar release, particularly since most of the actual Tezuka comics to be translated in the immediate future will probably be coming from DMP. Hey, Weekly Shonen Champion itself pivoted to one side from its lack of Black Jack; we can always stand to learn from a bigger field.



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.




Judge Dredd: Day of Chaos Vol. 2 (of 2): Endgame: In which writer/co-creator John Wagner closes out his valedictory Dredd mega-epic with a truly perverse chain of anti-climaxes, conspiring to maneuver the aged title character straight into the path of realizing that a blaze of glory is perhaps not in the cards for him, and instead that perhaps he will expire quietly, some day in the future, knowing that this endeavor to which he has devoted his life will exist beyond his authority, even if ruined, even if broken... and to know that, is to know helplessness. Melancholic thrill-power in the mighty Mega-City manner! Imported from overcast Britain! 192 pages of frowns! I recommend it; $27.99.


Attack on Titan Vol. 6: I mentioned this series back when Kodansha debuted it in North America because it looked pretty weird. Now, of course, if you've been following Japanese pop culture stuff at all, you know that 26-year old writer/artist Hajime Isayama has a potential mega-franchise on his hands, if the massive online popularity of the current anime adaptation translates to financial benefit before the right eyes. Inevitably, this has put the comic under closer scrutiny than it'd carried before, triggering fundamental questions like 'hey, can this guy actually draw?' Top comments sections suggest 'no,' although I think it's pretty interesting that what's awkward about Isayama's art -- mannered, built-from-reading-comics-looking cartoon bodies and all -- seems reminiscent of North American artists struggling to match the 'manga' look without a lot of grounding in draftsmanship. (Plus, Isayama reportedly counts Kentaro Miura and Tsutomu Nihei among his influences, which puts him in league with roughly 1/3 of SPX.) Still, there is a compulsive force to his big moments, which I expect the editors of Bessatsu Shōnen felt was flattering to his storytelling; contrary to popular cliché, you *don't* always need to be a tight stylist to jam your foot in the door of the mainstream manga biz. Released by Kodansha to probably every big box bookstore in English-capable North America, five volumes behind the Japanese series; $10.99.



Conan: Red Nails - Original Art Archives Vol. 1: Wow, I was not aware that this was on the radar, but we appear to be expecting the imminent arrival of the first-ever off-brand Artist's Edition! (UPDATE: Unless I reported exactly the same thing last year.) You know, IDW's super-popular line of hardcovers presenting the original art from notable old comics at the original size, in color, to capture every last flake of correction fluid? Well, here, apparently, is a 136-page Genesis West presentation of vintage Barry Windsor-Smith at 14" x 19" dimensions. I don't know the circumstances behind the work's release -- it seems writer Roy Thomas is somehow involved -- although I'd certainly want to look at it, if given the opportunity. Official site; (approx.) $150.00.

Percy Crosby's Skippy Vol. 2: Daily Comics 1928-1930: Elsewhere, IDW themselves present another thick hardcover filled with Americana, specifically a 328-page batch of boyhood from the accomplished Crosby; $49.99.

Chi's Sweet Home Vol. 10: Insofar as I'm a subscriber to Kodansha's digital edition of the weekly anthology Morning, I'm technically 'following' Chi's Sweet Home as it is serialized in Japan, but unlike a lot of the longer serials in that august seinen forum, I find it really difficult to parse what's happening in the story from just the art. Perhaps this means Kanata Konami's work functions as more of an intensive hybrid of words an pictures, the latter acting as a super-cute surface that's only made especially pliable by the addition of suggestive/explanatory text and dialogue. Or maybe the drawings just aren't very clear on their own. Anyway, I am certain Vertical is publishing this newest volume in English, a mere four months after its arrival in Japan, so all of this fuss is totally academic. Note that despite running in a weekly magazine, Konami is either not a weekly kind of artist or Kodansha's editors have Chi's slotted into some kind of part-time rotation, so don't expect more for a little while; $13.95.

Batman Black & White #1 (of 6): It may surprise you to learn that nostalgia plays an important role in superhero publishing. For example, this week DC launches a new Geoff Johns/David Finch line-wide event crossover (Forever Evil), which will be commemorated all month long by 3-D gimmick covers on basically every shared-universe DC comic, the apportionment of which has caused nightmares in the retailing sphere. But the '90s don't stop there, reflective consumer! Many will recall a 'highbrow' genre project from 1996: Batman Black & White, an anthology series inspired by the b&w Warren magazines brimming with such unlikely contributors as José Muñoz and Katsuhiro Otomo. The series continued (to diminishing returns) as a set of backup features in Batman: Gotham Knights in the '00s, and now returns as a proper miniseries again, with contributions by Chip Kidd, Neal Adams, Sean Murphy, Chris Samnee and others. I'm skeptical, but willing to be persuaded. Preview; $4.99.

God is Dead #1 (of 6): Continuing its efforts to establish an offshore account of sorts for Marvel/Image writers to stash their splattery ideas, Avatar -- also releasing issue #5 of Über this week, drawing to a close the first storyline of what, admittedly, I think Kieron Gillen began writing prior to his Marvel tenure -- presents Jonathan Hickman with a scenario about ancient gods from various religious traditions showing up on earth to cause havoc. Brings to mind a bit of the 2009-10 Warren Ellis/Garrie Gastonny series Supergod (which was more of an essay-as-comic thing), or even Rob Williams' current 2000 AD superheroes-as-gods serial The Ten-Seconders, with rather nice Kirbyesque art by Edmund Bagwell of Indigo Prime. The art for *this* series, meanwhile, is by Di Amorim, a contributor to Avatar's Borgesian library of sexy lady comics since Jungle Fantasy in 2002. It's cool, I had to look that up; $3.99.

Haunted Horror #6: I like these comic book packages of public domain horror comics from the pre-Code period that IDW puts out, and the schedule seems irregular enough that I feel the need to point out new issues, so I (er, YOU) don't forget. As such; $3.99.

Comics and Language: Reimagining Critical Discourse on the Form: Finally, here is your book-on-comics of the week, another slice of academic writing from the University Press of Mississippi. I wonder if there's a UPM otaku out there who's collected them all? Perhaps they will best appreciate this project by Hannah Miodrag, which "challenges many of the key assumptions about the 'grammar' and formal characteristics of comics, and offers a more nuanced, theoretical framework that she argues will better serve the field by offering a consistent means for communicating critical theory in the scholarship," per the solicitation. A 240-page hardcover; $55.00.