J. Caleb Mozzocco
Happy Marriage?! Vol. 1 (Viz Media): Maki Enjoji’s Josei rom-com dispenses with the suspense of the typical will-they, won’t-they business, marrying off her heroine and the handsome, mysterious, prickly bachelor in the first chapter. Here, the couple starts off married, and then must get to know one another and fall in love.
Our heroine is Chiwa Takanashi, who works in an office by day and a hostess in a club by night, in an ultimately hopeless attempt to earn enough to get her ridiculous-with-money father out of his astronomical debt. She finds an unlikely way out of that situation when company president Hokuto Mamiya suddenly proposes marriage. It turns out the chairman of the board (and Hokuto’s grandfather) owes a debt of kindness to Chiwa’s family, and would only agree to let Hokuto have full control of the company if he marries Chiwa.
And that’s the set-up. The middle-class Chiwa suddenly finds herself married to one of the most eligible bachelors in Japan, and in the difficult situation of having to keep the marriage secret from almost everyone (something about the business advantage of a bachelor image, I think), and trying to make the most of a loveless relationship — although each chapter makes it more and more clear it won’t be loveless for too long.
When DC Comics published the final issue of Geoff Johns’ eight-year, 150-ish issue run on the Green Lantern character in May, it came in a massive package: An 80-page, $7.99 comic book with a spine, its 66-page story by Johns and his many artistic collaborators complemented by eight pages or so of “Congratulations, Geoff Johns!” from his bosses, his colleagues, his collaborators, his admirers, his family members, a few celebrities and a few “celebrities.”
When DC published the final issue of Grant Morrison’s seven-year run on the Batman character this July, it was simply a regular, $2.99, 24-page issue of Batman Incorporated, the second ongoing monthly created specifically for Morrison to tell his Batman story.
The actual celebration and send-off of Morrison’s tenure on the character— or at least the last few years of it – came out this week, and, in a move that seems appropriately off-beat, Morrison himself had next to nothing to do with Batman Incorporated Special #1, a series of short stories featuring Morrison creations and resurrections of long-retired characters by various creators, only one of whom actually worked with the writer during any of those seven years’ worth of comics.
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Usually when we use the term “comic book science” around, it’s to refer to the close-enough-for-fantasy hand-waving that goes into kinda-sorta explaining things like yellow sun radiation allowing a man to fly, or alternate dimensions created by a mad doctor’s time-travel machine in our favorite superhero comics.
There is, of course, the other kind of comic book science, too — real science that appears in comic books about science. Comics like these two very different, new-ish releases that tackle some of the most difficult subjects ever put in panels: Margreet de Heer’s Science: A Discovery in Comics and Darryl Cunnningham’s How To Fake a Moon Landing: Exposing The Myths of Science Denial.
Of the two, De Heer’s is perhaps the more ambitious, attempting as it does to tell the entire history of science, from the murky dawn of mankind up until where quantum theory stood at the point of publication. All in just 180 pages!
And she manages to get it all in!
How? Well, mainly through abbreviation. While various major scientists (Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, etc) get little, multi-page stories, many more simply get an image, a label naming them and a dialogue bubble saying, “I was the founder of Optometry!” or whatever.
Since 2011, Drawn and Quarterly has published three major Shigeru Mizuki books. The first was Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, a semi-autobiographical comic about Japanese soldiers in a bizarre, existential crisis at the end of World War II, when it was pretty clear they were defeated: continue to fight to the death anyway, or be put to death by their own leaders. The second was NonNonBa, a childhood memoir about the artist’s relationship with his grandmother, and the interest in the yokai of Japanese folklore that became central to the artist’s long life of work.
The third and latest is Kitaro, a 400-page collection of 1967-1969 stories from Mizuki’s Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro manga. Of the three, it’s the book that is definitely the least interesting to talk about, and perhaps has the least literary value, being a more straightforward genre work focused more on entertainment than wrestling with the big issues of national identity that the two previous releases.
It;s also the most fun and easy to read, however, and it bears an important, even foundational, place in the story of Mizuki’s life’s work: This is his signature work, the reason Mizuki is so famous, so beloved and so influential.
And he is influential. Like Osamu Tezuka in manga and Jack Kirby in American superhero comics, even newer or younger readers who might never have heard of those men or never read a single one of their works nevertheless unknowingly enjoy works by artists they influenced. In his introduction to the collection, Matt Alt not only situates Mizuki with a place of honor in the centuries-long history of yokai study and celebration, he also partially credits Mizuki’s comics with paving the way for Pokemon.
Every month there are hundreds of new comics and graphic novels released, and dozens if not scores of them are noteworthy for one reason or another. Sadly, no matter how much time one spends reading comics, there are only so many hours in a day, and blog posts in a month. Here then are shorter reviews of every new graphic novel or somehow interesting or important new comic I read in July that I didn’t get a chance to cover.
Flowers of Evil, Vol. 6 (Vertical): Each successive volume of Shuzo Oshimi’s increasingly psycho psychodrama has upped the ante considerably, ending with a cliffhanger that positions our protagonist Takao on the precipice of some new, life-altering, no-turning-back-now crisis. This one’s no different, but now that the series in its sixth volume, the stakes don’t seem like they can get any higher.
Takao and the two young women in his life — troubled troublemaker Nakamura and his one-time crush and former model student Saeki — are all growing more and more psychologically unbalanced. Saeki seems to grow even more fixated on Takao the more he spurns her and becomes more fixated on Nakamura, ultimately even showing one of the “Something’s maybe not quite right with this lady” signs from Single White Female.
This volume opens with a police investigation of the events of the last volume, continues with Takao and Saeki both going a little nuts as they suffer withdrawal from the people they’re respectively obsessed with, features Takao’s parents trying to take a hard line and get him back under control, has Nakamura committing, threatening and asking for violence done with a baseball bat and climaxes with Takao and Nakamura about to engage in a violent public act that, if not actually terrorism, has gotta be getting pretty close to it.
The comic book annual has, in recent years, become an endangered species. Once an oversized, extra-length dose of the characters and concepts a reader could count on appearing once a year (or, you know, annually), the changing funny-book landscape has made them a less appealing proposition.
The rise of the graphic novel and trade paperback collections made “novel-length” adventures appearing in actual, off-the-rack comic books somewhat obsolete. The rising price of comics helped make annuals seem less practical; if a 20- or 22-page comic costs $2.99 or $3.99, a 48- or 56- or 64-page one would be prohibitively expensive. And with the shrunken market, it doesn’t make sense for a publisher to release an additional, extra-long issue of almost every title in its line.
As Stan Lee sayings go, “Every comic book is someone’s first” isn’t quite as well-known as “With great power comes great responsibility,” but it’s nevertheless one that comics editors and creators should integrate and internalize just as thoroughly. It’s probably much less true today, now that comics are sold primarily through specialty shops (and, increasingly, online) instead of on newsstands and spinner racks, than whenever Lee first said it.
But regardless of whether Executive Assistant Assassins #13, Fearless Defenders #7 or Tarot Witch of the Black Rose #81 — to pick three titles from this week’s shipping list — will actually be anyone’s first comic book, as long as publishers continue to sell comics as serialized stories, then the thought that one of those could be someone’s introduction is a pretty good guiding principle for creating those comics.
With that in mind, this week I read a handful of second issues of some prominent new books from the biggest players in the direct market, with an eye toward how friendly the material might be toward a new reader starting the series — or comics in general — with that issue.
Have you ever heard the expression, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well?” Have you heard about DC Comics’ He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, whose first six-issue miniseries was just collected? Have any of the people involved with the creation of those comics heard of that expression? Because from the results, it sure doesn’t seem to be the case.
The comics are poorly made — among the worst I’ve seen produced by an industry-leading publisher — but they’re bad in a very particular way.
They aren’t unreadable; I made it all the way through He-Man and The Masters of the Universe Vol. 1 without giving up. If pressed, I’m sure I could come up with some worse, more poorly made comics from DC in the recent past, but I might have difficulty thinking of worse comics from creators of such a relatively high caliber as some of those involved with this project, or an example of a series so bewilderingly bad.
Seemingly rushed through production like a term paper written the night before it’s due, many of the comics’ problems appear to originate with there being just too many creators working too fast and with little communication to meet a particular deadline. But,the funny thing is that it’s just a He-Man comic that no one in the comics-reading audience seemed particularly excited about, let alone interested in.
So it’s hard to imagine a reason DC decided to steam ahead with its creation to meet an arbitrarily chosen deadline before, say, nailing down a single creative team. Put another way, this is a bad comic book, and I can tell you what makes it a bad comic book, but I can’t hazard a guess as to why the people responsible for it made the decisions they did that resulted in it being so bad.
I know several aspects of the film have stirred passions of some devotees who know and like Superman better than your average movie-goer, and there are sharply divided views on some of the Man of Steel’s actions. (I thought it was a pretty-OK film, far better than the last couple of Superman films, and most of its major problems could have been corrected by an edit that left some of the less Supermanly activity on the cutting-room floor. And a Krypto cameo. And 100 percent more more Jimmy Olsen).
I don’t really pay much attention to box-office receipts, nor do I aggregate film reviews, but, as far as I can tell, the movie seems to have done all right and to have been generally well-received. It may not have been The Dark Knight but, at the very least, it didn’t go over like a radioactive lead balloon, like Jonah Hex or Green Lantern. I hope it did well enough to generate a sequel, mostly because I’d like to see Hollywood get a chance to dig deeper into Superman’s superlative rogues gallery than just using Luthor and/or the Phantom Zone criminals over and over.
And partly because I think it would be awful if the next Superman film wasn’t a Superman film, but a Superior film.
By the time I reached the little gray box reading “End of Book 1″ in the last panel of Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman’s Persia Blues, Vol. 1 Leaving Home, I still wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but, to the creators’ credit, they had conjured the good kind of uncertainty — a sense of engaging suspense, with clues strewn throughout the pages, rather than a confusion borne of bad storytelling or uninteresting characters and subjects.
Here’s what I do know: Persia Blues is the story of a young woman, or two versions of the same young woman, Minoo Shirazi.
One Minoo is a fearless swordswoman and adventurer thieving and fighting her way through the Persian Empire, aided by a mysterious fire power and her cautious, adventure-adverse lover, a scholar named Tyler. This Minoo’s culture isn’t just Zoroastrianism, but its god and devil figures Ahura Mazda and Ahriman walk among human beings, as do mythological creatures.
Failure (Alternative Comics): Faithful readers of ROBOT 6 may recall the name of cartoonist Karl Stevens from a fall 2012 story about his Boston Phoenix strip Failure being canceled after an installment referred to Bud Light — one of the paper’s advertisers — as “diluted horse piss.” The Phoenix denied this at the time, and, coincidentally, several months later ceased publication all together (after a brief time in which it was split into five different newspapers with five different editors — Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus and Magik — until Cyclops assumed control over all five papers and it took the combined might of all of the Avengers to stop him … there’s a comic book joke for you!).
While that history may not be particularly relevant to readers, Stevens covers his side of the incident in his introduction to the Failure collection, which packages the final installments of his strip — right up to, and a few past, the “horse piss” one — into 150 pages of gorgeously drawn material.
What is important is that this is some great work, of the must-read variety. Failure, at this point in its existence, had become a sort of slice-of-life strip, with one to four panels devoted to anecdotes from his own life, including his relationship with his girlfriend, funny things his friends said or funny things he overheard. There are, additionally, plenty of flights of fancy starring his descendant in the far-flung future, and recurring characters like Bongbot, a time-traveling robot bong, and Pope Cat, a cat who is also the pope (if I’ve got that right).
What keeps Failure from being as mundane as you might imagine it, based on how I just described its premise, is what an incredible artist Stevens is. He works in a lush, highly detailed, representational style, as if he were drawing portraits rather than cartoons. Check this out:
Alternative Comics, the publisher of alternative comics, is back in business, with two big releases of note this month: Failure, a collection of Karl Stevens’ remarkably illustrated comic strips from the Boston Phoenix, and Alternative Comics #4, the latest installment of its showcase anthology (the first three issues were released as Free Comic Book Day giveaways, with the third issue shipping way back in 2005).
The new iteration isn’t free (in fact, it’s a $5.99, 48-page book), and it’s not coming out on Free Comic Book Day, but it is bigger, newer and perhaps even improved. To find that out, we’ll have to take a closer look at this book, edited by Marc Arsenault and featuring a lovely cover by Mike Bertino.
Here then, are a few words about every single story in Alternative Comics #4:
“Talent Goes In” by Sam Alden
This is a four-panel, inside-front-cover strip by Alden, which amounts to little more than a picture poem. It’s not terribly profound or even substantial but that’s okay, it’s only the inside front cover. Alden has a better strip later in the book.
Comedian Demetri Martin, probably best known for his Comedy Central show Important Things with Demetri Martin and his short stint as a correspondent on The Daily Show, released the imaginatively titled book This Is a Book to some acclaim (and even more sales success) last spring.
He followed it this spring with his sophomore print effort, Point Your Face At This: Drawings by Demetri Martin. While there’s no mention of cartoons or cartooning anywhere in or on it — the suggested subject on the back cover is “Humor/Illustrations” — I’m having a hard time thinking of any way to define the work within without calling it cartooning.
The book’s 280-plus pages are filled with jokes, all of which are told visually through a drawing, a particular arrangement of words, or some combination of the two. In addition to being a stand-up comedian, writer and actor, I guess Martin is also a cartoonist. And rather remarkably, given how talented he is at some of those other things he’s become, he’s a damn good one.
Now, he’s not the greatest of draftsmen. That image on the cover, a self-portrait of sorts, isn’t entirely representative of the work within — it’s actually one of the more complicated and sophisticated drawings, and it contains some color. His human beings are all just one step above stick figures, with nothing but clothing and hair utilized to tell you if they are men or women, firefighters or dentists, Indian fakirs or executioners.
Papercutz has been releasing its translated versions of Pierre “Peyo” Culliford’s classic Smurfs comics since 2010, and it’s the sort of publishing project that is so welcome that one doesn’t like to complain too loudly about some of the less important choices made in the republication.
I’ve only ever had two real complaints about Papercutz’s presentation of the comics, of which the publisher has released 16 slim volumes.
First, there was their size: At 9 inches tall and 6-and-a-half inches wide, the four- or five-tiered page layouts could result in Smurf-sized panels. The comics were never illegible or even all that hard to read, but with an artist of Peyo’s caliber, I and many other readers would have preferred to be able to see the pages and panels bigger, to better appreciate their construction and line work (this is the complaint I’ve heard most often regarding the new Smurfs line).
Second, there’s the lettering, particularly regarding sound effects: It had a tendency to look more cut-and-pasted than organic, drawing unwanted attention to itself and away from the story being told.
Papercutz just released the first new volume in a new Peyo series that should address those exact concerns, however: The Smurfs Anthology Vol. 1 is a hardcover 11-and-a-quarter inches high and 8-and-three-quarter inches wide.
This is it! The (thrilling?) conclusion of our re-reading The Invincible Iron Man series, which has covered the entire Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca series over the course of — let’s see … one, two, three, four — five posts. Today, we look at the last year and a half worth of issues, which are collected in a trio of trades that see our hero facing off against his ultimate villain in an attempt to save the world from destruction. (Spoiler warning: He succeeds.)