Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
With the end of the year approaching, book publishers are sending out their preview catalogs to book buyers and the media. One of those publishers, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, just happens to represent the Canadian comics company Drawn & Quarterly, which means we can get a sneak peek of sorts at their plans for the spring and summer months. Most of these titles won’t be too surprising to those who follow the company’s output, but there are a few books of note that readers may not be expecting. Click on the link to find out what they are.
One of the more anticipated books of 2010, at least among manga and alt-comix fans, is Ax: A Collection of Alternative Manga. The anthology, which collects stories taken from the first ten years of the experimental magazine‘s history, has garnered interest and curiosity since it was first announced more than a year ago. That interest has only increased after its debut at this year’s San Diego Con, where many pundits dubbed it one of the best books at the show. If nothing else, the collection should finally put to rest the notion that Japanese comics are all about big eyes and spiky hair and giant robots. There is a wealth of different art styles and methods of storytelling on display in this book, suggesting that the history of manga is richer and deeper than many suspect.
I recently talked over email with the book’s editor, Sean Michael Wilson, about the new collection, Ax’s history and influence in its native country of Japan, and what other comics he’s got coming down the pike.
What happens if you hire a manga artist who really wants to be drawing gekiga (underground) manga to draw Spider-Man? Jason Thompson shows us in his latest House of 1000 Manga column at ANN: The Japanese version of Spider-Man started off close to its American roots, although re-imagined with Japanese characters, but eventually veered off into a darker, more agsty comic that was apparently years ahead of its time:
But Yu [the Japanese Peter Parker] doesn’t get to even enjoy the manly pleasures of being a superpowered badass. Instead, he remains a tragic and lonely figure, tormented by his superpowers, unable to be happy no matter what. In a typical scene, Yu bumps into some yakuza in a train station, then allows himself to get beaten up rather than use his Spider-Man powers and risk injuring them with his super-strength. Realistic violence intrudes on escapist fantasy: in a relatively early chapter, Yu and his friends are driving motorbikes down the road, exchanging wisecracks (“Decided to play, huh, Komori? I always thought you were a bookworm!”). Suddenly, two of his friends are nailed by a car going full speed, sending their motorbike flying and leaving them lying on the grass covered in blood. (“A hit and run! That guy blew through the light and just kept going!”) The bad guys turn from supervillains into pathetic, miserable everyday criminals: sleazy hippies; a group of kendo students who gang up and attempt to rape a girl; a troubled young man who gets super-strength and takes revenge on his tormentors.
All this is rendered in Ikegami’s dark, gekiga-style art, and all done as work for hire for Marvel, which is kind of amazing, actually. Because Japanese audiences weren’t very familiar with the character, Ikegami had a lot of freedom to reinvent him, and when he got bored with the original, he pushed it in a more interesting direction, creating an entirely new story from a few scraps of the old.
Talking to Publishers Weekly Comics Week, Sean Michael Wilson, the editor of the alt-manga anthology AX, reveals that the Japanese publisher Kodansha is bringing out a line of mature manga works. (It’s not clear whether Wilson is referring to Kodansha USA, Kodansha’s US manga publishing arm, or Kodansha International, which is a different division.)
Either way, this sounds like an intriguing project, both in the way it is being done and the books they are working on. Wilson is actually writing the books, which are adaptation of Japanese prose works, and they are going to be published in English in Japan and then in North America and the UK. Wilson has four books scheduled; the first are Hagakure, an adaptation of In the Shadow of Leaves, a guide for samurai, and Yakuza Moon, the true story of a woman born into a Yakuza (Japanese organized crime) family.
Wilson is also working on Gekiga Freaks, the manga biography of Masahiko Matsumoto, whose Cigarette Girl is due out next year from Top Shelf, but the publisher for that project has not been determined yet.
The announcement, back in 2008, that Top Shelf would be publishing an American version of the alt-manga anthology Ax created a frisson of excitement in the manga world. The 400-page book, which includes stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (The Push Man), Imiri Sakabashira (The Box Man), Kazuichi Hanawa (Doing Time), was originally scheduled to be published in December but encountered some delays. The long wait is over, however, and Ax is now available for preorder (and listed in Previews). The timing is rather fortuitious: Ax is the spiritual successor to Garo, the gekiga manga anthology that is the subject of an exhibit at the Center for Book Arts in New York and has gotten lots of people talking about alternative manga.