Archive for October, 2008

This week

Another slammin’ issue of PWCW is out with stories by Brigid, and the debut of our newest addition to Team Manga, Erin Finnegan.  Erin writes for PopCultureShock.com, mangacast.com, and also has her own podcast, Ninja Consultant.  She also happens to work for Al Kahn at Y!kids and is very plugged in with the anime side of things which gives our team a new edge, and “stoked” a new spelling.

I just posted an entry about this stack of comics that I’ve been trying to make peace with and then bitched about the bad stuff.  Now that the tantrum is over, a few books that I’m looking forward to giving my time and attention to:

two Urasawa galleys – Pluto and 20th Century Boys.  20th Century Boys I’ve read and I have to say, I don’t want to marry Urasawa, but this book does make me greedy.  I wish Viz would put out more double-issue tanks but understand that it’s a business risk.

Chip Kidd’s BatManga has arrived.  I was happy with the artfully put together galley, but guess I’ll just have to be happy with both.  BatManga is a fun read.  It’s a collector’s item in all sorts of ways, in that it collects all of Jiro Kuwata’s Batman comics of the era, and for the Batman lover who just wants to have everything Batman.  My son’s been pouring over the pages (I think because Kuwata draws Robin as a kid) and asking me “What happens next?  Can we get the next one?”  I’m not sure it’s going to be that kind of book, so we’ll have to see.  Chip Kidd gave the most excellent BatManga presentations during last summer’s MoCCA and SDCC, and the only thing that would make BatManga better is reading it with Chipp Kidd during the presentation.  Or just reading it with Chipp Kidd and Anne Ishii.  Or reading it with anybody since it’s just a fun book.

TokyoPop delivered their regular BBoB to me (big box of books) and I’ve been happy to see the occasinal BLU title.  The one in this package is A Capable Man.  I haven’t read it, but I do like the title.  When I was interviewing Jeff Ayers for my SF Chronicle yaoi article, we had some good laughs about boys love titles.  I think his favorite was A Tyrant Falls in Love until I brought his attention to All Nippon Airlines which is known in fan circles as ANAL.  Pair that with the image of female fans screaming and cheering for “ANAL! ANAL! ANAL!” and I think we’ve got a winner.

I’ve got volume 6 of Crayon Shinchan waiting, and a bunch of Yen Press titles including Wild Animals which is from China.  I just finished B. Ichi which I liked more than I thought I would, but wanted to like more.  The alternate metropolis of Toykyo is bizarro good and the humor is slapstick silly and fun, but I wanted to feel more immediate affection for the characters.  But I suppose falling in love does take time.

I’ll have more once I’ve actually made some progress.

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If you don’t have anything nice to say….

At one point,  a few years ago, I interviewed the legendary Jim Lee.  There’s really not much I can say about Jim Lee that hasn’t already been said so I’m just going to mention one part of the conversation that wandered to love and comics – a topic that I commonly bring up in interviews.  Do you still love it?

I have the tape and transcript around here somewhere, but what I remember is him telling me something about the love still being there, but once you’re in the biz, reading the stuff, it’s not like sitting down with a stack of comics and a donut.

Right now, I’m faced with the biggest tower of comics that I think I’ve ever faced since I started writing for Calvin and Heidi, and it is going to take a lot of donuts.

I don’t think we ever fall out of love with comics, but this is a long-term romance we’re talking about here.  And while I talk about professionalism and doing right by the artists and writers that put their hearts and souls into these books, and doing right by the form, I’m definitely seeing more…product that just lacks heart or doesn’t respect the format.

Or doesn’t respect the format.

We can argue about good and bad comics, about taste, about high-culture and low, but at the essence of it is an emotion.  Some books I’m not interested in because they’re not my cup of tea, but they’re still good, or they’re bad, or they’re solid midlist.  There are books where artists are still challenged by sequential art, writers are still struggling to get a handle on the rhythm of the dialogue, and I can feel that and I take no issue with it.  But there are those books, that are just soulless.  And it’s not about the craft of the artist or the writing, it’s that the publisher just doesn’t care.  There is no consideration for the reader.

I would say, and this is something that I’ve been writing about in my manga book, but the biggest difference between American comics and manga, is that consideration for the reader.  The sense of customer service is more prevalent in manga.  It’s a different system, a different approach.

This will get me lynched, I’m sure, and obviously there are exceptions and the trend is changing – especially for American indy comics.  But I will close with this: when I read Jim Lee, I’m inspired, and looking at his work just makes me happy.

But when I read Hiroaki Samura, from the first time I first picked up Blade of the Immortal in floppy form in 1999, to now when I read and reread the tanks, I think to myself  “This is the man I am going to marry.”

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Occupied

I think we’ve all been rather preoccupied this past week, our hands full with various tasks and impossible missions.  Me?  I spent a good deal of time standing in for my mom (who has fled for her yearly trip to China) arguing the merits of fatty pork with my father while trying to sneak a variety of cooked greens into his strict “hot-dog ramen in Sriracha sauce” diet and reminding him that no, Dad, when Mom gets back, I am not taking the fall for your bacon habit.  And this time I MEAN IT.

Meanwhile, back at the Cave, I’ve come to understand the true meaning of a good education.  You know, all that homework that they give your kid in school is just homework that you have to do, too.  So, if you were anything like me and hated school and was a shitty student, parenting is either your second chance to be the stellar student that you imagined you always could be, or it’s just karmic retribution.  Or, I repeat, it’s just karmic retribution.

Well, regardless of how you feel about homework or bacon, here are a couple of things that caught my eye while I was negotiating pork tedium.

Starting today, OV Gallery in Shanghai hosts a Formula-1 Chinese Grand Prix exhibit.  Two days only!  So if you’re there, check it out and send me photos!  If the bike on the invite is any indication of the sick vehicles on display, then I am so sad I am missing this.

By way of the Yomiuri Shimbun, the U.S. Navy has a manga available online (in JP and ENG) about Navy aircraft carrier, The George Washington.  The nuclear powered USS GW replaced the Kitty Hawk this September in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, where the U.S. has a navy base.  The nuclear power element of the GW has people in JP nervous, so the manga is largely a PR tool.

Here’s a little taste fr. the foreword by RADM James D. Kelly, USN Commander U.S. Naval Forces Japan:

“During a time of global instability and unrest, the forward deployment of USS George Washington to America’s greatest allly and second largest global economic power, Japan, is an incredible signal of partnership and alliance that will reverberate around the world.  Bringing with it some of the most modern military capabilities, USS George Washington is charged with the defense of Japan and maintaining peace and stability in the Far East.  Her highly-trained professional Sailors are US Ambassadors to Japan as well as future neighbors and best friends to many citizens here.”

Wow.

And a li’l bit of tentative PR for an upcoming exhibit of photography by YASUMASA YONEHARA at the Barry Friedman gallery.  Rika invited me to the reception which takes place next Thursday and told me explicitly to leave my son at home. If you click on Yonehara’s website, please keep in mind that there is a certain merit to his photos and that they are not mere vehicles for voyeurism.  Also, the girls photographed are all UNDERAGE and you risk incarceration for merely visiting this site – not to mention your girlfriends and wives will not appreciate this and neither will your daughters.

That said, the last time I tried to talk about the sexualized female and the male gaze on my blog, I was dubbed the “porno librarian” by complete strangers and then linked to their websites which largely consisted of amateur videos of the last 20 seconds.  Guys, you know what I’m referring to.

But I still think this discussion is worthwhile, because female sexuality is a delicate negotiation between prudence and prurience, and a difficult path that every woman hopes to explore without judgement.  And so while a part of me feels like I may as well be screaming “Free Sex Porn!” on the West Side Highway at rush hour, I’d love to think that linking to Yonehara-san’s site and inviting everyone to view his photos will get people thinking about what sexy is, or when girls learn to be sexy and how they use it – and is it really theirs to use or do they simply become tools of anyman’s dominant/submissive fantasies.

For the ladies reading this post, the girls on Yonehara-sans site are so darling and wear some of the cutest outfits.  Which reminds me, Kiki de Montparnasse is having a sale….

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Take a gander: not all manga is porn

I was just talking about this with Charles Brownstein at last night’s Comic Foundry party – not sure about the actual 11 books that are being used as the basis of the obscenity charges, but the case itself is looking pretty dirty.

See for yourself (letter below fr. Del Rey marketing manager, Ali Kokmen)

DEL REY MANGA NEWSLETTER – SPECIAL ALERT

Thank you for taking the time to read this special edition of the Del Rey Manga e-newsletter. I’d like to offer a special welcome to our newest subscribers who have come aboard after the recent New York Anime Festival, or who have come our way from our friends at FUNimation. I promise that future installments will get back to the fun news and information you’ve come to expect, but today brings us special news that I wanted to pass along immediately.

A you may know, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (or CBLDF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community.

On October 9, 2008, the CBLDF announced that it will participate as a special consultant to the defense of Christopher Handley, a 38-year-old Iowa manga collector who faces up to 20 years in prision for possession of manga that the government claims to be obscene. Of his collection of more than 1,200 volumes of manga seized by the government, Handley is being prosecuted for images that occur in just a handful of volumes. No photographic content is at issue in Handley’s case.

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein commented, “Handley’s case is deeply troubling, because the government is prosecuting a private collector for possession of art. In the past, CBLDF has had to defend the First Amendment rights of retailers and artists, but never before have we experienced the Federal Government attempting to strip a citizen of his freedom because he owned comic books.”

Putting the case into further context, CBLDF Legal Counsel Burton Joseph said, “In the lengthy time in which I have represented CBLDF and its clients, I have never encountered a situation where criminal prosecution was brought against a private consumer for possession of material for personal use in his own home. This prosecution has profound implications in limiting the First Amendment for art and artists, and comics in particular, that are on the cutting edge of creativity. It misunderstands the nature of avant-garde art in its historical perspective and is a perversion of anti-obscenity laws.”

Regardless of the extent of one’s involvement in the manga hobby, Christopher Handley’s situation is obviously a point of interest if not outright concern. I encourage—I implore—anybody with any affection for manga to make the effort to learn more about the case. (To start, more information on the case and the CBLDF’s involvement is available here.) After doing so, if you are so moved to make a tax-deductible donation to the CBLDF, you can do so here.

And should you wind up donating to the CBLDF monies that you might otherwise have used to purchase a Del Rey Manga, well, I’ll forgive you. This time.

Best,

Ali T. Kokmen
Marketing Manager
Del Rey Manga
delreymanga@randomhouse.com

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It’s a party! It’s a dog party!

My son loves a good party.  But a good party for a kid is invariably different from a good party for an adult.  A good party for a kid involves cake, coloring, frenetic movement.  For an adult, it’s all contingent on standing around, drinking wine.  Luckily, the Mad Dog Party down at hpgrp studio had it all.

Spoon+Fork‘s Bryan Ong was on hand with Rika Koreeda to pour wine.

Rika’s wearing a shirt with one of Seitaro Kuroda’s dog drawings on it – which was designed by Bryan.

Kuroda-san in front of his work.

Meanwhile, Bryan’s sister, Tawny, who is a baker, catered the event and pulled out all the stops.  There were cupcakes and confections everywhere and my son pretty much a made a dinner for himself of mini-chocolate, red velvet, and hummingbird cupcakes while washing it all down with bananna pudding and fistful after fistful of peanut butter cookies (shaped as dogbones).

But the real party started when my son says to me, “I wanna draw” and Bryan says “You wanna draw with Kuroda-san?”

Next thing I know, my son is with Kuroda-san, sprawled out on the gallery floor with a box of Cray-pas and a sheet of paper, drawing dogs.


Cameras are flashing and people are taking footage of their collaboration.  One woman came up to me and says “You do know how famous Mr. Kuroda is, don’t you?”

Well, I do now.

Interestingly, Kuroda-san’s whole philosophy is about interconnection and how we are all connected or can build these connections with each other through art.  He’s also about making art accessible – not just in pricepoint (his dog drawings are $500 a piece and had sold about a dozen during the opening/closing) but also in approach.  To closeout the evening, Kuroda-san did a live demonstration of his drawing to the soundtrack of Tom Waits, and invited everyone in the gallery to join him.

Kuroda-san and co.

We all join in

Bryan and Rika

This is the collaborative audience painting from the opening on Tuesday night (on the left) and ours from the closing last night (on the right).

The painting from the opening looks very somber to me, and makes me think of all the stuffy art people that come to these things.

If I were make an analogy, I would say that the dark painting is like light soysauce.  Very serious.

Meanwhile, our painting is joy!  Kuroda-san used wine to blur some of the lines on the painting so not only did it look good, it smelled good.  If I were to make an analogy, I would say that our painting is like mayonnaise.  It’s tasty and just makes you smile.

At the end of the night, Kuroda-san gave my son his box of Cray-pas, and my son showed his thanks by wriggling along the gallery floor like a little worm, rockin’ the baddest sugar-high of any eight-year old, clutching the box of Cray-pas to his chest.

“I’m the luckiest kid alive!” he told me.

Which goes to show, a few bottles of wine, (a spoonful of sugar), a handful of crayons, and some Tom Waits in the background, and you can keep the party going for just about anyone.

A mighty, mighty thanks to Bryan, Rika, Tawny, Kuroda-san, Taku-san, and hpgrp gallery director Shuhei Yamatani-san.  We have the worst cake and pudding hangover, and we couldn’t be happier.

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Haruki Murakami, Spoon+Fork plus Kuroda Seitaro, and the new Comic Foundry

While most were partying it up at SPX, I spent my weekend stomping around the Bat-Cave (aka my apartment) cursing no one in particular and making random accusations.  “Somebody didn’t do the laundry.”  “Somebody left dirty dishes in the sink!”  “Somebody needs to clean up the living room so that I can see the sofa!”  “Somebody has waaaay too many books!”  Then a friend pointed out that that “somebody” is me.

It was an awakening.  It was not a good weekend.

That said, there is always something fun and entertaining going on in the city.  Like yesterday’s New Yorker Festival where the much hated (by the Japanese) yet adored (by westerners) contemporary novelist Haruki Murakami was guest.  My friend Sunyoung nabbed a ticket but balked at all the people pushing and shoving their way into the auditorium.  “Is this the only way to see him?” She asked.

Of course, Sunyoung will be cruising the California streets with Murakami this upcoming weekend when he flies out to UC Berkeley to give a lecture and a reading on the 11th.  Roland Kelts will also be on hand for intelligent and stimulating conversation with the jazz afficianado/novelist/marathon runner.  Sunyoung’s husband, Duncan (aka Mr. Sunyoung) is Chair of Japanese Studies at Cal and is the one making it all happen.  (With regards to Murakami, that is.  Although I’ve heard of other projects in the works.  More on this in the future.)

Closer to home and closer to date, it’s the Mad Dog Show at the hpgrp gallery!  My fellow foodie friend, and graphic designer extraordinaire Bryan Ong of Spoon+Fork fame sent word of a special opening/closing this week with artist, Kuroda Seitaro.

The opening is tomorrow evening (Tuesday) starting at 6.  The closing is Wednesday, also starting at 6pm. Bryan’s emphasized that dogs are welcome since it is a mad dog show.  I can only assume that children are welcome, too.

Finally, the next issue of Comic Foundry hits newsstands (or comic shops) this Wednesday – and manga makes the cover!  (scroll down, to the left, in fine print, above the barcode…)

cf-issue4cover.jpg

Guess who wrote it?

I am very excited about this essay because I think it’s one of the most cohesive and coherent things I’ve written so far.  And while it may look like more of the same (gloom and doom), I just want to point out that the teaser on the cover “Why Manga is Totally Fucked” is just inflammatory ya-ya to get people to buy the issue.  The article itself is NOT inflammatory ya-ya.  In fact, the whole inflammatory ya-ya approach – that was not my idea.  But the article is good, the magazine is excellent, and I encourage everyone to get a copy.

And to reiterate and make clear: I don’t think manga is fucked.  At all.  But I do think the cover title is funny.  And I think we should all learn to laugh a little more.

Yay, manga!

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