Archive for October, 2008

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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Ain’t nuthin’ like lightin’ the fire

Has the good Gov. got me thinkin in the colloquial?  You betcha!

Some very necessary links/news for this post-debate morning:

Deb Aoki checks in with Michelle Mauk over at DMP who says that DMP will be slowing production from 12 to 7 books/month for next year, with a few titles pushed to 2010.  As for 801 Media, BL fans can count on the company putting out one dirty book per month as planned.

“801 Media books are still on schedule,” said Mauk. “Because they had been running late, the big thing with those is that the next coming months they HAVE to be on time.”

And manga comes to SPX via Fanfare/Ponent Mon!  Wow!  Yay!

From the press release:

Bethesda, MD: UK / Spain publisher Fanfare – Ponent Mon is bringing their
line of award-winning graphic novels, manga  and nouvelle manga from Japan
and France to the 13th annual Small Press Expo this Saturday and Sunday,
October 4 and 5, 2008 at Booth W33.

Visitors to Fanfare – Ponent Mon’s table W33 at SPX will also have the
chance to enter to win a prize pack of Fanfare – Ponent Mon graphic
novels. No purchase necessary, and winners need not be present to win.

Stephen will have copies of Jiro Taniguchi’s Quest for the Missing Girl, and Hideo Azuma’s hilarious and bizarre Disappearance Diary at his booth, along with Ice Wanderer and Frederic Boilet’s Tokyo Is My Garden.  If you’re in Bethesda for the weekend, swing by!  Stephen’s a great guy and his books are really top rate.

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Down, down, down

General exhaustion, the economy tanking, and the two day school break for Roshashana have got me scrambling to catch up.  (Note: watching the Dow plummet is not recreational time well spent.)

I am woefully behind schedule with pretty much all of the below links, but still think it’s worthwhile to point out some of the cream from the crop that’s risen to the top.

First off, Brigid is back!  Mangablog is in full effect yet again!  So all manga or comics bloggers/journalists/speculators beware: if you’ve got something to say, if you’ve got some dirty little manga secret that you think is safe in the blogosphere, Brigid is going to find it and out you.

Here’s the latest link from her blog to Lissa Pattillo’s blog, Kuriosity, that made me thoughtful: DMP’s layoffs.  I got a good-bye message from Rachel at DMP sometime last month, sharing news of her plans to leave the company.  Apparently she wasn’t the only one.

“On a more negative note regarding DMP, while I posted a little while ago about the letting-go of the core staff of 801Media, word on the internet is that some of Digital Manga’s main imprint staff have been let go as well. While I can’t give names until I can confirm this news heard at the con, for now I can atleast say that this looks like a sudden belt-tightening by DMP that my indicate a few more troubles than initially thought. All speculation at this point but I’m sure we’ll hear something more conclusive in the coming weeks.”

I would say that boys love publishing has gone through it’s own belt-tightening with publishers shutting down or going quiet.  Interestingly, the enthusiasm for BL is still going strong even if it’s not translating to revenue.  Something that I found odd during NYAF took place at the Yaoi panel which I was on and presided over as “resident crotchety old lady.”  All the girls in the audience were squealing with delight at the dirty boys in the slideshow that moderator Abby Denson put together while I was, essentially, the rain on the happy, anal-rape parade.  Frank Pannone of MediaBlasters was the other speaker on the panel, and while I believe that yaoi is doing well for them, the health of the overall market for boys love is, well, unhealthy.  I encouraged audience members to buy the books (scans are great, but buy the books) because that’s the only way the industry is going to survive.  I swear a gasp rippled through the audience and I could see the fire ignited in every yaoi lover in that room.  But that strange disconnect, the one between consumer and market, of not clearly understanding their role in the market or that they have a role to begin with, was a curious one to see.

Another curious belt-tightening observation took place earlier this week when I was, ahem, doing some research and found quite a few scanlations pulled down off the web.

Scans is one of those issues that kind of just goes in a loop.  Harmful or helpful?  Scans are illegally scanned, translated manga that’s distributed online courtesy of bittorrent (or other shareware).  Time was, the unwritten code of scanlation forbade scanlators to continue scanning properties that had been licensed by American publishers; the whole idea being that the scans were the initial phase of building property awareness, an introduction to a product that we were aspiring to own.  What makes it even more interesting is that the current culture of scanlation doesn’t observe that rule at all.  All sorts of Naruto is available online, as is NANA and others.

But I just noticed that a number of scans have been pulled from sites at the request of publishers like Dark Horse, TokyoPop, ADV, and Dr. Master.  One site, a mainstay in the scanlation community, has even gone dark, pulling all remaining scans of properties that have yet to be licensed (or, in the case of Freesia, probably will never see shelfspace on American shores).  Obviously, this may not have anything to do with belt-tightening.  Scanlation is illegal and it’s a violation of copyright to have unauthorized scans on the web.  But publishers cracking down – or scan sites actually cooperating and observing the C&D requests from pubs – can’t help but make me wonder.

Of course, some properties online give way to kids buying more affiliated merchandise.  But it don’t always work like that.

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