Archive for March, 2009

Dead Week is this week, and this week is over – yea!

I just finished up a hellish week where I took a day trip to D.C. for a meeting (and essentially sat on the train the whole day, got up to take my lunch break in a D.C. law office conference room, then re-boarded the train to sit some more), gave a talk with Ali Kokmen to a handful of SVA students about manga, and finally, had the opportunity to chat about manga and biography with Emotional Content founder and Biographic Novel publisher Eiji Han Shimizu in an auditorium full of academics at CUNY Grad Center’s Leon Levy Center for Biography.

It’s been busy and now that it’s over, I’m alternately exhausted and famished.  It feels as though there is not time enough for all the sleep I want, nor food enough to satiate the tapeworm in my tummy.

Interestingly, too, this is the first time I’ve spoken about comics, about manga, and felt like I was speaking into this void, into this black hole.  I have to first thank my friend and old college roommate Imani Wilson, who is director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography, for inviting me to participate.  The funny thing is that she had warned me thoroughly and repeatedly, about the mindset at the Center – and this is not to say that the attendees and biographers in the audience were close-minded, although many of them were, I only mean to relate a general feeling of….”comics are stupid” that seemed to prevail.

I’m being too judgemental.

Really the feeling was more “comics don’t matter” or “why do comics matter” (notice there is no question mark to close this question because the assumption is that comics don’t matter).

I am so lucky to have shared the stage with Shimizu-san, who opened the talk with a sampling of the types of manga that he publishes – the first, a manga biography of the 14th Dalai Lama, the second a manga biography of Mother Theresa, and third, a manga biography of Che Guevara.  The first thing that Shimizu-san told this audience of purists and academics is that whether they like it or not, today’s reader has a short attention span and demands instant gratification.

Oh yes, we were very popular.


At the end of our discussion, one historian/academic/biographer asked if manga really was a viable form for biography since it is reductive.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  Or I do, but I don’t buy it.  What was so funny about the question, is that Eiji-san had presented four examples of biographic material – historical footage of a scene, an exerpt from a history book, a scene from a movie based on the history, and then a scene from the forthcoming manga (about Ghandi).  Out of all of the examples, the exerpt from the book was shortest – a paragraph long.  I’m sure this is taken from an entire book or something like it, but I thought the question, about manga being reductive, was hilarious.

When I think about the number of history books, of biography, that flatten and reduce events and lives into a timeline or dead words on a page, all I can think of is the potential of manga to enliven biography.  One thing that I mentioned in the beginning of our discussion is that manga opens the reader to a sensual world, one that is visual, tactile, emotional – and alive.  As corny as all that sounds, I genuinely believe it.  Reading Eiji’s books only made me more interested in the subject matter.

After it was all over, this one biographer/historian spent a solid 10 minutes trying to convince me that Eiji-san’s books were fictional biography, not biography, since they include dialogue.  And while that may be true, all I could think about is how it was a weak argument if the overall story of this person’s life and accomplishment’s and their place in history, was being conveyed.

Well, I say let the experts debate.  While they’re yammering, Eiji-san and his studio will be methodically churning out these books, putting out these manga histories that anyone can read, that anyone can find interesting and educational.  Just another way to skin that cat and keep people interested in reading/learning.

Anyhow, this is my favorite shot of our talk:


Here, I’m doing my damndest to speak articulately and comprehensively about manga to the Ivory Tower, and all the while, I’m sitting in a way that allows everyone to see up my skirt.

It was a good day.

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Adrift…with Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Thanks to Chris Butcher, I think we’re all adequately strung-out on anticipation over Tatsumi’s 800 page biography, A Drifting Life.  I received my copy this week and have been drifting in and out of Tatsumi’s life, reading it sparingly, pacing myself, treating it like a box of delicacies that I’ll only have this one time.  I can’t say much right now – I haven’t finished it for one, and I was happily and willingly roped into writing something on it for The Review section of the Abu Dhabi newspaper, The National.  A lengthy something, so I’m hoarding my thoughts.

But a couple of things to share on Tatsumi (in the event that Christopher hasn’t already mentioned it in his blog):

He will be here in New York at the end of April for the Pen World Voices Festival April 27-May3.

He will be in Toronto with Chris Butcher at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 9-10.

I was going to mention something else, except that nothing else really needs mentioning.

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Sometimes, the romance continues…

A few years ago I had a short story of mine workshopped by Alexander Chee.  It was a group workshop, nothing to get jealous about, and I had submitted this awful, awful…I don’t even know what to call it, but I think “shadow of an effort at a short story” comes close.  The funny thing is that at the time, I knew it wasn’t great, I knew it wasn’t even good – but I figured it wasn’t bad, either.

My dimensia was furthered by Alexander’s gentle and systematic disembowelment/editing which he did with thoughtful tenderness and a tempered hand.

Well, while his gauzy influence held sway back then, I’ve since been tossed into the cold, sober climate of the real world thanks to an email I received (from none other than Alexander Chee himself) informing the eWorld that he has an essay featured in the latest issue of Granta – The Fathers Issue.

Go ahead, read it.

I love it because it’s all the romance without the operatic and sensationalized flourishes.  I was in California for my cousin’s wedding when I read this and both the wedding and the story kind of dovetail in their somber and subtle ways.  Both were well edited, spare in their depictions, but with this gentle hum of energy, a quiet joy.

Quite the opposite of teen manga – which that short story of mine reminds me of in all it’s over wrought excess.

Read Alexander Chee’s essay at Granta, and visit his website – he’s a fan of comics (geeked with him a tiny bit about manga) and the Beguiling and is working on some sort of graphic novel-esque project.

Wait and see.

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Everybody’s watching the Watchmen

Gotta keep this post short since I’m at the office.  But basically, over the weekend, I was hearing a lot of opinions about the Watchmen movie – literally hearing.  I listen to an unmeasurable amount of radio (I want to say “shitload” but like I said, I’m at the office) most of it NPR, and just about every public radio show produced by NPR or PRI, had a review or story on Alan Moore’s groundbreaking comic book.  

Who’d have guessed that these voices were all closet Watchmen geeks?  My favorite multimedia spread is on the NPR website: a slideshow of black&white photos taken on the movie set by Clay Enos, with Dave Gibbons’ oral (and aural) commentary.  Enos has a book of Watchmen photos that’s out now.

My favorite review: one that aired last night on Studio360 which I listened to while finishing up dinner and homework with my son.  (click on the link and scroll down the page to hear it.)  Essentially, producer Eric Molinsky thinks that the Watchmen have been scooped – by IronMan and the Dark Knight.  I couldn’t agree more.

My favorite thing I heard all weekend: my son telling me (after being inundated with a new aural history of Watchmen all of last week) “Mom, you’re a Watch-Woman.”

Oh, but I really don’t want to be….

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Random thoughts and musings

Blog posts and stories are trickling in – sporatically, and without any sort of rhythm.  Part of this is due to the fact that inconsistency has always been a very personal, reliable, and unwavering strength of mine.  The other part is due to my  new job.  But mostly it’s because nobody – and I mean nobody – nobody does erratic the way I do.

Since it’s been a while, I thought I’d link to a few fun stories that I’ve recently scoped:

The Wired Magazine blog carries this story on why the Japanese hate, hate, haaaaaaaaate, the iPhone.  I’m inclined to agree.  Apple has a lot of product out there that simply dominates the market (i.e. the iPod), but there’s a crap load of much better technology in the greater global marketplace.  Given the longer personal history between people and cellphones throughout East and Southeast Asia, it doesn’t surprise me that the iPhone doesn’t cut it in JP.

Haruki Murakami accepts a prize for literature in Jerusalem and shares this speech where he talks about writing:

I tend to do the exact opposite of what I am told. If people are telling me — and especially if they are warning me — “Don’t go there,” “Don’t do that,” I tend to want to “go there” and “do that.” It’s in my nature, you might say, as a novelist. Novelists are a special breed. They cannot genuinely trust anything they have not seen with their own eyes or touched with their own hands.

This trait – I don’t think it’s limited to just novelists; I think it applies to all writers.

In manga, ComiPress has a translation of this smack-talkin manga article that’s kinda pretty dope.  Not sure that any of it is true, but the sheer idea that Akira Toriyama became a manga creator because he wasn’t down for the commute to his office job is pretty funny.  And this:

Author of “Tenjho Tenge” and “Air Gear”, Oh! Great (Ogure Ito) enjoys a reputation for his consummate skill at drawing; however, this man’s real reasons for entering the world of comics was to pay back his debts from playing pachinko (… A gambler! Don’t copy his mistakes!).

Ogure Ito is one of my favorite creators and that he’s a gamblin man only adds to his appeal.  As for the clever words of advice, I say  life is a gamble: you can’t win if you don’t play.

I’ll be back with something more substantial at a later date – most likely next month.  In the meantime, here’s to hoping the rumors are true.

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