Moodbuilder, Worldbuilder: Tite Kubo & Chapter Pages

July 30th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I liked Tite Kubo’s Bleach a whole lot until I suddenly didn’t. Y’all know how that goes. You get into it, you give it a lot of rope to hang itself, then you get comfortable, then you let it coast a little bit, and then you realize you’ve just read 38 volumes of a comic and haven’t liked anything about these stupid Arrancars but every one of the last ten or so volumes have had exactly one REALLY GOOD chapter or scene near the end, just good enough to convince you to pick up the next volume and—enough. And then I ended up with a Weekly Shonen Jump subscription and now I get it for basically free. Life! I recommend it, though. If you like this kinda story, Bleach is the real deal for a good while.

Two things I never stopped enjoying about Bleach, though, are Kubo’s way of rendering fashionable clothes and the chapter pages. The fashion’s got obvious appeal, but it’s a bit harder to explain the appeal of the chapter pages. That sounds a little stupid to even type, mainly because the short version is “Kubo has a great sense of fashion, design, wonder, and that shows on his chapter pages, especially as the series goes on and he becomes more daring and creative with the layouts and art.” That makes sense, and I imagine you’d agree if you saw a few of them. Luckily, I happen own a lot of Bleach and I picked twelve of them that I like from the first few volumes of the series, plus the first three so you can see how soon Kubo started doing interesting things.

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“Violate the Dead” is surely the result of some kind of confusion. Bleach isn’t really that type of series…

But you can see the appeal of these, I think, particularly if you’re into this kind of story. These early chapter pages are cool, but par for the course for series like this. There are cool costumes, interesting What Ifs, some good humor (I especially like numbers seven and twenty-six), and they’re honestly just very strong images. They work.

Part of the reason why they work is Kubo’s choice of titles. There’s some musical-sounding phrases like “Binda Blinda,” which is cool, and straightforward titles like “The Gate of the End,” which is also cool. Kubo does most of his chapter titles in English, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by both the poetry and quality of the titles. I love Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece and Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond more than most comics, but they don’t have memorable chapter titles. Bleach does.

Once chapter nine hits, Kubo gets a lot more inventive, playful, and melancholy with the titles. The titles for 1-8 aren’t bad, but they aren’t full of potential like “Wasted but Wanted” or “6/17 op. 2 Doesn’t Smile Much Anymore” or “Paradise is Nowhere”/”Paradise is Now Here.” There’s a playfulness or sense of foreboding in some of these, and that carries through to the stories, too. A good title is legendary. “Valley Forge, Valley Forge.” “This Man… This Monster!” “Lonely Place of Dying.” “Tommy’s Heroes.” “First Shot, Last Call.” “Days of Future Past.” “How to Murder the Earth.” “A Game of You.” “Rake at the Gates of Hell.” “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin.” “The Great Cow Race.” “Anything Done for the First Time Creates a Demon.” (I asked friends for some memorable names so this list wasn’t just my own, and now we are off at the races naming great titles, even the ones with so-so stories. Could do a post on those alone, easy. Comics!)

Here’s a few more chapter pages, but from volumes 34-38, and then later still in the series, from middle/late 2012 through middle 2013 Weekly Shonen Jump.

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The first thing to notice is that the covers in a pin-up style have gotten better. Kubo’s a pretty talented artist, and it’s cool to see the leaps in quality that he made over the years. The characters feel rounder, his storytelling choices are more confident, and there’s a sense that Kubo wants to push the limit of the chapter page.

It’s not obvious here, because these chapter pages are stripped almost entirely of context, outside of a loose chronological progression (the negative numbers are flashback chapters). You don’t know where the pages fall in the chapter, what the story’s about, or anything like that. But what makes so many of these chapter pages so great is that Kubo treats them as a cold open rather than anything dedicated to purely saying “This is chapter three hundred and eight-six of Bleach, a comic series by Tite Kubo.”

The chapter pages hit at the end of scenes, on the last page of the chapter, two pages before the chapter, and pretty much anywhere, including occasionally the first page. Instead of using them like American comics use recap/credit pages, Kubo uses them as just another storytelling device. It’s like watching a tense scene in Breaking Bad and feeling yourself surprised by the fact that you unconsciously exhaled as soon as that music twanged up, or feeling that split-second of dead air before Justified‘s theme kicks in.

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It’s a mood-building breather, and it’s something that is rare in my comics-reading experience. Story titles are often included in comics often as a matter of fact, something to sit atop the credits and define the arc. It’s cool when they’re worked into the art, but they never actually feel like part of the story. They’re just an accessory, if that metaphor makes sense. But when the chapter pages, and titles, are used like this, it really, really adds to the story.

I can see how people would think it’s wasteful, since comics only get a few pages. But Kubo is spending one or two pages telling several pages worth of mood. It helps. It’s an enhancement.

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I read a lot of comic books. Part of what keeps me coming back to the comic book as a format, be it stapled or glued or digital-only, is seeing fresh things like this, things no other medium could really do properly. I like to be surprised and entertained, and even when Bleach is busy disappointing me, I know that Kubo’s got something up his sleeve that makes checking in on Bleach worth it, almost every single time. Weekly Shonen Jump makes that easy, of course, but even when I was binging and not particularly enjoying it, this held true.

You can get Bleach and Weekly Shonen Jump on your tablet or computer monitor of your choice. Five bucks a volume makes it easy to dive in, and honestly, the early stuff is really good, and there’s flashes of great moments throughout. But when the quality of the writing declines, the art stays strong and gets stronger. The chapter pages are just one manifestation of that.

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Scanlations and Piracy: Cry for Justification

March 4th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Hey, let’s talk piracy!

AnimeVice published a pretty poorly written defense of scanlations, tying into a larger discussion of Nick Simmons jacking art from Bleach. It has some fairly huge issues, including some outright factual inaccuracies, but boiled down? It’s crap.

I don’t want to spend this point by point rebutting Remmell’s essay, but I will say that hinging a pro-scans piece on Viz’s “butchery” of Gosho Ayama’s Case Closed is an incredibly bad decision when the changes were requested by Gosho Ayama and the Japanese licensors. It is the real story, since the author wanted the changes. Your mom’s pound cake is your mom’s pound cake, no matter the recipe she chooses to use.

The biggest problem with the essay is the idea of justifying scanlations, and through that, piracy. That’s stupid. Here’s the truth: you can’t justify scanlations. Justifying an act requires proof that the act is necessary. You can justify a war, you can justify violence, you can justify sleeping in and missing some school. The thing is, you can’t justify scanlations. The original creator that you’re such a fan of gets no recompense from you reading scans online. No money, nothing. In exchange for that nothing, you get to read that creator’s book for free. In the end of things, that’s what happens. You aren’t supporting, you aren’t helping, you’re just leeching.

Let’s keep it all the way real. I have a Demonoid account, just like everybody else. Sometimes I hear about a movie and I want to watch it, but Netflix has nothing. Well, look at that: Fatal Fury the Anime is on Youtube. When an album I’m looking forward to leaks a week early, I download it, listen to it, and then decide whether or not I’m buying it off Amazon’s MP3 store. I follow several mp3 blogs to keep up on new singles, freestyles, and mixtapes.

In fact, real life example: I wanted to listen to A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders the other day. It’s one of my favorite albums, I was having a crap day, I figured it’d be a pick-me-up. I found out my mp3s were screwed up. They were skipping, some didn’t play, blah blah blah. This morning I remember that the songs were broken, delete the ones I had, and downloaded the album. I threw them into iTunes, synced my iPod, and got on my bike to go to work.

Now, I’ve owned a copy of Midnight Marauders for years. Several- from cassette to CD to CD after that other CD broke. I could justify it by saying that I’ve paid for the album before, so why should I pay for it again? But- no. It’s on Amazon for ten dollars. I’ve got ten bucks, I love the group, it’s one of my top five favorite albums, and there’s nothing stopping me from downloading the album from a legal venue, except for the fact that I valued my own convenience over the rights of the dudes who made the music.

Make no mistake: this is, legally speaking, piracy. I can’t defend it, I can’t justify it– under the letter of the law, I’m a music pirate. If I got my card pulled over it, what am I gonna say? “I did it because I want to purchase content, not format?”

(The content vs format debate is a valid one, but completely secondary to what happened and why it happened. I downloaded that album because I wanted to not pay for it.)

I did it because I wanted it and it was convenient. This morning, I prized myself over someone else. Nothing more, nothing less. Trying to justify that kind of thing is dumb. If you did it, you did it. At least be real enough to say, “Yeah, I did that. That sucks, huh?”

Scanlations aren’t how you stand up for Authentic Manga or creator’s rights or whatever. Scanlations are how you read books for free. You aren’t fighting the power. You aren’t sending a message to the companies. You’re reading for free. If you care that much, then the only thing you should be doing is purchasing the original tankobon from Japan and reading it yourself. That way, everyone involved gets paid, you get your authentic manga, and we’re all happy.

Pretending that scanlations are something you can justify, or something that is morally correct in any way, shape or form, is a joke. You want it, you read it. That’s what it is, that’s how it works. Be grown up enough to admit it, rather than trying to justify it.

“Be aware and be honest,” is what I’m trying to say here.

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New People opens in San Francisco

August 15th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

You know what’s weird? At some point over the past few months, probably after I finished Monster and started Pluto and 20th Century Boys, Viz Media became my favorite comics publisher. If they had Yotsuba&, I’m pretty sure I could just read Viz’s books and be happy for the rest of my life.

The NEW PEOPLE shopping complex/cultureplex opens up today, and it has a heavy Viz presence. There are four stories, including the Mezzanine. The bottom floor is a 143-seat underground theater called Viz Cinema, which is showing a Bleach movie, the first of the 20th Century Boys trilogy, and Death Note currently. Above that is the first floor, which features food and Blue Bottle Coffee. The Mezzanine features New People the store, sounds kinda gift shop-y, with merch geared specifically around the New People complex and fancy Japanese tech goods.

The second floor is all retail, with a mix of stores that feature gothic fashion, lolita fashion, or both, and some fancy looking kicks. Take a look here. The third floor is the SUPERFROG gallery, which is described as “providing a direct link to emerging artists that draw their inspiration from Japanese popular culture.” It looks pretty interesting, and will probably be one of my first stops. Currently, it’s displaying some work by Yoshitaka Amano.

I’m definitely going to be making my way over there in the next week, if not tomorrow. I want to check out the first 20th Century Boys, since it covers up to the books I’ve read so far, and check out the SUPERFROG gallery. It’s in the heart of Japantown, so I can hit up Kinokuniya, too.

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