Kiss Me And I’ll Kiss You Back

April 10th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

I live fairly close to a Japanese bookstore, and that gives me a chance to recklessly spend money on things I can’t read. I’ve got a few manga, a few art books, and a few magazines that had pictures I like. I was flipping through one I bought a while back, Inio Asano’s Sekai no Owari to Yoake-Mae (Before Dawn and the End of the World), and really took notice of the kiss that closes out the last story in the book. It got me thinking about kissing and comics, and trying to figure out the first kiss I saw in comics.

I’m pretty sure that it’s in Chris Claremont and Jim Lee’s X-Men 1. During a Danger Room sequence, Gambit steals a kiss from a robot duplicate of Jean Grey. She explodes, and Gambit’s response is, “As I always suspected… redheads, they have a dynamite kiss.” It’s part of the personality spamming Claremont often got up to, something to remind you that Gambit is a Cajun lothario with a sense of humor.

There was another kiss later in the same story. A brainwashed Cyclops steals a kiss from Jean Grey (I’m just now realizing how weird it is that it happened TWICE in the span of three issues) and asks if his kiss is as much fun as Wolverine’s, which is actually this whole weird cuckolding/male competition thing that I’m not sure I’m okay with in my old age.

I asked Twitter about other notable comics kisses. The most common suggestion was from Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. After gallivanting around Earth and using their superpowers all day, Superman and Lois Lane share a kiss on the moon.

The next most common was from Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s The Dark Phoenix Saga. I flipped through and spotted a couple. I think most people thought of the kiss on the bluff, but here’s two:

The only multi-page kiss I found came from a suggestion from Jeff Lester. He suggested Gerry Conway and Ross Andru’s Amazing Spider-Man 143, which is toward the end of the golden age of ASM for me. This is one of the few kisses that lasts longer than 1 panel that I came across, and it’s good, if you’re a Spider-Fan.

There are plenty of others. Brandon Graham’s King City had a couple gooduns, Batman and Wonder Woman in Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke’s JLA: The Obsidian Age, and Ennis and Dillon’s Preacher undoubtedly had a few great ones, though specific instances are escaping me right now. Azzarello and Risso’s 100 Bullets had a great one in New Orleans.

The thing about 99% of the kisses I’ve seen in comics, with precious few exceptions, is that they all look basically the same. Look at the examples I’ve pulled. It’s usually a man, who is generally taller than the woman, in a dominant position, with one arm around the woman’s waist and maybe a hand bracing her head. The woman’s arms go around the man’s neck. It usually lasts just a panel.

The similarity got me thinking. This is a cultural thing, isn’t it? This is how people kiss. This is what it’s supposed to look like. It’s very Hollywood and screen-ready. Neither party is obscured from an observer, the man gets to lead the way, visually at least, even if the woman initiated the kiss… where’d this representation come from?

Here’s Alfred Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square. You’ve seen it before, I guarantee. It’s a spontaneous kiss, rather than a posed one.

I kinda feel like this is the kiss in America, too. It’s definitive. It’s what you see at marriages, when people propose, and in movies. This has to be the genesis of that specific kiss configuration, at least pop culturally, right? Sort of like how John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat are the genesis of hard-edged heroes with twin guns, Bruce Lee is the genesis of 90% of kung fu fools in comics, Clint Eastwood is the source of Wolverine and all of his descendants, and on and on and on. V-J Day in Times Square may not have been first, but it’s got to be the biggest touchstone.

What’s interesting to me is that this type of kiss is far from the only type of kiss in real life, but it’s the most dominant in media/pop culture. It’s fairly chaste, isn’t it? There’s no groping, no grinding, none of the stuff that makes kissing so unbelievably interesting. There’s passion, but there’s no lust, for lack of a better word. It’s just a kiss. It’s romantic.

Here’s the kiss from Inio Asano’s “End of the World.” Long story short, the girl’s dating a dopey guy, but she loves him anyway. It makes her a little uncomfortable, being so content, and I sorta feel like this is their first kiss. Five pages:

This is really interesting. There are a few major differences from the standard kiss. She’s in control throughout, it’s explicitly erotic (consider her knee on the first page), her tiptoes and subsequent collapse lend it a sense of both desperation and satisfaction, and I feel like the way both of them are blushing and sweating only add to the effect. And then there’s the tongues and the spit. This sequence is wet. It looks raw. It looks like making out. I really like the difference between page 1, panel 1, and page 3, panel 1. One’s a surprise. The other’s a genuine embrace.

You can imagine why I found this sequence so striking. I was raised on a diet of women bent backward, chaste mouth locks, and variations on a specific pose. This is dessert. Makeouts, instead of kisses. I feel like it’s more reflective of real life, too, and it’s almost definitely the best kiss I’ve seen in comics. I don’t think most porn comics even go at it like this.

(A few asides:

(-googling for info on the history of kissing, how kissing is different in various cultures, and really anything in detail on kissing got really really weird and makes me self-conscious in a way I really wasn’t expecting. Do I need to make some apologetic phone calls? In any case, tell your mom I said hello.

(-As pointed out by my man Jamaal Thomas (who should really write more, once he finishes doing things like “having several jobs”), the kiss in All-Star Superman is deflated two pages later by the overwhelmingly paternal kiss on the forehead Superman gives Lois. I’m not saying dudes shouldn’t be kissing their ladies on the forehead or anything, but in that instance? It’s a little too much like a father tucking in his daughter. Mmmmmno, thanks.

(-here’s the origin of the title of the post.)

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Pretty Girls: Inio Asano

October 1st, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Inio Asano: wiki, Anime News Network
Books: solanin, What a Wonderful World!, Vol. 1, What a Wonderful World!, Vol. 2
Why? Asano’s stories are my thing because he pretty much nails mid-20s ennui, but he also draws really, really cute girls. Fashion-wise, they’re kind of hipster girl cute. They have that carefully crafted off-kilter thing going on, a lot of scarves and patterns, sometimes tops and skirts that look a little like grandma clothes, lots of layers, and hair that’s either short or worn so as to appear short. A little quirky, but calculatedly quirky, right? Asano’s girls feel very contemporary.

They have really cute faces, too. They’re kind of doughy. More like, their faces bend under the weight of their emotions. Smiles go from one ear to the other, eyes squeeze shut, certain girls have duck lips, and your commonly accepted proportions for faces don’t matter at all. Expressiveness is what counts, and his brand of particularly cartoony, exaggerated expressiveness is what makes Asano fresh.

The freckles across Meiko’s nose in solanin help a lot, too.

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6 Writers: Inio Asano

July 17th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

When I was in high school, I was really into David Fincher’s Fight Club. The message of the movie, this twisted idea that we had been screwed over by mumble mumble that we should all just kinda go crazy because why not, man! Yeah! In hindsight, I was also a Rage Against the Machine fan, in high school, and slowly figuring out politics, so you’ll have to pardon my naivete. Fight Club actually served as an inoculation of sorts against further insanity of that type, so when I hit that point in your 20s where nothing makes sense, I was a little less likely to have a completely stupid reaction to my new found melancholy than I would have if I hadn’t seen Fight Club one hundred times and completely rejected what it put forth.

The one writer who has best managed to capture the feeling of oppressive melancholy punctuated by bright spots of enjoying life despite your depression of my early twenties is Inio Asano, creator of solanin, What a Wonderful World!, and several other works. His artwork is an interesting mix of realistic (almost to a fault) backgrounds and characters who strike me as a cartoonier version of Naoki Urasawa’s already fairly cartoony work. He draws people with very soft features, broad faces, thick noses, and wide mouths. He draws mouths kind of like Chris Bachalo does. He also draws some of the cutest girls I’ve ever seen in a comic.

solanin is about as true a portrayal of twenty-something ennui as I’ve ever seen. Your twenties are the first time you’re really out on your own in the world, away from the safety net of your parents and everyone being kind to you just because. You soon learn that your parents told you a whole lot of well-meaning lies when you were a kid. It isn’t as easy as “Go to college and then get a job” because college doesn’t guarantee a job. It doesn’t even guarantee you’ll be prepared for a job. The world isn’t kind by default. Someone has to do the crappy jobs, and it’s probably you, because the cool jobs aren’t as cool as you think they are and the ones that actually are cool are for people who are doing better than you are. All the things that defined you in high school fall away, because all of the grown-ups you suddenly have to interact with don’t care how well you ran track or how many spelling bees you won. They just want to know if you can get this done fifteen minutes ago. And hey, student loans!

Your twenties are when you learn that you’re not half as special as they claimed you were. In fact, you’re not special at all. You’re normal. You may have some skills other people lack, but you’ll still have to work your butt off for that to matter. Your twenties are when you finally wake up. And yes, it isn’t the end of the world, but when you’re in the middle of that? It’s like drowning. solanin opens just as that ennui is hitting Meiko Inoue hard. Nothing is working out like it was supposed to, her boyfriend is in stuck in a state of being almost successful, and she’s just… tired. She’s listless.

This doesn’t stop her from enjoying life when there’s something to enjoy. She loves watching her boyfriend perform, she has fun when they set off fireworks on the beach, and she enjoys the company of her friends. But, there’s always this miasma where rent and a career and her future are sitting and lurking, waiting to pounce. All of the pressures of adult life, all of the stuff you simply can’t prepare for, weigh heavy on her shoulders.

When I think of coming-of-age comics, my first thought is of books that struck me as dwelling on the pain of life. I’ve always thought of them as being about sad sack people who are obsessed with being sad. I could never relate to those. It just never clicked. It makes me uncomfortable, to be honest.

Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion is the first anime that comes to mind when talking about misery and depression. It’s practically misery exploitation at times, stacking trauma and vile acts one on top of the other until characters collapse in an orgy of hate and self-loathing. It’s ugly and off-putting and entirely too cynical to be entertaining these days. The message of Evangelion is “life sucks and then you die.”

Asano’s work preaches the opposite. I think that’s why I enjoyed solanin and What A Wonderful World! so much. They refuse to wallow in misery. solanin is about growing up and understanding the fact that life sucks, but also recognizing that the bad parts aren’t the full picture. There is a lot to life, and while there is a lot to dislike, there’s also a lot to enjoy. The point isn’t the sad parts. The point is how the sad parts are broken up by parts where people prove that it’s always worth having good friends. There are those moments where you just stop and look up and everything is wonderful. It doesn’t make the sad moments less sad, but they do make a difference when you need them to.

What A Wonderful World! is kind of a test drive for solanin. Designs and ideas appear in WAWW! and then later appear in refined form in solanin. The result is that solanin is a carefully crafted work of stunning optimism and honesty. Life is going to suck. There’s no getting around that. Once you hit that point where you’re an adult, rather than a child, you’re in for a hard time. The trick is weathering those hard times and appreciating the good times. That’s the message of solanin.

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Solanin Movie Trailer Released

December 10th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

I saw on twitter a minute ago that the trailer for the film adaptation of Inio Asano’s solanin came out. It’s all in Japanese, and I’m pretty sure it blows something that was supposed to be a surprise, but check it out:

The casting looks really good. Kato is dead on, and while Meiko is substantially less freckled than her comic counterpart, but she looks good. The bit with her and the knit cap– that’s cool, totally true to the book. Their circle of friends looks pretty good, too.

Doesn’t this look like the perfect 20-something movie? A bunch of attractive post-college kids working out their issues and forming a rock band. It looks universal, like people of any culture could get into it.

I reviewed solanin a while back and really enjoyed it.

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What A Wonderful Book!

October 13th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

solanin‘s strength is in the way it takes a rite of passage most of us have to go through and shows how it affects one young girl. Its melancholy tone reflects our feelings about the difference between dreams and reality, resulting in a very sad, but powerful, read. We map ourselves onto Meiko and relate to her struggle.

Viz sent over a review copy of Inio Asano’s collection of short stories, What a Wonderful World! 1, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it complemented solanin to an extraordinary degree. The first story made me wonder if it was going to tread over the same ground as solanin, with the slightly depressed post-college female lead, but it quickly took a hard left turn in a new direction.

What A Wonderful World! fits into solanin like a puzzle piece. It’s clear when you compare the capitalization of the books, even. solanin uses a time of trial to show how the harsh realities of life and lofty goals of dreams eventually intersect and even out. What A Wonderful World! takes people in bad situations and shows them just how beautiful life can be.

There’s a slight, but important, difference in the two approaches, and it’s one I appreciate very much. Each story has a person at a crossroads, or who has fallen from grace, and gives them a motivation to pick up the pieces. Sometimes it’s in the form of a crow, which is itself the embodiment of someone’s fear and self-loathing. At other times, it’s a man in a bear costume with a dark secret. And, once, it was a turtle who recognized that he was in a situation with a bleak future, so he did the only thing he could: changed.

What A Wonderful World! is not a subtle book. The exclamation point in the title is there for a reason. Characters repeatedly reiterate the message of the book, which is that life can be wonderful if you just reach out and grab hold, in very plain language. “There are times in life when we must go forward,” says one character. “Move on, despite everything. Even if I’m making a mistake, I won’t have regrets.” Clear as day, right?

The book is separated into nine chapters, called tracks in the table of contents. It immediately put me in mind of an album, which turned out to be very apt. If you’ve ever heard a record where each song leads into or relates to the next song, whether it’s Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Prince Paul’s A Prince Among Thieves, you can appreciate the fact that the relationship between the songs makes the entire album better.

That’s true in What A Wonderful World! as well. Something connects the current story to the next one. Sometimes it’s as deep as a character who appears in one track gaining a bigger role in the next track. Other times, it’s a shared location, or a dragonfly flickering from one scene to another. This connective tissue makes the book into something greater than the sum of its parts. Instead of being isolated tales of people suddenly discovering how to be happy, you get the feeling of happiness going from story to story, spreading like, well, a disease. You know how they say that a smile is infectious? Like that.

I really liked reading What A Wonderful World! 1, and the first thing I did when I finished was hop on Amazon and order What A Wonderful World! 2. Both books come out on 10/20, next Tuesday. After solanin and What A Wonderful World! 1, Inio Asano is a must-buy for me. He’s a member of the Naoki Urasawa club. His work is engaging and uplifting in a way that I respect, and honestly don’t see often enough. He’s got a deft grasp of cartooning, pacing, and emotion, which gives his comics real weight.

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The Song Is Over: Inio Asano’s Solanin

October 7th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Inio Asano’s Solanin is about a young girl stuck in that period of time where youthful dreams give way to cold reality. Meiko, the main character, is forced to confront that she may not grow up and get to be whatever she wants to be, and may have to take what she can get.

Meiko’s struggle and listlessness is very easy to relate to. Meiko is at a point in her life that I think most, if not all, of us go through. She’s graduated from college and is working a dead-end job that she doesn’t enjoy. She feels like her live-in boyfriend is freeloading, just a little, and while she’s not unhappy, she isn’t in a very good state of mind, either. She needs a change, but she doesn’t know which change or even how to figure that out. So, at the beginning of summer, she quits her job and decides to live off her savings for a while.

Her boyfriend and friends are similarly familiar. Her boyfriend is Naruo Taneda, and she simply calls Taneda most of the time. He’s accepted post-college life as something that’s endured. He goes to work at his freelance illustration job, accepts the crap hours, and deals with the crap pay.

Kato is a slacker, still fooling around in his sixth year of college. His girlfriend tolerates it, because she knows that adult life sucks. It’s boring and it’s long, so she might as well let him have his fun before she has to really crack the whip.

The word for Solanin is “melancholy.” Meiko’s thoughts are spelled out in a monologue over the course of most of the chapters, and she’s equal parts unsure and hopeful. When she finds something that can give her the get up and go that she needs, she embraces it, but even that isn’t enough, and she soon falls back into old habits.

The characters have embraced the idea of “it is what it is.” No one is particularly satisfied by their lot in life. Meiko struggles to find something to give life meaning, Taneda noodles around in his band, and Kato dreams about betraying his girlfriend. Rip, another of their friends, isn’t sure if he’s happy in his life, either, but he tries to make the best of it.

What’s interesting about Solanin is that since the majority of the cast is searching for ways to be happy, every smile is a worthwhile one. They take happiness where they can get it, whether it’s through dumb pranks or genuine breakthroughs. When Meiko watches Taneda and the band perform their new song, she smiles and says, “Yes. This is how it should be.”

Really, every emotion is earned. While there is one telegraphed and basically cliche twist partway through the book, the payoff for it is excellent. The scenes where the band performs are powerful and portrayed as raw emotion. The band’s rediscovering what they love, and through that, trying to find happiness.

Solanin is about coming to terms with real life. As kids, we are told and taught and assume that we’ll have these exciting lives where we own our own business, act in movies or plays, sing, write novels, or do something exciting for a living. In reality, though, most of us will spend our time working toward making someone else richer. Over the course of the book, Meiko learns that you have to take happiness where you can get it. A life of pure bliss doesn’t exist, it’s a child’s dream, and you have to grow out of a thirst for that before you can enjoy life as it should be.

There’s a powerful image toward the end of the book, of Meiko bent over, her head touching the ground. Nothing’s visible except for her figure collapsed on the ground. It’s one of my favorite images in the book, in part because of what it represents. She came to terms with what life is about and has finally decided what to do.

Solanin is very good. Maybe it’s because I’m around the same age as the cast of the book. I like to think that it’s because Solanin is very good in and of itself. It’s some 400 pages long, but I burned through it in a couple of sittings. I wish I’d read it last year when it came out. However, Asano has a couple more books coming out this month– What A Wonderful World! volumes one and two. I’m definitely going to check those out just because Solanin was so enjoyable.

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