Fourcast! 32: Yotsuba&! and Gotham Knights

February 8th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-Gavin read President Evil for some strange reason.
-6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental for the theme music
-I made Esther read the first volume of Yotsuba&!.
-She made me read Devin Grayson’s run on Gotham Knights.
-Then we fought to the death!

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7 Things About Yotsuba&! 7

January 6th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I grew up around a small battalion of cousins. I was part of the first wave, and we had around seven years before the next group came through. Even now, I’ve got a younger brother who’s a year old, and if I didn’t live all the way across the country, I’m sure I’d still be in the thick of it. So, a lot of stuff in Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! is old hat to me. Only, it’s funny now, because I’m not being shanghai’d into watching someone else’s kid or changing diapers. I can appreciate it for what it is, rather than wishing I was outside on my bike instead of watching some rugrat drool all over the place.

I read the 7th volume in December and loved it. My complaints about the translation still stand, but that’s a difference of opinion. The source material is incredibly strong, from art to writing, and it shows in the translation. Yotsuba&! is the kind of book that you makes you bark laugh, or snort, or guffaw, or whatever embarrassing laugh it is people hate to do these days. When you read Yotsuba&!, you’re going to like it. That’s just the way things work. It’s natural. I read Yotsuba&! 7 while going through hell at work. Bad day after bad day, coming home pissed off, so on and so forth. But, Yotsuba&! was a bright spot. It’s the kind of book that cheers you up, if only for a little bit, and is more than welcome due to that fact.

I picked out seven things I liked from this volume of Yotsuba&!. I don’t know that they’re the seven funniest things, but they are things that I think encapsulate what Yotsuba&! is all about. They range from comedy to craft to characters, all from volume 7. This is a good volume to pull from, being both the latest and blisteringly funny, to boot. There’s a couple pages in there that kill me every time I look at them.

(After you read this, read this. Azuma won the Excellence Prize in manga at a 2006 media festival and gave an acceptance interview. It’s pretty interesting and well worth a read. Thanks to Jog for finding it.)

Real life is mundane. When I wake up in the morning, I calculate whether or not I can sleep several more hoursminutes, figure out what time I finally fell asleep, and then get out of bed, landing on the wrong side. I brush my teeth with my eyes closed, pull on clothes, and hit the streets. Have you ever seen a little kid wake up? No, you haven’t, because they wake up before we do, with three times as much energy.

I like the body language in this panel, with Koiwai and Yotsuba both brushing their teeth the same way, but looking completely different at the same time. Yotsuba is wide-eyed and alert, while Koiwai is still sleepy. It’s not too hard to see that Koiwai probably taught her how to brush her teeth, judging from their posture, but the difference between the two speaks volumes. To Yotsuba, every action, every event, is something to be devoured. To Koiwai, it’s just another morning.

lifeYotsuba&Real Life
The attention to clothes in Yotsuba&! is lovely. Characters don’t just wear Generic [Color] Shirt and Straight Slacks. Clothes have patterns, jeans look like jeans, and people actually look like they pay attention to what they put on in the morning. Yotsuba and the girls next door all wear age appropriate material, from an adorable shirt with a bunny on the front on Yotsuba to classy sweaters and skirts on the eldest girl. Even Koiwai, who spends most of each volume in boxers and a white t-shirt, makes sense when he goes out. If all you did all day was type at a computer at home, you’d do the same. (Don’t front. I know several pro bloggers and none of y’all wear pants, except when someone asks you to.)

What’s nice about Yotsuba&! are these occasional interludes where Azuma just lets Yotsuba roam freely around the area. Part of it is that I like seeing him being able to break out of the tiny panels that made up his Azumanga Daioh work and really go at a panel. There’s some photoref going on, but the way his cartoony characters interact with their environment is always golden. Yotsuba never sleeps straight. She’s always sprawled or draped over something. Falling asleep partially draped over a table with cup phones wrapped around her body? It looks good and it fits her personality.

But the best is just seeing Yotsuba roam and the things she does. Everything focuses down onto the most important part of Yotsuba&!, which is that everything is wonderful if you look at it with the right eyes. A walk to the store isn’t just ten minutes of walking. It’s strolling past neat bushes, finding a cool stick, making noise (everyone who has ever seen a kid make noise just to make noise raise your hand), and, when all that becomes boring, turning yourself into an airplane and flying along.

There is a purity in Yotsuba that I can appreciate. A lot of the appeal of the series is that she isn’t tainted by the things that make adults bitter and mean. Everything is new, everything is wonderful, and Yotsuba is in the perfect position to appreciate all of it. And, by seeing the world through her eyes, we can appreciate it, as well.


Sometimes, man, Yotsuba&! is just funny. Yotsuba runs afoul of a sheep, gets knocked down, hops up, and hits the sheep with a hook. That’s comedy. The cherry on top is that this is apparently not just a one time thing- she makes a habit of punching animals.

Yotsuba trying to decide what to put back at the story, and putting all five years of her experience toward figuring out her dilemma, is another good scene. This one shows Azuma’s skill at cartooning. Yotsuba goes from listening intently in panel two, paying close attention, to carefully examining the goods, to realizing that she can’t put anything back because she needs all of it, before being told a possible solution that she hadn’t even thought of, and then she’s determined.

I really like this progression. Azuma gets a lot across with not a lot of lines, particularly in the fourth panel, where Yotsuba’s practically in agony over having to make a hard decision. His realistic approach to clothes and backgrounds gives way when it serves the story, turning faces into two circles and a line. It’s easy to overdo, hard to get right, but Azuma tiptoes on that line with a deft touch. Yotsuba is the most expressive, but her expressiveness tends to infect other characters in a believable way. Her nature encourages other people to turn child-like, like when Yotsuba and Koiwai have giant monster battles.

One of my favorite things is when a little kid gets super fixated on something. I have a cousin who loves to play video games. I made the mistake of showing him the Wii at an early age, and he was the first one that wasn’t dumb enough to fall for the old “give a kid the controller, leave it unplugged, pretend like it’s two player” trick. After that, it was on. Wii, GameBoy, Xbox, whatever, he was all about it. He was really into Rayman Raving Rabbids for a while, and it got to where you couldn’t mention anything that even sounded like Wii or Rayman or Rabbits without him peeking around the corner like, “Are we about to play Wii?” He knew what he wanted and anything that brought him close to that was a good thing.

That’s a big part of why I like this scene in Yotsuba&! 7. Yotsuba doesn’t know what a patissier is, but she knows that chefs cook food, and food is hamburgers, so Fuuka is… going to cook hamburgers! Duh! It’s obvious! Of course, when Fuuka reveals that she is going to make a cake, Yotsuba loses it and declares her undying love on the next page. That’s the other thing about kids. Show them the next awesome thing, or another awesome thing, and they’re ready to go, they don’t even have to switch gears.

And once again, through Yotsuba’s eyes, everything is magical. I’m a big fan of hamburgers, but I don’t think I get as excited as Yotsuba does over them. We might be equal on cake, though.


In terms of calling shotgun, Cross Cutter beats all. Right, Heidern?


Yotsuba’s “Hmph!” in the second panel on the second page is amazing. That’s Azuma’s cartooning at work again, using a little to accomplish a lot. It getting an entire panel to itself is a deft touch, giving the comedy a chance to breathe. We’re right there with Yanda, wondering “Did that just happen?”


Yotsuba is adorable, but she’s also a smug jerk. She’s just so matter of fact and condescending on this page. Why else would you go to a ranch, but for the cows? C’mon Yanda, you’re dumb. The little fist pump in panel five like “So there!” would make it if not for panel 7 and the look on her face. That panel kills me every time.

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Christmas Dollars: What to Spend Them On and Why

December 21st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A couple weeks ago, I had the bright idea of doing a gift guide. We’d each pick four books (because of the site, you see, and because I am a narcissist) and talk about why you should buy them for friends and family. Except then I got slammed at work, Gav hit Retail Hell (his favorite time of year) and Esther accidentally read an issue of X-Men and fainted dead away on the spot.

So, instead, the 4thletterers (4thletterkateers? citizens of Earth-4thletter?) are presenting to you twelve (or so, none of us are math majors) books that you should definitely, absolutely spend your Christmas money on. And if you do it through Amazon by clicking here… you help us out, too.


Essential Super-Villain Team-Up, Vol. 1
The Marvel Essential books are always fun to read, but they are also incredibly intimidating. I can’t get into reading the ones about Captain America, Spider-Man or the X-Men because they have hundreds upon hundreds of comics. It’s more fun to read through a series that had a more finite number of stories. Stuff like Spider-Woman, Iron Fist and Godzilla.

My favorite one, and the one I always suggest to others, is Super-Villain Team-Up. Don’t be fooled by the title. It isn’t about various villains joining together to take over the world and then fail due to the Avengers and/or Fantastic Four. At least, not for the most part. It’s mainly about the strange, but intriguing relationship between Doctor Doom and Namor, two Marvel kings who at times ride the line between hero and villain. Before that, there are several issues of Astonishing Tales that tell the story of Doctor Doom and his would-be usurper Count Rudolfo, a character who never met his full potential.

The dynamic of Doom and Namor lasts for well over a dozen issues, including two specials and an Avengers crossover with special appearance by Dr. Henry Kissinger. Sometimes they help each other out. Sometimes they’re at each other’s necks. But you know what? Not ONCE do they go forth with a collaborative way to take over the world. It’s STILL fun as hell.

There is a satisfying conclusion to their stretched out story arc, leading the way to a weird Doom vs. Magneto storyline and a disappointing Red Skull/Hate-Monger issue. Just consider that one an extra to a great collection.

The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus
I wasn’t reading comics when Death of Superman came out, but I remember how big a deal it was. It did lead to one of my favorite Saturday Night Live skits where Chris Farley as the Hulk represented Marvel Comics and read a eulogy at Superman’s funeral ending with him smashing the podium and mumbling, “’Nuff said.” Plus, despite what people say about the lack of good Superman videogames, I’ve always dug the Death and Return of Superman SNES game.

The SNES game gave me a very skimmed look at the story’s events. When I got into comics for reals in the early 2000s, I had the idea that the whole story was a dull piece of garbage that wasn’t worth my time. After all, the 90s were known for long comic stories that tried to take the classic hero out of the picture, only to fail miserably, such as Knightfall, Clone Saga, Age of Apocalypse, and Onslaught/Heroes Reborn. The only reason I did read Death of Superman in the first place was because I was getting into Booster Gold at the time and wanted to read as many of his appearances as possible.

I dug it! Even knowing who the true Superman was and who Visor Superman and Cyborg Superman would turn out to be didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of the epic. Granted, the art does jump around and the Funeral for a Friend part can’t end fast enough, but everything else is fantastic. We get a good mystery, featuring some crafty red herrings and a couple neat hints here and there. Like when Cyborg Superman is in the White House, connecting to all the satellites and computers, there’s a monitor in the background that shows the Fantastic Four symbol. It’s a nice little clue on his original identity.

Even knowing who the real Superman is, you don’t even realize that he’s shown up until several issues after he appears. There’s some nice distraction in the storytelling to trick you.

The omnibus has the entire series in one thick hardcover for your enjoyment, plus extras in the back. It is a lot cheaper and easier to get the softcovers (The Death of Superman, World Without a Superman, The Return of Superman), but I’m throwing the option out there. With the softcovers, you can easily skip over Funeral for a Friend, but that does mean having to miss out on the “first sighting” segments at the end. That part still gives me chills.

The Marvel Art of Marko Djurdjevic
I feel bad for saying this, but I’m not a big art guy. Yes, I appreciate good art, but I don’t go out of my way to collect it. When at Comic Con with hermanos and our good friends at Funnybook Babylon, they’ll usually be scouring Artist Alley as I wander around for other treasures.

That said, I have a jonesing for anything with Marko Djurdjevic’s name on it. I absolutely love his stuff. When I found out there was going to be a book of all his different Marvel covers, I was on it like consonants on “Djurdjevic.” That awesome cover of Dr. Doom holding the Infinity Gauntlet for What If: Secret Wars? It’s in there. Wolverine impaling Blade’s skull? It’s in there. The mind-blowing cover to Daredevil #100?

Hells yes, it’s there.

It features commentary by Djurdjevic for most of the pieces. This includes a bit in the end where he shows some attempts to redesign key characters. Apparently, he wanted to transform Iceman into Terry Bogard from Fatal Fury/King of Fighters. I can dig that if it involves knocking Apocalypse off a rooftop.

Cookin’ with Coolio: 5 Star Meals at a 1 Star Price
David: Gav, I need to talk to you about your pick for the holiday article.
Gavin: Is this about the omnibus? Because I didn’t know it was out of print until I handed it in.
David: No, I—
Gavin: Okay, I admit it! I found out about two sentences in! But they’re still selling it at a ridiculous price! Cut me some slack!
David: Stop. Please.
Gavin: You did say please. What’s up?
David: Cooking with Coolio? Seriously?
Gavin: I know! It’s great, isn’t it? I can’t believe it exists either. Just like that autobiography by Dustin Diamond.
David: That’s not what I’m talking about.
Gavin: It damn well should be! There’s a segment in the book called “Pimp Your Shrimp”!
David: Gav? Can you tell me something?
Gavin: I can tell you many things. I can tell you how to both chill and grill at the same time thanks to this amazing book.
David: No, I want you to tell me something specific.
Gavin: Oh, right. It’s on page—
David: Not that! I want to know what Coolio has to do with comics. This is a comic book site. You realize that?
Gavin: But he’s comic…al?
David: …….
Gavin: He is! You should read the back cover! It describes him as being “one of the most popular and successful rappers worldwide”!
David: I don’t care.
Gavin: He had a couple hits well over a decade ago and they still have the balls to say that! He’s most famous for being completely butthurt at Weird Al because the theme to that Michelle Pfeiffer movie is serious business! You ever see him on that Celebrity Poker Showdown show? He was out in two hands because he kept betting all-in!
David: That still has nothing to do with comic books.
Gavin: He… was in Batman and Robin. Oh, and he was in the director’s cut of Daredevil!
David: *sigh* Fine. Do whatever. I don’t have time for this.
Gavin: Of course. Busy with Kwanzaa and all that.
Gavin: What?


Blue Beetle
I’ve recommended these before, but I’m just going to keep on doing it until everyone has them. This is an all-ages comic in the best sense of the word. A grandfather could read these and love them. A small child could read them and love them just as much.

Jaime Reyes has somehow managed to become attached to The Scarab. It’s a ancient alien artifact that becomes sentient and gives him fantastic powers. Soon there are superheroes on his doorstep and aliens invading earth. Helping Jaime deal with this is his close-knit family and his two friends, Paco and Brenda.

It sounds like every superhero’s story. It isn’t. I don’t know how to describe it, except to say that the heart that goes into this story makes it stand out from every single book on the shelf. This is a story that will shock you with its power and its intrinsic sweetness. Buy it. Buy it. My god, buy it.

The volumes are, in order: Shellshocked, Road Trip, Reach for the Stars, and Endgame.

Two Superman Books with Tim Sale Art: Superman for All Seasons, and Superman: Kryptonite
There are few books that I read for the art. I’m a story and character junkie. Tim Sale’s Superman, though, gets me every time. The enormous, meaty face, the dark eyes, the way the character never seems to know what to do with his hands, they all add up to a story that you don’t need be able to read to understand.

Superman for all Seasons and Kryptonite, though, are worth getting out your reading glasses, though. They have the same thing that attracted me to the Blue Beetle series; an optimistic sweetness. That tone is hard to find anywhere. It’s too easy to prop up a story with horrors, or go for the cheap sensationalism of a hero pushed to the edge. Good books that are about the struggle to be kind, to be generous, to do the right thing, are worth a lot more than another edgy comic.

Agent X
So let’s talk about cheap sensationalism and a hero pushed to the edge. Agent X is an early Gail Simone book. Published by Marvel, it’s about a scarred anti-hero with no memory who careens through the Marvel Universe in the least dignified way possible. The hero, Alex Hayden, gets trained as a mercenary, goes through a series of disastrous missions, and finally finds his identity and his purpose in life.

Or maybe he doesn’t. It was too funny for me to really notice. A well-drawn, well-paced and hilariously funny series that was (criminally), never collected, this is worth haunting eBay for.


Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&!
You know what’s really, really nice? Having a book you know without a doubt that you can turn to have your mood lighten. Yotsuba&! is like that. The story of Yotsuba and her group of friends and family is a great one, made even better by its simplicity. There’s no overarching plot beyond “Yotsuba and…,” though there is continuity between the stories.

One of the best parts is Yotsuba’s relationships. Her relationship with the world is one of utter naiveté and sheer joy. Everything she sees is a source of wonder and possible fun. Her relationship with her friends, the three girls who live next door, varies according to their ages in a really interesting way. Her relationship with her dad is part brother and sister and part sidekick, with lots of shouting and posing and >:O faces. Her relationship with her dad’s two friends, Yanda and Jumbo, is hilarious and completely believable.

Yotsuba is young, energetic, credulous on a level that is equal to six Amelia Bedelias, and intensely curious. The series is fun, and you can pick up any of the seven volumes that are currently out without missing anything major. And good on Yen Press for picking up the lapsed rights to it.

Yotsuba&! is cake comics, intensely enjoyable from all angles. Savor it when you read it.

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter (Darwyn Cooke)
Sometimes, not all of the time, but sometimes, you just need to see somebody get what’s coming to them. And Parker: The Hunter delivers that in spades. Parker is a cold blooded man in the truest sense of the word. Though driven by revenge, he’s scarily calm and collected throughout the book. He doesn’t pause at doing things that would slow a normal person down and when he tracks down his target, there’s no explosive confrontation. It’s a foregone conclusion.

Darwyn Cooke’s already impressive art hits a new level here, with a clean green being the only color in the work, barring the color of the paper and strong blacks. It’s a treat to look at, even without reading the words. It feels like a crime comic should, with a palette that puts you out of your comfort zone and a main character that’s about as bad as the bad guys.

This book is the kind of thing that’s aimed directly at me, crime movie junkies, and people who like a layer of grime on their books. Almost as good as the book itself is its design, which is decidedly not that of your average comic. It looks like a crime novel, or a particularly fancy DVD cover, and the image instantly sets the tone. Totally one of my favorites this year, if not the favorite.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 1
I could spend another eighty thousand words talking about this wonderful book, and The Hunter‘s only real competition this year, or I could point you here, here, and here. Buy it now and you can say you liked it before it wins every award at the Eisners next year.

And if it doesn’t win anything… we’re bumrushing the stage.

Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond
A financial reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It has six hundred pages for twenty bucks, half that if it’s on sale. The value is insane.

A story-based reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It tells the story of Miyamoto Musashi, the most popular samurai ever, and how he came to be. We learn about his past, his friends, his family, and his love. We see him when he is talented, but not skilled, and little more than a savage. We see him fall back into old habits over and over while striving to be the best.

An art-based reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It looks amazing. Inoue employs a variety of styles throughout the book, resulting in a tale where the art adds a whole lot to the text, above and beyond the call of duty. Facial expressions, posture, and eyes tell tales above and beyond what the word balloons do. Visual metaphor is used to great effect, being both instantly recognizable (though one metaphor in book 4 was intended to take its time, and it paid off huge) and beautiful.

A historical reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It’s a manga based on novel based on the life of a real person. It may not be 100% historically accurate, but it is primarily rooted in fact. There are no magic powers, nothing outlandish. It’s just the story of a man, his sword, and his thirst to be the best. You learn something along the way about Japanese history, culture, and various forms of martial arts. You learn the advantages a spear has over a sword, and a sword over a spear. When you finish a volume of Vagabond, you come away with something more than you came in with.

One last reason you should buy Vagabond Vizbig Volume 1: It’s insanely good, bottom line. Words, story, setting, all of it is dead on.

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One Piece: I’d Be (East) Blue Without You

December 8th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

A few days before I received my copy of Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece: East Blue 1-2-3, Shueisha announced that One Piece volume 56 had a print run of 2.85 million copies, the largest first edition print run in manga history. A couple days after I finished reading its 600 pages, a chart detailing the best-selling manga in Japan by series for 2009 dropped, revealing that One Piece sold 14,721,241 copies over the course of the year. To put this in perspective, according to Brian Hibbs’s Bookscan analysis for 2008, the total units for comics sold in America last year was 15,541,769. The top 750 sold 8,334,276 total copies.

What I’m trying to say is, even before you factor in toys, movies, other media tie-ins, and video games (though if you don’t own a Wii, it’s been a while since one of those), One Piece is an industry of its own. It’s kinda like a big deal.

It’s not hard to see why. One Piece is the story of Monkey D. Luffy, a teenager who wants to be the King of the Pirates by finding Gold Roger’s lost treasure “One Piece.” Along the way, he collects a crew of interesting weird crewmates, battles incredible enemies, leaves a trail of broken bodies and new friends in his wake, and punches so far above his weight class it’s a wonder that he doesn’t simply get squashed by his betters.

Except this is shonen manga, and like every other shonen hero, Luffy has heart, magic powers, the power of true friendship, and about thirty gallons of blood in his body. His heart comes from his drive to become King of the Pirates and live up to the expectations of his mentor, Red-haired Shanks. His friendship comes from the mutual respect between all members of the crew, even when they quarrel. The blood is a genre trope, and the magic powers come from the time he eat the Gum Gum Fruit, which turned him into a rubber man.

Luffy is kind of like Reed Richards, if Reed was good at fighting, really really dumb, but focused enough to achieve anything he put his mind to. His rubber skills range from purely offensive (Gum Gum Gatling) to protective (Gum Gum Balloon) to ridiculous (Second Gear), but they are all visually entertaining.

Oda’s style is somewhere between Dragon Ball and Looney Tunes. The proportions vary from character to character (Nami’s impossibly long stick legs [she’s like 2/3 legs, seriously], Usopp’s nose having actual bones in it, Luffy’s rubber body, Buggy’s weird face), but they all manage to look good. It looks weird, but endearingly so. Several traits that I usually associate with American animation or cartooning mix with traditionally Japanese effects, resulting in situations where characters simultaneously bug their eyes out like Ren & Stimpy while sweat drops or anger clouds (for lack of a better phrase, the swirly anger stuff usually seen around yakuza/hooligans) flood the panel.

One Piece has some great fight scenes, in part due to the weirdness of the design and art. Characters have powers that are more than just “shoots lasers” or “ninjutsu.” One guy splits apart into floating pieces, another’s made out of sand, another uses three swords at a time (Santoryu: Three Sword Style means two in the hand, one in the mouth), and still another just has an ill iron jaw and an axe for a hand.

East Blue: 1-2-3 collects the first three volumes of the series for fifteen bucks or so and establishes everything that you need to know. The piracy tends toward the fun and melodramatic, but there’s a clear delineation between fun and “We will straight up kill you.” Luffy and friends stay on the fun side, of course, but some of their villains are genuinely villainous.

Over the course of the volume, we meet the first three members of Luffy’s crew, though the third doesn’t join just yet, get all of the introductory business out of the way, and meet a gang of villains, only a couple of which are recurring characters. You get to know the weird nature of the series through the lion tamer who has hair just like his pet Richie (it’s not a mask) and Luffy’s Amelia Bedelia-esque nature.

He’s very… credulous, if I can use that word like that. He’s not too far off from Yotsuba in that sense. When an enemy, when referring to one of Luffy’s friends, says, “Maybe I know… then again, maybe I don’t,” Luffy simply responds, “What are you talking about? Are you an idiot?”

Oda created a manga that’s both funny looking and funny. It switches from hardcore action to comedy to tear-filled drama at a moment’s notice, and it never feels like a jerk from one kind of writing to another. It’s always very smooth and well-earned.

One Piece is one of my favorite manga, and it’s definitely the one I’ve stuck with the longest and read the most of. I discovered it back when Shonen Jump first started, and though I’ve taken breaks off and on, it’s one I’ve kept up with over the years.

Oda’s painted a world that’s a great storytelling engine, with enough freedom to tell almost any kind of story. Just when you think you’re going to get yet another story about pirates vs pirates, you end up with a civil war or a trip to heaven or something equally ridiculous. (Both of those happened.) Or hey, you can get a madcap escape from an underwater jail with several floors of gimmicks. It’s fresh and interesting and it’s easy to see why it’s such a huge hit in Japan. It’s childlike in a way that adults and kids can both appreciate, not very deep, but immensely entertaining.

I’ve got to praise this new 3in1 format, too. It’s a masterstroke, making it easy for new readers to get into the series or long-time readers to have handsome new volumes on their shelves. If you get impatient, you can just pick up the series where the omnibus leaves off. East Blue covers the first twelve trades, so there are three more of these due over the next few months. I’m hoping that these sell well enough to justify the next arc, and the arc after that, catching 3in1 releases. I love these. I went ahead and preordered the next three (4-5-6, 7-8-9, and 10-11-12), because, at Amazon prices, these are basically three for the price of one at full retail.

That’s a steal.

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I Got My Uzi Back Linkblogging

December 1st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

-I liked this post by Euge of War Rocket Ajax. It’s not about comics- instead it’s about the Clipse and their place in rap culture. Preorder Til The Casket Drops here, ten bones. It leaked this weekend, it’s dope, get on that.

-I talk about The ‘Nam Volume 1 TPB and a little bit about war comics history over at Comics Alliance.

-Tom Spurgeon wrote a holiday gift guide. Everyone else should just go ahead and bow down, this is extra thorough.

-Matt Thorn discusses manga translation and man, I pretty much agree with him. I’ve had my issues with overly faithful translations, and he does a pretty good job of explaining why. I think approaching a translation project as simply transplanting the language word for word is a huge mistake. There’s something exoticizing about that, too, which makes me a little uncomfortable.

This shirt is dope.

-Nina Stone’s Virgin Read is no more!

Look at all these Marvel characters Kurt Busiek co-created!

-Brandon Thomas wraps his New X-Men retrospective.

-Timothy Callahan is basically correct in his look back at Dark Knight Strikes Again.

-Jog talks about manga and Manga. Good thing to wake up to.

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Fourcast! 18: Read These Books

September 28th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

After 6th Sense’s 4a.m. Instrumental, we break down eight books that are worth reading. Esther’s got Dan Jurgen’s Booster Gold, Gail Simone and Nicola Scott’s Secret Six, Franco and Baltazar’s Tiny Titans, Batman Confidential, and Superman/Batman. I’ve got Amazing Spider-Man, Criminal, Yotsuba&!, and Pluto. We share some jokes, a couple anecdotes, and realize that though we approach comics in different ways, we generally want the same thing: good stories.

Visual aides:



And a bonus shot, since Esther got a whole extra book!


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Yotsuba & Translation Issues

September 23rd, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Yotsuba&! 6 is very, very funny. Easily the best book in the series thus far, if only due to the way the stories end up snowballing into a larger tale. Yotsuba’s trek to Fuuka’s school did an amazing job of capturing just how awesome real life is, which is something Yotsuba&! already does very well.

You already know how much I like Yotsuba&! Rather than doing a recap and review of volume 6, I want to discuss something that makes me love it a little less.

My problem is with the translation. It’s not to my liking, to be honest, and pales in comparison to the ADV Translation. It’s not that it’s bad, exactly, but it is a little too faithful to the source material.

Part of the beauty of Yotsuba&! is that the source material is very, very strong. The relatively few cultural jokes have easy analogues, as in Miura visits the Ayase household dressed as a cardboard robot. In the ADV translation, she says that her name is Cardbo. That’s pretty easy, right? Cardbo->Cardbord->Cardboard robot. It makes sense.

In the Yen Press translation, Miura calls herself Danbo, a reference to the Japanese word for cardboard. And, okay, that’s cool, but it isn’t a joke, exactly. It’s a reference with a footnote. It’s like when someone tells you a joke, and you don’t laugh because you don’t get it, and then they explain why it was funny. The problem is that after all of that… it still isn’t funny. You get it, but you don’t laugh.

Similar to the Danbo translation is the use of honorifics– chan, san, and so on. While an integral part of Japanese, they don’t really have any place in English. It’s another joke that doesn’t work. There are ways around it, of course– Fuuka-neesan can just be “big sis,” for example. Oftentimes, however, nothing is truly lost by leaving them out. An adult referring to Yotsuba in Japan may say “Yotsuba-chan,” while an American would say “Yotsuba.” Both are equally valid and both read the same. The chan is just a clue for us to go “Oh! She’s talking to a child!”

The sound effects are also left untranslated, for the same reason that I assume the honorifics were left in. Untranslated isn’t exactly right, though. There are little notes next to the first iteration of each sound effect in a group that explains what the sound is. Otherwise, the sfx are untouched.

It’s a little lame and distracting, if I’m being perfectly honest. It’s another case of being too faithful. I’ve been reading manga for a long time. I know that “doki doki” is the sound of a heartbeat, “ora ora ora!” is what people say when they’re punching someone over and over, and that chicks go “piyo piyo!”

The thing is, that sort of thing doesn’t really translate. It tends to just look silly, and yep, in Yotsuba&!’s new translation, it looks silly. When the Japanese sound effects are left in the text, the book ends up looking more like a fan translation rather than a professional work.

Fans are notable for being extremely reluctant to be anything but absolutely faithful to the source material in an attempt to be truly authentic. This often leads to awkward, or nonsensical translations. Yotsuba&! being strong enough to shine through an awkward translation doesn’t make the translation any less awkward. The honorifics don’t add anything to the book, beyond it seeming more “Japanese.” It’s like the book has been translated, but not localized.

Part of the draw of Yotsuba is how it’s fairly minimalist, to borrow an idea from Jeff Lester. His specific example was toward the end of Yotsuba & Delivering, when Koiwai bonks Yotsuba on the head for bicycling so far away from home. It’s a completely white panel with Koiwai, his fist bonking Yotsuba on her gigantic head, the sound effect in kana, the romanization of the sound effect (“go”), and “bonk” in parentheses.

In the original Japanese, it’s a very simple and to the point panel. However, in Yen Press’s translation, it’s got the romanization and the actual translation on top of the kana, which just clutters things up. It takes away from the minimalist style of the panel. The problem is that editing out the kana and simply inserting a “bonk” sound effect in an appropriate style would’ve been much more straightforward and, well, funny. The panel has two bits: Koiwai bonking Yotsuba and the “bonk” sound. Instead, it has the bonking action, a symbol that’s essentially meaningless to me, the translation of that symbol, and then the actual sound effect. It’s too much. It weakens the joke by layering on too much information.

My favorite translation, bar none, is the Geneon Lupin the Third dub. It took an old series that would not have benefitted very much from a direct translation (judging by the original Monkey Punch manga I used to own), looked at the characters and their personalities, and crafted new lines and jokes based on that. The characters never felt out of character or inappropriate, and the jokes were actually funny, rather than just being references to Japanese pop culture. This is an extreme example, of course, but it shows how this kind of thing can work.

It’s similar to how ADV approached their Yotsuba&! translation. Certain things won’t translate seamlessly, but rather than compromise a very funny book by making it less funny, they bent the rules a little and kept the book’s spirit, if not its letter.

I totally understand why Yen Press’s translation is the way it is. JuYoun Lee, Senior Editor at Yen Press, gave an illuminating interview with Deb Aoki over the translation. I don’t agree with the way they chose to go, but it makes sense from a certain angle. It’s more accurate and exact, but I don’t think that that is a universally good thing. It leads to too many jokes ending up explained, rather than allowed to breathe, distracting gremlins ending up on the page, and having to qualify my love for the series when recommending it to people.

At one point during Yotsuba&! 6, Koiwai says, “I love the way she reacts to stuff like this.” That sums up the entire series. It’s got a strong dose of humor, wonder, and love. The source material is some of the best out. Yotsuba&! is a very, very good series, but certain aspects of the translation are disappointing. That isn’t a dealbreaker, but I wish it were a little better. It deserves it.

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Happiness is a new Yotsuba&!

September 9th, 2009 Posted by david brothers

Yotsuba&! is basically the best manga.

I mean, there may be better. I’m pretty fond of Akira and Pluto, and Pluto is hands-down the best comic to come out this year, but Yotsuba&! is basically the best. It’s the one that leaves me in the best mood after I finish it. Where Akira and Pluto are something to ponder and mull over, Yotsuba&! is a book to enjoy.

ADV published Yotsuba&! up until 2007’s volume 5. Volume 6 was scheduled for early 2008, but it never appeared on shelves. Luckily, Yen Press is there for us, as volume 6 comes out this month. Either this week or next, depending on your local retailer. Perfect time for a look back at the series, right?

Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! began life in March 2003 as an ongoing feature in Dengeki Daioh. His previous strip, Azumanga Daioh, was a four panel strip, called a 4-koma, that was set in a high school and had a cast that was largely composed of high school girls. It was another feel-good strip, which was turned into a successful anime. However, Yotsuba&! surpasses it by far.

Azumanga Daioh, successful as it was, was pretty simple, visually. The comics were four vertical panels, about half a page wide or so, with light background work. He added just enough detail so that you’d know that the characters were in a class room, or a pool, or outside, and then put most of his effort into funny facial expressions and pratfalls.

Azuma’s work on Yotsuba&! switches that up completely, as he works with normal-sized comics pages, and rare goes higher than five panels a page. This gives him plenty of room to display a pretty stunning level of talent. He’s created a realistic world that still meshes with his cartoony and expressive art. So, when something crazy happens and Yotsuba’s eyes go swirly or Fuka’s mouth goes wide, it all works. It doesn’t yank you right out of the work, like other deformed works can.

Yotsuba herself is a very young girl who isn’t naive so much as she is a child. She’s less mischievous than Calvin, but enjoys life just as much. Everything has its charm, and nothing gets her down. She lives life full throttle, never pausing for breath. She takes everything in stride, and all of it’s awesome. When she learns about global warming, she angrily confronts her father about being an enemy of the earth because their house has an air conditioner. When she gets locked in a bathroom early in the morning, she just crawls out of the window and goes for a walk in her pajamas.

The cast is small, but effective. There are three sisters who live next door with their mother, Yotsuba’s father, his best friend Jumbo, and a couple other characters who move in and out as time goes on. Jumbo is extremely tall for a Japanese man, sending new friends into hysterics, and is amazingly lazy. The three sisters are various ages and of varying temperaments, leading to fun interactions with Yotsuba. Her father is a translator by trade, and doing the best he can with his adopted daughter.

Yotsuba&! is, if anything, a look at real life through a child’s eyes. It’s a reminder of just how awesome all these things we take for granted, like rain, ice cream, cicadas, and good friends. Yotsuba approaches everything with the same amount of wonder and glee.

Yotsuba&! is a lot like a warm hug, if I can get sappy for a minute. It’s the kind of book that leaves you feeling good after you read it, like payday or a smooth date. If you can read it and not be charmed… well, you should probably see a doctor about some antidepressants.

Yen Press has released six volumes of Yotsuba&! this week. The first five (Amazon: one, two, three, four, and five) are re-releases of the volumes that ADVManga printed before they went belly-up. The sixth is brand new and fresh out. I’ll have my copy later today, so look for a review of it later this week!

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