Work in Progress: Toriyama and Mignola Got My Mind In The Gutter

December 3rd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’m trying to write about the panel layout in a comic that comes out this week and what it means. More specifically, I’m mulling over the best way to discuss the layouts, rather than being stumped or blocked. That sort of thing isn’t my strength, mainly because I don’t have the vocabulary for it. It’s a level of nitty-gritty that I only have a passing familiarity with. I can’t even fake it at a high enough level to convince people, you know?

I read most of my comics on iPad at this point. It’s cool, because if you press power and the button at the same time, it’ll save a screenshot. I can then dropbox that screenshot to my laptop, where I forget about it for a few months. I’ll trip over it later, always in the middle of trying to hook up images for paying work, and wonder why I clipped it. Anyway, here’s a page from Akira Toriyama’s Dr Slump, specifically volume nine.

Toriyama gets chewed up a lot because of the excesses of Dragon Ball Z‘s tv series, but the guy is a pretty incredible cartoonist. He can do realistic, he can do cartoony, and he can do stuff like this, where he shatters the fourth wall in the pursuit of telling a story. Arale (glasses girl) and Gatchan (weird pre-verbal flying baby thing) are hanging onto the gutters and above some of the art.

Comics have been breaking panel borders for years. Probably one hundred of them, if my memories of George Herriman’s Krazy Kat comics are true. Spider-Man swings from one panel to another, Batman throws a Batarang through the gutters, and a Chris Ware protagonist… I dunno, cries and the tears land in the tier (“tear” ha ha) below him and collect in a puddle. You know what I’m talking about. Breaking panel borders isn’t that ground-breaking.

But this bit from Slump really caught my eye. It’s a cute joke in a dumb gag manga for children, yes, buuuuuuut… it’s also a great magic trick.

In the top panel, Arale and Gatchan are behind Senbei Norimaki. They’re facing us and speaking directly to us, right? So if that panel is panel 1, their kicking legs take up panel 2, then panels 3 and 4 are directly below that. Arale and Gatchan are facing away from us while Senbei runs directly at us. The camera’s POV has switched around.

Panels 5 and 6 to the left of those panels are where it gets really good, assuming you’re into this stuff. The camera swings back around as Senbei looks back at Arale & Gatchan & us. They’re on an angle now, instead of a flat bar, because the camera isn’t head-on any more.

I like how the dumb joke gives the spread a sense of place, too. We’re rotating around the same area, which I feel like does a better job of world-building than Toriyama’s generally randomized landscapes.

(also of note: the different ways Toriyama draws running. Speedo Sonic the Hedgehog spirals vs a pose… the spirals are rushing, right, while the pose is just “running normally”? I think.)

I also clipped this page from Dragon Ball. I think it’s from volume one.

Toriyama’s panel-to-panel storytelling is immaculate as ever (the rock-scissors-paper sequence in particular, check out Goku’s arms and how his body turns), but the bit I want to point out is the bump at the top of page 131. It’s another irrelevant detail, but it’s cool, because now you realize Goku hit the guy SUPER hard, right? Toriyama doesn’t call a lot of attention to it. It’s just another cute joke. But it really, really works. It’s Looney Tunes-style comedy. It’s fun.

(This was definitely a jan-ken-pon-ken joke in the original Japanese, right?)

Here’s three pages from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy in Hell. It ships this week. You’ll have to visit CBR for the rest of the preview. Page 3 has a little of what I’m trying to figure out, that tall red panel transitioning to tall black to tiny grey. I realize what I’m talking about is kind of vague, but I’m really interested in how you’re supposed to read this comic. The effect Mignola is going for. I really want to figure this out, which is a pretty good place to start from when writing about comics, I think.

But even talking about Slump and looking at this preview again has sparked further thoughts. I’m right that Mignola uses gutters in interesting ways, but I was wrong in thinking of it in terms of gutters alone. It’s about the pacing he creates by placing his gutters. The inset panels, the bit where Hellboy crumbles into dust… Mignola is giving his comic a lot of room to breathe, isn’t he? What’s that all about? Is it about atmosphere? Pacing? Something else? All of the above?

I’m going to figure it out. How does “The Anatomy of a Hellboy Comic” sound? Does that sound like something you’d like to read, possibly later this week????

(Clem Robins’s lettering is super good in this, isn’t it? I don’t know what he’s doing different, but it really caught my eye, especially that “AHHHHHH”. Dave Stewart’s colors are as good as ever, too.)

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before Watchmen: Akira Toriyama’s Dr Slump

June 6th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

One problem I have with recommending Akira Toriyama’s Dr Slump (Vizmanga with free preview, Amazon) to other people is that I always end up wanting to explain the jokes. I think it’s one of the most brutally funny comics ever made, so of course I want to focus on what I like: the jokes. But explaining jokes is for the birds. It never comes out right. I could talk about how funny it is that Arale, a little robot girl built by Dr Senbei Norimaki, wishes she had tummy missiles. It’s funny because girl robots tend to have breast missiles. Aphrodite A from Go Nagai’s Mazinger Z is the mother of mammary-based missiles systems (even though Diana A has a better design), and it’s a joke about how girl robots have to have boob missiles because the genre demands it. But by the time I get to this point, you’re bored, I’m in over my head, and we’re both suddenly very conscious of the fact that the joke is receding into the distance and nobody’s laughing.

Here’s the first two pages of Dr Slump:

One of the things I like about Dr Slump is its density. It’s a gag manga, and it packs a ton of jokes into its short chapters. It’s not a buckshot style, either, where Toriyama just throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. No, Toriyama has a very specific tone for Dr Slump, one that’s heavy on absurdity and irony. The thing is that Toriyama isn’t afraid to meander around inside of that tone. He’ll dedicate page space to rolling off joke after joke within that absurd/ironic framework, and when he’s emptied out that vein, he moves on to the next scene.

As a result of Toriyama’s willingness to blow real estate setting up and knocking down jokes, Dr Slump is leisurely paced. Things just sorta happen, characters move from room to room, and the book never really becomes tense, despite the density of the jokes per square inch. The plot of each chapter has room to breathe, but the jokes never stop. Toriyama uses establishing shots to display jokes, too, like dinosaurs who live in trees or idiot aliens. You’re guaranteed at least one solid joke per page, and sometimes six or more.

Dr Slump hits much more often than it misses. It’s a smart dumb comic, in fact, because you don’t get to make funny dumb jokes without being smart enough to think of them. The tummy missiles joke I talked about earlier is funny on the face of it. It’s an absurd request to begin with, since there’s no good reason for a little girl need missiles. It’s funny that she just assumes she needs to fight the forces of evil, too, and her nervous thought of using her “feminine charm” to fight evil is a good’un. But if you know a little manga history, the joke get even better. It works on a couple of different levels.

Part of the reason that Dr Slump is a smart dumb comic is the body language. Characters wipe their brow, rub their eyes, cock their heads, scream, and fliptake, and it all looks exactly like it’s supposed to. It’s just real enough to draw you in, despite the giant eyes and tiny noses. Look at that first page. Look at Arale’s bored yawn and bleary-eyed sniffles. That’s beautiful, and then Toriyama gives Senbei the full Looney Tunes on the very next page. He knows when to amp it up and when to tamp it down.

Most people know Toriyama’s work via Dragon Ball Z, if anything, but Dr Slump predates that. His style here is much more cartoony. Normal people have Krillin-style builds, at best, and everyone else is squat and deformed. Dr Slump is much cuter than Dragon Ball Z, and it’s for the best. Jokes this dumb and absurd just wouldn’t work if his art was more realistic. Suppaman, Toriyama’s Superman parody (also known as Sourman), would look ridiculous if he had Goku’s proportions. Instead, in Dr Slump, he’s another squat, ugly, dumpy-looking guy, the perfect contrast to Superman and full of comedic potential on first sight.

Toriyama is clearly a guy who put a lot of thought into his jokes. He employs a lot of really dumb premises in order to facilitate jokes. In the first chapter alone, Arale goes to a restaurant and orders engine oil, Dr. Norimaki has to wear a schoolgirl outfit in order to avoid being seen as a pervert when buying panties for Arale, and Arale takes an eye exam and spells out N-U-T-S. The first chapter is 14 pages long, and while other strips would thoroughly explore a specific joke like “Arale has bad eyesight” for a chapter’s worth of related gags, Toriyama hits you with one good one (two good ones in this specific instance, actually) and moves on.

But all of this is beside the point. I can’t hit on the sublime thrills found in Dr Slump because they’re so specific to the setting. Toriyama built a world that was the perfect delivery system for his jokes and sense of humor, and then he populated it with circus freaks and idiots. Everyone’s a little bit dumb, even the theoretically smart people. You have to read the comic to get the full effect. The first chapter is free on Vizmanga.com.

I’m a big Dr Slump fan, and I’m glad that Viz is finally putting it up on VizManga, since half the series is OOP and too expensive to buy used. I hope you like it as much as I did. At five bucks a volume, you’re getting more laughs per dollar than basically anything ever.


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Reading Comics: Fart Jokes Are Funny

May 7th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

If I had to rank the human body in terms of comedic potential, butts would come in first place, followed by penises, and then noses would be back in third. I dunno why it is, but dirty, coarse humor sometimes hits the spot about as hard as the spot can be hit. Even the word poop, when it comes out of the mouth of an adult, is inherently funny, save for certain specific contexts. Movies like Bridesmaids and TV shows like Veep have had some pretty amazing poop jokes, but the danger with dirty humor on film is that it’s way too easy to go too far. The goal is to, at most, walk right up to the edge of making your audience retch, and movies often fly past that mark and right into disgusting territory. Death at a Funeral, for example, went way too far.

Something about comics, though, makes it a great delivery system for coarse humor. It’s probably the basest form of comedy, really, but whenever it pops up in a comic, I tend to get a childish chuckle out of it. I think the childishness is what makes it work, honestly. I love smart people jokes or whatever, Louis CK and Chris Rock and them. Sarcasm, droll humor, whatever whatever. I laugh at that. But there’s something to be said for dick jokes and fart jokes.

Anyway, here’s some butt-related jokes from the past three or four months of comics that I have been looking for an excuse to post (gotcha), and then a classic one about dirty butts from Dragon Ball that I tripped over recently.

Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro’s Toriko 4 (volume one is three bucks until midnight tonight, give it a spin):

Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece chapter 663:

James Stokoe’s Orc Stain 7:

Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro’s Toriko 178:

Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball 1:

(i think the Orc Stain one might even be a reference to a similar, but fart-less, scene from Moebius & Jodorowsky’s The Incal, which would be amazing)

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buckshot blogging: akira toriyama, static shock, chew, breaking bad, naruto

September 7th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Static’s back. Have you heard?

Static is one of those series that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s the hands down best updating of Peter Parker thus far, and since Spider-Man is the best expression of a superhero (it’s not Batman, chuckles, Spider-Man is a genuine everyman fantasy character), that’s saying a lot.

Anyway, I was most interested in Static Shock #1 out of DC’s New 52 books that are launching this week. (DCnU looks and tastes like poop when you type it, so chill with that.) It was equal parts interest and trepidation. I mean, DC has managed to screw up everything else relating to Milestone except the trades of previously printed material, you know? What’s next? Ed Benes on Icon?

As it turns out, my fears were pretty much unfounded. Here’s page two of the issue, the moment I decided I would enjoy reading it:

And man, Static is such a goofball and this is exactly what I was hoping to see. Well, not exactly–that’s definitely hyperbole, but as far as the platonic ideal of a comic featuring Virgil Hawkins goes, I’ve got to tip my hat to John Rozum, Scott McDaniel, Jonathan Glapion, and Guy Major. This was a pretty good stab, and enough to make me commit to buying the issues at $3. It’s well worth your time. You can cop it here.

I wrote about Akira Toriyama drawing fight scenes in Dragon Ball, more specifically DBZ for ComicsAlliance. Dude is super talented and I finally figured out a way to say so without just saying “I like how Vegeta effortlessly murks this guy right here.”

I like how Vegeta effortlessly murks this guy right here.

He’s such a thug. ~swoon~

Buy Dragon Ball Z, or just v22 if you want to see this scene.

I wrote a post about how I don’t really dig on steampunk and you know what happened? I went and read a steampunk comic book that I really dug. What’re the odds, man? Here’s a page from it, though, and I think you’ll see why I dug it:

Art team: pencils by David López, inks by Álvaro López, Nathan Fairbairn on colors, and Jared Fletcher on letters. Words team: G Willow Wilson, who I’ve praised before.

This book really clicked for me. It’s a little Cinderella-y, with a twist I saw coming halfway through the book but was still well-executed. I might want to talk about it in-depth later, I dunno, but I liked this page and the book enough to share it. The Lopezes have come a long way since Catwoman, and I remember liking their stuff back then, too. Fairbairn does wonders for their art. It’s like magic.

I’ve been reading/rereading Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto. Five bucks a volume, man. I didn’t expect to be so weak. I’m ten volumes in now. I got to my favorite bit from the cartoon–the Rock Lee vs Gaara fight? It’s either this or this on Hulu, I dunno. (Hulu is down for me right now.)

I loved the Rock Lee vs Gaara fight because it got so bananas in a way I really, really dug. Fast punches, clever gimmicks–it starts with a punch from the front that almost hits the back of Gaara’s head. It’s awesome fight staging. They blew their animation budget on this episode, because everything after looks like crap crapped out of a crap-filled crap butt.

It looks way better in the comic. Here’s three pages that I liked:

From Volume 10, my dudes.

I love page 3, panels four and five. The dust in the air over Gaara’s head in 3, and then Gaara being almost entirely constructed out of speedlines–including his fist, eyebrows, eyes, and mouth–is fantastic. Good looking comic.

I’m writing these while watching Breaking Bad. I download it, so missing it when it airs isn’t really a huge deal, but it’s marathoning this show is crazy. It’s SO tense, but also very, very funny. Walt is so passive-aggressive. Every once and a while he decides to show everyone who wears the pants and whoops look at that, look who’s pants have pee on them. It’s you, Walt. They’re your pants, and you peed in them, because you suck, son.

Jessie Pinkman is incredible this season. Everything he does, man. A+, give that dude some awards.

I liked this bit from Chew 20, now on sale digitally:

Tony’s sister doesn’t curse, you see. Simple, ain’t it?

But quite clever.

I love this image.

Read Good Comics.

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