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ONE & Murata’s One-Punch Man: Pure Cape Comics

September 26th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

One-Punch Man is an ONE & Yusuke Murata joint. It runs in Weekly Shonen Jump (preview pack here), an anthology of boys’ comics that’s currently serializing Tite Kubo’s Bleach, Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece, a colorized version of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z, and several other series. The gist is simple and enjoyable: Saitama wanted to be a hero, so he trained. He trained so hard that he actually became capable of ending any fight in a single punch. He dreams of having a glorious, devastating battle, but it doesn’t happen. It can’t happen. He’s too good. He’s Slacker Superman, and he’s in a gag comic.

A big part of my enjoyment of OPM is that ONE & Murata clearly love the same things I do about superheroes and shonen comics, but have no patience for the nonsense that infests both types. So OPM feels very lean and easy-going, but explodes into incredibly enjoyable high action.

Chapter twenty-six came out this week and is the finest cape comic I’ve read in ages. I try to avoid hyperbole, and that sounds hyperbolic, but dig:

Mumen Rider is a Class C hero. His power is that he has a bicycle and moves like JUSTICE CRASH!, where he throws a bicycle at someone, or JUSTICE TACKLE!, when he tackles someone. He’s a normal dude with a heart of gold, but hearts of gold and bicycles only take you so far against a nigh-invincible Deep-Sea King. A wise man knows his limitations and acts accordingly.

The Deep-Sea King, he of the heart nipples and massive strength, has spent the past few chapters tearing through every hero in sight, including ones with names. He hammers Genos, Saitama’s cyborg sorta sidekick, and is ready to finish the job when a JUSTICE CRASH! grabs his attention. He manhandles Mumen Rider, Looney Tunes-style, by simply intercepting an attack and beating Mumen Rider against the ground repeatedly.

one-punch-man - 01

But Mumen Rider stands up again.

What makes a hero? Is it the powers? The tortured past? The borderline-authoritarian insistence that you know right from wrong better than anyone else? Or is it something else? For me, growing up, it was scenes like this, when someone looks at injustice, holds up a hand, and says “No,” no matter the risk that entails. It echoes through Frank Miller’s Sin City, the Michelinie/McFarlane Spider-Man, and even a little bit in Jim Lee-era X-Men. It’s all over Hiromu Arakawa’s Full Metal Alchemist. You can see it in real life heroes. A hero is someone who is willing to throw their life away to protect someone else, regardless of their level of skill or destiny. You get up out of your seat and on your feet and you tell them people “No.”

That near-suicidal courage is inspiring. It’s a reminder that we’re not alone, that we’re all in this together, and that one man can make a difference if he tries. It’s hope. Something works as it should in our fallen world. And so:

one-punch man - 02

When Mumen Rider showed up, these people were excited, but confused. They’re locked in a shelter to hide from Deep-Sea King’s attack, and they’ve seen him utterly dominate another, higher-ranked hero. They know that Mumen Rider has no chance. But a little bit of courage, a little bit of confidence, goes a long way. They believe because he believes.

Mumen Rider has no chance. Deep-Sea King clobbers him effortlessly. But in taking a stand, Mumen Rider did exactly what a hero should do. He held the line.

one-punch-man - 04

Saitama catches Mumen Rider before he falls. Saitama tells him “Good job. Nice fight,” and carefully lays him on the ground. Saitama understands and respect sacrifice. In a way, Mumen Rider is the hero Saitama wishes he could be. He wants that glory. So he treats Mumen Rider with the respect and tenderness that he has not just earned, but deserves.

There’s a few pages left after this sequence, but that panel of Saitama catching Mumen Rider? That’s the real cliffhanger. That’s what’s going to get you hype, because it’s a moment for you to reflect. You know that Saitama is invincible. You know that he only gets beaten in his dreams. You know that he’s a little dumb, but genuinely kind. You know that he’s a hero. You know that heroes win, especially in cape comics, and you know exactly how Saitama wins his fights.

Deep-Sea King has caused a massive amount of destruction, shown a callous disregard for life, and generally acted a fool because he can’t be stopped. He’s a bully.

Here comes Justice.

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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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The Cipher 03/16/11: “Peace to the number 7. Everybody else get the 4 9 3 11.”

March 16th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

no question

created: I haven’t talked about digital comics in what, like six whole hours? So I talked about that some, I pushed some art, and talked that Milestone talk over the past week.
-Digital comics: either they’re a threat or they aren’t. You can’t have it both ways.

-Xombi 1 gets a preview. I’m writing this post late enough that I already read all my comics, and my predictions came true. John Rozum and Frazer Irving gave DC their best creative success since that issue of Batman & Robin where Damian hit Joker with a crowbar.

-Me and David Uzumeri take on Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s Joe the Barbarian. tl;dr: I liked Sean Murphy’s half of the book.

-Jonah Hex has had some ill artists.


ch-ch-blaow, end of session

consumed: This has been a week of weeks, man. Somebody needs to let me hold a number two pencil, ’cause they testing. I’m ready for the weekend, but I can’t sleep it away like I did last weekend.

-Ron Wimberly is doing Ninjaid for charity. In his own words:

On March 11th, 2011 a great earthquake struck 130 kilometers off the east coast of Oshiko Peninsula, Tohouku Japan. This earthquake caused great destruction to Japan.

My work, particularly GratNin, has benefited beyond measure from the culture of Japan.

Starting today, I will draw a GratNin (16×22.5 cm) every afternoon for the next 30 days and post it here. I will reward every donation of $35 or more made from this site, with the button above, with one of those original GratNin drawings posted or to be posted here.

The proceeds will go to Red Cross via Paypal.

thank you for your generosity.

Sincerely,
Ron

Good cause, ill art, win-win. The iFanboys have the lowdown on other relief efforts, and Deb Aoki at About.Manga has a few, too.

-I watched the tsunami footage live on Al Jazeera’s youtube page the night all that went on. One of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.

-I really appreciate Takehiko Inoue’s Smile series. It’s such a simple thing, just quick sketches of mostly children smiling, but it’s really nice. I dunno.

-My main homegirl, editor, and karaoke addict Laura Hudson is doing karaoke 7 days a week (actually 12) and blogging about it for the Portland Mercury. Here’s the category. She’s crazy, the posts are great, and I’d stage an intervention but this is awesome.

-I started watching Community. It’s pretty okay. It took a while to find its legs, but now it’s pretty good. I need to start season 2 pretty soon. It’s at its best when it’s doing straight comedy rather than romance antics, though. “Will they or won’t they?” who cares

-I know I keep just barely mentioning Killzone 3 on here, but it’s fascinating (and I play it a few nights a week so it’s always fresh on my mind). But here’s the thing. I had a game the other night where I was like 32-54, or 26-41, or something like that. I got chewed up by any reasonable standard. My kills/death ratio is like .49. But. I spent those matches having a gang of fun, coordinating with a friend to get things done, and generally taking part. I captured points, repaired ammo boxes, whatever whatever. When I’d play Call of Duty and get eaten up like that, I’d be getting mad. In Killzone, I just keep on pushing, taking L after L, but enjoying every minute of it. Even if you’re getting blasted, you can still support your team, capture game objectives, and generally help get things done. This is a good thing, a tremendously good thing, and more than welcome in this genre. You can find your strengths. My strengths are running into bullets, drawing fire, and getting in-game objectives done. Maybe yours are different.

-No, I haven’t gotten back to Persona 3 Portable yet. Tonight, I think. I keep starting novels, like real novels with no pictures or nothing, and read those before bed, which is my prime gaming time. Life is so hard you guys :(

-Pharoahe Monch’s WAR (We Are Renegades) leaked the other day. I listened to it five times a row that day. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s cop on sight, and I keep checking Amazon to see if the mp3 page is going live so I can buy it. I dunno if this will work or be annoying or whatever, but Monch’s PR dude sent me this streaming clip of “Assassins,” which features Royce da 5’9″ and Jean Grae. That’s three of my favorite emcees on one track.
Assassins” feat. Jean Grae & Royce Da 5’9 by duckdown

-Here’s why I listen to rap, courtesy of Nickel Nine: “You claiming that you flow like water, but y’all niggas Evian backwards.” Oh my.

-Raekwon’s Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang is… okay. It’s not as good as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, which is I think my main problem with it. That said, it starts off real strong, as seen in the slightly NSFW below, wobbles in the middle, peters out, and then comes back strong for that joint with Black Thought. The Nas track didn’t impress me.

-You want to cop Frank Ocean’s nostalgia,ULTRA. Here’s a download link. Cover art below.


Ocean is nice, and this absurdly smooth R&B album from the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All crew sort of puts a bullet into the meme of “Oh, all they talk about is rape and murder and gaybashing, but they’re so young and talented that I feel compelled to write a two thousand word piece on why it’s okay/not okay to listen to them.”

-”There Will Be Tears” is brutal, fair warning. It’ll kick your legs right out from under you.

-It’s like Andre 3000 said on “Aquemini.” “Now, question: is every nigga with dreads for the cause? Is every nigga with golds for the fall? Naw… So don’t get caught in appearance. It’s Outkast, Aquemini, another Black experience.”

-Something else Andre said on Aquemini:

Three in the morning, yawnin’, dancin’ under street lights/ We chillin’ like a villain and a nigga feelin’ right/ in the middle of the ghetto on the curb, but in spite/ all of the bullshit we on our back starin at the stars above/ (aww man) Talkin bout what we gonna be when we grow up/ I said what you wanna be, she said, “Alive” (hmm)/ It made me think for a minute, then looked in her eyes/ I coulda died, time went on, I got grown/ Rhyme got strong, mind got blown, I came back home/ to find lil Sasha was gone/ Her mama said she with a nigga who be treating her wrong.

-I’ve been playing nostalgia,ULTRA and Pac Div’s Mania on repeat, basically. I like Pac Div a lot, and Mania is on point. Grab the album here and the cover art rightchea:

The full-size art is like 1000px square. Dunno why–250×250 is fine, isn’t it? Smaller, too, which makes the mp3s smaller. Hi-def album art, I guess. Check out the back cover art on the official site.


blood shot in that direction, cipher

David: Hulk 30.1, Thunderbolts 155, Uncanny X-Force #5.1, Xombi 1
Esther: Knight and Squire 6
Tiny Titans 38 Mmmmmmaybe Power Girl 22
Gavin: Batman 708, Knight & Squire 6, Darkwing Duck 10, Avengers Academy 11, Deadpool MAX History Of Violence, Iron Man 2.0 2, Thunderbolts 155, Ultimate Comics Avengers vs New Ultimates 2, Uncanny X-Force 5.1

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Best of 2010: Two Surprises

January 5th, 2011 Posted by david brothers

Acme Novelty Library 20, Afrodisiac, American Vampire, It Was the War of the Trenches, King City, Parker: The Outfit, Pluto, Thunderbolts, Twin Spica, Vagabond 9


chris ware – acme novelty library #20

official page

I’ve never been able to get into Chris Ware. I’ve liked the odd bit of context-less art. I think there was a New Yorker cover that I liked and maybe some spot illustrations elsewhere. I could recognize the skill, it just never hooked me. I even bought Jimmy Corrigan at one point, and it’s sitting in my closet unfinished. I tried it, didn’t like it, dropped it.

Acme 20, though. I haven’t read any of the prior volumes, and to be honest, I barely even know what the series is about. I’d heard some advance buzz from some reliable friends, though, and that led to me throwing it on my Amazon list, which is where I put everything I’m thinking of getting. My good buddy Lauren Davis picked it up for my birthday as a surprise (she is the first person to a) reveal that she knows I have a wish list and b) actually buy something off it).

I read it on a long train ride and was blown away. I knew nothing about it going in, other than it was about a dude and each page was a single day in one year of his life. Acme 20 goes from pre-verbal to death for this guy Lint, and it’s just an amazing work of comics art.

Rather than doing the cheap thing and presenting a highlight reel of Lint’s life, where we see him win at hide and seek, be prom king, marry a hot model, or whatever, Ware instead focuses on a range of events and emotions. We see sadness, happiness, and later on, we find out that some things we’ve seen are far from the whole picture.

Ware uses the page-a-day to his benefit, hiding facts and truths between the pages and between the years. Reality slips and slides as time goes on, with jarring shifts in Lint’s status happening completely off-screen and sometimes never even being explained at all. You have to take things as they come, a lot like you do in real life.

In the end, Ware didn’t make a story about lies or sadness or guilt or happiness or whatever. He just told the story of one guy’s life, for better or for worse. And it was fantastic.

kou yaginuma – twin spica

preview, official page

When I was a kid, I was really, really into certain things. I liked arachnids, especially scorpions (in theory). I liked turtles, and even had an ornery pet painted turtle. I liked drawing. I also really, really liked space. I never had a telescope, but I tore through library books about astronomy. Reading about stars, thinking about walking on the moon, and checking out comparison charts of planets… I ate all of that up. It was cool, and really hard to truly understand. It was so different, right? But you grow up and you grow out of things. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and drew something, you know? Things fade out.

I hadn’t thought about that in years, but Twin Spica brought it all back. I didn’t expect to like it. The art looked way too cute, the lead was this tiny little girl, and it didn’t look like the kind of book where people smoked cigarettes in dark bars and got shot in alleys. I’d seen it around, judged it by its cover, and was like, “Well, maybe if I get bored.”

I got bored one day and read it. Reaction: stunned surprise. Yaginuma made me remember a little bit of what it was a like to be a kid and be endlessly fascinated by the unknown. The endless memorization just because, the spacey daydreams, and just trying to wrap your too-small hands around as huge of an idea as “outer space” come across with a clarity I didn’t expect.

There’s a real love for the subject matter in Twin Spica, but rather than being cloying, overly subservient, and impenetrable, it’s delivered in a way that the love is transferred to the reader. You can tell exactly how much Asumi, the main character, enjoys space. It’s a little bittersweet, too, due to the presence of Mr. Lion. He’s the representation of the dangers of space travel and past tragedy, but even then, he’s there to support Asumi and nurture her interest in space. In the end, her sacrifices and setbacks stand right next to her triumphs and all of it just reinforces her resolve.

As far as showing you what it’s like to be a kid and just entranced with something, just positively drowning and not even caring because it’s endlessly fascinating and infinitely wonderful, Twin Spica nails it.

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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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Pretty Girls: Kenichi Sonoda

August 27th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Kenichi Sonoda: Wiki, imdb, a pretty good summary of his career, and an impossibly ancient shrine
Books: Gunsmith Cats, Gunsmith Cats: Burst
Why? The thing about cheesecake is that there’s exactly two types. There’s the trite, ugly, boring, unattractive, and lame stuff–your Ed Beneses, Zenescopers, and the like. They take a by the numbers approach to sexiness that actually saps any sexiness from the image. Two Boobs + Two Butt Cheeks+ Flimsy Thong Plus Arched Back = Any Given Issue of Birds of Prey. The other kind, the stuff that comes from your Frank Chos, Adam Hughes, Amanda Conners, and Adam Warrens, has a certain care and spontaneity that the other stuff doesn’t. The difference is that the latter group actually cares about what they’re doing. That care led to them really pushing and getting good at what they do.

I’d put Kenichi Sonoda in the latter group. He has his quirks/fetishes/interests (they are guns, cars, girls, and girls who wear pantyhose, in that order), he has his downsides (the occasional flagrant panty shot, prizing sexiness over sensibility, Minnie May), and he is absolutely technically proficient, but what raises him above artists like Benes is that he’s clearly put a tremendous amount of thought into what he’s doing. His style is probably exactly what you think of when someone says anime or manga (big eyes, small mouth, big boobs, small waists), but he’s not as generic as he might seem at first glance. He’s got a great grasp of body language (ks-sleepy.jpg, look at her slump!), he can actually work facial expressions (look at that saleslady in ks-asteal.jpg and tell me you can’t see the “cha-ching!” in her face), and the women wear actual, if occasional impractical, clothes (Rally in ks-copkilla.jpg, for example). He’s not just an artist drawing empty T&A. He’s making an effort to make his characters real. He’s drawing typical cute stuff, but with just a little more talent and care than you’d expect.

An aside: Gunsmith Cats is really, really good stuff, but Minnie May, and what she represents, makes me real uncomfortable. Without her, it’s a rocking manga about girls, guns, and fast cards. With her, well… you’re gonna get some funny looks if you read this funnybook in public. (no pedo)



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The Cipher 08/11/10

August 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-Hey, I wrote some stuff. Maybe you missed it. I reviewed the Scott Pilgrim game, heaped some pro-black/pro-fessional praise on Marc Bernardin, Adam Freeman, and Afua Richardson’s Genius, and wrote a surprisingly well-received piece on manga piracy.

-I didn’t do it, but this comic about a bee by Raina Telgemeier is fantastic.

-I’m still reading Shade (I’m up to volume 3, which I’m starting this weekend), but I also picked up Chi’s Sweet Home and Peepo Choo from Vertical, Inc. Jormungand 4 gets in today, I think, and it’ll probably remain my favorite funny action comic book about child soldiers.

-Unforgiven on Blu-ray for eight bucks? That was Purchase On Sight. Wow.

-The countdown isn’t over. There’s one left. 1 Reader, maybe, or 1 Love.

Oh, what, comics come out today? Okay I guess we can talk about that.


David Easterman: Who cares about comical books? (but if that Green Lantern book Gav is buying is The Shield in Space, I might have to start picking that up).
Esther Cobblepot: Definitely: Batgirl 13 Maybe: Birds of Prey 4, Zatanna 4, Doc Savage 5
Jacob Gavin, Jr.: Buzzard 3, Booster Gold 35, Green Lantern Emerald Warriors 1, Justice League Generation Lost 7, Welcome To Tranquility One Foot In The Grave 2, Dark Wolverine 89, Invincible Iron Man 29, Steve Rogers Super-Soldier 2, Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 1

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3 Formative Works: Akira

August 7th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I don’t know if I could separate the film and comic versions of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira in my head if I tried. They’re both vastly important, but for different (and sometimes complementary) reasons. Akira was one of the first anime flicks I ever watched, and it made an indelible impression on me. I still have never seen Blade Runner, but I probably feel about Akira like other people do about Blade Runner. I had a tape I dubbed from the video store, the official cassette, the special edition DVD (with the tin), and now I own the Blu-ray, except the dub is different, so I went ahead and bootlegged a 1080p video file with the old school dub, too. I like this movie, man.

I came to the comic later, and like everything I read back then, I read it in fits and spurts. I read maybe four whole issues when I was a kid, all of them set before the big disaster struck Tokyo. They’re long gone now, but they were pretty stunning. They definitely stood alongside Sin City as being comics that were vastly better than the other comics I owned, even if I was too young to articulate why. It was a little more grown-up, a little more edgy, and Steve Oliff’s colors were amazing. I don’t think I even really knew what manga was at this point–I’d heard about Japanese comics, and my comics-reading uncle had lived in Japan so I was up on some stuff, but I didn’t really know about manga as something different from regular comics. I just knew that Akira was something special, different from the movie and possibly better.

In the late ’90s, I picked up two of the hardcovers that Graphitti Designs put out. The covers are almost identical to the Dark Horse versions. The local comic shop guy was your typical comic shop douchebag, unkempt and rude, and he let the two HCs, which were limited editions and behind the glass, go for fifteen each. Today, they’re worth ten times that. I ended up with books 2 and 4, set before and after everything goes wrong. They did little to show me exactly what the series was about, because I had two sets of 400 non-consecutive pages out of a series that ran over 2000 pages, but it did just increase my fascination with the series as a whole.

Everything was interesting. The draftsmanship, the way Tetsuo swallowed pills, the insane sex scene, the flashbacks, the ruined city… it really hit me in a way most sci-fi doesn’t. I’ve only ever had two holy grails in comics, books that I absolutely had to have at any (reasonable) price. Flex Mentallo was one, but I didn’t know that existed until what, 2005? When I got grown and could afford to buy whatever comics I wanted, Akira was the first and most important holy grail there was.

Finding more of the old Graphitti HCs proved to be almost impossible. Websites that listed them didn’t respond to emails, eBay was a joke, and you’d think that these books never existed. In 2004, Barnes & Noble issued a hardcover version of the Dark Horse volume 1, and I picked that up. It sucked that it was in black & white, but hey: 1) hardcover and 2) I had to have it. I held out hope that I would find the Graphitti versions for the rest, but eventually gave up and started buying the Dark Horse editions… right after they went mostly out of print. That’s no big deal now that Kodansha is rereleasing the series, but a few years ago, it was massively frustrating.

Finding and reading Akira in its entirety has been a quest some fifteen years in the making. I only picked up the sixth and final volume in early ’08, and that was after some serious searching. I can’t think of another series I’ve pursued off and on for that long. Scooping up the complete Sin City was easy, except for finding a copy of the old school Family Values printing. Flex Mentallo took a few eBay auctions. Akira took effort, for one reason or another.

It was worth the effort, though. Akira is one of my top three favorite books, and a pitch perfect example of how to do a sprawling, huge story without screwing it all up in the end. The art is off the charts, with consistently great layouts and inventive storytelling. It’s probably akin to Cerebus, except if Cerebus was great from the beginning and if Dave Sim didn’t go insane around the middle. It works, and at some 2000 pages, it really shouldn’t work. It should be bloated and ugly and drag, but it doesn’t.

What’s interesting about the English adaptation of Akira is that it goes against conventional manga translating wisdom in a few ways. It’s both flipped and in color, already a tremendous departure from the original work. Jo Duffy’s translation was meant to be appealing to American audiences first, which allowed her a certain degree of freedom in playing with the dialogue. All of this was done with the permission and approval of Otomo and Kodansha, of course, but if you had to make a list of changes to books that manga fans don’t like, it’d probably go 1) flipped, 2) color, and 3) localization. Not to mention its trim size (or more accurately, trim sizes across the various formats) and the fact that it was a computer-colored, story-driven manga released in the early ’90s, when garishly colored, art-driven superhero comics ruled the roost. Akira, in America, shouldn’t be what it is, and yet… here we are.

(An aside: I was at New People in Japantown when I saw a familiar logo on an unfamiliar spine. It turns out that Kodansha took Marvel/Epic’s Akira volumes, reflopped them, relettered them in Japanese, and re-released them in Japan in some very nice slipcased volumes. Every time I go in that building I am tempted to buy them. They have three or four, I think. I’m far from an expert in Japanese editions, but I’ve never heard of companies doing that before. You can see the covers here, along with some incorrect data [it's definitely the Epic colorization]. Covers are ill, though, right? Someone talk me out of buying them.)

I haven’t talked at all about what Akira is about, have I? It doesn’t really matter. I could do that at any time, about any scene. The images in this post are from issue fourteen of the Epic run, one of the ones I distinctly remember poring over as a kid. The only thing the pages I’ve excerpted are missing is the crazy ill way Otomo would draw moving headlights, something that made it into the film and imprinted onto my mind as something awesome as a young age. (It only happens twice in this chapter, on Nezu’s front and rear lights.) But look at that atrium on akira-01.jpg, the body language on akira-02.jpg, the comedy on akira-03.jpg, the car on akira-05.jpg, the ridiculous camera shifts in akira-08.jpg (panels 7-9 make me swoon), Kay’s pose in panel three in akira-09.jpg, or the way Otomo keeps showing the windup and the effect, but not the impact, or–

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Akira is a triumph, one of those comics I try to reread at least once a year and fall in love with a little more each time. It’s over twenty years old, and while it has definitely aged some, it still beats the pants off a lot of things we consider quality nowadays.

And it has the best last page in comics, hands down.

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Tokyo Tribes: From Shaolin to Tokyo

August 7th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Well, here’s something I never knew about.

Santa Inoue’s Tokyo Tribes is in the same kind of lane as Samurai Champloo, though it’s a rap and Japanese culture mash-up that takes place in the modern day, rather than a hazy past. I picked up the first volume years ago and liked it well enough, but didn’t pick up the rest, for some reason. Lots of references to Anthony Hamilton in that book, too, which I dug. Inoue’s not hopping on a cheap bandwagon.

Anyway, DJ Muro produced the entirely too expensive import soundtrack CD, and this song here, which I’ve had on a Ghostface Killah compilation for a couple years but never listened to, is on that soundtrack. It was weird to hear Ghostface shouting out “Musashi no kuni” and Trife talking about Tokyo Tribes. But, you know, hip-hop is worldwide.

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5 Series: Children of the Sea

July 23rd, 2010 Posted by david brothers

I talked about the story and relationships of Daisuke Igarashi’s Children of the Sea on Comics Alliance a few weeks back, and I don’t want to go over that again. But, let me tell you what I really like about Children of the Sea, above and beyond the glacial pacing and intricate web of relationships.

I really like the way Igarashi draws fish.

It sounds stupid, but really, you have to take pleasure where you can find it. Everyone in comics has a specialty. Jim Lee has the classic superhero locked down. Eduardo Risso draws beautiful girls. Mike Mignola does creepy better than most. Marcos Martin has ill layouts. Every artist you like probably does at least one thing very well. Igarashi draws oceanlife.

Part of building a believable world is actually creating a believable world. You build comic books from the ground up. If you’re doing the comic book version of Fievel Goes West, you better be able to draw mice. Animal Farm? Learn how to draw pigs. Once you get that down, you can go in and add flourish, whether it’s fantastic background work or high fashion. The focus of your work has to be solid to begin with, or else your work won’t be believable.

Creating a setting you can believe in requires putting in work and getting the basics right. Igarashi is telling a story about the evolution, or destruction, of the ocean. A large portion of it takes place underwater, so if he’s drawing fish that look like a third grader did them in the middle of a sneeze… you’re not going to buy the story. So, by rendering the fish with an appropriate level of detail, you make it easier for someone to get into the story.

This isn’t particularly deep or a revelation at all, is it? It is something that I never really realized until I really put some thought into why I was such a fan of Children of the Sea. It’s not deep or particularly twisty in story. You don’t need a flowchart to figure out what’s going on. It’s not even the kind of action-packed raw violence I like these days. But the craft on display, the way that Igarashi’s attention to detail and clear love of his subject, is what keeps me in.

I’m not saying I don’t like the story. Not even close, honestly. It’s actually a pretty good read and does a fine job of keeping me interested on its own. But the fact that the art is killer does a fantastic job of drawing me into the work. Igarashi has the basics down pat, and it’s obvious. His people aren’t as detailed as the fish, and they generally appear a little more wispy and ethereal than is the norm.

I’m away from my scanner and on my netbook, so I can’t flood this post with images like I wanted to. The official SIGIKKI site has plenty of samples, so click through, or just trust me.

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