Back when I was talking about Age of Reptiles as a wordless dinosaur comic eminently enjoyable to read, more than one person also brought up Gon, the dinosaur manga which Kodansha has been (re)publishing since last year.
Gon‘s been bouncing around North American publishers since the nineties, and it’s about a scrappy young dino inexplicably wandering some totally unscientific pre-historic but post-Mesozoic land where he runs into modern creatures like lions, tigers and bears and gets into fights with them.
Masashi Tanaka drew Gon for a decade between 1992 and 2002, and one can assume he did so with international appeal in mind. He omits not only dialogue, but sound effects, so the only real prerequisite to getting it published outside Japan is deciding whether or not you want to bother flopping the artwork. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the book is a critical hit, but it makes a lot of lists paid manga writers like to compile, owing to its all-ages appeal and skillful composition.
Tanaka’s drawing style is studious, contrasting nicely with the light subject matter. He emphasizes realism, and uses judicious inking rather than ever reach for a screentone. I just can’t get into the book too heavily because there’s no real drama and it’s basically the same gag every chapter: Gon is impossibly strong and makes bigger animals scared of him.
But why am I dwelling on about Gon? This post is supposed to be about X-Western Flash, a manga Masashi Tanaka began in 1985, in which he uses his dynamic high-contrast drawing style to depict naked women, cowboys, and gun powder.
It’s one of those things I found and forgot long before I ever started this blog, when my interest in manga was way less social and more centered around finding rad shit solely for my own amusement. Similarly, X-Western Flash seems to be a manga made entirely for one man’s amusement: Tanaka himself. It begins as a sexed up cowboy story in the first of its three volumes, in a more relaxed, sketchier drawing style than Tanaka developed in Gon.
The story centers around an outlaw named Flash, who has a broad smile, a way with the ladies, and a $100,000 bounty on his head. And in this first volume, his adventures seem relatively generic, as Flash allies with a female gunman to journey through an inhospitable expanse of the Old West, getting laid along the way.
Things begin to take a turn for the surreal in the second volume, in which Flash is hunted down by a character bearing what cannot be a coincidental likeness to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando. Now get ready, because things are about to get a little weirder.
As John Matrix pursues Flash, he eventually bursts into an empty barn, where an angry woman takes off her clothes and begins to fellate him. I can’t read Japanese, so I don’t understand this part. I bet if I could read Japanese, I still wouldn’t understand it.
As John is being fellated, Flash crashes through a hole in the top of the barn, and… begins to take the buxom lass from behind. John doesn’t seem to have a problem with this. In fact, the three tersely converse with one another for the next few pages, until John goes ahead and tries something stupid: lifting his (other) rifle.
Flash catches him and shoots John dead, finishes with the lady character, and rides off into the sunset. This is only the first chapter of volume two.
Though the plot becomes steadily more unreal, this volume begins to mirror Gon more overtly in terms of technique. The linework is less sketchy, and the backgrounds become more photo-realistic. The word balloon count also goes down dramatically, with silent stretches of pages brimming solely with action.
By the third and final volume, X-Western Flash has utterly submitted to the whims of its author, bearing no trace of the gritty realism found in the beginning of the series. In one of the stories Flash gets caught up in a strange occult group trying to summon a demon. In an almost completely wordless chapter, Flash runs into an annoying illusionist who magically transports him to a stage show and forces him to become an assistant.
About halfway through volume three, the earth unexpectedly splits open and Flash falls deep underground, happening upon a dying dinosaur who passes along a giant egg to him. He carries the egg into town, where it hatches and a talking dinosaur baby bearing a striking resemblance to Gon comes out.
Flash finds the little guy more than a little annoying. After nearly giving his life to save a human, Flash develops a newfound respect for the dino, and the two decide to go their separate ways. Fin.
X-Western Flash is only three volumes long and filled with more gobsmacking moments than every licensed manga I’ve read in the last three years combined. It’s gorgeous, unpredictable, offensive, and hilarious.
It’s exactly the sort of comic that American manga audiences don’t think gets made anymore, when in fact it’s merely the sort of manga that doesn’t get licensed anymore. Big difference.
I’m starting to realize how lonely this corner of the manga blogosphere really is. I spent around twenty minutes googling some kind of confirmation that I wasn’t the first person to blog about this manga in English. It looks like I am, and that doesn’t seem right, especially given how long Gon has been available in English print editions.