People who only read Japanese comics are dweebs.

pepita

I wasn’t sure what expectations to bring to this art book, Pepita: Takehiko Inoue Meets Gaudi, and I’m glad I didn’t formulate any because it wouldn’t have met them.

As if to spite the cover art (a labored Takehiko Inoue drawing of a young blue-eyed Antoni Gaudi) and the subject matter (a trip Inoue took to Spain in order to study the work of this 19th century Catalan architect), Pepita isn’t much more than a playful travelogue, interspersed with far more photos than sketches, and more casual cultural musings than intense study.

This book is for those who can be both interested in Gaudi and Inoue. If you fall into only one camp there’s not enough material here to satisfy you. You’ll get a little of Inoue’s self-reflection about his philosophy of work, but not much. Similarly, you won’t feel sufficiently educated on the life and work of Gaudi, if indeed you knew about him in the first place. So this isn’t the publication I’d recommend to someone fresh off Vagabond or Slam Dunk and rearing to get inside the head of the guy who created them. It’s just a little too plain for that, too straightforwardly about a Japanese guy in Spain looking at weird architecture that resonates with him as he takes in a culture different from his own.

As someone already familiar with the Catalan region of Spain by way of my own heritage, I found Pepita achieved a golden ratio of disparate elements to keep me interested the whole way through. And I’m no stranger to the power of evocative architecture, though it isn’t something I’m very educated about. So being able to read this book was an opportunity to maybe learn a little, get to know Takehiko Inoue on a more personal level, and get out of my usual headspaces. Appreciated but I know it won’t be for everyone.

Review copy provided by Viz Media.

frontier

Frontier #1 was the debut publication of Ryan Sands’ Youth in Decline imprint, and though seeing Russian enigma Uno Moralez’ bitmap artwork collected in print for the first time is exciting, the mechanical details of its presentation ultimately work against it.

One doesn’t even have to finish the book before realizing something doesn’t feel quite right… here Moralez’ high contrast pixels appear too blurry to achieve full effect, given the gray tone of the paper as well as the softness of the risograph printing process. The result is subdued impact of evocative images originally designed to be witnessed on an LCD screen.

The book is still a praiseworthy artifact of an eclectic artist we all want to see more of, but it’s disappointing to report the labor-intensive way in which it was printed doesn’t end up serving Moralez’ digital style all that well.

marcelineandthescreamqueens

Yeah, I read the Adventure Time comics. And one of the things the Marceline and the Scream Queens trade does right is it includes the backup stories from the original issues, so you get to see cartoonists like Faith Erin Hicks and Polly Guo tackle the AT aesthetic with their own flair.

The Adventure Time comics all get a passing grade, I keep reading them and they’re filled with straight ahead antics as you’d expect, but they lack the enthusiasm for design and multiplicity of ideas that makes the television show such a phenomenon. I suppose on some level it’s inevitable, given the amount of people collaborating on the comics is considerably smaller than the amount working on the show. They just don’t have the sprawling feel of the cartoon proper.

moa-192b

Moa-192B

Pyramid Scheme and Moa-192B are publications from Decadence Comics, a two-person collective based in the UK. They had me thinking for days afterward about the role (and many disadvantages of) language in comics. These wonderful science fiction stories don’t need to be spoiled with literal explanation and they aren’t: they’re wordless symbolic runes with rusty, sandblasted detailing that grasp for evocation. Science fiction where literary meaning is of secondary importance is rapidly becoming my favorite kind. It’s also the hardest to talk about.

destinationx

Destination X by John Martz is a small, short hardback whose pulp-style cover art is unmatched by the workaday Sunday newspaper-like cartooning within. The story, a pleasant and painless one, concerns a simple man obsessed with exceeding the accomplishments of his discredited space-faring grandfather, thought to be insane for reporting the existence of a planet with intelligent alien life. As the story goes on it plays out as you would expect, there’s a surprisingly cruel moment, and it ends plainly. Destination X doesn’t go far enough in any one direction to be a memorable comic story.

Review copy provided by Nobrow Press.

requiemchevaliervampire

I thought screw it because Heavy Metal appears to be shifting their focus further and further away from presenting European comics to a NA audience and because who knows when the 12th chapter will be released in France and then collected in the UK.

I imported Requiem Vampire Knight tome 11 from France. So now I have a bloody monster comic I unapologetically enjoy reading in a hardcover format whose printing quality exceeds the English language editions in every conceivable way. It’s how the comic should be read, not in easily-wrinkled glossy magazine pages or poor quality trades whose glue binding becomes undone when opened all the way.

Ledroit’s heavy metal album cover-like comic book paintings of a monster war in Hell continue to grow more and more ridiculous, undoubtedly filled with Pat Mill jokes and puns I can’t read because they’re in French (and I have to admit I don’t miss them all that much anyway.) It’s all about Ledroit’s imagination being let loose in this deranged atmosphere, the kind of fantasy that will never be incorporated into a video game or movie or 800 page novel so this is the only place where it can exist: in comics.

fukitor

This is number ten of a comic drawn, inked, colored, printed, assembled and shipped by some lone guy in Virginia. He doesn’t put his name or any biographical information anywhere in it. Not even a timestamp. The result is a single word of description: Fukitor. An ageless brand, a mark of madness no one dare take any credit for.

If Requiem is channeling the painted spectacle of a heavy metal album cover, Fukitor is channeling something closer to Gwar. It’s recklessly intentioned to entertain with the incorporation of as many perverse bodily fluids possible. Thoroughly cruel and pointless. I can’t stop reading it, and if you want more information, check out Jim Rugg’s interview with the creator, also filled with more perverse images than I dare post here.

Seven Points: Search engine optimization might be against my personal belief system.

deforge1If you’re looking for good comics to read Pendleton Ward saved you some effort by collecting such a talented crew to work on Adventure Time. Guys like Andy Ristaino, Jesse Jacobs, Jesse Moynihan and most resoundingly, Michael DeForge, create their own work which surpasses the hit cartoon show in every qualitative way.

Exploring Michael DeForge’s imagination in comic book format is a real, actual adventure. It has a pervasive otherness to it that’d make Kazuo Umezu blush, but it can’t be drilled down to a single idea or formula. The more you read, the more sense you make of his visual abstractions, their exotic, sprawling vocabulary infecting your own imagination.

And he just keeps making the stuff. A lot of it, like Kid Mafia, Incinerator, and his Eisner-nominated Ant Comic, is freely available to read online without DRM or a kludgy Flash interface.

deforge2Recently Koyama Press put out Very Casual, a 150-page book of DeForge comics. Very Casual collects work from different sources, some more recent than others, and it’s not so much a unified tome but a physical realization of the fact that people need to start collecting these DeForge comics in one place because they’re stunning, great to read, and have already had enormous influence on artists everywhere.

supermag

It seems a rule now that when Jim Rugg puts out a book it begs a dialogue that’s as much about its structure as it is about content. You can’t ignore that Supermag looks and feels like a magazine, that it’s very thoroughly and enthusiastically designed, but unlike his previous work on Afrodisiac and Notebook you probably won’t have an account for how it’s all supposed to come together and be one thing.

I think that was intentional. Reading Supermag is a double-barrelled shotgun blast of both pop art and comic art, and the hole it leaves in your wall will be in the shape of the guy who fired the gun. Supermag reflects Rugg’s personal obsessions with everything from comics history to styles of page numbering. It often begins a story with no end and freely dashes from one subject to the next, denying you any sense of continuity or closure.

Supermag exists to be thumbed through, to be picked up and put down multiple times, to sit on your desk as an agreeable object. And for people seduced by Rugg’s design-heavy approach to image making, it’s a must-see item.

Review copy of Supermag provided by AdHouse Books.

Baoh

I like how deliberately unattractive Hirohiko Araki designed the protagonist of his early 1984 manga Baoh. The hero has all the visual grace of a rotting corpse. Skin on his face is flaking off in big chunks, some fleshy matter hangs over one of his eyes pendulously, and his lips are dry and cracking. His mutant biology is totally coming undone, not exactly the character design you’d expect from an artist who’d go on to create the JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure franchise of revolving dreamboat protagonists.

Similar to those early volumes of Battle Angel Alita, it’s insightful to look at the beginning career of a manga artist, when they’re established enough to be getting stuff published but they’re still discovering their own style. You can see the things that appear to be included by influence or reflex, tendencies that will be cast off in later work as the artist distills exactly what they want to do and what they want their manga to look like. For example, later in the Baoh story this stodgy old man appears:

baoh2

He’s a derivative example of the ojiisan character archetype found in manga from the sixties and seventies, not very congruous with the graceful figure drawing that would mark Araki’s later career. You could paste that ugly face into some old Go Nagai comic and it would be perfectly at home. In fact, speaking of Go Nagai…

Baoh

Hirohiko Araki essentially makes Violence Jack, the giant savage anti-hero from Go Nagai’s seventies manga, the final enemy in Baoh. Every detail, from his wild hair, pointy teeth, outrageous phsyique, and deep-set eyebrows stems from Go Nagai’s original character design.

Araki would have been age ten when Go Nagai’s first runaway success, the controversial erotic-themed Harenchi Gakuen was in the middle of being published in Weekly Shonen Jump. There’s no way he wouldn’t have been aware of his work, and as we see in Baoh, he took a great deal of early inspiration from it.

baohjjba

In a stray panel of Baoh (left) you can see Araki exert more effort than usual in rendering the Violence Jack lookalike character’s muscled arm. It’s the only time in the entire manga he really takes the time to do it, but it’s a hint of what’s to become a major Araki pre-occupation for his twenty-six-years-and-counting run on JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: drawing musculature with an incredible attention to detail, emphasizing its rippling texture in ways that are convincing to the eye if not biologically realistic. He’s not the only mangaka to do it, but he’s certainly established a style entirely of his own creation, transcending those early influences we see in Baoh, and the Tetsuo Hara influence we see in early JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure (right).

One of the pleasures of reading Hirohiko Araki’s manga is watching him artistically discover himself in the process of making it.

Seven Points: Ugly is more interesting.

1.  It’s great if you can get paid to write about whatever it is you write about online, but doing so gets overly romanticized by lots of bloggers.

Shortly before passing away after a heroic struggle with cancer, Roger Ebert wrote the ways in which he hoped to mobilize in spite of his worsening condition. Among plans which will never see fruition, he remarked:

What’s more, I’ll be able at last to do what I’ve always fantasized about doing: reviewing only the movies I want to review.

His fantasy is our reality.

2.  Sitting Target (1972) is hateful and empty, a dimestore pulp novel brought to life with performances by iconic chubby tough guy Oliver Reed and a charming Ian McShane. Reed’s sociopathy, a sparse yet effective soundtrack, and an automatic handgun deserving of co-star billing all combine into some kind of seventies ugly, let me tell you.

Sitting Target

While this film is lumped together with other British crime genera like Get Carter, it’s got no pretense of cool attached to it. Reed plays a snarling beast impossible to root for on any level, the sort of character that might be controversial today because he’s an asshole without a social message attached. And yet, when he lathers up in a tub for the first time in years a boyish grin spreads across his face, making him all the more disturbing.

Sitting Target was only just released on home video in North America a few months ago as a made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive. It’s a puzzling release because European broadcasts on Turner Classic Movies would seem to indicate the movie was shot in 4:3 with a natural palette of organic browns and beiges, but the DVD has a bleach-bypassed widescreen presentation.

3.  Outrage Beyond (2012) is the best thing I’ve seen this year.

Outrage Beyond

Beat Takeshi came back to the yakuza crime genre with Outrage in 2010, a straightforward flick with less mood and artistic leanings than his most-acclaimed work from the nineties. Despite that, and some other problems I talked about when it first came out, the movie was a success and work on a sequel quickly began.

Outrage Beyond improves upon the original because every moment is vital. There’s no fat to trim, even though the film runs close to two hours and moves at a slow pace sure to lose viewers looking for something loud and overblown. In truth, there’s precious little violence in this film. But when it comes it feels real and it hurts.

4.  Outrage Beyond is more about interesting old faces and intense dialogue and immaculately tailored suits than it is about violence. Its appeal lies in the Japanese way it styles a restrained and formalized criminal element.

The scratchy voice and nervous tic in Takeshi’s performance sets him apart from the rest of the more slick cast of characters. He embodies an incongruous pebble in the Yakuza’s shoe. Never the coolest or smartest person in the room. Not good, honorable, or even an anti-hero. Just uncompromising and tired.

When will Outrage Beyond come out over here? 2014? 2015?  I didn’t feel like waiting, and the Japanese release contained English subtitles. It was so worth it.

5. Speaking of waiting, I got tired of waiting around for a not-oversized collection of Technopriests (I’m sure Humanoids will release one eventually), so instead I revisited their affordably-priced-when-it-came-out-but-who-knows-now The Metabarons collection and, yes, it’s still the most operatic space opera comic I ever read.

Metabarons

I can’t think of anything else that comes close, though I must disclaim I’ve never actually watched an entire opera. All I can say is in this comic it’s routine for people to bang their relatives, mutilate themselves, kill babies, and cry out in poetic, furtive lyrics.

Who needs Star Wars when there’s The Metabarons, besides your eight year-old nephew?

6.  This is Yukito Kishiro riffing on Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son in the early pages of Battle Angel Alita.

Battle AngelI was reading the old Viz release of Alita before tackling that Last Order super-omnibus they just put out. Early in the book Alita encounters the following brute. The way Yukito Kishiro draws him is free and loose compared to how his style tightens up over the course of Alita and becomes more of an established, defined thing.

Similar to how Hajime Isayama draws the giants of Attack on Titan, the idea here isn’t to achieve a high degree of consistency between illustrations, it’s to communicate emotion and intensity. Both artists succeed, but I like how Kishiro does it better:

battle-angel-2

Even though the drawings are too warped to be at all realistic, they’re still coherent and compelling with respect to the planar structures of a humanoid head. Whereas it often looks like Isayama sketches oval shapes and puts facial details on them like they were Mr. Potato Head pieces:

Attack on Titan

7.  Attack on Titan continues to resonate in Japan and North America, and I can see why. There are interesting things going on you don’t see repeated ad infinitum in a bunch of other shonen manga. It’s macabre illustrations of giants can get in your head, they communicate an extreme wrongness that’s disturbing.

But when we aren’t looking at the giants, or strange architecture, or the inventive battling system the humans use to combat the giants, we see a world of wonky, generic anime faces belonging to human characters that are one-dimensional and boring. Attack on Titan is a story that’s imaginative and very nearly half well-written.

Seven Points: Let’s sample a little bit of heaven before descending into hell.

1.  When people refer to an actor’s show-stealing performance it’s most often an exaggeration, a way of saying you appreciate that individual’s charisma/expertise.

Jack Nicholson steals Easy Rider. The movie belongs to him: it gets interesting when he shows up, it makes sense when he’s around, it becomes a chore to watch once he leaves.

Easy Rider No offense to Dennis Hopper or Peter Fonda intended, I respect the hippie-era white guy listlessness they were channeling in their subdued performances. But, Nicholson. Man.

2.  If I ever tried to write about Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity I’d start with the magic of its first four pages.

Multiple Warheads

I’d try to find words to describe the feeling of both serenity and anticipation I got from reading them. The images are relaxed and multitudinous at the same time, laying out an expansive area that assuages the eyes with cartoon simplicity while still feeling vast.

They breathe, and they’re not overwhelmed with a bunch of bad coloring, which for my money is still one of the most offensive thing about mainstream American comics: all that horrible coloring.

Multiple Warheads

The careful details in these pages are presented in creamy pastels so you can glide over them or inspect closely and either option feels completely natural. Reading Alphabet to Infinity is such an easy and lush experience, I’m going to stop trying to describe the magic of it before I embarrass myself.

3.  On Sundays I retreat to my room and get quiet and reflective. By the afternoon I’m flipping through comics I haven’t read in a while. Last Sunday was a Yukinobu Hoshino day.

2001 Nights

Yukinobu Hoshino writes science fiction manga, most often in short stories (probably the ideal format for science fiction, if we’re being honest.)

2001 Nights is a collection of stories that were published in the nineties by Viz Comics. You can get them in either 3 volumes or 10 issues. They deal with space exploration, some are serious and foreboding, some are lighthearted, some are just plain weird. They’re all pretty great.

Yukinobu Hoshino’s expertise is in putting ideas that make you think for a minute into easily digestible narrative chunks. A lot of what you’ll see in the manga isn’t especially well-drawn, though the way he puts his pages together, with huge swaths of black and lots of overt photo referencing, make this feel like a restrained, mature sf comic for adults belonging in some kind of science magazine where you get to read a chapter once every month, instead of all at once like I did on Sunday.

I think my favorite story is the one in which a planet named Lucifer is discovered at the edge of our solar system, and Hoshino puts together a convincing account of how the planet might live up to its namesake. It’s a little indulgent, fetishizing Judeo-Christian religions as obliquely as the West fetishizes Eastern mysticism, but it never strays far enough from Hoshino’s scientific leanings to become totally silly.

2001 Nights

4.  Anime season previews are horrible. For those of you not in the know, a big to-do in the anime blog-o-sphere is to talk at length about your impressions of the first episodes of anime when a new season begins in Japan. It generates a lot of discussion and traffic, so lots of people do it, even the Anime News Network.

The simple truth is that it’s comfortable and easy to muster up the willpower to watch a brand new show for twenty four minutes, get the slightest idea of what it’s about, and yammer on about it while everyone else does the same. There’s no implicit expectation of thoughtfulness or insight, people just match up their raw jabbering reaction with each other. And so much anime tv isn’t even a thing, but rather a collection of tropes that eventually might build to a thing, so you can watch 24 minutes and see absolutely nothing new or even slightly challenging.

So this season it happened again and despite my best efforts I noticed it, and like every year the dialogue turned into a discussion of how wacky the ANN forums are, and how fandom sure is an endless hall of stupidity mirrors you can’t help looking down. Except I don’t really want to look down it anymore. It’s exhausting and there’s no reward, except feeling better about yourself if you’re insecure, I guess.

What’s my point, other than criticizing ANN and anime fans because I’m an out of touch (probably jealous) curmudgeon?

5.  My point is if anime is lazy and hackneyed (and it often is), the people writing about it are twice as lazy and hackneyed.

Or else why is so little written about Genius Party and Genius Party Beyond?

Genius Party

Studio 4°C put out these two anthologies of anime shorts 7-8 years ago. They’re made up of fully-formed 15-20 minute nuggets of anime, intensely director-fueled pieces of (dare someone say) art.

I guess ANN did review the first movie, and a couple of anime blogs did, too. But in every writeup I found in google, each short was reviewed with a meager word count in comparison to how long a single ANN episode preview typically runs.

So either people have more to say about a twenty-four minute first episode of pablum than eclectic, visually inventive anime shorts, or…

6.  Otaku don’t care about auteurship.

They don’t care, except in the most broad, simplistic circumstances, like Yoshiyuki “Kill ‘em all” Tomino (a brilliant nickname because he kills so many characters in his stories, you see), and Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell 2 was about his dog, lol!)

I could keep going on, listing otaku shorthand for various anime directors, but this is a depressing activity.

7.  If you think I’m straw-manning because Genius Party and its sequel weren’t licensed in North America, think again.

They both can be imported from Australia. And if people lacked the resources to import, they could always download it illegally, you know, like ANN does for anime season previews to things that haven’t been simulcast.

ANN didn’t write about Genius Party Beyond because they weren’t interested in conversating about it. Neither is most of the anime blog-o-sphere. But ANN is interested in telling you about the first episode of Date A Live five different times. And you’re interested in reading it.

Heavens to murgatroyd.

Seven Points: Stupid cartoons, excellent drawings, and a comic book anime not endorsed by Marvel.

1.  This cartoon is stuck in my head.

Future Travel

The way its shapes are lined, presumably using some kind of “simplify path” tool in Adobe Flash, is reminiscent of what amateur Flash animation looked like in the late 90s, except back then line simplification was less intended as a style decision and more to reduce the amount of precious bandwidth your cartoons took to stream on a world wide web dominated by 56k modems.

Amateur Flash animation in that period was rarely so fast and effective, though. Even with a scarcity of bandwidth, animators never delivered jokes in such a snappy fashion, or stuffed so many movements into a scene at once. This type of rapid comedic animation, which can almost entirely be attributed to the rise of YouTube and jumpcut-style video editing, is a contemporary phenomenon.

You add in the creative yet familiar depiction of a futuristic, distraction-addled populace and you’ve got a concise cartoon representation of what I imagine using Facebook is like. A YouTube commenter sagely whispered “this isn’t the future. its the present.”

I can’t think of a better way to begin this hodgepodge-ass post.

2.  I wrote about the year 1984 in anime television over at The Golden Ani-Versary of Anime, you should go read it, I didn’t make any George Orwell jokes, I promise. Golden Ani-Versary is an ambitious blog organized by a Mr. Geoff Tebbets which seeks to cover every year of anime beginning with 1963.

3.  I’m not sure I’m supposed to be reading Michael Fiffe’s Copra.

Copra

On the one hand, I love nearly everything about it: Fiffe’s delicate framing of varying line qualities, the high-quality way in which the book is printed, its cream-colored pages. I even enjoy his unique style of hand-lettering which gets a lot of words into a small geographical area without becoming difficult to read.

On the other hand, I’m out of the loop when it comes to all of the superhero comics evocations he’s performing. I wonder at times how closely these characters hem to Marvel/DC analogues, and how much I’m supposed to assume they do. To what degree is Copra superhero dojinshi, to what degree is it its own thing? I don’t properly know, and I didn’t feel stumped like this when I was reading Zegas.

4.  Katsuya Terada has an artbook coming out in Japan next week, based on an exhibition of his work. For my money he’s probably the finest Japanese illustrator no one really talks about over here, so I was going to import the book while snidely inquiring if I was better off waiting for the “inevitable” English-language edition.

But then Dark Horse announced that they were releasing The Art of Katsuya Terada early next year. The title doesn’t seem to correspond directly to any of the Terada art books I’m aware of, so I don’t know if it’s going to be a straight up translation of his latest, or something else. Still very much surprised to hear about it.

Good ol’ Dark Horse, you release things like that and Monkey King and I’m left to just hope there are other people out there enjoying them.

5.  Speaking of which, Deva Zan.

Deva Zan

From what I can piece together from some buried press and YouTube video, Deva Zan appears to be an abandoned film/multimedia project by Yoshitaka Amano, a Japanese illustrator people DO know and appreciate over here, because of his unmistakable work on things like Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D.

But Deva Zan is Amano’s own thing. His own concepts, his own characters, his own story. And I think this book Dark Horse put out for it, though it contains artwork and narration on alternate pages, is less a finished product and more a collection of concept art, character designs, and other production with some wispy narration thrown in to hold it all together and give the illusion of being a final product.

Thing is, even a speedy sketch becomes a beautiful vortex of striking colors and whimsical pencil marks when rendered by Amano’s hand. In reading the story the words and pictures do not coalesce into anything particularly striking or original, though the pictures on their own easily succeed at forming a compelling vision of the fantastic, as you would expect.

(I strongly suspect) this is the “making of” book to a thing that was never made, luxuriously presented in a 9×12 hardcover format so you can closely inspect the more astounding pages of art, of which there are many. Dark Horse, it took real balls to release this the week after your big Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia art book/encyclopedia, and even though one of these items currently has 842 Amazon.com reviews and the other has 2 (guess which is which), I’m still happy to have the beautiful thing from the mind of Yoshitaka Amano.

6.  My post about Gundam: The Origin is less a critique of the manga and more a critique of the realities oriented around it, but it made the rounds on Tumblr and, wow, Gundam people on Tumblr are far more sane than the ones I ran into The Year I Surfed 4chan, a dark part of my life I refer to with capital letters because it was really that much of a strange, traumatizing phase of existence.

7.  And finally, a comic book anime of consequence.

That Marvel Anime Rise of the Technovore cartoon is coming out soon, and even though Marvel Anime has sucked like a vacuum cleaner, it has me thinking about an earlier, aborted attempt to produce a comic book anime by Madhouse Studios: Satanika.

NSFW warning because I know some of you are silly.

To a half-focused eye, Satanika might look like some kind of Darkstalkers OVA gone demonically sexual and insane. But knowing this is based on a comic from Verotik, Glenn Danzig’s vanity imprint from the nineties, I can only see it as not-so-original fanfiction for Devilman, and a precursor to Go Nagai’s genderswapping sequel to his magnum opus Devilman Lady.

This preview trailer will probably make your eyes roll, and maybe it should, but man, it’s at least daring/visually stunning on some level. I didn’t forget about it five minutes after I saw it at least.