Comics, Manga, Today I Learned

The Gaiman Awards

Today I learned that there is an award for comics called the Gaiman award. And contrary to what one might expect, it is not related to our favorite Wordsmith in Black.

The word ‘Gaiman’ here is an abbreviation of “Gaikoku no manga’, literally, ‘foreign comics’. This refers to comics translated from foreign work and published in Japan. For those of you who fret over what is comics and what is manga and bug-eyed-styles and all that, here you go: ‘Civil War’ translated into Japanese and published in Japan becomes manga, and can even get nominated for a manga award. You can keep your Western biases to yourself, thank you.

The list of comics nominated since the award was instituted in 2011 shows a curious mash-up of titles, including the aforementioned Marvel title; Superman: Red Son rubs shoulders with the likes of Nicholas de Crecy’s Celestial Bibendum (French), Schuiten and Peeters’ Les Cités Obscures (Belgium), Lat’s Town Boy and Kampung Boy (Malaysia), Joe Kelly and Ken Niimura’s I Kill Giants. All of which make for great, solid reading — though the jury’s still out on The New 52: Shazam, which managed to make an appearance on the 2015 nomination list. (The previous sentence is vague hyperbole, the prize went to Sweden’s Sayonara September, by Åsa Ekström)

One thing to note: the titles nominated are based on translation date, and not on publication date. This causes similar confusion as the ‘Best US Edition of International Material (Asia)’ Eisner award, where classic material ends up being nominated alongside newer ones, just because they were translated the last year. In 2016, a work by Shigeru Mizuki from the 80s (Showa: A History of Japan) beat the contemporary Master Keaton and Assassination Classroom in the Eisners.Doesn’t that make it overly confusing to judge something that is fresh along with another that has been coated with the patina of time and generational acceptance?

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Comics, Movies

Thoughts on Batman

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Batman vs Superman is out this week, and here are a couple of disorganized thoughts on the State of the Superhero.

I dislike Batman. It’s funny that I should say that about a fictional character, especially one that has brought me such joy while growing up. You guys are well aware of how much I have been into the character, and there is this element of hypocrisy that looms large over a statement like this one. But I have problems with the character, and more specifically, what has become of the the storytelling engine behind Batman.

History Lesson

This lineage of Batman “troubled man who dresses up to exorcise his demons” obviously begins with Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Year One in the mid-1980s. But these books were one of a kind — DKR was an interpretation, not a definition of who Batman was — and it took a long time before Miller’s rage-and-angst-fueled ingredients seeped into the character’s engines. You had the pure joy of Mike Barr and Alan Davis’s short run, which ran in tandem with Year One, funnily enough; Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s vulnerable yet foreboding Batman; Doug Moench and Kelly Jones’ surreal Goth-meets-art deco incarnation; even the group-think endeavors like Knightfall and Prodigal and No Man’s Land, the messy products of their time that they were: all of these retained some amount of humanity that made you like the character likable, even relate to him, maybe, because Batman always did the right thing. But yes, elements of Miller’s work were creeping in slowly — Jason Todd, Robin #2 died at the Joker’s hands, something that Dark Knight Returns had alluded to. Making that book prescient almost made it seem like that dark future was in store for Batman, but we weren’t there yet.

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It was Grant Morrison who is to blame, when you think about it. Morrison, fresh from a  career of revamping DC’s fringe characters such as Animal Man and Doom Patrol, found himself in charge of the Justice League of America in the late 90s. The JLA had their share of troubled history in that decade – editorial diktats mandated the use of second-tier characters in the team because the Big Guys were involved in soap operas of their own 1. Morrison insisted on using the main characters, and among the changes he made to the JLA status quo, the major one was this:

Batman, despite having no superpowers, was the most dangerous man alive.

Batman has it all covered.

He can take down anybody. He is the embodiment of human perfection. He has a contingency plan for everything — seriously, everything. If the universe was about to be destroyed, Batman could pull a universe-undestroying glove from his utility belt and punch the universe into being whole again.

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This particular concept found much favor among fans, myself included. Unfortunately, when combined with the climactic scene of Miller’s seminal work, people — writers, fans, the ecosystem at large — began to extrapolate the facts in a very strange way. What was a one-off sequence involving careful planning and execution suddenly became a trope in itself. Batman can beat Superman anytime, they said. There was a proliferation of stories where indeed, Batman was not only rescuing the JLA from problems that stymied all of them, he was also beating Superman almost on a yearly basis. Miller’s 2001 sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, begins with a showdown where Batman, now even older, drops a pile of rocks on an angry Kal-El, punches him with a pair of special gloves and says “Get out of my cave”. In Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Hush, in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s newest incarnation of the Batman, in tales of alternate realities and stray one-shots, the message remains the same: Batman can take Superman. Any time.

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And all of that brings us to Batfleck taking on hairline-receding Superman on the screen.

End History Lesson

At the heart of it all, along with his seeming ability to go toe-to-toe against super-humans, Batman is still Bruce Wayne, a middle-aged rich guy who uses his money to dress up and go out and punch criminals. He says “My City” without a trace of irony. He is always right. He is rude and insensitive to people around him, and over the years, this assholish behavior has been amped up to stupendous levels. He will be part of a team, but everything and everybody has to play by his rules. He has an extended family, recruiting a bunch of boys and girls, men and women as part of his war on crime, but he also insists on being a loner, incapable of having a normal human relationship with anyone around him. His intensity has been stretched to such an incredulous length that Batman the character has become a self-parody. Batman is a scary reminder of what happens when Big Money meets Mental Illness meets Misguided Intentions meets Non-scalable Implementation.Somehow, “Batman does not kill” has become an excuse to make the character as unlikable and smarmy as possible. 2

But wait, you say, isn’t punching criminals the focal point of every superhero story?

Yes, you are right. At the end of the day, superhero stories are still about grown men — and women — punching each other into submission. But hey, it has been 75 years since we have had a man putting on a suit and heading out late at night to deal with the trauma of his parents being killed in front of his eyes. You could say that problem with Batman is emblematic of my problems with superhero stories in general. To be more precise, the mainstream superhero scene, these characters that have plodded through decades of reinvention, retelling and occasional resurgence. With a character like Batman, there can only be an attempt to retell the story with a fresh angle, to rearrange the familiar pieces and give them weight depending on which pieces we are focused on. Every now and then, someone figures it’s a great idea to add another piece 3 but all it does is add chaos to an already teetering structure. Add to it the fact that DC/Marvel comics, since the 80s, have been stuck in this confusing identity crisis (pun intended) where they are unsure about whether they are a children’s medium or aimed at adults. You point out flaws in the machine, and they want you to take a deep breath and lighten up, because superheroes are for kids. At the same time, the themes they handle try to be mature, the Comics Code Authority was thrown out the door a long time ago, and any attempt at wholesomeness stopped when anal rape became a plot point 10 years ago. 4

There are of course attempts to upend the structure every now and then: by what is referred to as a reboot. Scott Snyder, who I mentioned above, is the writer working on the new Batman. It is the first time in years that the origin story has attempted to break free of the long shadow cast by Year One. Snyder calls his version Year Zero, and rather than the shadows and grime that Miller brought into his version, Year Zero has psychedelic colors and an out-there, sci-fi vibe to it that I dug quite a bit. But the 75-year old legacy cannot help but creep into the pieces that a creator adds to this new structure, and it takes very little time for the building to collapse yet again. By the time the Joker is added to the mix, in a story called ‘Death of the Family’, we have — deep breath — the Joker in Arkham Asylum with a villain called the Dollmaker “who surgically removes Joker’s face at his request and then pins it to Joker’s cell wall as a sign of his rebirth”. By the time the Joker shows up again, in “Endgame”, he has become a scientist who has come up with a new chemical isotope (called, er, ‘Ha’), and the story also “implies that he is immortal, having existed for centuries, and has developed a means to regenerate from mortal injuries…(the story also) restores the Joker’s face, and also reveals that he knows Batman’s secret identity”. Umm, okay.

Add to it the fact that Batman’s story never does have an ending. 5 He has gone from being a lone vigilante killing people as he sees fit, to a good guy working with the law, to someone who is an urban legend. Look at the origin story: Where once it was Joe Chill and Lew Moxon, one retelling made Ra’s Al Ghul serve as a catalyst; in another, it was a person named Jack Napier; yet another has the Court of Owls. What I am getting at is that: the entire enterprise of keeping a superhero’s motivations and methods relevant in our world seems to be an effort that sucks in writers and makes them spew out fan-fiction that grates against my expectations and knowledge as a rational reader. More so in terms of Batman, because writers tend to latch onto their inner anger, that part of them that wishes that they could respond to the world around them by dressing up at night and getting out to break a couple of jaws and kneecaps. 6And the worst part of it all? Nothing changes. Bruce Wayne will always go out at night and beat criminals up. Maybe he will disappear for a while, maybe there will be a new costume, maybe an unknown adversary of the past will suddenly come back in his life and upend Everything That You have Ever Known. The common storytelling engine to all superhero tales seems to be a treadmill: a tiresome, frustrating journey that goes nowhere and yet tires you out.

It therefore becomes easy for me to say that Batman — or superheroes, in general — are not for me any more. Which is a valid point, but goes against my innate approach to popular culture, which is that New is always good, and that creators in any field are getting better at what they do because they learn from the past, and can pick and choose elements that work wonderfully, and discard the things that do not make sense. But it is a problem when the past weighs so heavily on your appreciation of any future work; when in order to explain who a character is, you have to go read Wikipedia. It’s a shame when to explain or make sense of what is going on, you have to suspend your reading to understand that what you are reading may or may not be a part of the story; and that there was a story and it’s not valid any more, and what you are reading can be replaced by a completely different story.

If you are not convinced, and are framing your apologist fanboy arguments about why Batman is awesome, here’s a question for you: how many Robins have there been? What happened to them? Let me get my popcorn while you scramble for the answer.

Notes:

  1. Superman died, and came back again. Batman had his spine broken, and then it was healed. Wonder Woman was replaced, and then she came back. Green Lantern went crazy, and another Green Lantern took his place.
  2. Donald Drumpf however sounds more like a Marvel alias, right?
  3. The character of Hush is an attempt, as is the Court of Owls.
  4. For those who do not know, Identity Crisis.
  5. Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns as the last Batman story, and that went on to get its sequel 15 years later, and there is a third part out now. Neil Gaiman wrote a story called ‘Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader’, which was Gaiman interpreting every supporting character in Batman as erudite people that knew exactly the right thing to say, just like bad fan-fiction.
  6. Not to kill anyone, of course, because Batman does not kill. But it’s perfectly fine to break a wrist and maybe an elbow too, if a guy just pointed a gun at you, or flashed a knife, or maybe a crowbar. Hmm, maybe if he even looked wrong at you, or cut you in line, or honked at your car when you were merging into his lane.
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Books, Comics

The Top Ten* Superhero** Comics*** of All Time****

*       Alan Moore Homage, and a possible 11th title in this list.
**     Limited to the two mainstream companies that have copyrighted the word.
***  Which have been collected into self-contained collections referred to, but not necessarily all the time, as graphic novels.
***  Temporally located around the turn of the 20th century.

Raja Sen wanted me to list my top 10 superhero comics. I looked up a list I had done a few years ago for Men’s World magazine, and decided that nothing in it deserved to change, except for some of the accompanying text.

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Sleeper A nifty mash-up of noir intrigue and super-villainy, Sleeper is Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips’ story of a covert operative within the ranks of a criminal organization, whose dual life takes its toll on his moral judgement, his interpretation of right or wrong becoming skewed as he is manipulated as a pawn between the warring organization and the government. Crime fiction, except super powers are involved.This is one of the rare superhero graphic novels that blend costumed characters with gritty street-level realism and manages to make the combination work without dissolving into excessive grimness or parody.

The Brubaker/Philips team have worked on numerous collaborations, straight-up crime fiction or mash-ups with other genres – check out FataleCriminal and the new ongoing Fade-out.

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Hitman – For a writer who claims to hate superheroes, Garth Ennis sure knows how to write a classic superhero title. Hitman, featuring a happy-go-lucky assassin who obtains telepathic powers and uses them to kill supervillains is a complete revelation. This overlooked gem of a comic, within a span of sixty chapters, transformed itself from an irreverent laugh riot poking fun at mainstream icons like Batman and Green Lantern into a blood-soaked tale of friendship and sacrifice.

This series also features Dogwelder, possibly the greatest superhero ever created on any medium.

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Ultimates – Remember the first time Samuel L Jackson made an appearance at the end of Iron Man? That scene would never have happened without The Ultimates. Hell, nearly every bit of characterization of the characters in the Marvel movies was based on this series, a modern-day reworking of the popular Marvel supergroup The Avengers. Scottish writer Mark Millar interpreted the superhero phenomenon as a military project led by the United States army, and gave rise to a number of startling variations of familiar characters – Captain America as a duty-bound soldier trapped in the idealism of the ’40s, Giant Man as a wife-beater, Thor and his thunder-god ramblings as a sign of possible insanity, and Hulk as a sex-crazed cannibal. It could have been cheap schlock, but two things – Bryan Hitch’s magnificent cinematic artwork and Millar’s liberal use of the contemporary political climate elevates Ultimates from a Michael Bay ripoff to a tome worth of the ages.

There was a sequel (pretty good!), another (really bad!) and a bunch of other sequels (oh good lord!). They had creative names such as Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates, All-New Ultimates, and Avengers vs New Ultimates. Whether you choose to read them is entirely up to you, but please don’t expect me to sympathize.

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Marvels/Kingdome Come The reason these two titles are tied is not because they both feature the painted art of Alex Ross. It’s because each graphic novel, one from Marvel, the other from DC, uses Ross’s art to imbue their respective universes with an amount of gravitas. While Busiek’s script for Marvels dealt with key events in the lives of the superheroes through the eyes of a photojournalist, Mark Waid wrote of an alternate future where heroism was all but dead, and it would take earth’s retired superheroes to avert the destruction of all humanity. Marvels and Kingdom Come both celebrate the iconic nature of superheroes, and you cannot help but mention both of them in the same breath.

Sometimes I get the feeling that these two series are exercises in fan-service for readers who grew up in the 60s and 70s. Other times, I marvel at the fact that long before the movie industry got their act together, Alex Ross’s art was the closest you got to seeing these characters as real people.

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Starman  What made James Robinson and Tony Harris’s Starman so special was the way it honored the long and checkered heritage of the character ( there had been five versions of Starman over 5 decades), and at the same time showed the evolution of a novice underdog into someone worthy of taking up the family mantle. Over the course of 81 chapters, Jack Knight – the son of the original Starman of the 1940s. A hero who refuses to wear a costume because he finds super-heroics at odds with his day job, a regular joe who finds friendship in the most unlikely places and a man who travels across the universe (and through time) for his love.

According to the contract between DC and James Robinson, the character of Jack Knight cannot be used in any subsequent stories without Robinson’s explicit permission. This is one of the rare instances when a comic company’s trademarked character is reserved for exclusive use for a writer.

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All Star Superman – They said Superman was boring and unhip, too noble to be taken seriously. It took Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s epic saga to elevate this age-old superhero to the glory he rightfully deserves. All-Star Superman embraces the silly Silver Age elements of the Superman mythos – the bumbling secret identity, the curious girlfriend, the evil nemesis –  and transforms them into a poignant, engaging saga of a god-like being who sees the potential in humanity and serves as an inspiration to everyone. This twelve-part series is possibly the Superman story ever written – and drawn.

Artist Frank Quitely’s pencilled work was directly used to print the comic, without a traditional inker. The digital coloring was done by Jamie Grant under specific instructions from Quitely, which gave the comic a distinctive glow and highlighted every bit of the artist’s detailed art.

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Daredevil: Born Again  When Frank Miller, once the regular penciller for Daredevil, was invited back to work for Marvel in 1986, he crafted an elegant story of the crimefighter’s greatest defeat, and his greatest triumph. Drawn by artist David Mazzuchhelli in a sleek, minimalist style, ‘Born Again’ is a story that borrows equally from American crime fiction and Christian theology. It pits Daredevil in a no-holds-barred struggle against the Kingpin, a crime lord and arch-nemesis who discovers his secret identity and decides to destroy his reputation and his life.

Miller and Mazzuchhelli would team up again the same year for Batman: Year One, a look at Batman’s early career. Director Christopher Nolan borrowed a number of elements from Year One for his movie, Batman Begins.

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns This was Batman’s finest hour. Donning his costume after 30 years of retirement, the Dark Knight fights mutant juvenile delinquents, has a final showdown with his archnemesis the Joker, and goes up against the US government by fighting mano-a-mano with Superman. Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s story of an aged superhero’s comeback merged the cynicism of the Reagan administration and the paranoia of the Cold War with a twisted, media-centric worldview. It is one of the definitive Batman stories, an instant classic that has just gotten better and better with time, and has influenced – for good or for bad – every single Batman story that came after it.

Miller did a sequel to Dark Knight Returns in 2001, but a lot of story elements were changed post-9/11. The series was not so well-received because of its computer-generated coloring and idiosyncratic storytelling.

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Miracleman What would it really be like if superpowered beings really walked the earth – the ways in which humanity might change, if society would ever be the same again. Alan Moore’s Miracleman answers these questions, and how! This sixteen-chapter storyline is a deconstruction of every superhuman cliche that has ever been worked into the page of a comic. By the end of his run, after you have had your brain seared by the concepts (including the harrowing visuals of destruction that follow an epic battle between Miracleman and his erstwhile protege), you will never look at another superhero comic the same way again.

The reason why Miracleman is not on many people’s radar is because it used to be out of print for nearly a decade, following legal issues about ownership of the character’s rights. Marvel comics are now reprinting the entire Moore and Gaiman run, bringing this classic series to a whole new generation.

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Watchmen And then there’s this, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ towering achievement – a twelve-chapter Last Word on the very idea of the superhero, a story set in an alternate 1980s where Nixon still presides over the USA, and masked vigilantes walk the streets. A work so precisely structured that even today, two decades after its publication, there is still no other work in the medium that can challenge its presence on the top of any such list. All that is to be said about this series has been covered already – and if you still haven’t read it, well, shame on you.

And then there’s Before Watchmen, a series of ruthless moneygrabbing corporate comics terrible storytelling choices absolutely brain-damaged prequels that DC published 2 years ago, which were meant to convince the publishing industry that the franchise is bigger than a work of art. Needless to say, lessons were learnt and hasty retreats were beaten. Whew.

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Comics, Conventions, Events

My San Diego Con Report

I nearly did not make it to San Diego Comic Con this year. Blame it on jet-lag, middle age and a perilous meeting-packed week. I knew I would not make it on Wednesday and Thursday, and by the time Friday came around, I had half a mind not to go at all. But there were promises to keep.

I believe I am coming down with Convention Fatigue. I say this out loud despite knowing that fifteen-year-old version of me would punch me in the face. 2005-version of me would get all passive-aggressive, especially at how I was somewhat behind in replacing all my shelved books with signed copies.

This is specially true of San Diego, where walking from one end of the exhibition floor to the other requires serious stamina, a willingness to not mind being buffeted by the occasional 200-pound metaphorical gorilla. I am not making fun of the Comic-Book Fan here, I swear, it’s just that there is never a straight line. There are always aisles blocked by a signing, or impromptu photography sessions when an exceptionally-beautiful Elektra poses for pictures, or a kid wants to pet a cute R2D2 robot. Occasionally you notice that specific creator signing at a booth, and you have to weigh the probability of missing the event you are running to if you choose to queue for this particular guy, who is only around for 30 minutes more and does not stay the next day.

San Diego Comic-Con is a logistical nightmare if you are not prepared. I was not prepared at all this year.

I missed Benoit Peeters and Francois Schuiten signing the new English language reprints of their award-winning graphic novel, Leaning Girl. I could not get to Joe Hill at the Harper Collins booth because he signed until noon on Saturday, and I got there at 12:10. I could not get to Joe Hill at the IDW booth because you needed wristbands (groan!) to stand in line, and all the wristbands got over in the morning. I missed Bryan Lee O’Malley signing at his booth because I wasn’t there on Thursday and he cancelled his Saturday signing. Missed Matt Kindt and Kazu Kibuishi; did not even get to say hello to Mike Mignola at his booth, wanted to get a ticket for the Sin City 2 signing at the Dark Horse booth but could not.

Meh.

“So what did you do in the one and a half days you were there?”, they asked.

My favorite moment in the show was meeting artist Kevin O’Neill, who was signing and sketching over at the Top Shelf Booth. I was in line on both days, and got a Mina sketch and a Hyde sketch in my Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen editions. Got my Marshal Law and Nemesis The Warlock volumes signed, and even bought a limited edition copy of League: Century, signed by both Alan Moore and Kevin. While waiting in line, it turned out that pal Micah was right behind me, and we spent a pleasant half-hour talking about con experiences and comics. With a special emphasis on the phrase “Hyde fucking the Invisible Man to death.” What have you wrought, Alan Moore?

 

 

Right next to Top Shelf was the Fantagraphics booth, and I met Don Rosa, the man behind The Life and Times of Uncle Scrooge. I had met Don in 2007, at my first US convention – Super Con San Jose, which has since been rebranded as Big Wow Comic Con, and I mentioned to him how he had signed my copy of Life and Times, but when I went to buy the companion (which is sort of a collection of out-takes from the book), it was all sold out. This time I had a copy of the Companion with me, and he signed it “For Satya, again!” He also sketched a very cool Kid Scrooge for me, with his lucky dime. Very very cool indeed. The Hernandez bros were also signing right next to him, and I got my copy of the Love and Rockets sketchbook signed by both Beto and Xaime.

Saturday started off pretty badly, with a parking ticket from the officialdom of San Diego, because half my car was in a yellow line as I was getting money out of an ATM. Mood soured, I went in to try catch Joe Hill. Missed ‘im. Headed to Zander Cannon’s booth, got myself a copy of his audio commentary and he drew me a sketch inside my copy of Heck. Most of the day then went by in a blur, meeting old friends, talking to art dealers, admiring the cosplayers. Made my first payment for my Next Big Art Deal. Ended the day and my con meeting Jeff Smith, who signed copies of Bone for a pal. At this point, I am not sure how many copies of Bone I have asked Jeff to sign, but it’s always a pleasure to say hello to him and Vijaya.

A couple of take-aways for me, from SDCC this year.

  • I need to be better prepared. Comic-con is a test of one’s physical and mental reserves, and if I am not into it, I will not enjoy it, period.
  • No more lugging hardcovers around. They put a serious damper on my enjoyment of the convention. I plan to make myself some book-plates next time. Getting those signed and sticking them into the actual copies of the books.
  • I hate the fact that I did not make it to any panels this time. Not even the one where one of my friends was up on stage!
  • While hotels were sold out, I noticed lots of AirBnb postings in the downtown area. So far, I have stayed at a hotel away from the convention center, at a hotel right next to the convention center, at a friend’s place in San Diego, and this time, at a friend’s place in the OC. AirBnb next time, maybe?
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Books, Manga

Impulse Buy of the Day

I don’t do this often, but when a book comes highly recommended by the Sage of Northampton, bears a foreword written by him, and is signed by both the author and the Foreword Writer, I do not argue with Fate. Bought immediately, and paid for international shipping too. The reviews on Amazon are glorious, and reminds me of pre-Jonathan Strange/Mr Norrell buzz for Susanna Clarke. (And that reminds me that I should probably reread that book too).

From the foreword:

A genre that has been reduced by lazy stylisation to a narrow lexicon of signifiers … wizards, warriors, dwarves and dragons … is a genre with no room for Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, arguably the earliest picaresque questing fantasy; for David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus with its constantly morphing vistas and transmogrifying characters; for Mervyn Peake’s extraordinary Gormenghast books or for Michael Moorcock’s cut-silk Gloriana. It is certainly a genre insufficient to contain the vegetable eternities of Catling’s Vorrh.

Here’s where you can buy a signed copy. (No guarantees though, as the small print says.) Apparently all of the signed copies are sold out, and I got one. The confirmation email came in today morning.

Other than that, I have been rereading some old manga favorites. Among them is Crying Freeman. I bought the complete Dark Horse set a while ago at the low low price of $1 per volume – I have the Viz comics and you will agree that reading them pamphlets gets a little annoying, even though some of the coloring adds to the eightiesness of the series. It’s over-the-top seinen action, with lots of photo-referenced art by Ryoichi Ikegami, and it is just as I remembered it – brimming with the kind of content that sets librarians and conscientious parents aflutter, the kind of salacious visuals that attracts giggling clusters of school-kids in Landmark, where the books stay misfiled in the children’s section. Crying Freeman is the kind of thing Dr. Fredric Wertham warned the world about, people. Do not file it in the children’s section, not unless you want kids to wonder why women have white areas in their groin, whether Chinese assassins really strip to their underwear before jumping up on Russian wrestlers’ shoulders, and if it is possible for a man to cover himself in cement and not burn to a crisp when attacked by a janitor with a flame-thrower. And how a Japanese man can be a master artist, a master assassin, and the Greatest Lover Ever. This book is testament to the fact that manga writer Kazuo Koike is what Stan Lee would be without the Comics Code Authority to keep him in check. And Crying Freeman is what an Amitabh Bachchan character would really be in the 70s, without the castration anxiety of the Indian Censor Board. Mull about the ocean of possibilities for a while.

 

This reminds me that the high-point of Comicon this year was getting to meet Koike in the flesh. I queued to meet him three times, just because there was a 2-item cap on signatures; I probably would have gone a few more times had there not been other events to attend. Kazuo Koike, man. Never thought I would get to thank him in person. Insert a twenty-one gun salute moment for Dark Horse Comics here.

 

The other series I read – after a gap of nearly seven years – was Planetes by Makoto Yukimura. Long out of print, I picked up the series on a whim from a collector whose bookshelves I emptied back when I was an established Emptier of Bookshelves, a veritable patron saint of Liquidators. (Ironically, swathes of my floppy comics are now making their way to different parts of the world, as I succumb to Omnibus upgrades). Coming back to Planetes, this is the sort of manga that serves as a gateway to anyone not used to the medium. It’s a series of interconnected glimpses into the lives of a motley crew on board an orbiting garbage disposal unit, set in the year 2070 or thereabouts, when mankind has made a little more progress in space travel. Over the course of 5 volumes, we see how the passage of time affects the daily lives of the astronauts, how their lives and those of the ones they love have intertwined, and the effect that a planned Jupiter Exploration has on them. It is the kind of manga that floats around in your brain after you have finished reading it, with a bewildering attention to detail and a penchant for capturing the exact texture of a moment in time. If you have read Ba/Moon’s Daytripper or Thompson’s Blankets, you know what I mean. It’s a shame it’s not available on the market at the moment, I wish someone like Vertical would bring it back in an Omnibus (they totally can, it’s Kodansha). I would probably buy it for everyone I know.

There is an anime based on the series. I know it’s good, from all the buzz I have heard about it, but I have to finish it some time. I stopped at 2 episodes the last time I started. Or you can read the manga online, for free.

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