Say I Love You Book 4

Following on from the previous book, Yamato is modeling, and quite successful at it, which makes Mei worry. She’s jealous, not of another girl, but of his time, that he’s spending less of it with her, since he’s got photo shoots

She makes the mistake of not answering honestly when he asks her opinion about the work. She doesn’t want to control him, so she wants to allow him to make her own decisions, but if she doesn’t tell him the truth, he can’t know what she’s thinking. Unlike other manga, though, this series doesn’t feel like she’s doing it just so the author can play with the plot longer. It feels emotionally honest, as though she doesn’t want to be the bad guy by denying Yamato something she thinks he enjoys.

Of course, that’s more a reflection of her desires. She’s never been popular or praised, so she thinks an activity that brings lots of fan mail would be a good thing. Yamato doesn’t seem to be as involved in it, though. He’s a lot more easy-going, and I suspect he doesn’t want to put up with Megumi’s pouting if he didn’t go along.

Megumi is the aspiring model who dragged him into posing with her. She wants him, and she complicates events by being devious about it, as when she asks him over for dinner just because she “totally messed up and made enough curry for ten.” Yamato, as a nice guy, thinks little of the invitation. He’s not very self-reflective, so it takes friends to point out to him how this might appear.

Over this volume, the confusion plays out, with Mei struggling with feelings she hasn’t had before. I love it when she says, finally talking with Yamato, “I don’t like feeling anxious, either. To be honest, these emotions I’m feeling are such a pain in the neck.” That blunt authenticity is what makes her someone I want to keep reading about.

There’s also a new character introduced, a boy who was previously bullied and wants revenge, which allows author Kanae Haruki to contrast his attitude with Mei’s. Haruki also provides an afterword about her own experience with bullying.

*What Did You Eat Yesterday? Book 5 — Recommended

This blend of cooking advice, home meals, and everyday personal interactions continues to impress and entertain. The first chapter illustrates this mix, as Shiro and his housewife friend have shared a deal on cabbage. She’s comfortable with him, since they have bargain-hunting in common, but her husband sees him first as a gay man, then as a person, as can be seen by his clueless attempt to pair Shiro off with another friend just because they’re both gay. Along the way, they make coleslaw (as one does when one has too much cabbage).

The little observations tickle me. For instance, early on, Shiro says to his friend, “It impresses me that you have such a big pot. You really are a homemaker.” It seems weird to mention, but it’s precisely those kinds of items that we possess, or don’t, that helps define our roles. Characters are made by what tools they use.

When I’m not waxing philosophic over the cookware, I’m laughing, as when Kenji has an incredibly polite showdown with a grocery store clerk over sale items. Or when he meets a friend’s boyfriend, who isn’t at all how he was described. Or they debate how Shiro’s tastes aren’t typically gay. Similarly, the relationship items aren’t always presented front and center, instead demonstrated with subtlety, making them more realistic.

Seeing the two, Shiro and Kenji, dining together reinforces their relationship. I’m touched when Kenji off-handedly notes that a particular side is “the one I said I liked before.” One imagines Shiro noting that away to make his partner happy. It’s over their meals that we also find out the important things in their lives, as when Kenji brings up his absent father and the effect it had on him and his mother.

Another touching moment occurs when Shiro goes home for the holidays. (Timely!) His parents struggle with him, not because they object, but because he doesn’t fit into their original dreams of what their life would be like as grandparents. It’s difficult to balance the tricky conflict — they’re not telling him to be someone else, but they do have a right to need time to adjust. Of course, Shiro and his mother bond over cooking and sharing recipes. It’s a touching note that I found just right for the series.

I’m also impressed by Shiro’s technique. I’ve learned, in this book, to filet a fish for tataki (which I had to look up, since the series continues to avoid endnotes — it means a way of serving the food chopped), and I am reminded how important it is to have tasty and balanced side dishes. I haven’t found a recipe yet I’m ready to try — mostly due to lack of ingredients found easily here — but I do love dreaming about how they would taste. I’ve come closest with the banana pound cake Shiro makes in this book as a host gift, if only I liked banana.

Sequential iPad App Focuses on Respected Graphic Novel Publishers

I’ve been remiss in not talking before now about Sequential, the iPad app that features graphic novels “from some of the world’s leading creators and publishers.”

Sequential app icon

If you’re looking for a curated digital comic reading experience, this is the app you want. Their key publishers include
* Top Shelf — featuring works by Alan Moore, Eddie Campbell, and James Kochalka
* Fantagraphics — with Ed Piskor’s Hip Hop Family Tree volumes and Lucy Knisley’s An Age of License newly added and of course, Love and Rockets
* Alternative — with The Big Feminist But anthology and the impressive Look Straight Ahead
* and NBM — so you can get Rick Geary’s Madison Square Tragedy and the much-praised Beauty by Hubert & Kerascoët.

as well as leading British publishers Blank Slate, Knockabout, SelfMadeHero, and Myriad, which means you can get Darryl Cunningham’s Science Tales or his upcoming Supercrash: How to Hijack the Global Economy before it’s published here next year.

Their storefront sorts books by new, popular, and categories, including digital exclusives, award-winning, various genres, and free stuff. Or you can view by publisher or creator. Some works even include audio commentaries by the artist. Right now, the app is iPad only (which is the best venue for digital comics), with an Android version planned but not before “the end of 2015 at the earliest.”

I started using Sequential because they’re the only way I can get the two-part VerityFair by Terry Wiley, whose work I loved so much in Sleaze Castle. It’s the story of “happy-go-lucky middle-aged actress Verity Bourneville [who] has been having enough trouble trying to find a decent part to pay the rent without also being plagued by a mysterious nightmare about her old deceased classmate Lucy Sherman.”

Sequential’s books aren’t cheap, but you can subscribe to a newsletter to find out about their occasional free offerings and special offers.

Disney Gift Books for Girls

I may have a few, slight political qualms, but the upside to having a niece going through the “princess phase” means it’s easy to find books for her about subjects she’s interested in. These are targeted a little older than she is, but I like giving her something to aim for that she’s interested in, as well as anticipating reading them with her.

Dear Princess

Disney Press, $12.99 US, Ages 6-8

This storybook has the fun of letters included that can be opened and read. Cinderella, Merida, Ariel, Tiana, Belle, and Rapunzel each get a missive, and they respond in verse. Except for Cinderella, they’re all my favorites, as the more modern misses.

The letters cover a variety of situations, each suited to the particular princess, and in some cases, they’re quite clever. The cover is embossed, with glitter on each of the letters shown there.

Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to open the flaps to see the messages without tearing them at the edges. Thankfully, the text is on the center page, so even if the flaps tear completely off, the content will still be present. Still, not a book for someone precious about preventing damage, and certainly not something that will last for decades (like some of my favorite children’s books).

The book ends with a letter to the reader, a lovely concept. I look forward to the surprises this volume will bring to my niece.

A Merry Christmas Cookbook

Disney Press, $10.99 US, Ages 6-8
Recipes by Cristina Garces

This one isn’t explicitly princesses, for a change of pace, and the connections between the characters and their dishes can be a little strained, although the food seems tasty enough. For instance, I want to try “Sleepy’s Early-Riser Egg Biscuits”, which put cheese, egg, and bacon into refrigerated biscuit dough cups, but I’m not sure it says “Snow White and the Dwarfs” to me. The spotted pancakes have more in common with a dalmatian puppy. For a fan, though, calling a dish “Elsa’s Snowy Mac & Cheese”, with an accompanying small illustration of the two sisters from Frozen, will be all that’s needed to fire the imagination. (That recipe also adds some cauliflower for nutritional value.)

The 26 recipes are rated on a five-gingerbread-man scale from easy to hard, to give new cooks hints as to where to start. They’re organized by Breakfast (most 3 on the difficulty scale), Lunch (mostly 4s), Dinner (a variety), Sides and Drinks (mostly the easiest), and Dessert (also easy, with the exception of “Simba’s Muddy Brownies”, topped with gummy worms).

Many of them have tips on how to customize the recipes to keep them fresh, by adding alternative ingredients or adjusting to taste. Four of the recipes have additional notes on how to make them into gift jars, and there are punch-out tags to attach in the back of the book.

It’s not all princesses — there are “Monster-O’s Spiced Breakfast Bars” (for Mike and Sulley), “Woody’s Cowboy Chili” (of course), “Lady and the Tramp Zucchini Spaghetti & Meatballs” (just like the movie, except for the pasta becoming a vegetable), “To Infinity and Beyond Meat Loaf” (shaped like rocketships), “Wreck-It Ralph’s Smashed Potatoes” (love this recipe!), “Stitch’s Hawaiian Eggnog” (with cream of coconut and pineapple juice), and weirdly (how do cars cook?), “Lightning McQueen’s Pot Pie”.

Disney Princess Enchanted Character Guide

by Beth Landis Hester and Catherine Saunders
DK Children, $16.99 US

This one, on the other hand, is all about the girls, from the sparkly cover to the contents, arranged by princess. It’s heavily illustrated, with large text, aimed at ages 7-11.

Kids who want to spend more time with favorite characters and movies should love finding out more details and the feeling of building knowledge and organization skills. Personally, I’m looking forward to having my memory jogged as to just who all these people are, including the names of Rapunzel’s chameleon and Merida’s brothers (Pascal, Hamish, Harris, and Hubert).

*Over Easy — Recommended

Graphic memoir is the hot genre these days in publishing. Where fantasy stories can be hit or miss, true-life autobiographical comics have an immediate hook — this story actually happened to someone.

In fact, if I’m honest, graphic memoirs are a bit of a drag on the market. Just because a story is true doesn’t always make it entertaining or well-told; structure is a huge challenge with autobiography. And one of the most common types of memoir is the coming-of-age story, or “this is when I realized (event) was a major life change”.

Mimi Pond in Over Easy manages to tell us of a key point in her life without it seeming repetitive or overly familiar. I suspect that’s because she focuses on the other “characters”, the colorful people she was interacting with at a time when she wasn’t as much of a personality. She was still young and uncertain, so her role as an observer is well-chosen. The result is a fresh, unusual, rewarding take on the genre.

Pond has been in art school, but she’s just been notified that her financial aid has run out. She isn’t particularly compelled to be an artist, instead seeking an escape from her suburban family. Dealing with the question of “what do I do now?”, she wonders into a cafe and talks herself into a job as a dishwasher, later waitress.

Pond’s word is green-tinted. The book is monochrome in an unusual tone reminiscent of faded money. She lightly caricatures everyone, including her young self, allowing the reader to concentrate on events instead of likenesses. Early on, she narrates, as she is first given a tour of the coffee shop and its workers, “All of this seems so familiar that I find myself trying to remember where and when I met these people. It seems like we’ve already known each other for years.” Reading this story gives much the same feeling.

As the book progresses, we get a few more details about the cooks and waitresses, the cast of the story Pond is watching (and sometimes making up). She envies their (perceived) self-possession, their romances and desires, their spats and insults and affairs. It’s all about the moments and the conversations. Individually, they’re not meaningful or memorable, but it all pulls together into a sprawling mosaic that perfectly illuminates the time and young adulthood.

In addition to her detailed portraits, I also greatly appreciated how Pond manages to portray the 70s without being overly valedictory or self-congratulatory. Too many boomers seem to think that the world and culture has and will always revolve around them, to the point where it becomes tiring, as a member of another generation, to read about how glorious things were then. That’s not a problem here.

Pond’s world has a general rosy glow, as suits a story of the past worth telling, but it’s not overdone, and the problems also make their appearance. Too young to be a hippie, early on she expresses dismay at how the overtones of the previous generation are hanging around, with casual drug use and unthinking, beatifically blissed acceptance becoming annoying. There are hints of a coming punk revolution, but this particular time period is one of being unsettled and uncertain, both personally and culturally.

There’s more information at the publisher’s website. The Comics Reporter interviewed Pond about her creative process and the forthcoming sequel. For the next few days, Over Easy can be ordered from your local comic shop with Diamond code DEC14 1463. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

Manga Dogs Book 2

At the end of the previous volume, manga artist Kanna had been kidnapped by a wannabe. More than her life, her work was in danger as her pages were taken hostage, preventing her from making her deadline. Of course, she’s rescued — the advantage of a series made up of short (ten-page) chapters is that things move very quickly.

The teacher of the manga class (made up of Kanna, the three aspiring guys, and the new character) is herself an aspiring manga artist, but one that’s portrayed pathetically, due to her age and lack of accomplishment after all that time. The teacher decides to take the class to Comiket, the world’s largest comic book event, so she can sell her dojinshi. The new setting allows for a whole new set of complications, including cosplay and Kanna trying to protect the naive boys from being exposed to yaoi.

The characters are static in this series, the better to allow the plot twists to vary for sitcom-like comedy. The high points of a manga career are moved through quickly, as Kanna gets her first collected volume in this book as well as appearing at her first signing, all of which cause more tension and humorous desperation. The guys show some value here, coming up with a ridiculous plot that somehow works out, because everyone is oblivious to anything but their immediate wants.

When Kanna gets a love letter, we’re told by the author Ema Toyama that “manga artists are a life form that metabolize the bad events in their lives and excrete them as manga story points.” That makes the whole book seem a bit self-referential — as Kanna struggles with deadlines and ridiculous page counts demanded, once envisions Toyama feeling similarly. Fans and the reader response card rankings are continuing themes, with this book’s cliffhanger involving the ever-present threat of cancellation.

The book ends with the first chapter of “Teach Me (heart) Buddha!”, Kanna’s series about a young girl trying not to fall in love with buddhist gods reincarnated as cute young men, so we can see how many areas she needs to improve. The premise is silly, the characters weirdly exaggerated, and the plots artificial. That’s the point. Good manga is hard, even if it is making fun of itself.

Happy Anniversary to Comics Worth Reading

Celebrating 15 years

I bought the ComicsWorthReading.com domain on December 23, 1999, as a present for myself. That means that this year, it will have been operating for 15 years. The internet, particularly blogging, has changed a lot in that time, and so has this site, going from static pages to WordPress and from reference pages about comic series to a blog covering more topics, including related movies and books.

The modern gift category for the 15th anniversary is Watches, and I’m certainly thinking about time passing. (The traditional gift is Crystal, but I can’t tie that in.) When I started, I’d never read manga, and you could (barely) still read all the “good comics” in a month. The bookstore market for graphic novels hadn’t taken off, and book publishers hadn’t discovered graphic memoir. And the big American superhero publishers were still run out of New York City. Times have changed, and while these days, I never have enough time to keep this site updated or cover all the Comics Worth Reading I hear about, I’m still interested in writing if you’re still interested in reading. Thanks to all my readers, you few who remain. I couldn’t do it without you.

Sgt. Frog Returns as Viz Digital Manga

Sgt. Frog, a humor manga about a frog-looking alien residing with a “typical” Japanese family by Mine Yoshizaki, was originally published in the US by Tokyopop, which put out 21 volumes beginning in 2004.

Sgt. Frog Volume 1

The alien was supposed to invade, but he’s incompetent, and soon, there’s a group of his friends, all hanging out in the sitcom-like episodic structure. For readers, the chapters make fun of media and culture through their wacky situations.

I enjoyed the series at first, although it paled on me after a while. Now, if you’d like to try it, Viz has begun making the series available digitally.

On December 30, Sgt. Frog Volume 1 will be available for $4.99. Here’s the Viz description:

Sgt. Keroro, commanding officer of Planet Keron’s invasion force, has a problem. After blowing his cover and losing his top-secret weapon, the frog-like alien has been cut off from the home world. To make matters worse, he’s lost communications with the rest of his platoon. Now he has taken cover in the Hinata family household, where in exchange for doing his share of the chores, he gets his own room from which to secretly devise new plans of world domination!




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