The First Japanese Comic Artist Published in English

This is a pretty neat writeup… Ash Brown has the story of Masaichi Mukaide’s translated work, credited as “the first Japanese comics to be translated into English”. It appeared in Star Reach, an early independent comic anthology of science fiction and fantasy stories, in the 1970s. As Brown describes it, much of much of Mukaide’s work was written by already-known US creators and developed for this market and audience, so I’m not sure we’d call it manga, but it’s a neat bit of forgotten history.

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No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! Book 4 (WataMote)

Ah, it’s time for a price rise (from $11.99 to $13 — and I’m glad Yen has gotten away from the .99 dodge). Thankfully, I’m still enjoying this series enough to keep buying. I’m not sure why, since normally I hate comedy based on “look how pathetic this person is”, but somehow, I’m still rooting for Tomoko, even when she’s doing the stupidest things possible. I think it’s because there’s a fondness in her portrayal that allow me to focus on similarities without cringing from the discomfort.

As No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular! Book 4 opens, Tomoko has forgotten how to talk to other people, particularly boys. To improve her social skills, she decides to become a club hostess — which is like deciding, since you can’t get a basketball through the hoop, to join the WNBA. It’s the exaggeration that makes this so funny instead of painful. Of course, as soon as she seizes on this idea (based on a TV interview), she envisions herself as the best hostess ever.

I’m impressed by the non-verbal humor segments that work so well. As part of her self-imposed hostess training, Tomoko is working on lighting cigarettes and preparing drinks. She still thinks of life as a video game, working on speed instead of human interaction and trying to figure out tasks to complete to mark progress. In spite of how out of her league she is, she’s still keeping a positive outlook, as though she just needs to find the next new trick to make things all better. I think it’s that optimism and the resulting enthusiasm that makes her such an interesting read to me.

Also, it’s rare to me to see a teen character who’s shown as so honestly sex-crazy while having absolutely no idea what to do about it. She has bizarre fantasies, but I think that’s a realistic part of having adolescent hormones.

Much of this volume revolves around end-of-year activities, from a school marathon (where Tomoko is handicapped by badly having to go to the bathroom) to not knowing what to do with her winter break holiday — although Mom has ideas about cleaning — to a Christmas party with school friends. The last chapter ends on a high note, as Tomoko marks her sixteenth birthday by pretentiously engaging in what she thinks of as adult activities, which include drinking black coffee at a cafe and appreciating the depth and fascination of mature literature, without pictures. Again, she’s marking life by ultimately pointless details, but those elements give her hooks to start understanding the bigger picture.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #6

Writer Christos Gage is really killing it on this series, with creative stories that are true to the characters but reveal new facets of their personalities, not an easy trick to do with something beloved and long-running. He’s back writing solo after being joined by Nicholas Brendon for a Dracula arc. Artists for this story, “I Wish”, are Karl Moline (Fray) and Cliff Richards, inked by Andy Owens.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 10 #6 cover

Cover by Steve Morris

Our ever-growing gang of friends start off the issue by facing a huge challenge for many young adults: affordable housing. Dawn and Xander have broken up, so at least one of them needs a new place. Buffy doesn’t want to live with her roommates any more. Giles has financial issues, being reincarnated as himself as a preteen. It’s all complicated by them being in California, where prices are sky-high. This is very easy to relate to, particularly at that age, when you’re still trying to figure out the adulthood thing. The best parts of Buffy, in my opinion, took these kinds of struggles and made them mean so much more because monsters got involved, which also allowed for symbolic theming. Gage is ably carrying on that tradition.

Their problems might be settled with a deal with the owner of a haunted house — they clean the place out and they can live there. Only the house’s inhabitant isn’t a ghost, it’s a demon with a particularly nasty sting in its tail. The promo copy describes it as fighting back “with blissful childhood fantasies”. Now, the idea of trapping a hero by giving them exactly what they want isn’t a unique one, particularly in comics. The best-known example is Superman’s Black Mercy in “For the Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore, published 30 years ago in Superman Annual #11. Yet that plot is such a perfect choice for these characters — and perhaps the fans, since I can easily see the dismissive snarking about how they were “better when they were in high school.” Well, let’s see, shall we?

Gage clearly knows and loves the show, and I love the way he makes references to past events in such a way that those with more spotty memories can easily get the mention and appreciate the humor. See, for example, Buffy’s response to Andrew’s offer of guest room space. Unfortunately, when it comes to Willow’s clothes, the artist appears to be living in the past to less effective result: a belly-baring shirt with a velvet choker? How 1990s of you.

But back to the story. It’s hilarious who falls for it (and how) and who doesn’t, and along the way, we get plenty of great wisecracks and some thought-provoking moments. Overall, I like spending time with these characters once again, and after reading an issue, I want to read more or watch the show again, the best compliment (I think) for a multi-platform franchise.

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Dark Horse Releases Free Digital Earthquake Comic

In conjunction with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, Dark Horse Comics has put out a free short digital comic to teach earthquake preparedness to teenagers. Without Warning is written by Althea Rizzo and Jeremy Barlow and illustrated by David Hahn. The idea is that the comic format will be more interesting to kids than other types of educational material.

Without Warning cover

Now, it’s still a public interest comic. You won’t find great character insights or a compelling plot here. Instead, it shows us how Angie, a teen in a coastal town in the Pacific Northwest, uses her prepared backpack kit of emergency supplies to calm her friends, rescue a stranded motorist, and reunite with her family after an earthquake and flood.

The art is very journalistic, plain and straightforward, with no showoffy disaster panels, just one full-page post-event portrait of water in the streets and debris everywhere. Instead, the emphasis is on everyday people. You may wonder what happened to Heather, who ignored her better-prepared friend and drove away without knowing how bad/flooded the streets were. Careful attention reveals part of the answer.

It’s a great idea, given the amount of industry talent living near Portland, to do an outreach comic. Particularly since the PR tells us that “experts predict a large 9.0 or higher earthquake could strike Oregon at any time.” That’s a pretty scary possibility. The comic also has some websites to check out and additional educational information on preparedness.

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Metafiction Sends ABC Down the Rabbit Hole With Derrick Storm Series

I’m stunned by this news. I thought it was weird enough reading the Richard Castle novels — someone wrote a TV show starring a writer, and then the company released books referenced on the TV show supposedly by that writer that were more stories that could have been plots on the series, but with another level of fictionalization. Where’s the thesis on all this about self-referentiality and postmodernism?

But wait, there are more than one series of works by Richard Castle — in addition to the “Nikki Heat” books, there are “Derrick Storm” books, which was the series we see him concluding at the beginning of the Castle show. (And I’m not even mentioning the various comics and graphic novels with the character.) Those books are spy thrillers, so I haven’t read them.

Now Variety reports that ABC is developing a Derrick Storm series for television. Although executive producer and Castle creator Andrew Marlowe has moved on from that series as it prepares to launch season 7, he and wife Terri Edda Miller will be producing this new show in conjunction with Gregory Poirier, who is writing the pilot.

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Rock and Roll Love

The artist who calls herself Misako Rocks has reissued her quasi-autobiographical Rock and Roll Love (previously released by Hyperion in 2007). It’s about her trip to the US as an exchange student, where she meets a guy in a band.

Because she’s basing the story on her own life, the telling is unstructured and wandering. She decided to learn English and go to America because she had a crush on a pretty-boy rock star she saw on TV. It’s hard to criticize someone’s real-life choices, but that strikes me as shallow, an impression borne out by how she portrays herself as a character. The emotional roller coaster she goes on is tiring and frequently changing, so much so that the character seems even younger than she is.

Potentially interesting observations about how American kids of the same age seem more grown up are cut short in favor of affirmations like “Yes, I can do it! Anything is possible!” Challenges such as struggling in class due to the language difference are glossed over in a couple of pages with a note that she worked harder. Way too much is packed into this book, so nothing gets the space it deserves a a character moment or story point. Good autobiography is formed in the editing, and there doesn’t seem to have been much of it applied here.

Misako knows she falls too easily and gets too emotional, but she keeps doing it anyway. The message, that if you want something bad enough and work hard, you can make it happen, isn’t one I’d want other kids to internalize, because it’s so unrealistic. She’s clearly not mature enough for a relationship, but instead of showing that from the perspective of the author, looking back, I get the impression that Misako is caught up in how fun it was to be that young.

I wish we got to know Natalie, her 16-year-old host, better. All she is is a voice in the background saying sensible things, such as “Calm down a little bit, okay? You’re too excited.” But we never get enough of an idea of her motivations to see her as a three-dimensional character.

The art has plenty of shading, which gives the book the feel of reading someone’s diary sketchbook. The lettering is computerized, Comic Sans, which isn’t the most professional choice. The images are mostly focused on faces and emotions, as inspired by the shojo manga style.

I hate to be so harsh when it comes to someone’s life, but this was an unfocused, unsatisfying read. (The artist provided a review copy.)

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*Wolf Children Ame & Yuki — Recommended

Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki is a gorgeous manga adaptation of an award-winning animated film. Yen Press has really done the material well, releasing a single-volume hardcover containing over 500 pages of story (three volumes’ worth), color opening pages, and notes and character sketches by the authors.

It’s not a new story, but it’s presented in an affecting way. Hana falls in love with a mysterious bad boy who crashes a college course. Turns out he’s a werewolf, but they get married and have children anyway. After a tragedy, Hana moves to the country to raise their two children, Yuki and her little brother Ame. The kids can become wolves, humans, or humans with wolf ears. Hana wants to give them the choice to be who they are, without others judging them or running in fear or harming them, thus the more natural upbringing in relative solitude.

After two chapters that set up the relationship between her parents — and serve as a model of abbreviated but powerful storytelling, along the lines of Up — Yuki begins narrating the story of her life. I’m a sucker for cute kid stories, and these kids are adorable, particularly as they almost unthinkingly swap between toddlers and animals. I sympathized with Hana’s struggles, trying to raise particularly difficult offspring without being able to ask anyone for help. This is a heartwarming family story with easy-to-read yet emotional art.

With hard work and study, Hana learns what she needs, aided by the community around her. As the story progresses, the little family struggles with the kids going to school, finding mom a job, and building relationships with others. They choose different paths as they grow up, as all children do. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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Of All the Gin Joints

Out next month is a wonderful read for anyone interested in Hollywood history and/or alcohol — and really, can the two be separated?

Mark Bailey has assembled in one volume short profiles of movie stars and writers, particularly those notable for how much they imbibed; their often notorious incidents involving drinking; descriptions of famous clubs and watering holes from the past; scenes from classic movies affected by alcohol; and classic cocktail recipes. I wanted to try them all, from the Cocoanut Grove to the Orange Blossom to the Vesper Martini!

Of All the Gin Joints — title taken, of course, from the famous Bogart line from Casablanca — is an excellent time capsule, evoking memories of Hollywood from its earliest days up through the 1970s. The saddest part of the book is how some of the landmarks, gloriously described, no longer exist, replaced by apartments or strip malls.

(The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)

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