Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma Book 1

Food Wars! is due out in print at the beginning of next month, but it’s been available digitally (along with book 2) for months now. If you enjoy cooking competition manga like Iron Wok Jan or Yakitate!! Japan, this is another strong entry in that category.

Soma Yukihira is a scrappy teen cook. He’s been raised in the family restaurant, and he’s quite talented, but unpolished. He winds up attending a prominent culinary high school for the best of the best. There he meets Erina, a high achiever with a “divine tongue… the most refined palate known to man.” Of course she also has a large chest.

The flavors of the food are evoked through exaggerated images. The first has made this series somewhat infamous, as Soma’s attempt at a squid dish tastes so wrong that the girl trying it feels as though she’s being molested by tentacles, a spectacle given a two-page fan-service spread of her flashing underwear. As seen here, like those other books I mentioned, this series is written for guys.

The dish shown on the cover is a fake pork roast, constructed out of potatoes and bacon to defeat an unscrupulous land developer who’s trying to destroy the family restaurant. The sequence where he describes its construction is impressive, followed by several images of the female executive experiencing “the rich juices… explod[ing] inside [her] mouth” and begging to be allowed to eat more. Thankfully, that sort of thing calms down once Soma goes to school, although we do see Erina almost topless, surrounded by angels, when she finally agrees to taste his food.

Once we get past those images, the love of food does shine through in the series. Erina represents fancy gourmet cooking and all the snooty elites that participate in that world. Soma is the champion of “common, dirt-cheap dishes” that when done well are filled with flavor and possibly even more satisfying. He’s labeled a “common plebeian” (redundancy!) by the book itself, and his skills will require the stuck-up high-class chefs to acknowledge his value.

His challenge is to make Erina acknowledge how good regular cooking can be. His lifetime of practical experience working in a restaurant, where the food has to get done and it has to please the customer, is his major asset, although his “screw everyone but me” attitude will needs its rough edges smoothed out.

The recipe for Soma’s rice dish is also included in the volume, as is the one-chapter stand-alone “pilot” story for this series. There’s also a short bonus about Soma’s girl neighbor (the tentacle victim).

Although the art is aimed firmly at the young male, if you can overlook the fan service, Food Wars! does a great job of capturing the emotion of competition and the struggle to improve and win. (And even the images can be laughably enjoyable in a “really? they went there?” kind of way.) There’s a strong respect for food and flavor that comes through the pages, and that’s the part of the series I enjoy.

Future volumes are planned to come out in print on an every-other-month release schedule. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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My New Friend Is So Fun! An Elephant & Piggie Book

I love Elephant and Piggie! I was introduced to their charms thanks to my adorable niece. She loves being read to (and I love encouraging a love of books). The unfortunate part of this process is that an enjoyable book will be requested to be read over and over again. Mo Willems’ Elephant & Piggie books are the best ones for this, because they only get more fun after the first read.

Elephant and Piggie are two best friends. They are the animals they’re named, and they exist in a world of plain white pages, with no backgrounds or settings. That makes them both more universal and allow the reader to focus on Willems’ terrific illustrations. Elephant and Piggie are always either acting or reacting in exaggerated fashion, but in a way that makes their feelings easy for a young reader to understand.

Piggie is outgoing and optimistic, while Elephant is more cautious and concerned, making for a good match and a diverse range of reactions. Together they deal with questions of friendship, whether simple (My Friend Is Sad) or more complex (Should I Share My Ice Cream?). They face challenges (as when Elephant fears that Pigs Make Me Sneeze!) and the struggles of non-shared interests (Elephants Cannot Dance!) and even metaphysical discoveries (We Are in a Book!). Sometimes they just try new activities, as in Let’s Go for a Drive!. In my reading with my niece, that one turned into a sing-along, as Elephant and Piggie share their joy at a prospective car trip by singing.

I was impressed by the topics tackled in the latest book, My New Friend Is So Fun!, which are jealousy and fear of abandonment. Piggie has met a new friend, Brian Bat, and they are playing together. Bat’s friend Snake and Elephant are afraid that Bat and Piggie will have too much fun together, so much fun that they don’t need Snake and Elephant.

One of the other characteristics of the Elephant & Piggie books is that the characters aren’t afraid to yell, as in this page where Elephant is scared and Snake is thrown for a loop (literally).

Elephant & Piggie page from My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems

The large text is easy to read, and the drama allows for read-alouds to feature acting! (said in the Jon Lovitz voice, for those of you old enough to remember). There is no description, only conversation in these tales, so practice voices. Once you’ve finished this one, there are a lot more to enjoy! (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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All You Need Is Kill (Digital Manga Review)

Publishing decisions don’t always make sense to me. To tie into this summer’s release of Edge of Tomorrow, Viz put out an abbreviated comic version of the original story titled All You Need Is Kill. It wasn’t very good, and its short length made it a very choppy read.

All You Need Is Kill cover

Now I’ve had the chance to try the All You Need Is Kill manga, which is available digitally only in two volumes. (A print omnibus edition is due in November.) It’s a much better read and a more enjoyable experience. This should have been the lead tie-in, although perhaps comics are considered more mainstream than manga to promote.

Much of its appeal comes from the skilled, attractive artwork. Takeshi Obata has illustrated several manga titles well-known in the US, including Death Note, Hikaru no Go, and Bakuman. His detailed art is a pleasure to read.

Of course, the increased page count (in comparison to the comic) means scenes have room to breathe. Incidents that seemed to randomly appear in the graphic novel here have purpose and explanation. Characters seem more realistic, with actual human reactions. Since this is a manga, with certain expectations, the battle jacket armor fits right in. The soldiers are beautifully drawn in imposing yet tragically futile battle scenes.

The comic seemed to me like a glorified ad for the movie. This book seems like a story in itself. Keiji takes some time, understandably, to realize what’s happening to him, that he’s reliving one day over and over. That gives us some time to get to know and sympathize with him, his uncertainty and looming terror, as his experience hardens him. Plus, fellow soldiers have personalities. There’s a lot more content, many more moments to get to know Keiji as a person, as well as those around him. The space also allows for more repetitions of his death, with variations that teach him and us more about the situation and strategies. The long-standing war against the monster Mimics hangs over it all.

All You Need Is Kill is a good read for those who like battle / mecha / science fiction manga regardless of whether you not you’re interested in seeing the Tom Cruise movie. I warn you, Volume 1 ends on a stunning cliffhanger, so you’ll want to be ready to buy both books at once. The publisher has made the first chapter available as a free preview. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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How Opening a Comic Store Has Changed Over Time

Earlier this year, Brian Hibbs, owner of San Francisco’s Comix Experience, wrote a column about acquiring a second store. It’s got lots of great business information, as do his other columns about being a comic retailer, but what struck me most was this end paragraph:

I opened my first store for $10k and a comic book collection, but those days are decades gone. It took me 24 years to get to store #2 because the barriers to open have gotten so high. We should keep lowering them, while encouraging a high standard of professionalism and stock.

Many retailers now, still hanging on, opened in a very different time. We have as many comic stores as we do because lots of people could do that then — their comic collections, in an age where back issues were how you read comic history, were valuable, enough so that you could turn them into a business. You can’t now. You need investment money, and a lot more of it.

Earlier in the piece (which you should read all of), Hibbs provides an estimate of needing $100,000 these days to open a new store properly, before talking about how more support is needed for new retailers. I think these changes indicate a lot about why, sometimes, the comic industry can be tough to change or convince of modern attitudes. The people making business decisions came from a different era, and the new blood has it harder to get in. We knew that was true in, for example, comic art and publishing, but it’s also true in retailing.

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*Lighter Than My Shadow — Recommended

I don’t remember where I heard about this graphic novel last year, but it sounded good enough that I imported a copy from the UK, where it was published by Jonathan Cape. (It’s in good company — they published Posy Simmonds and one of the best graphic novels of 2012.)

Now, Soft Skull Press is bringing it to the US. (My comments are based on the UK edition.)

Lighter Than My Shadow is Katie Green’s story of her life with anorexia. As a kid, she had the typical struggles with her family over finishing dinner and changing tastes. She was an artist from a young age, spending time alone in her imagination. Sometimes the things she found scared her, and she sought order and rules and rituals as a way to control her world.

Her happy childhood was disrupted by oncoming puberty. Her best friend was growing up faster than Katie was, which drove them apart. Then there were bullying boys at school, where Katie’s achievement singled her out for more negative attention. Even her friends were catty to her about her lack of interest in the opposite sex. It all added up to a recipe for seeking ever more control over the one thing in her life she can control absolutely: what she eats. At first, her discipline, giving up junk food to start, made her feel healthy, but it soon came to consume her.

Lighter Than My Shadow has a very different look from most graphic novels, as you can see at the book’s website. Her figures are simple, dot-eyed stand-ins that resemble toys, but they have an impressive sense of motion and emotion. The poses are realistic and well-observed.

Most of the book is printed on grey or sepia paper, giving the whole thing a gloomy overtone that suits the material and focuses attention on the central figures. There are no gutters, and the borders between panels resemble torn paper edges. The despair that overtakes Green is shown as a black scribble, a simple but potent device that can be used as an overhanging cloud or a looming threat. Later on, she draws herself with a yawning open mouth in her midsection, the perfect image for how thinking about food and eating begins to define her.

Green’s portrayal of her life is very approachable, which makes her gradual slide into disorder all the more understandable. Her depiction of her mental state, of how all this made sense to her and even how some attempts at recovery were just more ways of trying to be good, is incredibly truthful. The straightforward art makes this readable by even those not used to comics. I hope this book reaches outside the usual graphic novel readers, because its message of Katie’s journey could help a lot of girls and women realize they’re not alone in their concerns and mental struggles. Anorexics sometimes feel as though they want to erase themselves, and the comic format is a perfect venue to illustrate that literally and symbolically. Her desire to make art infers her well-chosen images, using the visuals to represent her internal state of mind. (Compare, also, Look Straight Ahead; both graphic novels brilliantly use the visual/verbal blend of comics to convey mental states that otherwise would be hard to describe.)

Previews says that this edition of Lighter Than My Shadow will be 160 pages, quite a trick since the original was over 500. I think that’s an error on Diamond’s part. Lighter Than My Shadow is due out in October and can be ordered now from your local comic shop with Diamond code JUL14 1414. I hope you check it out.

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Batman TV Show Promoted on San Diego Con Hotel Keys, Pre-Orders Now Available

Now that hotel keys are flat pieces of plastic, they’ve become an advertising medium, since every visitor has to look at them at least once a day. To promote the upcoming DVD release of Batman: The Complete Television Series, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment will feature the show on thousands of hotel key cards across more than 40 hotels for the San Diego Comic-Con next week.

Batman key card art

As shown on the card, the package will be available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digitally on November 11, 2014. Preorders are now available at various online retailers, with a list price of $200 for the DVD set. The Limited Edition Blu-ray preorder is $270, which Amazon currently has at 30% off, for a price of $189. At that cost, how interested will fans be in indulging their nostalgia?

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Hexed Returns, Five Years Later

My, how quickly time flies, and how much changes.

Hexed #1 cover by Emma Rios

Boom! Studios has announced the relaunch of Hexed. The title originally ran as a four-issue miniseries written by Michael Alan Nelson and drawn by Emma Rios, launching at the end of 2008. Rios, who has gone on to the Strange miniseries for Marvel and Pretty Deadly from Image, made her US debut with the series, still available as a collected edition.

Now, it’s back as an ongoing series, written by the original writer/creator Nelson, but drawn by Dan Mora. Rios will be contributing covers, as shown here. From the publisher’s press release:

This new series dives back into the depths of the Aether with Luci Jennifer Inacio Das Neves, better known as “Lucifer”, the supernatural thief-for-hire, as she takes on the dark denizens of the netherworld in search of wondrous objects for her mentor/mother figure, Val Brisendine.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the series, since I’m not crazy about “dark urban fantasy”, but the description of the heroine as “a quick-witted mash-up of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lara Croft” is accurate — and probably indicates where the idea came from. The first issue is due out August 13 at a $3.99 cover price.

It remains to be seen whether they do anything creative with the launch. Five years ago, Hexed was one of the titles that drove retailers crazy, because Boom! put it online for free at the then-hot MySpace Comic Books site. It was also… historical moment ahead… the first comic on Android, running on the then-new G1 phone.

While researching that, by the way, I had to kill almost all the links in those posts. MySpace Comics no longer exists, that I know of, and Boom! has redone its site several times since then, trashing the history. World Wide Web my foot — more like land where history disappears.

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The Best iPad Comic App: Chunky Comic Reader

I had an app on my iPad that worked just fine for reading comics, but after a recent upgrade that promised cool new features but broke a number of previous ones, I found myself looking for a new option. My requirements were simple, I thought:

Chunky Comic Reader app icon

  • The ability to view CBR and PDF files in one app (since I get both kinds as review copies)
  • The ability to import from Dropbox directly in the app (since that’s my preferred transfer method)
  • The ability to read left-to-right or right-to-left (with manga)
  • It would be nice if it were free, since that let me try out functionality without commitment

It wasn’t so easy to find all those in one app, though. After reading a bunch of sites and trying out a few, I did find a great app that gave me everything I was looking for, plus more new features that I didn’t expect (like faster downloads and automatic title sorting). That was the Chunky Comic Reader. Silly name and icon aside, it’s got great performance and does exactly what I wanted. There are more details at the app website.

Turns out that I was lucky, since Chunky wasn’t free until a couple of months ago, when version 2.0 was released (and let’s here it for an app that’s still got active development and support ongoing). Now, if you want to contribute to the developer, there’s a pro upgrade (reviewed here).

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