Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tigra, Tigra Spending Spree/Demon Reds Strike to be Free: A Look at Avengers #214!

I know it's hard to believe in this day
of static group portrait covers where the
characters pose with "attitude," but
this scene actually occurs on the pages
inside the comic! Radical idea. Now look
more closely...

YAY! It's Tigra during her tailless early
days! The guys all look angry or
concerned but Tigra looks... befuddled
and/or frightened. She's so tiny it's hard to
tell which. Either way, it fits her characterization
in this and subsequent issues.

Jim Shooter's visionary political epic Avengers #214 begins with Capt. America working out over 30 years of sexual needs repressed by a stint inside an iceberg. Cap KA-WHAMS! the hell out of some helpless training dummies while rookie Avenger Tigra tries to distract him enough to cause injury.

A cat-girl in a bikini with
a tiger-tooth belt talks to a bald
guy in a butler suit about a man
who calls himself Yellowjacket,
creates evil robots and slaps his wife.
And this is the normal part of the story...

Eventually, she gets bored with the lack of attention and decides to recap the previous issues for Avengers butler Jarvis. Jarvis is too polite to tell Tigra he was also there and already knew all this and really could give a shit because there's all that Iron Man armor to polish, Thor's afternoon tea to brew... and also because he suddenly realizes it's imperative he take a cold shower at once. Because Tigra is an amazing combination of several fringe fetishes. Paul Simon once wrote a song about her: "50 Ways to Get Your Perv On."

She's 1) a cat-girl; 2) a furry; 3) wearing a bikini; 4) the bikini has a skull decoration (between her... oh, you were looking there already), so it must be mall punk-wear from Hot Topic; 5) she's a superhero; 6) she's a 2-dimensional fictional character so you can imagine her doing any filthy, disgusting thing you wish; and 7) she's hyper-sexualized as one of her personality quirks. She's the Suicide Girls line-up condensed into a single stripey-furred comic book character.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Great American West, leather-butch Johnny Blaze, harboring Ghost Rider (the Spirit of Vengeance), has been hanging out on a mesa, pondering some deeply existential crisis. Suddenly, Warren Worthington III comes roaring by in his Ferrari, a beautiful woman (possibly a model who regularly snorts coke off mirrors in relatively secluded corners of Studio 54 with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol) riding shotgun, totally pissing Blaze off…

We here at When Comic Books Ruled
the Earth can no longer stand idly by
and allow the indoctrination of our comics
reading youth by the atheistic Bolshevik hordes.
I have in my possession a list of 57 known
communist comic book characters...

In a Marxist sort of way. I guess this proves Ghost Rider is completely evil, because only a demon from hell would decide a rich guy and his hot girlfriend on a date are oppressing the proletariat, said proletariat consisting solely of motorcycle jock Spirits of Vengeance.

Why should some jackass have a Ferrari and a gorgeous blond cokehead when Blaze doesn’t even have enough to eat? He briefly waxes politically over the social injustice of Worthington’s flaunting of his status as one of the haves. It’s like Ghost Rider is a demon-possessed Eugene V. Debs all of a sudden. Filled with pro-labor activist rage, he takes off after Warren and friend on his flaming People’s Revolutionary Motorcycle.

What Ghost Rider fails to take into account is his own possession of a motorcycle, when there are Latin American camposinos who are lucky to have bicycles or any mode of transportation. Are you not also part of the regime of unchecked two-wheeled capitalism, Ghost Rider? Give a man a flaming skull for a head and you feed him for a day; teach a man with a flaming skull for a head how to ride a flaming motorcycle and you feed his lust for vengeance for a lifetime.

No time for political debate! AVENGERS ASSEMBLE! Capt. America, Thor, Iron Man and Tigra fly out west to confront Ghost Commie.

But before the fight, Tigra must fulfill the urge all cat-girls feel, deep in their milk-and-fish-fed bones: the compulsion to shop. While the men run off to accomplish the mission that's their entire raison d'etre for coming to Arizona, Tigra decides to go a spree using the Avengers’ expense account.

"We'll scan the area, Tigra. You
go pick yourself up something trashy
yet tasteful for the after-fight orgy."

It’s not just any shopping trip. It’s a shopping trip full of regional snobbery as Tigra displays her reliance on stereotypes over empirical observation. She's so intent on confirming her shallow expectations, she totally ignores one woman’s exasperated “Oy vey!" Because in Tigra's limited worldview, there are no Jews in Arizona.

"I'm Tigra. Any of you backwards-ass
rubes know how to read? Any of you
married to your cousins?"

Not content merely to be the embodiment of one set of fringe fetishes, Tigra decides to appeal to yet another offbeat sexual demographic- now she’s a furry cowgirl straight out of an early 90s Madonna video when the Material Girl was ruining sex for everyone by running it into the ground and making it boring and commonplace.

Strangely, as soon as Tigra appeared
in her cowgirl outfit, Mr. Greenjeans'
hands went into his pockets and his
breathing got all funny. Cap didn't
even notice.

Now appropriately dressed to face the pissed off Socialist Worker of Vengeance, Tigra jumps on the back of Capt. America’s pro-capitalism motorcycle. At last, we have our two diametrically opposed political and economic systems in direct conflict- and they’re finally equally mounted, American Chopper style. In this way, they shall settle once and for all the central conflict of the 20th century!

East versus West! Which will prove supreme?

Communism and satanism in
a startling twin triumph over good!

YIKES! Ghost Commie proceeds to burn the living shit out of everyone… by burning them! With fire! He burns Iron Man’s face, he burns Capt. America and the nearly naked Tigra while they speed around on the motorcycle, he burns the petit bourgeoisie and their running dog lackeys…

You win this round, Socialism… But if Ronald Reagan’s deficit-spending reliance on trillion-dollar defense budgets has taught us anything, it's that your kind can never triumph against the power of the free market and our all-powerful military-industrial complex. We’ll be back, to wear you down in a long-term war of economic attrition! And failing that, it’s Nuke City! YEEHAAWWWW!

All the while, Tigra continues to earn her hero cred. Now she indulges in the cat-girl’s other vice… cringing, fur-covered cowardice. Notice how Capt. America can admit to fear, while for Tigra there’s nothing but shame and self-recrimination. Although come on, Cap… we know you’re bullshitting her.

Spending the Avengers' money,
backing out of a fight. You've
come a long way, baby!

You were in WWII, for god’s sake! I’m sure the carnage you saw there was much worse than some chump in black leather tossing fire at you. No one here lost a leg, no bodies were blown into pink mist, the ground’s not littered with thousands of broken lads crying for their mothers, blood on the snow or in the mud. There aren’t any cities blasted into rubble where shell-shocked refugees pick their way through the devastation and wounded dogs howl forlornly.

For that matter, neither you nor Tigra seem particularly worse for wear.

But Tigra sums it up best when she thinks, “What a man!” Yes, Cap is quite a man. And being a man is much more than any bikini-and-cowboy hat wearing cat-girl can ever hope to be. At this point Tigra doesn’t know whether she wants to sleep with Cap or be him.

Or maybe it's Iron Man who's most
impressed with Cap's Hemingwayesque
"grace under pressure."

And that’s ultimately one of the many lessons Jim Shooter teaches us in this story of politics, superheroic action and frivolous shopping sprees- Men never think twice about mastering their fears and always actively seek to solve problems, socialism can defeat capitalism unless we counter it with force… and cat-girls are cowardly, bigoted, self-absorbed, penis-envying spendthrifts.

Wow... all this random, nonsensical crap was only 50 cents! Nowadays, random, nonsensical crap costs 3 bucks. Make Mine 1980s Marvel!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Beneath the Planet of the Apes: The Power Records Adaptation

Beneath the Planet of the Apes
Publisher: Power Records/Peter Pan
Writer: Unknown
Artist: Arvid Knudsen and Associates

One of the coolest things about being a child of the 70s was having access to the illustrated book/record sets put out by Peter Pan and Power Records... which I think are one and the same. Their line included popular superheroes like Batman, Star Trek, the original G.I. Joe toys, at least one Conan the Barbarian story (with art by Neal Adams, who actually did a number of books for Power) and movie adaptations like Beneath the Planet of the Apes. What made them so cool was the art, which was occasionally spectacular.

This was the third comics adaptation of this movie, the first being an expurgated Gold Key one-shot and the second being a gorgeously illustrated Alfredo Alcala epic serialized by Marvel. The Marvel version can be found in full color in the Adventures on the Planet of the Apes monthly, in the b&w Apes magazines and in a graphic novel reprint from now-defunct Malibu Comics.

But this? This is a compressed version you read while listening to a record with bad acting and sparse sound effects. Like the Marvel version it starts with a dramatic splash image of the ruined Statue of Liberty:

The artist isn't credited by name. Instead, there's a catch-all credit for "Arvid Knudsen and Associates," which is probably a packaging firm, an artist's agency or an advertising firm of some sort. Info is sketchy; believe me, I've looked.

From appearances, I'd say the anonymous artist was Filipino. In the early to mid-1970s, a number of brilliant Filipino artists had come to the States to work with DC and Warren, including Alcala (who produced quality pages at an absolutely insane rate far exceeding the fabled "Kirby Barrier") and the undersung Nestor Redondo. The art definitely has a Nestor Redondo quality about it, but isn't quite as modeled as Redondo's art. Which may be the result of it having been a rush job, or a side effort for some cash. But I suspect the actual artist wasn't Redondo but instead was another of his countrymen, possibly Mar Amongo.

Mar Amongo was a protege of Redondo's, and the line quality here (especially the way the anonymous artist deals with feathering) looks more like Amongo's. While the two artists' figure work could look remarkably similar, the unknown Knudsen illustrator, like Armongo, doesn't seem to have used as much of the ultra-fine, etching-like crosshatching that characterizes Redondo's artwork.

There's also a chance it's by Rudy Nebres. That's a possibility given the Neal Adams connection. Nebres came to the States in 1975 and later did some work for Adams' Continuity Studios. It could also be the work of the underappreciated Tony DeZuniga.

It also bears the influence of Alcala's adaptation of the same material, especially in how the artist costumes General Ursus, the movie's powerful ape general (a rabble-rousing performance by James Gregory in a role actually written for Orson Welles). The film Ursus wears a distinctive headpiece with a large, bubble-shaped crown with long side flaps. For his ape warlord, Alcala collapsed and toned it down a bit and so did the anonymous Knudsen illustrator:

It looks a lot like he'd seen Alcala's artwork. And why mess with perfection? Weirdly, he also makes Dr. Zira a bit more butch, almost interchangeable with her fiance Cornelius. Who wears the pants in this loving chimpanzee household? Why, they both do, in the latest unisex styles for ape scientists:

This is a good example of how the writer and artist condense the film story. In the film (and the Marvel version), there's a whole ton of business about Zira's not applauding the Ursus speech and some arguments with Dr. Zaius about military adventurism. Here it's just a one-page encounter and then Zira and Cornelius disappear into the sunset in a kind of melancholy fugue.

Immediately afterward and without explanation, astronaut Brent turns into Nature Boy and begins running around in a soiled loincloth:

Looks like he made it just in time for the famous New York Fun Festival. The year before his spaceflight into the future he missed the festival entirely when he came down with a nasty stomach virus and spent the entire week in and out of his hotel bathroom.

But no trip to the New York Fun Festival is complete without running into the local mutants of the skinless variety:

Brent then demonstrates the extreme tactfulness for which he was known back in his own time, a quality that led to his being chosen as America's second "ambassador to the stars:"

What else could make a trip to a ruined, subterranean of New York populated by skinless mutants complete? Why, taking a gander at their god, an atomic bomb! Hanging around at this point is a bad mistake roughly on a par with your paroled cousin Randy's get quick rich scheme involving a crystal meth lab:

Actually, it's not quite that bad. Because the reassuring thing about atomic weapons is how they act as the ultimate deterrent against violent invasion by war-mongering gorillas:

Oops! Don't worry, kids. All we have to do is set the bomb's coordinates for the apes' nearby city and...

Because everything is so telescoped, the storytelling is closer to pure illustration, or the tableaux style of a Hal Foster Prince Valiant Sunday strip. Yet it's surprisingly effective for something so short. This, along with the lush figure work and rendering provide evidence of the strong illustrative traditions of the Filipino comics industry. And considering the amount of work many of these artists could turn out, it's not surprising companies were snatching up the top pros at the time and bringing them across the Pacific.

Also, little of the gruesomeness or the bleakness the Apes films frequently indulged in is toned down. That's a bit surprising when you consider the intended audience of kids. While the dialogue is extremely simplistic, the artwork alone makes this a rare comics gem, along with the adaptations by the Arvid Knudsen crew of some of the other Apes films.

PS- If you look at the cover again, you'll notice the apes aren't gorilla soldiers. Instead, they're peace-loving chimpanzees and one of them appears to have shot Charlton Heston in the back with an arrow. Obviously these apes were part of a picnic or day camp featuring an archery contest that went horribly awry. We did things like that back in the 70s, what with all the lawn darts and Alpha-Omega nuclear devices lying around. It's a wonder any of us made it to adulthood. Note Dr. Zaius angrily shouting about all violations of camp safety regulations (also Brent and Nova are running on the pool deck in blatant disregard of the rules!) in the lower right hand corner. Although he's a major player in the movie, he doesn't appear in this comic at all!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #2: A Comic Review

Star Trek: Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor #2
IDW Publishing
Story and Art: John Byrne
Color: Lovern Kindzierski

My mom drove me to my hometown comic book store Friday afternoon. I picked up a number of books and spent about half of what I would have if I’d bought them in Japan. But I miss buying American comics in Japan. To buy a comic in Japan usually required a shinkansen trip to Tokyo, sometimes during one of my vacation weeks. Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, crowded trains, urban hyper-development from horizon to horizon, delicious food, adventure, excitement.

Now it's a five-minute ride in the passenger seat of Mom's Lincoln. And for yet another retro filip, I bought a book written and drawn by John Byrne. The last time I did that was probably 1992 or 1993. John Byrne is a grizzled veteran, a one-time superstar. What is he doing writing and drawing Star Trek comics for IDW? Are these on anybody’s radar?

Well, I can’t answer that second question, but the answer to the first one is: pleasantly surprising me.

Byrne was the top cat of Funnybook Alley back when I was first getting into comics, one of my artistic heroes. He used to handle all the major super-characters: the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Superman, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch, Rog-9000. Now he’s drawing Leonard “Bones” McCoy in a post-series/pre-movies adventure. Remember how Bones showed up in Star Trek: The Motion Picture with a beard? That’s what he looks like here. I missed the first issue, and maybe that's where Byrne gives the beard's origins.

Byrne’s dialogue is mostly of the old school expository variety-- and there's lots of it. The panels are jam-packed with talk. No post-modern irony or fourth-wall breaking here, just a neatly plotted story with a nod to hard science fiction where Bones solves a medical mystery with the help of a brand new supporting cast and Scotty sporting his movie mustache and baby blue pajama-style uniform.

It’s a fun read-- largely self-contained, too, so if feels more as if you turned on the TV and caught an odd episode of the original show rather than overloading the reader with too many continued story threads you may or may not care anything about-- and I like the way Byrne caricatures the familiar characters without relying on photo reference. Photo reference portraits just killed DC’s various Trek titles. Nothing destroys story momentum like a giant, poorly-rendered portrait of William Shatner or Patrick Stewart obviously based on some glossy 8x10 headshot provided by the Paramount publicity department. Byrne also uses the comic book format to expand Trek's vistas-- in this story, he takes care of all the multi-million dollar special effects you could want with a few pen or brush strokes. The towering "vertical farms" McCoy finds on his visit to Gamma Tarses VII (they make me homesick for Tokyo) probably only cost Byrne and IDW a few pennies to render. Suck on that, James Cameron and George Lucas!

There's nothing radical in Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor, and if you're a Trek fan, you'll probably enjoy it. Readers expecting blood, guts, meta-humor and photo-realism probably should look elsewhere for their sequential kicks.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Storyboards to James Cameron's Spider-Man Movie (via Cinematical)

I wish I could post them here, but that would be unethical. Or something like that. I'm kind of sketchy on all this Internet etiquette stuff. Instead of just downloading Cinematical's images and putting them on my blog as if I had discovered them, I'm going to post a link, then mock the storyboards here. This will force you, the reader, to jump back and forth, but it can't be helped.

1) Peter Parker uses his spider-powers to spy on Mary Jane in her bedroom. This is a scenario right out of those teen sex comedy flicks we loved so much in the 70s and 80s. It's something Anthony Michael Hall would have done in Weird Science 2: The Spidering. Or perhaps it was simply inspired by Scott Baio and Willie Aames's 1982 coming-of-age classic Zapped!. What I don't understand is why Peter is screaming in horror. Does Mary Jane have a colorful dragon tattoo covering her entire back? An immature conjoined twin protruding from her spine? Or has Puny Parker been decapitated and his severed head webbed to the Watson house's exterior wall by his arch-enemy Venom?

2) A middle-aged Peter Parker pops a zit. This is a side-effect of the spider-powers: pus-filled zits that, when popped, spew a juicy stream containing billions of baby spiders. This scene was designed to occur in a post-credits sequence showing some of the late life negative consequences of Peter's having been bitten by a radioactive spider.

3) Spider-Man discovers the earth has been inverted. The city is where the sky once was! The sky is where the city once was! And only Spider-Man, with his amazing spider-sense, is aware of the change!

4) Peter Parker attempts suicide. This is from the hilarious sequence early in the film which shows just how miserable Peter Parker's life is-- the poor, put-upon guy slashes his wrists, only to have the blood spurt directly into his eyes, leading to a slapstick chain of events as the temporarily blind high schooler stumbles around his bedroom trying to find his phone so he can call 911. And all the while, he's becoming progressively weaker from loss of blood.

5) Peter Parker dreams of Mary Jane. This occurs the morning before he's bitten by the spider. He's a teenager; it's self-explanatory.

6) Spider-Man Makes 1000 Cranes. This is from a moving scene where Spider-Man uses his enhanced abilities to do origami.

7) Spider-Man Cuts Loose. Here's the dramatic scene in which Spider-Man swings above Manhattan and farts, his spider-powers imbuing his gaseous emission with a huge odor burst that sickens half the city.

8) The Message. Late in the film, one of Peter Parker's talking spider friends attempts to warn the boy's elderly father about the danger Pete's placing himself in as he takes greater and greater risks while fighting Venom and the Green Goblin. Mr. Parker angrily smashes the spider before it can impart its message; this later has tragic consequences.

9) Spider-Clones. One of the movie's many subplots is a reiteration of the infamous "Clone Saga." Here four Peter Parker clones escape from a secret laboratory, one right after the other.

10) Ben Affleck. There's a strange fantasy sequence where co-star Ben Affleck-- playing himself-- shoots webbing from his wrists at tiny Afflecks, a la the windmill scene in Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness. This is ironic in that Raimi eventually directed the first three Spider-Man movies, while Affleck gained spider-abilities in real life and almost destroyed his movie career in favor of a life fighting crime.

11) Insurance. In this scene, Spider-Man attempts to shill for Geico auto insurance, and the guy in the foreground just isn't having it, baby, despite the many dangers he faces in his sweet new ride.

12) That's Entertainment! In the film's climax, Spider-Man throws a web-shaped shawl Mary Jane knitted for him at Marcel Duchamp's 1915-1923 work The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même) while an anonymous dancer shows off some Bob Fosse-choreographed moves. Cameron originally planned this as a muscular musical number, prefiguring Takeshi Kitano's tap dance finale for his flick Zatoichi.

Well, I'm flabbergasted. Cameron's vision for his Spider-Man is strange and, at times, quite disturbing. I'm not sure if we comic fans avoided a cinematic catastrophe, or if the world lost a Fellini-esque masterwork.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Cassandra Cain Batgirl as a Garbage Pail Kid!

I did another of my patented Cassandra Cain news searches-- out of boredom more so than any hope DC had announced some positive plans for using her in a story-- and found this hilarious drawing drawn by Brent Engstrom. It sums up in a single image what DC has done with a formerly compelling character. I'm guessing the fist on the right is Dan Didio's and the fist on the left is Adam Beechen's.

Brent's other art is pretty sweet, too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Farewell, Frank Frazetta...

The legendary Frank Frazetta passed away today. "Legendary" is one of those overworked terms, so much so it should probably be retired. But it's particularly apt in Frazetta's case, so I'm using it here. The legendary Frank Frazetta. He worked with Al Capp on Li'l Abner, did some gorgeous work for EC Comics, then turned towards commercial art where he could actually make money commensurate with his artistic skills. Along the way, he created the iconic visual representation of a little character by the name of Conan.

From what I understand, Conan is a sword-and-sorcery character of some popularity. You know, they ought to make a movie about him sometime. Or at least do a comic book series. I imagine a comic book series featuring a Conan that looks like Frank Frazetta's version would sell an issue or two. Do you agree?

To me, Frazetta is forever linked with airbrushed conversion vans driven by weightlifter dudes with shaggy, bleached hair and too many Ayn Rand books in their personal libraries for my comfort. Molly Hatchet album covers, stomach tattooes and that one guy in art classes who submitted barbarian paintings as a solution to every assignment and made chainmail in his spare time. I think I had a version of him every semester, from high school through graphic design school.

Frazetta's collaboration with Ralph Bakshi, Fire and Ice, is a dumber-than-dumb good versus evil story, although not nearly as sleazy as Bakshi's earlier flicks. Beyond serving as masturbation fodder for AD&D-playing teens, I could never figure out why Princess Teegra was writhing on her bed while talking to her tutor or handmaiden or whoever the hell that was supposed to be. Someone wanted to animate a Frazetta woman as though she were posing for a Playboy photo-spread, and rotoscoped a Playmate.

All these half-naked people with names like Larn, Nekron and Darkwolf crack me up.

But when Gladstone started their EC reprints, I found I loved Frazetta's beautiful, lush comic book stuff. I don't know if there's been a finer inker in the business, but he put those inks on top of amazing figure work. You can see his influence in diverse artists like Armando Gil, Bernie Wrightson, Sam Keith and Mark Schultz, among others. And his Creepy and Eerie covers? I could gaze at them for hours; their moody hues and painterly brushstroke flourishes nourish my hunger for the lurid and the weird. I have to thank Dark Horse once again for their Warren archive series and giving me the chance to experience some of Frazetta's coolest work. I'll never be too keen on barbarian paintings-- as much as I love the various Conan comic book series-- but I'll dote on Frazetta's horror work any day.

Through those and John Kricfalusi's championing of Frazetta's composition and rendering skills I eventually came to a new appreciation of the man as an artist. I learned I simply will never draw as well as Frazetta. There's not a sliver of a chance. And that's true for just about everyone who picks up a pencil or pen or Winsor-Newton brush to illustrate heroic adventure.

Comics and fantasy illustration both lost a giant today, and are diminished by his passing. A legend. They aren't making Frank Frazettas anymore, although his imitators will continue churning out the beef and cheesecake for generations to come.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Desperate for Comics in South Georgia!

To go from Tokyo to southwest Georgia entails a huge amount of culture shock, not the least of which comes from discovering how many manga titles are available in this relatively rural area heavy on pecan trees and peanut fields. I hit the local Books-A-Million and received a pleasant surprise. They have more than an entire aisle devoted strictly to manga.

Not only that, but they also have another section for "adult manga." I got so excited, I forgot the books I'd been reading. Except for Nana, which I didn't see. Does Nana not sell here? Are Yazawa Ai's elegantly styled but emotionally troubled young characters too alien for the locals? Or do they love Nana and Hachi so much, Books-A-Million sold out of every single volume in a matter of minutes after placing them on the shelf?

Or did I just overlook them like a dumbass?

And as far as western comics go, Books-A-Million has Tokyo's Tower Records and Blister beat. I had no idea Image's Walking Dead had gone through so many volumes. They stock DC and Marvel books deeply, too. And they had a few delightfully oddball selections like Titan's James Bond Omnibus Volume 001.

The store's magazine section offered at least as many new monthlies as Blister. I didn't poke through them because I rarely indulge in monthly mags. Just the occasional New Mutants, Conan, Hellboy or Walking Dead. Every once in a while, I'd splurge in Tokyo and pick up a few titles just to sample them and keep abreast of new developments.

Books-A-Million could use more Fantagraphics books, though.

I didn't buy anything. Money is tight right now and with Mother's Day this weekend, I couldn't see spending a lot of dough on myself. It was nice to see a wealth of funny books on the shelves, though-- and a lot cheaper than in Tokyo. Import prices suck!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Free Comic Book Day in Tokyo!

So a friend and I got all dressed up for Free Comic Book Day...

Just kidding. Those are a couple of amarori (sweet Lolita) girls in Harajuku, not far from the former Blister store, which is now just an empty building with the familiar orange sign still hanging over it.

Blister itself has moved to Hamacho, just a few doors down from the Sumida River. It's pretty close to the station and you should have no problems getting there-- provided you take the correct train from Shinjuku. Which took me thirty minutes to find. I believe I ended up going via the Keio Line when I should have been on the Toei Oedo line. But don't hold me to that. Tokyo's subways are confusing to me and I don't want to be responsible for your ending up in Kawasaki or Yokohama because of my dumb mistakes.

Blister is a shadow of its former glory. I believe they're concentrating more on their online business and the new location doesn't have as much display space anyway. Where once you found racks of the latest action figures and statues, now there are just a few shelves with a somewhat joyless, uninspired appearance. The Comedian gazed sightlessly from inside a DC Direct package, but there was nothing from the new Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie, nothing of Hot Toys' storied Dark Knight 1/6th scale series beyond a display Joker, no Diamond Select Star Trek Kirks and Spocks (just some leftovers from the 2009 Trek flick, but I'm just not that into Simon Pegg). Not even a Michael Jackson toy. At least I hope they're concentrating on the online market. Maybe the competition from the hobby shops of Akihabara was just too much for them.

When Blister first opened in Shibuya, it featured three floors of pop culture insanity. The familiar Spider-Man statue guarded the front alongside Darth Vader and they displayed one of Tobey Maguire's actual costumes from the Spidey film series inside. Then it moved to a smaller but even cooler location in Harajuku, near the intersection where FRUiTS's photographers cool-farm with cameras, across from Laforet, in an alley just behind the Gap (which is also gone now, too). Free Comic Book Day 2009 was a major happening there and the store was packed with happy customers who kept the employees a-hoppin'.

This year? Well, I don't know how day one went because I was in Mitaka with friends. I had to go for day two and Hamacho wasn't exactly a frenzy of activity. That's one sleepy little neighborhood. Blister had about as many employees present as customers. The friendly, long-haired guy at the door offered me my choice of five free comics. I got Bongo's Bongo Comics Free-For-All!, Image's Fractured Fables (I spotted the Mike Allred cover and had to have it), Dark Horse's Doctor Solar/Magnus Robot Fighter two-fer, Drawn & Quarterly's John Stanley Library, Archie Comics's Archie Summer Splash! #1.

I meant to pick up Fantagraphics's Weathercraft, but by the time I saw it, the guy had already loaded my loot into the plastic bag. My Japanese wasn't up to the task of asking him to replace one of the comics, so I just shrugged and hit the new comics shelf. Once again, this was loaded with mainstream monthlies for the most part: Dark Horse, DC and Marvel.

I really hope the store saw more action Saturday, because I still get a glow when I remember the previous year's festival atmosphere; but then, Harajuku is an insane carnival on the weekends anyway. This year, a father was taking his little son in as I arrived and there were already a couple of young women browsing the toys. And that was it. I also missed seeing the Blister crew. The trio working Sunday were nice guys, very helpful, but Blister used to also have several hip female employees, some with funky haircuts and facial piercings. Where were they?

I couldn't help feeling a little sad at the minimal turnout and the lack of stock. Despite that, Blister is still the place to go for your American comic book fix in Tokyo. As far as I know, they have no competition. I loaded up on BPRD, Conan the Cimmerian and the few issues of Marvel's New Mutants series I'd missed, plus some random finds. They didn't have some of the books I specifically hoped to buy; possibly they'd sold out. All the back issues were half-priced, which put them close to what I would've paid for them in the States.

Overall, I couldn't shake the feeling, "I came all this way for this?" I blame the location. It's tiny and no longer on a major thoroughfare or in a trendy neighborhood. It's just in a quiet little place where people walk their dogs and air their futons. And go elsewhere to shop and party.

I have a feeling Blister won't be around for Free Comic Book Day 2011. And that would be tragic.