Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tokyo Comic Book Report: Blister Harajuku Is No More!

Don't look for your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in Harajuku, True Believers!

I was afraid of this. With Harajuku's scene changing from funky homegrown style into international name brand consumerism, little comic nerd oasis Blister has been squeezed out. Last Sunday night, I came around the corner of the gray canvas-wrapped former GAP store-- now moved directly across the street from the station where its bland khaki and navy blue fashions can bore tourists looking for the nearly extinct "Harajuku Girl" with yawn-inducing one world corporate homogeneity-- and the tiny Blister store was dark. A surprised voice behind me whispered something in Japanese about a missing Spider-Man.

Fortunately, not all is lost for the few American comic book fans living here in Japan, where the comic is king and One Piece outsells Justice League by a margin too massive even to contemplate (actually I'm just too lazy to look up the sales figures, but believe me it's on the order of millions). Blister has merely moved. The new location is in Nihonbashi, Chuo ward. It seems to be easy walking distance from Hamacho Station, Hamacho Park and the Sumida River. Right in the center of Tokyo. It opens for business March 3rd!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

By Crom! No, It's By Cary Nord!

According to Dark Horse's website, ex-Conan the Barbarian artist Cary Nord will begin contributing covers to the ongoing Conan the Cimmerian series. His first cover-- to Conan the Cimmerian #24-- hits stands March 24th. Since I live in Japan and the nearest comic book shop is approximately 200 miles away in the heart of Tokyo, I don't often get to buy monthly comics. Factor in my belief that the monthly twenty-four page magazine is a format that's outlived its usefulness.

This means big holes in my collection. Still, I usually pick up a Conan or two whenever I get the chance. It's just that entertaining. Kurt Busiek's run was memorable, but Timothy Truman hasn't let the quality slide one little bit. And Tomas Giorello is a revelation on art. I especially like the "Adventures of Two-Gun Bob" comic strip by Jim and Ruth Keegan. It's usually funny, sometimes poignant and always a little gem of an anecdote. I find the character Conan somewhat crude and even a little childish, but there's no denying the violent appeal his adventures hold for me, especially done up in a fun package like DH's comic.

Anyway, Cary Nord. It took me a few issues to warm up to Nord's interior art. I liked his covers right away, but the sequential stuff initially struck me as rushed and unfinished. Then I began savoring its Frank Frazetta-like painterly qualities. In some of Frazetta's paintings, the figures seem to have a melting quality, with cavernous mouths like dark, dank caves. At his best, Frazetta fills his work with moody atmosphere to the point where the figures and their details are insinuated rather than fully rendered. The more I read Conan the Barbarian, the more I began to enjoy those same qualities in Nord's take on the character and his world.

So even though I've enjoyed Joseph Michael Linsner's brighter, more refined covers, I'm looking forward to seeing what Nord can do... if I get a chance to buy any of these here Conan funnybooks this year. Can he charm me all over again?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When Comic Books Ruled the Earth Bullpen Bulletins!

In the inimitable style of Stan the Man and the gang down at Marvel Comics circa 1971-- it's time for the first (and possibly last) edition of When Comic Books Ruled the Earth Bullpen Bulletins! Because I'm too busy to write a review or one of my patented retro-comic deconstructions!

ITEM! Dark Horse's supernatural sequential series BPRD has at least one Japanese fan, possibly more. How should I know how many? What am I, some kind of demographics wizard? No, but I could be if Dark Horse Comics wants to put me on the payroll as their agent provocateur here in Japan. I loaned a ton of comics to one of my students a few months back and she really got into Mike Mignola's crazy Hellboy world. Today she brought back a stack of BPRD's and accused me of having kissed one of them. That's right-- there seems to be a lip print on one of the covers. But actually, it's a thumb print. Currently, she's reading Marvel's The 'Nam reprint book. Who says this isn't the Dark Horse and Marvel Age of Japanese Comic fandom?

ITEM! I'm reading the new New Mutants title now. I finally managed to get issues 1 through 9 and now I'm able to give Dani, Xi'an, Sam and the others my full attention. Such as it is. Lots of New Mutant-y fun is a-brewin' here at WCBRE. But shhh... Don't tell the publisher! He might think we're having too many laughs on his expense and stop paying us!

ITEM! DC's 75th Anniversary did not go unnoticed her in the Land of the Rising Sun. Cartoon Network's Japanese website allowed fans here to vote for their favorite DC superheroes in a public poll. The winner? DORAEMON! Cartoon Network also celebrated the Distinguished Competition's birthday by showing various episodes of Justice League, Teen Titans, The Batman and The Brave and the Bold during a special DC 75th Anniversary week. DC's 75? That's just over 10 in dog years!

ITEM! Interacting with Sally Cruikshank made my week last week. Thank Odin she caught my gist or I would've spent the weekend dining on crow or some such unpleasant fowl. Duck, perhaps. Nah, ducks are deelish!

ITEM! Speaking of DC, I'm re-reading the Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus series. Hopefully I'll have some high-falutin' King-salutin' rootin' tootin' Vladimir Putin blog entries all about Orion, Darkseid, Lightray and my favorite lovey-dovey DC universe couple, Mr. Miracle and Big Barda for your frenzied eyes before the next full moon.

ITEM! Nana 20 finally fell into my hot little hands, but I haven't had time to read the darned thing yet! I do know it ends in a cliffhanger! I should have the English-language version of Torpedo featuring some gorgeous Alex "the Prince of Lines" Toth artwork within a few days too so I'll finally know what that kid says to the main character in the first or second story! Mine is all in German!

ITEM! Maybe it's time for another visit to Marvel/Curtis's Planet of the Apes. I'm feeling that ol' monkey on my back. Get it? Monkey? On my... oh forget it!

ITEM! Inimitable is right! No one this incompetent should attempt to ape Stan Lee's pensive yet penetrating pro-Marvel PRing! Take a bow, Stan! You're outta sight and one of a kind! 'Nuff said!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Viz Media's Signature Line... Comics for Grown-ups, Apparently!

Publisher's Weekly has an interview with Viz Media editorial manager Leyla Aker about the company's new Signature line of adult manga and their Ikki online comics site, which features... er... adult manga. The interview covers recent manga history and Aker describes some of Viz's thinking behind these ventures. I think a focus on adult manga is long overdue.

Even though I live in Japan and I'm a comic fan, I'm not really sure what the hard dilineations between age demographics are in manga. To my amateur eyes, there doesn't seem to be one in terms of who actually does the reading. But I'm reasonably sure the publishers have a specific reader in mind when they decide to put out a book. I mean, no one goes about this willy-nilly; you do it expecting to reach an audience. Right?

Right now the single most popular comic in Japan is One Piece, which means in terms of units sold it's probably the most popular comic in the world. I know some cool cats in their 30s who love the TV cartoon and read the comic book as well, but most of the people I talk to who tell me it's their favorite tend to be teens. Nodame Cantabile seems to have an older skewing appeal, with teens and adults reading it. I'm the only person I know who reads-- and obsesses over-- Nana, but there must be plenty of others if sales are any indicator. 20th Century Boys seems pretty mature to me; I doubt a kid could follow the story's time jumps, much less understand its sci-fi plot. And this is barely scratching the surface.

I tend to ignore things like Naruto and One Piece. That kind of comic adventure or fantasy doesn't particularly appeal to me. But I am into Ito Junji's horror manga, the works of Koike Kazuo and the like. What makes life difficult-- in a fun way-- is there are so many titles available here in Japan, it's an embarrassment of riches. It's like looking through a treasure chest to find a particular gold coin among millions. So for Viz Media to start an imprint which seems aimed squarely at me is wonderful.

It will simply make it a lot easier for me to find new titles to read.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Most Terrifying Cartoons Ever Made!

As a kid I thought the most terrifying cartoon ever made was "Quasi at the Quackadero," by Sally Cruikshank, an incredibly talented artist and animator. Reading about this cartoon and looking at the stills from it in the old Comics Scene magazine (from the publishers of Starlog) immediately filled me with a sense of dread. Of alienation and disassociation. Existential? What was it about those strange, inhuman characters that churned my soul into a miasma of dark unease? When I finally saw the cartoon itself...

Anxiety intensified to pure terror. My eyes must have rolled back in their sockets, revealing wet whiteness, a fine tracing of curvilinear blood vessels, perhaps a pink blur from a few feet away but up close, under microscopic scrutiny, red and alive, pulsing with life. Long, sleepless intervals followed by troubled slumber and nightmares of rubber-limbed anthropomorphic ducks engaged in unspeakable horrors. I've since grown up and come to appreciate "Quasi's" deliberately naive aesthetic and weird humor. But obviously these things were beyond me at the time.

And yet... and yet... even then, this feeling was familiar. Yes, I'd felt something similar, not long before. Its source?

Clutch Cargo.

Along with Quasi, Clutch Cargo frightened me. Watching cartoons on WTBS or WGN while eating cinnamon toast before school, I often worried they might air a Clutch Cargo cartoon. Bugs Bunny, fine. A Little Rascals or Three Stooges. Occasionally a Tex Avery short outlandishly psychedelic in its intense and schizophrenic imagery-- I found some of those a little scary as well. And then, on random unlucky mornings, Clutch Cargo and some of the herky-jerkiest limited animation ever rendered.

But what scared me... what really and truly sent shivers down my spine and put me off my breakfast... were those mouths. The Syncro-Vox system, where the animators superimposed film of live action mouths over the illustrated faces. Those little Chicklet teeth, wormy lipsticked ropes writhing about them forming vowels and consonants. I would instantly lose my appetite.

I had no idea at the time I was seeing what amounted to filmed Alex Toth drawings. Not long after, I discovered Toth's comic book artwork in a hardcover DC war comic reprint book, America at War. I've been a huge fan of Toth's artwork ever since. The story that convinced me was the Civil War-era "The Glory Boys," and I had no idea the man who created the melancholy, lyrical linework there-- including the memorable final panels where a dying boy releases a dove into a light drizzle falling on a grassy battlefield-- was the same guy who freaked me the hell out on school mornings and caused me to waste some perfectly good cinnamon toast.

Toth or not, after re-watching Clutch, Spinner and Paddlefoot star in "Bush Pilots" on YouTube, I've decided I'd rather stare down the barrel of a loaded Glock 9mm in the sweaty, unsteady hands of a bank robber with nothing to lose and little to live for than watch another Clutch Cargo cartoon. Can you imagine the effect on my imaginative little monkey-brain if Sally Cruikshank had employed Syncro-Vox on "Quasi at the Quackadero?"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fantagraphics' Video Preview of Jaime Hernandez's Penny Century

Penny Century by Jaime Hernandez - video preview

Fantagraphics Books MySpace Video

I snagged this off their MySpace blog because I think it's pretty nifty. Someone pages through a copy of Fantagraphics' upcoming book Penny Century and we get look at it from his point of view. It's like one of those subjective shots in a Halloween flick, only without the heavy breathing and building suspense. Although it might have been cooler if this guy had been holding a bloody knife in one hand, or they shot it through a mask's eyeholes.

This is a must-buy book for me. I've never read any of Jaime Hernandez's wrestling stories from Whoa Nelllie!, but the book contains all of those, plus Penny Century, which I consider his best work and one of the finest American comics ever published. I'd stick it at the number one spot on my list if Jaime had tossed out a few more issues before he and Gilbert went back to the Love and Rockets title. Penny Century has it all-- love, humor, heartbreak, horror, Hank Ketchum-style kids and "Inquiritis!," in which a happy-faced Penny Century parades around Izzy's house completely naked, then goes to the supermarket wearing only a tiny apron and brings joy to all who see her.

I often get "Inquiritis!" confused with the Clint Eastwood-directed feel-good sport flick Invictus, but I find Jaime Hernandez's sexy renderings of Penny Century infinitely more pleasing to the eye than either Morgan Freeman's or Matt Damon's faces.

Penny Century also includes Jaime's one-shot Maggie & Hopey Color Fun (in black and white), which is my favorite single comic of all time.

Anyway, enjoy the video!