Sunday, November 20, 2011

Comic Report: Japan!

After a long break back in the States, I'm in manga heaven again.  Not that I'm a fan of manga in and of itself.  I enjoy a few titles, consider myself a fan of a few creators, but I don't separate Japanese comics and Western comics.  Comics are comics.  Sure you read Japanese comics right to left and that takes some getting used to, but with the borrowing and blending of elements over the past few decades, a comic story consists of drawings and word balloons arranged in a particular order according to the creator's intent no matter where it comes from or who wrote or drew it.

If you're a regular reader of various Western monthly comics, you have to work a bit harder to find them here in Japan.  There are online sources and if you happen to live in a large enough city, you might find a few odd titles in the English language section in a bookstore.  Just be prepared to pay three to four times the suggested retail price.  I haven't tried downloading any digital comics yet, but I'll give that a try later when I'm more settled and have my own Internet connection.

In the meantime, I'm making do with the comics I brought with me:  the superb Solo #7 (2005) by Mike Allred and family, and the award-winning Nexus: The Origin (1992) by Mike Baron and Steve Rude.

Solo #7 is one of the best things DC's published in the past ten years.  Maybe twenty.  It serves as the perfect antidote to all those gloomy, doomy negative portrayals of their own characters DC's dished up in the years since Identity Crisis, and it's a lot more fun than their similarly nostalgic Wednesday Comics.  Yeah, not every superhero comic should be this kind of poppy fun.  We like our supergods with a touch of realism these days.  But as Batman's faithful butler Alfred points out here, "Why is it the good things are never 'real life,' only the bad?"

Who can argue with Allred's winning cover depiction of Wonder Girl doing the batusi?

Nexus:  The Origin is a bit darker.  It starts with genocide, includes a starvation death and Nexus excusing his own killings by claiming self-defense.  This is the comic that hooked me on Horatio Hellpop, Sundra Peale and all the frog-like aliens and hairy Thunes that inhabit their universe.  Baron condenses the entirety of Nexus's early years into several poignant vignettes and Rude illustrates with his strong sense of anatomy and page design.  Inker Gary Martin perfectly complements Rude's pencils-- I've seen a number of inkers on the Dude, but Martin is far and away my favorite.  Rude "re-mastered" this book in 2007.

These are a couple of thick, meaty magazines that invite you to chew slowly and savor their delicious taste.  Which I suppose taken literally would mean you should eat them and enjoy some paper.  But you know what I mean-- read them over and over again.  Both were well worth dragging thousands of miles across an entire continent and ocean.

Well, I promised you a comic report, didn't I?  If you happen to be in Minami-Funabashi, Chiba prefecture, go to Vivit Square.  The Tsutaya there has a huge selection of Japanese comics, plus a teensy-weensy grouping of some translated ones in their English language book section.  Unfortunately, I can't remember which ones.  Probably Death Note and Vagabond.  The Japanese originals, though, boggle the mind.  So varied in genre and style.  Why aren't there comics about baseball and basketball teams in America?  Where are the simple stories of high school kids falling in love?

I guess they're in the manga section at your local Books-A-Million.  Which, combined with their Western graphic novel section, can't hold a candle to what they have at Tsutaya in Minami-Funabashi.

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