Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I got a nice surprise today when I found that Scott Green, the anime/manga columnist for Ain't It Cool News, wrote a review of Electric Ant #1 in his newest post!

I'm a big fan of Scott's weekly columns, so it's a real pleasure to be on AICN. In the review, he talks about the first issue of EA overall, with a focus specifically on my 16 page interview with Fred Schodt. Click for the review on AICN.

I was emailing with Fred this week, and he was happy to see the zine. He is honestly still so very under-appreciated for all his manga missionary work, his translations and his numerous and equally insightful books on the non-manga realms of Japanese history and popular culture. (Additionally, did folks know that he & Dadakai co-founder Jared Cook are currently working on the translations for Naoki Urasawa's Pluto series for Viz? That's PERFECT.) For what it's worth, I think I'll put the entire interview on Electric Ant sometime after Thanksgiving...

Spotlight on Electric Ant #1 - By Scott Green:
If you're not reading Same Hat! for their "weekly manga commentary, featuring horror, gag & erotic-grotesque nonsense," rectify that as soon as you're done with this column! I can't see how anyone who is an AICN follower hasn't added the blog to their RSS reader. If you even half agree with Harry Knowles weekly DVD picks, "ero guro nansensu" manga should be on keen interest.

Same Hat!'s Ryan Sands and Evan Hayden have now launched the print zine Electric Ant. Named as a tribute to Philip K Dick and Suehiro Maruo, the first issue features an interview with the man who literally wrote the book on manga, Frederik Schodt, comics strips, NIN Libs, a collection of illustrations that reinterpret or recontextualize a host of "Dark Lords" of popular media (you'll never look at Shredder the same way again) and an annotated photographic tour of Beijing's Dongyue Temple.

Over the summer, I was looking into what's been said about the concept of heta-uma or "good-bad" manga for a piece on Tokyo Zombie (localized by Sands and Hayden).

What I came up was the discussion of Teruhiko Yumura aka "King Terry" in Frederik L. Schodt's Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga.

"I wanted to draw the picture I wanted in the space provided, rather than tell a story. I started drawing whatever I wanted in each panel, and because I can't draw the same face twice, the character faces all changed." The result was manga with a weird mix of primitivism, energy and dada-ist storylines - a comic where the art, the text and the entire concept fused together in a good-bad style...

At first glance Terry's cartoons appear to be bad art, but on close inspection, they are also good. Hence, they are heta-uma or bad-good. Terry believes that everyone starts as a "bad" artist and tries to become good. But simply becoming "good" is not enough. Artists who try too hard to become "good" emphasize technique over soul, and the life goes out of their drawings; their spirit fails to live up to their technique.

Since reading that, I've been struck with the notion that North America's ongoing conversation on manga still has a long way to go before catching up with Schodt.

For decades, Schodt's 1983 "Manga! Manga!" was the reference source on the subject. In the mid 90's, I remember reading a novel, I think it was one of the Nancy A. Collins' Sonja Blue pieces, that pulled a description of sexual content in manga straight from a panel reprinted in Manga! Manga! A few years ago, when Archie (the red headed guy from Riverdale) did a report on manga in his comic, it read a lot like how Manga! Manga! described the medium.

Schodt's follow-up Dreamland Japan predated the North American manga boom, but it still features breadth and sophistication that's rarely been matched. Set aside for a moment that few North American manga fans have heard of the Avant-garde anthology Garo or even looked at a panel of Doraemon manga. In 1996 Schodt was asking "Do Manga Have a Future?" Now, the trends that Schodt was calling attention to have gotten to the point where commentators are pondering if the west has again fallen in love with another dying Japanese art.

I don't want to apply a tacky label like "gem" or "invaluable" to Sands' interview with Schodt, so, plainly put, if the topic of manga interests you, acquire a copy of Electric Ant.

To do the geek thing and start delineating the field... There's the consumer approach to manga and related pop media. This follows the intended purpose and tracks what's hot. What's the new release? Should you buy it?

There is the academic approach. If you look at what's been said about writings of authors like Susan J. Napier, you'll catch a layperson reaction to the effect that this approach is given to over-interpretation.

Then, there are the people who try to analyze and explain. In this category, there are experts who can authoritatively speak to the subject, then, there are bloggers, podcasters, librarians, AICN columnists and so on who try to offer informed supposition.

From within its DIY framework, Electric Ant offers authoritative insight into the field of manga. Schodt is Schodt. If you don't expect him to be illuminating, you've probably never read/heard him before. But, it has to be said that Sands conducted a brilliantly informed and constructed interview. It starts with the cascading circumstances that made Schodt a manga guru, before looking at the process by which North America adopted its manga reading habits , as well as the current landscape of the medium.

Rather than inside baseball, the conversation offers a savvy, human look into the field. A good example is when the talk turns to manga luminaries, particularly Schodt's late friend Osamu Tezuka, and a keen subject of Sands' interest, Kazuo Umezu. Both of these giants have cultivated cartoonish personas, as much about an image as a real figure; Tezuka in the black beret, Umezu in his striped shirt. The interview succeeds in painting a more fleshed out picture of how they worked and what they aspired to.

Throughout the rest of the zine, whether pop culture or personal subjects are handled grotesquely or irreverently, it's done so in a clever, natural manner. For example, the photo tour offers a look at a 700 year old Daoist temple's catalogue of the tortures of hell, coupled with snide comparisons to Warhammer 40K, Castlevania and Klaus Nomi. I couldn't help but think how often rapid stream of bombardments of irreverence falls short. In this case, both the subject and commentary hit dead on.

In addition to smart geekery with QR codes and such, massive credit to producing appearances by the antagonists from Jem and the Holograms and Go-bots. Shouldn't that be reason enough to seek out a copy?

Electric Ant can be purchased online and at these physical locations.


bittermelon said...

yaaaaaaaaaay! very well deserved. this zine is a real pleasure to read, enjoy, and own. i'm glad AICN gave it a nice shout out.

Anonymous said...

I love the zine! it's very awesome that AICN reviewed it.

Congrats, Evan and Ryan!
<3 beth

Ryan S said...

@jenn/beth: Thanks a lots, guys! it is very appreciated. Tell your friends too! :B

Ryan S said...

@bittermelon: also, let's not forget your Shredder got a shout-out too :)

Unknown said...

Holy crap, awesome.

John T said...

That's a great review. Congrats, guys. As someone who has read the first Electric Ant, this is a fair review because it kicks ass like the zine kicks ass (well, almost as much as EA).

alexmercado said...

hey guys i put some references to spots to get EA in ny stores if it helps. if u read it already i'll right shut up.

Ryan S said...

@anthony: Thanks!

@JohnT: Aw shucks, thanks for reading!

@alex: whoops, sorry for not replying before! i just let you comment back. thanks again :)