Monday, January 25, 2010


I promised myself I would show proper love to Same Hat and post more in 2010. Here's me getting back to basics and down to brass tacks... it's time to talk about NEW COMICS! Oh yeah, I forgot to mention here, but a few weeks back I was the guest contributor for Robot 6's What Are You Reading? and talked about Moyasimon & Shintaro Kago's new book Fraction.

Anyway, I hadn't bought new comics for a few weeks, so I went sorta overboard this past Wednesday at my local shop. Here's what I've just read (or am about to read tonight):

+ Pluto vol.7 by Urasawa X Tezuka

It's hard to have new things to add about Pluto that hasn't already been laid out by jog, Ed Sizemore and many others comics bloggers. Pluto is an unwound Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead approach to a big ol' tree in the forest of Tezuka's greatness, and required contemporary manga reading for all fans.

I got weepy a few times in the early volumes, and as the finale in Volume 8 is coming, this series has already burrowed a place in my top comics of all time list. That said, I'm finding myself riding harder on the 20th Century Boys train right now. I've heard folks say many times that Pluto is the Watchmen of manga except even better... But I am wondering if given the structural, I dunno, quickness(?) of Urasawa's pacing will make this short series hold up to multiple re-reads the way Watchmen does? Regardless, it's breakneck awesomeness right now, a must-read for manga fans of all stripes. [link]

+ not simple by Natsume Ono

This is one of the books that I saw EVERYWHERE when I was in Japan last, in Spring 2008. It was featured at mainstream bookshops and also heavily at places like taco CHE and Mandarake in Nakano. And now, 2010 is looking to be the year of Natsume Ono over at Viz, with the planned release of four of her titles in English in the coming months: House of Five Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso, and Gente.

I haven't read beyond the first chapter yet, so I won't/can't take a stab at anything approaching a review. Ono's simple line style is unique among most of the manga I've read, which in not simple seems helpful for creating visual space while telling a tense, meta-fictional road story. I felt confused about the inter-personal relationships among the family members and strangers that fill out the first chapter of the book, but confused in a curious, compelled-to-read-further way-- rather than a "What is going on here, and why should I give a shit?" Secret paternity, fictional narratives, hitmen, and deception seem to await in the remainder of the book, and I can't wait to get knee-deep in this book tonight. [link]

+ King of RPGs by Jason Thompson & Victor Hao

Is it a graphic novel? Is it Original English Language (OEL) manga? Do I give a shit about that sort of categorization? WHO KNOWS! This book is the excellent debut publication from a longtime friend of mine, author Jason Thompson. Jason spent 10 of the most exciting years in manga publication (mid-90s to mid-00s) as an editor at Viz, working on projects like Dragon Ball, Uzumaki, PULP magazine and about a few dozen other radical books. He also wrote the totemic encyclopedia on manga, Manga: The Ultimate Guide-- the Elements of Style bible for any manga completist.

For his hilarious graphic novel debut in King of RPGs vol. 1, Jason penned an elaborated version of an old mini-comic of his, following the story of two college Freshman gamers. The dudes have their own vices (Online MMORPGs, Japanese console RPGs) and are navigating the dicey waters of identity and self-invention in their dorm when they get sucked into the word of tabletop RPGs. The book structure is a mix of Rumiko Takahashi's episodic unfolding of interpersonal relationships, and the EACH CHAPTER = A BATTLE format of Hikaru no Go or even Detroit Metal City. For the book, Jason teamed up with new illustrator Victor Hao. My only complaint is that Hao's page compositions and skill at cartooning the character's faces/body language (that is, simplifying down) starts out really static and awkward in the first half of the book's pages. That said, by the final chapter, I felt like Hao had figured out his characters and got looser with art, to solid comedic effect. I'm super stoked for the next book, and many congrats to Jason & Victor! [link]

+ RASL #6 by Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith forever has my D&D (dollars & devotion) after Bone. Though I read Bone (starting with issue #11?) in floppies as it came out sporadically over almost 10 years, subsequent re-reads of the collected volumes had dulled my memory of how frustrating it can be to wait for new issues of a fascinating serialized book. Thankfully, Smith has moved to a faster, near-bimonthly schedule for RASL in 2010.

This installment is all Tesla, all the time. This issue uses our narrator recounting of his grade school fascination with uber-genius inventor Nikola Tesla as a frame for schooling the reader on Tesla's meteoric rise (and fall) to prominence. I already knew this stuff, but it was exciting to see the chronology depicted by Smith's inky and smooth lines here. Tesla energy, parallel universe art thievery, sex scenes, and freakish mutant corporate assassins. I'm definitely on board with this book for the long haul. [link]

+ The Unwritten: by Mike Carey & Peter Gross

I just got this and haven't had a chance to dive in yet. I've heard really solid things about this new-ish Vertigo Fantasy-meets-noir series. I haven't been into a Vertigo book for a long time (Unknown Soldier and Air both left me apathetic about further installments) so I'm hopeful that The Unwritten delivers. If I like the trade, I plan on grabbing issues 6-9 at the store and following along monthly. Has anyone read this one? [link]

So... What stuff have you guys been reading and enjoying lately? Manga, indie comics, zines, European comics?


Ed Howard said...

I've been loving Pluto so far as well. I suspect it'll hold up great, too; it's the smartest, most substantial thing I've read from Urasawa yet, just bursting with ideas. I've read the first 3 volumes of 20th Century Boys but then I sort of held back since it promises to be so long. When Monster was still coming out, it was pretty tough waiting in between volumes. His stuff demands to be read quickly.

Now I've been reading Joe Sacco's newest book, Footnotes in Gaza, which is fantastic. And I've got the big brick of Eddie Campbell's collected Alec to read next; very exciting to have all that in one place.

Ryan S said...

@Ed Howard:
I hear you about reading these things in serial as they are published. I always remind myself that Urasawa's stories are meant to be read chapter-by-chapter, but I'm sure I would find that unbearable and unsatisfactory. I read most all of what was out from Monster at the time I started (8 volumes?) in one sitting, then each additional volume as it came out. Like you though, I got a little frustrated and just waited until the thing was complete before plowing through the second half of the series.

That said, I think the pace of Pluto (and the "shorter" overall length) has been such that I've been really satisfied with each book. It really hit its stride for me in volumes 2-4. Eventhough the revelations are pouring out right now and we're almost to the big conclusion, I found #7 to be my least favorite so far. But "least favorite volume of Pluto" is still pretty damn high up there. I think it's just that problem that pentultimate anything always has--- same with the second-to-last volume of Bone, Monster, Maison Ikkoku :)

I have been hearing a growing chorus of folks talking about Sacco's book, I guess I need to check it out. It's the kind of book I hope to be able to snag from the library rather than shell out for myself, you know? :)

Thanks for the comment and recs!

Unknown said...

I have read not simple (ordered it from B&N the day it came out, got it 2 days later), and I must say that it is incredible. I'm a huge Ono Natsume fan, and I'm really glad Viz is picking her stuff up. My Japanese friend says the translation is great (I can't judge translation wise, but it definitely packs the emotional punch). I'm looking forward to Ristorante Paradiso, House of Five Leaves, and Gente, too.

And the Vertigo comic looks interesting! I like a lot of the stuff they've put out, but I haven't read all of the titles by far--but I think I'm gonna have to look into this one.

Unknown said...

Really? You bought The Unwritten and not Joe the Barbarian? Hmph.

JE said...

Speaking of serials, aside from that last volume of Pluto (which ultimately just tied up the major loose ends from Vol. 6), I also got the recent volume of Blade Of The Immortal. I haven't checked if the store here already got not simple and the new Unwritten trade.

Is Footnotes in Gaza at the same level as Palestine? Cause really, that book was so eye-openingly awesome, and set such a high standard for how comics can affect my view of things.

Ed Howard said...

Yeah, I'd say Footnotes is every bit as good as Palestine (or really anything else by Sacco, who's been remarkably consistent in his major reportage books). It's not just more of the same, either; the new book engages with history and the influence of the past on the present in much more depth than anything else I've seen from Sacco. I'm always amazed that some of the best writing and reportage about this conflict is being produced by this freelance cartoonist.

I forgot to mention before that I've actually got a nice big stack of reading to catch up on right now, in addition to the books mentioned above. GoGo Monster, Asterios Polyp and Skyscrapers of the Midwest are all waiting to be read.

Ryan S said...

@Tania: Thanks for the recommendation :) I can't wait to read it.

@Anthony: You know you want to borrow it.

@JE, Ed: Thanks for the tips! I'm not the biggest Sacco fan but I recognize his storytelling skillz and want to check this out now.