Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don't start away uneasy

I was sorry to hear about the falling out between Mark Andrew Smith and Paul Maybury (you can read about it here). I thought Aqua Leung showed a lot of promise, not just as a comic but as a successful model for drumming up publicity. Those guys managed to get interviews all over the blogosphere (including one at this very blog), released sample artwork at exactly the right moments and to the right sources, and generally set up a great deal of anticipation for the final product. It was a really great effort, one which should be a model to cartoonists in their position.

As for the book itself, it wasn't without it problems, but there were a number of really terrific moments. I'm not really a fan of mid-brow, ground level type comics, mostly because they seem to lack the energy of the trashier stuff and the sophistication of the artsier stuff. The worst examples end up being uptight but not especially deep (the vast majority of Vertigo's output springs to mind). However, a strong, art-emphasized approach can yield some very commendable results--I'm thinking Mike Mignola and Eric Powell here. I thought Aqua Leung was in this territory, with the promise of even better things to come.

Mark is obviously well-established in comics and probably has half a million other things in line right now. Paul is an incredibly talented cartoonist who I think will be producing absolutely jaw-dropping work in a decade. But it's too bad their relationship didn't work out, because I think Aqua Leung was a good venue for each to grow while producing quality work for public consumption. There's probably some lesson about the difficulty of producing work in collaboration here, but I'm not the one to figure it out today.

Monday, September 29, 2008

All right, fine

Tom Spurgeon has one of those posts which naturally appeal to OCD-type comics fans, which is to say all comics fans: 50 things every comics collection needs to have. I agree in spirit with about 85% of what's on here (possibly because it casts my personal library in a good light), but some of the format suggestions strike me as a little...I don't know. Too nostalgia-oriented? Too book collector snobbish, as if to valorize antiquated formats which require some degree of searching over newer formats which (at least in my experience) are easier to find/more convenient/cheaper. Then again, I've never quite agreed with Tom's fascination with the American comic book as a format; I'm perfectly willing to read things on a computer screen if that's the only option available. Or if it's the most convenient, as is the case with a lot of minicomics which later show up on creators' websites. And minicomics are the ne plus ultra of a format-matters sensibility, so you can see where I'm coming from.

So, since Tom specifically encouraged it, here's my list of what I have, don't have, sort of have, and don't think I need. With frequent commentary because, well, you know. And I'm using the format Tom suggests rather than the one Alan and Matt use because I'm an argumentative kind of dude.

(EDIT: I don't want to sound too critical of what Tom's done with this list; I'd like to point you all to this comment I left at Sean Collins' blog. Specifically this:

...overall it's a great resource for someone looking to build up a collection (I wish I'd had access to it c. 1997), and yet another great conversation-starter.

Just wanted to make that clear!)

Bold = Things I do have
Plain = Things I don't have
Italics = I have some but probably not enough
Underline = I don't agree I need this
Some of these are combined in the list below. Yes, there are things which I own but don't believe are really vital. It's like I get to have an argument with myself AND Tom Spurgeon!

1. Something From The ACME Novelty Library
All pamphlet-format.

2. A Complete Run Of Arcade
There aren't that many issues of Arcade, granted, but a complete run is a little hard to put together. I've got all the Crumb stuff in other forms; additonal issues of this are a luxury, not a necessity. Great anthology, though.

3. Any Number Of Mini-Comics
It's not a large number, and there aren't any old ones. I'd like to remind the jury that I was 13 and living in rural South Carolina on January 1, 1990.

4. At Least One Pogo Book From The 1950s
I've got several of the Fantagraphics collections. Have I ever mentioned in this space that I think Pogo is the best comic strip of all time?

5. A Barnaby Collection
I like Barnaby just fine, but isn't Krazy Kat a more serious requirement?

6. Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary
I even remember where I bought it: Criminal Records in Atlanta.

7. As Many Issues of RAW as You Can Place Your Hands On
I've only been able to place my hands on a couple of copies of the second volume, though.

8. A Little Stack of Archie Comics
Not an Archie fan, but I can see why someone might want them on hand for a complete comics library. Of course, it's that line of thinking that encourages people to buy Eagles albums, just for the sake of what-if-someone-comes-over-and-needs-to-hear-"Taking-It-Easy."

9. A Suite of Modern Literary Graphic Novels
Who doesn't have this? I mean, who doesn't have this and is still reading, rather than dismissing the whole endeavor as pointless, so long as Crisis on Infinite Earths isn't specified as a must-have? (Note: as I write this, Chris Mautner hasn't linked to this on Blogorama. But when he does, I'm guessing that at least someone will make this suggestion in the comments. UPDATE: Coming back to finish this up, I notice that Chris has linked to it, but no discussion of COIE yet. Who will pick up the slack? Comment-leavers at the Beat, which has yet to link to the story? Or, more likely, the often apoplectic comments field at Comics Should Be Good, which also hasn't covered the story, but probably will because it seems like it's totally in their wheelhouse?)

10. Several Tintin Albums
If by several you count one of those hardcovers containing three albums. Which I do.

11. A Smattering Of Treasury Editions Or Similarly Oversized Books
Do those old issues of Acme Novelty Library count? Or Goddess of War? Okay, I see that they would. Moving on...

12. Several Significant Runs of Alternative Comic Book Series
Hate, second volume of Love and Rockets, Jim, The Nimrod, probably a few more I'm forgetting.

13. A Few Early Comic Strip Collections To Your Taste
See #9 above.

14. Several "Indy Comics" From Their Heyday
I'm not sure exactly what qualifies here; I know Tom Spurgeon doesn't mean it this way, but his description reads as "books which aren't Marvel or DC (or, presumably, Valiant or Image or...what's the other one? Ultraverse?), but which aren't really good enough to count in #12 above." I think I probably have a few of these somewhere in one of my boxes, like an issue or two of American Flagg! or Scout, but I wouldn't fault anyone for not having any of these.

15. At Least One Comic Book From When You First Started Reading Comic Books
Again, I think I have a few of these lying around, but it's not because I planned it that way. I won't deny the pleasure of reading old issues of Who's Who, of which I have a nearly complete set. Ditto The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe, except that it's way less fun to read because the art is so, so much nicer in Who's Who. Still: I know it's worded in a way to include those who started reading comics as adults, but there's the unpleasant whiff of nostalgia here.

16. At Least One Comic That Failed to Finish The Way It Planned To
I really liked Atomic City Tales. It's one of the comics I bought, along with issues of Hate and Underwater, on my first trip to a alt/indie oriented store.

17. Some Osamu Tezuka
I might suggest "as much as possible" as the proper wording here.

18. The Entire Run Of At Least One Manga Series
Dragon Head for me. I'm missing some volumes of Cromartie High School, and it's not clear that it will ever be printed in its entirety in English anyway.

19. One Or Two 1970s Doonesbury Collections
I was about to argue against the wording again, but I see that this is in reference to the peak of the strip itself, rather than the method of delivery. Okay. BTW, am I the only one who doesn't see a lot of these old paperbacks in used bookstores? I mostly run across the bigger collections from the 1980s.

20. At Least One Saul Steinberg Hardcover
I actually feel worse about the lack of Al Hirschfield in my collection.

21. One Run of A Comic Strip That You Yourself Have Clipped
What century are we in again?

22. A Selection of Comics That Interest You That You Can't Explain To Anyone Else
Does my larger-than-can-be-easily-justified Valiant collection count? I say it does.

23. At Least One Woodcut Novel
Yeah, I need to get some of these.

24. As Much Peanuts As You Can Stand
As much as I can stand = whatever I can find used or remaindered. I like Peanuts, but not like I like Pogo or Popeye.

25. Maus
(Somewhat) funny story: when we moved this summer, my two volumes of Maus got packed into separate boxes, reunited only when I finally got around to stocking the bookshelves. That's probably the most time they've spent apart in a decade.

26. A Significant Sample of R. Crumb's Sketchbooks
Remember when Gary Groth put this at #1 in that Comics Journal top 100 comics issue? I'm pretty sure it was Groth who did that; I could be wrong. Anyway, it's not such a ridiculous notion.

27. The original edition of Sick, Sick, Sick.
I actually don't own anything by Feiffer, one of the more gaping holes in my collection. What can I say, it's just not a priority right now.

28. The Smithsonian Collection Of Newspaper Comics
Bought at a used bookstore in Columbia, SC, in the same shopping center as Manifest and the old Heroes and Dragons. Also recommended: that two-volume slipcover thing from the 90s, which I bought at Heroes and Dragons.

29. Several copies of MAD
Underlined only because I would have worded this as "A chunk of Harvey Kurtzman's satirical work." Of course, anyone owning copies of The Jungle Book, Trump, or Humbug probably also has a lot of early Mad in their collection. You know what was awesome? The late 90s reprints of Kurtzman-era Mad which were sold on newsstands, each reprinting three issues of the comic. I basically have the complete Kurtzman run in Mad thanks to those things. Anyway, my point is this: Kurtzman Mad/Trump/Humbug/etc: absolutely necessary. Feldstein Mad: not so much, though it's not the worst thing in the world to have lying around.

30. A stack of Jack Kirby 1970s Comic Books
Yep, assuming we're counting reprints here.

31. More than a few Stan Lee/Jack Kirby 1960s Marvel Comic Books
See above. Oh wait, Tom specifies the originals here. Hmm. I almost want to agree on the basis that the recolorization/decolorization kind of robs these books of some of their energy. I don't actually own any of these in comics form, but my father does (when do I get that part of my inheritence, Dad?). But these comics are so good that I don't think it hurts the experience too much to have them in the various reprinted formats. I'm leaving this in bold.

32. A You're-Too-High-To-Tell Amount of Underground Comix
Again with the original format? I mostly own collections, but I'm not un-bolding this.

33. Some Calvin and Hobbes
The sort of thing I could talk my parents into picking up at Sam's Club back in the 90s. I think they were supposed to belong to the family, but they're in my garage/library now.

34. Some Love and Rockets
Well, of course.

35. The Marvel Benefit Issue Of Coober Skeber
I'd like to have a copy. I would have eagerly bought it when I came out, but there was that whole living in South Carolina thing I had to deal with.

36. A Few Comics Not In Your Native Tongue
Yes, but they're not good ones.

37. A Nice Stack of Jack Chick Comics
I would like to have more. I'm almost tempted to say that the proper way to obtain these is off of park benches, etc., but that undermines a lot of the criticisms I've been making here.

38. A Stack of Comics You Can Hand To Anybody's Kid
It's not quite 2 feet tall, though.

39. At Least A Few Alan Moore Comics
Even the "where's Crisis?" people would have this.

40. A Comic You Made Yourself
Yes, but I don't know if I think it's that important. The joke back in the 90s was that the only people interested in alternative comics were aspiring alternative cartoonists--Evan Dorkin did a story about it. Not a joke you'd expect to see today, thankfully.

41. A Few Comics About Comics
Doesn't everyone have a copy of Understanding Comics?

42. A Run Of Yummy Fur
I've got four collections containing material from this series (Ed the Happy Clown, The Playboy, I Never Liked You, The Little Man). I'm counting that.

43. Some Frank Miller Comics
I have Batman Year One and a few issues of Sin City, which is plenty. I might buy Daredevil: Born Again if I saw it for the right price. I don't think one necessarily needs anything by Will Eisner--I don't think I own anything besides Comics and Sequential Art--but I'd say Eisner is much more essential than Miller.

44. Several Lee/Ditko/Romita Amazing Spider-Man Comic Books
See the response to #31 above. Good point about Marvel Tales, but I'd rather have the high-end reprints or an Essentials collection, because I think the collision of classic Ditko art and advertisements for Bonkers fruit chews or Clearasil is a little unsettling.

45. A Few Great Comics Short Stories
I'd like to have the complete run of Rubber Blanket, though. Only two more issues and I'm there!

46. A Tijuana Bible
Where the hell do you find these things? At the local speakeasy?

47. Some Weirdo
Three issues, to be exact.

48. An Array Of Comics In Various Non-Superhero Genres
Everyone has this. I would probably specify EC here.

49. An Editorial Cartoonist's Collection or Two
I keep thinking about buying some Herblock (my all-time favorite), but never manage to do it.

50. A Few Collections From New Yorker Cartoonists
I would probably have framed this to include Playboy cartoons as well, but the point stands: I have no Charles Addams in my collection.


-A collection of an alternative weekly strip. Everyone needs some Matt Groening and/or Lynda Barry in their collection.

-Some modern European comics. I'd recommend Trondheim or Sfar, of course. Actually, I'd recommend a lot more than them, but they're the best starting point.

-Some Krazy Kat collections. I mentioned this above, but I thought it was worth mentioning again.

-A collection of Crumb's non-sketchbook work. Preferably something from his late 70s/early 80s peak. I know the early psychedelic stuff was more influential/historically important, but I don't care. Oh, okay, you need that stuff too.

-At least a little American Splendor. Come on, now. This is obvious, isn't it?

-At least one long-ish work without words (or dialogue). Really, though, everyone needs a copy of Cave-In.

-Art Out of Time or a collection of work of a similar spirit: Everybody has a copy of I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets now, right?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Comics? COMICS?

-Once again, the standard apologies about another stretch of not blogging. This time it's not that I've been busy, but more that I've been distracted. And not (entirely) by things as goofy as video games and MMA--more like politics. Instead of posting here, I find myself checking polls, spin, and whatnot. It's not like I actually have anything interesting or intelligent to say about any of this: you're either relishing Sarah Palin's public collapse or you're sweating it out, hoping that John McCain thinks of some new cockeyed plan to distract the press. Or, if you're like the people sitting behind us at the restaurant today, you're impressed by the paper Israeli flag stuck in the window somewhere in the Alaska Governor's Mansion.

-It's not that there haven't been things to talk about in comics, though, as the blogosphere has been dominated by two conversations: the very different endings of All Star Superman and the Minx line.

As to the former: I still don't quite get all the fanfare. ASS was certainly a good, entertaining book, but it was signficantly less interesting than what I expected from the Grant Morrison who wrote Seven Soldiers, the Grant Morrison whose involvement led me to read All-Star Superman in the first place. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, something that would dramatically ramp up my enthusiasm for the book. In the end I was entertained, but not amazed.

WHICH IS FINE, but some of the reaction to this book...whew. The Lex Luthor in prison issue was very, very good, deserving of some of the praise I've seen for the work as a whole. The rest, I felt, was more like something you file away, maybe re-read a few years later for a chuckle, maybe forget forever. Still, given the circumstances, I'm half-planning to re-read all 12 issues to make sure I'm actually right, and not just cranky that All-Star Superman will quite possibly be the #1 book on the 2008 Meta-List. There's just no way in hell that will be justified if it happens; those who are already pencilling it in at #1 on your end-of-year lists, I beg you to reconsider, to deny it the nostalgia/superhero curve which made it the third best reviewed comic of 2007. I'm already prepared to see it place higher than most of the books on my own, highly idiosyncratic list, but there are probably at least two or three dozen books substantially more deserving of the top spot. And that's way, way, way more than enough politicking from the person who compiles these polls.

(For those interested, if I had to handicap the most likely books to place in the top five this year, I'd probably go with (in no particular order): What It Is, Bottomless Bellybutton, All-Star Superman...and that's pretty much as far as I can go. Breakdowns, maybe, assuming it doesn't come out too late in the year, so as to miss those who draw up their lists ridiculously early, like in October. Black Jack has a strong chance to consolidate the literary manga vote, barring a big showing for the (totally worthy of top 10 status) Disappearance Diary, which might be a bit too obscure to make much of a showing. Other possibilities: The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard, Kramers Ergot vol. 7 (I'm really dying to see how it does on these lists), Criminal (popular enough last year to come in at #6, and it's way better this year), Three Shadows (just a hunch, but I think it shows up on a lot of mainstream-type lists--wasn't it mentioned by name in that recent Washington Post piece?). And it's possible that Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight will reprise the success of the first Perry Bible Fellowship collection. Any other possibilities I'm missing?)

-As for the Minx line: uh, too bad, I guess? My main interest in Minx was based on pure hypothosis/blind hope, in that maybe exposing young readers to western comics in addition to manga would convince them that they liked comics in general, and would thus gravitate towards the comics I liked, thereby making them more popular and easier for me to obtain in the the only bookstore in town which carries a decent selection of new comics which don't involve Superman crying. This was not, mind you, a reasonable expectation, but it was the only way for me to get interested in a line which (a) was obviously not intended for me, (b) featured a bunch of creators who I might call modest talents (with the exception of Jim Rugg, who's pretty good, and of course Derek Kirk Kim, who is very good), and (c) didn't have a publishing strategy which struck me as especially noteworthy.

So I guess I don't have too many strong opinions on Minx' passing, all things considered. I do regret that it's passing takes a paycheck away for some folks whose work I don't normally follow. I feel worse, however, about the possible impact on Hope Larson's excellent Chiggers, which by all accounts did what Minx set out to do exponentially better. As noted above, I'm not the audience for a book like Chiggers, but any idiot can appreciate Larson's impressive cartooning and writing, even if he's a 31 year old dude. It really is the sort of book you want to share with young people, and I'd hate to see it affected by the demise of Minx.

As for why Minx failed, I liked Katherine Farmar's and Christopher Butcher's explanations the best. I'd like to find out some day exactly why the books couldn't get stocked in the YA section of Borders/Barnes and Noble; it seems like it's either an indictment of byzantine book trade politics or a tremendous failure on some specific person's part. Not that stocking it in the right section would have helped if DC wasn't committed to the line beyond a year and a half, for whatever reason. Yes, Brian Wood, I guess I'm not really surprised that Minx didn't take off, though I hoped it would. For the totally selfish reasons outlined above, but still.

And now it's back to reading about politics. Will McCain stick to a more conventional strategy by talking primarily about Wookies during tonight's debate? Or will he really shake things up by having Kimbo Slice punch him repeatedly in the stomach? Only one way to find out for sure, true believers!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The grotesquely wacky world of event comics

-Here's my pick for quote of the week, from Dan Nadel re: the awesome Rory Hayes collection he edited, Where Demented Wented:

I'm not interested in laudatory essays or bullshit celebrity endorsements. I don't like wacky design or people doing their own drawings on top of it. I just want serious attention to it. All we've got is the work, why fuck with it?

-Okay, I just read (most of) this article about Mark Millar taking over writing the Ultimates, or Ultimate Avengers as it will now be called. Wasn't Jeph Loeb supposed to be writing Ultimates 4 at the same time he was writing Ultimates 3? And Ed McGuiness was going to draw it? Am I imagining this? Or am I so out of touch with Marvel publishing news that I missed a months-old announcement that this project was canceled?

FWIW, I'll probably read the first couple of issues of Millar's Ultimate Avengers. What the hell, it's only money, right?

-I was thinking about Abhay Khosla's very funny recap of fans' questions at a Marvel panel during the San Diego con, and it hit me: is there any other reason to read Secret Invasion beyond the desire to know what happened? I mean, I understand that as of right now, right this minute, there's more money to be made on these you-won't-belive-what-happens-next, thank-god-nobody-cares-about-craft-anymore event-type comics than anything else going, except maybe 23 year old comics by Alan Moore. But here's the thing: if people are only reading it for knowledge of what happens, and there's a general acknowledgment that the actual product is no damned good, and these things don't appreciate in value anymore, then what's to stop people from saving money and just reading online spoilers to learn what's happening? (Or, if my understanding of Secret Invasion is correct, reading online spoilers to learn what didn't happen.)

I would take this opportunity to say that those who do choose to skip plot-driven event comics should consider buying [insert name of blogger's pet comic of the moment], but (a) I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the choir, and (b) you might have better things to buy with that $3 (or is it $4?) you're saving, like the better part of a gallon of gas, or maybe a bottle of malt liquor and Moon Pie.

-Speaking of Secret Invasion, just how incomprehensible is it? I haven't tried to follow it or anything, but what I've read about it seems pretty much impenetrable. I'm assuming, however, that Secret Invasion compares unbelievably well to the various Countdown related miniseries, if for no other reason than continuity discrepancies with Final Crisis rob them of whatever meager value they might have possessed. But what about the Final Crisis tie-ins?

I've read a couple of issues here and there, and I haven't been very impressed. I didn't actually read the first issue of Revelations, mostly because I was fairly sure that the book wasn't for me, and couldn't be any less for me even if it contained pirate gorillas or robot ninjas or something. Requiem seemed even less essential, kind of like if there had been a toy for the GI Joe staff dentist or something (codenamed CHOMPERS or FLOSSY maybe). I mean really, Martian Manhunter's funeral? Even if you love irregularly-used second-tier characters, surely you must believe that the dude's going to come back to life, possibly within the pages of Final Crisis. This is Grant "superheroes are gods, and I may not mean that in a completely literary sense" Morrison we're talking about here.

Okay, what else have we got? Rogues' Revenge (is there an actual apostrophe there? Cause if not, DC is worse than Hitler): Not bad. I never much cared for most supervillain-oriented comics I've read, just because they seemed to tone things down too much in order to make the protagonist(s) likable. Not really an issue here. Plus Geoff Johns' prediliction for mayhem (in a literal sense) actually seems appropriate for the reason stated above. I've been up and down on Scott Kollins' art over the years, but it's pretty effective here. Maybe it's no coincidence that Kollins' best previous work was with Johns on the Flash? Haven't read the second issue yet, though.

Superman Beyond: Haven't read it yet cause the local store didn't have a copy; reviews aren't really encouraging me to seek it out at Borders, either. Legion of Three Worlds: Man, I thought this was really not good, and I'm a little suprsised at how positive the reviews have been. Bear in mind that I like the Legion of Superheroes and George Perez enough to offset any dislike of Geoff Johns. If ever there was a Johns-written comic that made me agree with Alan David Doane's criticism of Johns' writing as playing with superhero toys in the bathtub, this was it. The plot, which partly involves the United Planets shutting down the Legion, closely resembles that of the Mark Waid/Barry Kitson run on LSH, except Johns' version is much shoddier in that it transparently seems to be setting up the triumphant rebirth of the Legion after saving the future from Superboy Prime. Speaking of which--ugh, Superboy Prime again? Aside from that, you have a lot of fan service (in the non-sexual sense, at least so far), with lots more to come, I'm sure. Are you ready for three Brainiacs getting together to come up with an impossibly brilliant solution sometime around the fourth issue? I'm not. I won't be bothering with future issues of this comic.

-And to end on a much more positive note: a new Graham Annable cartoon (via):

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Cats use bites in lieu of words

-You know, I thought about doing a "50 things I hate about comics" list, but I really couldn't think of 50 things. I mean, I could probably fill out the list if I dug deep, but it seemed kind of jarring to put items about the failures of the Direct Market next to my disdain for wacky apes.* I could probably definitely do a "50 things I hate about comics blogs" list, but what's the point? The only meaningful effect would be putting me in a bad mood after reacquainting myself with all the godawful blogs I quit reading months ago.

*"Wacky ape comics" is a strong synecdoche for "Silver Age superhero comics which everyone likes for reasons other than their actual quality." Wacky ape comics are kind of like the anti-Art Out of Time.

-I used to think Tom Spurgeon's weekly list of new releases was posted too late to do me any good. Then I moved to the Pacific time zone, allowing me to read these posts long before going out to purchase comics. Then I realized that the only nearby store carries only a small, small fraction of the items of interest to me. Then I started ordering things online. Yes, I will share my thoughts once my first shipment arrives. I'm cheap and have plenty of stuff to read already, so I elected for a single, end-of-the-month shipment.

-Book no one is talking about but which I recommend you check out: Cowa! by Akira Toriyama. Well, maybe people are talking about it in the larger manga blogosphere; I find it hard enough to keep up with what's going on in comics, what with also trying to keep up with the NFL (go Eagles, BTW), MMA, and the increasingly depressing world of politics.

But still: I haven't read much about Cowa!, but it's probably the manga I've most enjoyed reading this year. A few caveats: I still haven't read Good-Bye, Red Colored Elegy or Cat Eyed Boy. I also haven't read any of the Takehiko Inoue material released this year. And Dororo is certainly better than Cowa! in most ways. I just enjoyed Cowa! more. It's actually very similar to Joann Sfar's Little Vampire series, both in tone and premise. Like Little Vampire, I found Cowa! to be uproariously funny. Actually, as much as I like Dr. Slump, I probably laughed far more frequently at Cowa!, which has far fewer poop-related jokes (not that I mind the occasional bit of scatological humor, especially if someone as consistently funny as Toriyama is doing it, but there are probably about seven poop jokes in every volume of Dr. Slump).

What I really didn't expect, however, were the similarities to Toriyama's biggest hit, Dragonball. There are several fight scenes in this book, including an almost-epic one of which features an antagonist very similar to Toriyama's Buu. Toriyama is one of the great action artists of all time, and the sequences in Cowa! are about as energetic as anything I've ever read in a comic. One might expect this to be somewhat jarring, given that the rest of the book is generally light in tone; if the manga was adapted to the screen, you'd almost expect Ice Cube to star in the "gruff adult gradually charmed by rambunctious children while on road trip" role. But Toriyama injects a melancholic note by giving a dark past to the protagonist, a former sumo/pro wrestler named (but rarely called) Maruyama. And the tonal shift is gradual; the fight scenes grow in intensity as the stakes get higher. Toriyama, however, consistently and effectively injects humor into each fight scene as well.

It's a pleasing combination, especially given Toriyama's strong cartooning skills. Toriyama is also quite adept at using gray tones to create compelling compositions. Still, one almost wishes that the entire book were in color, as was the first chapter. (One certainly wishes that the second chapter, obviously originally published in color, hadn't been converted into too-dark gray tones). Given recent discussion of the limitations of the standard North American manga format in attracting adult readers, I couldn't help but wonder if Cowa! might have been better published in a format more reminiscent of a traditional children's book. Toriyama himself notes that he was attempting more of a storybook style with Cowa!, so the idea isn't completely baseless.

Of course, most people buying Cowa! in North America will presumably be established manga-philes. One can understand Viz' decision to use their standard format, so Cowa! will rest alongside volumes of Dragonball. Those who usually neglect these shelves would be well-advised to at least flip through Cowa!, particularly if they have enjoyed similar work by Sfar or Lewis Trondheim.

-So Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker are writing the Beast/Hank McCoy as Cornelius Bear, right?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Happy birthday...

...to my brother, who turns 29 today. Enjoy that last year of your 20s while you can--as soon as you turn 30, your joints start to crumble, your hair turns gray, and you can't remember who inked Kirby's stuff in the 1980s*. Actually, your hair doesn't start to turn gray until you're 31, so enjoy those two years!

*Note to self: it was Greg Theakston.

Monday, September 8, 2008

RIP Evan Tanner

See story here.

More posts about comics again soon.