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?


Marc Burkhardt said...

I hadn't heard of Cowa! I'm a big Toriyama fan, so I'll definitely have to look for it.

Thanks for the recommendation and welcome to the Pacific Time Zone!

Anonymous said...

Every time the main character changes into that damn Koala Bear, I just lose my shit.

Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

The koala thing was funny, but I most enjoyed the interactions between Paifu and Maruyama.

FK, I think you'll enjoy Cowa! It's really kind of amazing what a great deal Viz' shonen manga are. It's no wonder it sells so well--you get A LOT of story for $8. I'm sure that parents consider that sort of thing when buying for their kids, too.

ADD said...

o are you ordering from? I've been tempted by DCBS in the past, but their interface sucked the last time I looked and seemed to make it hard to find the good comics I want to buy.

Unknown said...

Makoleen! Aw yeah, I loved Cowa! Here's the review I wrote a little while back.

Dick Hyacinth's Ghost said...

Matt, I think I missed your post during the Great Move Recovery and Furniture Hunt period this summer. Or maybe I saw it and skipped it because I hadn't read Cowa! yet but planned to do so (as I've mentioned before, I try to hold off on reading reviews of books I'm planning to read until after I'm done). In any event, Matt's review really captures what I liked about Cowa!, so I'd strongly advise anyone on the fence to check it out.

Alan, I am using DCBS. I really didn't have any problem with their interface, though I'm kind of worried that I forgot to order a copy of RASL #4 by not looking at Cartoon Books' offerings for October. Has that issue been solicited yet? Cause I see that the first collection is due in November (just in time for the holiday season, no doubt).

But yes, you do have to pick every non-Diamond exclusive company of interest to you from the drop down menu. I know which ones I'm looking for, generally speaking--Fantagraphics, D&Q, First Second, Top Shelf, Sparkplug, Bodega (theoretically--not sure if I've seen anything solicited from them on DCBS yet), Cartoon Books, Vertical, Viz, Picturebox, Buenaventura, Pantheon, and probably a few I'm forgetting about.

What's interesting, actually, is that (as far as I can tell) DCBS is the only place where you can browse Diamond's full solicitations for a given month. It's always about two months ahead, but I don't think it's an especially cumbersome interface.

afdumin said...

An interesting side note:
There's going to be a free Cowa! minicomic coming out that comic shops can give away for Halloween. Should be perfect for giving people a sample of what the book's like if they're not quite sure they want to take the plunge.

Dave Carter said...

I've been using DCBS for a couple of years now, and for the most part really like it. I get weekly shipments that always arrive the day after the on-sale date (i.e. usually Thursday). HINT: Choose UPS as your shipping option, because DHL stinks. Customer service is good; they respond to emails within a day or two and set things right if an item is missing or damaged. They redesigned their Website a few months back; it's still not perfect, but I think it's an improvement.

Dick: RASL #4 has not yet been solicited, so you didn't miss it.

Jog said...

Hey, Cowa!'s pretty good... thanks for suggesting that...

Toriyama's always an odd one with me... I think it's because the first (and by far the most sustained) exposure I had to his stuff was the Dragon Ball Z anime, which I never got into... there's probably a whole book to be written on that guy's relationship with Dragon Ball, which was maybe the hit manga of the '90s in terms of sheer cash and shit... I know he got really uneasy about it after a while, wanting to stop the series and just getting talked and prodded into keeping the money train chugging, week after week. Even in the author's comments in back of Cowa!, there's this real taste of bitterness over the manga grind...

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