Comments Off | Posted: February 18th, 2013 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: john man, ninja
The ninja is an icon, a piece of Japanese storytelling and history that westerners seem endlessly fascinated with, even if we don’t actually know anything about them. Plain teenage mutant turtles are creepy talking animals that live in the sewer — throw in the word “ninja” and they become a media powerhouse that have been going strong for over 25 years. Even movies like American Ninja and Miami Connection can’t kill them completely, and it’s natural that someone would want to write a book that helps non-natives understand their history and place in culture.
Unfortunately, Ninja: 1,000 Years Of The Shadow Warrior isn’t a text that achieves that purpose. John Man’s rambling look at the ninja in Japanese culture fails to establish an interesting narrative, despite literally having centuries of amazing stories to use as fuel. In fact, the book is so poorly structured that I wonder if he shuffled a deck of index cards with chapter titles and then put the sections in that order. The first two-thirds of Man’s book jumps wildly from subject, probably in an attempt to engage readers who might be lost by page after page of Japanese history but instead ends up disjointed and unpleasant.
After this, however, it seemed like things might pick up — I’m always fascinated by how modern cultures internalize (and profit from) their past — but for every interesting look at something like the Nakano Spy School and the Japanese survivalist soldiers who outlived World War II, there’s a frustratingly myopic look at other aspects of the ninja meme. As someone who learned of the ninja through the western interpretation of it, I was hoping for some sort of dissection of why ninja became as huge as they did, but the book fails utterly in this aspect. There are several pages devoted to You Only Live Twice (likely because of Man’s being British), but nothing about how Sho Kosugi and his ilk brought the ninja-as-lead to life in the West.
Overall, I’m going to say that instead of reading Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior, one shoal instead pick through its bibliography. Man did a lot of research for this book and it’s likely that you’d be able to rifle through his sources and create a more entertaining and complete look at Japan’s greatest non-Godzilla export.
A review copy of this book was provided by Harper Collins.
4 Comments | Posted: July 31st, 2011 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: grant morrison
Grant Morrison’s book on superheroes and their place in our culture is:
- Schizophrenic, sometimes swinging from memoir to analysis in the space of a paragraph.
- Bereft of any footnotes that would help solidify some of his more dubious points.
- Full of his usual crazy-man jibber-jabber about his hallucinogenetic* past, further fueling the sort of people who like to say “he’s on drugs” when they can’t offer up any real analysis of his works.
- Utterly addictive reading. It could have been twice as long and I’d have enjoyed it five times as much.
*You can use that one. It’s on me.
7 Comments | Posted: July 27th, 2011 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: alan moore, league of extraordinary gentlemen
Alan Moore. Boy, I just don’t know anymore. I just don’t know.
Comments Off | Posted: October 18th, 2010 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading
On the back of the book is a quote from a Booklist writer, who says that “[Karl Stevens is...] a much more thorough[ly] realistic artist than the label cartoonist suggests.” He’s not wrong, but I take exception to his dual pigeonholing of the term “cartoonist” and Stevens’s work. While he avoids (and even states in this interview
with Tom Spurgeon that he’s incapable of) over-the-top, Bagge-style on-page histrionics, there’s no small amount of life in his work, even if he uses photo reference to capture likenesses just so.
Despite the detailed rendering and on-the-sleeve classical influences, Stevens’s art manages to capture tiny moments and explore them to great effect. His renderings of his real-life cast are done sans lightboxing, giving them an organic feel that is lacking in most “realistic” art and his hand-lettered dialogue is integrated into the final product in a way that very few cartoonists manage.
His latest book, The Lodger mixes installments of his “Failure” cartoon, drawn for The Boston Phoenix, alongside paintings made during the same period. In (trite-but-true) fashion, it begins with a breakup and Stevens’s move into an old teacher’s home and there’s actually a bit of an arc, even if it’s not blatantly spelled out for the reader and the integration of his fine-arts efforts along with the cartooning create a complete picture of Stevens’s life during that period.
It is frequently very funny, and that’s really the most important thing.
Comments Off | Posted: October 14th, 2010 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: eric kim, shakespeare
If you like The Bard and things that are funny, I highly recommend Kim’s succinct, hilarious summaries of Shakespeare’s plays. Here’s Julius Caesar:
Yeah. It’s all like that and I absolutely loved the hell out of it, as I’m a total sucker for reductionist humor. To make the inevitable comparison, if you enjoy Kate Beaton’s work (and who doesn’t,) there’s absolutely no reason this shouldn’t sit next to your copy of Never Learn Anything From History
. Buy it directly from Eric
or you can pick it up at these retailers: Alternate Reality (Las Vegas); Jim Hanley’s Universe (New York City); Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find (Charlotte, NC) and Chapel Hill Comics (Chapel Hill, NC. Duh.)
Comments Off | Posted: June 28th, 2010 | Filed under: Outbound Linkage, What I've Been Reading
Pittsburgh-based creator Ed Piskor has recently moved his ongoing Wizzywig series of graphic novels online, remastering the art and reworking the format pretty radically with additional panels and a new layout that recalls oversized Sunday strips. Wizzywig tells the story of hacker Kevin Phenicle and unlike most fiction built around the idea of someone dicking around with technology, it doesn’t take a side. Piskor instead explores the moral gray area of this particular hobby: occasionally, Phenicle does something very stupid and deserves what he gets and other times, the response is wildly out of proportion to his actions. Piskor’s cartooning and deliberate approach have made this one of my favorite indie comics of the last few years and I recommend you start at the beginning and add it to your RSS reader.
Note: There is the occasional bit of sweary language your mom wouldn’t like.
I wrote about the first and second print volumes a while back.
Comments Off | Posted: June 14th, 2010 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading
“Elegant” is the best word to describe the expanded and reworked print edition of the Immonens’ webcomic
about a young woman’s experience as a member of the art world’s underground railroad in Nazi-occupied Paris. Stuart’s pencils are sublime — there’s not a single line that doesn’t belong, and the same could be said for Kathryn’s pared-down dialogue that speaks volumes in the silence that it willfully embraces. It’s a delight to read a comic that is so restrained and thoughtful but still manages to capture and invoke a broad swath of emotions.
If the Immonens’ Moving Pictures
is a model of restraint in service of a good story, Cowboy Ninja Viking
is a goofy, glorious mess of high concept (secret agents with multiple personalities go to war against each other) and seemingly disparate goals that manage to cohere into something quite enjoyable by the end of the first volume. A.J. Lieberman’s scripts are funny and reward the audience’s trust once the plot is underway and are perfectly matched by Riley Rossmo’s duotone art. Like Chew
? Read this.
So, so, so
much better than I would have thought a noir anthropomorphic comic could have managed. After reading the just first story, I was very glad that Blacksad
is now in print again.
3 Comments | Posted: May 27th, 2010 | Filed under: iPaddery, What I've Been Reading | Tags: iPad, wired
It’s pretty neat. There’s a lot to be said for embedding video and audio, (even – if not especially — in revenue-generating ads) and the interactivity in articles (click buttons to view different products that are being reviewed on the same page, or get a step-by step of the assembly of that famous ice hotel or listen to a Trent Reznor track in progress) is handled in an unobtrusive, natural manner that reminds me of a highly-refined version of their website. There are issues, though: the vertical scrolling inside of an article is not obvous enough and I was honestly a bit confused the first time I came across it and while editorial has worked hard to make sure the layout works in both landscape and portrait orientations, there’s at least one article fragment in the inaugural installment that is driving me up the wall
Still, $5 for a future magazine that doesn’t litter my floor with those annoying subscription cards and cleverly gets me to look at and interact with advertising? That’s a perfect price point. This is the first issue of Wired I’ve read cover-to-cover in years and I’m pretty sure they’ve got their hooks in me for future installments.
1 Comment | Posted: March 17th, 2010 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading
I was never really sold on Scary Go Round
, despite really loving the visual aesthetic used by John Allison on his longform webcomic, but his current project, Bad Machinery
is about as perfect as these things get. It’s a story of a smallish English city, its football team, a group of primary school students, their teachers, a pair of mad Russians on opposite sides of a major issue and what may or may not be supernatural happenings, and it’s all told with humor and dare I say grace? Yes, I dare. Allison uses the daily format well, spinning multiple plot plates at the same time and switching back and forth without losing the audience or leaving them hanging for two long. Highly recommended and it’s good enough to make me look at re-evaluating his earlier work.
3 Comments | Posted: December 7th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: 365 samurai and a few bowls of rice, jp kalonji
Jean-Philippe Kalonji’s debut graphic novel is meditative and violent, just as it is minimal and complex at the same time. Kalonji’s use of the visual to tell the story aids both the action sequences and quiet passages alike and dialogue that appears in the final text is spare and honed down to a fine point.
Of course it made me think of Akira Kurosawa, but I also saw surprisingly similarities to Moebius in the strength of the artistic storytelling if not actual techniques employed. There’s a flow to the book that’s very much defined by how the full-page panels push in and pull out of a scene, how the art rests on a split second. There’s enough of a link from the way that Kalonji constructs a face and body to the people that inhabit Jeff Smith’s comics that it’s called out on the back of the book, but part of me appreciates the former’s work just a bit more because it’s unafraid of the close-up, the detail shot that can sell a moment more than anything else while Smith (an extremely competent cartoonist) is very much dependent on full figures and traditional comics construction. I’ve not been this invigorated by a debut in a very long time, perhaps since Brandon Graham’s comics first wandered into my baleful gaze.
3 Comments | Posted: September 17th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: agents of atlas, avengers, batman, busiek, jeff parker, morrison, pluto, urasawa, yotsuba
OK, here’s what I’ve been reading, with extremely brief notes.
The new edition of Avengers Forever is a beautiful thing with larger trimsize giving Carlos Pacheco’s artwork the room it needs to really hit you. There’s a lot of cute throwaway details, but unless you’re a massive fan of The Avengers and excited about Kurt Busiek’s sometimes-too-neat superhero storytelling being wrapped around a near-incoherent plot involving time travel, Kang vs Immortus (who is also Kang) and something called the destiny force, I don’t actually recommend it.
The praise I’d heard for Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka is very justified. While the quick-and-dirty pitch is “Watchmen for Astro Boy,” Urasawa’s storytelling (which has grown by leaps since Monster, another series I’m catching up on) is nuanced and willing to let the reader work a bit and the emotional beats he hits are a bit stunning, especially considering how much of this work revolves around robots.
Yotsuba&! #6 is likely the comic I’ve looked forward to the most this year, and yes, I know how creepy that makes me sound. Still, despite my inherent cynicism, there’s something so refreshingly irony-free about observing life with Yotsuba and I can’t help but get sucked in and laughing and worrying and cheering for her. It’s a bit like the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer that way — kid-friendly material that works on every level because it’s not aiming at anyone in particular.
Boy, Philip Tan is not the artist I would have followed Frank Quitely with on Morrison’s Batman and Robin fourth issue. He certainly makes some game attempts to match Morrison’s scripting, but they come off as forced versus the effortless way that Quitely packs creatively-laid-out panels with detail and still manages to be readable. There’s a scene where a card is falling from the air and the camera tracks it into Batman’s hands and it lacked a certain kind of alchemy that Morrison manages to do with his best collaborators.
All of this aside, I absolutely love how these comics are scripted and how they play with conventions like titles and credits. It’s sort of the less-formalized version of All Star Superman and it makes each chapter’s inertia play out a certain way.
I’m just going to presume Jeff Parker writes Agents Of Atlas for me and Chris Sims and the rest of you are lucky enough to be along for the ride. The latest issue has a terrific gag centering around a personality implant for M11 just identified as “The Greatest.” I won’t spoil it, but I’ll say it’s a perfect example of how to slip neat asides into your superhero comics without getting bogged down in the too-cute-oh-hey-here’s-a-meme syndrome that some writers fall into.
You’re reading my new comic, right? OK, good.
11 Comments | Posted: September 11th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: teenage mutant ninja turtles
This collection of the first three years of Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
is clumsily plotted, packed with expository, derivative dialogue and art for which “adequate” is bends the truth a bit. It’s also visceral, engaging, and exciting. 25 years after the fact, it’s easy to see why the comics collected here were the first wave of a phenomenon — they’re a slapdash celebration of Japanese cinema, Frank Miller, and pulp fiction, fueled by starry-eyed youth and a complete lack of knowledge when it comes to what not
to do. It’s more than recommended; I’d say this book is essential for anyone who wants to better understand the changes that comics have endured in the past quarter-century.
6 Comments | Posted: August 6th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading
I’ve just finished the fourth Usagi Yojimbo trade and the fifth is sitting next to me. I’m pretty sure I’m going to get two a week until I’m all caught up on the series and then — get this — I might actually buy the singles. Frankly, I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to get on board and I want to thank America’s Greatest Stuffed Bull for sending the first two books to me a couple of weeks ago.
If you’re like me, throw away your preconceptions about anthropomorphic comics and get on board. As a fan of samurai fiction (to the point of having a Seven Samurai tattoo) and comics, I can’t recommend Stan Sakai’s beautifully drawn, note-perfect reinvention of the genre highly enough.
2 Comments | Posted: May 20th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: tank girl
Titan has done right by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin’s iconic heavy weapons fetishist with these nicely-priced volumes that feature the original Tank Girl
stories in their original black and white, erasing the damage caused with the murky reproduction from the digitally-colored 90s reissues and reminding me why this is one of my very favorite comics series. Gloriously nonsensical plots, remarkably funny dialogue, and cartooning that never stops combine perfectly with the sort of alchemy that is all too rare in any medium, and the bonus materials (Martin’s introductions featuring rare photos and illustrations, covers from that era, etc) just make a $14.95 price tag seem a cursory thing, a slight delay in one’s attainment of these books.
Can you tell I like Tank Girl
a truly embarrassing amount? Anyway Amazon’s got ‘em even cheaper – $10.17 a pop, qualifying for Amazon Prime, etc, etc. Volume 1
and Volume 2
are out now, with the next few months seeing Volume 2 and The Odyssey
back in print.
5 Comments | Posted: May 11th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: fantagraphics, supermen
A fantastic companion to 2007′s Fletcher Hanks retrospective I Shall Destroy All The Civiized Planets!
, this Greg Sadowski-edited look at the nascent superhero comics scene is pure pop culture heaven, giving readers a glimpse at early work from Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Bill Everett and Lou Fine among many others while exposing them to the frenetic, frequently surreal storytelling that marked the years surrounding the introduction of a certain blue-and-red clad man from another world. While it’s easy to see why these characters have been been consigned to the dustbin of history, there’s an undeniable charm to practically every story in here, from The Comet becoming the fall guy for a villain with the clever nom-de-crime of Satan to Fletch Hanks’s Stardust battling a group of space-faring vultures terrorizing Earth.
The only problem with this book is that it leaves you wanting more, particularly when it comes to some genuinely important artifacts like Simon and Kirby’s Blue Bolt, which was reprinted in truly ghastly, over-corrected fashion a few years ago. You can get more information about Supermen!
and buy it directly from the Fantagraphics site
while Amazon has it for $16.49 at the moment,
a 30-odd percent savings.
3 Comments | Posted: April 24th, 2009 | Filed under: Design Fetish, What I've Been Reading | Tags: blazing combat
Adam Grano’s bold design cover design is the perfect complement to Fantagraphics’ comprehensive collection of the dead-by-the-time-it-hit-the-ground Warren war book helmed by Archie Goodwin with a stellar team of artists that included Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, John Severin, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Russ Heath, Reed Crandall, and Gene Colan. It’s remarkable how little these stories have aged, as many cover thematic ground that resonates to this day. The Joe Orlando-drawn opener “Viet Cong!” features a US military advisor confronted with an untenable war on foreign soil and a moral crisis that revolves around torture while “Survival” hammers home the devastation left after combat and the way it leaves civilian lives ruined. Even the more straightforward “war comics” that are presented in this volume have an unusual gravitas that fits naturally over the proceedings, making the stories collected stand out, and the interviews with Archie Goodwin and Jim Warren provide an in-depth and fascinating look at the pressures that the controversial comic magazine faced. Amazon has it for $16.49, an $8 savings off the cover price.
Special Bonus Feature
Pal Josh made a point of mentioning, sadly, that Blazing Combat
was always going to be a more interesting comic than Peacetime Bliss
and then illustrated said point because I demanded that he do so:
Comments Off | Posted: April 10th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: britten and brulightly, hannah berry
British creator Hannah Berry’s debut graphic novel is a sharply-written, downboat detective story well-served by her lush, painterly art, and while I’m normally suspicious of jacket quotes that smack of overenthusiastic preening from authors desperate to get cover copy, the comparisons to Chandler and Hammett are not far from the mark. Berry manages to use genre tropes such as narration and plot convolutions in a way that feels fresh because of her strong storytelling instincts and willingness to make the material as visually interesting as possible.
One of the things that makes Britten and BrÃ¼lightly stand out is the obvious care and thought that’s been put into the project. Berry never takes the easy road when it comes to depicting mood and having characters relate information, something that too frequently leads to boring talking head shots in mystery and detective pices like this. Each panel features assured use of the comics playbook and the oversized format means that the reader gets to savor the material properly.
If you can’t tell, I thought this book was downright terrific and deserving of much more attention than it’s gotten so far on this side of the pond. Amazon has this dense, smart read for less than the cost of buying four individual Marvel comics that you’ll likely forget an hour after you’ve stuck them in your longbox.
1 Comment | Posted: April 6th, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading | Tags: joey sayers
I’ve been a fan of Joey Sayer’s work for a couple of years now, but knew nothing about the creator other than there was a Berkeley address on the minicomics I’d receive from her and that she was whip-smart when it came to her understatedly hilarious webcomic, Thingpart. In fact, that’s one of the things that made me appreciate her work so much; unlike many of her peers, she seemed happy to make comics about something besides herself.
So, when she put together an autobiographical comic about her transition from “Joe” to “Joey” and the how she dealt with her transgendered status and its impact on every detail of her life, I was understandably curious. She does a terrific job here, tackling serious subject matter with aplomb and finding humor in the mundane and macro alike.
Pick up your own copy through her website.
1 Comment | Posted: March 23rd, 2009 | Filed under: What I've Been Reading
“Alcoholics are complicated,” Manga creator Hideo Azuma muses near the end of Disappearance Diary
, his by turns amusing and sobering account of the multiple occasions when he dropped off the grid times due to work and other pressures. Azuma’s cartoonish art makes for an interesting contrast to some of the pretty chilling material included here, such as his months-long stretches as a homeless person (complete with dumpster-diving,) becoming a manual laborer after abandoning his wife, and his stint in a hospital’s rehab wing. While I’d normally be tempted to say that the material is undermined by the relative lack of nuance presented by the visuals, they serve to distinctly mark the work as his story, told in his voice, using an art style familiar to readers of his work. There’s a few stretches where I sort of questioned what Azuma was doing (the too-detailed description of his life working for a the gas company for instance, killed a lot of the emotional momentum for me) but I found this to be a very satisfying read overall. The only real problems I have with the work were more the fault of Fanfare/Potenent Mon than anything else. The quality of the translation was frequently lacking, yanking me out of the material by a too-stiff phrase, and the slipshot lettering compounded things, with some basic tenets of comics grammar
ignored for the sake of a quick cut-and-paste job. (Yes, it involves the Barried “I”. It always
involves the barred “I”, guys.)
Amazon, of course offers it at a discount, if your local library or comics shop can’t provide.
I’d like to thank Deb Aoki for pointing this book out to me after I’d mentioned my anger at Whole Foods’ summary firing of a good employee after he’d set aside a sandwich that was to be thrown out. Wasting perfectly good food drives me up the wall, and she thought I’d find way Azuma discusses this practice interesting. She was right!
7 Comments | Posted: March 10th, 2009 | Filed under: Thinking About Comics, Thinking About Movies, What I've Been Reading, Wild Enthusiasm | Tags: el gorgo, jersey gods, marvel comics, secret invasion, Star Trek
The second issue of El Gorgo has been printed and is waiting for your Paypal information. Sure, you could read it in its entirety for free, but I honestly think these guys deserve your pocket change for actually printing a comic about a gorilla luchadore and making it much better than it actually had to be to keep me entertained.
A second printing of the first issue of Glenn Brunswick and Dan McDaid’s Jersey Gods is hitting stands this week. I’ve been promising them a letter of comment for some time but I am quite wary of doing this as I’m afraid it’d wind up being one of those unabashed “Oh my god like you guys are so good and Glenn’s script is super-witty and sweetly romantic while managing to capture the cosmic bigness of the gods in the story and that Dan McDaid, boy, he can draw real good and when are you guys going to start a fan club with a button set and a newsletter I’d be the first member” sort of things, but suffice it to say that if your local shop has a copy of #1 and #2 in stock on Wednesday, you’d find yourself a better human being if you deigned to spend money on these books. You’ll notice them by their fine covers by Mike Allred and Darwyn Cooke, two gentlemen that you may have heard of.
I got the trade for Secret Invasion because I remembered liking bits and pieces of it in single issues while being put off by the way the series hung together as a periodical. I can’t help feeling that is comes off as being really sparse despite having quite a lot of talking and punching. I read the entire 8-issue series in about an hour and didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Am I alone in thinking that there’s no real depth to the work and that thematically, it’s pretty barren? Yeah, there’s plenty of rah-rah Marvel Fan Moments that I genuinely enjoyed (Maria Hill versus Jarvis on the Helicarrier in a sequence that should have been in one issue instead of spread across three, Nick Fury stone-cold shooting aliens in the face) but it left me cold in the end, feeling like a means to an end instead of a story in its own right.
That said, that Thunderbolts crossover trade was a lot of fun, mostly because I enjoy Norman Osborne vamping it up and being all arched eyebrows and hissed commands when he’s not in the public eye.
Man, that new Star Trek trailer, huh? Sure is something, isn’t it?