Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Old Books

So February and March have been pretty good in terms of comic grabs this year.  February was my month of picking up shit-I-already-own-but-want-new-or-better-versions-of books, and March continued Darkhorse's great job of releasing stuff I already love over the past couple years, and i am constantly torn with myself about what I actually have to buy again.

The newest volume of their Manara Library series is also probably my favorite volume, and I have been anticipating this one for quite some time.  Any of The Manara Libray volumes are a great way to revisit, or even introduce yourself, to this fanatastic Italian comics creator.  The first story in this book, The Adventures of HP & Guiseppe Bergman, is where a lot of Manara authorities would say he began to develop a style that we've come to recognize as purely Manara.  While he was also undoubtedly under a heavy influence from the likes of Moebius, it was still very easy to see that where he was going with this one was someplace else entirely.
The previous version of this story that I own is the Catalan Communications edition from 1988, and though the original translation by Jean-Jacques Surbeck is by no means unreadable, the newer translation by Kim Thompson really feels more natural.  The lettering is more legible as well, though I still have an affinity for whoever was doing the lettering at Catalan around that time; I would put money down that whoever lettered this book in 1988 also did lettering on both the Catalan and NBM prints of any of the Vittorio Giardino (another fantastic Italian writer/illustrator) books put out since that time (the capital A is unmistakable in all of those books).
As for the story, all my instincts want me to call this pulp adventure, but I feel like that term is either too broad or too narrow to be applied to any of the adventures of Guiseppe Bergman; who, i will point out (though it has been pointed out since the history of pointing shit out), shares more than a passing resemblance to the artist himself.  Although the first story is much more specific in that the eponymous hero is looking to a mysterious man named H.P. (while we're still treading familiar water, let's not forget to mention the humongous influence Hugo Pratt had on Manara) to help him find adventure, both this story and it's follow up, The Indian Adventures of Guiseppe Bergman, feel incredibly episodic.  It's almost as if Manara understood that though we (as readers as much as a stand in for his protagonist), long for adventure, we oftentimes can't even find the time to read a simple story in a single sitting let alone go on an adventure ourselves.

As adults, our expectation of adventure changes, and I believe that Manara understands that.  As adolescents, our simple childish fantasies begin to evolve and include elements of our own personal growth; so where once stood a boyish dream of saving a princess in a high tower, that same dream has begun to mirror our own budding sexuality and reflect our own self-image.  By the time we find that same dream as adults, our personal sense of eroticism and adventure have become much more idiosyncratic and a part of our subconscious, which is exactly what Manara excels at showing to us.  As an author who is able to shapeshift so seamlessly between genres, he allows us to shift between action, drama, comedy, and eroticism without losing any of what makes each of those individual elements so important, though still knowing when to pull back enough so as to titillate rather than engorge the reader when the situation calls for it.
Emerald & Other Stories is the English language adaptation of Hiroaki Samura's Sister Generator collection.  Made up of short stories that showed up in various magazines between 2003 and 2009, the name comes from the fact that almost all of the protagonists in these stories are female.  It's a pretty decent collection of stories, though the quality of the work shares more of a likeness to Ohikkoshi (Samura's previous short story collection released by Dark Horse in 2006) than it does to his more widely lauded Blade of the Immortal series, which just wrapped up in Japan after a healthy run starting back in June of 1993 (I still can't believe how long it has been going).

I found most of these tales to be pretty innocuous, though it's title story, Emerald, is by far this collection's standout piece.  Though Samura's first Western (if not by genre, then at least by setting), this story actually shares a lot of similarities with his most long running series in that it employs an incredible amount of kineticism when the true action takes place.  It could have benefited from a slightly wider view in the world in which it exists in, and in that respect i think it resembles his other work, but i believe that to be symptomatic of his rushing through his shorter works most of the time.

One of Blade's best attributes is that from the very start, the author creates a fantastic view of the world in which his characters live.  It's not a purely fictional Japan, and though it stumbles a little bit in the early chapters in trying to make a unique setting of it's own, Samura slowly lets his strange inhabitants flesh out an already existing (and marginally more believable) past in which the entire story is able to benefit from a slightly more realistic grounding.  I believe that in his short stories, Samura expects his readers to already be familiar with their setting, as many of them take place in contemporary Tokyo.  Other stories that take place in Victorian England, or the American West, for example, are hampered by the artist's limited knowledge of such periods, making the production of those stories seem all the more hurried, though no less visceral or brutal.
His newest English release of his Blade of the Immortal series, on the other hand, continues to wow as it has for the past twenty years.  Though slightly behind the Japanese releases, Dark Horse's commitment to this story is pushing it ever forward to it's inevitable conclusion.  This volume contains some of the most brutal scenes of violence the series has seen since maybe it's Beasts storyline from all the way back in 2002 (though for different reasons), and although the backgrounds feel sparser and sparser in some snowy scenes, Samura's trademark wordless, kinetic action has been ramped up even further to punctuate it's sharp violence.  If you're already a fan of the series, there is no reason not to continue on at this point; and though the series has taken quite a few turns in terms of focus, the author is constantly outdoing himself when it comes to bringing the reader back into it's familiar footing after periods of prolonged quietude.

I say check them out.

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