Sunday, June 30, 2013

When Keeping It Real Gets Real

 I apologize about the distance between this and the last post, the reasons for this are mainly selfish, though it could also be somewhat attributed to more recent events in the international comics community.  In the past week and a half I have written several other posts, not knowing what to do with them.  Mostly they will surface in the next coming weeks, but I thought it was important, at least, to mention something about current events.  I am writing of course about the passing of Kim Thompson; a man I never knew personally, and never got to meet, but who has done so much to help shape who I am by exposing me to things that otherwise I would never have encountered or had the chance to make part of my personal cannon.

Rather than go on about the history of such a man and his involvement with both Fantagraphics Publishing and The Comics Journal, I think it would be more pertinent to point my readers to their bookshelves; if you are a fan of this blog, or you live in North America and are interested in foreign comics, whether you are aware of it or not, you know who Kim Thompson is.  Much like Toren Smith, another man responsible for bringing foreign comics to an American audience, and who also sadly passed this year, Thompson brought to readers in this country a sensibility not seen elsewhere at the time.  Though Smith was focused on bringing readers new and powerful works from Japan, Thompson championed entire generations of European comics; both worked as editors and translators, and both were known for their incredibly good taste in knowing what audiences of their times would latch onto.  I can honestly say that at a glance, I can't find an example of any work either man championed that I don't appreciate on some level.  Whether it was working as critics, writers, translators, or just simply promoting an artist's work, neither man chose easily, it seems, and it was with their relentless and exquisite curation that we were able to see such stunning work in our lifetime, not just in comics, but in the field of animation as well; both men were instrumental in not only servicing an audience for their respective work, but for building one where there had virtually been none.  That ability to know what audiences wanted before they did was something very special indeed, and because I never knew either one personally, instead of missing the dinners or conversations we may never have, I can only selfishly lament all the books I may never read, or the artists I may never discover.

This unfortunate event also coincides, coincidentally, with some new releases that I wanted to talk about.  The first was the new Manara Library Volume 5 by Dark Horse Comics.  This volume, like the previous one, has an all new translation by Kim Thompson, and like the previous one, is another excellent addition to the Manara Library.  In fact, I believe the entire Dark Horse Manara Library has had new Thompson translations, though I can't be totally sure about whether or not he did any of the original translations, as I don't own all of the Catalan Communications editions of Manara's work.
 Speaking strictly about the work, volume 5 is as stunning as any of the previous volumes, so if you have missed any, and you are interested in this, I don't have any reason to believe you wouldn't enjoy those ones.  If you have missed them, I wholeheartedly recommend that you go get them now.

Milo Manara is an absolute master of his craft.  I don't know any other way to say that.  Every line is precise and each form occupies the only space it could possibly occupy.  The idea that there are no wrong answers in comics or that there are no limits to what you can do becomes a questionable concept in the hands of such a storyteller, as it appears as though he has always chosen the right answer, and always made the correct choice over an unfathomably wrong one.  Nothing seems arbitrary, yet the end product seems absolutely effortless in it's execution.  His understanding of most form, especially the human (female) body, is superb, and the effect gives the often erotic nature of his work more substance, as it becomes impossible to separate the form from the substance, permeating the reader with a feeling of sensuality even when the focus of the story deviates from pure eroticism.

This volume covers the remaining adventures of Manara's eponymous Giuseppe Bergman; as Paul Pope relates in his introduction, a kind of younger brother to Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese.  Like Corto Maltese, Bergman is an obvious stand-in for the author, and though lacking some of the former's more altruistic intentions in serving justice and liberty, the latter is not without his moral fortitude, nor is he without sympathy for our stories' various underdogs (nevermind the fact that they are almost always female).  Again, HP makes various appearances throughout this volume, and it is almost touching to see Manara's continued tribute to his mentor, especially in one of the later stories, produced after Pratt's death.

Another recent purchase of mine was Jacques Tardi's New York Mon Amour, another excellent release from Fantagraphics Books.  This book collects the short stories, Manhattan (which was the author's first introduction to American audiences years ago), It's So Hard, The Killing of Hung, as well as the slightly longer Cockroach Killer, a conspiracy thriller written by Benjamin Legrand, in which a New York City exterminator finds himself in the middle of a surreally violent tale of intrigue.
 It's So Hard and The Killing of Hung were written by Dominique Grange, whose work I have yet to explore beyond what is presented in this volume, though I would be interested to see how she would fair in a longer story, or without the aid of Tardi's expert draftsmanship.  Though I enjoyed her stories, they interest me considerably less than Tardi's collaborations with writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, especially the now on-hold English-language edition of Run Like Crazy Run Like Hell (presumably Thompson's illness and death were the reason behind this, as he was also serving as this books editor and translator).  The book has been "postponed indefinitely", so until further notice it remains in limbo, though any related news will be relayed through this blog as well.

Though my understanding of these two men was far from intimate, it isn't hard to say that they still had an intimate influence in my life, and as I still find it to be selfish of me to measure their loss in a purely consumer-based manner, further pondering makes me believe that for two men whose work was such an integral contribution to the comics industry over the past decades, they would want their work to leave the most indelible mark on the community that they obviously cared so much about.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Sunny With A Chance Of... Hopefully More Sunny

 Viz Signature has recently released the the first volume of their English adaptation of Sunny, what I believe to be the most recent comic by Japanese writer/illustrator/existential powerhouse, Taiyo Matsumoto.  If you've checked my blog before, you will know that I am already a huge fan of his work, and if you're new here or to his body of work, you should go back and read my post on his earlier manga (and subsequent film adaptation of), Blue Spring.

As the description of this book suggests (and as anyone familiar with 60s and 70s era Nissan automobile manufacturing can tell you), Sunny is a car; a car that can take you anywhere you want if you can just dream it.  Sunny is also a clubhouse and haven where there are no adults allowed, and imagination can drown out any of the angst and sadness of the world around you.  As the book goes on, it quickly becomes apparent that that isn't all that Sunny is about.

If you are already familiar with Taiyo Matsumoto (and this will be the last time in this post that I beg you to become so, I promise), you will understand Sunny about two or three pages in.  His stories, though diverse in their subject matter, almost always have at least something to do with children and the different ways in which they cope with an ever encroaching adult world, promising to swallow them and everything that makes them a child up faster than they can prepare for.  That isn't to say that his stories are for children though, and though not shy in their propensity for vulgarity (as all adolescents often possess, whether their parents believe it or not), his books are adult for adults; his work often relies on the reader's ability to relate to their own childhood and process information in an almost nostalgic fashion, making it a more meditative glance back at how things affect us differently as adults rather than as a starter manual for affected or misfit children.

As I was reading Sunny, I couldn't help but think that in the hands of anyone else, this material could have been an annoying and predictable cry-fest, serviceable to almost no one but those interested in reading sad stories about sad children who have been dealt a rough hand in life; but Sunny shines because it looks at these situations not as hindrances, but merely character traits.  There are moments when your heart begins to ache for sure, but I can't help but make comparisons (again, as I did in my post about Blue Spring) to Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira in that the characters feel like throw-aways; they are the children nobody wanted anymore, but to them they are more than that, and with Sunny they can be anything they want.  Even their new (and in some of their minds, temporary) domicile is called Star Kids Home, and their new caregivers treat them not as victims or charges, but as young people who deserve the same upbringing as any other child; you get the impression that it's neither the children's fault or the Star Kids caregivers fault that they are in their situation, and you really get the impression in Matsumoto's writing that these adults are doing their very best to raise these kids.

To get away from the specific themes for a moment, I can't stress enough how beautiful Sunny looks.  Taiyo Matsumoto is a master of his craft, and very rarely anymore do I implicitly trust an artist's work like I do with him.  He has this wonderful ability to intersperse his stories with single illustrations that say so much.  Just glance through any of his titles to see wonderful full-color illustrations that, in context to the larger story inside, flesh out characters and manage to say more in a single, static image than most other comic creators are able to pour into pages of dialogue, and Viz has done a remarkable job presenting his work again in this volume.  Unfortunately, Viz had previously cancelled the publication of Matsumoto's No. 5 after only two out of seven volumes due to poor sales.  But then they have also shown a commitment to his work by releasing a very extravagant edition of his GOGO Monster book, which turned out to be my favorite release of 2009, both in story and presentation (even though it was published in Japan almost a decade earlier).  A quick internet search shows that volume two is due out in November, so I hope that Viz will see this series through to it's conclusion (at only three volumes this seems doable), and we will have to see how sales for this book do to expect more of Taiyo Matsumoto from them in the future.  For those interested more in his color illustrations, check out his art books, 100, and 101.  Both are published by Big Comic Spirits, which, in his book, Dreamland Japan, Frederik Schodt categorized the magazine's readers as, typically, "a twenty-eight-year-old systems engineer who works at a finance company, eats at ramen noodle shops, and is seriously considering using a matchmaking service."  Hilarious.

Even GOGO Monster failed to capture the attention or acclaim from much of the younger international manga community, who is generally more interested in a newer, mass-produced, generic escapist market, targeted specifically to what they already like than comics with a more existential outlook with a less mainstream manga art style (it took a highly promoted anime adaptation and decade later re-release of Matsumoto's Tekkonkinkreet series to make anyone notice one of the more prolific comic series to come out in a period of high output for Japan).  Though with other publishers like Vertical, Drawn & Quarterly, and now even Fantagraphics producing high quality English adaptations of more alternative manga, it seems hard to believe that we wouldn't see more of Matsumoto's work published in English somewhere at least, and I think it would be a mistake for Viz to drop this title if they choose to do so.
I cannot give a higher recommendation than I can with Sunny, or any of Taiyo Matsumoto's work.  And manga kids, if you read this blog, though it may not adhere to your casual tastes, please go out and buy this book.  Get sad, and fuck some shit up.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Domestic Foreign Records

 I realized it's been a while since I posted about music, so it came as almost serendipitous when I caught wind of the new release from Atlanta-cum-Pittsburgh funk and soul record label, Rotating Souls.  The label's sixth release thus far comes to us in the form of a split release between Wakayama, Japan's Oyama Edit (御山△ EDIT), and Sad Ghost, production moniker of Johannesburg, South Africa-based Chris Keys.

I honestly know very little about either one save for what I was able to read on their respective SoundCloud pages, but based on the sound samples from this release, I don't think this is going to be a release fans of the boogie/synth genre are going to want to miss.  Rotating Souls has had a great track record with their releases thus far, and I doubt that the label's architect, Pittsburgh ex-patriot, Curt Jackson, has any interest in putting out a bad record.

You can check out his earlier releases on the Rotating Souls website, and what's better, you can hear sound samples of this record, as well as previous releases, on their more-frequently updated SoundCloud page.

In the meantime, check out the terrific Japanese Breeze Mix, by Mori Ra (one half of Oyama Edit) done in anticipation of this release.  Otherwise, keeps your eyes peeled for this one, as it's expected to drop pretty soon!