Last of the Mohicans, or: Diminishing Returns

I bought a lot of stuff from the PictureBox sale. I kind of thought that I had most of their stuff already, but I ended up with like eight kilos of excellent comics.

Then there’s Last of the Mohicans by Shigeru Sugiura, edited by Ryan Holmberg.

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As always, I just skipped past the introduction and started reading.  (I read the introductions afterwards.  Don’t want no spoilers.)

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So…  this seems to be pretty crude.  The story is totally unreadable, but the drawings have a certain charm.  But what’s really going on here?  You have one Indian tied up there, and there’s a smiling boy who has his tongue sticking out…  Is he captured, too?  It turns out that he is.

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They escape and fight a bear…  Ok…  Looks a bit like something a 14-year old would have drawn after watching too many cartoons.  (I had just read the Rory Hayes book.)

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Or perhaps too much Li’l Abner?  Anyway, it’s pretty dull book, incompetently drawn.  So I start reading the introduction.

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“One of the masters of Japanese comics.”  Uh huh.

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“is as beautiful to looks at as it is a delight to read.”

I guess that’s technically true, because it’s nigh unreadable and it’s rather ugly.

Now, you wouldn’t expect an editor to undersell the book in the introduction.  If he’d written the truth (something more along the lines of “a turgid mess that some might say is historically important, because it shows how much early Japanese comics ripped off contemporary US comics.  INTERESTING FOR COMPULSIVES ONLY”) you might sell fewer books.  Hyping the work as a “masterpiece of post-war manga” might lead to some disappointment, though.

Which leads me to the point of this rant: For almost fourty years, we’ve suffered through the same hype.  We’ve been told, over and over again, that there’s a vast treaure trove of Japanese comics out there, and when they’re finally translated, we’ll be overwhelmed by masterworks.

Japan is the land where, we’re told, businessmen read comics on the Shinkansen.

What they neglected to inform us is that the businessman was reading Shonen Jump and Dragon Ball.

Some people just adore Japanese comics.  That’s fine.  There are adults that like superhero books, too.  I don’t judge.  But fans of Japanese comics are more annoying.  Every time somebody in the US writes an overview of any comics genre, or makes a top ten list of whatever, you can be sure that some Japanese comics fan pops his or her head up and starts complaining about the lack of Japanese comics on the list, and whines about provincialism.

Superhero fans whine, too, but nobody takes them seriously.  The reaction to the persistent whine from otaku is an embarrassed shuffling of feet while they promise to do better next time.

Why are most Japanese comics awful?  I don’t really know — it’s a field ripe for investigation.  Perhaps it has something to do with the way the works are published?  The norm is for serialisation, and the deadlines and the interference from the editorial staff can be (according rumour) fierce.  Is it because of the widespread system of using assistants?

Are Japanese comics, on average, worse than US comics?  I think it’s difficult to claim that Parasyte is worse than Geoff Jones’ Green Lantern (difficult to make a distinction when things are that bad), but Finder is better than Planetes. C’mon.

There are good comics being made in Japan, of course.  To stay on the PictureBox circuit, Yuichi Yokoyama is amazing. And you can’t deny that Gengoroh Tagame is something, even if that something may be something you wish you hadn’t read.

But from the evidence provided us so far, there’s less of interest being made in Japan than (say) Italy, to take a country at random.

Of course, there are more Japanese masterworks to be unearthed!  One day, somebody somewhere will finally find the hidden treasure trove of Japanese comics, and then all us unbelievers will finally see the truth!  Oh joy!

Funniest Comic Book of 2013

The funniest comic book of 2013 must be Lisa Hanawalt’s My Dirty Dumb Eyes.

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It covers all of life, like movies:

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Fashion:

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Movie reviews.  She points of that the sign language in the latest Planet Of The Apes looks oddly obscene:

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Actually, this is a test post to see how WordPress works.  I’ve moved from Blogger, because I don’t really want to be part of the Grand Google Empire.  Google were trying to get me to use their single sign on for years, and I avoided doing so.  It became more and more intrusive, and I guess I must have clicked on the wrong link at some point, because there I was, suddenly.  So I left.

So, WordPress…  Well, the HTML editor is really crappy.  Kinda surprising for a firm that has as the main business idea to, well, make it easy to blog.  It’s a nightmare of too-small frames, awkward image editing tools, and impossible to make anything insert where you want it to without dropping into “raw” HTML editing.

I am disappoint.

Fluttering Back To The 20s

I’ve been running Youtube clips sourced from whatever is playing on the stereo as the background to my hallway weather monitor  for quite some time now, and I kinda like it.  Except when having guests over being slightly er puzzled about what’s running on the screen when the band Sex Worker is playing, for instance.  It can be kinda random playing stuff at random.  And sometimes a bit embarrassing.

So when I got the new Walt and Skeezix book the other month, another solution occurred to me.

(Walt and Skeezix is a collection of the Gasoline Alley dayilies published by Drawn & Quarterly.  The books are just beautiful, and the series itself is really funny and engrossing.  You know, some of these collections of comic strips from the 20s and 30s are more “interesting” in a historic context than actually entertaining, but I’m just loving these strips by Frank King.)

Anyway!  There’s a DVD included in the latest book compiled from home movies Frank King filmed in the 20s and 30s.  So I ripped the DVD and pointed mplayer at that in an infinite loop.

It’s been running for a few days, and I like it.  I catch a few seconds of Oldee Timeyness whenever I go out or come in.

See?

(The line at the bottom is how much it’s gonna rain the next 24 hours.  So much rain!)

Why Does First Second Suck?

So badly?

Welcome to my new comics reviewing blog.

For years I’ve wondered why the everything First Second publishes sucks.  Or it’s by a really good artist, it doesn’t quite suck, but it’s definitely the worst work that that artist has done in his or her life.

When First Second was new and shiny, I routinely bought everything they published, and then my reaction would ususally be “well, that wasn’t as good as I thought it would be”.  But next month, I’d read the description for the next batch of books, and off I went again.

I didn’t really see the pattern until a few years had passed.

“Hang on. That kinda sucked. It sounded good before I read it.  And it was by , who I kinda like.  What’s going on here?”

Slowly, slowly I began to suspect that the problem was with the publisher First Second.  Did they just have bad taste?  Did they brow-beat the artists?  Did they have bad body odour?  What?

And now, finally, the truth is out.  Their books suck because they suck:

The process wasn’t my ideal way of working. I had to type up a complete script and get it approved before I could draw a single line. I don’t think that’s the way most cartoonists work. Our scripts are often like storyboards, right? The process of having to write out a description of a place or a character or an action that could easily have been depicted in a sketch made things needlessly complicated and time-consuming.

So they leach all spontaneity out of the work by having a process designed to allow the editor to really edit the hell out of whatever makes that artist odd, challenging or great.  As horrible as that is, they don’t even follow through:

I had been ready to work on it non-stop, but weeks would go by and I wouldn’t hear from him so nothing would get done. My book was clearly not a priority in his life — which is fine, but it was just so inefficient. I wrote to First Second a few times because I was concerned about losing so much time, and they insisted I had to go through this process.

If they contract a book from somebody as spiffy as Richard Sala, why on Earth wouldn’t they let him get on with it?  Sala is very consistent.  He’s going to do his thing, and that thing is awesome.  He writes funny and quirky and scary stuff, and his art is just beautiful.  But:

But because getting that initial script approval had taken so long, and we had fallen so far behind, I had to rush on the art much more than I would have liked. I still can’t look at some of the pages.

I don’t think they really understand comics.  They’ve published a number of comics with scripts written by non-comics people, and they read like comics written by non-comics people.  They lack comics-ness.  They read awkwardly.

They feel very well-edited.  Edited again and again.

And then there’s the cast-offs, like Refresh, Refresh.  It’s based on a short story originally published in the Paris Review, where I quite enjoyed it.  In the comics version, it read like a discarded, badly written independent movie.  Guess what?  The script was based on a movie script that wouldn’t sell.

Their translated titles  escape the editors’ nit-picking.  But the taste level is so dire that even their translated titles aren’t really worthwhile.  Ok, the Sardine books are kinda fun, but they’re Lewis Trondheim’s least interesting work.

Rooting through the bookcases for more egregious examples, I happen upon The Color of Earth, which may be the most dire comic that’s ever been translated into English.  This Korean cutesy growing up tale had me so disgusted I almost threw it into the recycling.  These guys express my hatred perfectly, so I won’t vent further.

There we are.  Mystery solved.  They suck because they suck.

And now, perhaps, I can finally end the cycle of “oh, that sounds quite interesting”/”eww?” that’s been rolling lo these many years.

Cycles roll, right?

Right.