Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Shopping Tips: Sales & Secrets!

Back in April I ordered from Deep Discount for the first time (several times, due to a great book sale they were running). I was very pleased with their service: I received all the books relatively quickly and in perfect condition. And their customer service was excellent, too: I had to change my shipping address for an outstanding item and they responded to my inquiry in less than 24 hours. (In fact, they responded faster than Barnes & Noble's customer service did to a similar inquiry.) The biggest drawback continues to be their lousy site design: It's hard to navigate; product information is often inaccurate (check out the results for a search for "Yakitate!! Japan" -- note that three separate items are listed as "Yakitate!! Japan 5" -- and the images aren't always correct, either, so you're best off searching by ISBN to make sure you get the book you want); and product availability often changes between the time you place an order and when you receive your confirmation email.

Still, Deep Discount's prices are hard to beat (especially since they offer free shipping on every single item without the need to hit any order threshold) and they just got better: Deep Discount is running a MEGA SALE! now through June 16th. According to the site:

All titles tagged with the MEGA SALE! logo have been discounted an additional 20% off our already Guaranteed Lowest Total Prices.

I just placed an order for several books (including the intriguingly-named My Heavenly Hockey Club, which David Welsh convinced me to try out by comparing it favorably to Sgt. Frog in terms of laughs-per-page ratio) and all of them were discounted at least 43% off the cover price. And other books I looked at were discounted even more. (I'm having a hard time restraining myself from buying the art books from Hayao Miyazaki's films Spirited Away and Kiki's Delivery Service given that they're almost half-off.) So now's a perfect time to stock up on great series such as Bleach, Sgt. Frog, Death Note, and many more.

Plus, Deep Discount has the lowest price I've seen anywhere for Seven Sea's Nymphet, so order now to make sure you get a copy of this hot manga!

UPDATE 6/2: I just received a confusing email from Deep Discount announcing their MEGA SALE!: At one point it referred to the coupon code "SUPERSALE" but later it said no coupon codes were necessary. I decided to try out the code and it looks like it's good for another 20% discount on items marked with the "MEGA SALE!" graphic (indicating they'd already been discounted 20% off Deep Discount's regular low prices). So make sure to use the code "SUPERSALE" when you place your order for even bigger discounts! (Needless to say, this news resulted in my breaking down and buying both of the Miyazaki art books I'd been eying (total discount: a whopping 57% off!), along with Tanpenshu Volume 1 and Banya Volume 2, both for only $5.92 (54% off!))

UPDATE 6/5: Additional discount codes no longer appear to be working, but the sale prices through 6/16 are still a good deal.

Has anyone else noticed that you don't have to hit exactly $25 worth of items for BN.com to give you free shipping? I placed an order today (based on everyone's overwhelming recommendation, the xxxHolic omnibus was the clear winner in the "Thick Compilations Will Make John Buy Manga Series He'd Never Considered Buying or Even Heard Of Beforehand" contest) and it was just shy of reaching the $25 mark (even before member discounts were applied) but they gave me free shipping anyways. Curious, I played around with a couple test orders and the lowest total that still received free shipping was $22.94. I tried putting together orders that had slightly lower totals but I couldn't get any to qualify for free shipping. Has this happened to anyone else? (I'm especially curious to know if any non-members have received free shipping on orders that didn't hit $25.)
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
"It the cooliest of the coolio cows."

I stopped at a Barnes & Noble this weekend and right up front was a big display for Barnes & Noble exclusive manga. There were four titles showcased, three of which were gigantic three-volumes-in-one omnibuses of Negima, xxxHolic, and Tsubasa. (The fourth book was a hardcover edition of Q-Ko Chan, which seems like an odd candidate for the deluxe format treatment.) I don't remember reading anything in the blogosphere about these exclusive repackagings, but the publication date for all of these books is listed as March 2007 so I'm assuming they've been out for a couple months. The most impressive thing about these books is the price -- the three omnibus volumes are all $12.95 apiece, only two bucks more than the individual volumes. And that's for over 600 pages of material! Granted, I have no idea if these books are any good (the online reviews for all three series are overwhelmingly positive, but raves like "Negima is my favorite. I am the biggest fan. I love it so much. It is funny and has action and romance at the sane time. It the cooliest of the coolio cows" make me question the reviewer's objectivity), but I'm tempted to buy them all just for the sheer novelty of having such thick manga books on my bookcase. Are any of these series particularly good?

UPDATE: Sharp-eyed Dirk Deppey noticed that all of these manga exclusives were for books from Del Rey, and he also guesses that these omnibus editions are being offered so cheaply as a way to entice new readers to try out long-running series. (Negima is up to volume 14; xxxHolic is at volume 8; and Tsubasa is up to 12 volumes.) It's a smart idea, and one I'd love to see other publishers with long-running series try. I wonder if Viz would ever try anything like this to bring in even more readers for Naruto and Bleach? I also wonder who will be the next manga publisher to put out exclusive editions though Barnes & Noble. (Earlier Dark Horse partnered with B&N to release hardcovers of Akira, Hellsing, and Trigun, but those have all since gone out of print.)
Monday, May 28, 2007
If You Think That's Sexy, I'll Have You Know I Do the Dishes and the Laundry in our Household

From yesterday's Star Tribune:

Click for larger image

Here's the article online. (And here's the print version of the article in case they take the other one down.) Plus the book on Amazon.

Two thoughts occurred to me when I saw this:

1. Who knew it was such a cultural zeitgeist to show sexy people doing household chores? And who ever thought comics would be ahead of the curve?

2. At some point, every Onion article will become reality, won't it?
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Hey, Gals: Comics!

Or: Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

Inspired by recent events, I put together a list of some of my favorite comic works that happen to be by female creators.
Banana Sunday, art by Colleen Coover
Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley
Chicken with Plums, by Marjane Satrapi
Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi
Emma, by Kaoru Mori
Finder, by Carla Speed McNeil
Kekkaishi, by Yellow Tanabe
La Perdida, by Jessica Abel
Persepolis / Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi
Scary Godmother, by Jill Thompson
The first thing that jumps out at me about this list? I'm a bigger Marjane Satrapi fan than I realized. Second thing that strikes me about this list? No superhero comics. Granted, I'm not all that interested in superhero comics these days, but I wasn't consciously trying to exclude them either. When I made a conscious effort to include superhero comics on this list, the first thing that came to mind were unpublished pitches: Tintin Pantoja's manga-inspired version of Wonder Woman and Rivkah's playful take on Batgirl. But those comics will probably never be published because DC doesn't want to dilute their characters or some other nonsense like that. (But it's OK for DC to dilute their own characters by coming out with a new version of Supergirl every other year and by making Batgirl unrecognizable to the general public.)

Going back a bit further, I remembered enjoying Ann Nocenti's run on Daredevil and Rachel Pollack's stint on Doom Patrol, but I think I may be in the minority in both cases. (I recall Pollack's Doom Patrol being especially reviled.) Plus, I don't think either run has been collected.

So what's my point? Well, I didn't really have one when I started this post beyond listing some great comics by women, but upon further reflection I've come to this: Just dump the superhero comics already. While I understand that many female readers wish to continue reading superhero stories, only without the offensive depictions of women, perhaps it's time to look at the overwhelming evidence on record and cut one's losses. Why support publishers who seem to go out of their way to aggravate and alienate female readers? What incentive do those publishers have to change if you're still buying their books? And you know, there are several manga series out there that could probably satisfy your jones for superpowered action once you left the Big Two behind. So why not just give up on superhero comics? (I did, and I've been much happier with comics as a result.) They're not going to change, so why stay in an unhealthy relationship with the unfounded hopes that someday they'll start treating you right?

* For a much more comprehensive list of works by female creators, check out Johanna Draper Carlson's excellent resource page. Wikipedia also has a page listing female comic book creators.

UPDATE: David Welsh puts together his own list and reacts to my suggestion that frustrated fans should quit superhero comics completely.
Wednesday, May 09, 2007
Reminiscent Recommendation Reviews

Today's tenuous theme linking all of the reviews is "books recommended by others that ended up reminding me of other books."

Book #1: Kekkaishi (Viz)

Recommended by: Shaenon Garrity in one of her wonderful Overlooked Manga Festival entries.

It's Kinda Like... Bleach Adventures — that is, Bleach if Ichigo were younger, had powers more like the Fantastic Four's Invisible Woman, and were drawn by Takeshi Obata.

What Works: I like that Yoshimori's motivations are believably narrow: He's not out to be the best demon-hunter there is; he's not trying to rid the world of all evil; and he's not trying to carry on some proud family legacy. He's really out to protect his closest friend, Tokine, who he feels responsible for putting in harm's way in the past. It's a nice twist on the "specific guilt leads to global altruism" angle that has historically motivated heroes from Spider-Man to Ichigo.

The barrier powers of the kekkaishi are interesting, and creator Yellow Tanabe does a great job of showing why the ability to project force fields would be a pretty cool power. (I can already see how the three-stage process of deploying kekkai would translate well to a video game version requiring an elaborate button sequence to trap and destroy demons.)

Finally, Tanabe's art is great, reminding me a lot of Takeshi Obata's clean linework. And while not quite as inspired as Tite Kubo's hollow designs, Tanabe's demons are definitely distinctive and memorable. And Tanabe really knows how to compose his her panels and pages to stage the action. Consider the following example:

I love the composition of that panel -- how it messes with the serenity/symmetry of the scene to create a sense of unbalance and unease. We know the threat is lurking, but will Yoshimori find out too late?

What Doesn't: Much like Ichigo's comic-relief dad in Bleach, the sparring grandparents in Kekkaishi just make me roll my eyes at the strained attempts at humor.

Will I Read More? I already have, checking out the second volume from the library and putting the next six available volumes on request. From Shaenon's description, it sounds like things are only going to get more interesting the further this series progresses.

Book #2: The Great Catsby (NetComics)

Recommended by: Kai-Ming Cha of PW Comics Week as one of 2006's top manhwa.

It's Kinda Like... The Tokyopop cine-manga of Mel Blanc's Ohama the Cat Dancer anime.

What Works: The artwork is definitely appealing, with a style that makes each panel look like a frame from a top-notch anime film. Check out the example below with its nice comic sensibilities and frenetic sense of movement:

What Doesn't: Pretty much everything else. The characters are all whiny, self-absorbed, and unlikable. The plot meanders about with no real sense of connection between events. And the translation, oh lord, the mangled translation!

And that's probably not even the worst example in the whole book -- it's just one that happened to stick out and continues to haunt me. (I suppose for some there might be the benefit of unintentional humor due to the horrible "Engrish" adaptation.)

Will I Read More? No, not even if there are additional free chapters online.

Book #3: Mushishi (Del Rey)

Recommended by: Jog, and a number of others as well.

It's Kinda Like... The manga version of Hellblazer, with a little bit of Swamp Thing thrown in for good measure.

What Works: The soft, lyrical artwork does a great job depicting the lush settings the stories take place in — consider this spectacular double-page sequence. The enigmatic character of Ginko is intriguing. And some of the imagery is genuinely disturbing, even if it never quite rises to the level of horrifying:

What Doesn't: None of the stories really grabbed my interest. In fact, some didn't even make sense to me. (In the story about the horns appearing on the kid's forehead, hadn't he already tried the actions that eventually ended up getting rid of the mushi?) And as much as I admire the artwork, this is really a series crying out for color:

Will I Read More? This is one I'm on the fence with. I'd like to check out future volumes at the library to see if later stories grow on me, but my library isn't carrying it yet. Perhaps if word on the second volume continues to be strong I'd consider it as one of those not completely enthused "throw it into my cart to qualify for free shipping" purchases.

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Monday, May 07, 2007
Dear Penthouse Letters:

"I always thought those letters about gorgeous starlets dropping from the sky in malfunctioning helicopters and looking for strange sexual encounters while others take pictures were fake... until it happened to me."

From Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #55,
reprinted in Showcase Presents Aquaman Volume 1

What really makes this panel work are the phrases bolded for emphasis ("UNUSUAL WAY", "PICTURES") and Jimmy's go-with-the-flow thought balloon ("She sure is pretty! Why not?")

And since it's a Jimmy Olsen story, things only get weirder from there as Jimmy continues to use Aquaman's powers to fix contrived situations and an ancient sea creature falls in love with Jimmy.

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