Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Next: How The Flaws of Phantom Menace Justify the Problems with Countdown

Judd Winick on his favorite story-writing tool, The Plothammer:
It doesn’t make any sense, but I understand that, from a storytelling point of view, he had to go there.
So rewriting the scene so it goes where you want it to go and it makes sense isn't an option? I suppose if your only role model for comic book writing is sloshed Stan Lee, constructing action scenes that can be followed without excessive expository narration would seem nigh impossible. I wonder how all those manga creators manage it? (Or Alan Moore, if you want a non-manga example.)

Also, is Winick the first to offer The Star Wars Defense for Crappy Writing? "Hey, if George Lucas got away with bad storytelling, it's fair game for my work!!"

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007
I Suddenly Want To Fly to Japan and Buy Tons of Doujinshi

Telophase has kindly put up scans of several doujinshi she purchased during her recent trip to Japan, including a number covering Bleach and Death Note. Some of my favorite out-of-context images (although I'm guessing context probably wouldn't help much):

Slashfic engines... GO!!!

This probably explains more about Near's devotion to / idolization of L than I ever wanted to know:

I really like this wraparound cover; it reminds me of something Jason would do — muted colors, but with a really strong design sensibility:

More at the links, and more forthcoming, including a promised "OMGWTFBBQ Bleach one with Zaraki Kenpachi in a girls' school uniform." I guess that would balance out this:

Tite Kubo Theatre Presents:
Choose Your Own Pandering Fanservice Costume!

UPDATE: It turns out there's an entire LJ devoted to Death Note doujinshi, including another look at Light in that maid's outfit. Now I'm off to find the Bleach doujinshi communities.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007
Bleach: Back to Basics

Bleach Volume 21 is a welcome change of pace after the extended "Soul Society" storyline. Counting this volume, the epic arc ran anywhere from 13 to 15 volumes, depending on where you set the starting point. (Even if you wait until Ichigo and gang themselves actually set foot in the Soul Society in book 9, that's still over a dozen books dedicated to a single plot.) This volume is similar to those "downtime" issues superhero comics do in-between long arcs. Here, we see the members of the various Soul Reaper divisions licking their wounds after the villains escaped last volume. There's a nice mix of banter between characters and quiet, reflective moments where someone pauses to pay tribute to a fallen or injured comrade. The second half of the book returns Ichigo and crew to the land of the living, where school is back in session. We're reintroduced to supporting characters we haven't seen in a long time, and the next threat (which looks like a multi-pronged attack on our heroes) is established.

A tender moment between our two heroes.
(Just kiss her already!!!)

The volume's title "Be My Family or Not" clues readers in to the underlying theme of this volume: family and its attendant drama, conflict, and surprises. Actually, this volume had several surprise revelations concerning various family members, including: some inserted back story to justify Byakuya's behavior towards his adoptive sister Rukia; the unexpected return of one character's father; and a new role for a cast member I never really cared for that now has me viewing him in a much more favorable light. (I'd say more but I don't want to spoil the surprise for anyone else. I certainly didn't see this development coming, but it makes a great deal of sense when I think about it, and may even explain some early plot points that seemed all too convenient at the time, and may parallel another character's past in a neat kind of symmetry. Of course, I can also see how others might interpret the revelation as over-explaining something that would have been better left as a coincidence, kind of like when John Byrne felt as though he had to offer an in-story reason for Steve Ditko's penchant for drawing bad guys with similar hairstyles.)

The revelations made me wonder how much Tite Kubo has plotted out the details of Bleach in advance and how much he's just making it up as he's going along. Everything felt like it fit as I read it, but I've also heard that many manga-ka are so constrained by their deadlines that most of the time they're improvising from chapter to chapter. I guess in the end what matters most is how it reads in the execution, and here things integrate with previous information pretty seamlessly, so it's not a case of feeling like the added details are awkwardly inserted retcons.

Another thing I wondered about after reading this volume: Would it be accessible to anyone who picked it up without reading the previous twenty books? It's a common concern expressed in many superhero comics reviews: What about new readers? (See here for an example.) I'm assuming this volume would be impenetrable to anyone who hadn't read the earlier chapters, but I'm also wondering if anyone would try to jump in and start with the most recent volume. More likely, if someone were curious about the Bleach manga (perhaps as a result of catching an episode of the anime on Adult Swim), they'd track down book one and start there. With manga, it seems more likely that people would start at the beginning since (1) the beginning is clearly identified; and (2) the progression of volumes is important, as they build on each other, unlike superhero comics where the latest installment may have no relation to the previous one (due to a change in creative teams, reboots, or new editorial direction), or the relation may be so remote as to be effectively unbridgeable. (I'm thinking of DC's repeated references to storylines from the Seventies since that's when the current crop of writers imprinted on those characters.)

Finally, there were some moments in this volume that felt like they were lifted from Kekkaishi, which is ironic since my first impression of Kekkaishi was that it was a kid-friendly knock-off of Bleach. First, the scene where a bad guy tries to woo Ichigo to the dark side because he's "just like them" reminded me of when Kaguro attempted to recruit Gen to the Kokuboro. And, second, doesn't this maneuver by Uryū look a lot like a certain patented barrier formation technique???

But this version uses flares!

And just think: only four more months until Volume 22! (At least the release date moved up a bit from the original 3/4/08 date.)

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007
DC Doujinshi

Following up on yesterday's post imagining which manga creators would be good fits for Western superheroes, here's a look at DC's characters:

» Batman by Takeshi Obata - With his striking use of black and white art, Obata would do a great dark, shadowy Batman. Obata's skills at exaggerated facial contortions would come in handy for depicting all of the disfigured members of Batman's rogues gallery. (Imagine how disturbing the Joker's grin would look thanks to Obata's dramatic underlighting and unusual camera angles.) Plus, in Death Note Obata demonstrated he could make even the talkiest exposition scenes visually exciting, so Batman's detective side could receive greater focus without things becoming too boring. And finally, Light's father Soichiro Yagami is basically already Commissioner Gordon:

Jim Gordon, Super Cop!

» Superman by Katsuhiro Otomo - This might not seem like the most obvious match, but I think Otomo could bring a lot of majesty and scope to the Man of Steel. Plus, I'd love to see Otomo's version of Metropolis, and he'd be great at designing all kinds of crazy high-tech science gear for Luthor and other villains to use against Supes.

» Wonder Woman by Kosuke Fujishima - It seems appropriate to have the Oh My Goddess creator work on another goddess. He'd just need to work on making sure Diana was strong and assertive, not fawning and passive as Belldandy often comes across.

» Creeper by Junji Ito - There must be some Ditkoesque vibe at work in Ito's art, because here's another Ditko-created character I'd love to see Ito on. I say let Ito run wild with his horror instincts and make the Creeper truly creepy for the first time. (Why have the Creeper battling thugs in costumes when he could be fighting strange, supernatural forces?)

» Phantom Stranger by Housui Yamazaki - Private detective Reiji Akiba, the main (or at least recurring) character in Yamazaki's Mail manga, reminded me a lot of the Phantom Stranger in the way he would just suddenly show up at the end of a story and solve everything, so I'd love to see Yamazaki work his same magic on this underused deus ex machina background fixture from the DCU.

» Dr. Fate by Yellow Tanabe - I love Tanabe's work on the mystically-themed Kekkaishi, so I think she's be a great fit for one of my favorite characters who can never seem to catch a break, popularity-wise. Perhaps she could even come up with a system of rules for Fate's incantations (similar to Yoshimori's three-stage barrier-generation process) so the sorcery doesn't seem quite so arbitrary and made-up on-the-spot.

» Metamorpho by Mine Yoshizaki - If anyone could out-Bob Haney Bob Haney, it'd be the comic genius behind Sgt. Frog, Mine Yoshizaki. With his fluid, dynamic art, Yoshizaki would be a great fit for the Man of a Thousand Forms. Plus, I'll bet Yoshizaki would draw a really stunning Sapphire Stagg.

Sapphire Stagg, Mine Yoshizaki Style

» Jonah Hex by Tite Kubo - Kubo's short-lived Zombie Powder series showed that Kubo had some fondness for the Western genre, so I'd be curious to see what he could do on a straight Western. (OK, I'd still want to see Kubo's distinctive character and creature designs, so he could cheat by making it a horror western.) Plus, it'd be fun to see Hex and his supporting cast decked out in anachronistic hip-hop attire in the chapter title pages.

» Blue Beetle by Hitoshi Iwaaki - I've joked before that the current iteration of the Blue Beetle basically rips off the manga Parasyte (evil alien symbiote finds itself turning good after bonding with pure-hearted teen), so why not just put the creator of Parasyte on Blue Beetle and watch him go nuts? It might be our only chance of seeing a penis-arm in a DC book! [WARNING! Image is NSFW! But you should know that just by the description, "penis-arm."]

» Metal Men by Eiichiro Oda - Based on his work on One Piece, Oda seems like the perfect choice to bring both humor and action to the silly superhero sextet (now a septet?).

» Teen Titans by Masashi Kishimoto - With his flair for well-choreographed fights and teenage soap opera elements, the Naruto creator could make Teen Titans a top-selling comic about a group of young sidekicks trying to break out on their own and graduate to the upper echelons of crimefighting.

» Manhunter by Naoki Urasawa - Urasawa's sense of European architecture and intrigue would be put to good use as he takes us back to the Seventies to shed some light on the Untold Tales of the Paul Kirk Manhunter.

» Doom Patrol by Minetaro Mochizuki - Given the origin stories of the individual Doom Patrollers (not to mention the outcome of many of their earlier adventures), the creator of the apocalyptic adventure series Dragon Head seems like a natural fit for these unfortunate outcasts.

» Chase by Iou Kuroda - Sexy Voice and Robo obviously made a strong impression on me, because now whenever I think "hardboiled female P.I. in need of a revamp," I think of Kuroda.

» Cyborg by Hiroki Endo - Again, because of the whole man/machine hybrid thing. And because it'd be nice to see Cyborg carry a solo title.

» Supergirl by Usamaru Furuya - As long as DC is determined to make her a ditsy teen, why not go all the way and really have fun with the concept?

And BECAUSE ALEX SCOTT DEMANDED IT, Birds of Prey by Masakazu Katsura!


* I'm sure you noticed, but there's a lot of repetition from yesterday's list, both in terms of creators listed and concepts I paired them with. What can I say? I really like certain creators, and I've obviously pigeon-holed them in terms of how I see their work.

* It wasn't as easy to come up with a list of mash-ups involving DC characters, for whatever reason. I must have imprinted on the Marvel heroes at a more impressionable age.

* I tried to come up with ideas for all of DC's 2nd-tier "Big Guns," e.g., Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman — all the other recognizable heroes after the Trinity — but my heart just wasn't in it. If it's not part of a story involving them in the Justice League, I guess I don't really care about a lot of those characters. I'm more attracted to DC's oddball characters who can never manage to sustain a series.

* Only two scans tonight. I was very, very tired.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Mike Mine Merry Marvel Manga!

The idea of Tite Kubo working on a corporate property like Blade got me thinking about which other manga artists would be good fits for interpreting classic Marvel characters. Here are some that would be a blast to see:

» Dr Strange by Tite Kubo - Starting with Tite Kubo again, I'd love to see him tackle Dr. Strange and really make the character a force to be reckoned with. Plus, based on his Hollow designs, Kubo would have a blast reimagining Doc's classic villains, such as Mephisto and Nightmare.

An early design for Tite Kubo's version of Dr. Strange.

» Spider-Man by Junji Ito - No, I don't want to see Spider-Man turned into a horror comic where Spidey is more spider than man, but tell me Ito's gangly male characters wouldn't be a perfect look for guilt-ridden Peter Parker:

"And I can't help but feel responsible for Mary Jane's growing obsession with spirals ever since she was taken hostage by the Ringmaster!"

» Fantastic Four by Eiichiro Oda - One Piece creator Oda has shown he can handle stretchy characters with Monkey D. Luffy, so Mister Fantastic is a no-brainer, but I think his cartoonish dynamism would be well-suited to characters like the Thing and Torch as well. Plus, One Piece shows that Oda can craft tales with an adventurous, questing spirit, which would be useful in returning the FF to their explorer roots.

» Daredevil by Masashi Kishimoto - Kishimoto has demonstrated he can handle kinetic ninja action on Naruto, so throw him on DD and watch sales skyrocket!

» Iron Fist by Takehiko Inoue - Inoue does a marvelous job of laying out long, complex sword fights in Vagabond, so he'd be a natural pick to restore some of the martial arts mystique to Danny Rand.

» Hulk by Naoki Urasawa - Time to see Urasawa draw an actual monster. Plus, the Fugitive vibe from Monster would be a good fit for a hounded Bruce Banner, once again on the run and in search of a cure.

» Killraven by Minetaro Mochizuki - As seen in Dragon Head, Mochizuki is perfect at depicting detailed drawings of devastation, so he'd be a perfect fit to illustrate a war-torn Earth ravaged by Martian invaders and defended by a rag-tag assortment of human warriors.

» Deathlok by Hiroki Endo - Endo's Eden revealed he was skilled at imagining what man/machine hybrids would look like, so he's a natural choice to take on the hard-luck cyborg from an alternate future.

» Elektra by Hiroaki Samura - Samura renders some of the most beautiful women around in Blade of the Immortal, and many of those women are frequently deadly assassins, so putting him on Elektra seems like a match made in heaven.

» She-Hulk by Usamaru Furuya - Given Furuya's work on books like Short Cuts, I think he could bring a welcome sense of satire and surrealism to the character. Plus, for some reason I can see She-Hulk as the ultimate ko-gal, can't you?

» Spider-Woman by Iou Kuroda - Kuroda's Sexy Voice and Robo makes me think he'd be a good fit for a manga detailing unknown details from Jessica Drew's days as a P.I. in San Francisco.

» X-Men by Katsuhiro Otomo - With Akira, Otomo clearly demonstrated he could handle a large cast of characters, intense battles, creative depictions of psychic powers, and large urban settings. Transfer all that to the X-Men and the book would be more visually exciting than it's ever been!

» New Mutants by Yellow Tanabe - Tanabe has already shown she's adept at creating likable misfit characters cursed by their powers (think Gen and the members of the Night Troop), so she'd be a natural to chronicle the misadventures of The New Mutants X-Force New X-Men whatever the students at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters are currently called.

» Storm by Kosuke Fujishima - With his striking visuals and character & costume designs, the Oh My Goddess creator would be a good pick to propel this fan-favorite character to a position of prominence once again. (Plus, it doesn't hurt that Fujishima can write a passable Claremont imitation.)

» Rocket Raccoon by Mine Yoshizaki - I know, I know — now it's just like I'm typecasting based on the manga most strongly associated with the manga-ka, but I still think Yoshizaki would be a natural choice to breath some life into Rocket Raccoon after his success with another space-faring animal.

» Ghost Rider by Takeshi Obata - His designs for the Shinigami in Death Note were genuinely creepy, so I'd be excited to see what Obata could do to make Ghost Rider frightening again, especially given the striking contrasts of his rich black-and-white artwork.

» Hellcat by Kaoru Mori - Mori draws one of the sexist and strongest females I've read in comics in her Emma series, so I'd love to see her revitalize the Patsy Walker character by returning her to her romance roots while still keeping the superheroics.

So those are some of my marvelous manga mash-ups. What characters and creators did I miss? What Marvel heroes would you like to see receive an authentic manga makeover? (I just realized I didn't even touch on the bad guys. Man, would I like to see Obata's version of a young Victor von Doom!)

"You dare challenge DOOM?!?"


* For the purposes of this thought experiment, I'm imagining these creator/character pairings as stand-alone projects where the creators were given free rein to reinterpret the characters however they wanted (kind of like the upcoming Marvel indie anthology project). I'm not envisioning these artists taking over the monthly comics, as Kia Asamiya did when he became the regular artist of the ongoing, in-continuity Uncanny X-Men title.

* I wanted to include sample images for each and every creator to illustrate why I thought they were ideally suited for that particular character, really I did, but I ran out of energy after a couple scans. Maybe some other day.

TOMORROW: Just Imagine Your Favorite Manga-Ka Creating The DC Universe!

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Monday, October 08, 2007
Be Careful What You Wish For

Presents Vol. 1
By: Kanako Inuki
Length: 200 pages
Price: $12.99
Publisher: CMX

Presents Volume 1 is a welcome addition to the growing catalogue of horror manga being made available in English. Presents and other series like it (such as Housui Yamazaki's short-lived Mail series and Junji Ito's Museum of Terror collections) are worthwhile in their own right, but they're even more notable because they fill a void in the American comic book market left by the collapse of titles such as Tales from the Crypt and House of Mystery — the lack of episodic horror comics involving some sort of narrator, host, or recurring character who makes sure to spell out the story's moral for the reader.

Presents returns American comic readers to this formula familiar to those who grew up with the classic horror comics from EC, DC, and Warren. The book is really a collection of short stories, individual tales that all feature a mysterious young girl named Kurumi who bestows ironic gifts on unsuspecting (but not innocent) victims. As the copy on the book's back cover indicates, Kurumi's gifts are never what they appear to be, and they're never what the recipient wants. (Although frequently they're what the recipient deserves.) The stories are very formulaic — beyond the overall horror conventions already mentioned, the chapters in volume one all follow the same beats; and from the stories' setups, you can usually guess what the surprise twists will end up being. But that doesn't mean the stories aren't effective. After all, in most moralistic horror stories the ending will have a certain sense of inevitability in order be effective; what matters is how you arrive at that ending. And, in fact, the anticipation of knowing what is coming can heighten the sense of dread in a good horror story.

Creator Kanako Inuki knows how to craft an engaging horror story, coming up with tales that linger with you long after you've read them. Sure, many of the stories are little more than comeuppance theater, and we're happy to see the rotten jerks get what's coming to them. But a number of the stories also touch on deeper issues revolving around the neglect and outright abuse of young children. (One particular tale involving a young girl ignored by her parents and caretaker is especially unsettling, perhaps in part because as a working parent I struggle with the guilt of not always being there for my children.) The final tale in the book (more of a fable than a horror story) even deals whimsically with the problem of Japan's declining birth rate.

Inuki's stories also succeed in shocking because of her skill in depicting children who alternate between adorable and demonic. I was initially apprehensive about reading Presents because the cover image brought to mind the work of manga-ka such as Kazuo Umezu and Hideshi Hino, neither of whom has a style I find suited for horror. Inuki's art, while ostensibly cute, does a much better job of working with shadows and sinister expressions to instill feelings of unease in the reader. Unlike the cover, where Kurumi's face is so distorted and exaggerated that it strikes me as more comical than frightening, the book's interior art is much darker and more disturbing. (I'd offer a sample scan to show what I'm talking about, but CMX doesn't allow their photocopied previews to be reproduced. They did send me a high-resolution image I could use as a sample of Inuki's artwork, but the page (shown below) doesn't really convey Inuki's ability to depict horror. Still, the image is a nice example of her artwork. For further examples of Inuki's horror work, check out the preview pages from Dark Horse's School Zone, also by Inuki.)

As noted above, this review is based on a photocopied preview sent by CMX, so I can't address the production standards of the finished book. Most of CMX's recent manga have been of high quality, though, so I expect that the binding and paper quality will be top-notch. Other factors (which I assume will remain unchanged in the published work) were all impressive: the lettering was clean and well laid out; the sound effects integrated well with the artwork and often reflected the qualities of the corresponding sounds in their appearance (for example, a chaotic and dusty-looking "RUMBLE"); and the translation was readable and natural-sounding.

All in all, Presents is a pleasant surprise and a nice addition to CMX's growing stable of quality manga titles. If, like me, you miss those old horror comics you used to read when you were younger, Presents is the perfect gift to give yourself.

Presents is currently available through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble and will be available in comic shops this Wednesday, Oct. 10.

UPDATE: PWCW has an 8-page preview available on their site.

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Dream Team Week Extra: Vote For Your Favorite!

David Welsh poses a tough question I'd never even considered: If only one of the dream crossovers I proposed could be made into a comic, which one would you pick?

I love all the crossover ideas for different reasons, so it's hard for me to pick just one. I'm tempted to say the Spider-Man and Creeper one, just because it would be such a kick to see Steve Ditko draw those characters again, but I realize he probably has no interest in touching corporate superhero comics. The Sgt. Frog and Sesame Street one is something I wouldn't really need to see produced since I've basically already imagined the entire thing in my head. So in the end I'd probably go with the Curious George and Go-Go book because it's something I could share with my daughter. (Although I'd have to be very careful to explain to her that normally what Go-Go does would hurt.)

One other question: How geeky would it be if I were to buy myself a pair of limited-edition Bleach shoes?

And would it be more or less geeky if I only wore them at home and never showed them off in public?

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Saturday, October 06, 2007
Dream Team Week, Day 7: Imagine That

It's the final installment of Dream Team Week, so let's end with some all-ages fun:

Yotsuba & Calvin & Hobbes!

The Pitch: Adorable misadventures involving everyone's two favorite youngsters (plus one very lively stuffed tiger) who take everything way too literally but also have imagination to spare.
  • Watch! as Yotsuba puzzles over how to communicate with Hobbes! ("How come he never says anything?")
  • Laugh! as Calvin drives Jumbo crazy!
  • Sigh! nostalgically as these two hilarious kids remind you of how childhood was a time of limitless imagination and potential!
Creators: Kiyohiko Azuma & Bill Watterson.

Format: Oversized coffee table hardcover, with daily strips several to a page in B&W, and the Sunday strips in luscious painted watercolor.

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Friday, October 05, 2007
Dream Team Week, Day 6: I Spent Way Too Much Time Thinking About This One

Today's Dream Team Week feature focuses on two adorable yet sinister characters:

Keroro vs. Elmo

The Plan: Brainstorming ideas for their latest invasion operation, Kululu informs the platoon that TV shows aimed at Pokopenian children have a powerful, almost hypnotic effect on them. Kululu suggests broadcasting their own children's show to win the hearts and minds of Pokopenian youth. Keroro loves the idea: "A silent invasion through insidious propaganda! Brilliant!!!" (Plus, Keroro loves the idea of being on TV.) The group's first effort, however, fails miserably and leaves children crying in horror. (It seems the invaders don't have the best understanding of Pokopenian developmental psychology.)

Undeterred, Keroro decides to take a different approach: If they can't produce their own children's show, they'll simply commandeer the most popular one! Which leads us to: "Operation MMVIII: Can You Tell Me How To Get Sesame Street?"

The Ferocious Face-Offs!
  • Giroro vs. Oscar! The Grump vs. the Grouch!
  • Tamama vs. Cookie Monster! Will their love of snacks distract from the battle at hand?
  • Momoka vs. Zoe! Who knew Zoe had such a dark side?
  • Paul vs. Herry Monster! It's a battle of brute strength!
  • Kululu vs. Ernie! Trickster vs. trickster!
  • Dororo vs. Super Grover! A rather boring encounter, as they mainly discuss their favorite foreign cultures
  • Angol Mois vs. Miss Piggy! Who has the most devastating blow?
  • Mutsumi vs. Abby Cadabby! Magic pen vs. magic wand!
In the end, although the Muppets put up a good fight, Keroro's platoon and allies are victorious in each and every encounter, which leads to the final showdown between the two leaders, Keroro and Elmo. But before Keroro can launch his attack, Elmo has one more surprise up his sleeve (literally!) as he pulls off his fur to reveal...

The Shocking Plot Twist! Elmo was really Kermit The Frog all along! It turns out "Elmo" was just an alias Kermit came up with to increase his popularity when his screen time was being reduced on each new episode. Apparently red characters are intrinsically more popular with kids than green ones. Which means that the final fight is really:

Keroro vs. Kermit

That's right, it's amphibian vs. amphibian for the fate of the Earth!! Can Kermit K.O. Keroro???

Keroro Manages To Snatch Defeat From The Jaws of Victory When... Keroro, of course, cheats, so Kermit falls before the Sergeant's treachery. But just when it seems that the Keronian invasion will finally be successful, Kululu announces that he forgot to stop broadcasting, so all of Earth's children just saw the platoon demolish their most beloved characters. Needless to say, Keroro and crew — far from becoming beloved icons themselves — are now pariahs, hated and despised by an entire generation.

The Final Gag Panel: Keroro, taking Kermit's words to heart, is seen parading around in a flimsy Giroro suit. "It's not easy being green," laments the Sergeant.

Format: A two-chapter Operation in the next volume of Sgt. Frog. Later adapted as a full half-hour episode for the Keroro Gunso anime. Even later referenced in lawsuit filed by Sesame Workshop. (So in the end, Elmo does win).

* Thanks to Christopher Butcher for indirectly inspiring this kooky crossover.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007
Dream Team Week, Day 5: Cleaning Up The Afterlife

Hey, today on Dream Team Week it's two super-powered, demon-fighting, sword-wielding heroes that taste great together!

Bleach & Blade

Plot: This one is real simple: Ichigo and Blade team-up to kick Hollow and Vampire ass!

OK, I Guess There Is Somewhat of a Shocking! Revelation! In the course of their fighting (with each other almost as much as against their enemies), Ichigo learns that Blade used to be a member of the Soul Society! (That explains the haircut.) But no one, including Blade himself, seems to remember this clearly. Who erased everyone's memories of Blade's service as a Soul Reaper — and more importantly, why???

All Right, Here's One More Shocking! Revelation! (Stolen from Joss Whedon): It's also revealed that Vampires are actually a form of Hollow, a specialized case of the Arrancar.

Oh Yeah, And There's Like Symbolism And Stuff, Too:
"Say, did you ever notice that we're both powered by the very evil we fight to destroy? WHOA, DEEP!!!!"

Creator: Tite Kubo

Format: Musical 13-volume saga with never-ending battles, later spawning multiple adaptations in various media (including an epic 6-hour musical).

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The Horror! The Horror!

Shaenon K. Garrity has a special surprise for the most recent installment of her Overlooked Manga Festival, a guest post by Manga: The Complete Guide author Jason Thompson featuring his picks for the Very Worst Manga Published in English. Thompson gets things off on the right foot by starting with the worst manga I've ever had the misfortune of reading, Gutsoon's Bomber Girl. Thompson's summary reminded me of how much I hated this manga (ahhh! the horrible flashbacks!!!), hatred I tried to capture in my reviews of the feature back when it was originally serialized in Raijin Comics.

Man, that really was an awful, awful manga.

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I Hate To Think What He'd Have To Go Through To Do One of Those Marvel Zombies Covers

Found this while browsing Steve Rude's site and thought it was kinda neat given I'd just posted this cover the other day:

Ditko's original cover to ASM #23Rude's reinterpretation

Not an exact recreation of Ditko's cover, but still a great riff on it. Make sure to click through the gallery and see the lengths a dedicated artist like Rude is willing to go to get his model references right.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Dream Team Week, Day 4: The Escape Artist & The Executioner

Today's installment of Dream Team Week involves a team-up of truly cosmic proportions:

Mister Miracle & Nexus
The Plot: Facing a midlife crisis, Scott Free questions what good he's doing performing as an escape artist for people's amusement. Shouldn't he have some higher calling in life? After talking with Barda, Scott realizes what his life's work should be: Helping refugees escape from Apokolips as he did! Working with Mother Box, Scott learns of another dimension containing a planet called Ylum that offers asylum to victims of political oppression. Together with his fellow New Gods, Scott works on freeing others from the horrors of Apokolips and relocating them to Ylum. However, such mass immigration soon runs into two main problems: First, Horatio Hellpop (AKA Nexus), the de facto leader of Ylum, was never consulted on this plan, and things aren't going smoothly since Ylum's resources are being stretched thin and the Apokolipian refugees are proving... resistant to integration in civil society. Second, Darkseid, Apokolips' despotic ruler, doesn't take kindly to having large numbers of his subjects removed from his control; and even more troubling, in attempting to recover them, Darkseid himself journeys to Ylum, where he meets Merk — who might just hold the secret to the Anti-Life Equation Darkseid has sought for so long! Can Mister Miracle and Nexus put aside their differences long enough to overcome this threat to life and liberty???

The Titanic Matchups!
  • Himon / Dave
  • Highfather / The Heads
  • Orion / Judah
  • Barda / Sundra
  • Knockout / Jilquoix DeSmoot
  • Granny Goodness / Ursula Imada
  • Oberon / Clonezone
  • Funky Flashman / Vooper
  • Metron / The Merk
  • Parademons / Quatros
  • Darkseid's Omega Beams vs. Nexus' Fusionkast Blasts!
Creators: Mike Baron and Steve "The Dude" Rude

Format: Oversized Treasury Edition. (Also available for digital download via the Rude Dude storefront.)

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Waiting For Their Parents' Permission

Based on ICv2's two-part interview (via Dirk Deppey) with Viz Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Development, Dan Marks, it sounds like digital manga downloads are coming — sometime. First, though, Viz needs to do more research on how best to offer digital downloads of manga; and whatever method they decide on, it needs to be something agreeable to their Japanese parent companies. So legally downloading the most recent chapter of Bleach may still be a ways off. Oh well, at least they're working on it.

One of the things I found most interesting about the interview is how delicately Marks skirts around the issue of illegal downloads. He clearly thinks it's illegal and impacting Viz's business, but his attitude still comes across as rather gentle (almost admiring at times) towards the fansubbing and scanlation communities. I can appreciate that Marks doesn't want to offend potential customers, but it's still strange to me to read an interview with a VP who doesn't come out and directly tell pirates "STOP STEALING OUR PRODUCT ALREADY!!" Perhaps his "hate the sin, love the sinner" message will prove more effective than simply shouting at offenders, though: By praising them as eager fans who love the material so much they simply can't wait to get it, you flatter them and build up the work as irresistible; and by repeating the message that they may be angering the original creators, you hopefully appeal to their admiration/respect for the manga-ka to abide by their wishes in how the material is presented and distributed. (An approach which strongly reminds me of Tom Spurgeon's main argument against illegal downloading.)

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All Matt Thorn, All The Time

Matt Thorn is at it again, offering information in my comments that's much more interesting and informative than anything I'm writing on the main blog. Here's a follow-up comment to his earlier edifying elucidation:
Glad you found the comment useful. Looking at the page Pope did, I can see a few things that a Japanese editor would balk at. First, it's not immediately clear who the target audience is. Adults? Boys? Girls? The "splash" doesn't convey much information. The drawing style is rough and yet somewhat realistic, suggesting an adult readership. The characters are girls in school uniforms, implying it may be targeted at girls. Yet the visual gag seems rather juvenile, suggesting the target may be boys. The target audience determines to a large degree how the opening should be presented. The second thing I find jarring is the use of a "thought balloon." Thought balloons of this kind went out of style many years ago, and are used today only as pastiches or gags. The fact that we "see" KC's thoughts also immediately suggests that the story is told from her point of view, yet all the other visual information suggests that it is JP who is the protagonist. A Japanese artist would overcome this obstacle by simply having KC speak the thought out loud in a regular speech balloon. (Similarly, manga artists today only attach "arrows" to speech balloons when not doing so might leave the reader confused about who is speaking, so the only balloon here that might require an arrow is JP's in the bottom left panel.) There are several other seemingly trivial things that would bother me if I were the editor. I think the editors must have found themselves in a Catch 22 situation. They wanted to present non-Japanese comics creators, yet they also had to meet a certain minimum of reader expectations. Let the artist do what he wants, and you alienate the bulk of your readers. Tinker with the work too much and you end up with a sub-par manga, which defeats the whole purpose of inviting foreign artists to contribute in the first place.

It's funny you picked that particular page of What's Micheal. The work is pretty old (about 20 years?) and was originally intended for an older audience, so at the time neither editor nor reader would be bothered, but today this page wouldn't pass editorial muster because of the very first panel. (Note that the page has been flopped in the translated edition.) The gutters between that panel and the adjacent panels form a perfect cross, which would leave the modern manga reader wondering whether the second panel is the one to the right or the one below. To make clear that the top right panel is panel number 2, the gutter between the top two panels would have to be shifted at least a quarter of an inch or so to the left or right. The order of the panels is obvious from context, but the reader still needs to stop for a few milliseconds and wonder, which means the artist has screwed up. The reader should be able to follow the flow of the panels automatically and unconsciously, so that the reader's absorption in the story is never broken.

As you point out, all these rules can be both stifling and helpful, and this is the dilemma of the Hollywood Syndrome (tm). Most critics would agree that Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde is more powerful than Joe Kubert's Fax from Sarajevo, but the average Joe or Joanne on the street would find the latter easier to read. Spielberg, in making Schindler's List, had to break or bend many Hollywood rules (some of which he created himself) in order to keep it from becoming just another slick drama to be viewed objectively as entertainment. Ditto with Spiegelman's Maus. Similarly, a manga artist like Taiyo Matsumoto or Kiriko Nananan has to break or bend some manga rules to achieve something striking and different, but adhere to other rules in order to get the work published and actually read by a fair number of people.
Someone get this guy a blog! (Or a publisher for his Never-Ending Manuscript on Manga.)

And to illustrate the point he's talking about with shifting panels over to make sure the horizontal and vertical gutters don't form a cross, here's a page from Kekkaishi, again stolen from one of Shaenon K. Garrity's fabulous Overlooked Manga Festivals:

Compare that with another page from What's Michael?:

I don't know if it makes much difference to Western readers, but I can see how making it clear that the panels are supposed to be read across (rather than up-down) would be important to Japanese readers.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Dream Team Week, Day 3: Creepy Crawlers

Dream Team Week rolls along, this time featuring two misfit loners who seem like a natural fit together:

Spider-Man and The Creeper

The Set-Up: Talk about the Parker luck! Some new costumed character is causing trouble all over town and everyone's mistaking him for Spidey. Aunt May's health is deteriorating but he's still trying to pay for her last hospital visit. Betty's not talking to him. And to top it all off, Jameson has just assigned him to take photos for some hotshot muckraking journalist named Ryder on some trashy story involving celebrities who commit crimes in broad daylight but then deny everything when they're caught. Things have got to get better, because there's no way they could possibly get worse — right???

The Villains: Those malevolent masters of masquerade, The Chameleon and Proteus! But are they working on their own, or are they merely pawns in an even more sinister plot?

Cameos: Mr. A and The Question! But are these oddly masked vigilantes friend or foe — or neither???

The League of Limited Expressiveness
ChameleonProteusThe QuestionMr. A

The Shocking Revelation! It turns out Professor Yatz once worked for Oscorp but left abruptly, fearing his research would be used by owner Norman Osborn for less than noble purposes. Now Osborn wants his technology back, even if he has to tear it out of the Creeper's living body!

Creator: Steve Ditko, natch. (Hey, these are all dream projects, so I might as well dream big, right?)

Format: 2-issue prestige-format limited series co-published by Marvel and DC.

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Spotlight Comment of the Month

Ask and ye shall receive! In response to my call for him to address Paul Pope's characterization of the Japanese manga audience as "maddeningly conservative," Matt Thorn graced the comments and had this to say:
You rang? In a way, yes, Japanese readers are quite conservative. As I'm fond of saying, Japan is the Hollywood of comics, and just as Americans are used to the Hollywood way of making movies and have little patience for foreign films, Japanese readers are used to the Japanese way of making comics, and and are easily turned off by something done another way. Sure, there's a wide variety of subject matter in manga, and more variety of drawing styles than many people realize, but there are countless structural details that most readers (both Japanese and non-Japanese) are completely unconscious of, and yet which are necessary to make a manga "feel right." There's no manual out there listing those details, but experienced editors and artists know when something is "wrong" and how to "fix" it, and most readers, when shown the "wrong" version and "fixed" version would agree that the latter is "better," though they couldn't tell you why. Let me offer a real simple example. Have you ever noticed that the horizontal "gutters" between panels in manga are twice the width of the vertical gutters? (Forget for the moment that these days there are a lot of manga in which there are no gutters at all.) This is the way it's been done for more than 30 years, and it's done that way "just because it looks better." And the odd thing is, it actually does look better. There are literally hundreds of little things like that that are taken for granted in commercial manga, just are there are hundreds if not thousands of little rules involved in making a Hollywood movie that "looks right." So I have to disagree with Tivome; it's not just about character design and interaction, by any means. There are so many factors that go into the production of a commercial manga (and, by the way, Taiyo Matsumoto is critically acclaimed and well-known, but hardly a best-seller here in Japan), it would be a near miracle if a non-Japanese artist could hit the sweet spot after just a few months of direction from even a brilliant editor. Japanese artists have absorbed most of those details, subconsciously, over a lifetime of reading and copying commercial manga, and thus have an enormous advantage over the outsider artist. For example, almost all of my cartooning students here at Kyoto Seika University know how to lay out a page so that the reader has no trouble grasping the order of the panels. But few of them know that they know, or don't know what they know. So when I point out to them exactly how the "traffic rules" of manga layout work, most are taken completely by surprise. "Oh, so that's how it works! Now that you mention it, yeah..."
I think this is a great, succinct way of explaining how "manga-isms" work and how what might seem like intrusive interference to a Western artist trying to make it in Japan would come naturally to a native manga-ka born and bred on manga conventions. I'm sure cover ofthere are similar "traffic rules" in Western comics but we as readers don't stop to think about them. (The one that keeps coming to mind but isn't really a good example is DC's discovery that putting a gorilla on the a comic would help boost sales. No one knew why it worked, but it did, so they kept doing it!) I think the analogy of Japan as the Hollywood of comics is an apt one, as there are certain formulas used in both industries that, used blindly, can stifle creativity but can still be helpful guidelines in the right hands.

And as an example of the broader horizontal gutters rule that Matt is talking about, here is a sample page from Makoto Kobayashi's wonderful What's Michael?, lovingly lifted from Shaenon K. Garrity's most recent Overlooked Manga Festival:

I can't believe I never noticed that before, but, yeah, the horizontal gutters are wider, and, yeah, it does look better that way. Thinking about it, I can see how the broader horizontal gutters help improve the readability / flow of the overall page, guiding the eye from row to row. (For comparison, see the manga page Pope did where the horizontal gutters are the same width as the vertical ones.)

* I've said this before, but I would kill for a cheap, thick collection of Kobayashi's What's Michael? manga!

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Monday, October 01, 2007
Dream Team Week, Day 2: Curiouser & Curiouser

Day Two of Dream Team Week sees a meeting of those two mischievous monkeys* in a tale titled

Curious George Meets Go-Go
The Set-Up: Hearing news of three talented primates with the power of speech, Professor Wiseman travels to Forest Edge to investigate. She invites her friends, George and The Man with the Yellow Hat, to assist her in her research. Kirby Steinberg, the primates' guardian, is torn between acting as a gracious host to her visitors and protecting the secret behind the primates' amazing abilities. Meanwhile, George and Go-Go have taken a liking to each other, and Go-Go offers to show George around town. Of course, Go-Go isn't your normal tour guide, and George has his hands full trying to keep Go-Go out of trouble — and out of danger!

Creators: Root Nibot (Paul Tobin) and Colleen Coover.

Format: An illustrated board book so sturdy it's even Go-Go-proof!

* NOTE: At least one of these characters is not actually a monkey. Perhaps I should have gone with "puckish primates"?

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Delayed Satisfaction of My Immediate Gratification

A follow-up to my post last week wondering when downloadable digital comics will become a standard: As I noted in the comments over at David Welsh's post discussing the idea, I think the concept of digital comics applies to more than just superhero comics. In fact, given how prevalent illegal downloading of manga scanlations seems to be, I think manga publishers might benefit from offering digital downloads even more than superhero publishers would. And I'll admit, I'd love to see the big manga publishers step up to the plate and leapfrog past Marvel and DC in this regard. Given Viz's success rolling out anime downloads and Tokyopop's interest in providing digital content, it seems like a natural extension of their strategies to provide legal downloads of their manga content. If manga publishers could make such downloads available quickly and cheaply, I imagine it would help reduce the number of people making and consuming unlicensed scanlations. One reason cited by fans for downloading such scanlations is that they just can't wait for the latest chapter of their favorite series to come out. If, for example, Viz could quickly turn around high-resolution translations of the latest chapters of Bleach and Naruto, perhaps even just rough translations of the material that would later be reworked for "official" publication in the magazine and eventual collections, it might be a nice alternative to scanlations for fans who really want their latest manga fix now. Of course, this wouldn't address those who download scanlations for other reasons, such as simply wanting things for free or objecting to the official translations offered by the publisher, but it would at least be a start.

My only caveat is that I would hope publishers offering comics for digital download all agree upon and use a single standard (preferably the .CBR format, but even PDF would do if that's seen as more universal). I'm sure each publisher would like to lock users into their proprietary format, but I really think that's a nuisance from the customer's perspective, and it would reduce the ability for publishers to offer their books through multiple venues, such as Amazon.com.

Related: Steve Rude has made the first two issues of his self-published Nexus series (the Free Comic Book Day offering and #99) available for free on Wowio. Said Rude in an interview:
If you're thinking about giving me a shot, I'll make it as easy to buy my books as possible. If it just so happens that you like them, well, then everybody wins.
And that's why he's known as "The Dude," ladies and gentlemen! I look forward to buying the eventual collections of Rude's self-published Nexus work, but for now I'm grateful it's made it so easy for me to keep up with the individual installments. ("The Dude" also makes it easy to buy individual issues directly through his website, in either digital or print format, so I might have to buy some actual floppies to show my support for his forward thinking and customer focus. Or maybe one of those signed Nexus Archives editions, on sale for only $34.95!) [Hat tip: Tom Spurgeon, who doesn't provide permalinks for his "Quick Hits" linkblogging posts.]

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