Sporadic Sequential
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Can anyone here tell a joke?

The latest issue of The New Yorker (Nov. 26, 2007) is "The Cartoon Issue" and focuses (as you might have guessed) on cartoons. The usual single-panel cartoons are scattered throughout the magazine, but then starting on page 138 is a special 19-page section titled "The Funnies" devoted entirely to cartoons. Things get off to an innocuous start with seven pages of slightly larger cartoons from the magazine's regular contributors, but then on page 145 the feature takes a jarring turn with a piece titled "Unsolved Mysteries of the North American Comic Strip" by Chris Ware. I think you can see where this is going. Things look like they may be improving with a two-page spread of amusing Gahan Wilson cartoons, but then there's a painfully unfunny segment titled "What’s So Funny About Red?" where all the jokes are forced around a distracting splash of red in otherwise black-and-white cartoons. (It's the cartoon equivalent of the girl in the red coat in Schindler's List, and just as subtle and effective.) Next we have “The Amazing Museum of Pages 150-151” by Roz Chast, whom I've never found funny, and "Where I Get My Ideas," a two-page segment where various New Yorker cartoonists respond to that eternal question in cartoon form. Finally, the whole thing closes out with a three-page tale by Aline & R. Crumb titled “Our Beloved Tape Dispenser” where they discuss the mundane intracacies of buying their old-fashioned tape dispenser (as well as showcasing others they have their eyes on).

So let's tally up what this special issue has to offer: something you'd normally see in The New Yorker anyway; a dense explication of some grand theory of comic strips based on just two thinly veiled samples; an all-too-short feature on a gifted cartoonist; a gimmicky attempt to "enhance" cartoons via color (and in the process hopefully refute something an old editor said decades ago); an all-too-long spread devoted to one of the magazine's unfunniest cartoonists; a self-indulgent platform for cartoonists to express their irratation at being asked the same question over and over again; and a mind-bogglngly dull investigation into the boring world of tape dispensers.

And this is what The New Yorker passes off as their special "Cartoon Issue"? Where are the laughs? Where is the humor? Aren't cartoons supposed to be funny?

While I enjoy wallowing in the misery and pointlessly of self-absorbed theory and in-jokes, the problem here, I think is that the history of great cartoons is full of the CONCRETE and that’s what missing from this special issue. When Charlie Brown tries to kick that football, but Lucy pulls it away from him so he lands on his back with a loud "THUD!" that's funny. When Ignatz throws a brick at Krazy Kat's head, that's funny. When Garfiled eats a whole pan of lasagna, that's funny.

Instead, almost all the cartoons in this issue are self-reflexive, thinking they're amusing because they allude to some obscure trait of cartoons that will pass right over the average reader's head. It's telling that he best cartoons are from Wilson, whose strips feature two essential elements of good cartoons: odd creatures and everyday objects. That surprising juxtaposition results in a wealth of humor, unlike many of the other comics that fall flat because they fail to capture the reader's imagination. (Would it be interesting to you if I spent three pages describing in detail how I'm trying to find the perfect barstools for my remodeled kitchen? Of course not. So why are we supposed to feign interest in the Crumbs' shopping habits?)

Of course, The New Yorker prizes itself as a literary tastemaker, so they're not going to reach out and feature popular mainstream cartoonists, such as Jim Davis or Jack Elrod. In order to maintain its status as one of the elite cartoon cognoscenti, it must elevate one form of cartoon above all others, regardless of how effective that type of cartoon is in making readers laugh. This bias is reinforced later in the issue in the reviews selected. Rather than focus on something populist, such as the stunning new Don Martin collection (too lowbrow, donchoono?), they cover: the complete works of an obscure Swiss cartoonist from the 1800s; yet another Winsor McCay collection (enough already!); another outdated comic of questionable historical interest; one more dreary, depressing book by comic legend Will Eisner that will probably read like a painful homework assignment; and finally a biography of the obscure Swiss cartoonist mentioned earlier.

I'm not sure who the next Bil Keane or Johnny Hart is. I only know that great humor is great characters and great situations, whether it’s Sarge pounding on Beetle, Cathy screaming at her scale, Andy Capp drinking another drink , Leroy belittling Loretta, Dolly scolding Jeffy, or the story twist at the end of last Sunday's Marmaduke. Or even Dagwood giving up a sandwich to save his marriage.

The current generation of cartoonists has amazing talent. But they are old. Great comedy takes some immaturity, I think. The grwon-ups need to lighten up. And they need some misdirection and bad influences. My hope is that they will continue to cast a shallow net for those influences. If they do, it’s quite possible that "The Funniest Cartoon Issue" really is yet to come.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007
Turkey Day: The Aftermath

Hope everyone had a fun and filling Thanksgiving!

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all comic fans out there, whether your tastes run to superheroes or altcomix or manga. And speaking of manga and eating too much...

the cast of Azumanga Daioh hopes your Thanksgiving meal is as satisfying as a Hokkaido buffet. (Just be careful not to brag about your filling feast to the wrong person!)

Page 413 from Azumanga Daioh: The Omnibus. To see the teacher's reaction, pick up a copy today! Its nearly 700-page size will satisfy even the heartiest manga appetite!!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Marvel's Magical Month

OK, heaven knows I give Marvel and DC a hard time for all the crap they do, so I suppose it's only fair that I give them credit when they do something right, and -SHOCK!- Marvel's latest batch of solicits have several items that actually appeal to me:

Not only a new 5-issue limited series (yeah, I'll be waiting for the inevitable collection) by original series creator Alan Davis, but a nice-looking hardcover collecting Davis' entire earlier run. (Thankfully, the "it was all just a crazy dream!" issues done after Davis left will not be included in this collection.)

SPIDER-MAN FAMILY #7! First of all, I'm always a sucker for team-ups between Spidey and the FF (there's something amusing about the way each individual member of the FF interacts with Spidey that pushes my fanboy pleasure-center buttons), but I thought this bit was a very nice touch:
This special issue is brought to you by Mr. Kesel, DeZago and Waid, who take you on an adventure that spans their buddy Mike Wieringo's favorite places in the Marvel U! We miss ya, Mike!
I think that's the classiest thing I've ever witnessed in a Marvel solicitation. [Sniff! Excuse me, I've got something in my eye!]

FANTASTIC FOUR: THE LOST ADVENTURE! I probably won't actually buy this, but I have to admit I thought "IT'S THE COMIC BOOK EQUIVALENT OF A LOST BEATLES TRACK!" was a good line.

THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST: ORSON RANDALL AND THE GREEN MIST OF DEATH! Dammit, Kevin Melrose's constant pimping of this title is wearing me down! (Actually, I read the first HC collection via the library and really enjoyed it, so this is something I might continue to follow in collected form, especially if it stays relatively separate from the rest of the crossover-happy MU.)

INCREDIBLE HERCULES #114! I've always had a soft spot for the well-meaning but boorish Hercules, and Amadeus Cho is easily one of Marvel's best creations in the past ten? twenty? years (although considering the competition that's not really saying much), so I'm tempted to check this out.

MARVEL ADVENTURES FANTASTIC FOUR #33! Is it an indication of my age (mental as well as biological) that I find many of Marvel's "kiddie" comics more appealing than their mainline titles? But c'mon, tell me those aren't some natural sparring partners for everyone's favorite blue-eyed idol of millions (has the Thing ever faced off against either of these villains before?):

Plus, it's written by Paul Tobin of Banana Sunday fame! So I guess the only question is: buy the floppy or wait for the digest?

MARVEL FANFARE VOL. 1 TPB! I always enjoyed this offbeat anthology, and while I already have the older TPB collecting the Spider-Man & X-Men in the Savage Land storyline, I don't have any of the backup stories, or issues #5 and #7, so I'll probably get this.

Whoa, over a half-dozen Marvel books that sound interesting to me in a single month! Who spiked my coffee with nostalgia juice this morning?

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Whatever Happened To: Dupuy & Berberian?

Note: not Dupuy & Berberian

Seeing this illustration by Dupuy and Berberian in a recent New Yorker made me wonder: Whatever happened to the series of Monsieur Jean books Drawn & Quarterly was putting out? The first book came out back in July 2006 and since then I haven't heard anything about a follow-up volume. Has the series been shelved? (If I remember correctly, the D&Q hardcover collected three of the French editions, so there should be enough material for a second collection since seven volumes have been released in France so far.)

The seventh Monsieur Jean tome (2005)

UPDATE: No word on forthcoming Monsieur Jean volumes, but D+Q Controller Philippe Dupuy in February 2008. (D+Q doesn't seem to believe in permalinks, so search for "Dupuy" on both pages to find the relevant content.) And as Monsieur JeanMonsieur Jean

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Wonder Woman Weeping

Seeing this reminded me that we still haven't seen this, and I cried a little bit inside. (Imagine Tim Leong's reaction to Wizard, only more manly and reserved.)

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Waiting For The Omnibus

Forget waiting for the trade: The truly discriminating comics fan will wait years, even decades, for thick omnibus collections of their favorite series. Personally, I no longer settle for any collection under 300 pages, and even that might be too lenient.

So I'm very excited to read Christopher Butcher casually break the news that Viz will be releasing 3-in-1 omnibus editions of Takehiko Inoue's Vagabond! I own a couple of the older volumes, but I've mainly been reading it through the library because there are so many published books to catch up on. But this is definitely a series that I'd like to have on my bookshelf, so this is great news.

(Chris' post also reminded me about another project I need to keep my eye out for: the Chip Kidd-designed Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan.)

And I hope Chris doesn't mind, but I totally had to steal this pic of Otsū peering around the corner. What a wonderful concept, perfectly executed! It totally fits her character. [Swoon] Man, Inoue really is amazing, isn't he?

Photo by Christopher Butcher

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Monday, November 19, 2007
Bleach: Now Safe For Colour

Every time I turn around there's some new Bleach product I want. First it was the shoes, then it was the action figures, and now it's the full-color art book. Unfortunately, the book All Colour But The Black hasn't been released in English yet, but hopefully Viz will follow suit as it has with other popular series (Naruto, One Piece, Fullmetal Alchemist) and publish this soon. In the meantime, several fansites offer sample artwork to tide me over fan the flames of my desire even higher:



Phoenix Force!
Above images all from Archonia.com

Viz will be publishing two art books showcasing the artwork of Takehiko Inoue, creator of Vagabond, Slam Dunk (now scheduled for a September 2008 (!) release), and Real (recently licensed by Viz and coming in July 2008).

RELATED GENIUS: Some Bleach fans put on a cosplay photoshoot of some scenes from the art book and more, including an adventure on ice where they meet up with... BABY NARUTO??? (The same group also has some Death Note cosplay shoots in their deviantART gallery, including the BEST DEATH NOTE FANFIC EVER!!!)

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Speaking of Fanfiction...

Skimming the DC solicits for Feb. 2008, I misread the copy for ALL STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER #9 as: "Green Lantern tries to convince Batman & Robin to fall in love." Although from what I've heard about how... odd the series has been so far, I hardly even blinked at the idea of DC finally giving in and publishing homoerotic slashfic. (Hey, if Marvel can turn its beloved icons into flesh-eating zombies, why shouldn't DC try its hand at spandex-clad yaoi?)

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Hey, How About Some Free Manga with Absolutely NO Effort Involved?

Forgot to mention: the deadline for the free manga giveaway came and went without even one person sending me an entry. Which leads me to believe one of the following:
  1. No one is actually reading this blog. All my hits are just from frustrated Google searchers looking for "Kekkaishi fanfiction" and then quickly going somewhere else to satisfy their needs. (Did I ever promise Kekkaishi fanfic? Note to self: Start dreaming up some Kekkaishi fanfic to boost site traffic.)
  2. Everyone reading this blog has such good taste that they've already read all the books I'm offering.
  3. There are some readers of this blog who would like the books I'm offering, but they've never had a bad shopping experience they can complain about.
  4. There are readers who would like the books and have plenty of bad shopping experiences to complain about, but it's too much of a hassle to write those experiences down in an email. (I can sympathize with this: it's what happens every time I storm out of a store after a bad experience, vowing, "Just wait til I get home and compose an angry letter to the store's general manager! That'll show them !!!")
I still want to give these books away, so I'll make it even easier: the first person to send me an email with their mailing address can have them. And again, if you don't want all three books, let me know and I'll send the unwanted volumes to the next person in line (assuming there is one).

UPDATE, less than 30 minutes later: Apparently the problem was #4 after all. CLARIFICATION TO THE EARLIER UPDATE: That means the free manga has already been given away. Sorry!

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Thursday, November 15, 2007
Quick Comic Comments: Manga Edition

Kekkaishi: Volume 11 - A full, meaty volume. I thought Tanabe did a good job addressing different characters' reactions to Gen's death, and there was definitely progression in the two camps' battle plans. And this was the first volume where I actually found myself liking Yoshimori, in part because Gen's death makes him appear more vulnerable and sensitive, but also because Yoshimori finally takes the initiative in training (even if he's not very organized in the way he goes about it) and in engaging the enemy. (I won't spoil what he does, but Tanabe executed one of my favorite "headstrong hero" stock moves.) Only downside: the return of My Evil Pony! NOOOOOO!!!! Wasn't he destroyed or something? No fair that these Ayakashi can regenerate so easily!

Alive: Volumes 1 & 2 - I'd forgotten that Katherine Dacey-Tsuei sent me the first volume of this series months ago. I finally read it the other night and then tracked down the second book the very next day. Alive is an absorbing entry in the "students merge with nefarious aliens and gain extraordinary abilities" genre (see also: Parasyte, Shadow Star, Alien Nine, Q-Ko-Chan). Writer Tadashi Kawashima keeps the action moving along quickly and does a good job of creating suspense and uncertainty without ever lapsing into lazy obtuseness substituting for mystery. Yes, two volumes in and we're still in the dark about what's causing these abnormal events (mass suicides and superpowered killers), but things feel like they're progressing rather than spinning their wheels and dragging things out. For one thing, Kawashima does a good job of showing us multiple perspectives on the events, and he's effectively juggling a fairly large cast (it seems like new characters are introduced almost every chapter) without it feeling overcrowded.

But perhaps the biggest draw of this series for me is the art by Adachitoka, whom Kawashima describes in the afterword as a "rookie artist" with "great talent and potential." I'm unaware of any other manga series Adachitoka has worked on, but to me his work looks like that of a seasoned pro. His character designs and figure work are strong, and I'm impressed by his striking panel layouts and page compositions. For example, this page where Taisuke Kanou witnesses a girl falling to her death right in front of him really stuck with me:

Adachitoka is equally adept at displaying comedy moments as he is at horror and action, so he's a perfect fit for this series that shifts tones quickly and frequently.

[Throughout the first volume, I was trying to place which American artist Adachitoka's style reminded me of. Pat Ollife? Kano (circa Action Comics 2000-2001)? An early Marc Silvestri? I was never able to pinpoint who he reminded me of, and by the second volume such comparisons didn't even occur to me. Is it just me or do these mental comparisons pop up in anyone else's head when they're exposed to an artist's work for the first time? A similar thing always happens to me when I go to see live theatre: During the intermission I turn to my wife and rattle off which TV and movie actors the cast members remind me of.]

Azumanga Daioh: The Omnibus - I just got this today and barely started reading it but I already love it. It doesn't have the same energy and incredible charm as Kiyohiko Azuma's other work, Yotsuba&!, but the four-panel format is surprisingly effective: it's really easy to settle into a rhythm reading the strip and just let the character-based comedy wash over you. (In a way, it's like watching a pleasant, diverting sitcom, only here the fourth and final "gag" panel takes the place of the laugh track kicking in every few seconds.) Recurring thought while reading the collection so far: What would Josh Fruhlinger say about these strips?

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Christmas Shopping, Complete!!

Well, for myself at least: Bleach action figures!

I'll probably get Ichigo and Rukia (love that one of her accessories is the crappy drawing she did to explain Hollows and Wholes to Ichigo), but pass on Chad. And I'd like to have an Orihime action figure, but this one looks like a blow-up doll:

Also interesting: There's a Bleach trading card game. Although after trying to watch the demo video, I feel like an old man who doesn't get the newfangled games the young whippersnappers play these days. The what goes in the where now? Yeah, probably not for me. But I still dig seeing Bleach spin off into all these different media.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Hey, How About Some Free Manga?

Thanks to a screwup by the Post Office, I have extra copies of the following manga:
I ordered them from Barnes & Noble a month ago and when they hadn't shown up after almost two weeks, I called to complain. B&N cancelled the original order and I reordered the books. Today I finally received the original shipment but I really don't need two copies of these books, so I'll give them away to the person who tells me the best story about the worst online shopping experience they've had. Simply send me an email detailing your ordeal by 11:59 PM CST Thursday 11/15/2007 and the books could be yours! I'll post the winning story and ship out the books (two still in their original shrinkwrap!) shortly after that. (If you're not interested in all three books, let me know and I can give the ones you don't want to the runner-up.)

UPDATE 11/9: To open up the contest for more participants, I'll now accept stories about any bad shopping experience on- or offline. So go ahead and tell me why Best Buy sucks!

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Coming Soon! NARUTO Cabinets, Dressers, Coffee Tables

Like lots of manga all at once? Forget those passé omnibus editions of popular manga series — Viz is upping the ante with the mammoth Naruto Box Set, which collects all twenty-seven volumes of the series released in English so far (three of which won't be released for individual sale until December). The best part is, the set is so massive it even comes with its own bookcase:

The "collector's edition" set comes with other bonus features as well (poster, sticker, card game, Naruto proto-manga) but I'm tempted to get it simply because I've got a coupon for half-off any one item at Barnes&Noble.com so it would work out to a little over two bucks per book. (If you're a Barnes & Noble member with a valid MasterCard, you can get the same deal with coupon code P7N6J9K.)

Related: Matt Blind already got his set yesterday, also for half-off.

UPDATE: I missed this earlier, but Amazon has several other images of the set, inluding a registration card owners can send in to have their names added to an online "Hall of Fame" listing all of the "Naruto ShadowBox registered owners." So when prospective employers Google your name, one of the first things they'll learn about you is that you're a huge Naruto nerd.

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