Sporadic Sequential
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Time Is Running Out! Place Your Order Within The Next 30 Minutes To SAVE!!!!

TFAW is having a "Summer Steals" sale with prices 80% off items throughout the store, including over 500 graphic novels. Some recommended deals:
Plus, for a couple more hours, you can save on shipping with coupon codes DOGS or BURGERS.

UPDATE: Try coupon code SIGNUP for free shipping in the U.S. and SIGNUP-INT for $10 off international shipping.

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Guest Blogger: Robin E. Brenner

In response to my question about whether graphic novels in libraries have faced any internal opposition from librarians themselves in a manner similar to Anne Carroll Moore's crusade to keep Stuart Little off library shelves, Robin E. Brenner stopped by in the comments and offered this information, which is so good I'm reproducing it as its own post:
I don't know that there are any librarians who have taken up the cause of fighting adding graphic novels to a collection. I would love to say it never happens. Unfortunately, though, in my experience, I've actually seen more resistance to adding and selecting graphic novels from library staff than I ever have from the public. There are directors of libraries who feel fairly adamantly that graphic novels are not worthwhile additions to a library collection, and there are staff who see one that shocks or confuses them (often flipping through it completely out of context) and then complain about the title or format's appropriateness.

In the end, though, I don't think this is all that different from the public's reaction -- most of these opponents simply have never run into graphic novels before and have never had anyone who embraces them, like me, sit down and explain what they are (tales told in a different format) and what they are not (automatically porn.) As with any sort of obstacle or challenge, the best defense is education, and that is why my fellow advocates and I conduct workshops across the country demystifying graphic novels for librarians and teachers so they can explain and defend them to their own staff as well as the public.

All of that being said, challenges to graphic novels made by a member of the public, and especially when politicians get involved, make a much better news story. Everyone hears about that when it happens. Also, because more and more graphic novels are being added to collections, there are just more of them for people to notice, and therefore the possibilities of challenges rises.

Because of the nature of the profession, librarianship is almost automatically a liberal profession, given the strong ideal of freedom of information, freedom of speech, and freedom to read. Obviously that doesn't mean individually librarians fall into any one mode of thought in terms of liberal or conservative. When it comes to graphic novels, especially as they are full of images, they provoke a much stronger reaction than similar events described in prose. I can think of numerous times over the years where a library staff person might be fine with graphic novels in general but then will see one that pushes their particular alarm buttons. Some just look aghast and send the book on its way, while others will complain that its part of the collection. Every library should have in place a way to deal with such challenges, both internal and external, but not all do (as we all saw with the incident in Missouri). Internal challenges are just not as public, unless one of the parties involved makes it public, and most are handled quickly without any formal procedures (as, indeed, are many informal challenges from members of the public.)

You'll find that librarians think about bias and prejudice a lot when it comes to collection development, both in terms of limiting what we buy unintentionally in worrying about challenges and in terms of collecting broadly to reflect the needs of the community, not just any one individual's needs or tastes. While a librarian can definitely make a case for placement of graphic novels in a collection, it's a much harder argument to convince other librarians that they shouldn't have a particular format at all. The main challenge is getting folks to realize it is a format that tells any kind of story, not just the stereotypical grim superhero tale or fan-service filled manga.
Thanks for the thoughtful response, Robin. What you've outlined certainly makes sense: I know there are graphic novels that I bristle at, so it makes sense that librarians would have negative reactions to specific works that push their particular buttons. I just couldn't recall reading any news stories where librarians were shown voicing concerns about the content of a graphic novel; it's always a hysterical parent who is raising the objections while a librarian is defending the work. You're probably right that internal conflicts simply don't leak to the press and even if they did those scenarios aren't as "sexy" as when outraged parents or politicians get involved. Still, it's heartening to hear that education seems to work in most cases. Thanks again for the info!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Special Edition Premiere Giant-Sized Manga Two-In-One!

As announced at San Diego Comic-Con, the September 2009 issue of Shonen Jump will feature the U.S. debut of Stan Lee's first foray into manga, Ultimo. Here's Shonen Jump's PR hype for the feature:
Super Manga Team-Up! Living comics legend Stan “The Man” Lee has shocked the world by reaching across the Pacific Ocean to team up with Shaman King creator Hiroyuki Takei! Together, they’ve cooked up a monumental manga called Ultimo — and we’ve got the prologue in this issue, plus a candid chat between the two dynamos.
Unfortunately, Shonen Jump still has a ways to go if they want to promote Stan Lee's work in a manner befitting "The Man." There's hardly any alliteration at all in that blurb, and what really hurts is there are several spots screaming for syllabic symphony. Just imagine if the blurb had been written thusly:

Marvelous Manga Mash-Up! Living legend Stan “The Man” Lee has wowed the world by "Jumping" across the Pacific Ocean to collaborate with Shaman King creator Hiroyuki Takei! Cooperatively, they’ve craftily concocted a colossal comic called Ultimo — and we’ve got the pulse-pounding prologue in this issue, plus a completely candid conversation with the dynamic duo!!

See, now that's a promo piece in the Mighty Marvel Manner!

And on a side note, is Bleach starting to eclipse Naruto in popularity, or is Viz pushing the popular property as a successor to Naruto? Counting issue 69, four of the past five covers have featured Bleach rather than Naruto.

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Shopping Dilemma of The Day

After reading Deb Aoki's excellent overview of the Chip Kidd Bat-Manga! panel, I'm more excited than ever about this book. The only problem is deciding which version to buy: the $30 softcover or the "limited edition" $60 hardcover with thirty-two extra pages of material. If all the bonus material is as great as this wonderfully goofy image, a sample from Chinese Batman comics that will only be included in the hardcover, I may have to break down and shell out the extra thirty bucks for the upscale edition.

Holy Spot the Cameos, Batman!
Can you find The Trickster, J'onn J'onzz,
Robotman, Hawkman, Dick Tracy, and Bat Boy?

[image from Deb Aoki]

Either way, though, I'm sure this book will be enjoyable. I mean, how can you go wrong when Batman is wielding bazookas and ray guns while fighting villains with names like "Lord Death Man"?

UPDATE: I wimped out and ordered the softcover. I just couldn't justify spending the extra moolah on what amounted to a floppy's worth of extra material. Plus, I was able to add Bleach SOULs (the official Bleach character book, with "bonus manga and the original Bleach one-shot") and Magic Trixie to my order for less than the price of the hardcover.

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Monday, July 28, 2008
And Now, A Comic-Con Story You Won't Find on Newsarama

In response to my post wondering if comics faced any resistance in getting on library shelves, commenter ND pointed out this story on NPR discussing how librarians went to Comic-Con in search of manga. The write-up on the NPR website is good, but make sure to listen to the audio broadcast as well, as it has some interesting segments not transcribed in the article. Among them:
  • A librarian mentions that she's at the Dark Horse booth looking for two manga series (one manhwa, one manga) in particular, Bride of the Water God and Translucent
  • NPR journalist Beth Accomando mentions Fruits Basket and gives a quick summary of the series' plot
Actually, I'd recommend listening to the audio clip first, as both the article and the audio have the same closing anecdote, but it packs much more punch when you hear it delivered.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008
A Quick Note of Thanks

Thanks to all the bloggers who took time out of their convention-going to blog about panels and announcements so that those of us who were unable to attend could share in the excitement of SDCC, even if only indirectly. I doubt I would have had the fortitude to blog about my experiences after fighting through crowds and lugging around bags full of swag.

A special shout-out to Deb Aoki, whose manga coverage was top-notch (and whose writing quality far outshines that of a certain multi-staffed, award-winning site). Thanks to Kevin Melrose for rounding up all the highlights from SDCC in succinct posts without all the hype. Thanks to Matthew Brady for his lengthy post highlighting the breadth of the comic industry with just a touch of snark. And a BIG thank you to Gia Manry for all of her SDCC coverage, especially her detailed coverage of the Tite Kubo panel! Thank you, Gia: It (somewhat) helps ease the pain of not being able to attend in person.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008
Cool Things To Look At If You're Tired Of Hearing About SDCC

Like Brigid Alverson, I'm stuck at home while everyone else in the blogosphere is at SDCC. Unlike Brigid, however, I'm not even enjoying myself by reading lots and lots of manga; instead, I'm stuck working on a project that won't end.* But in between testing various reports, I'm still checking my feed reader and I noticed this post from the VIZBlog showcasing the VIZ headquarters, which is located in an old movie theater. Pretty neat! Check out the post for more pictures of what looks like a very cool work environment.

And in other VIZ news, it turns out there's a dedicated Takehiko Inoue subsite which at the moment is focused on Real and includes a 25-page preview of the first chapter. Check it out and marvel at Inoue's breathtaking artwork!!!

But if you do feel like reading some of the news out of SDCC, here's an announcement that's pretty exciting. Heck, the future of manga is starting to look positively rosy these days!

UPDATE: Viz is also making the first episode of Death Note available for free on iTunes with coupon code 9XTXXEXKLPHL through 12/31/2008.

* I know, I know: What a lousy way to celebrate Bleach Day. If anyone attending SDCC is reading this, could you do me a big favor? If you happen to see Tite Kubo, could you give him a big hug from me and tell him I'm sorry I couldn't be there to stalk meet him in person? Thanks!!

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Friday, July 25, 2008
Friday Food for Thought: Children's Books, Comics, and Libraries

In The New Yorker's fascinating piece on the rise of children's literature, children's sections in libraries, and a battle over one particular children's book, this bit jumped out at me:
Even if you got inside [the libraries], the librarians would shush you, carping about how the “young fry” read nothing but “the trashy”: Scott, Cooper, and Dickens (one century’s garbage being, as ever, another century’s Great Books).
It made me wonder about the rise of comics, particularly manga, in public libraries. There have been many articles about the popularity of graphic novels in libraries and it seems like all the librarians interviewed are excited about comics' appeal to younger readers, but have there been any obstacles along the way? I know parents and other patrons have demanded that certain books be removed, but have any librarians themselves objected to stocking comics on the shelves? Have there been any influential librarians (such as Anne Carroll Moore back in her day) who objected to manga as unsuitable for children? Are there any librarians who stamp "Not recommended for purchase by expert" on the cover of any comic that crosses their desk? Has anyone written a history of how the graphic novels in libraries revolution unfolded? (I'm wondering if Robin E. Brenner's book Understanding Manga and Anime would cover any of this.)

The quote also made me wonder which of today's graphic novels will be regarded as next century's Great Books. Watchmen already seems to be pretty safely on that list, but what else?

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Thursday, July 24, 2008
My Most Memorable Midyear Manga

Jinx! Cross-site blogging telepathy!! I was just thinking this weekend that this year has been a good one for manga so far (despite all the gloom and doom) and was toying with the idea of doing a half-year in review feature. Of course, like most of my ideas, I never got around to following through on it, but then the fine reviewing cast over at Manga Recon put out their midterm manga report card looking at notable manga from the first half of the year, and it inspired me to share my Five Favorite Manga From 2008 (so far):
  1. Real by Takehiko Inoue - Once again Inoue shows that he is the master of crafting lovable louts. As with both Hanamichi Sakuragi (Slam Dunk) and Miyamoto Musashi (Vagabond), I'm not sure I'd want to hang out with Real's lead Tomomi Nomiya, whose antics in this volume include stripping naked and taking a dump on the steps of his former high school, but I sure love to read about him. I really enjoyed seeing the core cast of characters come together in this volume. They're not all likable, but they're distinctive and interesting. And as can be expected with any manga by Inoue, the art is simply gorgeous, but here it really shines thanks to the better quality paper used, which showcases the soft greys and delicate textures used in the toning work.

  2. Cat Eyed Boy by Kazuo Umezu - This two-volume set is an interesting, imperfect work. Many of the stories give the impression of something created without much of a game plan (which might not be that far from the truth, given the nature of manga serialization) but they all remain captivating nonetheless. Even the weakest of the tales is satisfying on some level, be it a promising suggestion of some larger theme, a general sense of nightmarish dream logic, or Umezu's unsettling creature designs. In many ways Cat Eyed Boy reminds me of early Marvel comics: Reading them now, the stories can seem dated, even crude, but there is still the glipse of genius buried somewhere within. And like many of Marvel's misunderstood heroes, Umezu's title character is hounded by the very people he defends. In fact, Cat Eyed Boy has it even worse, for he is despised by both humans and monsters. (Cat Eyed Boy is probably most reminiscent of early Namor in terms of appearance (those pointed ears!), attitude (although Cat Eyed Boy generally helps humans, he can also turn on them when he tires of their cruelty; in one story, he disupts several trains as payback for a train destroying the shack he was living in), and origin (like Namor, Cat Eyed Boy is the offspring of two races but the citizen of neither).)

  3. Emma 7 by Kaoru Mori - Mori's gripping Victorian romance comes to a close in a satisfyingly open-ended manner. Rather than ending on the promise of "happily ever after," Mori shows that William and Emma will continue to face significant obstacles if they choose to remain together. Even more interesting, Mori shows us the impact William and Emma's decision has on those around them, especially William's family. Although we of course want William and Emma to end up together, it's interesting that Mori takes the time to show us that their actions have definite consequences. It's also interesting that Mori's presentation results in William's father coming across as sympathetic and understandable. Usually in these types of dramas the parents blocking the cross-class arrangement are caricatured as heartlessly evil, but Mori adds complexity to the father's motivations (and background), and the result is a much more layered and nuanced work.

  4. Shirley by Kaoru Mori - Another wonderful maid manga by Mori, this single-volume work focuses on the relationship between a young unmarried female bar owner and her thirteen year old maid. The stories are quiet and simple, and leave a surprising amount unsaid. (I'd assumed this form of elliptical storytelling was intentional, but in the wonderfully amusing and informative afterward, Mori suggests that in many of these stories she'd simply dropped the ball, forgetting to resolve or return to various plot points.) The art in these stories is simply beautiful, with Mori employing a softer line than she used in Emma, and I was surprised to learn that these stories predated Emma. In fact, in the omake at the end, Mori is very critical of her early artwork, pointing out the many flaws she sees. I suppose early work is always embarrassing to artists (especially ones with a perfectionist bent), but I thought the stories and artwork were both quite strong.

  5. Cowa! by Akira Toriyama - A fun done-in-one diversion, Cowa tells the tale of Paifu, a half-vampire, half-werekoala monster child and his mischievous friends. It's an extremely light book, but it's done in Toriyama's delightfully charming style, with plenty of amusing details to make the read a pleasantly satisfying one. (I especially liked Paifu's transformation into a full-fledged werekoala and what it took to calm him back down again; I laughed every time Toriyama used that gag.) I suppose the biggest compliment I can give this book is I was extremely disappointed to learn that there were no additional volumes forthcoming. I really wanted to read more about Paifu and his gang of friends.
Not a bad list, and I was focusing just on new or concluding series, so that's not even counting all the ongoing series that are consistently entertaining, such as Bleach, Kekkaishi, Sgt. Frog, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, and Parasyte. Plus, there are still plenty of upcoming manga works to look forward to, such as Black Jack, Bat-Manga!, Slam Dunk, and the VIZBIG edition of Vagabond, so 2008 looks like it will be a good year for manga. And if I expand the scope to consider all comics, there are plenty of other great books that have already come out (such as Little Vampire and The Rabbi's Cat 2) and even more forthcoming works to look forward to (Aya of Yop City, Alan's War), so my end-of-year list is practically writing itself. (NOTE: I just jinxed the possibility of my ever completing a best of 2008 list at year's end.)

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Sunday, July 20, 2008
A Polar Bear's Skin is Black

And now, Non Sequitur Theater proudly presents "All Clams Are Born Male," starring the cast of Tekkon Kinkreet:

All these head-scratchingly awesome scenes and more can be found in Taiyo Matsumoto's highly enjoyable, highly eccentric epic Tekkon Kinkreet, published in one huge volume from Viz.

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Friday, July 18, 2008
Shopping Alert! 30% Off at New Borders.com

It looks like the new Borders.com has finally officially launched, and to promote the site, they're offering a 30% off list price coupon through 7/22 (coupon code BCOM2208). Plus, like many other online retailers, Borders is offering free shipping on orders over $25.

Everything I looked at is listed at cover price, so I'm not sure if 30% off beats the deals you could find at sites like Amazon or Tower, but I figured it's worth letting people know about as another shopping option.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008
Extra! Extra! The Original Omake?

When I was invited to contribute a piece for Blog@Newsarama's "I ♥ Comics" feature, I originally planned on doing "I ♥ Omake," focusing only on the bonus features found in manga. However, a shocking discovery made me change my plans. Finally, the reason for my piece's expanded scope can be revealed, as well as... The Secret Origin of Omake!!!

As I wrote in my "I ♥ Extras" essay, most omake tends to follow a familiar pattern: The manga-ka describes the inspiration for the series, discusses the evolution of his or her ideas, bemoans how difficult it is to create a manga, apologizes for not responding to all the fan mail, and pokes fun at the sometimes (frequently?) antagonistic relationship between creator and editor. Here, for example, is Kaoru Mori describing how she was her own worst enemy in terms of assigning workload for Emma:

So my original plan was to assemble a number of omake examples like this and write up a humorous essay about how all Japanese creators suffer the same hardships. But then, during the perpetual process of cleaning my office, I came across my copy of Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko and happened to open it up to the bonus feature originally presented in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man!" (click images for larger scans):

I couldn't believe what I was seeing! The humorous, self-deprecating depiction of the creators! The suffering of the artist as he struggles with the details of his drawings! The scarcely concealed hostility between artist and editor! It was all there, staring me in the face! I had to face facts: Steve Ditko had created the first-ever omake!! Obviously, Japanese creators saw this feature and decided it was the perfect model to use as a template for their own afterwords. And thus, the manga omake as we know it today was born. Excelsior!

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Whatever Happend To: Shawn Fumo?

Reading through the comments of some of my old posts at Grotesque Anatomy last night, I was reminded of how much I used to enjoy it whenever Shawn Fumo would show up in the comments and post some insightful thought. Which led me to wonder, Whatever Happened to Shawn Fumo? He used to be a regular in the manga-themed blogosphere, but then he fell off the face of the Internet. His blog Worlds Within Worlds was last updated on Saturday, September 23, 2006. Googling his name, it turns out he has a personal Wiki page up, which has this brief message:
My name is Shawn Fumo and I currently work as the lead programmer at Veritech Corp. in East Longmeadow. I do primarily web development, but am knowledgeable in many areas of multimedia creation. In my spare time, I'm involved in the yo-yo community. This is just a temporary homepage until I can get something a little bit nicer up. The classic case of the cleaner whose own house is a mess.
And based on the links, it does look like he's still very involved with yo-yoing, his other great pasttime/passion besides manga.

So Shawn, if you're out there reading this, I'll implore you as I did once before: Your hobby needs you once again. Will you heed her call?

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Extra! Extra! Manga Bites Domestic Comics!

It's quickly becoming evident that there are many wonderful extras I overlooked in my essay at Blog@Newsarama and my follow-up list. The recipes and fashion notes from Aya? The "bonus tracks" and colorful back covers from Love Roma? The engrossing and scope-expanding text pieces from Watchmen? How could I have missed those? And I'm sure there are many, many more bonus features that I'll feel like an idiot for forgetting when someone points them out.

But there's one particular omission from my list of Extra Extras that I'd like to spotlight: Shonen Jump. Each issue has a bunch of extra content in addition to the multiple serialized manga. I think the main reasons I overlooked SJ were (1) I don't read SJ anymore, and (2) even when I did, I tended to skip over the bonus features. Still, I think it's worth pointing out that SJ does offer a wealth of bonus material each issue, from "rare" trading cards and posters to articles covering related anime, video games, and card games.

I don't know if I ever consciously made this connection before, but in many ways Shonen Jump reminds me of the DC Giants that I loved when I was a kid. Like Shonen Jump, the DC Giants reprinted a number of different stories and included various bonus features. And like Shonen Jump, the DC Giants were bigger than anything else on the stands at the time. And if today's kids are anything like me when I was a young whippersnapper, they're going to be shocked and awed into submission by the sheer size of SJ. I was always drawn to the bigger, thicker comics when it was time to spend my allowance money, and I'm betting a similar factor contributes to SJ's continued popularity.

Which means that, yes, it's time for a special Fifth Anniversary return appearance from the Manga Stack of Intimidation!!!

That's an image from a post made on my old blog, Grotesque Anatomy, back on October 30, 2003, showing the difference in relative thickness between "12 issues of Viz's manga anthology Shonen Jump (with a $4.95 cover price) on the left and 24 issues of various American comics at $2.50 a pop on the right." Of course, now that the average Marvel or DC comic is $2.99 (soon to be $3.50?), $60 would only get you 20 floppies, so the pile on the right would be even smaller. So once again I ask: Gee, I wonder why young kids are flocking to manga?

(And before you complain, yes, I already did a comparison with Marvel Essentials.)

Somewhat Related Fifth Anniversary Tangent: It's kind of fun going back in the Internet Time Machine and reading my old posts about Shonen Jump. For one thing, you can see how much more I blogged before I had kids. And the comment threads seemed much livelier back then. (Note to self: Need to invite Matt Maxwell to kick off conversations in my comment threads again.) But it is fascinating to see how half-decade old arguments and speculation turned out. (Answer: I was right!!)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Extra! Extra! Extra Extras

JK Parkin was kind enough to invite me to contribute a piece for Blog@Newsarama's summer "I ♥ Comics" feature (and kind enough to grant me an extension when I forgot about my original deadline), and my essay entitled "I ♥ Extras" is up right now. In it I share three of my favorite bonus features, one from each of the three scientifically-established Golden Eras of Extras, but there were many, many more I could have mentioned. Rather than clutter up that piece, though, I thought I'd list some other memorable extras here on my blog as a kind of extras extra:
  1. The footnotes in Finder
  2. Carl Horn's extensive end notes at the back (front?) of each volume of The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
  3. The tiny little comical corner sketches by Tite Kubo and Takehiko Inoue in Bleach and Vagabond
  4. The cover-to-cover extras in each issue of Eightball
  5. Kaoru Mori's hilarious omake from Emma detailing her obsession with Victorian culture
  6. The comedic 4-koma strips at the end of Alive where manga-ka Tadashi Kawashima and Adachitoka depict humorous alternate takes on serious scenes from the current volume
  7. The evolving character relationship map at the start of each volume of Sgt. Frog
  8. The thorough translation notes at the end of pretty much every Del Rey manga
  9. The full color fold-out maps and posters from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
  10. Chris Ware's fold-out dust cover jackets for Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth and McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #13
  11. Colleen Coover's sketch gallery in the Banana Sunday TPB
  12. Joann Sfar's notes and watercolor studies at the end of Klezmer
  13. Jake Tarbox's notes on Japanese culture in comic form from Raijin Comics anthology
  14. The "How This Famous Cover Was Born" feature from the first Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man crossover (I think this was the first time I realized that covers might undergo significant revision from original concept to published version)
  15. The fake Victorian advertisements in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, including the pulped Marvel Douche one
  16. Pretty much any pin up gallery of such-and-such's "Most Famous Foes!"
  17. The table-top dioramas included on several of DC's Treasury Edition back covers
  18. Any character sketches or concept art, especially from artists such as Steve Rude, Jill Thompson, and Alan Davis
  19. The paper doll in the Paris TPB
  20. The extensive supplemental documentary material at the end of Project X - The Challengers - Cup Noodle - The Miracle of 8.2 Billion Served - The Magic Noodle, Nissin Cup Noodle, particularly the two-page photo spread of what Chris Sims called "The Official Handbook of the Cup Noodle Universe"
As for the worst extra feature ever, I'd have to award that honor hands-down to the passive-aggressive anti-omake in Gin Tama where creator Hideaki Sorachi wastes space by complaining (in a ridiculously large font) about having to come up with material to fill the bonus pages.

So what extras am I forgetting? What bonus features stand out in your mind as some of the greatest extras to grace the comic book page?

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I'm Famous!

Feeling nostalgic upon learning that Viz was celebrating the fifth anniversary of Shonen Jump magazine, I decided to read the Wikipedia entry on the popular manga anthology. As I worked my way toward the bottom of the entry, I was surprised to run across a familiar name:
"Color me surprised. Largely as a show of support for the anthology format, I signed up for subscriptions for both RAIJIN COMICS and SHONEN JUMP, but I was sure that I would enjoy the former much more than the latter since RC was promoted as being targeted for an older audience, and since SJ featured series that I associated with young children's cartoons. Instead, having read both first issues, I find that (so far) I much prefer SHONEN JUMP, both in terms of actual story content as well as in terms of the magazine's production values."
—John Jakala, ANN
Reviewers of the magazine applauded the selection of series and the various articles included in each issue.In his coverage of the magazine's debut issue, John Jakala of Anime News Network, compared it to the debut issue of competing work Raijin Comics and was surprised to find himself preferring Shonen Jump, despite it being targeted for a younger age group than Raijin Comics. Calling it an "impressive debut issue", Jakala predicted that its high quality content and high value for the price would result in the anthology becoming a successful anthology in North America. In succeeding reviews, Jakala stated that Shonen Jump put "American comics to shame", particularly in terms of the size of the magazine for the price versus the normal size of a similarly priced issue of a regular comic book. He did, however, note that the episodic nature of some of the series included had started to become repetitive after three issues, and that while the articles might appeal to many readers, he himself skipped over them.
The funny bit is I'd just linked to the Wikipedia SJ Entry last week but the quotes from my reviews weren't there at the time. (It looks like the references to my reviews were added on July 12th.)

To commerate this momentous occasion, I will be releasing my old reviews in special hardcover Fifth Anniversary Collector's Editions! Order now!!

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Friday, July 11, 2008
My Gloom and Doom Thought of The Day

How long before online retailers raise the minimum threshold required to get free shipping? Or do away with free shipping altogether? How long will retailers be willing (or able) to eat the increased costs of delivering all those packages to frugal consumers like me? I will be very bummed the day I can no longer get discounted manga delivered to my door for free.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008
Thirteen Upbeat Thoughts on Doom and Gloom

Random thoughts on the manga "doom and gloom" talk bubbling throughout the blogosphere:
  1. Yeah, I joke about the lousy taste of teenagers, and I wish everyone read what I read (or at least enough people to keep my favorite series from getting cancelled), but it doesn't really surprise me to learn that fans who were drawn into manga and/or anime fandom by a particular series or two might not stick around when the works that captured their imagination in a particular way ended or failed to hold their interest anymore. I doubt all of the rabid fans who simply couldn't get enough Harry Potter turned to other series to fill the void left in their lives by the end of that popular saga.

  2. I still haven't finished the Naruto Shadow Box, but I've enjoyed what I've read so far, and the series is the vision of a sole creator, so I can't really knock narrowly focused fans of Naruto the way I might grumble about fans who follow corporate superhero X (and only corporate superhero X) no matter who the creators or how lousy the quality. And Naruto is still running in Japan, so that anchor for the U.S. manga market will be around for a while, even if the overall market doesn't mature along with the original audience who started reading Naruto with volume one back in 2003.

  3. Shonen Jump is still around, and still doing well as far as I know (according to Wikipedia, SJ has a monthly circulation of 215,000), so Viz can always use that as a means of introducing new series to subscribers, as they have with Slam Dunk. And I know it's probably overly optimistic of me, but I like to think there's always the chance that someone will enjoy Slam Dunk and go on to seek out other manga by creator Takehiko Inoue. (Hey, it happened with me.)

  4. Shojo Beat, while not as popular as its sibling magazine, still has a respectable audience (38,000 a month, according to Wikipedia). Given that Viz has had success launching two manga anthologies, perhaps at some point they'll attempt auditioning additional anthologies aimed at audiences of advanced age. (Was that the most awkward attempt at alliteration ever or what?)

  5. As a former superhero comic addict, I'm used to low-selling series I loved get the ax. It'd be nice to think manga is immune from such market forces, but it's been evident for several years now that that's not the case.

  6. It's always disappointing when a favorite series gets cancelled midstream, but it's not really something I get upset about. After all, a publisher has no guarantee that I'll stick with a series just because I bought the first few volumes. If I don't feel like I'm getting what I want out of it (enjoyment, value), I'll drop the book mercilessly. So I guess it's only fair that a publisher can drop a book if they don't feel like they're getting what they want out of it (large enough audience, enough profit).

  7. Similarly, it's always an anxious time when a new series I want to do well launches. I want the series to succeed so I can keep reading it, but I have no idea how well it will sell and I have no control over its sales. And while it's always fun to play armchair marketer, in the end I realize that I have to leave it up to the companies that publish these works to promote them. That's not to say that companies always get their promotions right, but I still find it odd when I see fans complaining about how publisher X completely mis-marketed series Y and what they really should have done was marketing campaign Z with an unlimited budget of $$$$$$$$$$. Companies have limited time and money for marketing, and they generally tend to focus on those series that will return the most bang for buck, which means that this month's marketing budget will be used to give an already popular series like Naruto an additional advertising campaign somewhere while unknown but critically acclaimed books will languish with little to no promotion.

  8. Yes, I enjoy series aimed at older readers, but I also enjoy books written for a younger audience, especially now that I have kids. (If I can sit and watch the same episodes of Clifford and Curious George over and over again, I can appreciate manga for kids. Case in point: I think the new Cowa manga from Viz is a hoot.)

  9. I think David Welsh put it best: There's suddenly a large audience for mature American comics? Works aimed at older, more sophisticated audiences will always do smaller numbers than works targeted at the youth market. Just look at prose, movies, TV, etc. Entertainment aimed at the lowest common denominator is going to enjoy the highest sales and ratings. Manga publishers need time to figure out how to position more mature material so it finds its audience. (And it seems like publishers such as Vertical and Drawn & Quarterly are already having some success in this regard.)

  10. While manga is probably the primary source of my sequential art entertainment these days, I still read other types of comics, even if I neglect talking about them here. My favorite book from last year (something I never got around to blogging) was Drawn & Quarterly's Aya, and the year before that my pick was First Second's Klezmer. So even if manga isn't scratching my older reader's itch, I know there are plenty of other places I can look for comic book relief.

  11. I'm so behind in my comic book reading, the manga market could collapse today and I'd still have plenty of manga (and other comics) to keep me occupied for years. So I guess there is an up side to being so slow and lazy. Plus, I really shouldn't be spending my kids' college funds so much money on comics, so less comics tempting me to buy them could be a good thing, financially speaking.

  12. I'm not exactly sure what old arguments and counter-arguments Tom is referring to here, so it's hard to respond in any kind of precise, point-by-point way. I do wonder, though: Did manga advocates ever really deny that their were limited fans who were only interested in one or two particular series? I don't remember running across that particular argument before. And the refutation of that position would have seemed fairly obvious every couple weeks or so: Just look at the sales charts. Apparently there are people who are only buying Naruto and aren't interested in the wider variety of manga out there. (Which isn't the same as saying there really isn't any variety to manga at all; that's something I have taken issue with before.)

  13. The concern about the stagnancy of the manga market's maturation is a recurring one. This same issue seems to pop up every few months. I'm going to have to start preparing some new talking points in advance for the September and November iterations of this discussion.
So in conclusion, buy Vagabond, Real, Cat Eyed Boy, and any other manga that doesn't fit into the stereotypical shonen or shoujo categories. Go Team Manga! Whoo-hoo!!

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Monday, July 07, 2008
Selling Out, Manga-Style

In response to my fake manga marketing ideas, Simon "NSFW" Jones comes up with a brilliant one that could actually work: Sell or give away copies of sports manga at the appropriate sporting event:
A re-envisioned Speed Racer with Nascar branding, racked at Talladega’s concession stands, would sell gangbusters.

Eyeshield, racked at the memorabilia store at any stadium, would sell gangbusters.

Hand a free copy of Slam Dunk #1 to everyone 14-and-under at every NCAA basketball game, and the rest of the issues would sell gangbusters.
Genius! I could really see this working, although I have no idea how feasible something like this would be. But if it did work out, perhaps we'd even see a time when youngsters learned to show the proper respect for manga-ka masters such as Takehiko Inoue.

BONUS ROUND: I asked this in Simon's comments but I'll repeat it here: Whatever happened to Tokyopop's deal with the NBA? Was it a huge success or a crashing failure? Were the books actually sold in brick-and-mortar stores or were they only available through school book fairs?

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When Viz was showing their Inoue stuff, there wasn’t a peep in the audience. Sumi and Water, his art books, are coming out in Sept. as are a few other manga, including REAL and SD, but no cheers or murmurs of excitement- or even of recognition.

[via Heidi MacDonald]

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The Wide Wide World of Manga

Two news items caught my eye this morning and reinforced the international appeal of manga:

1. Two Vietnamese artists, Nguyen Thanh Nhan and Truong Quang Toan, have entered the finals for the second International Manga Award. I'm not sure what their entries were, but I love Nhan's colorful creature pictured at the right.

2. Over the weekend, Paris was invaded by "[t]he strange teenage cult of manga" with "its weird and sinister mix of Tokyo pop, manga comics, anime, video gaming and Lolita-like fashion." I would have loved to attend this event, as it combines two of my great loves: manga and Paris. I remember being amazed at the selection of comics in bookstores during a trip to Paris back in 2003, so I can only imagine what the shelves look like now with the increasing popularity of manga in France. (According to this article, France is now the second-biggest market for manga outside of Japan.) Also, I could have looked into the possibility of sending my kids abroad to attend Koikekazuogekigasonjuku, AKA "Kazuo Koike's Gekiga Sonjuku," which the article describes as "private manga schools."

I have no idea what's going on in this picture,
but I love the omnious Hello Kitty heads floating above everything

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Thursday, July 03, 2008
Kodansha's 5-Point Plan for World Domination

Further speculative details on just how Kodansha will achieve its dominance of the U.S. manga market:
  1. Targeted Demographic Pricing. Once of the main reasons Kodansha waited so long to enter the U.S. manga market on its own is that it was conducting exhaustive market research into who buys manga where. As a result of these studies, Kodansha now possesses extensive data that will allow it to price its manga in surprisingly specific ways. For example, the same volume of Akira may cost more in an urban ZIP code where residents have more disposable income than it will in a small rural town. And subsequent volumes in a series may spike in price as readers become hooked and have to know how the series ends.

  2. Announcing the Kodansha Scanlation Group. Frustrated by unlicensed scanlations but unable to devise a way to curb the practice, Kodansha decides to form its own scanlation group, Omoshirokute. The scanlations come out so quickly and are of such a high quality that all other scanlation groups working on Kodansha series effectively become obsolete. Many expect Kodansha to stop their scanlations at this point, but they've become so addicted to their internet fame that they continue on, even expanding their scope to offer scanlations of other publishers' works. Soon Kodansha is running the biggest and most popular scanlation groups for series such as Naruto and Bleach.

  3. Servicing Untapped Markets. Once again utilizing its massive demographic data, Kodansha successfully identifies and targets underserved segments of the market. Look forward to distinctively American manga, such as: NASCAR manga; televangelist manga (with tie-in televangelist anime); Red Manga vs. Blue Manga (manga aimed at hardcore Republicans and Democrats); and McManga (in a joint venture with McDonald's, Kodansha offers a free manga volume with every Happy Meal; obesity rates in the U.S. climb dramatically as a result, but on the positive side, so do literacy rates).

  4. Co-opting the Doujinshi Scene. Practicing a bit of business jujitsu, Kodansha will embrace the doujinshi market right off the bat in the U.S. Not only will Kodansha publish unlicensed fan works based on its own properties, but it will also put out doujinshi featuring characters from other companies. Realizing that there is a huge, unrealized desire on the part of superhero fans to see their favorite characters "doing it," Kodansha will strike it rich by releasing unauthorized illustrated slashfic. In an ironic turnabout, many American superhero fans will come to feel greater loyalty to Kodansha than to either Marvel or DC, because, as one fan put it, "After so many years of being heartlessly rejected by Marvel and DC, it was Kodansha that finally helped me realize my dream of creating an epic Captain America and Wonder Woman porn crossover." Female fans will be similarly grateful thanks to Kodansha's extensive yaoi library, featuring such popular pairings as Thor + Superman, Iron Man + Batman, and the all-time best-selling Gambit + Nightwing.

  5. Ultra-Authentic Untranslated Manga! In a genius move, Kodansha will one up Tokyopop's claims of "100% Authentic Manga" by releasing all of its manga in the original, untranslated Japanese. In fact, Kodansha's U.S. releases will simply be the same Japanese versions of the books with an English price tag slapped on top. Manga fans, crazed for anything that seems foreign and exotic, will eat up the incomprehensible books, arguing endlessly online about what's really going on in each storyline. Other publishers will soon follow suit, releasing all manga in the original Japanese. In a blatant attempt to cash in on the craze, soon even American comic book companies will start publishing their comics in Japanese, thereby forcing fans of Spider-Man and Batman to learn Japanese. By 2029, Japanese will be the official language of the United States.
I for one openly welcome our new manga overlords and thank them in advance for all the wonderful entertainment they will be bringing us.

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I Have A (Fever) Dream

Since everyone is offering their speculation on what Kodansha's entry into the U.S. manga market will mean, I suppose I should share my opinion.

Kodansha will totally dominate the market, through an unbeatable combination of savvy business sense and sheer force of will. Representatives of Kodansha will do whatever it takes to ensure that their manga succeeds in the U.S. They will stand on the street corners of busy shopping districts hawking their wares. They will tinker with every aspect of the books, searching for just the right ink and paper to optimize production quality while maintaining a competitive price. They will personally come into customers' homes to explain confusing plot points, help newcomers read right-to-left, and repair broken bindings. In short, Kodansha will settle for nothing less than being The Number One Manga Publisher in The West!

The best part of all this is that once Kodansha has established itself as the Top Manga Publisher in the U.S., it will put out a business manga chronicling its rise to the top, detailing the many obstacles and challenges it had to face in order to achieve its goal. And that manga will immediately shoot to the number one spot on all sales charts.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008
It's Christmas in July!

Regarding the news about Kodansha, I only have one question:

Where do I send my wish list?

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