Sporadic Sequential
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Problems With Yen Plus' Subscription Service

UPDATE 8/27/2008 3:21 PM: The form linked from the Yen Press website is now secure, and they've updated the post to note that the subscription site is secure.

If you were planning on subscribing to Yen Press' Yen Plus anthology via their newly-launched online subscription service, STOP! The subscription form linked from the Yen Press website doesn't use SSL, so your personal information (including credit card info) is unencrypted. See the screenshot below for an example (click to enlarge) and note the lack of "https" in the URL. All other magazines' online subscription forms that I can think of use SSL from the very beginning of the transaction (see EW and The New Yorker), so I'm surprised to see this flaw. Frankly, it's sloppy and unprofessional.

Others have already pointed out the problem in the comments section, so hopefully Yen Press will resolve this flaw soon. You can access a secure version of the subscription form by manually adding an 's' to the URL (https://www.neodata.com/hfmus/yenz/print_subs.html) but I would recommend waiting until Yen Press straightens everything out on their end.

Interestingly, this isn't the first problem Yen Press has had in setting up subscriptions for the Yen Plus magazine. First there was a long delay in getting the subscriptions up and running. The debut issue referred to a subscription card in the magazine that could be filled out and mailed in, but there was no such card to be found, a discrepancy that frustrated more than one reader. Readers were also directed to the magazine's website in the first issue, but before yesterday there had been no subscription link, just promises that online subscriptions would be coming soon. In the end, two issues of the anthology came out before subscriptions were even available.

All in all, it's hardly an auspicious launch for an anthology that had been anticipated for so long. It's even more puzzling that such amateurish mistakes are coming from an imprint of Hachette Book Group, a major publisher with a history dating back to 1837, and one headed by experienced book industry executives Kurt Hassler and Rich Johnson.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Stay Tuned For Tomorrow's Email Where I Pester Joe Quesada With My Gripes About OMD/BND

Following up on yesterday's post about the Washington Post's piece on graphic novels, I emailed Bob Thompson, the article's author, with a link to readers' suggestions for comics with literary merit, highlighting five recommendations that I thought might appeal to him:
  • Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno
  • The Push Man & Other Stories, Abandon The Old In Tokyo, or Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
  • The Times of Botchan by By Natsuo Sekikawa and Jiro Taniguchi
  • Superman: Secret Identity by Kurt Busiek
  • Astro City by Kurt Busiek
Mr. Thompson responded and graciously allowed me to reproduce his comments here:
Thanks for the thoughtful email and the recommendations. I don't think I did manga justice -- there's lots to like out there, including Push Man (which I did read, just didn't have room for) and With the Light, an amazing manga about a family raising an autistic kid (which I didn't have time for, but which my wife read and loved). With an article like this, even a long one, there's no way you can do everything justice.
All I have to say in response to this is: Why do you hate superhero comics so much, Mr. Thompson?

(Kidding! My manga recommendations were the bulk of my email, so it's only natural that he focused on that in his response to me. The muckraker in me just can't help trying to stir up controversy.)

Thanks to Mr. Thompson for responding, and for allowing me to share his remarks with others. And for reminding me that I still have to read With the Light!

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Monday, August 25, 2008
Ironically, Thompson's Review of Ulysses Complained "Not Enough Fights Against Giant Snakes And Frogs"

In an article everyone's linking to, the Washington Post's Bob Thompson examines the wonderful world of sequential art. (Click here for a one-page print version of the article, and be sure to check out the illustrated version of the article.) It's a well-written piece that works both as a thorough overview of the medium's recent rise in stature and as a personal exploration of an art form unfamiliar to the author.

Of course, the bit that caught my eye was this segment:

If you can't make it out from the image, that's Naruto Vol. 19 that Thompson is reading, and he goes into more detail about why he wasn't wowwed by the wildly popular series in the article.

Despite his dislike of the shonen king, Thompson does acknowledge manga's influence, citing it as perhaps the biggest factor in the graphic novel boom and pointing out its strong appeal to female readers. And he invokes the manga mantra that comics can be about anything as an ideal that Western comics are still striving towards.

Yeah, it would have been nice if Thompson had examined more than just a single volume of Naruto in order to familiarize himself with manga (or even if he had started with volume one rather than so far into the series), but his tastes seem to run more toward the alternative end of the sequential art spectrum anyway, so it's unlikely he would have enjoyed much of the manga that's currently available. (Given his enjoyment of everything else from the Drawn & Quarterly catalogue, though, perhaps he would have been receptive to one of the upscale Yoshihiro Tatsumi hardcovers.)

And besides, at least manga comes out better than superhero comics do: Thompson couldn't even work up the interest to seek out a single superhero comic. (Perhaps I should forward Thompson these lists of literary manga and superhero comics to see if he can find anything he likes. I'd actually be curious to see what he makes of Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms.)

In the end, though, I'm impressed that someone self-identifying as "Prose Guy" made as much of an effort to immerse himself in comics as Thompson did. It's hard enough for lifelong fans of the medium to keep up with all aspects of the art form nowadays, so I think it's great that Thompson was able to cover as much ground as he did. And any article that favorably mentions such personal faves as Epileptic, Persepolis, and Palomar is all right by me.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008
Your Untranslated Manga Crack for The Day

Q: When is a panty flash not just a panty flash?

A: When the panty flash happens to be a weaponized panty flash with explosive capabilities:

Yes, it's a schoolgirl who fights crime by flashing her panties. Manga Witchblade, eat your heart out.

Things get even more insane when the bad guy of the piece steals the girl's panties and uses them for his own nefarious purposes. (I've left out the extended sequence where the bad guy and his henchmen pin down the heroine and forcibly remove her panties. Hopefully you view my tasteful omission as a courtesy rather than a travesty.)

Yes, that's right: The bad guy puts the panties on his head, covers them with his hat, and then triggers the explosive force of the lethal lingerie by quickly removing his hat. GENIUS! Why hasn't anyone else ever thought of the head panty shot before?

Luckily, our heroine is able to arm herself with another pair of dynamite drawers (taken from her younger brother -- don't ask) and we're set for an epic showdown between good and evil!!

I won't spoil the fight's outcome, but suffice it to say that our heroine does live to blow up young neighborhood urchins who attempt to sneak a peek at her panties.

All images from a series whose name I can't make out from the May 2002 issue of Magazine Z.

UPDATE: Here's a scan of the title page if anyone wants to take a crack at identifying the series.
Also: I just realized Magazine Z is published by Kodansha, so here's hoping this is one of the series they release once they launch their North American operations.

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Monday, August 18, 2008
Prints of This Image Available for the Low, Low Price of Only $450

In light of recent discussion, I was moved to create a banner image that all right-thinking proponents of truly inspirational and ground-breaking artcomix can post on their sites in support of the sure-to-be-stunning Kramers Ergot #7. When you place your pre-order for this already classic piece of avant garde sequential art, simply add the image to your site to let everyone know that you support vital art and innovation no matter what the price.

And now, the fine-print footnote that ruins the joke: I can't really criticize Alan for crunching the numbers to see if a book is worth purchasing, since that's something I do on a pretty much daily basis. I do think the discussion has gotten a bit silly at this point, with people I normally respect digging themselves in deeper and deeper as they become more entrenched in their positions. I think both "sides" have valid points, but people are now arguing past each other and investing more effort in scoring verbal zingers (as has been known to happen on the internet occasionally). But still: I think the basic point of people examining their financial situations and deciding which promising books they'll have to pass on is something we'll more and more of as budgets become tighter. I know my wife would appreciate it if I would reflect a little bit longer on our finances before ordering so many comics online. (I have been making an effort to restrain myself, passing on the Vagabond art books, choosing the paperback version of Bat-Manga!, and only ordering one dozen copies of the special Collector's Edition Bleach hardcover.)

Also, the "controversy" over the price has been good publicity as far as I'm concerned: I hadn't really thought much about the book before all this debate took place, but now I've requested Kramers Ergot numbers 5 and 6 from the library and I'm seriously considering ordering volume 7 once more details are made known.

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Friday, August 15, 2008
Comic Reviews: Secret Invasion #4

The Lowdown: This issue things continue to ramp up as the deadly shape-shifting aliens unveil the latest phase of their mysterious agenda: They've infiltrated the government! But why? What is their ultimate goal? Will our heroes be able to uncover their plan in time to put an end to their nefarious plot? And is danger lurking in the wings for a potential love interest?

The Details: This may be the most engaging installment of this series yet! Developments are really picking up and taking surprising turns! I was completely on the edge of my seat throughout this story, as there are so many high-stakes matters in the balance! This issue really showcased the premise of the series, as the aliens show they have a long-range goal in mind by running for office! Brilliant! Talk about a "secret invasion"! How will our heroes expose the villains without risking his own life or the lives of others?

And speaking of the lives of others, this chapter really upped the ante when it comes to matters of life and death. The fight scene between one of the shapeshifters and the local mobsters was both shocking and stunning! I know some have complained about the art in this series, but it's really grown on me, and here the artist really cut lose! The battle scenes were graphic and intense, but there was also a strange beauty to the choreography and efficiency of the slaughter. And when the alien pauses to reveal that the whole massacre was simply a training exercise to him -- wow, what a breathtaking moment! I think I literally felt chills run up my spine!!

But things aren't all action in this comic: There are also some nice quiet moments with our main hero and his girlfriend where we see how the strain of recent events has affected both of them and their relationship. Throw in another possible love interest and you've got the ingredients for plenty of gripping drama! Plus, the internal struggle of the main protagonist, as he questions how much of his humanity he's lost, is surprisingly compelling and relatable. Who among us hasn't had a similar moment, where we stop to examine our recent behavior and suddenly question whether we've become too cold and remote as a result of pursuing our goals? Can we take on dehumanizing tasks without losing our own souls in the process?

Another question this series has consistently posed is: How do you know you can trust those around you? Now that the existence of the shapeshifters is public knowledge, do you look at those around you with a little more suspicion? You know, now that you think about it, that neighbor of yours has always seemed a little "off" to you. And recently your old school friend has been acting really strange. And your spouse suddenly seems cold and distant. Maybe they've all been replaced by the aliens! The paranoia in this volume is palpable, with citizens distrustful of anyone who seems "different." It's like a metaphor for our suspicious society: With the government alert level always at "Orange," we've become a nation living in constant fear. Luckily for those in our story, the government actually devised a means of detecting aliens, but with so many "false positives," people's guards have begun to slip down again, and that's just what the aliens have been waiting for...

But don't think this series has suddenly slipped into nothing but existential examinations and political allegory! Just when things seem to settle down, the comic throws a major curve your way! I don't want to spoil and of the genuine surprises contained in the story, but let's just say there is a shocking death of a major character and a HUGE cliffhanger in the final panel that will make you wish the next installment was out right now!!!!

Added Bonus! This volume also includes the return of a fan-favorite character! The appearance is all too short, but perhaps this mean we'll see more of him in the future!

The Bottom Line: Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki continues to be a gripping yarn with themes more thought-provoking than your typical action manga. Highly recommended. (What? Did you think I was talking about something else?)

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Masterpiece Theatre Presents: Punching and Panty Shots

Here's a compilation of all the suggestions everyone made for comics that could be considered literary, broken out into two categories: superheroes and manga. Thanks to everyone who shared their suggestions!

  • Animal Man
  • Astro City
  • The Dark Knight Returns
  • Doom Patrol
  • Hellboy
  • Invisibles
  • It’s a Bird…
  • Kabuki
  • Killing Joke
  • League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • New Frontier
  • Promethea
  • Sandman
  • Spider-Man: Kraven's Last Hunt
  • The Spirit
  • Squadron Supreme
  • Superman: Secret Identity
  • Swamp Thing
  • V for Vendetta
  • Watchman
  • 2001 Nights
  • Abandon the Old in Tokyo
  • Akira
  • Antique Bakery
  • Apollo's Song
  • Astro Boy
  • Banana Fish
  • Barefoot Gen
  • Basara
  • Buddha
  • Clover
  • Dragon Head
  • Emma
  • Flower of Life
  • Galaxy Express 999
  • Genshiken
  • Gerard and Jacques
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • The Heart of Thomas
  • Honey & Clover
  • Ichigenme
  • Lone Wolf and Cub
  • MW
  • Monster
  • Mushishi
  • Nana
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
  • Ode to Kirihito
  • Ohikkoshi
  • Paradise Kiss
  • Phoenix
  • Planetes
  • The Prime Minister's Secret Diplomacy
  • Sand Chronicles
  • Sexy Voice and Robo
  • Tanpenshu
  • The Times of Botchan
  • To Terra
  • Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
  • Uzumaki
  • Vagabond
  • Virtuoso di Amore
Some additional comments:

1. I listed everything that was suggested, even if I might personally quibble with a book's inclusion for whatever reason. For example, several suggestions on the superheroes list don't really strike me as superhero comics (e.g., Sandman, Invisibles, V for Vendetta, The Spirit) but I didn't want to get into that black hole of an argument over what constitutes a true superhero comic. And on the manga side, Monster strikes me as more akin to the type of suspense/thriller you'd pick up at an airport newsstand than anything with literary aspirations.

2. I purposely didn't define what I meant by "literature" or "literary merit," instead allowing everyone to name their picks based on their own understanding of what those criteria mean. Also, I'm lazy.

3. Yes, I was being somewhat sarcastic in my original post. My question was serious, but my examples were facetious (or at least the reasons for the examples). I do not consider Bleach an example of serious literature.

4. As far as I know, Bleach is not actually an allegory for various eras from Spain's history. But Tite Kubo does like to pepper the series with Spanish terms, so that's what inspired the joke.

5. People really like Osamu Tezuka's work, especially Buddha, which I believe received the most nominations of any comic. I think I'm going to have to give that series a second try.

6. As a result of this exercise, I now demand that Dirk Deppey further subcategorize his links under the following new headers: LITERARY POP COMICS and LITERARY MANGA.

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Monday, August 11, 2008
Who Says This Isn't The Marvel Age Of Sophisticated Superhero Sagas?

Two questions inspired by my last post:

1. What are the best candidates for literary superhero comics?

And to turn the tables on my preferred reading material:

2. Are there any manga with literary merit?

Here are my stabs at responses for each question:

Literary Superhero Comics
SeriesReason(s) It's Literary
WatchmenMovie trailer tells me comic is "most celebrated graphic novel of all time"
TrinityAssume this is post-modern deconstruction of Trinitarian doctrine throughout history
X-MenAnti-mutant prejudice powerful metaphor for racism / homophobia / irrational fear of petulant beings with godlike power
Silver SurferIf you squint right, central character Norrin Radd kind of a Christ figure

Literary Manga
SeriesReason(s) It's Literary
Nausicaä of the Valley of the WindAbout Man vs. Nature, one of the five basic types of conflict
Abandon the Old in TokyoDegrading depictions of alienation; published by Drawn & Quarterly
Dragon HeadApocalyptic, cryptic; researcher character at end totally like Kurtz from Heart of Darkness
BleachWhole series complex allegory for Reconquista, resulting Inquisition, and eventual Enlightenment

What superhero comics do you think qualify as literature? What manga measure up to the literary masterpieces of the ages?

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Thursday, August 07, 2008
Who Defends The Defenders?

From the new "When Words Collide" column up at CBR:
Would anyone put Geoff Johns's "Green Lantern" in the category of "literature?"

The point is that Shakespeare wasn't considered any more literary during his time than Geoff Johns is today. Am I seriously lumping Johns in with Shakespeare? Not so much. Shakespeare is a unique genius who transcends his own time and the genres in which he worked. Johns may prove to be that -- it's possible...
That sound you just heard was Alan David Doane's head exploding after trying to ponder that... possibility.

And in answer to Timothy Callahan's opening question, don't superhero comics already have at least one defender?

As for
Callahan's overall argument, I have to admit, I couldn't make it all the way through his article. My eyes start to glaze over whenever someone feels they have to defend superhero comics. Yes, superhero comics could be great works of art. There's nothing intrinsic to the genre that limits them to being simple superpowered slugfests. The problem is that most don't have any ambitions of greatness or even goodness to begin with. Too many are only concerned with coming up with some Shocking! Event! that Changes Everything® and boosts sales (at least until they start to slump again). The superhero comics that do stand out are generally well-written and have something interesting to say about the human condition other than "Wouldn't it be cool if we brought back a bunch of old characters no one's seen in a long time?"

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Tuesday, August 05, 2008
My Dream Interview with Tite Kubo

Deb Aoki and IGN have offered up the results of their brief interviews with rock star manga-ka Tite Kubo, which led me to consider what questions I would have asked if I'd had the opportunity to sit down with him.

After opening with a couple questions about Zombie Powder (to show that I'm not just some johnny-come-lately fan who only knows about him from watching random episodes of Bleach on Adult Swim or seeing cool Bleach merchandise at Hot Topic), I'd quickly turn to hard-hitting, specific questions designed to elicit the greatest amount of info from Kubo-san:
  1. How do you respond to critics who complained that the Soul Society arc ended much too soon and should have run at least another half-dozen volumes in order to fully showcase every possible character match-up?

  2. How do you feel about the fujoshi phenomenon? Did you intend for Byakuya and Renji to be totally gay for each other?

  3. Any chance you could add a little fanservice to Bleach?

  4. Who would win? Yoruichi or Elektra?

  5. I was inspired by what you said about believing in yourself in order to become a successful manga artist like you. With that in mind, would you mind looking at my proposal for a completely original manga series called "Whiten"? It focuses on a rough but lovable high school student named Kuroichigo "Blackberry" Kurosawa who, after a chance encounter with Spirit Harvester Karuki Kuchikiki, discovers his own latent incorporeal energies have increased exponentially.
Finally, having learned that Kubo "would love to come back to America again to meet more of [his] fans and maybe see them where they live next time," I would invite Kubo to a sleepover at my house. Impressed with my passion for his manga, he'd accept, of course, and his visit would blossom into a lifelong friendship. So strong would our bond become, we wouldn't even need translators to understand each other, just like Daigo and Banjaru. In an effort to surprise me, Kubo would create a new character for Bleach modeled after me and that character would immediately shoot to the top of all fan popularity polls. And we would live happily ever after, drawing Bleach dōjinshi for each other and watching random Sgt. Frog anime bootlegs. The End.

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Monday, August 04, 2008
Tomine Times Two

Two recent illustrations by Adrian Tomine for The New Yorker:

From "A Soldier's Legacy," an article about Alan Rogers, a soldier in Iraq whose death has led to disagreement among those who knew him — and those who thought they knew him:

From "Dr. Kush," an article about "how medical marijuana is transforming the pot industry."

And not by Tomine, but I thought this superhero-related cartoon from the July 28th issue was worth sharing:

That Superman (or is it Shazam?) can be such a jealous jerk sometimes.

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Sunday, August 03, 2008
If I'd Read The Paper, I Might Have Gone To This

So it turns out that Jim Lee was in my neck of the woods for a store signing yesterday but I only learned about it today. I'm not sure I would have gone even if I had known about it beforehand -- I don't think I even own anything of Jim Lee's for him to sign -- but it might have been fun just to take in the spectacle of the event. (I wonder if the shop will post any pictures from the event? I couldn't even find any mention of the Lee signing on their site, so perhaps a photo gallery is unlikely.) Anyway, I thought this exchange from the Star Tribune's brief interview was interesting:
Q What do your kids ask you to draw for them?

A My kids love Japanese manga. [But when I draw it] they say "Their eyes are too small, the jaws are too big." They love those gigantic eyes. But they've read some of the classics, like old DC and X-Men, and they've read some of my work. But they really love manga.
Hey, that's right! As head honcho of WildStorm, Lee is also the man behind CMX! (The publication page of CMX manga lists Lee as "Editorial Director," but he gets top billing.) Is this the Secret Origin of why DC got into the manga business? So Lee could say that his kids enjoy something his company publishes?

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