Like the Sunday newspaper, it’s time once again for another round of What Are You Reading. Our guest this week is Ryan Sands, who can be found over at the Same Hat blog, recommending and even translating (Tokyo Zombie) some great, and occasionally bizarre manga (and I mean that in a good way).
To see what Ryan and the rest of us are reading this week, click on the link below. Then let us know what books you’re enjoying and want to recommend (or not) in the comments section.
Michael May: I’m getting ready to read the second volume of Mouse Guard, so I just re-read the first one. What a classic. I continue to enjoy it as much in subsequent readings as I did the first time. More even, because I’m able to drink in more of the art when I’m already familiar with the story. I was also impressed this time with how non-cluttered Eric Petersen is able to keep the plot in spite of several twists and turns. I’m fully anxious to start the next part of the story now.
I did the same thing this week with Holly Black and Ted Naifeh’s Good Neighbors books. I re-familiarized myself with Book One (Kin) before reading the recently released second book (Kith). I’ll be doing a full review of Kith, so I don’t want to say too much about that, but I very much enjoyed reading Kin again. I love Naifeh’s work anyway, but – as much as I’m into Courtney Crumrin and Polly and the Pirates – he’s also well-suited for the darker material in Good Neighbors. And though I don’t know Black’s work outside of this, I love how she’s able to tell a threatening, grown-up story about betrayal and love that just so happens to have evil faeries and teenagers in it, with all the complications those elements bring. It’s about story first and appealing to the YA market second.
Tim O’Shea: Some interesting reveals in the latest issue of Booster Gold, plus a team-up with Blue Beetle versus not Blue Beetle. There have been times I’ve almost bailed on this monthly, but then there are issues like this one that keep me wanting to stay on board.
Other titles that I continue enjoy reading include Jason Aaron and Roland Boschi’s Ghost Riders Heavens on Fire 5; Bryan Q. Miller and Lee Garbett’s Batgirl 5 (admittedly I mostly enjoy Babs Gordon’s role in the book); Gail Simone and Peter Nguyen’s Secret Six 16 (where Simone’s effective use of Black Alice gives readers the glimpse of a female Phantom Stranger among other borrowed magic personality twists…); David Tischman, Philip Bond with David Hahn on Red Herring 5 (no offense to Hahn, but I much preferred when Bond was on art and Hahn was inking…).
On the all ages front, what is almost as good as Muppet Show comic written and drawn by Roger Langridge? A Pigs in Space story (Muppet Show Comic Book 0) written by Langridge with art by Shelli Paroline. A really quirky moment that I enjoyed in this Pigs in Space (the Movie) standalone story — Fozzie taking his hat off in a few scenes. I never realized until that visual bit, but the art of the Muppet Show often allows for moments that could not be easily or frequently done with the physical muppet/puppets.
I never considered the Daily Bugle a major character per se in the Spider-Man universe, but the Amazing Spider-Man 614 changed my mind in that regard. An interesting wrap-up to the actual Electro storyline as well as larger elements of the Spider-Man current subplots.
On the charity front, I’ve never been a big fan of Wolverine’s solo adventures (his continuity is just too much of a convoluted clusterfleep for me to enjoy it), but I had to shell out the $12.99 for The Wolverine: Weapon X 100 Project with art from a variety of artists (go here for a sampling of some of the treats) including J. Scott Campbell, John Cassaday, Ken Lashley, Ron Garney, Dale Keown, and John Romita Sr. The originals were already auctioned off for charity (Hero Initiative), but Marvel collected them for folks to enjoy in this benefit book.
Chris Mautner: One of my birthday presents last week was a copy of Swallowing the Earth by osamu Tezuka. As any regular Robot 6 reader must know by now, I’m a really big Tezuka fan, so I was more than happy to pour through this, even if it is one of the master’s lesser — and considerably messier — stories. The plot concerns a group of beautiful sisters who live on a mysterious island and plot to destroy civilization because their mom got screwed over by their dad. On the side of good is this naive young drunkard who manages to resist their sexual wiles because he so enjoys getting drunk you see.
It’s an interesting book, marking the divide between Tezuka’s kiddie comics and his more adult-oriented material, though it suffers from the fact that Tezuka keeps getting constantly pulled away from the main plot to follow various side paths. He’s clearly more interested in some of the sci-fi concepts he dreams up than the main characters. Still, there’s a lot of great sequences here, and you can see the beginnings of the motifs that would later run through works like Buddha. If you like Tezuka, it’s worth checking out.
Last week Brigid recommended Night Head Genesis, a new manga from Del Rey about two psychic brothers who become embroiled in some sort of world-ending conspiracy with evil psychics and stuff like that. I’d like to say I found it equally enjoyable, but I didn’t. If anything, I found it to be rather trite and dull, with paper-thin characters and a plot that didn’t really seem to make much sense, at least from a motivational standpoint. I doubt I’ll be preordering the second volume anytime soon.
Brigid Alverson: I don’t read a lot of pamphlet comics, but Top Cow sent me their mini-series Dragon Prince and I really liked it. I can see where it would have a lot of teen appeal, because it’s one of those stories about a transformation that takes the hero by surprise and changes his life — just like puberty. In this case, though, it’s more dramatic—Aaron, a 14-year-old boy, suddenly has the power to become a dragon. It turns out that his father was also a dragon (but he could shape-shift into human form, so there’s no bestiality here—no way) and Aaron has inherited his powers. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is now a badass tattooed guy and a whole team of ninjas after him and his mom. It’s a good story, nicely paced, and I liked the art, except that the mother looked like every woman in every superhero comic in the world. Same face, same gravity-defying boobs, same skin-tight clothing. Aaron was drawn with a lot of character, and it would have been nice to see the same creativity go into his mom.
I’m back on familiar territory with Happy Café, the first volume of a new shoujo manga series from Tokyopop. It’s a very familiar story: A 16-year-old girl, Uru, gets a job in a café where she is working
alongside two guys, one who is cold (but secretly nice underneath) and one who is goofy and constantly falling asleep. Oh, and the girl has left home because she felt like a fifth wheel after her mother remarried — the perfect shoujo heroine never wants to put anyone out, even if that means she has to go live on her own, although in this case it all turns out to be a misunderstanding. This is well-trodden territory, and so far, Happy Café hasn’t brought anything new to the mix. Somehow it manages to be wacky without being very funny. Uru is both clumsy and super-strong, so she keeps breaking dishes, but that’s as close as we get to a running gag. It’s more “Mildly Amusing Café” than “Laugh Out Loud Café.”
Finally, Starthrower in Haiti is a webcomic that is drawn to raise funds for a nonprofit in Haiti that pays for children to go to school. I was expecting something that was more well-intentioned than actually good, but the comic is lovely and at the same time unsparing in its depiction of life in the poorest country on earth. I used to teach English in a Haitian church in Brooklyn, so I learned a bit of the language and culture, but I never had much of a mental picture of Haiti before. Now I do. And in browsing the comments, I ran across Dispatches from a Fragile Island, not a comic but a journal, in photos and words, of an expat’s life in Haiti. The two make perfect companion pieces.
Ryan Sands: It’s been rainy and freezing in San Francisco this week, so I only made it to my local neighborhood shop, Missions: Comics & Art, and haven’t made my usual pilgrimage to Kinokuniya yet. I’ve been splitting my comics reading time between minicomics, a few monthly floppies, and manga.
On the minicomics side, I really enjoyed reading RAV #2, a 42-page comic by Mickey Zacchilli. RAV is a wild book, with a hand-screened color cover and kinetic page layouts. This issue follows a biker named Juice and his girlfriend Sally, who get abducted by a cult of amateur occultists and also have to battle a rival gang intent on stealing his bicycle. Mickey is doing really inventive stuff with her use of dot tones and comedic pacing, and the story is part of that rad trend of action/genre comics done by indie kids.
Finally, one of my most wanted manga titles has been released: The hilarious first volume of Moyasimon by Masayuki Ishikawa. It was worth the wait, and the best thing I’ve read all month. The story is an unlikely license on the surface, a educational and comedic serial following two rural friends as they begin studies at an agricultural college. The rub is that our protagonist can visually see different microorganisms (which are insanely cute), a skill that is used/abused by a weird cast of other students and faculty at the farm school. Can’t wait for volume 2.
I also read A Distant Neighborhood #1 & #2 by Jiro Taniguchi, which was a solid and well-constructed story but ended up sorta boring for me as a reader. Taniguchi uses this tale of a salaryman who wakes up back as a junior high school student to talk about fate and nostalgia. But something about the pacing and story was emotionally constipated and milquetoast for me.
I’ve also been reading the newest manga by guro/formalist genius Shintaro Kago, called Fraction. Fraction is an odd book, following a group of manga artists friends (Kago himself is a character). I’m reading it slowly in Japanese, but so far it’s full of unsolved dismemberments, manga plotlines coming to life, and weird floating torsos with guts hanging out. For fans of the odd and extreme, Shintaro Kago has begun selling his original art and comic pages to overseas fans via his site, along with his manga and toys.
As for proper “comics books”, two creepy books (about animals!) have had my attention, Beasts of Burden by Evan Dorkin & Jill Thompson and Jeff Lumiere’s post-apocalyptic fable/road movie comic Sweet Tooth. Beasts of Burden features a rowdy gang of talking dogs (and one cat!) that fight paranormal baddies.There is something really right about the way Jill Thompson’s elegantly-painted panels, Evan Dorkin’s biting but cute dialogue and the episodic Encyclopedia Brown-meets-X Files cases all interact. I’ll be sad to see this mini-series run end at issue #4.
As a final note, does anyone read Thai and wanna give me a hand? I received a box of incredible, radical Thai comics this month from an artist who goes by PUCK. From what Google Translate has showed me, he’s published by a big Thai publisher but I’m stuck marveling at his layouts and cute characters without making sense of the words. PUCK’s tankoban-sized action comics look to me like the love child of Scott Pilgrim and Felipe Smith’s MBQ, with a dash of Katamari Damacy whimsy tossed in. His art blog is here, for interested folks.