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Unbound: NYAF Highlights

by  in Comic News Comment
Unbound: NYAF Highlights

I’m going a little off topic this week because I spent the weekend at New York Anime Fest—which, despite the name, included a fair amount of comics action. Yes, they had Gundam director Yoshiyuki Tomino as their keynote speaker, and Viz drew cheers with the announcement that they would be showing the last season of the InuYasha anime online, for free, at almost the same time it will be broadcast in Japan. But there was plenty to love for those of us who don’t like their pictures moving. Here’s a sampling of the highlights:

Peepo Choo: Vertical, which has mostly published classic manga up to now, caused a stir with their announcement that they had licensed this Japanese manga by American creator Felipe Smith. Smith was one of Tokyopop’s early global manga creators, and his first manga, MBQ, showed a lot of promise. A year ago, the editors of Kodansha’s Morning 2 magazine decided they wanted to add an American to their lineup, and Smith was their choice. Peepo Choo is an adventure/comedy about an otaku in Japan, and much of the humor turns on his bad Japanese, which will make translating a challenge despite the fact that Smith partially wrote it in English. However, Vertical is uniquely suited to publish this book as its marketing director, Ed Chavez, helped edit it during a stint at Kodansha. (Here is the author showing off a sample at his MySpace page.)

Del Rey’s kids’ lineup: Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be all that excited about another round of Ben 10 manga; I read the first one and was pretty unimpressed. But Del Rey is taking a new tack: They are setting real comics creators loose on these properties and letting them use their own styles. So the next Ben 10 manga will be written by Peter David and illustrated by Dan Hipp. Are you wondering what a Hulk writer and the creator of Gyakushu! are going to do with Ben 10? Because I sure am. Along the same lines, the next Bakugan Battle Brawlers will be written by the veteran team of Nunzio DeFillippis and Christina Weir and illustrated by Kriss Sison, and the team working on their manga prequel and novelization of the movie The Last Airbender will include X-Men: Misfits writer (and veteran Nickelodeon magazine editor) Dave Roman and Yokaiden artist Nina Matsumoto. In other words, Del Rey is throwing a lot of talent at these books.

Library Wars: Viz’s announcement that it had licensed this manga, which is based on the novels by Hiro Arikawa, caused a stir of excitement in the audience. The anime has already created a following for this tale of heroic librarians fighting a coercive government “information management” agency. Is this every librarian’s secret fantasy coming to life? Time will tell…

New stories from old favorites: No question, publishers are playing it safe, and many of the new manga that were announced at the show were by established creators. Viz announced Grand Guignol Orchestra, by Godchild creator Kaori Yuki, and Del Rey announced Here I Am, by Ema Toyama (Pixie Pop), Yokai Navi Runa, by Michiyo Kikuta (Mamotte! Lollipop) and Miyoko Ikeda, and Arisa, by Natsumi Ando, creator of their most popular manga evarr, Kitchen Princess. Tokyopop had yet another manga from Fruits Basket creator Natsuki Takaya; this one, Songs and Laughter, is a collection of short stories. In a different vein, they also announced Qwasar of Stigmata, by My-Hime creator Hiroyuki Yoshino, which promises an odd mashup of extreme fanservice and Russian Orthodoxy. In the future, every taste will be catered to.

Del Rey’s license rescues: Tokyopop recently announced that Kodansha had let its licenses with them expire, leaving a number of long-running series unfinished. Del Rey has already picked up one of those licenses, Samurai Deeper Kyo, and at NYAF they announced another one, Rave Master. Fans asked about numerous other series, including Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad, at the Del Rey panel, and marketing director Ali T. Kokmen politely feigned surprise and wrote everything down. We’ll see.

Tokyopop’s turnaround: Tokyopop is back from its near-death experience with an interesting mix of licensed and original properties: Priest: Purgatory, an original global manga based on the movie Priest, which itself is based on a manhwa series; a graphic novel version of Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island; and a gaggle of Japanese titles for their yaoi line, BLU, which has been quiet of late.

Chi’s Sweet Home: Another win for Vertical. Manga bloggers have been clamoring for someone to license this super-cute cat manga, and Vertical is stepping up to the plate, publishing it in full color in a flipped format to increase its appeal beyond the usual manga circles. That makes a lot of sense, as cat lovers seem to be a huge share of the market, and the all-ages title may turn out to have broad appeal.

Artists Alley: This is where the comics of the future come from. As is the case at many anime cons, this one was heavy on merch—cat ears, manga posters, etc.—and a lot of folks chose to go to SPX instead, but there were a few bright spots. Dirk Tiede was there, selling beautifully produced print editions of Paradigm Shift—think Law & Order with a supernatural twist. I had a nice chat with Jorge Vega, one of the creators of KaeruBoy, a kid-friendly comic about a dyslexic boy who discovers he can understand the secret language of superheroes. And I loved the art for The Oswald Chronicles, a fantasy tale featuring super-cute mice, told as graphic novels and illustrated text novels. On a completely different note, I was very taken by David Reisman’s odd book of cartoons based on his dreams.

The kids, they are the future: I was also delighted to meet an animated group of students from the School for Visual Arts who had a table loaded with mini-comics and graphic novels, many produced as class projects. I’ll be honest, there was a lot of weak manga-style art on display, but these are undergraduates, after all, and they have a lot of room to grow. And they will—the level of sophistication and craftsmanship was impressive. Although I only had time for a quick glance over the table, I was struck by the beautiful cover of Kasey van Hise’s Winters in Lavelle and the strong art in Ashley Quigg’s Fish Food. Even better, it was delightful to see so much talent and enthusiasm on display.

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