3/30/2010

Photography: Barack Obama Looking at Awesome Things


Dean Trippe using the power of Photoshop for good by exposing Barack Obama's inner geek. Original photos from NYMag.com

3/28/2010

The Art of Los Bros Hernandez


More NonSense: Parasitic Fandom

Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova

Jake Forbes lays into every major area of the manga industry: From Japanese publishers to American fans. Take his criticisms of Japanese publishers poor treatment of their overseas partners:
It’s time to start thinking globally. You have a product in manga that people around the world love. Do you really want everyone outside of your tiny island nation to experience manga via second-hand scans and translations dependent on guesswork? And I’m not talking about scanlations here—the totally legit publishers you work with often have no choice but to scan Japanese books and figure things out on their own.

Or their failure to embrace digital distribution:
Scanlations aren’t the problem of American or other international publishers—they are YOUR problem because with rare exception, you don’t consider digital distribution options as a fundamental part of the license. Do scanlations hurt the sales of licensed printed books? Probably. If you don’t step up and recognize the demand for faster, cheaper and digitally available content, you’ll never know what market you’re missing. Transitioning from print-only to a hybrid print and digital world isn’t easy, and there’s going to be some hiccups and belt-tightening along the way. Either empower your licensors as partners or bring localization management in-house as a serious endeavor. How else are you going to know what kind of business digital manga represents?

But he also criticizes fan entitlement:
Argue all you want about whether or not scanlations are a net positive for the industry, but the simple truth is, YOU AREN’T THE INDUSTRY—YOU ARE THE CONSUMER. You can’t know because you don’t have the facts. You don’t know the true cost of making manga, so how are you qualified to know the harm that lost sales causes? As I covered before, I whole-heartedly believe the Japanese manga industry is doing itself a serious disservice by not leaping to fix the system. Baby steps like releasing all of ONE mainstream series simultaneously in English and Japanese is a joke. A noble joke, but a joke nonetheless. Is free, ad-supported online manga the future? Maybe. But unless your name is Tite Kubo or Shueisha Publishing Co. Ltd., you have absolutely no right to make that leap for them.

His recommendation? Make your own damn comics:
And finally, if you’re truly passionate about manga and want ownership of something, then for God’s sake, stop using scanlations as a crutch and create something original! I’m sure that warm, fuzzy feeling you get at knowing that your peers like “your” work when you upload a scanlation must be pretty great, but don’t let that feeling get to your head. Anyone with a couple years of college Japanese and access to photoshop can help make a scanlation. Instead, take a cue from Japanese fans and try your hand at doujinshi. It’ll be hard. You’ll get plenty of “likes” for your pinups of Kakashi, but don’t stop there. Learn to do sequential art. You’ll probably fail—a lot. Maybe you even copy the style of your favorite artist, or, God forbid, TRACE, but you know what? That’s okay right now because you’re not finished yet and you know better than to try and pass it as your own work.

The whole thing is very entertaining in a curmudgeonly way; especially when he compares past and present fandoms.

So Anaheim has stepped up its efforts to lure Comic Con International from San Diego by 2013. Tom Spurgeon thinks the competing proposals from San Diego's rivals "suck giant donkey balls":
I'd almost consider the internet version of the public face of these proposals from cities not San Diego some sort of ploy by the city of San Diego to make people like them better.

I don't have an opinion on Las Vegas and San Francisco, but I agree with his objections to Anaheim and Los Angeles. The former has Disneyland to compete with for hotel and parking space; and the latter presents a horrible, horrible commute from hotel to convention center for attendees. And for me, one of the advantages of San Diego is that it isn't Hollywood. CCI would be swallowed up by the city and its entertainment industry. I also happen to enjoy San Diego's low key charm and their convention center's close proximity to the coast.

Screw Marvel's Girl Comics. Want to read comics made by women? Here are a few recommendations.

Shintaro Kago is a mad genius.

On a non-comics note: UFC president Dana White's disappointed expression when Shane Carwin KO'd Frank Mir? Priceless.

Dick Giordano (July 20, 1932 – March 27, 2010)

"The Man Who Falls" drawn by Dick Giordano, published by DC Entertainment
more info at Comic Book Resources

3/26/2010

Creator-Con: What? We need another convention?

 Image by Jeffrey Pidgeon

Artists who have been disillusioned with Comic Con International have proposed a new convention called Creator-Con. They have a Facebook page and in their mission statement explains the origin of the idea:
This page was originally created as a forum for the artists, writers, designers, self-publishers, retailers and fans that have become disillusioned and frustrated with what the flagship of comic conventions has become (y'all know the one...in San Diego).

The Creator Con idea was hatched a few years ago by a few exhibitor friends as a reaction to the popular media takeover of a convention that used to celebrate artists and creators. We were tired of being pushed further and further aside each year to make room for the bigger, louder and flashier attractions that had nothing to do with the convention's humble beginnings.

I haven't been involved with the American convention scene for several years, but I can understand the frustration felt by many artists and creators. Their goals for an alternative to Comic Con are however somewhat vague:
The Creator Con mission is one of positivity and sharing, in looking for the best way to showcase, promote, and share talent and ideas in the fields of comics, graphic arts and beyond.

The overall mission statement will change as we gather steam and further define our goals. We are well on our way to doing that with the amazing support so far from everyone who has joined or contributed.

My initial reaction was along the lines of Mark Evanier: How exactly does this new convention not duplicate existing smaller, more creator friendly events like APE and SPX? And besides, what good can come from opposing the interaction between comics publishers and other established media entities? This is arguably the price paid for mainstream acceptance. Then again shouldn't creators be a little concerned about the effects of comics publishers becoming just another cog within the operations of vast media empires?

An alternative model could be Japanese conventions like Comiket. It's the largest convention in the world, but it's amazingly still mostly a fan-organized affair. Of course the doujinshi that drives the event is a mix of original content and fan fiction of sometimes very popular properties. The latter would not sit well with the litigious character of American corporations. Still, it would be an impressive feat if something along those lines could be adapted for the American comics scene.

You See Hentai, You Say Porn Pt 2

Magical Girl Pretty Sammy by AIC

Last November, Republic Act No. 9775 was signed into law. This anti-child pornography act criminalized, among other things, "computer-generated, digitally or manually crafted images or graphics of a person who is represented or who is made to appear to be a child as defined herein." In Japan the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly (link via ANN; translation here and here) is now deliberating on voting for their own version of an anti-child pornography bill this coming June. Canned Dogs has translated part of the proposed legislation as "Any character that regardless of actual age has an appearance of being under 18, and has a possibility of causing youths to lust for or possibility of bringing this fantasy to real life, will have to be censored." Various manga creators have responded in opposition to the bill, including Ashita no Joe/Tomorrow’s Joe artist Tetsuya Chiba, Doraemon creator Fujiko Fujio, Moto Hagio, Rumiko Takahashi, Machiko Satonaka, and Go Nagai. Several appeared in front of the Tokyo government offices to release a signed statement on March 15 (via Kotaku; tr here) expressing their protest of the bill. Yoshitoshi ABe, in a separate statement, described the bill as "...an unconstitutional and ridiculous piece of legislation. I’m not talking about children’s books. I mean mass market publications, anime, games, and all manners of works. Both Doraemon and Sazae-san are right out!" He goes on to say:
Humankind has been entrusted with much power, but if we abuse that power to do away with things that we do not like, then thinking in that way, we will give birth to this sterilized room kind of society. The purpose of freedom of speech, in my opinion, is to defend against precisely that sort of thing.

Discussion of the proposed legislation has been predictably polarized. For a more nuanced take on the issue, there is Roland Kelts. In the end he comes down on the side of ABe:
“Pedophiles frequently use realistic cartoon depictions to indoctrinate their child victims to persuade them that such [sexual] acts are okay,” says Jake Adelstein, author of Tokyo Vice and a board member of Polaris Project Japan, an organization that combats human trafficking in Japan and the sexual exploitation of women and children. “When this stuff is legal, you’re giving pedophiles a weapon.”

But is it the fault of manga and anime artists that their work is being appropriated by criminals? Hollywood films regularly glamorize war—but are wars Hollywood’s fault? And if manga and anime depictions of youthful sexuality are outlawed in Japan and the United States, will that really deter pedophiles?

I also lean towards this position. This is a highly sensitive and emotionally charged issue. But I'm skeptical about whether the enforcement of such overly-strict laws are necessary or will have the desired net effect of deterring child abuse; but I'm also weary of simplistic cause and effect arguments often used to justify them.

Update: Simon Jones has linked to a pretty comprehensive article on the proposed legislation, known in Japan as hijitsuzai seishounen. It separates what isn't banned (material already marked 18+) from what is banned (non-pornographic manga, anime, games, movies for all demographic groups), and the groups pushing for this law (the usual coalition of Parent-Teacher Associations, militant feminists and conservative Christians). What is particularly disturbing is how broad the ban would be if it takes effect.
Part 1

3/22/2010

More NonSense: Damn Yankees

I completely missed this news from last Friday, but as a one-time expatriate resident, I find it funny that in Maryland, the state that straddles the political/cultural divide between North and South, lawmakers have successfully petitioned to move to the Eastern Region of the Council of State Governments. I didn't even realize that Maryland was traditionally associated with the Southern Region in the first place, which says just how little I know. When I was living in Baltimore, my circle of friends was more likely to take trips to New York or DC than to Richmond, unless there was a Katsucon or something along those lines taking place. So I never associated Maryland with the South despite its geography. It didn't occur to my younger, more callow self to worry too much over the state's cultural identity. As far as I was concerned, America was still America, whatever the regional differences. If pressed, I probably would have identified Maryland as Mid-Atlantic.


Then again I was probably always more Yankee than Dixie. For that I blame the pernicious influence of the media, particularly comics.

3/18/2010

Sparta U.S.A. #1

A technique currently in fashion among writers of serial entertainment is to confuse the audience by dumping so much disparate information that it leaves them scrambling to make sense of it all. This forces them to obsessively follow future installments if they want to untangle the mess that's been deliberately presented to them. This might seem clever at first; but it only works if the pay-off at the end is perceived as worth the trouble of following the entire series. If not, it can feel like a terrible bait-and-switch.

The inaugural issue of Sparta U.S.A. is that kind of story, even if it's supposably a relatively short six part series. Writer David Lapham and artist Johnny Timmons open the story with an image sequence accompanied by narrative panels of an idyllic small town nestled somewhere between snow-capped peaks, pristine forests, and crystal clear lakes. "Anything worth a darn in this life is right here in the good ol' U.S.A." declares the unidentified narrator. The reader is informed that the town, called Sparta, has less than 10,000 people, has a heap of professional sports teams for a town this small - the most honored being the local football team the Mighty Spartans. "How American is that?" the narrator rhetorically asks of their unbeaten record. Oh really? Off course this picturesque image is going to be shattered by the events in the issue. But Timmon's visuals are so dark and inky, and Wildstorm FX's colors so muted and ugly, they make Sparta look positively forbidding from the opening page. There's really not a lot of subtlety on display here.


The town's former hero is football star Godfrey McLaine. No one's apparently left Sparta before. But Godfrey disappeared into the mountains three years ago and was presumably eaten by the Yeti, the town's bogeyman. But he's suddenly returned to Sparta looking like he stepped out of a Mad Max set, and most noticeably red-skinned. No one reacts like this is out of place. Perhaps it's because the town leader is the blue-skinned and no doubt very evil Maestro. So far the Maestro's job seems to involve keeping up Sparta's idyll image by hiding the internecine violence that's a regular part of Sparta's social life, and handing out orphans to deserving families.

If Lapham's political allegory isn't very nuanced, the casual connection between small town America and ancient Sparta feels a little slapdash. The parallels between the Greek city state's warrior ethic and the town's cult of sport is never convincingly established. It's not enough to simply say that team sport is a kind of warfare and leave it at that. Neither is the ancient Sparta's feudalistic politics squared with the violent cutthroat competition that defines town's social order. How does the ancient king Leonidas relate to the murdered general store manager with the same name?

Sparta U.S.A. #1 P 4

But the first issue Sparta U.S.A. deliberately leaves so many questions unanswered; not least being: just how does a town so isolated stay connected with mainstream America to have so many professional sports teams which presumably compete with teams from other parts of the country? Wouldn't an undefeated football team attract widespread media attention? Heck, how can a town whose citizens embody libertarian values to this extreme level even be aware of, let alone be in contact with, national institutions like organized sport franchises or the NRA? No one seems to have a television set, let alone internet access. So what exactly is feeding their collective ideology? The Maestro? He's a tyrant and a mastermind of sorts, and seems to be in touch with the larger world. Just how old is Sparta supposed to be anyway?

In short, Sparta U.S.A. is something of a mess that promises to resolve itself in the next five issues. Or not. I can't really say for sure if David Lapham knows what he's doing.

3/15/2010

Girl Comics #1

By Colleen Coover, G. Willow Wilson, Trina Robbins, Valerie D’Orazio, Lucy Knisley, Robin Furth, Devin Grayson, Amanda Connor, Laura Martin, Ming Doyle, Stephanie Buscema, Nikki Cook, Lucy Knisley, Agnes Garbowska, Emma Rios, Cris Peter, Kathleen Marinaccio, Kristyn Ferretti, Elizabeth Breitweiser, Sana Takeda, Lauren Sankovitch, Barbara Ciardo,

Girl Comics is a cynical comic. While I understand the need to celebrate the efforts and achievements of women, this is still a Marvel title. That means that this is less about how female creators are diverse, creative and original, and more about how anyone, even women, can be made to serve Marvel's corporate properties. This isn't to impugn the individual creators who contributed to this anthology, only to question the framework they have to work with - at the end of the day, this still has to appeal to the company's established fan-base (which prefers status quo to originality). Still, there's something to be said when the Direct Market's largest publisher is forced to acknowledge the contributions of female creators to the industry. And whatever the motives behind it, any anthology stands or falls on the work found between its covers.

Colleen Coover’s two-page introduction encapsulates the nature of the anthology. A series of Marvel superheroines deliver line by line an explanation for why they do whatever it is they do. It's a beautifully drawn piece; and it's idealistic earnestness certainly fits with its colorfully clad subjects. The statement is almost certainly intended to speak for the creators themselves. But it also highlights the problematic nature of Marvel's own treatment of its female characters. All of them are permanent second or third stringers who lack the 'iconic' status of some of their male counterparts; and all of them are more or less defined by relationships within a superhero team. The intro, intentional or not, serves to point out the inequalities within the Marvel universe.


The other highlight is a Trina Robbins and Stephanie Buscema story of Venus which is notable for Buscema's classic mid-century style of art and a old fashioned, proto-feminist Venus vs. Ares tale that feels like a homage to golden age Wonder Woman stories. Lucy Knisley's two page story Shop Doc is cute and funny. Robin Furth and Agnes Garbowska’s story about Franklin and Valeria Richards is a mash-up of conventional comic page and children's storybook layouts which is formally adventurous, although it didn't seem to go anywhere.


The rest of the stories feel perfunctory. The story dealing with the love triangle between Scott Summers, Jean Grey and Logan by Devin Grayson and Emma Rios could have come out of any recent X-Men issue. The Punisher story by Valerie D’Orazio and Nikki Cook is a gag that went to long. And Moritat by G. Willow Wilson and Ming Doyle is a typical damsel-in-distress story that could have used just about any character and comes across more like an excerpt than a complete story in itself. And what is the point of including a She Hulk pin-up/John Byrne homage by Sana Takeda other than to counterbalance what might have been perceived as a lack of cheesecake in the book?

There are two text pieces focusing on the careers of Flo Steinberg and Marie Severin which are there to demonstrate Marvel's historically open minded attitude to women, but incidentally help to emphasize how much they are the exception rather than the rule. The cumulative effect of this issue is that the stories are thin on character. While a non-continuity book, a lot of its interpretations of the properties don't go far past what Marvel would safely proscribe in their monthly titles. In the end, Girl Comics is a well-drawn, but pretty conventional title.

All Hail Nina!

Nina kills Gary Groth from That Little Weasel! from Nina’s Adventures by Nina Paley


That Little Weasel! from Nina’s Adventures by Nina Paley
via Noah Berlatsky

Image cleaned-up by yours truly

3/11/2010

Shogakukan ❤ Fantagraphics

Wandering Son Book One by Takako Shimura. Fantagraphics Edition

 Drunken Dream, by Moto Hagio. Fantagraphics Edition

It's confirmed by Dirk Deppey and Matt Thorn: Fantagraphics has partnered with Shogakukan to publish its own line of manga titles that will be edited by Thorn, starting with the titles above. And to further whet our appetites, TCJ has posted their Thorn interview with manga legend Moto Hagio (pt 1, 2, 3, 4) online. Excellent! David Welsh has online reaction roundup. And here's the official press release.
To celebrate the launch of the new Fantagraphics manga, Moto Hagio is making her first ever visit to The United States to attend Comic-Con International 2010 as a special guest.

Awesome. That's such a great honor.

Judging from both titles, Fantagraphics manga offerings will skew closer to publishers like Vertical or Fanfare/Ponent Mon than to Viz or Tokyopop. Big surprise there. The critically acclaimed Wandering Son (Japanese: Hourou Musuko) is currently being serialized at seinen magazine Comic Beam (It was also originally scanlated by Kotonoha). The odd thing is that Comic Beam is published by Enterbrain, not Shogakukan; so the new line isn't limited to one partner. A Drunken Dream will compile several Hagio short stories, including the previously translated Hanshin.

Hanshin by Moto Hagio

Follow up:

It'll be interesting to see whether the market can support yet another publisher promoting classic and/or less commercial titles. There are a number of things in Fantagraphics favor: Shogakukan's clout and immense back catalog; the knowledge and experience Matt Thorn brings to the table which will be a necessity in going through that catalog; and Dirk Deppey's unfailing support for manga - who else there has shown the same level of fanatical devotion needed to push the company in this direction, belated though it is? Drawn & Quarterly has been licensing alt-oriented manga (or gekiga if you prefer) during the last four years. But now that this is finally happening, the big question is: Has the market evolved enough for Fantagraphics to suceed in selling Moto Hagio where Viz has failed in the past?

Update:

via Tom Spurgeon is Fantagraphics rep Jacq Cohen's answer to his query on why it took four years to develop a manga line:
Good things take time. Fantagraphics likes to marinate on the books we publish. We want to make sure we hold up to to our slogan/mission/tagline/barometer, 'Publisher of the world's greatest cartoonists.' So, starting a line of manga (and I specify 'line' not an 'imprint') there was a lot of careful planning that went into what books, creators, content, etc. Also, everyone is really fucking busy around here.

Spoken like a true PR person; except for the 'f' word. I wonder if the parsing between 'imprint' and 'line' has something to do with the MangErotica subdivision of the Eros Comix imprint? Perhaps not using the imprint label signifies that the new line isn't being segregated or exiled from the company's more respectable published material. Eh, whatever.

3/10/2010

Web 2.0 in Six Panels

Diesel Sweeties by Richard Stevens

Finally got my new design up. Blogger needs a wider and better selection of templates.

3/08/2010

Architectural Design: VitraHaus

VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron
Photo by Iwan Baan
More images from architecture lab, arch daily, and designboom 

3/05/2010

Disappearance Diary

Reading Disappearance Diary by veteran creator Hideo Azuma immediately brought to mind the omake that occupy the very end of manga collections or the margins of manga pages. Most manga (the ones that get translated) are formula driven entertainment; so the omake are a way for creators to inject a personal element to their own works. These tend to be light and breezy in tone and usually reveal trivial details about the creator's personal life. Sometimes this produces some dissonance between the omake and the actual story, such as in the latter half of the series Kare Kano: the harrowing events the characters experience are disconcertingly juxtaposed with creator Masami Tsuda's pointless chatter about her tastes in classical music or her obsessions with Japanese cuisine. By contrast Disappearance Diary feels in some ways like an extended omake: Drawn in a cute, halfway super-deformed style, the story consistently maintains a detached sense of humor even as it narrates the sordid details of Azuma's increasingly out-of-control life.

This deliberate choice to see the funny side of life begins with Azuma's own botched attempt at a suicide. The results as depicted are comic rather than tragic. The book then recounts the three stages of Azuma's downward spiral of self-destructive behavior: Twice when he attempted to drop off the grid, and his descent into alcoholism. Like an omake or yonkoma, the story is rambling and episodic in structure as its focus is on minutiae of what it's like to be homeless, or the rehabilitation process of an alcoholic. The book's cute version of Azuma is like the castaway who learns to survive by mastering important life skills such as dumpster-diving or acquiring protection against the elements. After a while, the grimier aspects of living day-by-day fall away. Every little triumph pushes the reader to become more invested in his survival and welfare. The second time he runs off, he even gets a new job and acquires new skills as a pipe fitter. Of course it was his decision to live in this manner; but it's a lot easier to empathize with a short, cuddly, cartoon character than a smelly, middle-aged, homeless man. That's the power of moe for you.

But when Azuma declares "This manga has a positive outlook on life and so it has been made with as much realism removed as possible..." what he leaves out is just as telling because it draws attention to a gaping hole in the narrative. Azuma doesn't go into great detail about the depression itself that caused him to run off. That would put a damper on the mood. Azuma simply avoids wallowing in his dark side to maintain his stated aesthetic goal of removing realism. But most perturbing is how he goes out of his way to avoid discussing the impact his actions have on other people. He does briefly acknowledge its negative effects on his colleagues and apologizes to his editors. But he's circumspect about the trouble it caused his family. His adventures with homelessness ends when the police arrest him and return him to his family. But these are glossed over "because none of this was funny." Later when he's rehabbing at a hospital, he worries that his wife will divorce him. These statements are made more provocative because they are made so rarely and tossed out so casually in the book. Azuma's sounds like he's aware of the hurt he's caused. He just doesn't want to talk about it. But those are the really interesting bits people would be curious to know more about.

What Azuma's doing is bucking certain conventions. Considering the serious subject matter, most readers would expect from autobiographical works a good deal of introspection or self-flagellation; even a moment of epiphany when the protagonist realizes how low he's sunk as a prelude to his road to redemption. That doesn't happen here. When Disappearance Diary ends, Azuma is still muddling his way through rehab. He's amusing and observant, but not necessarily any more emotionally aware than when he first arrived at the hospital. In short there's no catharsis at the end; and this will undoubtedly displease some readers. They will find the book version of Azuma morally repugnant. By sidestepping the more unpleasant details of his closest relationships, he still comes across just as big a jerk than if he went the opposite way and whined nonstop about his difficult life. It's hard not to be seen in a negative light when someone abandons his wife and kid. But the tactic serves to capture a character not fully recovered and still very much in denial.

A rather fascinating section of the book is when he goes off on a tangent and summarizes his entire career up to that point. Azuma is one of those important manga figures that's never received much attention abroad. As someone only vaguely aware of his reputation, his listing of his numerous manga projects is frustrating because it requires some familiarity with his work to understand him. Nonetheless there are some interesting tidbits of information about the enormous pressures placed on professional manga creators. There's also this one panel where he recounts a collaboration to create a lolicon-themed fanzine with the intent to "drive yaoi out of Comiket" that alludes to dueling subcultures. I'm not sure how seriously to take the battle cry, but it raises all kinds of interesting questions about the differing fetishes of male and female fans in Japan; and leads back to Azuma's own individual hang-ups as the leading popularizer of the lolicon sub-genre.

Despite the problematic decision to treat a memoir about a particularly low point of his life as a lighthearted humor strip, Disappearance Diary is still in some ways a compelling read. It's probably compelling because of that odd decision.