5/26/2010

Choices

More NonSense: Philippine Week

Andrew Wheeler has recently begun Philippine Week for his Book-a-Day reviews. Given most Americans lack of familiarity with Filipino history, it'll be interesting to read the perspective of a complete outsider. The two books he's reviewed so far grew out of a particular milieu, but presented in a mainstream style familiar to Western audiences. I'm curious to see what variety of creative approaches he'll be able to uncover within the next few days.

Christopher Butcher writes the most stinging indictment yet on the clusterfuck that was CMX.

Simon Jones explains that adult manga isn't going to save the industry.

Sean Collins argues for the end of certain debates that have passed their sell by date, specifically the notion that alternative/literary comics are autobiographical "woe-is-me whining". Readers chime in with their own suggestions. Tom Spurgeon suggests three issues we should be discussing more thoroughly. To which Sean responds by asking: Why can't we stop talking about superheroes?

In order to honor the end of Lost (Thank God?), Tom lists his best good-byes in comics.

Yes, I was reading Bone when I wrote my contribution to this Five for Friday. Given the popularity of Hulk vs. ____  battles, maybe I should have substituted my own with Bronze Tiger vs. Batman.


Yes, I know that it was recently the 30th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, the second Star Wars film: It's a mystical martial arts movie with cool futuristic weapons; without the pesky Asian faces.

Nick Carr shares his thoughts on Google, Apple, and cloud computing.

5/24/2010


I'm certain people much smarter than I am have figured out this out and written endlessly on the subject, but the scary thing about social networking media is how it seems to engender a state of mind that mirrors what little I know about mental illness: you're constantly hearing voices in your head and you set about controlling them through the application of obsessive/compulsive maintenance tools. At best it feeds a narcissistic impulse to see your entire world of outside stimuli as some sort of ongoing vote on you and what you do.

Not that I'm stopping. 


- Tom Spurgeon

5/21/2010

5/20/2010

Funny Wolverine Story

R.I.P. CMX

You know, I don’t recall any other event to have elicited so much blasphemous language from the collective manga blogosphere as CMX’s demise.  Personally, I’m one who does little swearing in public or unfamiliar company, because I cherish the act.  I want my curses not to be regarded as common vulgarity, but as sincere and succinct expressions of rage and disgust.  I think that is true of most of these posters above as well.  Perhaps this is one of those situations that warrants it.

Oh, what the hell.  Fuck.

- Simon Jones

5/16/2010

Bone: Rose


By Jeff Smith, Charles Vess, Steve Hamaker

I've started to re-read my Bone collection, which is composed of various original pamphlets and pre-Scholastic trade paperbacks. It's been many years since I first examined the series as a whole. But I decided to begin at the middle, and read Rose. This comic stands out for a number of reasons. Although it's often labeled as a prequel, it wasn't originally released after the completion of the series, but in the midst of its serialization. Creator Jeff Smith took a break from Bone to initiate Rose and Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails. Both projects were collaborations between Smith and other creators. Both were set in the distant past of the Bone universe. Since the series had begun to roll out a few significant revelations, such as the identities of the hidden main antagonists, this was as good a time as any for Smith to fill in some of the backstory for the readers. As such, Rose and SSRT serve as a kind of interlude, as well as a glorified flashback sequence, before Bone would move inexorably towards a climactic showdown.

Of course Rose contains no real surprises, since it requires that the reader be already familiar with the fantasy world revealed in the series at that point. Without the Bone cousins as reader identification characters, the story's fairy tale elements come to the foreground. This also means that much of the characterization that makes Bone so appealing is missing here. In the series, the eponymous hero Rose Harvestar is known as Gran'ma Ben - a no-nonsense, tough as nails farmer who races against cows because, well why the hell not? However in Rose, both she and her sister older Briar become archetypal feuding siblings: The latter's a power-hungry schemer, while the former is completely oblivious to the latter's open hatred towards her. Individual motives for their behavior don't extend far beyond one being pure and good, and the other being pure evil. Supporting character Lucius Down, a gruff but noble barkeep in Bone, has zero personality here except as an easily manipulated bodyguard. And the cigarette smoking Great Red Dragon in transformed into a stern, judgmental, and stubbornly impassive observer. The absence of the Bone cousins is usually brought up to explain the lack of humor. But my guess is that Smith was more concerned with producing a straight fantasy than injecting even a bit of levity into the story.



This makes Charles Vess an appropriate choice as the book's artist. As someone influenced by Arthur Rackham, his art is charming enough to please adults while still appearing creepy enough to scare younger readers. But it's a different school of illustration from the Disney animation style that informs the rest of Bone. With each chapter, Vess becomes more capable with translating Smith's characters into his own idiom. But a few, most noticeably the Great Red Dragon, betray and uneasy balance between Smith and Vess' divergent artistic approaches. Rose is also the only book with interior art that was originally published in color. This contributed to its initial impact among fans who were accustomed to seeing the characters in black and white. Even today, his application of light color washes contrasts significantly with the more heavily textured styles found in most digitally painted comics. Vess is very adept at using color to enhance the story. As the mood becomes darker, the warmer reds, oranges, and yellows are gradually replaced by cooler greens and blues. White snow that initially appears in the background suddenly falls more heavily as the situation grows more dire, until it envelops the landscape. It's a traditional narrative device. But it's gorgeously executed by Vess.

When set against the events of the rest of the Bone series, Rose is a small scale work. The overall tone of the book is sinister and foreboding. And the ending is left unsettled not only to remain consistent with concurrent issues within the series, but also to foreshadow upcoming events. In retrospect, the battles depicted in Rose were probably a dry run for the even grander armed confrontations that would take place in future chapters of Bone. But since Rose is collected as a separate work to be read after the Bone story-line, most readers will find it redundant. The Bone series repeats most of the pertinent information found in Rose anyway. But when Rose first came out, it only added more intriguing layers, helped along with a dash of color, to the then unfolding Bone saga.

5/10/2010

Ristorante Paradiso

Natsume Ono is the latest beneficiary of a growing market for adult and experimental manga which every U.S. publisher seems to be banking on these days. Indeed, her art seems to come out of left field of mainstream conventions. It's recognizable enough to be labeled "manga". But just quirky enough to attract the attention of the indie crowd. Her most ambitious work to date, the period story House of Five Leaves, is currently being serialized online and will also be printed by Viz. Ristorante Paradiso however is an earlier work with a very different subject matter.

Readers who prefer their comics art with a more polished finish are going to find Ono a potential turn-off. I find it pretty refreshing. In Ristorante Paradiso she draws lithe, elongated figures which straddle a fine line between appearing elegant and appearing grotesque. She employs relatively thick, broken strokes to delineate her figures. And she keeps her background details sketchy at best. Sometimes this can make her page layouts appear flat and a little difficult to follow. She compensates by filling large areas with black or shades of gray to help with the page's readability. Overall, her characters possess a shopworn look that's very appealing.

The art also complements the story's setting. Like Fumi Yoshinaga's workplace comedy Antique Bakery, it takes place in an eatery staffed with attractive males. The establishment is a restaurant in Rome named the Casetta dell'Orso. Ono slightly subverts the bishonen fetish by making them distinguished, bespectacled middle-aged men (If there's a popular Japanese term for this fetish, I'm unaware of it). This policy is reinforced by the owner partly to attract more patrons, and partly in order to please his wife Olga. She is however keeping a secret from her husband that she abandoned her only daughter Nicoletta after the dissolution of her first marriage. Now a 21 year old woman seeking revenge, Nicoletta shows up one night at the restaurant threatening to expose Olga's past. But she then settles on blackmailing Olga for a job as one of the kitchen staff after she becomes enamored with the restaurant's headwaiter Claudio.


From this convoluted soap opera beginning, the book settles into a low key, slice of life comedy with romantic underpinnings. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace. Character development comes in tiny increments and small revelations rather than big dramatic gestures. Many readers would probably agree with one character's assessment of the ending as being "anticlimactic". This suits the understated nature of the story just fine. But Ristorante Paradiso also touches on the lives of ancillary characters, mostly the wait staff, possessing backstories that are more interesting than that of the three main protagonists. It doesn't help that the wait staff are all cut from the same design template as Claudio. A single volume feels too slight to sufficiently differentiate them and leaves many intriguing glimpses of narrative threads waiting for more extensive development. Ono might have sensed that, as there is a prequel called Gente being currently serialized which delves into their backgrounds with greater detail.

The story has the characters also engage in several awkward actions which are then conveniently set aside, including a final reveal at the end of the story. While this hardly seems realistic, Casetta dell'Orso is a place where people surrender to its ambiance of and accept one another. Anger and bitterness are eventually washed away. And as sappy as this sounds, love finds a way to forgive past transgressions, at least in Paradise.

This is what defines Ristorante Paradiso as a work for mature audiences. Not with adolescent angst or over the top histrionics. Not even with passionate rendezvous between star-crossed lovers. But with a quiet acceptance of living in a present full of uncertainties.