11/18/2017

5,000 km Per Second

5,000 km Per Second, By Manuele Fior Translation: Jamie Richards Book Design: Michael Heck.
By Manuele Fior
Translation: Jamie Richards
Book Design: Michael Heck

5,000 km Per Second is a love story spanning the lives of two Italians named Lucia and Piero. The comic begins with their first teenage flirtation after Piero notices Lucy settling into an adjacent apartment and is immediately smitten by her appearance. Egged on by his best friend Nicola, the chapter ends with Piero making an awkward effort to catch Lucy’s attention. The narrative feels set to explore the unfolding tale of their first love. Instead, the start of the next chapter is set several years later and in a different country. Lucy and Piero have since broken up and are pursuing their separate careers. The succeeding chapters flit back and forth between their respective lives. And it ends with a bittersweet attempt to reconnect from the now two middle aged former lovers, significantly worn down by the intervening years. This is a story of how romantic relationships fail without showing the relationship itself, and without the plot contrivances usually employed in more glamourous Hollywood productions.

What compounds the deceptiveness is the ink and brushwork of Manuele Fior. The lush tones and bright palette are initially inviting and even indicative of a certain youthful naivete. And every change in location carries with it a sense of hopefulness. Fior’s expressionist figures are reminiscent of Paul Cezanne or a young Pablo Picasso. Their sensuous quality combined with the delicacy of Fior’s watercolors imbues every place with an exoticism that evokes the excitement of traveling to foreign places for the first time. Whether it’s Lucy studying the works of Henrik Ibsen while overlooking a lovely fjord in rural Norway, or Piero participating in an archeological dig in Aswan.

5,000 km Per Second, By Manuele Fior Translation: Jamie Richards Book Design: Michael Heck.

But the mood changes at the midpoint as Lucy and Piero slowly become disconnected from their environments. The initial excitement fades, only to be replaced by a sense of alienation. What once looked beautiful becomes oppressive. Time marches relentlessly forward, as expressed through the comic’s meticulous use of three-tiered rows of panels. The colors start to fade as if in response to their internal change. Lucy and Piero's attempts at cosmopolitanism only go so far. The local inhabitants remain mostly strangers or adversaries. The new country doesn’t become a second home. And returning to the old country doesn't provide any greater sense of belonging. When the much anticipated reunion finally takes place, Lucy and Piero’s accumulated life experiences and differing perspectives have created a vast gulf separating them. And yet, every relationship and heartbreak they’ve experienced separately is haunted by the shared memory of their first love. The memory which emerges from their meeting succeeds in interrupting the comic’s forward progress and allows for a flashback to circle the narrative back to the brightness of the first chapter.

But it’s only a momentary relief before life, in all its glorious indifference, forces them both to keep muddling forward.

11/11/2017

A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting

A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting, By Guy Delisle Translation: Helge Dasher.
By Guy Delisle
Translation: Helge Dascher

Guy Delisle has earned a reputation as a cartoonist who portrays himself as a hapless explorer. In my review of Jerusalem, I wrote “Noting the strangeness of a place may not be particularly insightful analysis, but it works perfectly for Delisle. His stockpiling of numerous insignificant details mirrors how most clueless Westerners experience the rest of the world. Delisle has become the spokesperson for early stage culture shock because he never achieves true mastery of his subject. Not that he seems to care.” I also observed how raising a family has been increasingly taking up more of Delisle’s time and energy, making his travelogues even more rambling and incidental. His post-Jerusalem work hasn’t shown an appreciable evolution in his basic narrative style, but his storytelling in books like A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting have become more manageable by tightening their focus on one aspect of the cartoonist’s life. In this particular case, Delisle collects random anecdotes about his less than stellar approach to caring for two precocious children. And unlike his travelogues, there isn’t an arc connecting these separate incidents.

Delisle adapts the same everyman persona he’s used in the past. This works just as well in conveying his cluelessness when it comes to communicating with kids as it did with the locals of foreign lands. Only this time, he gets to be demonstrably angry and intimidating as a supposably adult authority figure. His level of self-absorption is just enough to be relatable to other harried parents. This results in the kind of dismissive condescension and obliviousness mixed with annoyance the average adult normally exhibits towards children. In the book’s opening story, Delisle neglects to replace his son’s fallen out baby tooth with money for two nights in a row. When the son begins to suspect his parents are the real Tooth Fairy (or its French equivalent), Delisle lies with “If it was us putting the money under your pillow, do you really think we’d forget two nights in a row?” When his son seems unimpressed with the amount of money he received for yet another tooth, a visibly upset Delisle pulls out a one-cent coin and gives the game up by making the threat "Next time I'm gonna give you this here instead of two euros!" The son’s open mouthed reaction is subtle, and hilariously appropriate to the occasion.

A User’s Guide To Neglectful Parenting, By Guy Delisle Translation: Helge Dasher.

In addition to resorting to those kinds of white lies, Delisle engages in even more of the usual parental shenanigans. He pretends to be more informed about subjects where he knows nothing. He feigns interest in his children’s activities. He inadvertently (or deliberately) terrifies them. He occasionally harangues them, especially his son for not showing more interest in traditional manly activities like fixing the house plumbing. Anyone who’s survived their childhood and remembers the hurtful things parents casually heaped on them will understand the often impassive expressions of Delisle’s kids. But they’re also the straight man bearing witness to his inappropriate behavior. When free to write about characters he genuinely cares about without tying them to a larger, sprawling travelogue, Delisle’s humor shapes up to be sharper and funnier.

In the book’s most curious anecdote, Delisle gets to be the curmudgeonly artist reflecting on his own status in the industry. When his daughter brings him one of her drawings for inspection, Delisle does what is expected of any parent and praises her young efforts. But after a slight pause, his inner editor takes over and he begins critiquing the drawing like it’s another magazine submission. He points out all its various technical flaws, then gathers himself once again and launches into an extended rant about young cartoonists and their unwillingness to put in the work and learn proper drawing skills: “I know what you're going to say ... You're going to tell me it's your ‘style’ and that you did it on purpose. Well, kiddo, let me tell you, there's a hell of a difference between drawing like a hack and having some kind of style. Not everybody's Art Spiegelman, you know."

Heh. I wonder from where a younger Delisle heard that from?

11/04/2017

Love and Lies Vol. 1

Love and Lies Vol. 1, By Musawo Translation: Jennifer Ward Letters: Daniel Cy Cover Design: Phil Balsman.
By Musawo
Translation: Jennifer Ward
Letters: Daniel Cy
Cover Design: Phil Balsman

At first glance Love and Lies possesses an interesting premise. To combat declining birth rates (an issue of real concern in present-day Japan) the Japanese government enacted the “Yukari Law.” The state was empowered to match every single 16 year old with each other into arranged marriages for the purpose of optimizing procreation. The law didn’t just aim to stabilize the Japanese population, but to improve it through the use of eugenics. Basically, the government has the genetic information of every citizen on file in order to to find the best possible marriage partner for every individual. At the beginning of the manga, members of the original generation affected by the law (known as the “Yukari Generation”) have grown up and are presently raising children of their own. The program is widely touted as a success, and their offspring have been declared to be “mentally and physically gifted.” Those children who're coming of age are currently receiving their government approved marriage notices. But will this generation prove to be as acquiescent as their parents?

Anyone raised to cherish ideals like “democracy” or “inclusiveness” will be horrified at the prospect of living in such a xenophobic and oppressively heteronormative society. They would probably compare the story's premise to fictional dystopias like Brave New World or The Handmaid's Tale. But that would be very very far from the image Musawo paints in the manga. A couple of confused teenagers do express discontent for the status quo at the very beginning, only for the scene to be played as comic relief. Love and Lies is first and foremost, a high school romance. And not necessarily a challenging one at that, based on reading this volume and viewing a recent anime adaptation. The near future sci-fi elements are pushed so much to the margins that the story might as well be a dramedy set in the present about an arranged marriage involving the usual love triangle.

Love and Lies Vol. 1, By Musawo Translation: Jennifer Ward Letters: Daniel Cy Cover Design: Phil Balsman.

The introduction to aforesaid triangle is main protagonist Yukari Nejima, unfortunately named after the very law responsible for his existence when it brought his parents together. Yukari is the archetypical nonentity of a male character found in so many shonen manga. You could even say he’s actually an argument against the success of the law, because he’s as dumb as a sack of hammers. Naturally, his earnest ineptitude is considered an attractive quality to the much more charismatic characters surrounding him. This includes the hottest girl in his high school class Misaki Takasaki. Yukari’s had a crush on Misaki since the fifth grade, but couldn’t muster the courage to talk to her. However, he discovers that she reciprocates his feelings on the very night he receives his notice. Her opposite and Yukari’s arranged future wife is the doll-like Lilina Sanada. She quickly exhibits greater wit and initiative in their first meeting. And of course, there's best friend and aloof popular boy who has his own adoring coterie of female fans, Yūsuke Nisaka.

Funnily enough, there’s a more ambitious story struggling to break through the more familiar material. Misaki and Yusuke haven't received notices despite their age. And this could be connected to a shared secret they’re both hiding from Yukari. Yusuke even drops a bombshell on the reader at the end of the book. But most intriguing is an early but all-too brief hint that things may not be alright with the government agency playing matchmaker to the nation’s 16 year olds. Two officials practically stalk Yukari in a park at night just to hand him his notice. And that’s after he receives the notice in the form of a suspiciously glitchy email. Who does that in real life? But this gets drowned out by Yukari’s unceasingly inane dithering,  the awkward and inappropriate conversations between the two female leads about what makes Yukari such a catch, the fanservice oriented art surrounding Lilina and Misaki, or Musawo’s not so subtle fetish for getting characters to engage in big, sloppy kisses. Yum.

Love and Lies Vol. 1, By Musawo Translation: Jennifer Ward Letters: Daniel Cy Cover Design: Phil Balsman.

As gross as that last part sounds, it does point to what’s good about the story. Love and Lies may be weak in the world-building department, and its social analysis is at best, insubstantial. But at least it gets one thing right about its characters. They’re still horny teenagers. No matter how jaded they claim to be, they're grappling with emotions brought on by puberty. Given half the chance, some will even flout authority by sticking their tongues down each other's throats.

10/31/2017

More NonSense: Cartoon Diversity

Marvel Comics serials

CXC as an example on how to build a comics festival.

Marvel's diversity efforts graded by various industry professionals.

Classic Peanuts understood how people dealt with tragedy.

Gene Luen Yang profiled bt SFGate.

Dave Gibbons won't be reading Doomsday Clock. “I wasn’t told anything at all – I know just as much as anybody else.”

Fredric Wertham's 'Seduction of the Innocent examined by R.C. Baker.

Joe Quesada's art collection was stolen. He tells us how you can help.

Gail Simone and Fabian Nicieza demonstrate that even pros are just fans screaming at each other.

Heidi MacDonald reacts to the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Becky Morton on the "boys club" of British political cartooning.

Liz Bourke on the popular objection used by straight white cisgender males, “But what about the quality?”


10/21/2017

She and Her Cat

Story: Makoto Shinkai Art:Tsubasa Yamaguchi Translation: Kumar Sivasubramanian Original Story: She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points (1999) by Makoto Shinkai.
Story: Makoto Shinkai
Art:Tsubasa Yamaguchi
Translation: Kumar Sivasubramanian
Original Story: She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points (1999) by Makoto Shinkai

She and Her Cat is one of many tales told around the world about pets showering their owners with unconditional love. Expanding on a five minute animation created by Makoto Shinkai, the manga goes a bit beyond the usual portrait of animal companions and their owners. The titular cat Chobi isn’t the main point of focus, but a POV character who provides a peek into the life of his owner, a young woman named Miyu. Because Chobi is just your average house cat, he doesn’t truly comprehend her behaviour. As a creature of habit, he simply notices when Miyu is becoming more anxious and slowly deviating from her daily routine. Then one day, she doesn’t come home. Unlike Chobi, we the readers have already surmised that Miyu is undergoing a bout of depression brought on by pressures from work and her personal life. Though the specifics will mostly elude us.

Shinkai isn’t really able to maintain the illusion of seeing events through Chobi’s limited perspective. There are a couple of scenes with Miyu were Chobi is entirely absent. And Chobi sometimes resorts to human concepts which should be beyond the understanding of any cat. But as a framing device, Chobi allows us to view Miyu’s life as a series of vignettes. The story begins in spring and takes place over the course of a single year. Chobi’s narrative voice makes the most sense when the cat is paying a high degree of attention to the tiny details, particularly those details pertaining to the changing seasons. His loving description of his own surroundings evinces an unexpected sensuality which is complimented by the atmospheric artwork of Tsubasa Yamaguchi, who’s particularly attuned to the varying quality of ambient light as it’s filtered and diffused by the environment. When matched with Shinkai’s quiet narrative, Miyu’s descent into depression synchronizes with the looming cold around her in a way that almost feels inexorable.

Story: Makoto Shinkai Art:Tsubasa Yamaguchi Translation: Kumar Sivasubramanian Original Story: She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points (1999) by Makoto Shinkai.

As Miyu gradually withdraws from all human contact, it would seem that the ingredients are being gathered for the making of a desolate winter. And this tracks with Shinkai’s penchant for bittersweet endings. But for once, this is a sunnier conclusion from him. He swerves away at the last minute, thanks to a timely intercession from Chobi. Shinkai charts a new course which renews his characters, thanks to the healing power of pets.

10/14/2017

A City Inside

A City Inside, By Tillie Walden.
By Tillie Walden

A City Inside Is a tone poem crafted with appreciable virtuosity. It begins with an unnamed young woman lying on a divan while conversing with an unseen individual. From the manner of their conversation, it becomes apparent that the woman is inside a therapist’s office and preparing to go through some form of regression therapy. She enters into the requisite dream state by being gently absorbed by the divan. The sequence works because of how it’s illustrated by Tillie Walden with beautiful minimalism. The divan’s sloping form and repeating patterns make it appear as if the woman is floating on the surface of a large body of water. And when she sinks into the divan with the assistance of the therapist, the sequence recalls the experience of baptism or of retreating into the innocence of one's childhood.

The central conflict which prompts this bout of self-examination is a personal struggle - at its most abstract it’s a choice between love and freedom. Or maybe it’s between stability and personal growth. Or reality or fantasy. The message is open to interpretation. Whatever the case, the struggle is viewed as a reverie composed of a series of phantasmagorical images. The therapist serves as the narrative voice which ties them together, since the woman remains silent once she goes under. But the overall impression of her life is of someone constantly seeking solitude. We first see the woman as a little girl growing up in a large house located in “the South.” The narrator claims that she was happy living with just her father to keep her company. But virtually every panel portrays her being alone with her thoughts, engulfed by the long shadows cast by the house and her rural environment. It doesn’t actually come as a surprise when the narrator says that she left her father when she was only 15, “trying to escape those southern ghosts.”

A City Inside, By Tillie Walden.

When we see the woman again, she’s already a young adult living contentedly in the sky. She spends her time writing stories about nonexistent places she wants to visit. Then one night, she meets another woman bicycling past her home. The two begin a romantic relationship, which brings them both back to earth. Only this earthbound existence doesn’t suit our protagonist, who begins to contemplate leaving her lover. But the uncomplicated narrative belies the artistic challenge of capturing its contrasting environments. Walden accomplishes this through her skillful use of black and white composition. Inky shadows and silhouette figures balance areas of bright white, and the resulting shapes generate a pleasing rhythm throughout the comic. Textures and patterns create subtle visual motifs which are better appreciated through repeated readings. On a more surface level, Walden’s quiet, dreamlike imagery evokes the surreal landscapes found in the work of classic cartoonists Winsor McCay and George Herriman.

The resolution to her conflict is as fantastic as it is ambiguous. As the therapist’s voice makes the woman consider her future, the surreal landscape she inhabits suddenly expands into an immense and beautiful city. Every object and structure within it embodies some part from her life. But as she wanders the empty metropolis as a much older figure, her final thoughts turn to the people she knew, cared for, and eventually left behind. It’s still a future the woman has yet to choose when she comes out of her reverie and leaves the office. And that tantalizing conclusion makes for a more appealing comic.

A City Inside, By Tillie Walden.

Video: 30 Days Timelapse at Sea

Go to: JeffHK, by Jeffrey Tsang (via Jason Kottke)

10/07/2017

Wonder Woman #31

Wonder Woman #31,Story: James Robinson Art: Carlo Pagulayan Inks: Sean Parsons, Jason Paz, Scott Hanna Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr. Letters: Saida Temofonte Covers: Bryan Hitch, Alex Sinclair, Jenny Frison  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.
Story: James Robinson
Art: Carlo Pagulayan
Inks: Sean Parsons, Jason Paz, Scott Hanna
Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr.
Letters: Saida Temofonte
Covers: Bryan Hitch, Alex Sinclair, Jenny Frison

Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

The Wonder Woman run of writer Greg Rucka, with artists Liam Sharp and Nicola Scott, set a pretty high bar for future creators, reversing most of the controversial aspects of the New 52 version began by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang, and restoring many classic elements. This new story arc by writer James Robinson (making his return to DC Comics) and artist Carlo Pagulayan is okay, I guess. But it definitely feels like a much more conventional take on the character. Moreover, the arc unfortunately dips into a bit of continuity porn. I thought the whole Rebirth initiative meant we didn’t have to worry about this any more. But here’s the the official summary of this issue from DC’s website:
Spinning out of the pages of DC UNIVERSE REBIRTH and JUSTICE LEAGUE: DARKSEID WAR, legendary writer James Robinson (JSA: THE GOLDEN AGE, STARMAN) comes on board to answer one of the biggest questions of the year: Who is Wonder Woman’s brother? Taken away from Themyscira in the dead of night, the mysterious Jason has been hidden somewhere far from the sight of gods and men…but his life and Wonder Woman’s are about to intersect in a terrifying way, bringing them face to face with a cosmic threat they never imagined!
I suppose it was too much to hope for Geoff Johns to forget about this last minute revelation from his run on the Justice League. It was simply put on the back burner while Rucka was allowed to tell a very different story. I really would have preferred that DC went back to Diana being sculpted from clay. I was even under the impression that Rucka’s run had erased the whole storyline of Diana being the love child of Zeus and Hippolyta. But I guess our Chief Creative Officer’s master plan for the DC Universe included biding his time until he could rope another writer into continuing this plot thread. And now we have Robinson.

Wonder Woman #31,Story: James Robinson Art: Carlo Pagulayan Inks: Sean Parsons, Jason Paz, Scott Hanna Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr. Letters: Saida Temofonte Covers: Bryan Hitch, Alex Sinclair, Jenny Frison  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

Frankly, this development is jarring given the Wonder Woman comics that have been published in the last year. It obviously doesn’t fit with the existing material, or the direction being mapped out before Robinson took over the series. It’s very much an artifact of the New 52 era. And a noticeable effect of its insertion is that the comic moves away from Diana’s strong female cast to a more male-centered focus Johns seems to prefer. The resulting narrative where the villain plots his revenge and stages a comeback is a lot more formulaic. The cast now includes New God Darkseid, his daughter Grail, the yet unmentioned Jason and other sons of Zeus, named and unnamed. However, to anyone coming to the comic from the recent Wonder Woman film, the opening page spread is reminiscent of the climactic battle between Diana and Ares. Since her film counterpart acknowledged the god of war as her “brother,” this would appear to be a misdirection meant for them.

The comic contains a few more references aimed at the film audience. The capable Pagulayan draws a certain mysterious figure to resemble hobo Clark Kent as played by Henry Cavill from Man of Steel. That’s also another misdirection. And Diana herself is clearly meant to resemble Gal Gadot. So I’m glad he didn’t attempt to make Steve Trevor look more like Chris Pine. Otherwise, Pagulayan works in the idiom established by past Wonder Woman artists within the last twenty years.

Overall, this is a somewhat unsatisfying introduction to the new arc. Half the comic is taken up by an underwhelming fight between Grail and one of DC’s C-list characters. And there’s a lot of exposition to get through which slows down the pace. Maybe the arc will make more sense in future instalments, but so little happens in this comic past the fight. More immediately, this feels less like a Wonder Woman story than the setup for an event story which just happens to include her.

Wonder Woman #31,Story: James Robinson Art: Carlo Pagulayan Inks: Sean Parsons, Jason Paz, Scott Hanna Colors: Romulo Fajardo Jr. Letters: Saida Temofonte Covers: Bryan Hitch, Alex Sinclair, Jenny Frison  Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Olive Byrne.

Cartoon: Eye of the Storm

Eye of the Storm A dispatch from San Juan, Puerto Rico by Rosa Colón.
Go to: The Nib, by Rosa Colón

10/04/2017

More NonSense: SPX 2017 Edition

SPX 2017 banner.
Go to: SPX

Heidi MacDonald on this year's SPX.

Rob Clough on this year's SPX.

Kat Overland on this year's Ignatz Awards.

Matthias Wivel on Jack Kirby’s late foray into autobiographical comics, Street Code.

Tom King and David Finch talk about their creative process when writing Batman.

Seth Simons on the current neglect of The New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank, which licensed cartoons for secondary use. Cartoon Bank was established by Editor Bob Mankoff in 1992, and bought by the New Yorker in 1997:
The Cartoon Bank was a windfall for cartoonists, who in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s witnessed the market for single-panel gag cartoons dwindle from a handful of publications to virtually only The New Yorker. “I remember one particular check early on, probably my second or third check from the Cartoon Bank, was close to $8,000,” said one longtime cartoonist who was involved in the Cartoon Bank’s earliest planning sessions, and who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “As time went on, the returns weren’t as great, but they were still good—they were still two or three thousand dollars a month.” Alex Gregory, a contributor since 1999, described similar numbers. “I would regularly get checks for one or two thousand dollars,” he said. Mankoff, who had a bird’s-eye view of the company’s financials, spoke of cartoonists receiving residual income to the tune of $30,000 to $40,000 annually. The 1998 Times report notes that one cartoonist, Peter Steiner, had by that point received more than $30,000 in royalties for a single cartoon
In 2008, Mankoff handed off leadership of the Cartoon Bank to Condé Nast, who, it quickly became apparent, planned to operate the business with a lighter touch. “I consulted with them for many years after I left, urging them to support this business and commit to this business,” Mankoff said. “For their own reasons they decided that they’re not supporting it. There aren’t really any employees left. And those people who used to do those things”—licensing, custom books, original art sales—“have been let go. The people there are absolutely well-meaning, but they have no real idea of what this business is, who the cartoonists are, how you might leverage and maximize it.” 
Over the following years, the well dried up. The cartoonist who described an $8,000 check he received early on said he now sees at most a few hundred a month. Gregory said the same, as did several other cartoonists who I spoke too.
Mimi Pond lists the top ten graphic memoirs.

Matt Furie takes legal action using the DMCA against various alt-right groups.

Steve Foxe explains why Marvel's latest initiative, Legacy, won't save the company from declining sales.

Chris Ware on writing characters who come from a different background from him.

Charles Pulliam-Moore points out that the X-Men and the Mutants are not an ideal analogy for race, something I've been saying for some time now.

David Lewis on Muslim representation in comics.

Hayao Miyazaki and his portrayal of the supernatural.

Kevin Smith profiled by Abraham Riesman. Smith's early films wedded the 90s slacker ethic with unapologetic geeky obsessiveness, foreshadowing our pop culture landscape. However, his particular brand of storytelling hasn't aged very well. But while Smith has fallen out of favour as a film auteur, he's successfully reinvented himself as an online presence.

The Big Bang Theory serves as a continual reminder that Hollywood is committed to perpetuating the geek stereotype. Unfortunately, this tends to highlight some of the more negative aspects of fandom to the television audience.

Anders Nilsen explains why senators should vote NO on "Graham-Cassidy, the latest Republican attempt to dismantle Obamacare and rob people of their health care."
Anyone who follows my work at all closely probably knows that I have published two books about a particular illness and death and its aftermath. In March of 2005 my girlfriend at the time, Cheryl Weaver, was diagnosed with cancer – Hodgkins Lymphoma. Despite an initially positive prognosis the disease failed to respond to treatment, and in November of that year the disease killed her. In my books I didn't delve too deeply into the details of our particular odyssey through the health care system, but one relevant fact is that Cheryl didn't have health insurance. For several months before her diagnosis she had been dealing with a variety of what felt like unrelated, inexplicable, minor health issues. She hadn't gone to see a doctor because, at the time we couldn't afford it. The simple fact is that had she had insurance she may well have had a chance. And her story is far from unique. Lack of health insurance literally kills people every single day in America. Wealth should not determine who gets care in this country any more than it should determine who has access to the justice system or the political process. It doesn't have to be this way.
Lynda Barry has an advice column.

Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on September 28th, 1987. It bestowed upon our pop culture landscape the great Patrick Stewart, the finest actor to ever grace the hallowed franchise. He would immortalize "Make it so," "Tea Earl Grey," "Shut up Wesley," not to mention his patented "Picard Manoeuvre." TNG's first season was pretty rough. And by that I mean it was practically unwatchable. But even early TNG succeeded in expanding the franchise with ideas that would go on to become essential to its worldbuilding.

Inhumans sounds like a crappy show made 20 years ago.

RIP Len Wein (June 12, 1948 – September 10, 2017). The legendary comic book writer was the co-creator of popular characters such as Swamp Thing, Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus. Bronze Age creators like Wein were among the first working professionals to rise from the ranks of organized fandom, and their work expressed sensibilities which placed them a lot closer to our modern fan-driven market.

TCJ posts an interview with Len from The Comics Journal #48, August 1979.

Sean T. Collins et al. lists the top ten film performances of the late Harry Dean Stanton (July 14, 1926 – September 15, 2017).

RIP Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017), founder of Playboy magazine, notorious for its glamour pinup pictorials. But at its height, Playboy also published notable cartoonists such as Jack Cole, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Jules Feiffer.

9/30/2017

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Kabi Nagata.
By Kabi Nagata
Translation: Jocelyne Allen
Letters: Karis Page
Cover Design: Nicky Lim

My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness opens with mangaka Kabi Nagata attempting to have sex while inside a Love Hotel room with an escort she hired from a lesbian escort agency. She’s sitting on one end of the bed wearing a terrified expression on her face. Nagata is 28 years old, never been kissed, never been in a relationship, and has only recently come to the realization that she prefers women. She’s spent most of her youth suffering from bouts of depression, manifested in her life as eating disorders, acts of self harm, an inability to hold down a steady job, or form lasting friendships. So, off course she’s scared. The book’s opening (and its risque cover) initially produced an expectation that this would be a story of sexual hijinks, the stress of dating, and the difficulties of being single in the modern world. But I suspect that those thoughts were conditioned by the consumption of too much Hollywood entertainment. What actually follows is an extended and earnest bout of self-examination, gradually leading Nagata to the realization about how much she’s been suppressing her own sexuality in order to fulfill her own preconceptions about responsible adult behaviour.

Nagata’s focus is narrow. She talks about the toll depression took on her own health with great candor. By her own telling, the problems began when she dropped out of university. The resulting loss of a sense of direction would make her extremely anxious. But even securing a part-time job fails to deliver for Nagata the sense of belonging she desperately craves. On the contrary, her self-harm and eating disorders escalate to the point she has to be hospitalized. In one of the most harrowing moments in the manga, Nagata is overcome by an intense desire to eat while in the middle of her shift. She starts stuffing a bowl of uncooked instant ramen into her mouth, but is forced to stop when she notices how the hard noodles have torn into her gums and caused Nagata's mouth to bleed.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Kabi Nagata.

But this isn’t a tell-all book. Nagata’s increasing self-awareness forces her to confront how her emotionally stunted relationship with her parents has shamed her into feeling completely inadequate as a functioning adult. There’s a lot of ground to be covered here which Nagata declines to explore in greater detail. She also keeps her portrayal of other supporting characters similarly nebulous. They’re mainly described as either being disapproving or supportive towards her. Every act of kindness shown to her tends to overwhelm the inexperienced Nagata. This includes the escort from the book’s opening. As a mangaka, her primary source of information about sex are the doujinshi she’s read. And as a client, Nagata prefers to ignore the economic nature of the transaction she initiated and would rather project an artificial intimacy to their encounter. But it’s arguably an illusion she needs to maintain just to make it through what is to her a new experience.

The loosely drawn chibi style Nagata employs is both very conventional and a little unusual. Mangaka often use it for the bonus material included at the end of a manga volume, and it helps establish a tone of breezy intimacy between author and reader. But it’s not something typically employed for the long-form narrative. The most eye-catching part of the book's design is the pleasant tri-color scheme (black and white, plus pink) which belies the subject matter within. Otherwise, this aesthetic can sometimes appear a bit too generic.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Kabi Nagata.

But it’s not hard to feel for Nagata. Her vulnerability is genuine. And it’s painful to witness her toil so hard to achieve any sense of self-worth after a decade of feeling useless. Whatever Nagata’s particular circumstances, there’s something all-too familiar about the struggle to overcome loneliness.

9/16/2017

Sheena #0 & #1

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat Colors: Andre Szymanowicz. Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook. Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0
Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo
Art: Moritat
Colors: Andre Szymanowicz.
Letters: Thomas Napolitano
Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #1 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat, Dimi Maheras Colors: Moritat, Casey Silver Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Ryan Sook, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Carli Ihde, Michael Atiyeh, Cosplay Photo.  Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #1
Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo
Art: Moritat, Dimi Maheras
Colors: Moritat, Casey Silver
Letters: Thomas Napolitano
Covers: J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Ryan Sook, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Carli Ihde, Michael Atiyeh, Cosplay Photo

Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

Despite being one of the more popular characters from comics Golden Age, Sheena has fallen into partial obscurity as the jungle queen archetype declined in popularity. I should note that I don’t really follow the character, which makes it difficult to trace her history. Sheena has bounced from one publisher to the next, with her continuity being adjusted along the way. Sheena was transplanted from Africa to South America during the 1980s, distancing her from her original but regressive “Darkest Africa” setting. Her last comics appearance was published by Moonstone Books. That series took its cue from a reboot written a decade earlier by Hollywood writer Steven E. de Souza for Devil’s Due Publishing. As was his habit, de Souza located Sheena in the banana republic of Val Verde (the same settings of the movies Commando and Predator). Her biological parents were changed to be an American man and a local woman. I presume this was done to avoid the equally regressive convention of a displaced white saviour living with the natives and becoming their leader/greatest warrior. This latest incarnation from Dynamite Entertainment follows in the steps of the de Souza reboot.

Sheena held one advantage over other jungle queens which has kept her from completely vanishing from our collective memory - her iconic appearance. Jungle queens have always catered to adolescent males. But Sheena popularized the fashionable leggy blonde who wore an impractical leopard-skin swimsuit, a choice which allowed for both the display of ample cleavage and maximum freedom of movement. It’s a  look that’s been shamelessly copied many times, with diminishing returns. And none of her imitators could claim to be the first female character to headline her own title, making Sheena a pioneering figure for the statuesque “Amazon” beauty as heroic lead. The prevalence of this body type in comics has since come under considerable criticism for promoting a pretty narrow view of women in general, and rightfully so. Not that the Dynamite comic makes any apologies for this piece of the character's legacy.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat Colors: Andre Szymanowicz. Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook. Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

Hiring Moritat to be the series regular artist certainly doubles down on these qualities. But he’s still a bit of an unconventional choice. His anime-influenced aesthetic is a departure from the more familiar good girl art of past cartoonists. Moritat’s beautiful women are not what is often referred to as classically proportioned. They’re all voluptuous torsos and limbs that go on forever. His figures are elongated in a way that the anatomy doesn’t always seem to properly hold together. Sheena is drawn with juvenile facial features which imbue her with an unexpected and strangely elf-like bearing. This is further enhanced by the digital coloring which gives her darker skin tones than past versions. Moritat’s Sheena seems like a deliberate move away from the more traditional caucasian-looking portrayal of the character. But she also doesn’t resemble anyone hailing from any country in the real world.

This hazy exoticism extends to the rest of the story. The plot requires Sheena to enter an ancient ruin already covered up by jungle overgrowth. Despite its state of advanced decay, the structure’s various boobytraps are still in working condition because off course the are. Now I realize that Val Verde is a fictional nation, but seeing as how it’s also supposed to be located in South America, I found it odd that the ruin’s architectural details more closely resembled ancient South Asian art than anything found in pre-Columbian cultures. Later on, Sheena defends the tribal inhabitants of the jungle from the armed goons of a greedy multinational corporation bent on strip mining the place. The portrait of the natives are fairly generic: diminutive brown-skinned people who wear loincloths, carry primitive spears, and live in thatched houses. The attempt simply feels lazy. I could also point out the dissonance of seeing lemurs, which are native to Madagascar, included in the cover.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #0 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat Colors: Andre Szymanowicz. Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: Emanuela Lupacchino, Fabio Mantovani, J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Ryan Sook. Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

So at this point, there’s not a whole lot to recommend the comic if you’re not already a fan of Moritat’s brand of cheesecake. Or the alternative covers drawn by other artists. The most intriguing part of the story right now is that Sheena has experienced at least two separate encounters with flying drones being operated by an unidentified male university student or professor searching for something lost in the jungle. It’s kinda creepy that someone has the ability to spy on Sheena from the air, even though those encounters are purely accidental.

But for me, the most baffling sequence involves a camera. While prancing around the ancient ruins, Sheena finds an abandoned 35mm SLR camera which still contains a canister of exposed film. Despite her unfamiliarity with the device, Sheena instinctively pockets the canister. After she escapes and reaches the open air, Sheena unspools the film from inside the canister and examines a single frame of what is now a magically processed roll of color negatives. WTF! Just because virtually everyone takes pictures with digital equipment these days shouldn't be an excuse for this kind of slapdash storytelling.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle #1 Story: Marguerite Bennett, Christina Trujillo Art: Moritat, Dimi Maheras Colors: Moritat, Casey Silver Letters: Thomas Napolitano Covers: J. Scott Campbell, Sabine Rich, Ryan Sook, Moritat, Andre Szymanowicz, Carli Ihde, Michael Atiyeh, Cosplay Photo.  Sheena created by Will Eisner and Jerry Iger.

9/09/2017

Calexit #1

Calexit #1, Story: Matteo Pizzolo Art: Amancay Nahuelpan Colors: Tyler Boss Flats: Dee Cunniffe Maps: Richard Nisa Letters: Jim Campbell Flags: Robert Anthony Jr. Assistant: Philip W. Smith II.
Story: Matteo Pizzolo
Art: Amancay Nahuelpan
Colors: Tyler Boss
Flats: Dee Cunniffe
Maps: Richard Nisa
Letters: Jim Campbell
Flags: Robert Anthony Jr.
Assistant: Philip W. Smith II

Secession has become a regular part of American political discourse because it’s mostly just wishful thinking. The consequences for any state attempting to secede would be disastrous. Without outside intervention or the state's declaration of independence inspiring a much wider popular uprising throughout the country, the U.S. military would face fewer obstacles and easily outmatch any local standing army. And if the federal government does become a truly fascist regime as some well-heeled liberals fear will happen in the near future, it won’t have any compunction operating in the most ruthless manner to suppress even the most nominal opposition. All of these anxieties inform the bleak setting of Calexit, a collaborative effort from writer Matteo Pizzolo and artist Amancay Nahuelpan. The comic doesn’t actually begin with California’s declaration to secede. It shows what happens after the U.S. National Guard has been sent in to keep the upstart state from leaving the Union. This is a story of the resistance being driven underground and seeing no option but to wage asymmetric warfare on the occupying forces and their collaborators.

Calexit is not a subtle work. The comic extrapolates the country’s divisive political climate since the 2016 elections and dials it up to eleven. There’s no doubt who the story's fictional president is meant to resemble, both in physical appearance and his word salad style of oration. A throwaway line about certain retail chains boycotting the first daughter’s fashion line mirrors the real world administration’s all to familiar nepotism. And let’s not forget its flagrant xenophobia. Calexit quickly reveals that the action which triggers California’s defiance is an executive order signed during the president's second term, calling for “the immediate deportation of all immigrant civilians not recognized as U.S. citizens.” To quote the words of a wise man in order to summarize the effects of the process, "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering"

Calexit #1, Story: Matteo Pizzolo Art: Amancay Nahuelpan Colors: Tyler Boss Flats: Dee Cunniffe Maps: Richard Nisa Letters: Jim Campbell Flags: Robert Anthony Jr. Assistant: Philip W. Smith II.

The main villain however is Father Rossie, the government’s point man in rounding up California’s immigrant population and squelching the resistance. He’s the kind of over-the-top James Bond villain who loves to watch people squirm while he monologues about how they’re all going to die. He’s also drawn to look like a latter day Steve Jobs when he was finally succumbing to cancer, with a dash of the creepy Mr. Burns for good measure. Playing Princess Leia to Rossie’s Governor Tarkin is the headstrong Zora McNulty, an immigrant on the run and a leading figure in the resistance. We know she’s a big deal because several well-off L.A. residents would sooner die at Rossie’s hands before revealing to him Zora’s whereabouts. And Calexit even has its own Han Solo figure in Jamil, a happy-go-lucky smuggler inadvertently caught in the conflict between the two.

Jamil is the main POV character, and his ability to get along with both sides allows us to witness the terrible conditions of the occupation. He supplies a Guardsman anti-depressants because they’re not exactly legal. Jamil has a friendly conversation about his profession with Rossie. He passes by an entire neighborhood razed to the ground by a pro-government militia without batting an eye. The comic’s main contention is that internal divisions within the state had already doomed California even before the federal government put boots on the ground. Many of its residents would have supported the executive order had it been enacted in real life.

Calexit #1, Story: Matteo Pizzolo Art: Amancay Nahuelpan Colors: Tyler Boss Flats: Dee Cunniffe Maps: Richard Nisa Letters: Jim Campbell Flags: Robert Anthony Jr. Assistant: Philip W. Smith II.

This topicality makes it complicated to assess Calexit as an object. There’s a rawness to the art that imparts an unfinished quality, especially in the flat color palette. There’s also a sense of urgency throughout which transcends the usual objective of producing a comic book. Calexit presents an extreme forecast of the future in the hopes of heading it off. This urgency has only grown since its initial conception. Pizzolo explains in the afterword that when he was writing Calexit, “We didn't know the winning presidential candidate would lose California by nearly 2-to-1, a margin of almost 3.5 million votes. We didn't know the day after that President took power, the largest mass demonstration in history occurred, and the state with the largest turnout was California. We didn't know that California’s two major international airports, LAX and SFO, would be blockaded by furious protesters… I think one thing we can all agree on is that shit’s been hurtling into the fan at an accelerated pace lately.”

Of course, we could still end up being spared a second term.

8/31/2017

More NonSense: Jack Kirby Centennial

Comic-Con International 2017 Souvenir Book cover illustration, Jack Kirby Tribute by Bruce Timm.
Image via The Beat

Jack Kirby, the King of American comics, would have been 100 years old this August 28. The Jack Kirby Museum has a number of events celebrating his centennial.

Kyle Pinion recommends 10 must-read single issues from the King.

Jeet Heer on the King.

Walt Simonsson talks about the influence of Kirby.

Comic-Con International has made its Kirby's 100 tribute book available for download.

Marvel has a Kirby tribute page.

Heidi MacDonald has a few images of Kirby.

Kabuki Nagata of the Japan Times reports that digital manga sales might have overtaken its paper counterparts. That's a huge portent from the world's largest comic book market.
Thanks to smartphones, many people have changed how they read manga, with a myriad of e-comics just a few taps away on their handsets without the need to carry print versions. 
The rise of digital manga is also changing the landscape of the traditionally closed manga businesses as well. Seeing growth potential, many firms, not only existing publishing houses that dominated the era of paper comics but also tech and overseas players, have jumped into the market with manga apps. 
In the meantime, people in the industry say the paper market is likely to keep shrinking and its future remains uncertain. Some are seriously concerned about the fate of manga magazines, which have long served as mediums to introduce new titles, as their role is being taken over by smartphones.
Congratulations to the 2017 Hugo Award Winners.

Asher Elbein acknowledges the work of colorists and letterers.

Geoff Johns, Holy F*&!