On the March manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss a couple of experimental works. They begin with Yuichi Yokoyama’s Iceland, released last fall from Retrofit Comics/Big Planet Comics. The plot of this book is minimal — two characters are searching for a third, they find him, and then they drive off in a taxi — and it’s something like you might find in Samuel Beckett narrative. But it’s Yokoyama’s art that propels the text. As the guys discuss, there is something kinetic, claustrophobic, and even frantic about the visuals. For Derek, futurism comes to mind.
After that they look at a book that both Shea and Derek have been eagerly anticipating, Susumu Katsumata’s Fukushima Devil Fish (Breakdown Press). The core text comprises nine short stories that provide a diversity of tone. The first two are the most contemporary, originally published during the 1980s and focusing on the dangers of nuclear power. The remaining pieces reflect Katsumata’s style from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, stories originally appearing in the legendary Garo and COM. Some of these are folklore-inspired narratives, presenting a pre-modern Japan inhabited by kappa and tanuki and reminiscent of the stories found in Red Snow. Others are instances of “I-manga,” introspective and highly personal pieces driven more by tone than cohesive storyline. Four critical and biographical essays, two written by Katsumata himself, round out the collection.
On the July manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two recent publications that highlight, in different ways, the history of the Japanese medium. They begin with Seiichi Hayashi’s Red Red Rock and Other Stories 1967-1970 (Breakdown Press). All but two stories that compose this collection were originally published in Garo, examples of the avant-garde coming from that publication in its heyday. Although not nearly as abstract and non-linear, Hayashi’s manga reminds the guys of Sasaki Maki’s Ding Dong Circus, which they discussed in December’s manga episode (and also a Breakdown Press publication). As both Derek and Shea point out, the stories collected in Red Red Rock represent some of the earliest of Hayashi’s efforts, and they’re noticeably more experimental, or at least less linear, than his other work available in English, such as Red Colored Elegyand the stories in Gold Pollen and Other Stories. Adding to this collection is an astute contextualizing essay by Ryan Holmberg, also the book’s translator.
After their trip down Garo-inspired memory lane, the Two Guys turn to a work that delineates a much earlier chapter in manga history. The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime is a graphic biography of a man often called “the god of manga” and published by Stone Bridge Press. Created by Toshio Ban (who served as Tezuka’s “sub-chief” assistant) and Tezuka Productions, and translated by Frederik L. Schodt, the book appears to be a collaborative, or even corporate, effort to tease out the dynamism and the many facets of its subject’s life. In fact, both Shea and Derek feel that there are too many details embedded in the narrative and that the book’s 869 pages of story (not counting the substantive Appendixes) could have been paired down significantly. What’s more, the tone of the the biography is blatantly reverential and becomes almost too much at times. Readers are presented with example after example of the seemingly superhuman nature of Tezuka, and with little insight into the contradictions and complications that would define any artist’s life. Still, The Osamu Tezuka Story is a recommended read and a useful, albeit lengthy, introduction to this manga legend.
This week the Two Guys discuss three very different new titles. First, they look at Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book, another collaboration between Dark Horse Books and Kitchen Sink Books (an earlier such publication, The Best of Comix Book, was discussed last may). What’s more, this is the first volume in the publishers’ new Essential Kurtzman library. Andy and Derek begin by mentioning that neither of them had read Jungle Book before, although it has been on both of their radars, so they come to this volume as new contemporary readers. And that’s one of the first things the guys discuss: the datedness of the stories. Originally published in 1959, Jungle Book comprises four shorter pieces, and in about all of them Kurtzman has embedded cultural references specific to the times. This is not necessarily an obstacle to enjoying the text, but both Derek and Andy appreciated this volume more as a cultural and historical artifact than they did a cohesive work of comics art. Kurtzman’s original stories are accompanied by short supplemental material by the likes of Gilbert Shelton, Art Spiegelman, Peter Poplaski, Robert Crumb, and Denis Kitchen. Indeed, it is latter’s essay that provides the necessary context, and the guys note that Kitchen’s contribution is one of the highlights of this volume. Next they return to a creator that they discussed last summer, Conor Stechschulte, and his new book, Generous Bosom, Part One (Breakdown Press). This is a fascinating title that, while the first installment of a multipart narrative, easily stands on its own. Derek and Andy comment on the apparent raciness of comic, but they quickly point out that this is a much more sophisticated story than the title would suggest. The book has its share of sexual references (explicit at times), but it is a complex narrative that takes unexpected turns. Most impressive is Stechschulte’s method of storytelling and the ways he uses his art to establish the interlocking narrative levels. Finally, the guys discuss Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich’s Lady Killer #1, the first in a five-part miniseries. What drew them to this title is Jones’s art, which they really enjoyed when they discussed Helheim back in 2013. Now Jones has turned to scripting, on which she collaborates with Rich, and this first issue does a good job of establishing the miniseries’ premise: a 1950s/60s hitwoman masquerading as an innocuous housewife. But while the story is interesting, it is Jones’s art that really captures the guys’ interest. Although they may wait for the trade in reading the rest of the story — they have some issues with the first issue’s pacing — this is nonetheless a title worth checking out.