Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Planetes Omnibus, Vol. 1 and Ding Dong Circus and Other Stories, 1967-1974

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For their December manga episode, Shea and Derek discuss two very different works. They start off with Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes Ominbus, Vol. 1, just released from Dark Horse Books. This is the first of two large editions of the Japanese series that originally ran from 1999 to 2004. It’s the story of a space Planetes1debris removal crew — orbital garbage collectors — whose job is to clear out all of the man-made trash floating around the earth so as to make space travel safer. Taking place in the 2070s, this is a futuristic narrative that feels closely connected to our own world. The guys describe it as a kind of hard science fiction (with its emphasis on technical detail and scientific accuracy), but one that is heavily character-driven. Derek highlights both the drama and the comedy that take place among the crew members — especially with Hachimaki, who is arguably the central figure in this first volume — and Shea points out that while anchored in the science, Planetes is more of an “everyday” series that is focused on the mundane facets of space exploration. Next, the guys turn to a completely different kind of manga, one that challenges our ways of reading comics. Ding Dong Circus and Other Stories, 1967-1974 (Breakdown Press) collects fifteen of DingDongCircusSasaki Maki’s short works, all but one originally published in the legendary manga magazine, Garo, between 1967 and 1971. The majority of these pieces are not what you would call “stories” in the strictest sense, in that there is no temporal or causal connection between panels suggesting sequence. Even the comics that do betray narrative elements, such as “The Town Horse” or “The Ballad of Henri and Anne,” are constructed in fragmented ways that suggest an unsteady dreamscape more than anything. The best way to read Maki’s work, as Shea and Derek point out, is by understanding it as visual poetry — with an emphasis on image and association — or as “musical” compositions reliant on graphical leitmotifs. If you approach Ding Dong Circus in this way, then you can better enjoy Sasaki Maki’s pop art-like, collage form of manga that embodies much of the tone and significations of the 1960s. For more on this book, check out Shea’s recent review on the A.V. Club.