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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Li'l Mell and Smithson! 
3rd-Jan-2008 10:21 am
Li'l Mell's up, a day late but still rad. Neil draws some great rage.


Aaaand there's a new Smithson! With caring and sharing.


Also, I hope you didn't miss this week's Chronicles of William Bazillion, featuring the continually unfolding horrors of the Doomsday Seed Project in Svarbald.

Man, that's a lot of webcomics. Would you like even more webcomics? I've joined a new little cartoonist collective, The Couscous Collective. It's, um, me and my friends. But with links to all our stuff!

I don't know if you've been following my All the Comics in the World column on Comixology.com, but, like so many people deluded into thinking their opinions are interesting, I've been doing a 2007 wrapup. Part Two is up today. You can read Part One here.

Okay, it's a new year, the holidays are over except in Japan (where New Year's means a week of partying), and I'd better get back to the Overlooked Manga Festival. And what better way than with an Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event?

Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event:
Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga, Part One

When I started the OMF, one of the informal rules I set for myself was to avoid manga that have been out of print in English for ten years or more, so that readers wouldn't have too much trouble tracking these titles down. Occasionally I've stretched the rule, as when covering a series that's coming back into print (like Parasyte) or a title that's just too much fun to ignore (like Bringing Home the Sushi, and, yes, okay, maybe my idea of fun is different from yours). Mostly, though, this rule has barred me from covering really early Viz manga. The first company dedicated entirely to publishing English editions of Japanese comics, Viz has been around since the '80s and has more old and out-of-print manga under its uzumaki-emblazoned belt than anyone.

And a lot of early Viz manga are really neat. Back when Viz got started and was basically two Japanese hippies and a handful of American comic-book nerds, nobody really knew what American readers wanted (as it turned out, it was mostly Naruto, which didn't exist yet), so things tended to get published on the basis of some editor just really liking it. This was often bad for business but great for those of us who like good manga, so it's kind of a shame that Viz adopted more rigorous selection processes once it found some successful manga and actually started making money.

Many of these early Viz manga are hard to find today. You may have to search used bookstores, back issue bins, and the shadier corners of eBay. But in the search itself, you may find you learn a little bit about manga...and a little bit about...yourself. So here they are, in no particular order: Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga!

1. The Legend of Kamui

This was one of Viz's three launch titles, originally published in conjunction with Eclipse Comics. The original, still untranslated Legend of Kamui was one of the seminal ninja manga of the 1970s, not to mention one of the all-time most popular titles ever from the now-defunct underground manga magazine Garo. The Kamui published by Viz is a sequel series from the 1980s drawn in a slicker style, but it's still pretty boss. Basic plot: Kamui is an awesome ninja who is cool, and by cool, I mean totally sweet. Just to make it clear that he's even awesomer than normal ninjas, Kamui is a fugitive ninja, on the run from his former clan. Also, sometimes he fights naked lady ninjas and sharks.

That's right. Brother rides a shark. RESPECT.

In between the nutty action, this manga is actually an absorbing, reasonably accurate portrayal of feudal Japanese life, mostly the bare-bare bones life of peasants and rural fishermen. The art is old-school but excellent, and the English lettering is by none other than Stan Sakai, the only person other than Todd Klein to win an Eisner for lettering (you think I'm exaggerating, but I'm so not. It's like twenty-odd wins for Klein, one for Sakai, and that's IT). Too bad Viz only got around to doing two volumes.

2. Mai the Psychic Girl

She is pretty. She is psychic. She is japanese. Yeah.

Another of the three legendary Viz launch titles, supposedly chosen out of the belief that American readers could be fooled into thinking it was kind of like X-Men. This is the least deranged, misogynistic and repulsively violent Ryoichi Ikegami manga, which means that, in a way, it misses the entire point of being a Ryoichi Ikegami manga. I like it anyway. It's a story that manga fans know, now, all too well: cute teenage girl has psychic powers, evil shadow organization chases her down, heroic nerds shelter her, stuff gets blowed up real good.

Even relatively sane Ikegami is pretty wacky and violent, and you get to see his art develop a lot over the course of three volumes. According to Patrick Macias's review in Manga: The Complete Guide (boy, is that book ever useful), Tim Burton once considered filming Mai the Psychic Girl with Winona Ryder in the lead role. Why are you wasting time with Sweeney Todd, Burton? Do not resist the call of psychic manga!

The third Viz launch title, for the curious, was Area 88, which unfortunately is not on this list because not even I have copies.

3. Lum: Urusei Yatsura

Rumiko Takahashi shines throughout Viz's long and storied history like a guardian angel in nerd glasses. Ranma 1/2 was one of Viz's first titles to actually sell, Inu-Yasha is still one of the company's moneymaking juggernauts (you think it's all about Naruto, but you don't realize that there's like a million volumes of Inu-Yasha manga and DVDs), and Lum the irritable alien demon girl still has ravenously devoted fans, just like she does in Japan. Given the massive success Takahashi's work has brought Viz, I'm not sure why they won't bring Urusei Yatsura back into print. Maybe it really is a plot to upset Lum fans. Having dealt with Lum fans, sometimes on a daily basis during my stint as the Viz front-desk receptionist, I fully support Viz in this brave stance.

Anyway, Urusei Yatsura (a pun that kinda translates into "Those Wacky Aliens") was Takahashi's first big hit in Japan, and it's the ur-text for all harem and maid manga. Dumb teenage boy inexplicably attracts hot girl with magic powers. Other hot girls blast into town and hang around for no good reason. Hot girl gets mad and beats shit out of dumb teenage boy, over and over and over. The formula's been copied a billion times, but Takahashi is the only one who makes it really funny, mainly by refusing to turn the thing into a straight-up teen male fantasy and making all the characters amusingly reprehensible to various degrees. And to be honest, I kind of prefer her somewhat crude but cute and funny early art to the more polished, assistant-heavy style in her later manga.

4. Four Shojo Stories

Good luck finding this one, suckers! Since translator Matt Thorn has already discussed this elsewhere online, I guess I can safely share that most copies of this super-early shojo anthology were pulped after Viz ran into legal problems with the Japanese publishers. Part of the problem, I think, was that Japanese manga publishers don't usually do anthologies by different artists like this, and they thought the whole thing was weird and suspect. Also, supposedly there was an inexplicable last-minute decision to replace the original cover art by Moto Hagio with the weird artwork you see above. The hell? Anyway, this is one of the toughest English editions of a manga to find, but to my mind it's worth it, because it's one of my faves.

Matt Thorn was one of the first people in America to get into shojo manga, and he got way into it, to the point that he now teaches classes on shojo manga in Japan. This is a collection of four short shojo (girls') and josei (women's) manga, published at a time when virtually no shojo was available in English. I know, it sounds totally crazy, but there was a time, long ago, when American publishers thought girls didn't like comics, and that nobody, boy or girl, wanted to read "girly" comics. No, seriously. I was there. And I think Viz missed a bet by not pushing shojo manga harder, ultimately allowing Tokyopop to get those sweet Sailor Moon and CLAMP licenses that triggered the shojo explosion, but I have to admit that, back in the day, Viz did publish a few rad shojo titles.

Four Shojo Stories features, well, four stories: "Promise" and "Since You've Been Gone," two contemporary relationship stories by Keiko Nishi; "Changeling," a sci-fi story by Shio Saito; and "They Were Eleven," by the great Moto Hagio. That's a page from "They Were Eleven" above. It's a pretty motley group of manga, but, well, there wasn't a lot of shojo manga available in translation in those ancient times. And they're all really good.

5. Black Jack

Few things make me happier than an out-of-print manga coming back into print, and few announcements could possibly fill me with more joy than the news that Vertical is planning to publish the complete 18-volume series. Which is great, since Viz only got as far as two volumes before giving up. Two AWESOME volumes.

Black Jack is the Surgeon with the Hands of God, a rogue doctor who takes on dangerous cases for stratospheric fees. Osamu Tezuka was educated as a doctor, so the stories are rich in medical knowledge and experience, except, of course, when Tezuka decides that it would be more fun to just make crazy shit up. Which is pretty much constantly. So don't be surprised if a patient's undeveloped conjoined twin suddenly displays telekinetic powers, or if removing a woman's ovaries turns her into a man. Oh, Black Jack, how I love you.

Next week: five more ancient manga, including what may be my favorite manga in the whole world. Why must so many great manga pass out of print? Why?

Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Dr. Slump
Your and My Secret
Wild Act
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
Banana Fish
Skip Beat
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Cyborg 009
Anywhere But Here
To Terra
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
Doing Time
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators
Mariko Parade
Golgo 13
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
Pure Trance
OMF Special Event: My Legacy
OMF Special Event: An All-Star Tribute to Carl Gustav Horn
Guest OMF by Jason Thompson: 888
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Tekkon Kinkreet
Yakitate! Japan
Flower of Life
OMF Special Event: Top Ten Lines from the Excel Saga manga
What's Michael?
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part One
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part Two
Comics Underground Japan
Slam Dunk
Moon Child
Chikyu Misaki
Bambi and Her Pink Gun

3rd-Jan-2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
I've got the periodical versions of Kamui, and need to unload them. Offers welcome!

Winona Ryder in Mai the Psychic Girl? PLXKTHX!
7th-Jan-2008 03:35 am (UTC)
Lol, can I just read your copies of Kamui and give 'em back when I'm done? Bring them to MoCCA!
7th-Jan-2008 03:46 am (UTC)
Sure :)
3rd-Jan-2008 08:20 pm (UTC)
Ha. I looked all over the place for Four Shojo Stories -- both at Comic-Con and Sakura Con -- and I eventually found it at the used bookstore across the street from my apartment for $4.
3rd-Jan-2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
I had no idea Four Shojo Stories was so hard to find. We used to have copies at the store back in the day that just gathered dust... darn it.

And the fact that Mai is out of print these days really boggles my mind.
3rd-Jan-2008 08:56 pm (UTC)
Wait Vertical's translating Black Jack? Awesome! I have volume one of Black Jack from Viz, but I never found the other one.

I cannot wait to see how it goes. :D
3rd-Jan-2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
Yay Blackjack! I have been waiting for YEARS (basically, since they came out) to read more.

Also, I have all those Area 88 single issues. I have similarly been waiting FOR YEARS to get the next installment. I think I'm outta luck on that one, though.
3rd-Jan-2008 10:24 pm (UTC)
I was very fortunate to have a library in my home town that had both volumes of Black Jack. The scene where he fends off a pack of dingos with a scalpel while performing emergency surgery ON HIMSELF remains my ultimate standard of badassery. It's awesome that it's coming back.
3rd-Jan-2008 10:53 pm (UTC)
Man, I would love to see more Lum.

Though at least Maison Ikkoku was completed.
9th-Oct-2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
I would love to see Legend of Galactic Heros licensed one day. However I would like them to wait until I get some other things all caught up.
9th-Oct-2008 03:12 pm (UTC)
However I would like them to wait until I get some other things all caught up. After all Legend of Galactic Heros is a episode epic and it's over 10 years old.
9th-Oct-2008 03:42 pm (UTC)
However I would like them to wait until I get some other things all caught up. After all Legend of Galactic Heros is a episode epic and it's over 10 years old.
9th-Oct-2008 03:25 pm (UTC)
I would love to see Legend of Galactic Heros licensed one day. However I would like them to wait until I get some other things all caught up.
4th-Jan-2008 01:21 am (UTC) - Matt Thorn here
Just a couple of clarifications about Four Shoujo Stories. I wasn't the editor, I was the translator. I worked freelance for Viz back then, but was pushing them to do shoujo manga since I started in 1990. We had permission from Shogakukan Publishing to do the stories separately, in leaflet format, but Viz never asked them permission to combine the stories in a paperback. That's what pissed off Shogakukan, and specifically editor Junya YAMAMOTO, who was like a second father to the artists involved. I never heard about the change in cover art, but I did think they were asking for trouble (as if they hadn't already) by putting the youngest of the three artists on the cover, rather than Hagio.
4th-Jan-2008 07:20 am (UTC) - Re: Matt Thorn here

Thanks so much for writing and clarifying, Matt! I didn't want to get into the legal details too much here, as you've already covered them admirably elsewhere. The cover illustration issue is something I heard around the office; if it's true, I have no idea why it was done.

I really enjoyed "Hanshin" and your interview with Moto Hagio in the Comics Journal a while back. Lord, I wish someone would publish more Hagio over here...she's my very favorite manga artist.
4th-Jan-2008 01:34 am (UTC)
I found three of these at the Santa Clara Country library when I was a teen first getting into manga, trying very hard to get my hands on it while living in a small boring town. I also found stuff like Parasyte, Gunsmith Cats, Banana Fish... Somehow, despite how much manga has exploded over here, the limited variety of the past was much more interesting.

4th-Jan-2008 02:03 am (UTC)
I could have sworn you'd already done 'Black Jack'... I must have heard you rave over it in some other format. I would love to see Urusei Yatsura come back and would purchase it if Viz committed to doing the whole series. And I'd jump on Patlabor in a heartbeat, but I do not indulge in such fanciful dreams.
4th-Jan-2008 04:06 am (UTC)
I think it popped up in an OMF Special Event.
4th-Jan-2008 03:07 am (UTC)
Holy crap, I had no idea Mai the Psychic Girl was drawn by Ryoichi Ikegami! I've seen it a few times over the years, and it is way more mild than anything I figured he was capable of drawing. Wow. AND it was biweekly.

I was thinking about Mai a couple weeks ago, I was totally shocked when I saw it and a few other series like Ashen Victor, Eat-Man, and Lycanthrope Leo still listed as available backlist in the newest Viz bookstore catalog. Those must be ancient copies.
4th-Jan-2008 05:04 am (UTC) - Memories... Like The Corner Of My Bookcase....
Mai the Psychic Girl was the first manga I ever read. I have all four volumes of Mai, two volumes of Lum and one of Kamui.

Those early Viz titles totally rocked my world. Those... and Nausicaä!
4th-Jan-2008 09:27 am (UTC)
Oh g-d do I miss Urusei Yatsura. I first read it when I was fifteen and I can't find my old (heavily battered) copy. This makes me sad. (Luckily, my old tapes from Animeigo of the second, third, and fourth movie seem to be in relatively decent shape and, also, someplace where I know where they are.)
4th-Jan-2008 03:08 pm (UTC) - Tasty crop!
Thanks for the Couscous collective - I was aware of most but not all of your fabu friends' work! *settles in for a long winter's read*
4th-Jan-2008 05:02 pm (UTC) - Kamui
It tells you how small the manga market was back then, that I've read all of these but Black Jack (which just didn't sound interesting and then disappeared so quickly). The historical realism of Kamui that was built into the narrative was fascinating stuff. So unlike anything else at the time. I wish someone would bring out the original version of Kamui. I understand it was a big hit with student protest groups in '68.

I read a few Area 88 issues and I don't think you were missing anything.
4th-Jan-2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
I first got into manga in 1995 and was lucky enough to live in a town with a lot of back issue carryin' comic shops, so I have an almost complete collection of this early, out-of-print Viz stuff (although filling in the last holes is proving pretty well impossible, as you can imagine). Still, SO much great stuff.

1. Kamui -- I'm pretty sure that Viz translated more than what is printed in those TPBs. The biweekly single issue format ran 37 issues (of which I'm only missing TWO...curses!), which should be over 800 pages worth of the manga. I think only two TPBs were printed because demand didn't support keeping them in print in the late-80s, but when Viz became more popular in the mid-90s they gave it another shot by printing those "perfect collections" that simply reprinted the original 2 TPBs. When those didn't catch on, they didn't continue collecting the series, but there's more available than that in English if you can find the single issues.

2. Mai the Psychic Girl -- My GOD do I love this book. Easily the best of Viz's early works. It should be noted that both the single issues and the original 4-volume trades have some nudity edited out of them, but the 3-volume "perfect collections" restore those pages.

Incidentally, Area 88 was a REALLY good manga. It was chosen by Viz, I think, due to the connection with the video game UN Squadron. Viz published more issues of Area 88 than its other two launch titles
(42 issues total) plus continued to translate the series in Animerica for a year or so, but trade paperbacks are so rare that I've never personally laid eyes on one, although I believe one or two volumes were released. Given a new Area 88 anime was released recently, you'd think there'd be a market for this, but I guess Viz doesn't agree.

3. Urusei Yatsura -- I would KILL to read more of this book, and given Takahashi's popularity and Animeigo's ability to publish the entire anime, I can't foresee any reason why it wouldn't be able to at least be profitable. I can't help but wonder if maybe the re-release of the Mermaid Saga manga last year was testing the waters for the viability of a UY release (even though the two couldn't be more different.

When I interviewed Gerard Jones about Maison Ikkoku, he said that Viz management is well aware that he's chomping at the bit to adapt more UY, so here's hoping! (Here's hoping we finally get the last chapter of One Pound Gospel, too, but I'm not holding my breath.)

4. Four Shojo Stories -- I sadly don't have the TPB version, but I did manage to snag all of these in their separately published forms (Promise and Since You've Been Gone in one giant one-shot comic, They Were 11 as a 4-issue mini, and Changeling in an old issue of Animerica), and they're all fantastic.

5. Black Jack -- I'm super excited about Vertical bringing us more Black Jack...I thought the first run was stellar. I think there was more than 2 TPBs worth of material translated for this, too, as it ran in Manga Vizion for quite a while, and then they followed it up with some single issue comics, although that may have been to flesh it out to fill 2 trades...I'd have to check.

Manga Vizion was a source for SO much great manga....Samurai Crusader is the only other Ikegami to fit your whole "non-deranged" category, although it is still pretty misogynistic and mildly violent (by his standards, anyway). It also features a samurai and his sidekick, Earnest-freakin'-Hemingway, battling Nazis in 1930s France, so that's kinda cool. There was a ton of great shojo published, too, including Ogre Slayer, A,A', and a ton of stuff by Four Shojo Stories artist Keiko Nishi that I don't believe was ever collected.

I can't wait to see what the other five are. The mind boggles at the possibilities! Bio Booster Armor Guyver? Horobi? Pixy Junket? This is making me want to dig out my old Viz Shop-By-Mail catalogs, which are still cluttering one of my drawers somewhere. =^)
9th-Jan-2008 01:30 pm (UTC)
I got Four Shojo Stories when ti came out--I was a 14 year old fascinated with shoujo, largely thanks to the then new to Canada airwaves Sailor Moon and I think it had just came out--and basically is singlehandedly responsible for making me realize I absolutely LOVED manga, in general. The binding on my edition is a bit loose, but otherwise it's still in good form. I just wish it had led to Viz attempting more Moto Hagio in particular (I know, have and love A Prime but...) though I'm hoping maybe now Vertical will pick her up... (How frustrating back then was it to know that there were side stories and a sequel to They Were 11 that I couldn't read or have access too--)

Great picks! (though as a Sondheim, and Sweeney Todd from even further back than a manga fan I have to say I'm kinda glad Burton didn't do Mai...)
4th-Jan-2008 08:13 pm (UTC)
Ah, Keiko Nishi...her two-part short story "The Signal Goes Blink, Blink" in her old Viz collection "Love Song" is still one of the best shoujo short stories I've ever read.
5th-Jan-2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
Are you ever going to do the Revolutionary Girl Utena manga, Shaenon? That's something I've always wanted to read but haven't been able to get my hands on. I love the anime, but I know the manga is almost completely different.
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