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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
16th-Nov-2006 10:43 pm
Just the black-and-white art right now. Colors to follow.


I met the brilliant superstar French cartoonist Joann Sfar last night. He did a signing at Comic Relief in Berkeley, and then a bunch of us went out for dinner, mainly because Sfar wanted to meet Derek Kim (a.k.a. the poor man's Gene Yang, but Gene was out of town). Check out the amazing sketch he did in my copy of Vampire Loves:

I just read in Time that Sid Davis died last month. You may not know this, but I'm a big fan of educational and industrial filmstrips (yes really), and Sid Davis made some of the grimmest classroom social-guidance films of the 1950s, generally on such bleak subjects as drug abuse, gang violence, car accidents, and the dangers of trusting strangers. He might be most infamous for the frankly homophobic "Boys Beware" ("What Jimmy didn't realize was that Ralph was sick...a sickness of the mind. You see, Ralph was a homosexual"), but it's only one of countless Sid Davis films in which children suffer hideous fates for minor infractions or, often, just bad attitudes. I'm bummed by the news. I mean, he was no Herk Harvey, but he was a major social-guidance filmmaker in the heyday of the era.

What else? Oh, right. It's time for another installment of Overlooked Manga Festival!

I'm extremely hyped by Viz's decision to publish some of the recent manga of Naoki Urasawa. Urasawa is a major talent in Japan, having made his name in the '80s with popular dramas like Pineapple Army (about a self-defense instructor who keeps getting involved in his clients' lives) and Master Keaton (about the eventful life of the son of a British noblewoman and a Japanese zoologist). Much of his recent work has involved breathing new life into stale manga genres, like sports drama and postapocalyptic sci-fi, by making them all smart and mature. It may be the closest Japanese equivalent to revisionist superhero comics like The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen. But unlike 99% of all "dark and gritty" superhero comics, Urasawa's comics don't suck. Instead, they are awesome.

Viz has committed to publishing Urasawa's manga in an order requested by the creator, starting with his biggest hit and moving on to the more recent Twentieth Century Boys. I really hope that Twentieth Century Boys will be followed by his current series, Pluto, an adult-oriented retelling of the most famous Astro Boy story. I know, it sounds like a colossally bad idea, like when DC tries to do a "dark" Captain Marvel or something, but it is excellent beyond belief. First, though, Viz is chugging through all 18 volumes of Urasawa's aforementioned biggest hit, his take on suspense thrillers. I give you...

The Viz covers for Monster are extremely close to the Japanese originals, except that they leave out the best part: the English-language plot synopses which, for some reason, traditionally grace the covers of Urasawa's manga. Here's the Japanese cover:

See, the Japanese publishers don't want readers to be misled. They don't want anyone to pick this up thinking they're getting a nice story, or a pleasant story, or even a neutral story.

They don't want any confusion here, is all.

And you know what? They're right: there's a lot of horror in this story. The premise is pure genius: Tenma, a gifted young Japanese surgeon working in Germany, sacrifices his career to save an orphan boy rather than a powerful politician. Only later does Tenma learn that the boy, Johan, is actually a cold-blooded murderer.

When Johan grows up to become a serial killer, and perhaps something worse, Tenma takes it upon himself to stop him. Oh, and he gets framed for Johan's crimes, which makes things a little tricky.

The story skips around, focusing sometimes on peripheral characters, sometimes on the half-dozen or so central characters involved in the hunt for Johan. In addition to Tenma (usually accompanied by a two-bit hood and a little boy named Dieter), the key players include Tenma's bitter and ruined ex-fiancee Eva, Johan's estranged twin sister Anna, and Inspector Lunge, a police detective convinced that Tenma is the killer and "Johan" is a split personality. Each of these people takes on the Johan mystery, which eventually involves eugenicists, neo-Nazis, crazy psychiatrists, serial killers, international banking, and worse, in his or her own way. Here's Anna:

And here's Inspector Lunge, on the clock:

There are a lot of reasons to like Urasawa's work. For one thing, he really is a master of suspense, just like the American cover says. The man knows how to pace a scene, and for Monster he comes up with a lot of tense sequences and creepy images. Like, say...

As you may have noticed, and as Dr. Narfelopigus III pointed out in a previous Overlooked Manga Festival, Urasawa is also outstanding at drawing faces. His character designs are detailed and realistic, yet with a slightly rubbery, cartoony quality that adds an extra level of expressiveness. He has an amazing gift for manipulating faces into a range of subtle expressions. Check out the difference in these same two faces with one set of expressions:

...and then with another:

So I'm enjoying the hell out of Monster. Even though it's Horrible Story. Actually, because it's Horrible Story.

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

16th-Nov-2006 11:54 pm (UTC)
That actually looks pretty good- might have to check it out when I'm home.

I'm not a big manga reader, generally, but this is one I'm really hoping makes it to the U.S. I've read it in Japanese, but my Japanese is woeful, and I can't very well go explaining it to friends panel by panel. The premise is bizarre (short version: a schoolgirl puppet, handled by a middle-aged man, is the new student at a high school- while the other students are all aware that she's not real, the teachers apparently have no clue), but the manga itself is excellent. If you see it on the shelves at some point, I'd highly recommend it.
17th-Nov-2006 12:12 am (UTC)
Aiiiii, Sfar...and he's not coming to Portland, I'm guessing.

Grand Vampire (aka Vampire Loves) was my first comic book purchase in France, during my very first week there, and I proceeded to buy all the volumes and learn tons of French from them. I remember huddling in my little borrowed bedroom in Bordeaux after a scary winter busride back from the bookstore and burying my face in his friendly, weird, creepy, touching stuff.
17th-Nov-2006 12:49 pm (UTC)
Yay for your extremely good taste in comics ! Have you read his other things as well ?(he's so productive ! he's done more books in the past 15 years than mos carttonists in their whole life !)

Do you know of "Professeur Bell" (art by Hervé tanquerelle) ?
17th-Nov-2006 12:15 am (UTC)
That anime and manga are actually haunting me. An ex-friend sent me the first volume of the manga as a reconciliation gift (you can't send someone ONE volume of a million volume thing! you can't!), and I had already been watching some of the anime. Then my friend Chris kept bugging me to read it and watch it and now here!

I guess it's a sign I'd better get down to it.
17th-Nov-2006 01:23 am (UTC)
Nice Sfar sketch!

Re: Monster - Wow. This looks really intriguing. I love that sequence with the inspector. Also, you really can't hurt sales with the label "Horrible Story".

17th-Nov-2006 02:24 am (UTC) - what a wonderful memory
Recently I snuggled with a lover in NYC as she translated/read me "Le Petit Monde de Golem." Sfar is simply amazing.
17th-Nov-2006 12:51 pm (UTC) - Re: what a wonderful memory
(see my answer to Dylan above your post)

Yay for your excellent taste in lovers !
17th-Nov-2006 02:31 am (UTC)
Wow! Sfar is pretty much my favourite cartoonist right now! I am jealous!
13th-Jul-2008 10:05 am (UTC)
Not much else to say right now. Well, looks like that's pretty much everything, unless something else catches my eye.
17th-Nov-2006 02:35 am (UTC)

I want to meet Sfar....
17th-Nov-2006 03:52 am (UTC)
Oh wow, "Monster" looks great! Kazu recommended it, but your breakdown really has me sold. I'm mesmerized by that mirror panel. I love the way it's framed by the arm, and how that creates a subtle magic realism with the face staring directly at the reader. (And, it strikes me as a shot that would be traditionally impossible in film.)

It was nice to see you and Andrew again last night!
17th-Nov-2006 05:40 pm (UTC)

It occurs to me that a lesser cartoonist might frame that shot from an angle, simply because that's how were's used to seeing it in movies. Fortunately, Urasawa really knows how to compose a panel.

It was great to see you, too!
2nd-Mar-2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
"(And, it strikes me as a shot that would be traditionally impossible in film.)"

It sounds like you haven't seen "Being John Malkovich". Such a shot is no longer impossible thanks to digital effects. :)
17th-Nov-2006 12:52 pm (UTC)
Was there a lot of people for this Sfar signing ? To get a book signed by him in france (for example in Angoulême), you have to wait HOURS... This usually discourages me (one of the things I hate most is waiting in line)
17th-Nov-2006 05:29 pm (UTC)

No, not at all. There was a decent turnout, but not huge. The line moved a little slowly, but only because Sfar did sketches for everyone. We asked him if it was anything like his signings in France, and he said no, not even remotely. So get your superstar European cartoonists' autographs in America, I guess.
20th-Nov-2006 04:28 pm (UTC)
They always do sketches, at french comic book signing.
17th-Nov-2006 04:52 pm (UTC) - Sfar
Sfar is my favorite person in comics right now too. I just read Petit Vampire #4 last night. Incredible. Luckily for all you non-French-speakers, much of his best work is available in English.
21st-Nov-2006 08:20 am (UTC)
In the realm of deliciously confusing manga covers from Japan, I'd like to offer this, which I found in the store not long after I arrived.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I didn't get a chance to crack it to see what the hell it was about though.
3rd-Sep-2008 01:09 pm (UTC)
Late better than never, but one of my favorite things about Monster is the level of detail and accuracy in the background settings. I did a doubletake at the drawing of the Dresden Hauptbahnhof setting, because it was so true to the real thing.
23rd-Apr-2010 03:36 am (UTC)
one of my fav. manga type is horror / mystery, so this is Monster manga become my fav. too.



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