Shaenon K. Garrity (shaenon) wrote,
Shaenon K. Garrity

New Smithson!

Look! A whole new scene!

Next week, the 2006 Marvel Holiday Special, featuring a story written by Andrew and me and drawn by Ron Lim, comes out. Be on the lookout!

Also, Marvel has put out a Holiday Special digest featuring past holiday stories, including "Moleman's Christmas," the story I wrote for the 2005 Holiday Special (with art by Roger Langridge).

I think what I like best about the digest is the genre classification on the back cover:

In other news, Narbonic passed the 2,000 strip mark this week. Also, seven panels of the final strip are now completed.

Okay, on to this week's stunning Overlooked Manga Festival!

I came to manga fandom in a roundabout way. As a teenager, I was into comics, and for some reason I was into Japanese culture (mostly traditional stuff like flower-arranging and The Tale of Genji), but I wasn't into Japanese comics. I know this sounds crazy, but way back in the mid-90s there weren't many Japanese comics available in America. Yes, it was a strange and primitive era.

Anyway, in my freshman year of college I took a class called "Intro to Japanese Culture," and the instructor, a Japanese woman who mostly taught Asian languages, spent one full class period on manga. I mention this because one of the pages I remember her showing us was from today's Overlooked Manga selection, and I am sorry to say that we all laughed. I mean, a comic. A serious comic. About ballet.

"No, no!" said the instructor. "It is so emotional!"

I said it before and I'll say it again: old shojo manga is the best manga of all, hands down. Swan, like From Eroica with Love, hails from the fabulous 1970s, the era when women started drawing shojo manga and it suddenly became mind-blowingly awesome. A lot of beautiful work came out of this period, and Kyoko Ariyoshi's is some of the best. This is one of the best-looking comics I have ever seen, hands-down.

The story's good, too; it's a nice bubbly soap opera. Masumi, a saucer-eyed young ballerina, joins an up-and-coming Japanese ballet company, where she struggles to become a great dancer and prove that Japanese ballet can compete on the world stage. The cast of friends, rivals, mentors, and love interests just keeps expanding as Masumi travels to the ballet centers of the world and enrolls in grueling competitions and performances. Although this is a shojo manga, and a super-girly one at that, the focus on insanely punishing training is reminiscent of something out of Shonen Jump:

You also learn a lot about ballet, as the manga takes time to define all the terminology and describe the plots and key roles of each ballet the characters dance:

And is there drama? You'd better believe there's drama! Medical problems, love problems, backstage rivalries, anguished pasts...there's always something going on. The cast is huge, and every character has individual problems and ambitions, so Masumi often ends up more as the eye of the hurricane than anything else. Most of the major characters get beautiful moments to themselves at some point.

But as fun as the story is, it's the art in Swan that really blows me away. Ariyoshi is not just a gifted artist but a brilliant graphic storyteller who knows how to choreograph a page. Swan consists almost entirely of ornate collage-style page layouts; you're not going to see a standard grid anywhere in the series (21 volumes long in Japan, with 7 currently out in English from CMX). But Ariyoshi's pages are never cluttered or confusing. Everything flows gracefully and intuitively, like, well, ballet.

This is all the more impressive because Ariyoshi's chosen subject is dance, which is almost impossible to capture on the still page. She gets across the feeling through evocative collage sequences, usually with multiple figures tumbling past a symbolic background, in and out of rows of tilting panels. Not only does she succeed in expressing the feeling of movement, she manages to evoke each dancer's particular style. In this one-on-one competition, for example, the fierce, violent style of Masumi's outgoing rival is depicted like this:

...while Masumi's gentle, peaceful approach looks like this:

You're feeling the power of dance now, right?

Everybody should totally be reading Swan. In particular, if you're a cartoonist or just someone who's interested in comics as a narrative art, you owe it to yourself to check out this manga and see a master perform the sequential-art equivalent of 32 fouettés en tournant.

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

Tags: overlooked manga festival, smithson
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