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Shaenon K. Garrity
This is where I write stuff.
New Smithson! 
30th-Nov-2006 07:18 pm
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

30th-Nov-2006 08:57 pm (UTC)
I hope that the marvel stuff will either a) show up on time at the Forbidden Planet here or b) still be available in stores when I get back to the states on Dec 13...
20th-Jan-2007 01:14 pm (UTC) - all
30th-Nov-2006 09:24 pm (UTC)
In the first picture, are Tony and Jen looking all pouty because they know that all they'll get this year is coal? Due to them both being total a-hole stooges?
30th-Nov-2006 09:37 pm (UTC)
OMGZZZzzz I LOVE SWAN!! It is amazing and I am totally addicted. I haven't bought volume 8 yet.
30th-Nov-2006 09:59 pm (UTC)
Oh no. I need to buy more manga. Why do you always do this to me, Shaenon? And why also can you not use your powers to make Rose of Versailles come out in English? It's so hard to read...
2nd-Dec-2006 12:18 pm (UTC)
Because she's evil?
1st-Dec-2006 05:15 am (UTC)
Have I told you lately that you're awesome and I want to be you when I grow up? Just curious.
15th-Jul-2008 01:44 am (UTC)
I want to be like you when I grow up. . . How do I start a career in the 'washboard willy' arts. Please, tell me your secrets.
(Deleted comment)
16th-Jul-2008 01:22 am (UTC)
Com March 1st, at am My buddy Chris Pirillo (we go way back) has been busy fighting off the pundits that are slamming him for slamming Vista.
16th-Jul-2008 05:59 am (UTC)
Com March 1st, at am My buddy Chris Pirillo (we go way back) has been busy fighting off the pundits that are slamming him for slamming Vista.
26th-Mar-2007 10:30 am (UTC)
Brilliant manga--my one complaint is the actual ballet info and facts are often *wrong*--being a ballet nut, or even not a ballet nut, I'd hope SOMEONE at CMX knew that it's MARGOT Fonteyn, not Margaret--in one of the more obvious mistakes. *Maybe* this is just an example of silly/weird Japanese naming and was done on purpose in the Japanese original--but I doubt it and for someone who knows a lot about ballet it becomes very distracting when every 10 or so pages you find an eror like that...

I'm a bit worried that CMX has slowed down their publishing with this title--it seems to come out now every 4 or 5 months which doesn't seem too good for such a long series...

21st-Dec-2007 05:39 am (UTC)
It's probably because the Japanese translation of the name sounds vaguely like Margaret, and the folks at CMX picked the closest sounding English name w/o bothering to do ballet research. Western names are reproduced phonetically in Japanese & Chinese, but often there aren't equivalent sounds so the reproduction is really weird, and it becomes difficult to guess the original Western name if you don't already know it.
13th-Jul-2008 10:30 am (UTC)
Damon doesn't have comments open, and I'm a bit too jet-lagged to even. . . Posted in JD on EP on November PM Tailranking MXNA.
9th-Oct-2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
Damon doesn't have comments open, and I'm a bit too jet-lagged to even. . . Posted in JD on EP on November PM Tailranking MXNA.
27th-Mar-2007 08:00 am (UTC)
And to follow up on that ramble...

This post made me go back and re-read Swan from the beginning (I'm stuck home with a bad flue and the tv was giving me a headache...) Random comment, and I don't wanna sound liek I'm crapping on CMX too much since I'm shocked they even gave us this manga--but wow the first three issues in my collection (and the early Eroica manga volumes too....) were sure printed on awful paper--it sorta bunches together and almost looks like it was water damaged--has that crisp warped feel, and trust me I'm such a manga nerd that there's no way any of my fave titles would be touched by even a drop of moisture... By issue four and then with the new covers later (and all my more recent CMX comics) they seem to be fine paper wise--and are cute little easy to read books but wow... Not impressed, I wonder if they ever reprinted them on better stock?

OK enough obscure lame, anal manga complaints :)

7th-Feb-2008 11:13 pm (UTC) - so girly!
I would have killed for this manga when I was seven.
6th-May-2010 11:13 am (UTC)
little review about SWAN.
The trials and triumphs of hopeful prima ballerina Hijiri Masumi continue in the CMX version of this beloved international hit. When the naturally talented Kyogoku Sayoko injured her ankle, the chance of a lifetime fell into Masumis lap. Shes now faced with the challenge of representing Japan in a competition in Russia, far from home. Masumi is up against two of the finest Russian dance prodigies, but the tremendous stress and fear cause her to lose her hearing.

You can buy SWAN manga at manga astore



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