Brian is taking a couple of weeks off before we start the next chapter, so I filled in with my horrible, horrible poetry. I'm so sorry. I did enjoy the chance to draw a bunch of Smithson characters, past, present and future.
You'll also want to read Andrew's latest installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion. Can you tell he's busy putting together a minicomic for the Alternative Press Expo this weekend? Because he is. That minicomic is The Max O'Millions Adventure Society In: "The Idol of Svarbald," drawn by Andrew and written by me. If you're going to APE this weekend, be sure to stop by our table, say hi, and buy lots of comics.
Also, the nominations are out for this year's Eisner Awards, and they're really good! Go see! I'm especially happy to note that not only is my friend Gene Yang nominated for his graphic novel American Born Chinese--and, really, it'd be pretty embarrassing for all of comicdom if the American Library Association and the freakin' National Book Award recognized his genius and the Eisner committee didn't--but my other friend Lark Pien received a well-deserved nomination for coloring it. If you're a cartoonist or work in the comics industry in pretty much any capacity, you're eligible to vote in the Eisners, and you should totally do so. It's fun to hold godlike power over the fortunes of struggling cartoonists!
Okay, Overlooked Manga Festival behind the cut...
One especially excellent development in this year's Eisner roll is the prominence of manga. Beautiful, beautiful manga. The judges even created separate "International" categories for manga and comics from elsewhere, so that voters will no longer be placed in the schizophrenic position of trying to choose between, say, Osamu Tezuka and Joann Sfar. (Obviously, if Tezuka and Sfar have to fight, they should have one three-page slugfest, then realize a common goal and team up against Michael Turner.) And in the manga category are no fewer than three titles mentioned previously in the Overlooked Manga Festival: Antique Bakery (winner of the Great Moments in Manga Baking bake-off), Monster, and last week's entry, The Walking Man. Monster also scored a nomination in the Best Continuing Series category, and OMF pick Ode To Kirihito is nominated for Best Archival Project: Comic Books. Oh, and Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators, nominated for Best Anthology, is a book I'm planning to feature in an upcoming OMF, so that one gets the thumbs-up from me.
In fact, Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators was almost this week's OMF, but I decided to take a break from the Fanfare/Ponent Mon books. They're great, but they're like a rich dinner of fine French/Japanese fusion cuisine. And you know what I need after a meal like that? A big box of Pocky.
Sugar Sugar Rune is by Moyoko Anno, one of the best manga creators working today. Her primary genre is josei (ladies') manga, and she elevates soapy plots about ditzy modern women to glorious levels of satire. Picture Bridget Jones' Diary, but much more smart, funny, and self-aware. No, wait, what you're now picturing is Pride and Prejudice. But if I say that Moyoko Anno is like Jane Austen, you'll get the entirely wrong idea. Okay, picture Bridget Jones, only evil. That's closer.
Several of Anno's manga have been published in English, and they all rule and will probably pop up in future OMFs. Happy Mania is about a foolish woman who makes foolish choices, and it's awesome. Flowers and Bees is a seinin (men's) manga about a young man's ill-advised quest to be beautiful, and it's awesome and features a rewrite by Carl Horn, which is never a bad thing. Sugar Sugar Rune is significantly different, because it's not a manga for adults. It's a manga for little girls.
Evil little girls.
The plot: Two little witches, Vanilla and Chocolat, are sent to the human world for a competition that will determine which of them is to become the next queen of the magical world. There, they must make human boys fall in love with them and collect the boys' hearts, which are of varying colors and intensities depending on the quality of the love evoked. This process, fortunately, doesn't hurt the boys...much. (There's a bit where it's cheerfully explained that collecting too many hearts from a boy can make him seriously ill, so Chocolat and Vanilla kinda sorta try not to do that.)
The girls have to learn how to act to make boys fall for them, and they can also enhance their allure with various glamorizing spells. In other words, they're competing to see which of them is best at manipulating the opposite sex for her own cynical, thoroughly unromantic purposes. Which is exactly the plot of every Moyoco Anno manga; this one just makes the battle literal.
For that matter, lots of magical-girl manga go on ad nauseum about the Power of Love; Anno's innovation is to quantify it and turn it into an offensive weapon. (For the record, magical-girl manga are tied with harem manga for the coveted title of Shaenon's Least Favorite Manga Genre, and I've had to read plenty of both in my day.) Much of Sugar Sugar Rune seems to be devoted to showcasing, then dissecting, the creepiness of the lessons girls are taught in a lot of shojo manga. Like, for example, what "nice girls" ought and ought not to do.
Chocolat is the outgoing, loudmouthed, aggressive member of the pair, the one who goes around threatening to kick boys' asses if they don't fall in love with her. She soon learns that Vanilla, the shy, passive one who keeps her mouth shut and cries a lot, wins male affections much more easily. But the moral isn't, "Act nice so boys will like you." Instead, Chocolat learns to be lovable in her own way, and ultimately her tough but kind nature wins purer and more passionate hearts than Vanilla's damp sweetness.
Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Vanilla's nice-girl behavior masks a deep well of insecurity and jealousy, feelings that evil forces exploit for their own ends.
As it turns out, there's danger in the human world. The witches can collect as many hearts as they want, because humans have plenty of hearts to give, but they themselves can never give their hearts away.
Anno's art is, as you can see, kind of brilliantly manic and loopy. Sugar Sugar Rune is less sketchy-expressive and more slickly cute than most of her manga, but it's still good stuff. And she has the occasional awesome page, like her busy drawings of the witches' world, which looks like goth Hello Kitty crossed with goth Richard Scarry, or her impressionistic Aubrey Beardsley-like flashbacks:
And sometimes she slows dowb the action enough for quirky little moments of beauty.
Sugar Sugar Rune is about love, and love is nasty, dirty business. Because this is a manga for young kids, it never gets too grim, but there's a sly, sharp knowingness to it that goes beyond your standard syrupy shojo manga. At the same time, that doesn't prevent it from being utterly cute, sweet, and frothy. What can I say? It's dessert.
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
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
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Anywhere But Here
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
The Walking Man