I don't know if you caught last week's Chronicles of William Bazillion, but Andrew put up a little sample of the William Bazillion prequel minicomic that I wrote.
In other news, Phil Foglio is selling a bunch of artwork on eBay, including his panel from the final Narbonic strip. So check that action out. This is your chance to own a piece of Narbonic and/or Foglio history!
And, as always, a new page of Smithson means a new Overlooked Manga Festival!
This may not be news to regular readers of the Overlooked Manga Festival, but I love all manga from the 1970s without reservation. It was such a fun period for manga: the industry had gotten big enough to attract gifted artists and works of all styles, genres, and descriptions, but it hadn't yet become the corporate megalith it is today, churning out mass-produced pop hits and allowing genius to flourish only in the chinks of the machine. A lot of crazy manga got published in the '70s, and even the hits are crude and idiosyncratic. This is one of the big hits.
I totally love that Viz is publishing Golgo 13. It's one of the longest-running manga in Japan, still chugging along since 1969 and currently 142 volumes in length. (It's still dwarfed by the 154-volume comedy This Is the Police Box in Front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward, which has only been around since 1976...but has run every single week of those 30 years in Weekly Shonen Jump.) Nerdy Americans of my generation know Golgo primarily as the hero of one of the more frustratingly tedious 8-bit NES games. But in Japan, he's an institution.
Golgo 13, also known as Duke Togo (Why? Who knows?), is a mysterious, stoic, superhumanly gifted assassin for hire. He's kind of like James Bond working on the opposite side of the law. But where Lupin III (another 1970s manga superstar) is like the Bond of the movies, witty and lusty and fun, Golgo is the Bond of Ian Fleming's novels: "there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold." He's tough, he's ruthless, and he barely speaks. His adventures are self-contained stories set in a midnight-movie world of cold brutality and beefy, hatchet-faced tough guys. It is all so '70s it makes you want to put on a rayon suit and a wide tie and sucker-punch Walter Barnes.
Ah, but Golgo 13 isn't strictly a product of the '70s. One of the truly awesome aspects of the series is that it works current events into its stories of international espionage. Golgo 13 has crossed the newly-destroyed Berlin Wall, destroyed Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and shot out a hanging chad. Real-life political figures make cameos in Golgo's crudely-drawn world. Hello, Manga Bill Clinton and his Manga Cabinet!
Hello, Manga Pope John Paul II! (And hello, evil doppelganger of Manga Pope John Paul II! Boy, are you in for it!)
The current Viz edition of Golgo 13 is a labor of love. Legendary editor Carl Horn spent years planning his dream Golgo and convincing the Japanese licensors to let Viz turn that dream into reality. As the then-receptionist at Viz, I only got to witness bits and pieces of the diplomatic process, but at one point it involved Carl receiving the gift of a one-of-a-kind pair of English-language Golgo 13 underpants. I swear I did not dream this. Carl now works for Dark Horse, but continues to edit Golgo 13 from afar, because he's the only one who can do this manga justice.
Each volume of the Viz Golgo 13 comprises two Golgo stories, one recent, one "classic." Since the stories are self-contained, and the art style changes remarkably little over the course of the series (possibly because so much of it is drawn by assistants trained in the now-famous Golgo house style), you can pick up any volume of Golgo 13 and dive right in. The stories follow a similar formula; only the setting and characters change. Someone hires Golgo to carry out a nigh-impossible hit job, and Golgo does it. Usually, this culminates in a single, perfect shot from his trusty M-16.
In many of the stories, Golgo himself barely appears; he's a much-feared background presence, or the eleventh-hour solution to someone else's desperate problem. His possibilities as a character are limited because he has no character. His personality never develops beyond what what we see him display on the job, and we never learn anything about his past (although speculation abounds). He's just a dark, bushy-eyebrowed force of vengeance.
Okay, on to the real stroke of genius. For each volume, Carl Horn has seen fit to include a bonus appendix with additional information on Golgo 13. These are very possibly the best part of the books, although everyone's favorite appendix page is this, from Volume One:
THANK YOU, CARL.
Another Golgo appendix asks the question on everyone's lips:
There are charts. Oh, yes, there are charts.
Another appendix lists all the situations in which Golgo has been tortured. It's always worth combing through these meticulous stats for gems like:
What do you have to say to that, Manga Robert Plant?
(Another don't-miss from the same volume: an essay by a martial arts instructor who goes into great detail on the subject of how Golgo ought to get kicked in the balls more often.)
Also, once in a while Carl pours one out to his Viz homies. Bryant Street was the location of the old Viz offices, and there's a big Coca-Cola billboard right down the street.
I think...I think I've got something in my eye...
Golgo 13 is one of those manga that isn't exactly, well, good, and yet, if you don't dig it, it's possible that you just don't get manga. Okay, sure, it's crude stuff. But it's crucial to the historic development of manga, it's super fun to read, it's got manga presidents, and it comes with helpful charts listing the race of every woman the hero has slept with. What more do you want out of comics? Golgo 13 just wants to bring you hardboiled pleasure as only he can.
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
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators