And of course there's always the latest Chronicles of William Bazillion!
Good as Lily, by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm, just came out, and you should totally read it. It's Derek's first graphic novel since his award-winning debut Same Difference and Other Stories, and it's Jesse's first published graphic novel, period (although really old-school Modern Tales readers may recall his series Bitten Apple, which he stopped drawing about FIVE PAGES from the end, to the eternal frustration of many). Anyway, it's a super cute comic, but my favorite part is right here:
Yup, that's Andrew and me in the first panel, cheering on the food fight. I'm wearing a They Might Be Giants t-shirt, and Andrew's wearing a shirt with Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth. Jason Shiga's getting creamed in the foreground of panel two. Thanks for the cameo, Jesse!
Okay, time for yet another Overlooked Manga Festival!
Here at the OMF, I try to avoid talking about the same creators over and over, but some are just so good I have to keep coming back to them. Fumi Yoshinaga is one of those. How is she so great? It's mathematically impossible! Every time I read one of her manga, I think it's the greatest manga I'm ever going to read, and then I read another Yoshinaga manga that's even better! Her best-known series, the Eisner-nominated Antique Bakery, won The Great Manga Bake-Off, and later I sang the praises of her smutty Gerard and Jacques. And yet Fumi Yoshinaga will just not stop being brilliant.
Despite the cover illustration and Yoshinaga's reputation as a purveyor of quality man-pr0n, Flower of Life is not yaoi. I'm sorry, but hot guys completely fail to make out in these pages. Instead, it's a dramedy about high-school life. And manga fandom. If you were a nerd in high school, and you had nerdy friends, and you and your nerdy friends did nerdy stuff like trading comics and organizing study sessions and putting together school plays, this is your story.
Harutaro Hanazono, roughly the central character, starts high school late after battling leukemia, something he cheerfully announces on the first day of class. He soon becomes bestest friends ever with Shota Mikuni, a cute little rotund fellow.
Already, this manga features two things you almost never see in manga:
1. Characters with real-life illnesses or medical conditions, dealt with realistically.
2. Fat kids.
Shota convinces Harutaro to join the school manga club, which initially comprises the two of them and creepy-ass hardcore otaku Kai Majima. Kai is a dead-on portrait of a nerd type I'm sure we've all encountered at some point, a walking answer to the question, "Why don't more girls like geeky guys?"
If you understood the above, I have just one word for you:
Fortunately, Harutaro has the right idea:
Harutaro turns out to have a talent for drawing manga characters, having had nothing else to do during his months of chemotherapy, and the manga club starts to pick up steam. Eventually, the gang acquires Sumiko, a shy girl with an unfortunate resemblance to that creepy little girl from "The Ring" (something that, again, characters cheerfully point out) and a hidden gift for writing and drawing old-school shojo manga.
This is the kind of thing that makes me wish more old shojo manga would get published in English, so I could see some of manga that this material is based on.
Flower of Life is riddled with knowing jokes about manga fandom, including a trip to the giant doujinshi convention Comiket and many explorations of Kai's icky, dating-sim-inspired sexual tastes. I'm not normally a big fan of nerd in-jokery. When I read a manga about otaku culture, I don't want a nice, isn't-it-cute-that-we-all-like-this-stuf
But there's more to school life than drawing manga. Flower of Life covers a lot of the stalwart plotlines of manga about high school: friendships, parties, Christmas, the big class play.
Other key characters emerge: various classmates and their friends, a teacher torn between two extremely bad romantic choices, and Harutaro's sister, who periodically gets exasperated about having to take the mom role in their household.
Once Yoshinaga has established her characters, she can build entire chapters around such minor events as a character borrowing a book, or a trip to the mall.
I've got a soft spot for "our happy high-school days" manga; heck, I was the editor of Here Is Greenwood, and loved it. But Flower of Life is a cut above the rest of this genre: smart, quirky, and extremely well written. I know it's a cliche, but you really do feel like you get to know the characters like your own friends.
Plus, it's funny as hell. Thank you, Fumi Yoshinaga, for continuing to be better than everyone!
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
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
OMF Special Event: My Legacy
OMF Special Event: An All-Star Tribute to Carl Gustav Horn
Guest OMF by Jason Thompson: 888
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure