Color coming soon. And come on, who doesn't enjoy being the victim of sitcom-style romantic plotting?
And, as usual, you must not miss the latest in The Chronicles of William Bazillion!
I'm going to be a guest at the Stumptown Comics Fest in Portland on September 29 and 30. Other, more impressive guests include Mike and Laura Allred, Carol Lay, Peter Bagge, Ted Rall, Sarah Oleksyk, and Matt Wagner. Visit me there and alleviate my terrible, terrible loneliness!
Okay, Overlooked Manga Festival time!
This week, let's go old-school.
Katsuhiro Otomo is hardly an overlooked manga artist. His magnum opus, Akira, is one of the most popular and influential manga of all time, almost synonymous with "manga" both here and in Japan. But I've got a soft spot for this one-volume early work, where he plays with the elements with which he would later go totally hog-wild in Akira. Otomo's manga output is fairly small; to quote from Jason Thompson's Manga: The Complete Guide, "he probably realized that he didn't need to draw another Akira, since everyone else was going to try to draw it for him." Instead, Otomo moved on to animation, producing films like the recent Steamboy, and leaving manga fans with a handful of series, only three of which--Domu, Akira, and the disappointing The Legend of Mother Sarah--have been published in English.
Domu, originally published from 1980-1982, is one of Otomo's early manga, and it's got that gritty late-seventies/early-eighties adult manga look. But before you hate on it for looking old, remember that the main reason it lacks the stylistic flourishes of later action manga is because Otomo hadn't personally invented them yet. Actually, it kind of has the feel of a late-night TBS movie, with overworked cops, cheap apartments, and creepy things happening at night. But much better special effects.
A huge, impersonal apartment complex is plagued by accidents and suicides, so many that the police are starting to get suspicious. But there's a couple of things the cops are too slow to realize. One is that the deaths are the work of a powerful, insane psychic who lives in the building and floats around messing with people's minds. The other is that the psychic is the innocent-looking, senile Old Man Cho, who's been a little odd ever since his family up and left him--kind of in a hurry, now that people come to think about it.
We learn about Mr. Cho's murderous antics early in the story, but the neighbors and the police are baffled. One detective gets the idea that something supernatural is at work, but what? We get a lot of scenes familiar to fans of supernatural horror movies (an extremely popular film genre in Japan), like press conferences where the authorities have to admit they have no idea what's going on, and a scene where a professional psychic is brought in to inspect the crime scene and gets totally freaked out.
Then a little girl named Etsuko moves into the building, twigs to Cho right away, and decides that he's been bullying people long enough. Fortunately enough, she happens to be an even more powerful psychic.
Mr. Cho strikes at Etsuko through the residents of the building, and, as the police investigation continues in the background, their conflict builds toward a massive, destructive telekinetic conflict that dominates about half the manga. (Well, massive and destructive by normal, pre-Akira standards, anyway; in '90s manga, a psychic battle doesn't even make the newspapers unless Tokyo gets flattened a couple of times.) The adults in the story are rendered helpless in the face of the battle between the childlike Mr. Cho and the real children allied against him.
Yeah, that's some proto-Akira action going on right there.
I've said this before, but on a purely technical level, the final sequence of Domu is a masterpiece--one of the best pieces of visual storytelling I've ever seen. And it's all the more amazing because the early sections, frankly, aren't all that great. Sure, Otomo's a hell of a draftsman (nobody before or since has poured so much love into grim urban backgrounds), but his pacing is rushed and fragmented; he fails to build emotional power. By the time he comes out the other side of that big psychic battle, he's flickin' Katsuhiro Otomo, in total control of his medium.
These scans are from the old 1994 edition of Domu by Mandarin, but Dark Horse reprinted it a few years ago, so it's not too hard to find. And you can't go wrong with a Dark Horse translation. This is one of those titles that's interesting if you want to see how manga became the art form we all know and love today, but it's also a pretty damn good psychic battle story. And I love that little girl.
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
Flower of Life