And don't miss this week's Chronicles of William Bazillion! William Sicilian. Yes. William Sicilian.
As I've mentioned before, I'm a guest at the Stumptown Comics Festival in Portland this weekend. I even drew a comic strip for the Portland Mercury's special one-shot alternative comics page, right alongside a bunch of much better cartoonists. Have a look!
Also, you hell of want to preorder this year's Marvel Holiday Special, featuring a story by Andrew and me. It'll be out this December, and it will include Spider-Man, Wolverine, and cake. Come on, cake!
What else? Oh, right. Overlooked Manga Festival!
At this point in the storied history of manga in English, there are some titles--mostly from Viz and Dark Horse--that have been around long enough that everyone takes them for granted and forgets that they're awesome. This is wrong, and it's time the Overlooked Manga Festival put a stop to it.
Makoto Kobayashi is one of my favorite manga artists, in part because his work doesn't look much like manga. He draws funny: big rubbery faces, goofy expressions, extreme (but meticulously observed) body language. And he can draw the hell out of anything. Since the dawn of time, Dark Horse has been publishing, in various formats and venues, two great Kobayashi comics that don't get nearly enough attention: Club 9, about an irresistable big-boned farmgirl who moves to Tokyo and becomes a bar hostess, and this manga, which is about cats.
What's Michael? doesn't have much of a continuing storyline, just a set of running gags, so you can start reading at any volume. Each chapter is a short, self-contained vignette, usually a breezy six pages long. Very roughly, it's the story of Michael, a typical orange tabby cat, and his typical middle-class family. But Kobayashi frequently breaks from even this vague premise, giving Michael different owners, transporting the cast to more exotic settings (a cop show, a samurai drama, a running parody of "The Fugitive" featuring a veterinarian on the run), writing himself into the story (something he also does in Club 9, where he frequently pops up as a lecherous bar patron), or envisioning a world of anthropomorphic cats and dogs.
At its heart, What's Michael? is about the relationship between people and their pets. It's a pretty strange relationship, when you think about it, and Kobayashi is good at capturing the absurdity of the way we deal with the animals we let into our lives and homes. Which, I guess, is basically a fancy way of saying that it's kind of like if "Garfield" was good.
And, frankly, a lot of the comic is clearly just an excuse for Kobayashi to draw stuff he really enjoys drawing. Many chapters are purely visual, giving us perfectly-drawn, perfectly-paced snippets of cat behavior, human foibles, or (a recurring favorite) cats dancing. Kobayashi loves to draw cats dancing.
Eventually he also introduces a baby into the regular cast, a shameless but devastatingly effective move. What's cuter than cats and babies? Nothing. Nothing is cuter than cats and babies.
Dark Horse has done a great job with What's Michael? over the years. I'd better give a shout-out here to Lea Hernandez, Toren Smith, and Dana Lewis, who provide the series with its graceful and witty English translation. If you've read manga from pretty much any other publisher, you can appreciate what a great job Dark Horse does with most of its manga titles. Over at Viz, we do our best, but Dark Horse has some good folks on the rewrites.
As I'm writing this, I've come to realize that one reason What's Michael? doesn't get more press may be that there's only so much a critic can say about it. It's not a deep exploration or a searing expose of anything. It's just the best damn cat comic in the world. What more do you humans want?
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
OMF Special Event: Top Ten Lines from the Excel Saga manga