And what's this? Why, it's a new installment of The Chronicles of William Bazillion! Darryl's a survivor.
I've got a new biweekly column at Comixology.com called All the Comics in the World. It'll appear every other Thursday; on alternate Thursdays, there's a column by the awesome Kristy Valenti, who has been wisely covering mad genius Jason Shiga. For my first column, I talk about the Stumptown Comics Fest, All-Star Batman and Robin, and, of course, Tristram Shandy. Like you can get me to stop talking about Tristram Shandy.
Would you like a copy of this year's Marvel Holiday Special signed by Andrew and myself? Paypal $6.00 (the cover price is $3.99, so the extra two bucks ought to cover S&H) to narbonic (at) sbcglobal.net. We'll be preordering copies from Al's Comics, a good store in our neighborhood that needs a little extra business right now. Deadline for orders is November 10.
Okay, let's get to the Overlooked Manga Festival!
In the past, I've talked a little about underground and alternative manga, which is a pretty small subset of comics in Japan compared to here, where anything that isn't about Batman is liable to get labeled "alternative." I've covered alt-flavored manga like Sexy Voice and Robo, Anywhere But Here, Doing Time, Ricca 'tte Kanji!?, Pure Trance, and Tekkon Kinkreet--and that's a hella eclectic mix of manga, so hopefully you can get some idea of the variety that's out there if you dig around a little. But can we got deeper underground than that? You bet we can.
Comics Undergrond Japan is a weird, nifty collection of underground manga by small publisher Blast Books (looking at their website, I think I own about half their nonfiction catalog). Along with Viz's Secret Comics Japan, which I also recommend, it's one of two collections of short alterna-manga available in English. Of the two, Comics Underground Japan is the more authentically underground, which you can kind of tell from the covers: Usamaru Furuya's elegant illustration of a smiling teen angel on the cover of SCJ versus Suzy Amakane's drawing of a naked guy who looks like Bob's Big Boy wiping his ass with a 1,000-yen bill on CUJ. On the other hand, some readers might well prefer the anthology that doesn't include Japanese soldiers graphically raping American women and pigs eating human flesh. It depends on your mood.
Comics Underground Japan is, to the best of my knowledge, a decent sampling of the real manga underground, focusing on the schools of artists produced by the classic underground manga magazine Garo. The collection features many examples of heta-uma (good-bad) art, an intentionally crude and ugly style that will no doubt look familiar to anyone who's read American underground and indie comics. But there are also stories drawn in more polished styles, like Kazuichi Hanawa's "Mercy Flesh," about a girl imprisoned in a cage with a wild, hairy Buddha.
I'm also fascinated by Masakazu Toma's art, which looks like a cross between underground American comics and the more cartoony European comics tradition. His story, "Steel Pipe Melancholia," is a dreamlike stream-of-consciousness narrative--again, not unlike many experimental American comics.
It's a pretty wild mix of manga. There's vicious political humor, like Suehiro Maruo's "Planet of the Jap," an over-the-top fantasy of Japan winning World War II and brutally conquering the world, and an excerpt from Takashi Nemoto's Future Sperm Brazil, about a remote Brazillian village inhabited by Japanese who think the war is still going on and dream of future power and glory.
Nightmare fantasy and dark, surreal humor are more common in these stories than stark realism, despite the influence of the gekiga realist movement on the Garo crowd. Hanako Yamada provides the collection's closest thing to autobio, a strip called Mary's Asshole that reads a little like the inner ramblings of cartoonists like Aline Crumb or Julie Doucet, but in a stifling Japanese office setting.
And there's more. Pan Migawa's "Volvox," a hallucinatory exploration of the motes that sometimes float in the eye. Muddy Wehara's formal deconstructions of gag comic strips. "Cat Noodle Soup," by Hajime Yamano and Nekojiro, which was the basis for the surreal (and pretty good) anime Cat Soup. And, just for the hell of it, a creepy-ass Hideshi Hino horror story, because you can't get enough Vitamin H in your manga diet. ("H" in this case can stand for "Hino," "horror," or, more likely, "hating clowns.")
Comics Underground Japan can be a hard book to read. The stories feature rape, graphic violence, cannibalism, icky fluids, pooping Buddhas, and lots of deliberately bad artwork. But it's also fascinating, like turning over a rock to discover the slimy, squirmy underside of manga. It's the evil goatee-wearing reflection of mainstream manga, with its ultra-slick art and aggressive, mercantile cuteness. Underground manga wants to gross you out and turn you off. Sometimes, after you've read a lot of mainstream manga, that's exactly what you need.
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
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part One
OMF Special Event: Jason Thompson Presents the Top Ten Best Worst Manga, Part Two