Incidentally, Brian and I debated the CD cover for a while last night. In the end, my irrational fondness for "Weird Al" Yankovic won out.
Oh, and of course there's a new Chronicles of William Bazillion!
My second "All the Comics in the World" column is up at Comixology.com. Go read it! In my first column I talked about All-Star Batman and Robin, and in this one I talk about Pogo and Peanuts. I can do that, because I'm covering All the Comics in the World. I don't want to give away any spoilers for my next column, but let's just say a certain birthstone-themed defunct DC universe now widely accessible through quarter bins might be involved.
If you need even more to read, this 2006 profile of Jason Thompson, periodic Overlooked Manga Festival contributor and author of Manga: The Complete Guide, is awful and hilarious. Also, I'm sad to say, very true. After reading about 500 manga series, Jason was getting pretty weird there.
Last call: if you'd 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're ordering copies from Al's Comics, a good store in our neighborhood that needs a little extra business right now. Oh, and we just got a look at the lettered pages for our story today, and we're pretty darn excited.
What else? Oh, right! Overlooked Manga Festival!
Here at the OMF, we love it when a previously overlooked manga comes back into print and gets a second chance at love. That happened a while back with Parasyte, and I got a little teary-eyed thinking of all the people who would have a brand-new opportunity to let an anthrophagic body-snatching alien parasite into their hearts. And now this!
Slam Dunk was first published in English by Raijin Comics/Gutsoon Entertainment, an odd company sadly no longer with us. Gutsoon was owned by Comics Bunch, which is kind of the Image Comics of Japan: a publishing group founded by a bunch of disgruntled former Shonen Jump artists. If you're curious, you can learn all about it in this excellent Comics Journal interview with manga know-it-all Jason Thompson, but all you really need to know is that the manga published by Comics Bunch, and therefore by Raijin, is totally 1980s/early 1990s old-school. Gritty art, realistic action, macho slapstick humor: this is basically what Shonen Jump looked like in the wild frontier days before Dragon Ball (and before the SJ editors realized that half their readers were girls). Slam Dunk was one of Shonen Jump's biggest titles in the early '90s, and it's pretty representative of the breed.
So that's what you need to know about Raijin Comics. Oh, and Viz mercilessly destroyed it by launching the American Shonen Jump at the same time as Raijin's own manga magazine (which it ran on an ambitious weekly schedule, just like a real Japanese manga magazine). Afterwards, Viz picked through the rubble and snatched up the licenses for good Raijin titles like Slam Dunk. Um, sorry.
Raijin managed to put out five volumes of Slam Dunk before going under. Viz is relaunching the whole series, starting with a preview in, I believe, this month's Shonen Jump.
Anyway. The manga. Hanamichi Sakaragi is a juvenile delinquent, as evidenced by his baggy uniform and pompadour. He also happens to be a) very tall, b) very unlucky in love, and c) not really a bad guy, more of a big friendly lug who happens to erupt into violence at very little provocation. Obviously, he is a perfect Shonen Jump hero. After being rejected by 50 girls in a row, he falls for the admittedly adorable Haruko Akagi, who's recruiting for the school's basketball team. Hilarious complications ensue.
Yes, Sakaragi joins the basketball team to impress a girl, and then, of course, he starts to genuinely get into the game. Creator Takehiko Inoue played basketball in high school, and he clearly loves it himself. Fortunately, you don't have to know anything about basketball going into Slam Dunk, since Inoue was writing for an audience that didn't know much about it either. He takes plenty of time out to explain the rules and share interesting trivia.
I can't believe this is the first sports manga I've covered in the OMF. There are actually several good sports manga available in English. Heck, this isn't even the only good basketball manga; Harlem Beat, by Yuriko Nishiyama, is really good, too. (Strangely, the one type of sports manga that hasn't been translated at all is the most common in Japan: baseball manga. We have basketball, football, soccer, tennis, boxing, and friggin Go, but no baseball. What's up with that?) Sports manga kind of got eclipsed by more fantasy-oriented types of tournament manga in the '90s, but the best sports titles are exciting and fun, with lots of great dynamic action.
But it's the characters in Slam Dunk that warm my chilly little manga-reading heart. Sakaragi is a funny character, a hard-bitten thug who turns to marshmallow in front of the girl of his dreams, and who really does mean well, but routinely has to be tricked or cajoled into doing what's best for the team. It's kind of like when they had to get Mr. T into an airplane in The A-Team, if Mr. T were a Japanese teenager who just really wanted to slam dunk! Okay, that analogy could have gone better.
Haruko is a great character, too, with her passionate love for all things basketball, and there are tons of quirky supporting characters: Haruko's tough (and strangely African-American-looking) big brother, the cute basketball player Haruko crushes on to Sakaragi's constant misery, the hot and spicy female team manager, the Zen-like coach, Sakaragi's Greek chorus of gang members. And, you know, so on. They're all familiar types, but they're developed nicely and play off each other well, making Slam Dunk like a good sitcom when it's not like a good basketball game.
Oh, the games. While reading the five Raijin volumes of Slam Dunk, I exclaimed at one point, "All right, they're going to their first practice game!"
"Is that Volume Two?" Andrew asked.
I blinked at him. "No. It's Volume Four."
Yes, thanks to the magic of manga pacing, it takes four volumes for the characters to actually play a basketball game. And that game takes up the entirety of Volume Four. Volume Five is the last seven minutes of that game. And yet it never drags; on the contrary, it's nonstop action and comedy even before the characters hit the court.
In conclusion, Slam Dunk is so great that it managed to make basketball popular in Japan at a time when Japan was the shortest industrialized nation on Earth. It's hard not to respect that.
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
Comics Underground Japan