Aaaand there's a new Smithson! With caring and sharing.
Also, I hope you didn't miss this week's Chronicles of William Bazillion, featuring the continually unfolding horrors of the Doomsday Seed Project in Svarbald.
Man, that's a lot of webcomics. Would you like even more webcomics? I've joined a new little cartoonist collective, The Couscous Collective. It's, um, me and my friends. But with links to all our stuff!
I don't know if you've been following my All the Comics in the World column on Comixology.com, but, like so many people deluded into thinking their opinions are interesting, I've been doing a 2007 wrapup. Part Two is up today. You can read Part One here.
Okay, it's a new year, the holidays are over except in Japan (where New Year's means a week of partying), and I'd better get back to the Overlooked Manga Festival. And what better way than with an Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event?
Overlooked Manga Festival Special Event:
Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga, Part One
When I started the OMF, one of the informal rules I set for myself was to avoid manga that have been out of print in English for ten years or more, so that readers wouldn't have too much trouble tracking these titles down. Occasionally I've stretched the rule, as when covering a series that's coming back into print (like Parasyte) or a title that's just too much fun to ignore (like Bringing Home the Sushi, and, yes, okay, maybe my idea of fun is different from yours). Mostly, though, this rule has barred me from covering really early Viz manga. The first company dedicated entirely to publishing English editions of Japanese comics, Viz has been around since the '80s and has more old and out-of-print manga under its uzumaki-emblazoned belt than anyone.
And a lot of early Viz manga are really neat. Back when Viz got started and was basically two Japanese hippies and a handful of American comic-book nerds, nobody really knew what American readers wanted (as it turned out, it was mostly Naruto, which didn't exist yet), so things tended to get published on the basis of some editor just really liking it. This was often bad for business but great for those of us who like good manga, so it's kind of a shame that Viz adopted more rigorous selection processes once it found some successful manga and actually started making money.
Many of these early Viz manga are hard to find today. You may have to search used bookstores, back issue bins, and the shadier corners of eBay. But in the search itself, you may find you learn a little bit about manga...and a little bit about...yourself. So here they are, in no particular order: Ten Awesome Long-Out-of-Print Viz Manga!
1. The Legend of Kamui
This was one of Viz's three launch titles, originally published in conjunction with Eclipse Comics. The original, still untranslated Legend of Kamui was one of the seminal ninja manga of the 1970s, not to mention one of the all-time most popular titles ever from the now-defunct underground manga magazine Garo. The Kamui published by Viz is a sequel series from the 1980s drawn in a slicker style, but it's still pretty boss. Basic plot: Kamui is an awesome ninja who is cool, and by cool, I mean totally sweet. Just to make it clear that he's even awesomer than normal ninjas, Kamui is a fugitive ninja, on the run from his former clan. Also, sometimes he fights naked lady ninjas and sharks.
That's right. Brother rides a shark. RESPECT.
In between the nutty action, this manga is actually an absorbing, reasonably accurate portrayal of feudal Japanese life, mostly the bare-bare bones life of peasants and rural fishermen. The art is old-school but excellent, and the English lettering is by none other than Stan Sakai, the only person other than Todd Klein to win an Eisner for lettering (you think I'm exaggerating, but I'm so not. It's like twenty-odd wins for Klein, one for Sakai, and that's IT). Too bad Viz only got around to doing two volumes.
2. Mai the Psychic Girl
She is pretty. She is psychic. She is japanese. Yeah.
Another of the three legendary Viz launch titles, supposedly chosen out of the belief that American readers could be fooled into thinking it was kind of like X-Men. This is the least deranged, misogynistic and repulsively violent Ryoichi Ikegami manga, which means that, in a way, it misses the entire point of being a Ryoichi Ikegami manga. I like it anyway. It's a story that manga fans know, now, all too well: cute teenage girl has psychic powers, evil shadow organization chases her down, heroic nerds shelter her, stuff gets blowed up real good.
Even relatively sane Ikegami is pretty wacky and violent, and you get to see his art develop a lot over the course of three volumes. According to Patrick Macias's review in Manga: The Complete Guide (boy, is that book ever useful), Tim Burton once considered filming Mai the Psychic Girl with Winona Ryder in the lead role. Why are you wasting time with Sweeney Todd, Burton? Do not resist the call of psychic manga!
The third Viz launch title, for the curious, was Area 88, which unfortunately is not on this list because not even I have copies.
3. Lum: Urusei Yatsura
Rumiko Takahashi shines throughout Viz's long and storied history like a guardian angel in nerd glasses. Ranma 1/2 was one of Viz's first titles to actually sell, Inu-Yasha is still one of the company's moneymaking juggernauts (you think it's all about Naruto, but you don't realize that there's like a million volumes of Inu-Yasha manga and DVDs), and Lum the irritable alien demon girl still has ravenously devoted fans, just like she does in Japan. Given the massive success Takahashi's work has brought Viz, I'm not sure why they won't bring Urusei Yatsura back into print. Maybe it really is a plot to upset Lum fans. Having dealt with Lum fans, sometimes on a daily basis during my stint as the Viz front-desk receptionist, I fully support Viz in this brave stance.
Anyway, Urusei Yatsura (a pun that kinda translates into "Those Wacky Aliens") was Takahashi's first big hit in Japan, and it's the ur-text for all harem and maid manga. Dumb teenage boy inexplicably attracts hot girl with magic powers. Other hot girls blast into town and hang around for no good reason. Hot girl gets mad and beats shit out of dumb teenage boy, over and over and over. The formula's been copied a billion times, but Takahashi is the only one who makes it really funny, mainly by refusing to turn the thing into a straight-up teen male fantasy and making all the characters amusingly reprehensible to various degrees. And to be honest, I kind of prefer her somewhat crude but cute and funny early art to the more polished, assistant-heavy style in her later manga.
4. Four Shojo Stories
Good luck finding this one, suckers! Since translator Matt Thorn has already discussed this elsewhere online, I guess I can safely share that most copies of this super-early shojo anthology were pulped after Viz ran into legal problems with the Japanese publishers. Part of the problem, I think, was that Japanese manga publishers don't usually do anthologies by different artists like this, and they thought the whole thing was weird and suspect. Also, supposedly there was an inexplicable last-minute decision to replace the original cover art by Moto Hagio with the weird artwork you see above. The hell? Anyway, this is one of the toughest English editions of a manga to find, but to my mind it's worth it, because it's one of my faves.
Matt Thorn was one of the first people in America to get into shojo manga, and he got way into it, to the point that he now teaches classes on shojo manga in Japan. This is a collection of four short shojo (girls') and josei (women's) manga, published at a time when virtually no shojo was available in English. I know, it sounds totally crazy, but there was a time, long ago, when American publishers thought girls didn't like comics, and that nobody, boy or girl, wanted to read "girly" comics. No, seriously. I was there. And I think Viz missed a bet by not pushing shojo manga harder, ultimately allowing Tokyopop to get those sweet Sailor Moon and CLAMP licenses that triggered the shojo explosion, but I have to admit that, back in the day, Viz did publish a few rad shojo titles.
Four Shojo Stories features, well, four stories: "Promise" and "Since You've Been Gone," two contemporary relationship stories by Keiko Nishi; "Changeling," a sci-fi story by Shio Saito; and "They Were Eleven," by the great Moto Hagio. That's a page from "They Were Eleven" above. It's a pretty motley group of manga, but, well, there wasn't a lot of shojo manga available in translation in those ancient times. And they're all really good.
5. Black Jack
Few things make me happier than an out-of-print manga coming back into print, and few announcements could possibly fill me with more joy than the news that Vertical is planning to publish the complete 18-volume series. Which is great, since Viz only got as far as two volumes before giving up. Two AWESOME volumes.
Black Jack is the Surgeon with the Hands of God, a rogue doctor who takes on dangerous cases for stratospheric fees. Osamu Tezuka was educated as a doctor, so the stories are rich in medical knowledge and experience, except, of course, when Tezuka decides that it would be more fun to just make crazy shit up. Which is pretty much constantly. So don't be surprised if a patient's undeveloped conjoined twin suddenly displays telekinetic powers, or if removing a woman's ovaries turns her into a man. Oh, Black Jack, how I love you.
Next week: five more ancient manga, including what may be my favorite manga in the whole world. Why must so many great manga pass out of print? Why?
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
Bambi and Her Pink Gun