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Monday, January 31, 2005

MANGA CORNER: DOG

Once again, it's been a long time since I've done one of these. This time, though, I have a good excuse, at least in part: I've been reading the six-volume manga Inu ("Dog") by Haruko Kashiwagi. This manga, which was serialized in the seinen (young men's) manga magazine Young Sunday, could perhaps be best described as a romantic comedy with a lot of sex. Note two things: Kashiwagi is a woman, and Young Sunday is a mainstream commercial magazine, not underground or even alternative. The relevance of these facts will be clearer later.

Takagi, the female lead, is a college student with a powerful sex drive and sexual fantasies that tend towards the mildly kinky. However, she tries to keep her sexual feelings and romantic feelings rigidly separate, and to avoid fantasizing about the college boys she falls in love with. Unsurprisingly, these boys don't share her scruples; but unfortunately for her, they all turn out to be poor lovers. So to quench her sexual desires, she turns to Nakajima, the male lead. Nakajima, a fellow student, is pudgy and wears glasses, and thus far from her romantic ideal in appearance. But he's good at oral sex, and keeps cropping up in her sexual fantasies.

Nakajima, for his part, is in love with Takagi, and persuades himself that she loves him; but can't help noticing that she only takes an interest in him when she wants sex. In fact, Takagi doesn't think of Nakajima romantically at all, and has no idea that he's in love with her. This state of mutual misunderstanding continues throughout much of the series.

Though some of the plot developments seem contrived (and the extent of Takagi's unawareness of Nakajima's emotions is occasionally hard to believe), the characters come across as realistic adolescents. Adding realism, but departing from romantic-comedy formula, neither Takagi nor Nakajima is wholly sympathetic. Takagi is simply using Nakajima for her own gratification, and is really insensitive to his feelings. Thus, it seems at first that Nakajima is the good guy, but a couple of his acts make it impossible to sympathize completely with him. Still, both Takagi and Nakajima are somehow likeable. For much of the series, I was dreading the blow that Nakajima would suffer when he realized that Takagi had no romantic interest in him. When this realization did, inevitably, dawn, the consequences were indeed excruciating, though in a way I had not anticipated.

As mentioned above, there is a lot of sex in this manga. But that doesn't put it into the category of ero-comics. For one thing, the sex isn't depicted in the blow-by-blow fashion of pornography. For another, most of the sex in the series is unsatisfactory to at least one of the participants, including a realistically depicted date rape scene.

Now comes the tricky bit (as Basil Fawlty once said). As the series opens, Takagi's dog has just died. She is distressed by this, not just because she loved it, but because (there is no delicate way to say this) she had trained it to go down on her. In fact, much of the first volume is devoted to her quest for a method of masturbation that will be as satisfying as her dog was; and it's her failure at this quest that forces her to seek out Nakajima. What's even more unusual is that Takagi is not depicted as sick or perverted: her relationship with her dog is presented as no more abnormal than, say, masturbating with a vacuum cleaner (which Takagi also attempts, with unsatisfactory results).

The art is fine, though not particularly exciting. Kashigawi's human figures are less conventionalized than is usual in manga: character's faces are more rounded, and Takagi does not have the exaggeratedly tiny waist of many manga heroines. Kashiwagi's line is also thicker than is usual for manga. Perhaps the nicest thing about the art is the front covers of each volume, which are Art Nouveau-influenced and very attractive. (For samples of Kashiwagi's art in another series, see the link below.)

Of all the manga I've reviewed so far, this one definitely has the least chance of being licensed; in fact, I can't imagine it being licensed anytime in the near or middle future. And that's a shame. I'm not claiming the work can rank with Acme Novelty Library: its aim is entertainment, and it's contrived at times, as I said above. But it combines emotional realism and craft in a way that the best commercial manga published in the U.S. do, but that our homegrown comics rarely seem able to. And I have rarely seen a female protagonist (excluding those who are basically male fantasies) so single-mindedly focused on her own sexual pleasure, in or out of comics.

I own, though I haven't read, one volume each from two other series by Kashiwagi. One, Yoiko no Hoshi! ("Yoiko's Star"), from the volume I own (vol. 2) appears to be a straightforward series about elementary school children, even though it was serialized in Young Sunday, the magazine which serialized Inu. The other, Bra Bra Ban Ban, also serialized in Young Sunday, appears to be a comedy about a female college-age French horn (I think) player. The title seems to be an allusion to the protagonist's breasts, which are large, and play a significant role in the action.

I don't own any volumes of Kashiwagi's fourth (and most recent, as far as I know) series, Hanazono Merry Go Round ("Flower Garden Merry Go Round"), but Chris Vaillancourt provided me with a link to a review of the series, unfortunately in German, but with samples of art, which is pretty close in style to the art of Inu. The series is about a young man who finds himself stranded in a small, Twilight Zone-ish village where it's customary for middle-aged women to have sex with young men passing through, such as himself. According to the review, though, it's not pornography.

Inu is published by Shogakukan. Each volume is about two hundred pages long, and costs 500 yen. The ISBNs are:

vol. 1: 4-09-151641-6
vol. 2: 4-09-151642-4
vol. 3: 4-09-151643-2
vol. 4: 4-09-151644-0
vol. 5: 4-09-151645-9
vol. 6: 4-09-151646-7

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

LIVE MUSIC: WRIGHT, DONEDA AND NAKATANI

Last night I attended a concert of free improvisation by the trio of Jack Wright, Michel Doneda, and Tatsuya Nakatani. I had been attracted by the name of Wright, two of whose CDs I owned. What I heard was completely different from these CDs, but it was probably the best live music experience I've ever had.

The music played was utterly different from conventional jazz, and also from nearly all of the free improvisation I've heard in the past. It was a single piece about fifty minutes long, with no breaks; all three musicians played more or less continuously (with pauses of about a minute at most), and there was nothing like a solo. It was more an exploration of sound than what one usually thinks of as music; there was little conventional melody. The closest reference point I can think of is AMM, though it's been a long time since I've listened to any of their CDs. Like AMM, it was much more about experiencing the music from moment to moment than about larger structures.

None of the musicians produced primarily sounds generally associated with their instruments. At the center, both physically and sonically, was Tatsuya Nakatani, the percussionist. He had a drum set, but did little drumming per se. Instead he used such techniques as dragging a brush or cymbal across a drumhead, or applying a bow to the edge of a gong or of a ceramic bowl placed on top of a drum. The result was an array of sustained tones and sounds which I would have assumed were electronic if I hadn't seen them being created; but I don't think Nakatani even used amplification. Flanking Nakatani were the two saxophonists, Doneda and Wright, who played mainly breath tones, flutters, squeals, and clicks. The music was at times very quiet, and at times very loud. At one point Doneda, who had gotten up to explore the playing space (an art gallery) acoustically, wandered behind an interior wall where, hidden from the audience, his saxophone produced a tremendous resonance, and the other two musicians raised their volume to match. But such moments were unusual. Most of the time this was music that required intense concentration to follow each nuance.

I don't go to live music much, and I've never been much for the mystique of live music, the insistence that it's superior to the recorded article. In fact, when I have gone, the experience has usually been inferior to listening to recordings; I usually need to listen to a piece of music several times to comprehend it. But this was an exception. I don't know why, but I found myself listening more intently to this music than I ever had to recorded free improvisation, and the experience was correspondingly more intense. I realize I've completely failed to convey this in my description; and of course, not everyone would have the same response. In fact, had I been in a different mood, or more tired, I might well have been unable to respond to it. But as it was, this was the first time I got a glimpse of what theorists of improvisation mean when they talk about the value of improvisation as a practice, as distinct from its result.

The concert was part of a tour of the East and Midwest which will continue through next Saturday. Here are the remaining dates:

Jan. 23 (tonight!) St. Louis
Jan. 25: Lexington, KY
Jan. 26: Pittsburgh
Jan. 27: Easton, PA
Jan. 28: Baltimore
Jan. 29: New York City

For more information, go here. (In late February and early March they will be in France.) If you live in or near one of these cities, and if you're interested at all in free improvisation, or if my inadequate description happens to intrigue you, I strongly urge you to go.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

MORE ON LOUIS RIEL

After posting the post below on Louis Riel, I read The False Traitor: Louis Riel in Canadian Culture by Albert Braz, a survey of works of literature dealing with Riel from Riel's own time to the present. (Unfortunately, Brown's work itself is only mentioned briefly in a footnote.) This gave me a better sense of what Brown's intent may have been in taking the approach he did. There have been quite a lot of works of literature dealing with Riel--nearly all, unsurprisingly, Canadian--most of which openly espouse a particular interpretation of Riel. Currently, according to Braz, the most popular view of Riel is as a Canadian national hero. In light of this background, by eschewing overt interpretation (though Brown engages in covert interpretation through what he chooses to emphasize and to ignore, as well as in the ways I talked about in my previous post), and by hewing much more closely to the historical record than most previous treatments of Riel, Brown is indeed making a statement about Riel for those who are familiar with the prevailing portrayals of Riel in Canadian culture (as I wasn't).

Braz claims that most of the literature dealing with Riel has minimized his Metis identity. If so, then in giving due weight to this identity Brown is also making a statement. Certainly it would be hard to construe the Riel portrayed by Brown as a Canadian national hero.

I still can't see Louis Riel as an artistic breakthrough, either for comics in general or for Brown in particular: what he does here doesn't seem that different from his adaptation of the Gospel of Mark, where he likewise eschewed interpretation, and stuck even more closely to his source material.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

LOUIS RIEL BY CHESTER BROWN

I was a big fan of Chester Brown when he was doing Yummy Fur, and I faithfully bought all eleven (iirc) issues of Underwater. When Louis Riel began its serialization, I didn't buy it: partly because I was mad at Brown's having abandoned Underwater (leaving me having spent thirty dollars on a largely incomprehensible fragment), and partly because when I looked at it in stores, neither the subject matter nor the art appealed to me. When Riel came out as a graphic novel, I still didn't buy it, despite the chorus of praise calling it an artistic breakthrough and Brown's best work. Recently my local public library acquired Riel, and I finally read it. After reading it three times, my main reaction is puzzlement: both at what Brown sought to accomplish by telling Riel's story the way he did, and at why the book has been acclaimed so extravagantly.

The subtitle of Louis Riel is "a comic-strip [sic] biography," though "docudrama" would be a more accurate term: as Brown himself acknowledges in the foreword, he ignores many aspects of Riel's life, and makes numerous alterations to the facts to simplify the story and make it read better (which are scrupulously documented in the book's endnotes). Louis Riel was a controversial, but (as far as I can tell) fairly minor character in Canadian history. A Metis (mixed French and Indian ancestry; there should be an accent over the "e") living in what is now western Canada in the nineteenth century, Riel led two rebellions of his fellow Metis against the Canadian government. The first ended in a negotiated settlement, though Canada later reneged on its end of the deal; the second was crushed, and Riel executed. In telling Riel's story, Brown takes an ascetic approach. He renounces most techniques comics use to add expressiveness, and he deliberately downplays moments of high drama. With few exceptions, the story is told through dialogue, and this dialogue is mainly matter-of-fact, with few dramatic speeches. It's a tribute to Brown's ability as a cartoonist, and to the intrinsic interest of Riel's story, that the book isn't boring. But I still don't see what Brown gained from doing it the way he did.

Brown's approach does give the book an air of neutrality and objectivity, which is not entirely accurate. As mentioned above, Brown has made numerous minor alterations to the historical record. He also makes one major alteration: he invents two scenes in which the Canadian prime minister John Macdonald deliberately sets out to provoke the second rebellion, as a result of which Riel lost his life: that Macdonald did so provoke the rebellion is a theory held by some historians, but with "little in the way of hard evidence," as Brown admits (258). Brown explains that he did so "because it makes Macdonald seem more villainous -- villains are fun in a story, and I'm trying to tell this tale in an engaging manner." (259) I stress this point only because several reviewers refer to Brown's scrupulous adherence to facts, despite his own admissions: the Village Voice Literary Supplement (quoted on the jacket) said he's "not interested in making things up." In any case, don't rely on Brown's book for facts about the historical Riel, unless you read it in conjunction with the endnotes.

Another, more subtle way in which Brown manipulates his readers' sympathies is through his visual depiction of Riel in contrast to the other characters. Virtually all the other characters are drawn in a cartoony style; in particular, they all have big noses, though MacDonald's is the biggest. Riel's depiction, while also simplified, is more realistic, with a realistic-sized nose. In fact, this depiction of Riel is responsible for much of what emotional impact the book has: Riel's tortured countenance keeps our sympathy with him, even when his judgment becomes erratic, as it was during the second rebellion.

In Tim O'Neil's in-depth examination of Louis Riel, he asserts that Brown's goal in the series was "to examine and plumb and explore the unknowable texture of conscience" (Aug. 20) and "to explore the contradictory and controversial nature of history itself" (Aug. 27). These may well have been Brown's aims, but if so, for me he was unsuccessful. As a former graduate student in history, it's hardly news to me that reconstructing past events, and still more the motivations of past individuals, is a difficult and inherently uncertain enterprise. (For that matter, anybody who has read clashing scholarly monographs on the same historical topic will be aware of this.) And for me, Brown didn't bring any new insights into this issue.

For a different viewpoint on Louis Riel, read Tim O'Neil's excellent series on it quoted above: in addition to the links already given, the other installments are
here (July 22), here (Aug. 2), and here (Aug. 11). Also worth looking at are Rich Kreiner's writings on Louis Riel in The Comics Journal #s 254 (p. 66) and 259. While both O'Neil and Kreiner are considerably more enthusiastic about the book than I was, they helped me a good deal in coming to grips with it.

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Monday, January 17, 2005

PYNCHON AND SUPERHEROES

No, I'm not being cute: superheroes are one of the motifs running through Gravity's Rainbow. There are scattered allusions to real superheroes throughout the book, beginning with a reference to Pirate Prentice's "batman, a Corporal Wayne," on p. 12. Superheroes, or pseudo-superheroes, figure more extensively in two sections. For a stretch in "In the Zone," Slothrop becomes "Raketenmensch" (German for "Rocketman"), with a costume but no powers. And in an one of the episodes in "The Counterforce" that are ungrounded in the book's "reality," Slothrop belongs to a bona fide superhero team.

The most mysterious superhero reference is the description of Sundial, supposedly a 1930s or 1940s comic book "hero--or being... The frames never enclosed him--or it--for long enough to tell. Sundial, flashing in, flashing out again, came from 'across the wind,' by which readers understood 'across some flow, more or less sheet and vertical; a wall in constant motion'--over there was a different world, where Sundial took care of business they would never understand." (550) Raketenmensch seems to be modelled upon the Golden Age superhero Bulletman, at least in appearance, and the Floundering Four (787) are evidently a take-off on the Fantastic Four. But I don't know of any plausible source for Sundial. I couldn't find anything on the Web, and Steven Weisenburger's A Gravity's Rainbow Companion was no help. If anybody out there has an idea where Pynchon might have gotten Sundial from, please email me (my email address is on the sidebar).

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Saturday, January 15, 2005

REREADING GRAVITY'S RAINBOW: MISGIVINGS

I'm going to be hard on Pynchon in this installment, and I feel bad about this. Unfortunately, the best passages aren't necessarily the ones I have the most to say about. This is especially true of Pokler's story, which I haven't yet discussed. It's a magnificent piece of writing, and emotionally devastating; but at the moment I don't really have anything to say about it that wouldn't be just repeating what's clear from the text. But keep in mind when you read the following paragraphs that I still think Gravity's Rainbow is a great book.

In "Beyond the Zero" and "Un Perm'," and in "In the Zone" before Pokler's story (except for a few isolated remarks), personal morality is not a big issue. Characters are either uncomplicatedly good or uncomplicatedly bad, with no self-examination required; in fact, the only introspective character is a bad guy, as we've seen. But beginning with Pokler's story, personal morality becomes crucial. The worst sins, Pynchon now tells us, are indifference--"our age's neutral, our silent passing into the machineries of indifference" is how he puts it in the midst of Pokler's story (482, Bantam edition)--and lack of responsibility, distancing oneself, as Pokler does, from "the inconveniences of caring." (499)

I have no problem with this message per se, but its sudden introduction causes difficulties in terms of the book as a whole. To start with, as said above, we've already read hundred of pages in which this call to responsibility was never mentioned, and now suddenly we're told that it's crucial. If it's so important, why didn't we hear about it before? More specifically, it's Slothrop who, aside from Pokler, receives Pynchon's condemnation for irresponsibility. But Slothrop isn't behaving any differently now than he did in "Beyond the Zero" and "Un Perm'," where his behavior wasn't condemned. The condemnation of Slothrop's promiscuity on pp. 549-50 is a powerful passage, but in the earlier portions of the book his promiscuity was portrayed as life-affirming, if anything.

We also see Slothrop's earlier character redescribed in ways that the text doesn't support. In the paragraph beginning "But somebody has already educated him" (461), just after Greta asks him to whip her, it's implied that Slothrop has always had sadistic tendencies, but there's been no sign of such tendencies up to this point. And on p. 572, we are told that Slothrop "is growing less anxious about betraying those who trust him. He feels obligations less immediately. There is, in fact, a general loss of emotion, a numbness he ought to be alarmed at, but can't quite . . ." (ellipsis Pynchon's). But again, what we're actually shown of Slothrop doesn't reveal any such alteration in him. Having created a deliberately cartoonish protagonist, Pynchon is now trying to transform him into a three-dimensional character such as one would find in a "realist" novel, and it doesn't work.

The whole Greta-as-child-murderer thing is weak, both as a plot device and in terms of the writing: the prose in and around Morituri's tale is below Pynchon's usual standard in Gravity's Rainbow. I'm very leery of psychoanalytic interpretations, but in this case it's clear that Greta represents insatiable female sexuality (521-2, 568-9), and Pynchon is threatened by this. There's a strange duality between Bianca (of all the women improbably eager to hop into bed with Slothrop, Bianca is perhaps the least convincing) and Greta, where Bianca represents "good," nonthreatening female sexuality and Greta is "bad" female sexuality. One thing I noticed was that when Greta is first mentioned, she is said to be the woman who Slothrop will abandon (424), but as the scene plays out, it is Bianca whom he is accused of abandoning; I wonder whether Pynchon didn't make Greta a murderer as a way of "freeing" Slothrop from his responsibility to Greta and transferring it to Bianca. The more I think about the Bianca episode, the more unaccountable it seems. Less than fifty pages after Pokler's story, in which Pynchon deconstructed the myth of childhood innocence and showed Franz resisting the temptation to have sex with "Ilse," he falls into the very things he had warned against. Rereading these sections--Slothrop's sex with Bianca and Morituri's tale--I began to wonder if Pynchon had lost control of his material.

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Sunday, January 09, 2005

THE ALBERT GONZALEZ NOMINATION

This, to my mind, is the crux of the matter: when you give somebody who is closely associated with a controversial policy a promotion, you're signaling your endorsement of that policy. Hence, when Bush nominated Gonzalez for Attorney General, he sent a message to the world that torture was okay by him, whatever pious phrases he or Gonzalez may utter. And if the Senate confirms Gonzalez, it will be ratifying this message.

This post was inspired in part by this excellent New York Times op-ed by Mark Danner (registration required; via Hellblazer); see also this post from The Poor Man (via Brad deLong).

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Saturday, January 08, 2005

MUSIC CORNER: CHARLES GAYLE AND WIRE

Recently I've been going back and listening to my collection of CDs by Charles Gayle, a high-energy free jazz tenor saxophonist. (He also plays other instruments from time to time.) In the first half of the nineties, when I was buying huge amounts of jazz and rock from Forced Exposure, they were plugging Gayle in extravagant terms, so I dutifully purchased his CDs. After listening to them a few times, I put them away and basically forgot about them. As part of my current drive to dispose of CDs that I'm not going to listen to, I pulled them out and went through them; and, unlike a lot of the music I was buying at that time, I really do find myself enjoying a lot of it. I particularly recommend Homeless, Spirits Before, Raining Fire (all Silkheart), Testaments (Knitting Factory Works), Consecration (Black Saint), and Gayle's fourteen-minute track on the anthology Avant Knitting Tours 1993 (Knitting Factory Works). Touchin' on Trane (FMP) is his most lauded album, but I found it too restrained and deliberate in its channelling of Coltrane. All the above are from 1995 or before; I don't own any of Gayle's post-1995 releases.

Wire's "Ex Lion Tamer" is the greatest song that mentions superheroes ever. And Pink Flag as a whole is pretty damn great. I am a bit sorry that they stuck "Options R" on to the end of the CD, though. Not that it isn't a good song, but the explosion of "1 2 X U" was the perfect ending to the album, and now that's spoiled. Also, the difference in production between "Options R" and the original album is very audible, and distracting.

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Friday, January 07, 2005

REREADING GRAVITY'S RAINBOW: DEATH THE IMPERSONATOR

I'm currently in the middle of the Anubis section. This is a problematic section, and I haven't yet got my thoughts on it together, so I'll take this opportunity to tie up a couple of loose ends.

In two earlier posts (Dec. 10 and 24) I referred casually to "Death the impersonator," a key concept in Gravity's Rainbow, without saying what it was, and it occurred to me I should remedy this lapse. The term comes from Walter Rathenau's seance (pp. 194-95 of the Bantam edition), where he uses it to refer to the creation and proliferation of structures that are dead but mimic life: "The persistence, then, of structures favoring death. Death converted into more death. Perfecting its reign, just as the buried coal grows denser, and overlaid with more strata--epoch on top of epoch, city on top of ruined city. This is the sign of Death the impersonator." (195) Among these structures are states, cities, cartels, and synthetic molecules: this last is why Pynchon uses organic chemistry to stand for science and technology in general.

One aspect of Gravity's Rainbow that had confused me in previous readings I think I now have straight. I had assumed that since Pynchon was anti-science and anti-technology, he therefore looked positively upon the mysticism and spiritualism in the book. But in fact, these are also bad in Pynchon's scheme. The "other side" works to advance Death the impersonator, and mysticism is shown as a means by which Mondaugen and Fahringer rationalize their participation in the Rocket (469ff, 529-30). From this perspective, Leni's espousal of mysticism is a further reason not to see her simply as one of the "good guys."

GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE DVD

A couple days ago, I rented the Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence DVD and watched it. As I predicted, the film's impact is greatly diminished on the small screen. As partial compensation, you get a commentary track by director Mamoru Oshii and Toshihiko Nishikubo, the animation director (which was the main reason I rented the DVD, having seen the film itself twice already). This commentary track is a conversation between the two (in Japanese with English subtitles), in which they re-view the film with a critical eye, focusing primarily on details of animation. They don't just preen themselves, as on some commentary tracks (e.g. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?--at least the portion of that track I listened to). Nor do they talk down to their listeners; indeed, they seem unconscious of their listeners. If you're interested at all in animation per se, either cel or CGI, you'll definitely want to listen to this. On the other hand, if you're looking for some explication of the movie's themes, you won't find that on the commentary track at all. There are a few cryptic hints in the making-of featurette and the Japanese trailer (assuming the latter was written by Oshii).

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

KAZUHIKO MIYAYA UPDATE

Note that I've made a small update to Chris Vaillancourt's guest post on underground manga, specifically to the section of links to Kazuhiko Miyaya's works.

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"OFFICE SLUTS AND REBEL FLOWERS"

Porn Studies, an anthology of academic papers about pornography which came out last year, contains an article by Deborah Shamoon entitled "Office Sluts and Rebel Flowers: The Pleasures of Japanese Pornographic Comics for Women." Shamoon's primary topic is not yaoi, or manga depicting love between two men, but so-called "ladies' comics": pornographic manga by and for women depicting heterosexual sex, a popular genre in Japan with has not yet reached the U.S. The article didn't strike me as particularly insightful: her main thesis, that these manga encourage their readers to identify with the protagonists, and are therefore a good thing, is hardly startling. And when she refers to The Desert Peach, Meat Cake, Naughty Bits, A Distant Soil and Mystery Date--none of which are primarily erotic (with the possible exception of A Distant Soil, which I haven't read)--as "erotic comics written by and for women" (pp. 81, 100 n. 5), I'm not filled with confidence as to her accuracy in general. Still, the article is pretty interesting, and has information on a genre of manga about which there is little information available in English. (I myself don't own any of the type of comics Shamoon is discussing, though I'd like to; I have some stories by Shungicu Uchida which might be erotica, but they aren't in the shoujo tradition, as are the works Shamoon discusses.)

The anthology is edited by Linda Williams, and published by Duke University Press.

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Monday, January 03, 2005

THREE UNDERGROUND MANGA ARTISTS, BY CHRIS VAILLANCOURT

Introduction: Chris Vaillancourt, who clearly knows far more about manga than I do, sent me biographies of three major underground manga artists of the sixties and seventies, and has given me permission to publish them here. He's included links to pages about these artists with sample art, and sometimes complete stories. Enjoy!

Kazuhiko Miyaya (Note: the last character in Miyaya's name is clearly "tani", and he's listed as Miyatani on the handful of English-language reference I've come across. However, in his online postings and in some of his comics, it's signed "Miyaya" and the fan I corresponded with confirmed that "Miyaya" is what he should be called)---When I asked a Miyaya fan to explain Miyaya's appeal, she replied simply: "Miyaya made comics cool." I had never heard of Miyaya until the past year, and assumed he was one of the 60s-70s "underground" artists who had a devoted cult following but would hardly be known to a larger audience; it turned out that Miyaya was one of the superstars of late 60s underground manga and the early seinen magazines. A paucity of in-print work and his retirement from manga at the end of the 80s somewhat diminished his star power in comparison to a Tsuge or Nagashima, but he retains a loyal following and is spoken of reverently by fans and critics who spent their adolescence and twenties with his work.

Miyaya won the second "Grand COMpanion" prize for best new artist in the May 1967 issue of Osamu Tezuka's experimental magazine COM. Influenced like so many others by Shinji Nagashima, he quickly developed his own style, working with several assistants. Backgrounds were realistic and detailed. Working in both COM and the early seinen magazines, Miyaya oscillated between technically skilled genre work--Golgo 13-style gangsters, race car drivers, boxers-and the work which earned his reputation, sensitive coming-of-age stories. The Miyaya fan I talked to via e-mail stated that Miyaya's work at this time was infused by his love of pop culture, especially Western: several works bear the titles of Western rock music, such as his 1971 collection Jumpin' Jack Flash or his most acclaimed short serial, "Like A Rolling Stone". As the write-up on the Tezuka site puts it: "[Miyaya] conveyed the feelings of rebellious youths through the scenes of the time, including politics, sex, and rock music, thereby capturing the imagination of readers." Miyaya was also a pioneer in the depiction of sex in manga. The cover of his first collection from COM depicts a nude woman squeezing her breast, her crotch obscured by the head of a young man facing the reader, while the inside featured a nude photo of Miyaya (known for his good looks) and his girlfriend.

Miyaya diversified his output in the mid-70s, drawing a violent, never-reprinted serial for Shonen Champion and an erotic one for Garo. During this time, his drawing style shifted, backgrounds becoming so hyper-realistic they look like covers from a lurid pulp book, characters becoming overly muscled, their Belmondo-style broken noses and tough-mug faces looking ever more grotesque. One of Miyaya's major works in the early 1980s was Ningyo Densetsu, in which the wife of a fisherman murdered by the developers of a nuclear plant embarks on a bloody revenge spree. The manga was made into a live-action film in 1984 by future Evil Dead Trap director Toshiharu Ikeda. At some point Miyaya reportedly became a Mishima-style right-winger, which informed his latter-period work (he illustrated a 1987 book on patriotism).

Miyaya's output dwindled in the 80s, and by 1991 he had disappeared from the field, resulting in rumors that he had died. His work a victim of the often haphazard attitude toward posterity exhibited by the publishers of art manga in the 1970s, with many of his best-known works never even compiled into books, Miyaya's reputation was kept alive by critics who wrote articles about him; one episode of NHK's show on manga was devoted to Miyaya. In 1998 one of Miyaya's 80s' serials was collected by Ohta Shuppan and published as the 13th volume of the Quick Japan Comics Library. It remains the only Miyaya volume currently in print. Miyaya returned to draw a 32-page comic in 1999. In recent years a number of fan sites sprung up, and Miyaya has begun to participate in them. In a magnanimous move, he allowed the sites to reproduce several stories in full (as well as the complete Shonen Champion serial), in some cases supplying his original art to be scanned. He also established his own website and sold a collection of his work through it. The young company Web Freestyle announced early this year that they would release a collection of Miyaya's classic stories from the 60s & 70s, but the book appears to have dropped off their schedule.

Literature: Miyaya (as Miyatani) is mentioned in The World Encyclopedia of Comics entry on Nagashima as one of his followers. That's all I've found in print.

Links:

http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~FREE-MY/miyayasakuhin.html

This Miyaya fan site has five of his stories, both genre and personal. The 3rd story (from Play Magazine 1971 I believe) is the work which convinces me most of Miyaya's reputation.

[UPDATE: Chris has emailed me that this site has added new stories since he wrote this, and that the story he singled out as his favorite is now the fourth story. Here's a direct link to that story, in case they add more. -- AS]

http://miyaya-fan.cocolog-nifty.com/

Recent site in which fans pick which Miyaya comic they want posted. Only 2 stories, both genre, and not really impressive to me. Interesting for historical reasons.

http://homepage1.nifty.com/DORA/miyayaf.html

The main Miyaya fansite. Contains a good selection of illustrations and comic pages from throughout his career. He also participates on the bulletin board.

http://bb.10daysbook.com/shop/miyaya/

Official Miyaya homepage. The bulk of it consists of a bizarre full-color "story" (?) which reminds me of something out of a late-70s Heavy Metal. The song titles lead to mostly-text discussions about his life and culture in the 60s. Plus, vintage photos.




Fumiko Okada---Another legendary figure to emerge from COM was Fumiko Okada. Okada outlined her life in an interview last year upon the republication of her comics. Okada's mother died when she was 12. She loved the manga of Tezuka and the fairy tales of foreign countries as a child, which instilled a "yearning" for Europe in her. In high school she was introduced to Raymond Peynet and Edvard Munch, who would become influences on her development as a cartoonist.

After drawing several unpublished stories in 1966, she debuted in the February 1967 issue of COM, winning the magazine's newcomer prize at the age of 17. From 1967-70 Okada would appear almost exclusively in the magazine and become one of its most vital contributors, with an impact that lasts to this day. Okada's work was praised by Tezuka and had a pronounced effect on such fellow COM contributors as Keiko Takemiya and Moto Hagio, who would form the nucleus of shoujo manga in the 1970s. Hagio has singled out Okada as one of her favorite artists, and wrote the afterword to her first book. The samples I've seen of Okada's art look forward to some of Hagio's techniques, but with a more surreal feel. Another major artist inspired by Okada is Fumiko Takano, one of the most revered of contemporary manga artists. Okada's comics have been compared to Western psychology, poetry, literature, fairy tales and surrealism, receiving accolades from literary figures of the time.

Despite this acclaim, Okada stopped drawing at the end of 1970. In 1971 she worked at an animation studio but quit within the year, and at the age of 21 attempted suicide. She is listed as drawing three stories in 1972, but did not draw again until 1978, during which time she worked as an insurance clerk and saw the publication of her first collection (1976). Okada's subsequent output was sporadic: 6 stories in 1978-1979, 1 story apiece in 1980, 1982 and 1983, 2 stories in 1988 and 1 story in 1990. She then retired from manga and has yet to return.

Okada's legend grew during the 90s. She was profiled in Quick Japan as part of a series on "kieta mangaka" and the famous used-manga store Mandarake published a collection of her work. In 2003 the first volume of Odessey (sic?) 1966-2003 was published, with a second volume following in 2004. The books collect previously unpublished work and doujinshi contributions in addition to her classics and feature her commentary. This upswing in visibility led to hopeful rumors that Okada would return to manga, but that has yet to prove the case, as Okada, a convert to Catholicism, has focused on raising her two children. A recent article in The Daily Yomiuri paired separate interviews with Tsuge and Okada: both are acclaimed and popular artists with a tiny output and personal sufferings who nevertheless have an ever-growing fanbase. One case in point is the brother-sister team of Nishioka Kyodai, whose avant-garde work in Garo and Ax (good enough to appear in an anthology like Le Cheval sans Tete or Drawn & Quarterly) is indebted to Okada.

Literature: The Michigan Reading Room lists an index entry for Okada in Encyclopédie des bandes dessinées (1986).

Links:

http://www.momiji.sakura.ne.jp/~werdna/okada/index.html

Okada fan page, with bibliography, chronology, and reviews. I took the bibliographic info and some of the personal info above from here. The site as a whole is well worth looking over.

http://media.excite.co.jp/book/special/okada/

This is where I obtained most of the personal info on Okada. Contains her commentary on her childhood and influences, as well as a list of books she recommends.

http://www.mandarake.co.jp/shop/info_nakano/tajimi/nbl009/

Plug for Odessey with sample panels.

http://en.tezuka.co.jp/tomm/contents/project_ex/no09/cat04.html

English-language page on the "Graduates of COM" with brief but useful detail on both Okada and Miyaya. The overall sub-section on COM is worth reading. I wish there was more.


Shinji Nagashima: One of the most important and popular figures of the 1960s. Nagashima was born in 1937, and made his professional debut at the age of 15. Like so many young artists he worked for the rental-manga market and in a variety of genres, most notably shoujo manga and children's comics. Nagashima's breakthrough came with Mangaka Zankoku Monogatori in 1961, an autobiographical work based on his experiences as a struggling young manga artist. The World Encyclopedia of Comics pegged it as the first autobiographical comic; while that's not likely, it's probably one of the first.

In 1964 Nagashima joined Tezuka's animation studio Mushi Productions where he worked as a character designer on the Jungle Emperor Leo movie and a 1973 TV series called Wansa-kun. In 1967 Nagashima became one of the editors of COM. According to Schodt in Manga! Manga!, at some point in the 60s Nagashima "left his wife and family and took up residence in a cheap apartment in Shinjuku, at the time Tokyo's equivalent of Greenwich Village" (p. 141). In 1967 Nagashima drew on his life there for his other representative work, Futen. Starring "Hinji Nagahima" and featuring one of his assistants as a main character, Futen ran in COM from 1967-68, then switched over to the seinen magazine Play for the rest of its run from 69-70. In 1972 the complete Futen was collected in book form by Garo publisher Seirindo and was a huge success. During this time Nagashima served as the editor and judge of the aforementioned "Grand Companion" reader's section, which launched the likes of Hideshi Hino, Murasaki Yamada, and future Mandarake founder Masuzo Furukawa, and compiled a collection of young artists' work in 1968 (the cover features my favorite Nagashima image: a sullen youth in a striped shirt glares at the reader while in the background birds carry away a smiling little girl by her pigtails).

Nagashima joined Garo in 1967 and began a long association with the magazine. In the early 1970s he created the Peanuts-inspired Tabito-kun about the wanderings of a little boy. He left COM in early 1971, a few months before the magazine folded as a result of the financial troubles of Mushi Productions. He was a constant presence at Garo throughout the 70s, contributing the covers for 1975-76 and 1979-80 (a tradition at Garo, where Sanpei Shirato drew the bulk of the covers from 1964 to the first half of 1971, Seiichi Hayashi the second half of 1971 and all of 1974, Yuji Kamosawa 1978, King Terry most of the 80s, etc.). He won the Shogakukan Award for Children's Comics in 1975.

One online review I came across on Nagashima praised Futen but criticized his other work for being overly sentimental. Having only read one complete Nagashima story I can't comment on the accuracy of the charge, but the Nagashima's covers and illustrations often have a cutesy feel, and he appeared comfortable drawing children's comics in a way other gekiga pioneers were not. The Nagashima story I read was from 1971, reprinted in a 1996 issue of Garo devoted to Katsuichi Nagai. Nagashima portrays himself as a chubby, dumpy guy with glasses and a beard. While the story appears autobiographical, Nagashima employs traditional manga exaggeration: attempting to catch the train, Nagashima leaps off the platform and swings round on the handlebar. A dish-throwing fight between a couple is rendered as slapstick. Nagashima's characters are cartoony and bear a Tezuka influence, while his backgrounds have a jazzy feel to them, a far cry from the cross-hatched, dark cityscapes of most late 60s, younger Garo artists.

Mangaka Zankoku Monogatori was reprinted last year by Comic Box, which also released two brief collection of short stories, one devoted to his Garo-era work, the other his kids' comics. Tabito-kun is also in print, as is a mainstream series about judo. Futen unfortunately remains available only via pay-to-view download, and many other Nagashima works from his early gekiga to 1970s underground serials are hard to find.

Literature: There are separate entries for Nagashima and Futen in the Horn book; the "updates" in the 1999 edition are a waste, just one tacked-on line. In addition to Manga! Manga!, Nagashima also crops up a couple of times in the Kinsella book. Mangaka Zankoku Monogatori was reviewed last year in Animerica. There must be more out there, especially as I've seen French and Italian references to Nagashima online.

Links:

http://glaymotchy.ld.infoseek.co.jp/nagashima.htm

http://www.geocities.co.jp/AnimeComic/7173/nagashinji_room.htm

Lots of covers and illustrations, mostly from the 1960s.

http://homepage2.nifty.com/mangajp/nagasimasinji.htm

Good sampling of covers and illustrations from the myriad of genres and styles Nagashima worked in.


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Saturday, January 01, 2005

MANGA CORNER: SHIGERU SUGIURA

Far and away the best thing I bought on my trip to Chicago last week, and one of the top three comics I purchased last year, is MANGArt Tokubetsugoh [special number] Sugiura Shigeru (also known as the "Shigeru Sugiura tribute book," even though over half its pages are by Sugiura himself). Sugiura is an amazing, mind-boggling artist, who was a big influence on Japanese underground manga artists of the sixties and after: he's a bit like a cross between Rudolf Dirks, E. C. Segar, and Milt Gross, who then dropped acid. A lot of acid. The samples of his work included in the Gravett and Taschen manga tomes barely hint at his genius and range, particularly since his work doesn't look its best when reduced to quarter-page size. But if you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe Archer Prewitt, Daniel Clowes, Jim Woodring, Julie Doucet, and Peter Bagge, all of whom contributed tributes.

To get down to specifics, the book is a 192-page paperback, approximately 6" by 8" in dimensions. 112 of these pages contain Japanese-language comics and illustrations by Sugiura, mainly the former. There are some brief gag strips (including one starring Laurel and Hardy, here called Debu-san and Yase-san), presumably from early in Sugiura's career, which lasted from 1932 to his death in 2000. But most of the work collected here appears to be one- or two-page exceprts from longer stories (as far as I can tell--I haven't read it yet). There's also a seventy-page section containing tributes to Sugiura, both in writing (in Japanese only) and art, from over thirty artists. The Japanese contributions provide a nice survey of contemporary Japanese design and illustration, at least to my untutored eyes; the North American contributions mentioned above are in fact disappointing, except for Bagge's illustration.

The book is expensive--its retail price is 2500 yen, and I paid thirty bucks for mine--but it's worth every penny, even if you don't read a word of Japanese. Apparently some American comic shops are selling it; I bought my copy at Quimby's, which had another copy on the shelves. If you don't read Japanese, here's how to recognize it: the front cover (which would be the back cover if it were a Western book, remember) contains a lot of multicolored text against a bright green background, along with a few of Sugiura's characters. Across the cover in bright yellow type are the English words "This is" followed by some kanji (Japanese characters); below in smaller yellow type are the English words "Message from" followed by more kanji. If you can't find it in a store anywhere in your area, you might have a bit of difficulty ordering it: it's technically a journal, not a book, so there's no ISBN, and there doesn't seem to be an ISSN either. The publisher appears to be Sony Creative Products. You might try places like Last Gasp, or other online independent comic dealers, though I haven't looked into these myself (if anybody knows how to order this online, email me and I'll pass it on).

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