Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Nuts is the great lost kid strip. I'd place it with Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes, although its mood is different from both of those. Its protagonist (who I believe was never named) is neither a tortured Everyman like Charlie Brown or an irrepressibly imaginative troublemaker like Calvin. He's just a regular kid experiencing the world around him, who's beginning to understand just how complicated that world is. Nuts was written and drawn by Gahan Wilson, but that's misleading: his writing here is far removed from the single-panel cartoons that Wilson is famous for, although the art is in the same style. Nuts is seldom morbid, though sometimes mordant; and Wilson has a keen sense of realism about childhood, as well as a good memory for what childhood actually feels like.

As far as I know, only one collection of Nuts ever appeared, and that's long out of print and treasured by those fortunate enough to own it. And I had no expectation of the strip ever returning to print. But in May's Previews Fantagraphics announced The Complete Nuts, which adds over two dozen strips not in the earlier volume. (It's also available for pre-order from Amazon.) This is the most excited I've been about any classic strip reprint in a long time.

(If you're wondering why you've never heard of Nuts, it's because it never appeared in newspapers. It appeared monthly in the National Lampoon, but that's even more misleading.)

(Incidentally, speaking of Amazon and Gahan Wilson, Amazon is currently selling Fantagraphics' three-volume set of Wilson's Playboy cartoons for nearly half off, though that's still over sixty bucks.)

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Friday, May 13, 2011


A long time ago I reviewed one of Shintaro Kago's books. Since then I've read two others, and am currently in the midst of a third. Fraction isn't the best of these, but it's the one I finished reading most recently.

Over half of Fraction's 204 pages are taken up by a single 128-page story, also called "Fraction." It is unusual for Kago to write such a long story, although this isn't his first long story, nor his longest. It's also more tightly plotted than most of Kago's stories.

"Fraction" is divided into eight chapters, alternately labelled "Wagiri-ma" ("Slicing Devil") and "Manga-ka." The "Wagiri-ma" chapters deal with a serial killer who slices his victims in two horizontally, who becomes perturbed when he learns of another serial killer copying his M.O. The protagonist of the "Manga-ka" chapters is Kago himself. In the first of these chapters, Kago worries that because the number of magazines is shrinking, he will have to write more mainstream stories in order to continue to support himself as a mangaka. (Don't worry, he doesn't -- at least, not in this volume.) Meeting with a his editor, a woman, he tells her that he intends to write a mystery. Most of the rest of the "Manga-ka" chapters are devoted to the continuation of this coversation.

He plans to write a mystery that will deceive the reader; and then the coversation becomes meta, as he gives examples, first in novels and then in manga, of how a reader can be tricked into assuming something that is false. The manga-specific techniques he explains include taking advantage of the fact that panels are static (so the reader can be led to think that a character is moving when in fact she is standing still) and framing a scene so that crucial information is hidden outside the panel. After this, the reader will naturally be looking out for such tricks in "Fraction" itself, but is unlikely to spot them before they are revealed. After they are revealed, Kago (both the real one and the character) demonstrate at length how the tricks were worked.

Without giving the ending away, I can say that while for much of its length "Fraction" seems atypical of Kago's work, it ends up being very typical. On the band around the cover, the publisher proclaims "Fraction" to be Kago's first mystery. The term "mystery" is somewhat deceptive here, though, because no reader could possibly deduce the solution, given its extreme improbability and the virtual absence of clues.

Aside from two brief prose sections which I haven't read, the rest of the volume is made up of four sixteen-page stories, which are more typical of Kago's work and can be dealt with more quickly.* The first of these, "Kaette Kita Otoko" ["The Man Who Returned"] has a set-up much like Edogawa Rampo's short story "Caterpillar," which Suehiro Maruo adapted into a manga. A soldier returns home completely disabled, helpless and dependent upon his wife whom he formerly abused. In revenge, the wife torments him and uses him as a sex toy. But the set-ups differ in two ways. First, the main character is not a quadruple amputee, but is skeletally thin and has a very thin and sensitive skin which is constantly drying out. Second, his injury was not incurred in the regular course of battle, but by being swallowed and partially digested by a giant naked woman being used as a beast of burden by the army. (Yes, you read that right.) There's no explanation for the woman's presence, nor is there much of one for the story's gory ending.

Reading the next story, "Shindou" ["Tremor"], is a bit of shock so soon after Japan's recent disaster, as it takes place in the aftermath of an earthquake powerful enough to destroy buildings. The first few pages realistically depict the earthquake's aftermath. Then the story becomes a series of riffs on the theme of "tremors." There is no gore in this story, unlike the rest of the stories in the volume.

The fourth story, "Toukai," ["Collapse"] is set in a city where people are collapsing en masse in public places. Aside from that, it's too incoherent and bizarre for a summary to make much sense.

The final story, "Kakka-souyou" ["Irritation"] is the most straightforward in the book, and resembles a mainstream horror story. An insect lays eggs under a girl's skin, which hatch into larvae. These crawl around under her skin, making her itch. Eventually they leave her body, but she decides she likes the sensation and deliberately puts insects and worms under her skin. Ultimately she becomes addicted, with a predictable (in a horror story) result.

Comics theoreticians and semioticians may find "Fraction" of particular interest, since Kago essentially deconstructs the manga panel and page. And you can follow this deconstruction to some extent even without reading Japanese. Otherwise, the volume is entertaining if you have a strong tolerance for gore, although unlike the other Kago book I reviewed, there's not a lot of humor in it and what there is is of the blackest sort. But it doesn't show what Kago is capable of at his best. If you can read Japanese, and are looking to extend your knowledge of Kago beyond what's been scanlated, Banji Kaichou, the other Kago book I've read, would be a better starting point. Rokushitsu Tensou Ataraxia, which I'm currently reading, is also very good so far.

Fraction is 208 pages long and costs 1500 yen. It's published by Coa Magazine and its ISBN is 9784862527189. Here's its amazon.co.jp page.

*One is four pages of notes explaining the allusions in the story, and the other is a conversation of Kago with Ryuuichi Kasumi, who is identified as a writer of "baka mysteries."

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