Wednesday, April 27, 2005


I've never understood why James Kochalka is considered a great, or even good, comics creator. In my Comics Journal review of Top Shelf Asks the Big Questions, I said that Kochalka's contribution to the volume left me with an impression of overwhelming narcissism. And Ian Brill's glowing review of American Elf in TCJ #266 (which listed the book as one of the "autobiographies of the year") merely confirms me in this opinion. The few pages I'd read of the book itself struck me as being like "Jim's Journal," only not as good. But Brill's review makes it sound unbelievably fatuous. By the way, the book's title comes from Kochalka's portraying himself as a long-eared "elf" named "Magic Boy"; and unfortunately, he's not being in the least ironic.

Here's some of what Brill has to say: Kochalka "believes in the wonderful notion that everything in life has its own magic to it, and that everything in life can create its own set [sic] of wonder."

"We see Kochalka apologizing to the dust as he sweeps up for his wife's birthday party: 'It's for your own good,' he tells it."

"One strip has Amy crying and asking Kochalka why he's so mean, while the cartoonist ponders helplessly to himself that he doesn't want to be mean. In the very next day's strip Amy comes home, gives her husband a kiss on the forehead and asks him why he's so nice. (Answer: 'I'm a happy elf.') In just eight panels Kochalka has turned the elf versions of himself and his wife into characters as complicated and alive as their real-life counterparts." Kochalka's answer made me want to gag. And as for Brill's last sentence, can he possibly think that just by having Amy call James mean one day and nice the next, Kochalka has created a "character as complicated and alive as [her] real-life counterpart"?

In one of P. G. Wodehouse's golf stories, one of the characters begins writing poems about his young son, which are parodies of A. A. Milne's Christopher Robin poems. In response, "The child has become a ham. He never ceases putting on an act. He can't eat his breakfast cereal without looking out of the corner of his eye to see how it's going with the audience. And when he says his prayers at night his eyes are ostensibly closed, but all the while he is peering through his fingers and counting the house." More than anything else, it's of this child that the examples of Kochalka's work in Brill's review remind me of. Kochalka pretends to be reacting to the world with spontaneous childlike innocence, but in reality is well aware of how "cute" he is, and is always putting on a show.

I feel a bit guilty about singling Ian Brill out like this. On his blog he's an intelligent guy and a good writer, with less of a tendency to gush. And I know from experience that there's a lot more pressure in trying to write an official review of something than in just posting off-the-cuff thoughts on a blog. But this review was way over the top.

  (0) comments

Sunday, April 24, 2005


I just finished listening, for at least the fourth time, to The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs, a 2002 compilation that is the only legit release from the original Rocket from the Tombs, the seminal 1974-75 Cleveland proto-punk band that spawned both Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys (in 2003 a reformed version of the band, with three of the original members plus Richard Lloyd from Television, toured; they have a CD out (see link above), which I haven't heard). And the Village Voice critic who called it "a pretty good heavy metal album," or words to that effect (iirc), was wrong, wrong, wrong. Granted, only nine of the nineteen cuts on the CD are great: "Raw Power," "So Cold," "Ain't It Fun," "Transfusion," "Life Stinks," "30 Seconds over Tokyo," "Final Solution," "Foggy Notion," and "Search and Destroy." But how many CDs do you own with nine great tracks on them? Not many, I'll bet. (The version of "Ain't It Fun" here is slightly inferior to the one on the Life Stinks bootleg from Jack Slack, if I'm remembering the latter correctly, but you can't have everything.)

  (0) comments

Saturday, April 23, 2005


Yesterday I finished watching a Korean horror film set in a girls' high school, called Whispering Corridors. The English-language trailer calls it "the film that started the Asian horror explosion," but I didn't find it particularly scary. (The fact that, apart from a final twist, the entire plot is basically telegraphed within the first ten minutes doesn't help.) I would have stopped watching after about a half-hour except for a single moment early in the film. It's in a scene between two classmates: they're companions, but Ji-On, the more assertive girl, has been semi-bullying the other one and seems to be only tolerating her company. The other girl leaves the scene briefly to get something she forgot, and while she's gone, Ji-On catches sight of the film's first corpse. When the other girl returns, before she has a chance to see the corpse, Ji-On immediately grabs her and covers her eyes. With just this gesture, you realize she really cares about her friend.

  (0) comments

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Very little comics news really excites me these days. But I was definitely excited when I learned that Michael Kupperman, whose Snake 'n' Bacon's Cartoon Cabaret is one of the funniest books ever, has a new ongoing -- ongoing! -- series coming out. It'll be published by Fantagraphics, and issue #1 is in the latest Previews.

Also in the latest Previews is the DVD of the original Di Gi Charat TV series. Don't confuse this with Di Gi Charat Nyo, Panyo Panyo Di Gi Charat, or the various manga incarnations of the characters; the original TV series is not aimed at children, and at its best is brilliantly absurd humor.

  (0) comments

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Last week I was up in Chicago for several days, and I had the opportunity to watch William Klein's Mister Freedom, thanks to Odd Obsession Video, a DVD and video rental place which also carries all seven volumes of Lost and Found Video Night, as well as a lot of other fascinating-looking stuff. (Unfortunately, they don't appear to be doing rentals by mail at the present.) In the case of Mister Freedom, however, the movie as a whole didn't live up to the excerpts I'd seen. It wasn't so much that the compilation had cherry-picked the best scenes; it was more that the movie basically has one idea, and once you've absorbed that idea, it doesn't offer much else. But it is rather chilling that the title character's paranoid, self-righteous rantings have become mainstream foreign policy discourse.

Here's a well-written review of the film by Michael Sullivan, adorned with several screenshots (they don't do full justice to the garishness of the film's red-white-and-blue color scheme, though).

  (0) comments

Sunday, April 17, 2005


TCJ's website has a page up devoted to The Comics Journal Special Edition 2005. This edition has a section devoted to manga, and TCJ has put several articles and excerpts of articles from this section online. If you're interested in manga, you should definitely check out both the website and the physical issue itself. (The issue has the word "SEDUCTION" on its spine, if you're looking for it on bookstore shelves.) If anyone's interested, the special has a copiously-illustrated five-page article by me on Suehiro Maruo, one of the best manga creators yet translated into English (though his works aren't easy to find these days), the opening paragraphs of which are online.

Online in full is Bill Randall's brief article on translated manga, which I referred to a few days ago in connection with flipped vs. unflipped manga. Randall's views on this question strike me as wrong-headed: on the TCJ message board, Shawn Fumo makes some sensible comments in reply (scroll down to Mar. 31). However, there's more to Randall's article, and it's worth checking out.

Appearing in the issue, but not online, is a copiously illustrated appreciation of the artist, illustrator and cartoonist Saseo Ono, who was active between the 1920s and the 1950s. Ono was an early manga artist; but he was more important as an artist and illustrator, judging by the examples given in the article, many of which are stunning.

The edition deserves to be discussed in more detail, but I have a backlog of several reviews to write, so I'll put this up now.

(None of these material will be online permanently, so if you're reading this a few months from now, you're probably out of luck.)

  (0) comments

Thursday, April 07, 2005


I recently rented and watched the first three DVDs in the series Lost and Found Video Night. Each DVD compiles a bunch of bizarre film and video clips, aimed at conoisseurs of "so bad they're good" films and the like. The first volume in particular puts the emphasis on the freakish, and according to the link just given, some of it is from videos that were actually found in dumpsters (there's complete listing of contents for any of the discs). Several of the clips you'd only want to watch once, if at all. In particular, a soft-core porn scene involving a bear (actually an actor in a bear costume, but playing a real bear, not a man in a bear costume, if you follow me) will make you want to claw your own eyes out. But there's also an amazing clip of animation beginning at about the 42-minute mark, and lasting for slightly under three minutes. It's a surrealistic combination of clay-, puppet- and "standard" animation and live action, and is apparently French. If anyone reading this should happen to know what this is or where it comes from, please let me know!

The second volume is pretty much a continuation of the first, though a lot less outrageous. Actually, I was disappointmented by this volume, although it does contain a clip of William Shatner giving a dramatic recitation of the lyrics to "Rocket Man."

The third volume, which is actually the one I rented and watched first, shifts the focus to strange cinema. As I was watching it, I realized that I had actually seen two of the films excerpted on it. The clip in which a topless woman attacks another woman with a shard of broken glass is taken from Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion, which I reviewed here; and the opening clip is the opening scene from Suicide Club, which I haven't written about yet but hope to someday. I don't know whether this says more about me or about the compilation. While some of the other clips on this disc made me want to hit fast forward, many of them were fascinating. The excerpts from William Klein's Mister Freedom, a goofy "pop-art" political satire, were good enough that I'd like to see the whole thing. And some of the clips I'd like to see more of out of perverse curiosity, as with "The Story of Srebrenica," which the disc aptly describes as "the most fucked-up children's video EVER" (from memory, as I seem to have misplaced the scrap of paper on which I'd written down the quote). "Srebrenica" here doesn't refer to the city, but to a baby, whom when a tornado blows her house away, is adopted by a wolf, who feeds her a dead rat. (No, that is not a typo.) And this is narrated and animated in the blandest, and most inept, style possible.

There are four other DVDs in the series, but my video store doesn't have them yet.


Another DVD I watched recently was Hellevator, a Japanese sci-fi-horror flick set mainly in an elevator, and directed by Hiroki Yamaguchi. (The title, which was appended to the English release, is awful, but the Japanese title, which is the English words "Gusher no binds me," isn't much better.) The first twenty minutes or so basically set out the steampunk-ish setting, and are an impressive piece of science fiction cinema: something like what Terry Gilliam's Brazil would have been if set entirely inside an elevator. (In an interview with Yamaguchi included on the DVD, we learn that Brazil was one of the films he told the art director to model the sets on.) Once the plot kicks in, the film becomes gory, confusing, and not very good. Still, if you can rent it cheaply, I'd do it for the opening twenty minutes alone.

  (0) comments

Sunday, April 03, 2005


In a comment to a post of Chris Butcher's discussing the issue of unflipped vs. flipped manga (via Irresponsible Pictures), Will Allison gives some potent arguments in favor of unflipped. (For those uninitiated into manga, "flipped" manga refers to translated manga in which the artwork has been mirror-reversed so that it will advance from left to right, as American comics do. At one time all, or virtually all, manga translated into English was flipped, but now at least 90% is unflipped.) Allison's post is too good to languish in a comment thread, so I'm taking the liberty of reproducing it here:

"I used to be a "flipped-manga" guy, to avoid the "zig-zag" effect of reading left-to-right text on a right-to-left page. But now, I'm an "unflipped" guy all the way. You want to know why?

I had to work on "Super Manga Blast".

... Pat Duke was the lead on that project, and the finished pages wound up looking fantastic.

But I noticed a couple of things while working on it. First, the subtle art distortion that every series suffered when flipped. It was like making a picture of your face using only one half: it looks like a face, but it doesn't look like you.

Second, I never realized just how much redrawing was needed to flip a manga. Word balloons had to be resized, signs had to be reversed... effects that took up a certain amount of space in Japanese took up less space in English, and all the negative space had to be filled in. It's not something I could quantify, but there was significant redrawing in every panel of SMB that I worked on.

That's why I'm for unflipped. The reading zig-zag is a small price to pay for the benefits of integrated artwork." [Ellipsis in 5th paragraph Allison's.]

In another comment, also well worth reading, Allison makes the cogent observation that "it's not the right-to-left that makes so many of these manga seem half-translated and half-baked, it's the crappy translation and production." (The allusion is to Bill Randall's claim, in the article that touched off this current round of discussion, that "Un-flipped manga is at best a half-translation.")

I plan to post some comments of my own on unflipped vs. flipped manga eventually, but I wanted to at least get this up for now.

  (0) comments

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?