Funnybook Babylon

November 27, 2009

Linkblogging for Black Friday

Welcome to another round of FBB linkblogging, brought to you by your friendly Jamaal. All opinions expressed below are those of the author, and do not reflect the official position of the FBB mob.

(1) True Stories of the Core Marvel Universe , in which Chris Sims points out that the Marvel Universe is wacky! I really like most of Sims’ work, but I don’t see the big deal here. I like the Frankenstein version of the Punisher too, but I think it’s okay if other people don’t. There’s nothing wrong with the fact that a segment of the superhero comics reading audience is obsessed with continuity. I’m not in that crowd, but I don’t begrudge people their preferences.

(2) A great interview with Farel Darlymple conducted by Nick Gazin of Vice Magazine (hat tip to the Beat). Darlymple is a brilliant artist who should definitely get more attention. His new project (“The Wrenchies”) seems pretty intriguing.

(3) A jaw-droppingly great meditation on J.H. Williams III by Charles Hatfield of the Thought Balloonists. You should bookmark their blog.

(4) Two potentially interesting corporate comics stories:

(a) Rich Johnston reports that Marvel is initiating a ‘special character policy’ to prevent intellectual property ownership disputes with creators.

(b) ICv2 notes that some Marvel execs will personally profit from the merger deal when it finally goes through, to the tune of millions of dollars in cash and stock. Tom Spurgeon writes what I think – ‘[t]he system works, sure, but for whom?’

I’d love to see someone explore both of these stories in more detail, especially the first one, which leaves a ton of unanswered questions: What’s are the terms of these Special Character Agreement contract? Does Marvel discourage/encourage creators to consult with attorneys prior to signing? Are any of these terms negotiable?

(5) Read this great interview with Eddie Campbell, conducted by The Rumpus. As always, Campbell’s views on publishing, comics, and art are fascinating to read.

(6) The Onion A/V Club brings you a list of the best comics of the aughts. This article has been poked at a bit for having some gaping holes, but to be fair, these kinds of lists always have some kind of glaring omission. They are always deeply personal, and reflect the evolution of ones’ tastes, expectations, and preferences over a decade. Some of the books that I’d put on my personal list, like Planetary, Authority, or the New Frontier, reflect a period in which I was excited that mainstream superhero comics could tell a truly intelligent story. Others, like Box Office Poison, or Bob Fingerman’s work, represent a time when I was still surprised to read good middlebrow comics. If those comics were published this week, would they still hold a cherished place in my heart? Probably not. But I’d still put them on the list.

With all that said, Heidi MacDonald, Sean Collins and David Pepose are totally correct about the absence of manga. That’s a pretty glaring omission. I’m embarrased to admit that I couldn’t put manga on my list either. Why? Because I don’t read manga, which is the one part of the comics universe that I know almost nothing about. I’ve heard Pluto is brilliant, and plan to start picking up volumes over the winter holiday. Any other suggestions?

Note: I do not like anything that’s even remotely cute.


  1. “Note: I do not like anything that’s even remotely cute.”

    Well, that’s my go-to recommendation of Yotsuba&! out of commission.

    My other Manga Must-Read is Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s “Lone Wolf & Cub” but at 28 volumes/~8400 pages, it’s a hefty investment of time and money.

    The elevator pitch is that it’s an epic story of revenge in which a disgraced Samurai becomes a wandering Assassin along with his three year old son, on a quest for vengeance against the clan that plotted against him. But that’s far and away the least interesting aspect of the book.

    For the first two thirds of the series, the actual narrative is only advanced in one or two chapters per volume, most chapters are stand alone dramas that examine political structures in fuedal Japan. It’s a fascinating book .

    It manages to balance telling breathtaking drama with stunning character work and narratives from political intrigue to romance, while teaching you everything you need to know about a fairly alien socio-political landscape in 60 page chunks while never feeling overly didactic or trite and unsatisfying.

    It’s a masterpiece.

    Inio Asano’s Solanin is my last rec. A stand alone graphic novel about a bunch of 20-somethings, stuck knee-deep in melancholy as they leave childhood behind and try to figure out what the whole life thing is about.

    Comment by James Baker — November 27, 2009 @ 12:14 pm

  2. My gateway drug for manga was Death Note, which has one of the cleverest concepts I’ve ever seen, especially once the character known only as L shows up–the OMIGOD WHAT HAPPENS NEXT factor is off the charts.

    These days, I’m working my way through Oishinbo, which is about an estranged son and father trying to out-food-snob each other.

    Comment by Douglas Wolk — November 27, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

  3. Jamaal, if you’re interested in LW&C, let me know. I have the first few volumes that I can ship out to you.

    My latest manga obsession is Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond, which is based on a novel about Miyamoto Musashi’s life. It’s straight up historical fiction, no gimmicks. People are a little prettier than they probably were, but there’s no magical girl stuff, no surprise genre twists, just samurai action and philosophy. Poke around Strand and some other bookstores up there– there’s a Vizbig volume that collects three volumes at once for 20 bucks. The art’s great and pacing is excellent.

    Pluto you know about, but you may also enjoy Monster. It’s slower paced and 18 volumes long, but it’s a tense read that’s at least partly a meditation on when it is okay to kill someone, and what makes a man into a monster.

    Comment by David Brothers — November 27, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

  4. Seconded on the VAGABOND recommendation. Definitely pickup VAGABOND in the VIZ BIG format (3 volumes at a time on a bigger page). I would have to say that Tezuka’s BUDDHA published by Vertical Inc is excellent as well.

    Comment by Patrick Watson — November 27, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

  5. A lot of good suggestions in here already, but let me add Planetes to the list. It’s got a cool sci-fi setting, but that really only serves as a backdrop for the excellent character and relationship development. And it’s only 5 volumes (v. 4 split into two parts for some reason) so it’s not one you have to track down a gazillion volumes of to follow. Highly recommended.

    Do any of the other FBB’ers read manga? Getting everybody up to speed on something like Pluto (my current favorite comic, period) would make for a great podcast. Also, if you end up liking Pluto then 20th Century Boys, also by Urusawa, is a no-brainer, but it has a looooonnng way to go.

    Comment by Justin B. — November 28, 2009 @ 4:01 am

  6. I hate to poo on someone’s recommendation, but I had a bad experience with Death Note, and knowing Jamaal, I think he may have a similar experience.

    Death Note’s is really bad after the big thing that happens mid way through. Even before then it was taking a nosedive in quality. Near and Mello are just never interesting characters. They take the two aspects of one of my favorite character’s personality and exaggerate them greatly to show us the balance is needed. This ideal didn’t appeal to me at all.

    Reading the chapters featuring them became a slog. I just didn’t care about a single character in the book and the plot just felt super thin after awhile. How does Kira get out of this now? Oh don’t worry, he’s set up the situation with increasingly insane coincidences to barely pull his ass out of the fire. Don’t forget the 1960’s Batman level leaps of logic in regards to clues.

    It came off less as jokey or trashy and more as badly written. I read the legit copies and not the “fanscanalations” so maybe that’s on the fault of the translator but once I got over the game of who could outdo who more, (which is the tennis match. It’s so outrageous that even if I know how silly that sequence is, I love it.)

    I know a lot of people liked it, but every girl and my little brother kept telling me it was the most boring manga they have ever read.

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — November 28, 2009 @ 11:20 am

  7. Agreed, Pedro. Death Note is great as long as you stop at the big moment mid-way through that you mentioned. I only made it one more volume and called it quits after that. Such a disappointing and sudden drop-off in quality.

    Comment by Justin B. — November 28, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

  8. This maybe cliched, but Akira is being republished in the US by Kodansha (maybe spelled that wrong?). It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but one creator writing on one big story for over 10 years certainly has some interesting aspects to look at. I enjoyed it when I did read it, and the art is very beautiful in the original black and white that it’s being published in (Marvel’s colored versions in the 80’s while having commendable coloring by Steve Oliff for the time, just take away so much from what Otomo put into the black and white). There’s 6 volumes total and each one is much larger than your average manga, so it might be a bit pricey ($25-30 a volume MSRP)but I’d recommend it.

    Comment by Fearing — November 29, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  9. I’ve been reading more manga lately. I have a hard time getting into the insanely long shonen mangas that I’ve tried: Great Teacher Onizuka, Iron Wok Jan, Ultimate Muscle, One Piece, Death Note, Beck, probably some others I’ve forgotten. They’re fun, but after a few volumes most of them seem to fall into a formula and seeing that formula stretch out forever to the horizon always dispirits me and I stop reading. The exact same thing could be said for most superhero comics, I know. Maybe it’s just my cultural bias.

    That said, I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Oishinbo, and may have convinced my dad to try it over the Thanksgiving holiday. Hopefully we will not end up bitter rivals, conducting hate-filled ramen contests for competing newspapers.

    I’ve also been working through all the Tezuka and Tatsumi things getting republished recently, and have Cat-Eyed Boy lying around waiting to be read. I have a bunch of random LW&C volumes I picked up really cheap last year, and have been meaning to try to fill in the gaps for that as well.

    I think a Pluto podcast would be a fine idea, thanks for the suggestion.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — November 29, 2009 @ 8:31 pm

  10. I’d like to thank everyone for the great suggestions. You guys certainly have given me a ton of books to catch up with.


    Lone Wolf & Cub sounds like a great (though long) read. I’ll definitely see about catching up with that. Solanin sounds pretty cool too. Does it speak to the Japanese experience specifically (to the extent that such an experience can be said to exist)?


    You have me sold on Vagabond. It’s getting copped this week.


    I have the first volume of Planetes, but never got a chance to read it. I’ll be sure to push it to the top of the queue. All the other FBB’ers read manga on a semi-regular basis. I’m still in the “respect it, but haven’t found the time” category.


    I totally agree with this: “seeing that formula stretch out forever to the horizon always dispirits me and I stop reading”, but it also applies to superhero books for me. One question – are ‘runs’ with defined end-points common in the world of shonen manga? The growing prevalence of well-thought out ‘runs'(particularly at Marvel)lowers my frustration at the absence of a true ending.

    A Pluto podcast sounds like a very cool idea.

    Thanks again for all of the suggestions!

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — November 30, 2009 @ 4:43 pm

  11. There are some distinctly Japanese bits in Solanin (the main character’s relationship with her mother, for example), but it speaks even more to the quarter-life crisis set. I loved it, personally, and picked up What A Wonderful World!, Asano’s previous series that’s made up of similarly-themed vignettes.

    As far as shonen manga, or even manga in general, goes… if it’s a hit, it’s going to be huge. Dragon Ball ran 16 volumes, DBZ a few dozen… it can be an investment. The better ones have clear delineations between arcs, leading to (lack of a better phrase) jump-on/jump-off points.

    The thing about shonen manga is that it’s aimed toward young boys and girls (despite the name), with an eye toward merchandising hardcore. So if it’s a hit… it might get dragged out some more. See also: the back half of Dragon Ball Z, all of Dragon Ball GT.

    The better ones also tend to be fairly well plotted. Most creators go into it with a clear idea of what they want, and sometimes things wobble on the way there, but the good ones tend to be very good. I’m several hundred chapters into One Piece and it hasn’t jumped the shark yet, but Naruto stumbled a couple hundred chapters in for me.

    Vagabond, to use a relevant example, is still going and is on volume 30. But, it’s a manga based on a biography about a man’s life, so barring some amazingly ill-conceived narrative decision, it’ll have a real ending.

    My only real suggestion is to carefully poke around at any suggestion and make sure you aren’t going to have to buy 150 volumes over the next 150 years or something.

    Comment by David Brothers — December 1, 2009 @ 12:51 am

  12. Does no one like comedy manga around here? Ranma 1/2 is golden. It takes the Rodney Dangerfield aproach to comedy; so many jokes are thrown at you so fast that even if you only find 1/4 of them amusing you’ll still be laughing on nearly every page.

    I’ll also rec Negima even though it takes three volumes before the genre shift kicks in. (There’s a funny story about that.)

    I’ll also suggest Battle Angel Alita (but not Last Order), Gunsmith Cats, Fullmetal Alchemist, Chrono Crusade, and Kare Kano. Oh! And Aqua/Aria.
    I’ve had some success getting people to read those.

    And I’ll shut up now.

    Comment by Onion — December 1, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

  13. I forgot Cromartie High School. I suspect Jamaal’s “not even remotely cute” proviso disqualifies Ranma and a lot of other comedy manga for him.

    Cromartie isn’t particularly cute, aside from Mechazawa.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — December 1, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

  14. Ranma is cute? Huh, I figured he meant stuff like Azumanga Daioh or Sgt Frog. That… is somewhat limiting.

    Comment by Onion — December 1, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

  15. I don’t know if Ranma is cute or not. I’m familiar with the premise, but I’m uncertain if it crosses the cute line. I don’t mind funny comics, but can’t get into comics that read like they’re aimed at really little kids. Tiny Titans is a great example of this. I can appreciate it, but it’s not a book for me.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — December 1, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  16. Gunsmith Cats is the one Manga that I would love to rebuy but I don’t want to be accused of being a pedophile for owning. Minnie Mae is a fucking awful character in concept and execution.

    Comment by Pedro Tejeda — December 1, 2009 @ 4:12 pm

  17. Pedro,

    I just read the Wikipedia entry on Gunsmith Cats and that character sounds horrifying.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — December 1, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

  18. Comedy is something I definitely think manga does better than American comics, with Yotsuba as a shining example, although it has already been disqualified on grounds of excessive cuteness. The first two or three volumes of Cromartie High School are hilarious and worth checking out, but best read in small doses and the jokes did start to wear a little thin after a while. Probably one of the more accessible comedy manga though and worth a read look to see if that brand of comedy is up your alley.

    I recently tried the first volume of an adult comedy called Detroit Metal City and it was a mixed bag. There were some genuinely hilarious moments (the lead character is a death metal star who is really an emo kid at heart – what’s not funny about that?) but it had some real groan-inducing moments as well (every scene the disturbingly sexual female manager is in). I won’t unequivocally recommended it but if you already like comedy manga and can find it on the cheap I think it’s worth a read. I’m still on the fence about getting the second volume but will probably give it the benefit of the doubt and another chance to win me over.

    A couple other recent releases I remembered after perusing my bookshelf are Children of the Sea and Ooku: The Inner Chambers. CotS is about a girl who meets two strange boys who grew up in the ocean and has gorgeous art, especially the underwater scenes. Ooku is an alternate history take on Edo period Japan where the male population has been greatly reduced by plague and the story is about the female shogun’s male harem and the politics within the harem itself. Sound girly? Well, it is, but still worth checking out. Only one volume of each has been released so no big commitment necessary at this point.

    I’m almost done, I promise. I wanted to like Solanin more than I did. For me it was very good, but not great. At parts it felt a too melodramatic, but it is definitely one I need to go back and read to see if I need to reevaluate my opinion on it as a lot of people hold it in very high regard. If David Brothers makes his way back here, what did you think of the two volume What a Wonderful World! by Asano? I have them yet but haven’t had a chance to read them. Alright, sorry for the long post, that’s enough outta me.

    Comment by Justin B. — December 1, 2009 @ 7:24 pm

  19. Cromartie is hilarious. I stopped at volume 4, but apparently it went on past 10 before ADV belly flopped.

    Children of the Sea is good, but a little thin and decompressed. Check the first chapter here. It’s definitely a story that takes its time, in a good way… but it takes its time. Ooku’s at that link, too. Sig Ikki is pretty good, though I wish it wasn’t flash-based.

    I reviewed What A Wonderful World! 1 over here. It’s solanin writ miniature, you can definitely see where Asano was going as he went into solanin.

    Detroit Metal City wasn’t for me.

    Comment by David Brothers — December 2, 2009 @ 1:33 am

  20. It seems to me that the argument around continuity stretches beyond personal preferences in that those of us who don’t obsess about such things are often of the opinion that superhero comics as a whole would benefit from a lighter touch of the continuity brush.

    I don’t begrudge people their preferences, but I begrudge the fact that their preferences are so widely catered for

    Comment by Zom — December 2, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  21. Zom,

    I don’t know the person who complained on Chris Sims’ blog, but I doubt that their preferences are being catered for by Marvel or DC in any real way. The age of Roy Thomas/Mark Gruenwald/Kurt Busiek is over. You may have a lot of nostalgia-obsessed writers (most notably Geoff Johns), but I think that the detail-obsessed continuity guy has lost influence in both companies. You can accuse Johns of being too obsessed with world-building, but he’s not exactly struggling to ensure that his titles don’t contradict something from the 80’s (look at his work on LSH for example). The most successful and prolific creators at both companies (from Bendis to Morrison to Ellis and Loeb) only care about continuity when it serves the purposes of their story.

    At least that’s my perspective. I also know that people mean different things when they argue about ‘continuity’, so I may have misunderstood your point.

    I also think that your critique should be aimed at publishers, not at fans.

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — December 2, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  22. Justin,

    Cromartie High and Ooku are added to the list!

    Comment by Jamaal Thomas — December 2, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  23. I think that’s a bang-on analysis Jamaal. Thanks for that – sobering.

    My only quibble would be that while the continuity guy of old might be a dying breed, the detail obsessed guy certainly isn’t, hence Johns’s very particular brand of world building, which, well… I won’t go on about it.

    Comment by Zom — December 2, 2009 @ 4:52 pm

  24. Note on Cromartie,

    It took a while to set in for my as funny. The instant humor did not hit for me at all, but what sold it for me were the long burns where the bits and visual gags would be taken to amazing levels of absurdity.

    Comment by Joseph — December 14, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

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