Saturday, September 27, 2003

Sick and tired... 

Well, it looks like I caught whatever Dirk has... ;) I've been trying to gargle with salt water and have some horehound mixed into honey. Hoping it is just a bug and not strep.

I did venture out of the house once, however. Had a coupon for Hollywood Video that let you get 3 movies for 99 cents each. I picked up Madadayo and A Better Tomorrow, while Mom grabbed Minority Report (which I'll probably end up watching as well). All of them sounded interesting (and I've already enjoyed The Killer and Hard Boiled from John Woo) while being titles I wouldn't be so likely to buy unseen. I'll do a brief write-up on them afterward... =)

I almost went for Cowboy Bebop: The Movie, but it seems certain I'll enjoy it and may just buy it if I can find it fairly cheap (my birthday's coming up!). Fulltime Killer sounded interesting and I want to see the American version of The Ring (I have the Japanese original on DVD), but they'll just have to wait until next time...

Actually, speaking of DVDs, I have a pretty respectable collection. I am 24, so you can certainly see that I grew up in the 80s and am fairly nostalgic.. ;) Lots of anime titles in there of course... A couple that got bought for Mom (Weird Al, Fright Night, Independance Day). There's even some stuff in there that I got amazingly cheap (like 2010 and Altered States) that I haven't actually watched yet..heh. I haven't put Two Towers or the Faculty and Fright Night II on the list yet (both for Mom) yet, so we're at just about 190 DVDs now, not counting the NewType Magazine promo ones...

What do you think of the titles on my list?

Friday, September 26, 2003

A bit more on Nouvelle and manga and other topics... 

JW Hastings at Forager 23 has weighed in on my previous mention of Frédéric Boilet's article. He has some good commments, but I just wanted to clarify on a couple of things.

First, I definitely agree that he seems way too down on fantasy. I think that most of us are into escapism, so that aspect of his arguing is kind of BLAH. He IS French, though, so perhaps he has an excuse.. ;)

While I'd agree to a degree that most manga might focus more on characters versus plot compared to american titles, manga certainly has plenty of so-so and bad mainstream stuff out there, so I agree with JW on that point.

One thing to keep in mind, though, is that for all of his praise, he seems down on a lot of manga as well. Notice how he talks about the limited titles translated in France:

Most of the manga that have been translated in French over the past ten years have been COMMERCIAL MANGA AIMED AT TEENAGERS, to follow on from the ANIMATED SERIES which preceded them on French TV screens. Their themes are adventure or Sci-Fi, featuring heroes... As in Japan, this very focused type of manga generates its own otaku phenomenon : specialized press, 'cosplay' (costume-play), etc. A number of daily-life manga are also being translated, but again they are primarily aimed at teenagers, with daily life often being treated in an often over-dramatic and caricatured way : a daily life closer to "Hélène et les garçons" or to the domestic dramas of Japanese television than to "Chacun cherche son chat" or "Omohide Poroporo" (4).

In that paragraph, he pretty much dismisses almost all of the manga translated in the US. ;) Stuff like DBZ or Shaman King falls under the heroes, and things like Marmalade Boy or Peach Girl falls under the soap-opera umbrella. Kare Kano is deeper than most, but I'm not sure that he'd even go for that..heh..

The manga authors he mentions by name seem to be almost totally unknown over here, let alone translated by companies. Osaka gives a little information on some of these titles in this thread I started, but it seems like info. is hard to come by.

I'm also not entirely sure where JW is coming from in terms of Scott McClould. I'm only going by Scott's two books, so I may be missing personal comments to the contrary, but Understanding Comics seems to devote quite a lot of energy into describing different techniques in artwork and how important they are to storytelling. He goes to great lengths to talk about the divide that tends to happen of a writer on one side and an artist on the other and how important both are to the process. I certainly got no sense from it that drawing wasn't important...

As far as manga creators starting as storytellers rather than artists, while it is certainly too broad a statement, I do think there is some grain of truth in it. Something to consider is just how the setup in Japan is different from the US. Primarily the facts that a single person is usually writer/artist on a title (perhaps with helpers on background artwork or an editor giving story advice) and the lack of iconic characters.

Both of these I think would tend to focus people on stories. Why? Well, first, without the writer/artist split, you are a lot less likely to focus entirely on one aspect. Consider in the US where you have a kid reading a comic book and they go "Wow! Jim Lee is so cool! When I grow up I want to be as good an artist as he is...". And that is an OK career choice. He doesn't have to worry about being a writer becuase there are a comic writers to take care of it. Also, with the iconic characters in the US, there is all of the backstory to draw on. Even if you aren't amazingly creative, you may be able to get away with keeping the status quo going for a while. In Japan, you might be inspired by YuYu Hakusho to make a fighting comic of your own, but you'd never consider actually writing the title itself except in a fanfiction "doujinshi" comic (of which there is a huge industry in Japan that is allowed by the companies without lawsuits, which IMO helps get this kind of thing out of their system a bit..heh).

Certainly I'm not totally against image-centric stories that might even sacrifice some story. I'm coming up blanks on specific comic titles, but for instance I like some of the old Dario Argento movies with his amazing set pieces and dreamlike plots that don't totally make sense. But overall I guess maybe I am a story-centric kind of person and that kind of colors my opinions on this subject...

Still, in manga I wouldn't say that the artwork is so much subserviant to the writing, but to the artistic methods of telling a story that have developed over there. JW mentions that frequently a person that does something like write a play without being a fan of plays frequently doesn't do a good job, and that may be true, but I'm not sure that the analogy totally works. While I think many manga creators start off as wanting to tell a story as opposed to being an artist, I don't think they start off as a writer either. What I mean is that these people grow up with comics (and comics usually with a single artist/writer driving it), and so they start off wanting to make a manga story, with the combination of writing and art from the very beginning. While I'm sure there are manga creators who were art majors or writing majors and get into comics later, a lot of these people start by not just copying images of their favorite creators or writing up plots, but making their own comics at an early age. So, I think for most manga, it isn't so much that they want to write a story and the art doesn't matter. I think it is more that they are using the art just as a tool to tell the story as opposed to art for art's sake. Art that is streamlined to the process rather than bad art per se... On the flip side, you're also less likely to see huge passages of text. This isn't just the decompresion factor but that overall a lot of manga just seems to take writing and artwork as a practical tool to tell the story instead of indulging too much in one side or the other (or both). Like anything, some start off with a cool concept and rough art, improving it later on, and some start with a flashy art style an ok story which might get more complex later. But even those that are rough around the edges seem to usually have a good handle on the basics of comics from being so immersed in them for so long.

Since a lot of the US mini-comic people may be coming in from less of a comic background or by definition are trying to be experimental with the artwork or format, you can come up with some truly original things, but also a lot of stuff that just doesn't work. A lot of people complain about mainstream manga and US comics having somewhat uniform stylings, but I do think that some uniformity of artwork style or page presentation or even storyline can help someone get up and running quicker in the beginning, from which they can jump off to other more experimental stuff later on...

Anyway... aparantly JW isn't the only one who needs to put a warning at the bottom of his posts about rambling.. ;)

Thursday, September 25, 2003

A new blog link added... 

I just added Harvey Deneroff's Animation Consultants International to the sidebar, as it seems to have a lot of good news for animation (traditional, 3d, western, anime, etc.). Also, be sure to check out his animation links page, as he links to some sites giving rare information (for instance about the Italian animation industry)...

I also rearranged the sidebar a bit. I made all of the links open up in a new window (do you think that is a good thing or a bad thing?), and I'll try to remember to do the same on links within the blog itself.

The Animated Century on Bravo tomorrow.. 

Hey, if you are at all into animation, here is a reminder to be sure to check out The Animated Century, airing on Bravo at 8pm-10pm Eastern on Friday, September 26th (tomorrow!).

Here is a press release as well as the schedule (it will be shown again on Saturday).

Want to print your own Graphic Novel? 

Occasionally I have looked into various printing companies that specialize in comics to see what is out there. Generally they have options for a normal stapled floppy comic, sometimes with an option for square binding if you paid a ton more money.

While that was interesting, on a personal basis I don't think there's any way that I could put out a monthly title with my lack of great artistic skills. I was always leaning more toward some sort of instructional guide relating to yo-yos, for which I've already written a lot. Of course an actual book would have a ton of diagrams of some kind in it as well...

This kind of perfect binding is also in the spotlight lately due to the bookstore market and manga specifically. So, what if you want to do something like that yourself but don't want to go with a big publishing company?

I stumbled across Dream Wave Press the other day, and it looks very impressive. Print runs as low as 25 volumes, sizes from 8.5/11 to small digest, as well as very reasonable pricing. You can even order a single volume with no print run at just $25 if you want to test without commitment.

Most manga is around 200 pages and is digest size. For a 25 run, this is about $180, which comes out to slightly over $7 an issue. I'm not sure how much shipping 25 GNs would cost to get to you. Even at $20, that'd be less than $8 an issue. If you marked it up to $10, that still gives you $2 profit an issue, at the same price and size as the professional companies, for a pretty small commitment. Of course as you increase the size of the run, the price decreases per issue, to something like $2.50 an issue for 1000. If you sold every copy, you might make as much as $6k, even though I'm sure there are bazillions of expenses that'd eat into that, assuming of course that it could take ages to sell them them all by internet or somehow get copies into bookstores or comic shops.

But from my uneducated view (in terms of self-publishing), it seems like a great deal for someone doing a b&w GN, and something to check out...

Shoujo Everywhere... 

From a thread on AoDVD, Animerica Magazine has put one of their articles online telling of Strictly Shoujo Must-Reads.

We all know that manga is doing well in bookstores and that a large amount of the readership is female. If you're curious what titles are out there and where to start, the article gives a nice overview of 25 different manga whose original audience was female (but for a variety of ages). I think it does a good job showing the range of titles out there, and the descriptions are pretty decent.

Shoujo at iComics - I have to say that my favorite review site at this point is iComics from Greg McElhatton, not just because of his good reviews, but the amazing beadth of titles he has covered over time. Superheros, indy, manga, european, it is all there. Here is links to his reviews of titles listed in the above shoujo article:

Banana Fish one and six
Boys Over Flowers
Cardcaptor Sakura
Fushigi Yuugi three and eight
Marmalade Boy
Peach Girl
Revolutionary Girl Utena
Saint Tail

A couple other shoujo/jyosei titles:
Miracle Girls
Petshop of Horrors
Crayon Shinchan

These probably don't technically qualify, but may be of interest:
Hansel and Gretal
Club 9

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Nouvelle Manga Manifesto 

Well, I stumbled on a thread started by Abhay yesterday mentioning a three-page article called the Nouvelle Manga Manifesto written by european comic creator Frédéric Boilet two years ago, recently translated to English.

This is one of the most interesting things I've read in quite a while, due to the unique perspective offered. Boilet spent some time living in Japan and was able to see the entire of scope of the manga industry first hand, as opposed to what titles were translated in France. He also has the experiance of trying to market his own work to Japanese readers and knowledge of how well other BD titles have sold there.

I find it funny that while the French industry has been touted as being ahead of the American one in many ways (and I've been quite excited in my recent explorations through various european sites detailing comic titles), Boilet details what he feels the problems with the euro industry and how Japan is doing it better. Some of the things he describes (targetting too narrow markets, reliance on certain genres, art over story) are things I've seen used to describe the US industry.

An interesting thing he comes up with is that there is a disconnect between French comics and cinema, with the cinema being able to explore daily life and personal characters to greater degree while the comics are stuck in fantasy worlds. In order to try to describe euro comics that are more like French cinema and some manga, he comes up with the term "Nouvelle Manga". Am I the only one reminded of "New Mainstream"?

One thing he hits on that I find really interesting from the perspective of a manga fan is his critism of which titles have been translated to French, I'd think somewhat similar to what has come across to the US so far. He mentions several authors (Jiro Taniguchi, Yoshiharu Tsuge, Naito Yamada, Kiriko Nananan, Yoshitomo Yoshimoto, etc.) who I've certainly never heard of before, and am now curious about. Most people don't realize just how big the manga industry is, with manga anthologies for things as down-to-earth and specific as stories for young mothers or golf fans. I think there is definitely a lot of room for growth past the fantasy and soap opera type stories currently in the market if the readership finds it wants it as they grow older...

That said, I have to say that I don't go to Boilet's degree of aparant disdain for normal escapest stories. I'd like to see even more variety on the market, but I will still love to read stuff like One Piece, GTO, Paradise Kiss, or Sandman.... =)

One other thing that gets brought up is the whole writing versus artwork debate, which is on my mind from another thread I was reading recently, as well as Understanding Comics.

It is easy for this discussion to devolving into a "writing's more important!" "no.. artwork!" shouting match, but I do think it is an important thing to keep in mind. Especially that the artwork itself should be helping to tell the story. One of the people on the thread mentions how it can be destructive for an artist to indulge a detailed close-up when a distant establishing shot is really what is needed. This is something I vehemantly agree with. Personally, I think story is king and both the writing and artwork need to serve the story to some degree, or else why not just make a pinup gallery or a novel to begin with?

Back when I was a kid, fascinated with Image comics, I remember that my mentality was different. I did enjoy stories, but there was this big focus on artwork in my mind. I'd love all of the detail going into each panel, and keep track of my favorite artists like Jim Lee, Jae Lee, Sam Kieth, etc. Frankly, some of these titles were in fact like series of pinups, with characters aparantly unable to not strike a pose at every opportunity (like Sentai battle scenes). ;) I think that mentality can also tie into the collecting end of things. Taking a comic book as a work of art as opposed to how you usually think of a novel.

I think this is one reason why I recently got so attracted to manga, in that while many do have beautiful artwork (Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou anyone?), the cinematic influence from Tezuka and just the general mentality over the there causes artwork to more likely become part of the story instead of something separate from it (it helps that usually one person writes and draws the story, as well). Of course this is all generalizing. Many many exceptions on both sides of the fence, as well as the third side of euro stuff.

For now, I think I'll end this with some very funny quotes from Bat-Mite on the original thread:

Something I have seen in 90% of all the manga books I have read and in 0% of all the euro comics is an inmediately identifiable likeable character, even in the crappiest stories you KNOW the characters quickly. No matter if the story takes place in the kitchen sink or inside the testicles of a giant space dog.

Man! I'm not kidding, but if you say Yoshitomo Yoshimoto fast, it sounds like "Yes, I drink alcohol and drive a motorcycle" in spanish ... kickass name.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Comic News... 

The Pulse has an article on the New York is Book Country book fair. The most interesting part for me was at the end:
However, traditional publishers might have taken note of what was going on over at the Books Kinokuya booth, partly sponsored by Viz Comics. Selling rare early issues of SHONEN JUMP, and giving away Yu-Gi-Oh cards, the booth was swarmed by kids, all of them trembling with excitement over finding their special material. Typical comments from the 11 year old male set: "Aiee! Yo-yo Haku!" and "Oh my god! Yu-gi-oh!"

It is good to see that Jump is still doing well and attracting kids. For all of the Yu-Gi-Oh phenomenon helping things out, they do have some good stories running in the magazine, and at a very reasonable price. Just the fact that there was a swarm of kids at a book fair for anything other than Harry Potter is impressive in itself.

As far as games go, things will get really interesting if Hikaru no Go, starting in Jump in a couple of issues, proves to be popular (and it just might due to the addictiveness of the manga). A strategy board game popular with kids? That'd be even more impressive than kids reading comics. ;)

Monday, September 22, 2003

Rock Paper Scissors anyone? 

I'm always on the lookout for the more unusual and less-known hobbies, especially those that might be misunderstood. I remember stumbling on one of these sites years ago, but forgot about all about it until it was brought up the other day by Squashedbanana on the yoyoing.com board:

The Rock Paper Scissors International Championships

World RPS Society

There is a pretty amazing amount of information and media on these sites including rules (look how long the rules are!), merchandise, online videos, DVDs for sale, sponsors, and a very nice Flash animation on the second page. There's a lot of people that'd make some snarky degrading comments, but I for one have seen and done too many thing to make fun of someone else for an offbeat hobby. Better than sitting around watching TV is what I say! =)

News of the Day... 

Dirk points out a couple of interesting links today.

The first is an column with a possible reason for manga's current popularity. I have to agree with Ms. Bundy that at least part of the success with different kinds of readers is that they actually target these different readers. Looking at the titles out these days, at least a third of them, and perhaps as much as half has female readers as their target audience originally. Combined with price, format, visibility, and anime tie-ins, this makes for a pretty powerful combination.

In sadder news it sounds like an attempt to make a new comic anthology for newstands has failed. IMO, the only real chance these days to have serialized comics present in a newstand is by way of an anthology magazine, so it is always disheartening to hear projects like this fail. There's no garuntee this would have worked out if it made it to stands, but I think the current climate out there is certainly more favorable than in the past.

And for something I don't think anyone has posted about yet, it seems like DC is looking to publish more manga. They've done some things in the past like Gon and Akira (before Dark Horse took it over), so they aren't total newbies to manga. Some other manga fanshave some opinions, but I'll just be cautiously optimistic for now. Perhaps if DC is ssuccessful, they'll get a bit more money in and it'll encourage them to branch out some more in their own stories...

Getting out of rut? 

Well, I've been in a bit of a rut lately, but I'm going to see if I can change that. Part of my problem has been general lack of energy, and I'm sure the fact that I sit in a dark room all day in front of a computer doesn't help things. At least when I was at school, I'd be walking from class to class...

Last night I decided I was going to set the alarm an hour earlier and get in some exercise before showering and breakfast. We got a nice recumbant bike some time ago (when we had more money) with a heart rate monitor and everything. It helped a lot back when I was losing weight but has been gathering dust lately. It all seemed to work out so far and was quite the shock to Mom. ;) I feel more energy already...

Of course, right now I'm also in that weird wired state of not having gotten enough sleep. You know when you have an important event the next day and you try your best to get to sleep but it just doesn't happen? I think I must have slept some of the time, and had this odd ongoing dream in a half-awake state during most of the night. I barely ever remember my dreams, so it was fairly interesting. It seemed to go back and forward in time and different settings each time I went concious again, but still part of the same ongoing story. Quite the night...

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Up and running at last! 

Wow, making a blog really IS easy. It took me all of 5 minutes to get up and running (while reading an Onion article and chatting on IRC no less).

Technically I did all this last night, but it was after midnight, so I'm still on the same day! ;) I was going to have my first entry explain the name of the blog, but it is almost midnight again, and I want to get something up here.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll also get up some links to other sites and some sort of commenting system. So far Haloscan seems to be edging ahead of Squackbox due to more features for free (like customizing the link text) and a cheaper price if I decide to go Pro.

Let's hope I can avoid my normal procrastination mode and actually keep this thing up to date!

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