Friday, January 30, 2004

The horror... the horror.... 

It is wrong on just so many levels... I may have to follow Dave's example and just leave it alone. I could be writing all day (from Dirk).

Dirk MIA 

Yikes... it is noon and still no Journalista update??? I hope he's alright and hasn't been overloaded with work or something more serious. Was something mentioned earlier this week that I missed? Anyway, I hope all is well...

Culture in Comics and Manga... 

Ok, this is mostly inspired by this great article by Neil Cohn.

I almost didn't read the whole thing because the beginning seemed like it was going to be another dry definition of what are comics. However, his real distinction is about the medium of comics versus the culture of comics. Everyone knows that comics aren't in as good shape as they used to be and could use expanding. But he asks a very important question. When we talk about expanding the readership, are we talking about expanding the medium or the culture? The difference is fairly profound.

He also proposes that for the most part, companies like Marvel and DC are not publishers, not in the normal sense anyway. A publisher would be publishing the works of various creators, but these companies tend to have their own properties and then hire people to work on them. An interetsing distinction that I haven't really heard put in that way before. But I'm more concerned with the expansion stuff:

He argues that most of the strategies have involved have been to bringing new people into the current kinds of titles, or current readers into a particular title and thinks that isn't the best way to go:

The problem with both of these approaches is that they do not create new readers in new markets, but only attempt to bring new readers into an old market (or to draw in buyers from within the existing readership). In terms of the previous partitions, these strategies are attempting to perpetuate the second type . the genres and culture(s) that comics currently represent.

Moreover, these tactics also do no good towards progressing the majority's public opinion of comics beyond the stereotypes inherited from over four decades ago. While this may be liberating for the industry artistically, it pales in the importance that it serves for those who face legal consequences determined by this broad scale ignorance. Perpetuation of stereotypical genres and markets does no use in changing the public's perception of comics.

He mentions that a better way to reach out might be to approach a certain sector of people with their own interests and sell it in a place they already go to. He mentions the silliness companies doing stuff like trying to appeal to football players by taking a star quarterback and giving him superpowers. Instead the example is given of making a regular story about surfers and selling it in a surf shop. A good example of this that has already happened may be the Johen Vasquez stuff selling in places like Hot Topic. The most important point I think is as follows:

An additional point should be made about the example illustrated above. Not only does the creation of a surf comic bring in new readers, it also potentially leads to new creators. Given time and inspiration, perhaps those new readers would either turn into or breed people who would want to create their own surf comics.

This strategy does not bring new readers into existing comic genres, and there are no guarantees that these hypothetical readers would want to buy more comics of different types of genres. This is the key: rather than trying to draw a larger populace into the smaller niche comics culture, it dissolves the boundaries of that enclosed industry into the larger populace. Indeed, as I see it, this is the only true type of integration possible: dissolving the boundaries of comics into the other print cultures. By maintaining segregation of comics from other types of books, all the while espousing their equality, the comics industry and culture merely perpetuates the difficulties that they face.

However, this type of approach does fulfill the first type of expansion: it expands and propagates the readership of visual language. It brings the "comics medium" to a new audience on their level, and even leads to the possibility that there would be the creation of more surf comics from within the community itself. To think that outsiders should for some reason magically become interested in comics without actually branching out to what those other markets might themselves enjoy reading about is simply pretentious and bad business.

I think that point is amazingly important. You don't need to create a fan who "comes into the fold". Who goes to comic shops, who reads superheros, or even who reads any other kind of comic book. The point is that you are selling them a comic book, and if enough different groups read the comics, it doesn't matter if they overlap with each other!

I can find interesting parallels. When anime was just starting to get big on TV, a lot of people claimed that DBZ and Sailor Moon weren't making new anime fans. These kids were just fans of those particular shows. On the one hand, it seems like the fear wasn't totally founded, as a lot of those kids did end up getting more into culture of anime and watching a variety of titles. However, even if they hadn't, it would have been ok. We always like to push everything on people. We want everyone to be into it as we are, but that isn't really the point. Even if there is one show that they like, well that is still a show that they like. They'll probably be more open to other stuff in the future, but even if they don't, they still are enjoying something from that medium.

Also, as a lot of people have been saying lately, a lot of people claiming to be "comic fans" may not even be so. If all you like is superhero titles, there is a good chance you aren't a comic fan. You are a superhero comic fan, or perhaps a general superhero fan. As someone said recently, a person may be into the superhero culture. Buying comics, watching cartoons, buying action figures and busts, etc.

But if we switch to a different medium.. like movies, and the genre of horror. There are plenty of horror movie experts. They might go to conventions like fangoria and read magazines about it. They also may or may not be into horror novels and such. But would you claim they were a movie buff? No, they are a horror movie buff.

But I don't say this thing to be insulting to superhero fans. This isn't a popularity contest where you have to be the biggest fan. There is nothing wrong with not being a "comics fan". But just as some might focus on superheros in comics, we need other people who focus on other genres. I think this is also part of the clashes between american comic fans and manga fans. The Japanese stuff has grown up with its own culture in the US, and a lot of people might be scared off by the people who learn Japanese, eat pocky and sushi, make anime music videos, dress up in cosplay outfits, and call themselves "otaku".

But you don't have to be an otaku to read manga, the same way you don't have to bag and board with big longboxes or go to comic conventions or draw your own fanart to enjoy american comics. We could use more people who are just generally casual readers and might not be involved with any comic cultures, or even create their own cultures that are separate.

As much as it is good to get new people involved with comics, try not to look at it from the standpoint of "conversion". Try to find some comics this person might enjoy based on what they like in other mediums. But don't expect them to suddenly become a big comics fan and get their own drop box at the comic shop. They probably only watch certain shows on TV, too, and may not even have the time to do a lot of reading. Besides, depending on what they actually like, there may not be tons of stuff out there that they'd enjoy.

Say you get a girl hooked on Elfquest. How many other comics are really like Elfquest? Trying to somehow morph that interest into loving Spider-Man is probably an effort in futility and rightfully so if she just isn't into that sort of thing, IMO. A lot of the manga out right now has certain categories represented with multiple things in it. If someone is into standard high-school romance, there is plenty for them to buy without worrying about any other manga. But if there is a cook who only loves Iron Wok Jan, they still might not like most manga, and that is perfectly ok too. But the availibility and strengths in particular genres that haven't traditionally been well-represented (romance again) have opened up the comics medium to new readers, and that's a good thing. And if new cultures come up (like a group who read Elfquest, talk about it, draw fanart, and maybe some day make their own comics inspired by it), so much the better...

As Neil says, a lot of people want to bring people into the fold of our own little cultures, but if we really want the medium to be successful and ubiquitous, it should be more about dissolving those barriers and letting comics appeal to different people in different forms and contexts, in their own ways...

I also discuss some aspects of culture here, about how local preconceptions can skew what people read, and again fans of a medium/culture versus casual readers.

Comparing the world to Superheros... 

Ok, so I was reading the comments for this entry on John's blog, and Jason made an innocent enough comment that I've heard many times before:

So while, yes, there are options, they aren't nearly as prevelant nor as steadily-available as those for, say, horror junkies, and often they sneak in by disguising themselves as something else: Buffy's certainly a super-hero show, but covered in horror / teen dramedy trappings; likewise Smallville made its mark by playing as Dawson's Creek with powers.

To this my response was:

Also, I kind of find funny the comment about Buffy just being a superhero story with teen and horror trappings. Sure Wheden personally may have comic influences, but that isn't really the point. The point is that description is just so western-superhero centric.

Would you describe the stories of Hercules as just a superhero story with some Greek trappings? I hate to say it but those greeks were writing about superpowered people a long time before Marvel and DC existed.

Just because we have defined a particular set of characteristics (spandex, codename, particular powers, secret identity) as being what a "superhero" is all about, doesn't mean that every other person in the world secretly wants to emulate it, and that differing takes is an effort to cover up the fact that it is a superhero story. They could very well just want to make a story that happens to have a superpowered hero, as a bazillion fantasy novels have done over the years.

I constantly see people talking about how Buffy and Matrix and even James Bond are superhero stories covered in the trappings of other genres, but I think that description is very narrow, despite what influences the creator may actually be taking from. It can be important to take a step back. I'm sure someone who mostly read romance novels could describe every other movie as a "romance with xxxx trappings", but that is just their perspective...

Culture comes tomorrow... 

Ok... I got too tired and so will write that up tomorrow. I couldn't help put in those last two entries, though, so ignore my "next post" comment.. ;)

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Pixar drops Disney... 

Well, there has been talks back and forth for a while now, but this seems a lot more serious than usual (courtesy Jeff Williams) :

"After ten months of trying to strike a deal with Disney, we're moving on," Pixar CEO Steve Jobs said in a statement. "We've had a great run together -- one of the most successful in Hollywood history -- and it's a shame that Disney won't be participating in Pixar's future successes."

However, it seems like Disney will still distribute the next two films from Pixar and technically own the rights to all of them. Aparantly they can produce sequels to any of the Pixar stuff out there now if Pixar refuses to make them. I fear Toy Story 7....

Manga sales numbers in Japan... 

Geeze, this stuff is not easy to find. I'm trying a lot of stuff, but not getting all that far. This thread and some previous ones are prompting me to try, though.

That thread does link here, a French page listing sales from publishers in France, the US, and Japan. For hahas, I did some division and Kodansha is 24 times bigger than Marvel in terms of sales. Considering manga is a lot cheaper in Japan than the US (those digests tend to be $3-4US), that is quite the feat. Shogakukan and Shueisha are barely any smaller either.

The only thing I could find on my own was this PDF. It gives a breakdown of how larger the industry was in 2002 in both dollar and volume sales, and what percentage of the publishing industry it accounted for in each. It also gives a chart from 1983-97, showing how sales of manga for kids has stayed relatively the same, while manga for adults has grown to be about half of the industry now. There is also some history of the industry and information on editors. Pretty good stuff..

It seems like a lot of the publishing info. tends to be from the The Research Institute
for Publications (Shuppan Geppou). It was both in Dreamland Japan and that PDF, so it might be a good source of information if anyone can manage to contact them directly. I may try to e-mail that guy in the PDF to see if he has more information...

Manga in Japan and the US... 

So, Tim wrote up an interesting entry the other day, and also got some responses.

A couple of comments from me. First, obviously Japan isn't a big wonderland that some people think it is. I happen to think it is still really cool, but it has various issues of its own. As for the infamous article from Japan, here is something to keep in mind. Mainichi may be a good newspaper, but the WaiWai section is pretty much a mini-tabloid. Look at the articles on the left, with titles like "Bare-it-all babes boogie woogie back to the stage", "Schoolgirl streaker caught in jaws of rabid stepfather", and "Confessed cannibal wins heart of little angel". Certainly manga has issues of acceptance, but WaiWai is going to focus on any bad aspects.

I tend to think the situation in Japan is a bit like daytime (or even primetime to a degree) television in the US. Everyone is always talking about how horrible TV is, but at the same time a lot of people watch the shows. That combined with Japan tending to be very prim and proper in a lot of ways causes friction. This is the country where some ladies will flush the toilet constantly to cover up any improper sounds. But as the article says, people have grown up with comics now, so things are changing.

Anime still has a pretty big stigma of being for kids (mostly Miyazaki movies are like an exception where everyone goes to watch it), but many more adults read manga. But some that read it probably wouldn't feel as comfortable doing it on a train. One funny thing about the article is how America is brought up and the tone is almost like them being embarassed about what Americans might think of them...

I'd say there's quite a bit of self-deprecation going on even from fans, but that happens in a lot of hobbies. Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga has the first volume translated to english and skewers the industry. The anime Excel Saga involves a secret organization trying to improve the world, and their first thing is to kill a manga author, not just because he created the manga the anime is based on, but also because manga authors are the scum of the earth..heh. Actually, I just saw a hilarious episode of Excel Saga where two characters end up in America. Excel misuses english street slang and as they're about to get attacked by people, a kid comes to the rescue throwing anime cells to the crowd. Eventually they find out he's doing animation for a shady character in the hopes of making it over to Japan as a real anime animator. Lots of fun poked at how America has a skewed view of things, as well as fun little details (like them commenting to themselves about how the kid is doing cells but most animation companies use computers now).

There's also an aspect of removing preconceptions. A lot of talk happens sometimes about how manga is attractive because it is exotic and from another culture. I think that plays into it to a degree, but more so the lack of your own culture. For instance, a lot of people might read manga that was aimed at little girls originally like Cardcaptor Sakura or Marmalade Boy. In the US, we are once-removed. I'm sure that a guy reading it in Japan would suffer from a stigma and the overall growing up of "this is for you, this is for them". For instance, something like Dawson's Creek has a specific target audience and probably most adults aren't going to watch it even if it is a good show (I haven't seen it so I'm not sure). On the other hand, someone in another country might feel less direct pressures.

Something to keep in mind is that there are manga fans and anime fans in Japan. There are fans in America. There are probably more fans in Japan due to the size of the industry. Both of these usually like a lot of the output and view it as an artform. However, it is more than that in Japan. There a lot of casual readers also, and likely way outnumber the fans. It is probably fair to say that most of the people reading manga don't usually view it as art, any more than most people usually view ER as part of the artform of television, even if they enjoy it. They're also more likely to have a couple of specific shows they enjoy rather than a love of the whole medium. More on this in my next entry...

In one of my comments section, John Smith linked to this old article by Colleen Doran in which she and others like Dave Sim went to Japan and had some illusions shattered. It was interesting to see how both the americans and japanese had misconceptions of how the other did their work, causing them to either critisize or idolize more than they should have based on those beliefs.

Speaking of Colleen, I think I can see where people would get the idea it is manga-influenced, but also why Tim doesn't see it right away. I'm not sure how much shoujo manga he has read, but I think the similarities stem more from things that may not be immediately obvious. Now, I have the first volume, but haven't read it yet, so if I make mistakes, feel free to correct me. I'm going by what I've read of it and what I've seen flipping through it.

Her art style is a standard older american style with no big eyes to be found. However, there are a lot of beautful men and characters that are a bit androgynous, as well as detailed clothing. There is a normal female protagonist (who is attractive but not a sex kitten) who gets sucked into an epic sci-fi/fantasy situation. There are people with different sexualities and angst and love triangles (quadrangles?) involved. It may not look like manga but the artwork favors some similar attributes (aka what actually appeals to a lot of ladies) and some of the story elements are also similar to what is in a lot of manga. I was in a chatroom last night and I said A Distant Soil could be good as digests for readers of girl's manga. He commented that he didn't think it'd work because of the various sexuality in ADS, and I commented that he obivously hadn't read much shoujo..heh

Another interesting connection is that Colleen had Tomoko Taniguchi do some fanart in one volume which got her noticed by CPM and then published. There is a bit more info. here, and Colleen had a long introduction to the original Call Me Princess volume. I "think" Call Me Princess was the first published shoujo in the US, because of Colleen's involvement. Now shoujo is a massive force in bookstores...

As for the ooold US manga monthlies, it may not have had massive amounts of impact, but I'm sure it did some. I'd think that especially the colorized Akira probably impacted a lot of people. But in the long run, it was probably the anime that did the most. I watched Robotech and Voltron as a kid, as well as Warriors of the Wind and Unico. Tons of people saw Speed Racer or Astro Boy before that. As a kid, the anime style was just another cartoon style and that carried into adulthood.

As far as fans in the US having a backlash, I have definitely seen it happen. Manga was always something that could easily be ignored if you weren't into it. Now that everyone is talking about it, there's been a lot of "Why is everyone talking about that manga crap. I wish they'd just shup up that fad already". And even besides manga, there is a bit of chaffing against expanding the market in general. Every time diversity gets brought up, there is always someone to claim that people are out to destroy superheros. There's also those that go on about how superheros are something unique to comics and what make it special.

I think that is all flawed. Comics are what makes comics special! It is cool that there are these long-standing shared worlds with a lot of culture built in, but that isn't the end-all-be-all of comics. People talk about how there are plenty mysteries and romance in novels, so why should someone bother... But then why are so many girls reading romance manga, when there is plenty of romance for YAs or for adults, and usually cheaper to boot? Why should they bother? Well, they must just like comics, huh?

And it is a powerful cultural force in general.. the culture of comics. So many people have come to read comics partly because they love superheros so much. Imagine if 90% TV shows were sci-fi stuff set in space, pretty much driven by the Star Trek franchise, but with various knockoffs. How cool would it be if you were a die-hard Trekkie that any time there was a big story about TV programs it was about Trek, or that if someone brought up TV you instantly knew you had interests in common? I think when a lot of people talk about people out to lessen superheroes, they might be thinking about sales, but sub-conciously I think it is really about importance. Other genres can appear without hurting sales of superheros too much, but it can't happen without lessening the importance of the superheros. I saw someone on a page that said something like "2003 was the first year you could mention comics and not be assumed to be talking about superheros". I don't know if that is true, but I think it is a powerful statement.

But for all the bad reactions from some sectors against manga, there has also been a lot of good stuff going on. A lot of bloggers and people like Johanna are taking manga more seriously, and even people like Legomancer who had strong opinions against manga in the past are willing to concede there is some stuff out there that they might enjoy. And in general people that were pushing for variety all along now have more of a leg to stand on.

Lastly, about selling american comics in Japan, I know that generally Marvel/DC stuff has had a hard time selling, but I don't know much about other stuff. However, here is something to keep in mind. No way pamphlets are going to work. There just isn't a distrubtion set up for it. Would either have to be anthology or trades. I think the biggest issues would be to have stories that appeal to them and also price. I mean manga in the US tends to be twice as expensive as manga in Japan. I mean, if most of the digests in Japan are in the $3-4US range (that's new, even cheaper in used manga stores), how can US companies match that? A color comic for $15 would probably seem way overpriced, especially for something that doesn't have the various local buzz associated with it. And will they even care so much about super-detailed artwork and color, being so used to many manga using a sparser style and emphasis on moving the story forward? I'm sure they'd appreciate it, but enough to pay a lot more? Even for me, being used to American titles, I find it difficult at times. A comic might be flashy with great color artwork and larger page size, but I have to stop and think "I'll probalby enjoy it, but will I really enjoy it TWICE as much as this manga that costs half as much?".

So, that makes it harder for a lot of the superhero stuff, and combined with the fact that they haven't been exposed to these icons as much over the years, and have less access to back-issues, so probably won't be into old continuities. But something like Hellboy does seem to make sense as it has a distinctive style and different sort of story.. Maybe stuff like A Distant Soil, but it might actually seem kind of cliched to some fans depending on how it is done exactly (I swear I'll read it soon..heh). Maybe stuff like Andi Watson? In any case, I do think it is probably a hard nut to crack. It was easy for manga to take off here because of the shape the industry was in. There is plenty of stuff for most people coming out weekly in Japan. There has to be a real incentive for them to try something else..

Next will be a look at comic and manga culture...

Labyrinth Re-issue! 

In the middle of a rant on the huge number of Bowie stuff coming out of late, he also mentions a delux re-issue of Labyrinth on DVD.

I love that movie, and will think seriously about buying it again...

Conbust 2004 

Thanks to Jim Crocker for mentioning some upcoming cons in the area. The UMASS OurCon is close by but I'm not as much into gaming right now. The others seem a bit far away. However, Conbust looks like something I'll have to attend. It will be April 2-4 at Smith College in Northampton, MA. Only $8 for preregistering for all three days, and I could probably take the friday off from work. Sci-fi, comics, anime, and a focus on female creators? Sounds like something right up my alley.

Seems like a lot of the schedule and line-up isn't set yet, so it'll be interesting to see what eventually gets hammered out...


By the way.. blogging is kind of short again since I'm a bit worn out. Seems like the last couple of weeks has had several projects come up suddenly with short deadlines. Plus, found out from someone today that some sort of heat converter might be messed up in the heating system possibly sending carbon (dioxide? monoxide?) into the building. That can't be good..

Been trying to chill out, reading some blogs, watching anime music videos, watching some TV, etc. I might even get a second (third?) wind and stay up too late (like now), but just don't feel up to writing anything insightful..

There's stuff I really want to write about too. The infamous Jump thing (can't live up to the hype by now..heh), responding to a great article Dirk linked to about dissolving comic boundaries, maybe some thoughts on decompression, and other stuff I'm forgetting about. Maybe I can get caught up later on this week.....

Dewey's World... 

You ever see a site and feel like you're on a similar wavelength? Making a gallery of people's book collections? An entry about a favorite book cover artist? Eating some Japanese food? A semi-new Sony DSC camera? Zork? Walks in the wilderness? Good stuff... :)

So, I suppose I'll have to send in pics of the books here. 3 full-size cases of fiction, mostly fantasy with some sci-fi. A case of computer books, a case of misc. stuff, a case of cookbooks, a smaller dvd-ish case for manga and comic tpbs, a couple of wall shelves with some paperback novels, some stacks of books on the floor, and various stuff in rubbermaid containers in the cellar. No shortage of books here!

He even is linking to this blog... some day when I update my sidelinks... :)

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Hubble Telescope abandoned... 

Yikes, did I just miss the news on this, or has there just not been much mention of it in the news? Abandoned is maybe the wrong word as scientists will continue to use it, but all servicing has been canceled, meaning that enough parts will probably wear out by 2007 for it to stop functioning. Seems a shame after all the effort to get it up there, and they'll have to spend millions on a rocket to take it down safely anyway...

What is a superhero? 

I don't really have anything to add to this thread right now, but it is interesting reading and makes you think. Obviously there are no easy answers to what a "superhero" really is, as people have their own definitions... I need to think on it some more, but what is a superhero to you?

Bookscan analysis for 2004 so far... 

Kind of surprised no one has commented on this ICV2 article yet. We've had some sporadic bookscan numbers in the past, but this is pretty interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it looks at the first three weeks of 2004, a fairly clean slate. It also gives a lot of specific information, and covers the recent change to include comic strip collections in the graphic novel list.

Piecing together the information:
#1 Get Fuzzy: Blueprint for Disaster (7,600)
Kenshin 2 (5,600)
Kenshin 1 (5,000)
#5 Alice the Nineteenth 2
#6 Demon Diary 5
#7 Book of Bunny Suicides
#8 Hellsing 1
#9 .hack//SIGN 2
#10 Ai Yori Aoshi
#11 Fake 5 (3,300)
#14 Trigun 1
FLCL 1 (2400)
#16 Boondocks: A Right to be Hostile
#20 LoEG 2
#22 Trigun 2
#24 Batman: Hush
#49 JLA L&J
#56 Sandman: Endless Nights
#86 Watchmen (800)

7 Inuyasha volumes in there somewhere..
Love Hina and Chobits in there somewhere (totalling 1700 and 2000 respectively)

books in Top 25
21 Manga
2 Comic Strips
2 DC

# of books in Top 100
40 Tokyopop
25 Viz
8 DC
7 Andrews McMeel
2+? Dark Horse

I'm not sure how correct some of the stuff is. I mean how can the Kenshin vols be the top two manga and .Hack be third, if Hellsing is above .Hack?? Anyway, the volumes in my main list that just have numbers sold are in a guessed position by me.

Interesting that the first non-strip american collection is at 20th place. Seems like including the strips is pushing stuff down, and LoEG itself has fallen a bit. Dark Horse seems to be doing quite well with Trigun and Hellsing. Seems like Endless Nights may be down a lot (then again maybe a ton of people ordered at Christmas). Interesting that both volumes of Kenshin seem to be selling around the same amount....

I wonder about the Bookscan stats for Elfquest: Wolfrider that Dirk mentioned (846 copies sold). Was it sales or just that past month, or total sales? If it was for that past month, then it might be doing better than Watchmen..heh (but of course Watchmen is really really old by now). If total, then it seems to be struggling even more.. It'll be sad if it doesn't make it. Let's hope it manages to have some legs and pick up steam...

I wish we had real access to the top 100 for GNs instead of trying to peice together stuff like this all of the time. Maybe I'll pull a Rich and say if anyone wants to forward me info. I'll be sure to keep the identity secret.. ;)

Edit: Dark Horse was in the wrong spot...

Monday, January 26, 2004

American versus Manga panel per page averages? 

From the comments section of this post, John Smith writes:

Here's something to think about, manga will generally use 3-5 panels per page but american comics will use 6-9. So maybe the reason manga can be sold so cheaply is that they're selling 200 half-sized pages.

Well, it did get me thinking, but I think I'll have to dispute that assertion. I'm too tired tonight to do a full-scale analysis right now (though I think that'd be fun to do at some point), but the results of flipping through stuff was pretty interesting. At first I wasn't sure if I should doubt John, because manga does generally feel more "open", but I think it actually has to do more with sparser artwork and less text in general, not the actual number of panels. Looking at volume 1 of Rurouni Kenshin, it seemed like it was averaging around 6 panels per page. I thought maybe Mars would have less as shoujo, but it actually had more. Quite a lot of 7-page panels, and sometimes 9 or 10. While Kenshin tended to be more standard in layout (a square cut into various shapes, sometimes diagonal), Mars was much more like a layered collage, with lots of little panels overlapping other ones.

An interesting case seems to be Cyborg 009, which is way old (started the same year as the original X-Men) and was very interesting with the panel layouts. It pretty much ranges from two-page spreads to at least one 13-panel page. Ishinomori really seemed to have a good grasp of using panels for pacing and effect.

As far as the most dense, I think it has to be Nausicaa. Nearly every page was 8 or 9 panels, sometimes up to 11-13 and sometimes as low as 4-5. The only full-page panels I could see were like at the very beginning and end of the volume. But even with that density and the detail in his artwork, I still think it works fine in digest form. Sure, it'd be really cool in a big size like Akira, but it was still really engrossing even at the tiny size. I'd venture to say that Lone Wolf and Cub is a bit too small, especially for the detail, but even then, most people seem able to enjoy the story and recommend it.

I think at this point, availibility and convenience and price outweigh deluxe editions for stuff that want to reach the biggest audience and aren't mainly done as an art comix item. And while a big tome like Palomar is very nice (I finally saw the thing in person and wow!) and should sell well to a lot of fans, I still think a smaller budget release is in order for wider exposure...

But anyway, my main point was just to point out that if you really stop and look closely, most manga do seem to have decent numbers of panels. The only one I saw that seemed to fit the 4-5 panel distinction was Angel from Sakurazawa...

Maybe if I have time I'll take a random chapter from a couple of different manga and give some more concrete stats. Anyone out there have any info. on recent american titles? Most of the stuff in my collection is a bit older and/or not typical. What seems to be the averages on some of the popular superhero stuff lately or anything else?

Jim Crocker gets more than bargained for... 

OK, the title is partly in jest and partly true. ;) Jim showed up to the party at a bit after 6:30 (when it officially started), and so there was already a lot of people in the room. He came in with a bunch of crates on a dolly, and immediately had a bunch of people swarming in, enough that he had trouble getting the dolly back out again!

After that he disappeared for a bit and then came back with a table and cash register (can't say he's not prepared). A table people were sitting at was moved out of the way and then he started to set up. Between putting up the two tables and arranging the crates (he literally did bring his entire manga collection), it probably took 15 minutes at least to get totally set up.

Here's a picture of the scene while he was still getting organized. Jim is in the foreground with his back to the camera and ponytail. Click to enlarge:

So there was this big crowd of people and they literally were waiting there the whole time he was setting up. And I am not making this up, but at one point the lady organizing the party had to stand inbetween the people and the tables saying (paraphrasing from memory) "Please everyone, you have to pull back and give him some room! He is still setting up."

Here is the scene a little while after he got finished setting up. Jim doesn't seem to be in the shot:

He seemed to do pretty steady sales all through the night. Here is the scene at 8:30, around almost two hours after setup. Jim's in center of the pic in the back:

So, it seems like it was a big success, and hopefully it carries over to sales at the store. He didn't have business cards that I could see, but the cash register's recipts had the name and contact info. He also provided prizes for the cosplay contest. The MC forgot to mention that, but thankfully Jim spoke up..

So, it was a fun night in general, and part of that fun was seeing Jim being slightly overwhelmed by hordes of manga fans. ;) Also, notice the girls present in all of the pics, along with a range of tiny people to a guy with grey hair...

Hopefully Jim will have some comments of his own in his blog eventually...

Next up, I'll need to get a gallery set up on one of my websites of the various other sights and people of the party (along with all the other pictures I've taken in the last couple of months). :)

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Secret Asian Man 

Everyone should check out this comic strip by Tak Toyoshima which has its original run put online in its entirety, originally published in the Weekly Dig. It is an autobio comic about his life from a little kid up until the present. The artwork is really nice and the story manages to convey both the happiness and sadness of his life without dwelling in one place too long. This is defintely an autobio comic I'd snatch up if it was collected as a GN.

It also seems to have continued on past the original ending point, in more of an episodic commentary form. Actually, this page seems to have every SAM strip on it, from the Origins of SAM (what was on Komikwerks) to present. Good stuff!

This one's for you Johanna... 

Well, after John's entry alerted me to the fact that Blogger now has a free feed option using the Atom format, I added it to my site. Link is right under the archives on the right. :)

As an aside, I still haven't updated the links to other blogs in my template. One of these days I'll try to go through all my links and get everyone else added. So, please don't feel slighted if your site isn't on there! Once I finally update it, then you can feel slighted.. ;)

Saturday, January 24, 2004

Anime party was fun! 

Woo, today was a fun day. Got up around noonish, ate, then we drove up to Northampton first for the yo-yo club and then to the anime after-party that was in conjunction with the anime film festival. I decided to skip the movies themselves as I had two of them on DVD and I've been running a bit tired lately. Doing anime stuff from 10am to 9pm might be pushing it. ;)

So anyway, the party was a lot of fun. We got there around 15 minutes early, and were some of the first people there. Things were still being set up... and there was maybe 15 people there. A decent-sized room with some tables, some white plastic on the wall with a projector hooked up to a computer, and some free popcorn and water near the door. At the moment, music was playing and random images were being projected on the screen in a slide-show type thing. At this point we were still a little nervous as there weren't many people and nothing was really going on. Mostly I looked at the images to see if I could figure out what series they were from as they flashed on the

Then you could tell when the last movie was done playing at the theater across the street, because a ton of people streamed in all at once. By then they were starting to get the other food set up. They had a bunch of (non-meat) sushi for $1 each. That was kind of expensive, so we just got two california rolls with some wasabi and ginger. A nice way to start things off. They also had a bunch of pocky (chocolate, vanilla mousse, strawberry, and chocolate mousse), and later on pizza.

So, for a lot of that time, I was wandering around, asking the cosplayers if I could take their picture (which of course they agreed to). There was some pretty nice costumes in there. Two really fun .Hack ones, Alucard from Hellsing, Wolfwood from Trigun, Luffy from One Piece, Inuyasha and Sesshomaru, Lupin and Jigen, Edward from Cowboy Bebop (holding an Ein plushy). Actually, I took a pic for Edward with her disposable, but never got a picture of her. Is a shame since she really fit as the part (and sounded like the dub voice as well), but I think she left early.. But I got picture of just about everyone else I wanted to get. I'll have to put them up eventually. Was fun to finally see some cosplayers in person.

They had a cosplay contest, and the winner was impressive, but I'm still not sure what anime/game she was from. Also a very good singer. Edward sang as well. Lupin and Jigen did a funny bit at the end as if they saw Pops in the audience and ran off. One guy with no costume claimed to be Wolverine.. he did sort of look like Logan..heh. The male .Hack guy went "boing!", which I think must be from some episode of the show, and the female .Hack character really seemed to fit as she was a bouncy sort. Alucard basically got to walk around everywhere with an evil grin..heh. Wolfwood was cool, but lugging around that giant cross everwhere has to be a pain.

Later there was three ladies doing some karaoke and they were actually good, so that was fun. Still later, they had a couple of anime music videos. My favorite was Evangelion to Bohemian Rhapsody (I think it was a cover). I kind of question the wisdom of having a Perfect Blue video in there, but whatever... There was also some anime-inspired artwork taped on the walls done by local people.

So, it was a lot of fun, especially if you're a people-watching kind of person. Lots of enery and a variety of ages, mostly in the teens to 20s, but also older and younger.

Now, I'm sure all the comic people are going, what about Jim Crocker and his appearance with manga? I'm making a whole entry just about that, with pictures!

Friday, January 23, 2004

Diamond lists 111 manga for February (and other news) 

Well, Osaka has the list. Usually it always gets posted each month, but I was bored this time and figured I'd write about it. It looks like 111 volumes total coming from 12 different companies. Obviously the most are from Tokyopop (40) and Viz (29) but many of the others are getting decent numbers.

BTW, DH Publishing is of no relation to Dark Horse. They seem to generally publish Japan-related books, and seem to be focusing on the horror books of Hideshi Hino as far as the manga goes. Actually, if you are looking for manga that isn't in a normal "manga style", these might be something to check out. Some of it looks like something out of Johen Vasquez. According to the bio, he's done like 400 books, so they have plenty of material to work with. They actually have a page where you can vote on what title to do next out of a selection of three. BTW, is it just me or does this guy remind you of Mr. Punch?

I may have to pick up DHP's Anime Poster Art book at some point.

Getting back to Diamond, also check out all the 2nd editions that Viz is doing. Ceres, Nausicaa (no excuse not to get it now!), Eva, Ranma, and Video Girl Ai. I'm not sure how much they have left, but they must be getting close to being entirely coverted over to the $10 digests at this point. It is nice to see stuff that I originally passed on or just never got around to coming out at cheaper prices...

In other manga news, akcoll99 gets some confirmation on something I think I remember reading a while back. After Raijin Magazine moved from weekly to monthly (and didn't increase very much in size), people worried that the long series they had would take forever to come out as GNs. Well, it seems like they are pushing ahead with the digests at regular speed. This means that unless the magazine is modified, the digests will get ahead of it. Will be interesting to see if that works out, as it is an odd kind of situation...

Evangelion versions... 

If you know a bit about Neon Genesis Evangelion, you probably know that there's like a bazillion versions of the TV series and movies. This post from Asagiri2040 does a nice job of summing it up.

So, to limit it to what's out in the US, the original ADV release of the series is the normal version with the ending credits having the song variations (Fly Me To the Moon by different people), but not the color variations. Not too big a deal.

The Director's Cut versions of the last two DVDs that just came out have the new versions of episodes 22-24 with lots of changes and new footage. There is also episodes 25+26, but they have only very minor changes (as the real changes were for End of Evangelion, with Air being 25 and Yours Sincerely being 26).

So, manga's release of Death & Rebirth does seem to have Death(true)^2, which is the third version of Death. Aparantly it actually has less footage than the original Death, but that had all been scenes originally made for the Director's Cut TV episodes that were thrown into the movie at the last minute, so this is probably the best version (and you won't be missing anything if you have the DC episodes).

The Rebirth stuff is a bit stranger. Instead of the original Rebirth (which was still a little rough), this is basically the first half of End of Evangelion (Air from the Revival version), but with the original Rebirth end credits/song tacked on the end. So it is actually pretty similar to the original and you aren't missing much (but it is still sort of redundant as is identical to Air on Manga's EoE disc, but I suppose it is nice to have the ending)...

Manga's End of Evangelion disc seems to be the regular Revival of Evangelion version (Air and Yours Sincerely).

So, what's left out in Japan at this point? Well, pretty much all of the above has been re-mastered (video cleaned up and 5.1 audio made) with the new Renewal box set. It sounds like it makes a huge different for the TV series, where a lot of the frame jitter when switching scenes has been cleaned up and the TV series in general is the oldest stuff. People seem to be saying the Renewal version of the TV series looks much nicer than the ADV set. The two movies are also aparantly now anamorphicly encoded widescreen.

There is also an extra DVD called Test-Type which contain creditless OP and ED animations with the full-length songs. The ending is just a new floating Rei animation, but aparantly the opening has a bunch of scenes shown that are not anywhere in the TV series or movies.

So, it seems like the full box set in Japan has re-mastered TV 1-26 (along with DC versions of 22-24) and remastered Revival (Death(true)^2/Air/Yours Sincerely), along with one of the discs having a 22-track OST with 5.1 audio. I "think" the Test-Type DVD comes with the set as well.

So, it'll be interesting to see if anything from Renewal eventually comes out. A lot of people have already bought Eva multiple times over the years in various formats, so it'll be interesting to see if it'd sell. There's also the weirdness of ADV having the series while Manga Ent. has the movies. Would I buy any of it? I'm not sure... At this point, I still need to get the End of Evangelion disc (reports of disc issues when it first came out made me a bit skittish a the time) and I'll probably end up getting the two DC discs eventually. Still, I seem to be one of those few people that likes the original ending, so we'll see. Maybe seeing the end of EoE will change my mind.. And for the record, for all that Death is just a recap movie, I found it really enjoyable. A good refresher and I like how it was cut to the cello music...

If you don't care so much about the remastering and just want the semi-definative latest version of the story, it seems like you should do this: Watch episodes 1-21 from ADV's original release (discs 1-6 I think). Watch episodes 22-24 from the two Director's Cut DVDs from ADV. Now, take a breather for a while... Then watch Death from Manga Ent.'s Death and Rebirth DVD (really, this is optional as it is a recap movie, but you may as well, as it'll remind you of everything that happened). Then watch everything on the End of Evangelion disc from Manga Ent. That should pretty much do it! Of course you could also just get the box set and watch the original version of the story, maybe with Death (what I've done so far)...

As people have mentioned, maybe there will be more Eva activity when the live-action movie comes to fruition. For now, I'll be pretty happy with my TV set (which I got for a really good price!). =)

Low-Carb goes commercial + 4-blade razors 

I have to say that this is a pretty interesting entry from Jim Henley. He points out that just as a bazillion foods came out claiming to be "low-fat" even if they weren't healthy for you and still cause weight gain (through stuff like sugar), products are starting to coming out with "low-carb" labels, even if they are still a candy bar.

It is good to be reminded just how far these commercial interests seep into everything and try to manipulate you. One thing that struck me lately is the commercial for a new razor called the Quattro, with *4* blades! I've never used a bladed razor before, but seriously, I doubt 4 blades is much better than 3 or 2. But in order to try to keep money coming in, companies have to keep finding new stuff to keep prices high as costs go down. I did get a new electric razor lately and it seems to be less harsh than my old one (foil instead of lift-and-cut) and you can clean it under water, both of which are nice. But does anyone really need those huge self-cleaning things? Where you have to buy special packs of cleaning fluid every once in a while? As always, go for just what you need, not for the hype...

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Live-action Eva movie production sketches from WETA 

For those that don't now, ADV and WETA seem to be doing an american live-action version of Neon Genesis Evangelion. I heard one poster say somewhere that they still need major funding to be raised, but I'm not sure if that is true or not.

In any case, the designs are here. I think most of it looks pretty nice. The main issue seems to be that all the characters seem anglican and that the names are (maybe?) changed to stuff like Kate Rose. I guess if that is true, I won't be TOO put off. I'm more concerned about how the plot is somehow going to be condensed into one movie. It seems like it is hard enough to understand as it is.. ;)

Touring museum exhibit will feature Viz manga... 

This is a pretty interesting press release. It seems like there is a traveling exhibit going to 70 children's museums around the country, called Jump to Japan: Discovering Culture Through Popular Art. It seems like Viz will be providing a variety of stuff, mostly from kiddy series like Hamtaro and stuff from Jump. Pretty interesting how the companies are managing to pop up in seemingly different areas all the time...

Jim Crocker knows promotion... 

So, hopefully everyone in Western Massachusetts is already aware that Modern Myths is a great store. But thankfully the smarts aren't limited to selection. With all the talk lately on promotion of stores and the growing popularity of manga, behold:

The Northampton Academy of Music Theater will be having another Anime Film Festival on Saturday, January 24th. 4 films will be shown, starting at 10:00 AM, and there will be an anime-themed multimedia party at the Northampton Center for the Arts afterwards, starting at 6:30 PM. The party will have sushi, J-Pop, karaoke, a fan art show, and we'll be there with a SPECIAL SALE on MANGA, as we move out some of the older versions of Viz and Tokyopop stuff to make room for the 2nd editions.

See, now this is just a great move on many levels. First of all, the store is already in a good area with a parking lot and is well-lit and family friendly. He also has quite a large manga selection, generally more than the bookstores (which is saying something these days). And also a bunch of Japanese art books and some magazines. So, it is already a good environment to attract a varied clientel. The hard part then is to get people to come, especially when bookstores are prevalant and sometimes have good discount sales.

So, the local cultural city of Northampton has an anime festival at one of the theaters. I went to the first one and enjoyed it a lot. One thing I noticed was sushi being sold by a local Japanese resteraunt. I thought that was a good idea. The theater got food, and the shop got lots of good publicity and also sold a lot of food.

So, now in the third iteration of the festival, they have more stuff planed and now Jim is in a great position. Not only will he likely sell a decent amount since the stuff will be on sale, as well as clearing out older inventory, the big thing is promotion. Lots of anime fans will be coming to this from all over the place. I know the first festival was packed with at least like 200 people. Not everyone will go to the party, but I'm sure quite a lot will. I doubt that many of the people will be familiar with Modern Myths, so this could give a huge amount of exposure. Also, since so much of the store is comprised of TPBs, sorted by general categories (family, superheros, etc.), I'm sure that Jim will be able to point the people to a couple of interesting american books as well that they might enjoy.

For other retailers out there, especially those with a selection of manga, do some research. Are there any anime conventions in the area? Maybe it'd be worth your while to at least show up. You may barely make back the cost of a table or lose a bit of money, but you could get some exposure to people used to shopping in bookstores. If there are any clubs at local colleges and such, maybe you should show up and offer a little club discount to them. Be creative people! Having a good selection does nothing if people don't know you exist, especially for people with other options availible. Also, if you are a shop that carries CCGs, a lot of those are based on manga. For all the kiddies coming in just to buy cards, maybe try a discounted package with some packs of YuYu Hakusho along with the first volume of the manga (which is only $8 to begin with). Same goes for Yu-Gi-Oh or DBZ or whatever. Jim definitely has the right idea.. hopefully more people can follow it up...

TI gets organized... 

Check out the apps that come on the new TI-89 graphing calculator. Sure, there is the various math apps, but check out the planner, task manager, contact list, finance program, a spreadsheet, studycards, etc.

It is interesting, because when I first started to look at PDAs, I couldn't help but think about how it reminded me of my old graphing calculator. I'd downloaded a bunch of aps for it, mostly games. I'm sure there are various freeware planners and stuff now, even for the older models. Never thought to look for that stuff at the time.

It makes me wonder how much PDA sales are cutting into the calcuator market. The calculator is obviously made for calculating, but there is all kinds of stuff you can download for a PDA. If you're mostly going for organizing and games and want some calculating that is about as powerful but just a bit slower, why pay to have both unless a class really requires it? But obviously it also works the opposite way. If a class does need the calc, then now they can hook them in to do more with it and make it a bit more indispensible. The sizing isn't so convenient as a real PDA, and the screen isn't so good, but anything to extend the usability and life of the product is smart...

Interesting to see how the landscape of technology in schools has changed so much in a relatively short time...

Lain and Apple... 

You know, I haven't watched Serial Experiments: Lain for a while, but it was one of the series that I heard about for long time. One of the first that I downloaded fansubs for online. One of the first that I bought all the DVDs for. I just really like this series. The combination of geeky subject matter and totally atmospheric and abstract feel (in both artwork and music) really clicked with me.

It is on my brain again, because I saw a link for the Relationship between Lain and Apple. I saw this page a long time ago, but forgot all about it. It turns out that a lot of the creators of the show were Mac fans, and so there are tons of various references. Everything from the designs of various computers in the show, to names of things (an OS called Copland), to the voice which says the title of each episode being the "whisper" voice of Apple's text-to-speach engine. There are also a couple of references to NeXT and BeOS thrown in for good measure... :)

That page also links to LainOS, which appears to be an effort to make a real OS incorporating some of the more fantastical parts of Copland as shown in Lain. Seems like it has expanded to try to be a general platform for interfact experimentatin, which is pretty neat. There is stuff to compile, but no gallery yet. I suppose I'll fuss with the stuff after I get Linux going at some point. They also get extra points for getting Pioneer (now Geneon)'s permission to use Lain images on the site!

When hobbies intersect: Comics and Go 

Somone on AoD pointed this out the other day: a comic teaching Go rules. Pretty cute with the King playing piece from chess learning the rules from two Go pieces. Always nice to see comics being used for teaching, where I think it can be very effective.

Of course the other connection is the manga Hikaru no Go (now running in Shonen Jump) which first got me going into learning Go in the first place... ;)

Ulee's L.I.E. 

Caught two pretty interesting movies last night. Ulee's Gold and L.I.E. I liked both of them, but of course for pretty different reasons. I've been hearing about Ulee for a while now and how good Peter Fonda's performance was. While there was others in the movie and they acted good as well, he really did have to carry it, as the movie was mainly about him and his evolving life. Ulee is a beekeeper who has retreated into a life of work after his wife died six years ago, but gets pulled back into things after his son gets put into jail and daughter-in-law's chemical dependancies show up. So he ends up watching his two grandaughters for a while, as well as getting help from a neighbor (who is a nurse) and getting involved in his kids troubles. He is an old-fasioned, quiet, worn-out guy who is having trouble adapting to the changes in life. A well-done movie, and I can identify with the life of a beekeeper, which is sort of geeky in its own way.

As far as L.I.E. goes, it is a fairly controversial story about a young boy (15 almost 16) named Howie, who has troubles at home (his wife died and dad has replaced her with a lady that he seems to just have sex with), and who just feels isolated and confused about his sexuality. Eventually he ends up involved with a pedophile who refers to himself as Big John. The actors for both of these characters do a really good job, and despite other parts in the movie that might not be realistic, both of these characters seemed very real to me. Howie is very vunerable, but also has some idea of what's going on and maybe of what he wants. I can identify with some of it from when I was younger. As for Big John, that's probably the part that a lot of people look at, in that he's portrayed as not 100% evil. I don't want to give away too much, but I have to say that the way it was done impressed me. It wasn't an effort to suger-coat a monster, but it also didn't take the easy way out of making John a one-dimensional person with absolutely no redeeming qualities. In the real world, things are rarely that simple. A thought-provoking movie, and really not deserving of the NC-17 IMHO, as there really is a lack of explicit and/or pandering content. Most summer action movies have more skin and swearing than this movie does, and I think the content is even-handed enough to not warrent that kind of rating. It seems the sort of thing some kids could do with watching, as it addresses confusing emotions without being too judgemental..

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Some respect for Bill Gates... 

Ok, I've done my fair share of bashing on Bill and his company, but I have to admit my respect for him just went up a notch or so. I was going through various sites on Go (more on that later), and one page had a list of celebrities that have played the go. One of which was Bill, which linked to this interview, which went into the whole man vs. machine chess stuff:

Q. Kindly share your thoughts on recent victory of a computer over chess champion Gary Kasparov. Raj Bansal (rbansal@sprynet.com)

A. I answered a similar question early in 1996, when Kasparov beat the chess-playing computer "Deep Blue." I said it was just a matter of time before a computer won a match against the world's best chess player, and that it wouldn't mean much when it happened.

Now a computer called "Deep Thought" has won and, as I said, the victory has little significance. It just proves that a bunch of chess experts with a computer can outplay a lone genius.

The computer that was used to beat Kasparov didn't figure out how to play chess; it was told by people to do some mechanical, numeric comparisons. The machine didn't recognize any patterns; it didn't gain any knowledge by playing those chess games in any way, shape or form. It just performed rote calculations blindingly fast.

Humans gave Deep Thought algorithms that let it evaluate different chess positions, a knowledge of book openings and the ability to try out billions of possible chess moves each minute. The machine is highly specialized. It does one thing: it plays chess. It can't even play checkers or balance a checkbook, let alone appreciate humor or reason with a child.

Human intelligence involves generality. A human being can be put into a general situation, understand that situation, learn new things and apply that knowledge to other situations. Playing chess can help teach a person how to apply strategy in other games or situations and possibly even succeed in business, but playing chess can't teach a computer anything. The chess-playing computer doesn't have one iota of generality.

It's impressive that a big, breathtakingly expensive computer can perform billions of calculations amazingly fast. It will be even more impressive when inexpensive personal computers run at similar speeds. You may carry one on your belt or wrist someday, and no one will be in awe of it any more than they are in awe of a wristwatch today.

What is awesome now, and will remain so then, is the human brain.

What kind of incredible pattern-recognition algorithm does the brain use that makes it so effective that it takes a supercomputer to beat it in a game of chess? It's a complete mystery how the brain, which sends signals relatively slowly, can recognize and react to patterns incredibly quickly.

We will solve this puzzle, either by inventing similar architecture or decoding the architecture of the brain. We may not be able to replicate the brain's approach in practical ways, but within my lifetime we'll at least get a basic clue as to how the brain achieves the magnificent things it does.

Gary Kasparov's brain can play checkers, translate Russian to English, and rapidly cope with new circumstances. It can also beat Deep Thought in chess some of the time. That's awesome.

What a great answer! And in a related theme, Go itself is much harder for computers to play than Chess, due to the emphasis on pattern matching and other factors. As far as I know, the most powerful Go computers are still at an "advanced player, but below pro" type level. Yes, there hasn't been as much money thrown at it as there has been for Chess, but lots of evidence shows there are very significant hurdles to overcome. This article from the NY Times goes over a lot of the issues.

Sure computers have made an advance by beating people at chess, but if they can't even beat people at other kinds of games, there is still a long way to go before proclaiming the superiority of machines...

Hope for Spam... 

This article gives me some hope that the spamers won't win the arms race. I think I'm going to get a bayesian filter pretty soon. So much stuff slips through my normal filters that it makes it a pain reading e-mail at all... Thanks Augie for mentioning the article...

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Pam does more manga/comic reviews... 

After my link a while back, Pam has more reviews up (if you thought you got traffic before, now Dirk linked to you!). One reviews titles she'll be continuing, and the other one reviews titles she'll likely stop getting. Some spoilers in there, but nothing too serious.

I haven't read a lot of these, but I need to second the recommendation of Petshop of Horrors. I've only read the first volume so far (and watched the anime), but it is very nice and different from the norm.

CrossGen depression... 

The latest Lying in the Gutters takes another look at CrossGen (scroll down to Betrayed Generation). People still aren't payed, a company still isn't payed, and CG trying to get those same people to do even more for them. It is a shame to see just how bad stuff has gotten. I don't think I could justify buying a CG book at this point. It seems like it has gone far past the "buy some of the comics and everyone will get payed". It is just depressing considering how much promise the company had at first and how devoted to its creators it seemed to be...

Nerd Nation... 

Last night was the first episode of a new show on TechTV called Nerd Nation. This first episode was called Kid Nerd and worked well as an introduction. It was mostly serious, profiling around ten, and looking into their lives as kids. Lots of different people and experiences. Everyone from magician Penn Jillette, to a Simpsons producer, to an action movie scriptwriter, to a striper, to a guy from comic coloring shop Digital Chameleon.

According to the site, it'll be on again tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, so check it out if you get TechTV. A mix of heartbreak and humor, I thought this episode was really well done. I was relatively lucky growing up, but even I can recognize a lot of stuff in here.

It seems like the next episode will focus on aliens and various fandom and conspiracy people, which I have to say isn't so appealing to me, but some of the other upcoming episodes seem interesting. Like a look at Indian call-center people who have to impersonate being from other countries, a whole episode on Todd McFarlane, and the rise of political activists online.

Also, quite the catchy theme song...

Busy busy bee... 

Just to let everyone know, things have been a bit crazy lately. Some stuff at work is finally coming to a head, and I've had to take some work home the last couple of nights. Also working on something freelance for a friend. There's a big post that I want to do involving Shonen Jump, but I never seem to have the time. Maybe it'll finally happen tonight or tomorrow...

Until all this gets resolved, the entries will be a bit sporadic..

Monday, January 19, 2004

Anime Target-ed 

Geeze, it just keeps on happening doesn't it? Is manga far behind?

DC and Marvel CCGs... 

You know, I really would have loved these as a kid (and maybe even now). I've mentioned before that I used have a kind of trading-card mentality toward the Marvel and DC characters anyway. I remember one of my favorite things was the two Marvel D&D roleplaying games I had. I never did get a chance to play a game against anyone (except maybe once or twice), but one of them had these really cool cards you could cut out with a picture of the character on one side and stats on the other. If I had had a CCG where you can more easily play one on one against someone else, I probably could have had lots of fun. Maybe I'll pick some of these up on ebay or something some day. ;)

New CPM manga... 

This article I find kind of interesting actually. It lists two new titles coming down the road from CPM: Comic Party and Treasure Hunter. Why is it significant? Just because of the two titles themselves.

Comic Party deals with doujinshi, which is the term for amateur comics in Japan, generally sold through conventions or the internet. Some of it is original, but a large amount is stories using characters from popular manga, aka fanfiction. The article implies that all of it is sexual and that definitely isn't true. However, quite a lot of it is. But the companies in Japan allow it since it because many good creators come out of the doujinshi scene and a lot of commercial creators feel like it is a form of flattery. CLAMP is an example of creators who started as a doujinshi circle and later went commercial.

Anyway, Comic Party is about some kids who end up attempting to make their own comic. When you think about it, this would be like a comic about some people making a minicomic. Except the irony is that this comic is commercial and even was animated! It is pretty cool that the US industry is starting to get diverse enough to support the odder entries, like this one.

The other is Treasure Hunter, and is a comic I have never heard of before. Is it good? Who knows... the reason I bring it up is more to illustrate the point of name-power for creators. Alien Nine was an off-beat but popular title for CPM, and now they're bringing out another comic he did. Notice how big his name is on the cover. There is no anime or video games or CCGs for this title out there, it is just going on the name. There's also the fact that almost every comic CLAMP has produced is currently out or licensed, and many other examples. Some people have tried to argue that there might not be so much fan loyalty in the bookstore market, but I'd argue the opposite is true. With novels, people are used to focusing on the writer and seeing if there's other stuff they've written that they might enjoy. Seems like manga is following the same path for the most part...

Osaka's manga year in review... 

I had posted a link earlier to this thread, but now Osaka has written up a large manga year in review post. This is a very comprehensive look at what the various companies have been up to, and is good to see...

Topselling comics and GNs of 2003 

Comicbookresources has up an article calculating the top 100 comics and graphic novels for 2003. Some pretty interesting stuff in there.

The publisher breakdowns I find interesting in that things have changed even from the average of the year. With A. D. Vision at the bottom, they moved up quite a bit, along with Tokyopop going up two places. I'm pretty sure Oni Press has risen at the end of the year as well.

The top 100 comics is scary as ever. 98 of them are superhero stuff, and the only two that aren't are nostalgia properties (one transformers and one transformers/g.i. joe). Marvel sure has done well with the Ultimate line! A full 39 of the hundred were Ultimate titles. Also, New X-Men manages to appear 15 times on its own. For all the critisism that these new titles had when they first launched, they seem to be raking in tons of money for Marvel.

A much healthier split of titles in the GNs, IMO. Sandman is still king, however. Besides Endless Nights at third place, Death: At Death's Door comes in a 5th (the little volume that could!), and the first four Sandman volumes also manage to appear on the list, despite being quite old now. Taken as a whole, 15 volumes of Ultimate titles on there. The highest manga seems to be Lone Wolf and club (vol 28!) at 13th place, and Trigun making a strong showing at 22nd. Interestingly, besides Trigun and Hellsing from DH, all the other manga is in the middle of the respective series. Hellboy manages two TPBs, but it seems stronger lately as opposed to the average, probably because of the movie's hype.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Pinhole Cameras... 

Wow, I really like the images in this gallery. The making of information is very interesting as well (link courtesy czelticgirl).

IRC and Lego bibles.. 

As long as you aren't too easily offended, these are very funny:

First up is the bible done as an IRC chat. If you've never used IRC, some of it may not make sense, but for those of us longstanding chatters, it is great:

The IRC Bible (from czelticgirl)

Next up is various old and new testament stuff done in Legos. This had to have taken a whole lot of work to put together:

The Brick Testament

Puffy AmiYumi 

Johhny B likes Puffy AmiYumi's US release Nice, linking the musicians back to other bands. I still haven't bought any of the growing j-pop releases, but it is something I really need to do.

I think the interesting thing is that pop music is so big in Japan, with so much competition going on, that they have it down to a science. A lot of the stuff is very catchy and they don't pretend that it is something more than fluffy pop music. I've heard that a lot of fans in Japan tend to follow producers instead of artists when in that particular realm.

That's one thing that I wish I could see here is more emphasis on actually who does what in music. Some people think that if someone doesn't write their own music, it automatically makes them bad. I don't think that at all. A good way to think about it might be in classical music. You have various composers, who if they have enough skill can even compose for an instrument they can't play themselves. You then have the various perform using the instruments. If you're someone that is used to listening to classical, then two performers doing the same composition can bring different things to the work. A singer might just be providing their voice, but their style and own emotions obviously change the work in subtle (or not so subtle ways).

But in so many cases, we want to raise up the singer to a huge level, and the writer in small writing inside the album notes, as if a dirty little secret. I guess I just wish there could be more balance involved. In bands with multiple people, frequently one or more write. The one doing the lyrics isn't always the singer, and in any case all the band members need to get involved in this song that they probably contribute to in various ways but still might be about someone else's experiences. That is seen as ok, but even a longstanding of a singer with a songwriter usually seems to be swept under the rug...

Oh well, I guess I'm going off on a tangent. Nice is definitely one of the albums I want to pick up one of these days...

Friday, January 16, 2004

RIP - Superheros 

Comicbookrecourses has a very good thread talking about where superheros are and if the concept is dead or what. It manages to not devolve into a mess, with lots of insightful comments from various pepole. Also, I learned something new, that before Watchmen and DKR was another comic called Superfolks, without which those may not have been possible. It seems like it was one of the first to take superheros into a darker reality, yet I've never heard of anyone bringing it up before. I'll definitely have to look into finding a copy of it.

For those that are interested, I yet again summed up a lot of my comic book thoughts on various subjects. If you've read my blog for long, you've seen it all before, but my opinions are constantly evolving, so I figure it is good to try to keep track of it:

This is a really interesting thread. I've seriously never heard of Superfolks before. Sounds like a really important part of comics history that a lot of people don't know about.

A couple of thoughts.. I think three issues which cause troubles for superheros is the surface details/conventions and indicision of continuity vs. episodic lack of continuity in Marvel/DC, and the shared worlds themselves.

I think surface details can go either way. On the one hand, it does give a historical culture and iconography to the genre. At the same time, it is also troublesome for a lot of people due to the restrictions it causes.

Someone brought up manga, and while I do agree GTO might be stretching it (thought maybe not as much as many would think), I think it is instructive to look at the titles in Shonen Jump. These are stories aimed at young boys and many contain superpowered heros who fight evil. However, the similarities tend to be more about story structure than any surface conventions.

YuYu Hakusho involves a punk kid who surprises everyone (including the spirit world) by pushing a kid out of the way of a speeding car and getting killed in the process. Due to his heroism, he gets a chance to get back to life by going through trials and eventually ends up getting enlisted by the spirit world (as well as getting powers by means of various situations and training) to track down and fight demons causing problems, as well as linking up with some other characters to form a team of sorts.

No spandex to be found. It is not connected to any other comics (and seemingly below the surface of the real world). Characters evolve to some degree and some people die and don't come back. Eventually it all comes to an end. Same author throughout the run.

Naruto involves a kid who has grown up with the spirit of a destructive fox spirit imprisoned within his body. While he is never told of that as a kid, he is ostracised and becomes a troublemaker to try to get everyone's attention. This is a world where ninjas are everywhere and this town has a history of training them. Naruto decides he wants to become a great ninja (and leader of the town) eventually and starts his training. He ends up with a boy and girl about the same age and so the adventure starts. I've only started to read it, but can already see the characters growing a bit...

One Piece has Luffy who is a kid who is ultra enthusiastic and single-minded. The kind who just won't take no for an answer. After having an inspiring experiance as a kid, he is determined to become the greatest pirate ever. He ends up ingesting a magical fruit which allows him to stretch (but now he can't swim), and eventually links up with a swordsman and female thief and battles all kinds of strange villian and visits imaginative areas.

DBZ is a story that is very superhero-ish with Goku being like Superman but a bit more happy-go-lucky. But even though the story went on way too long due to fan and editorial pressures ending up with characters who can blow up planets and such, even it had a lot of evolution. I mean the first half (called just Dragon Ball in the US), Goku is a kid and the series is much more comedic. Later on he is grown up and has a kid!

This is the kinds of stuff that kids are reading right now. I think a lot of them enjoy the fact that each story has a different setting and characters. They may wish that a story would continue past where it ended, but there is always some new story on the horizon that they can read.

One interesting thing about all this also. Quite a few manga especially for kids deal with the main character wanting to be the best at something. In order to do that, they put in a lot of hard work, have rivals, etc. In One Piece and Naruto it becomes a superhero story due to superpowers and fighting bad guys. But that same sort of plot also applies to Iron Wok Jan, with two kids (with very different outlooks) trying to be the best chefs around. You have sports titles where someone is trying to be a great basketball player. The list goes on...

I think that is a fundamental difference with a lot of manga versus a lot of superhero stories. In the US, a lot of people are taking the specific superhero genre and trying to tell different stories with it. In Japan, they are more likely to take a kind of story and then pick the setting and trappings that go on top of it, and whether it is superpowered or not is just a decision of the particular author.

Now, about the conflict of continuity. First, I do think that stories mostly lacking in continuity can be fun. They tend to be lacking in reality but can be very stylized and interesting if you accept the main conceit. The problem is that there is always a temptation to add in realism, which just changes everything. Especially in the corporate atmosphere where authors change on a frequent basis, it is even worse.

As soon as you make a major lasting change in a story lacking continuity, you suddenly create a before and after. Depending on how it is done, it may not be a big deal, but often it is. If you go the opposite direction and try to make things as real as you can, by definition things have to change and as time goes on, any kind of repeating element (like a fight each episode) will conflict more and more with the realistic elements. To retain the realism, the story either has to throw away the repeating element or the story just has to end.

But they want to have it both ways. So they have these continuity driven arcs, but then as soon as things get too different they do a reboot or bring people back from the dead. For me, that just doesn't work, and creates a big mess, as well as causing a lot of fans to feel like nothing that happens is important since it'll all go back to status quo eventually.

Some manga take a tact of starting mostly episodic and then switching to continuity later on. This works well from a marketing standpoint as it gets more people able to join in in the beginning, and then keeps the people interested at the end. But most of those stories then either keep on changing or come to an end. If they try to go back to episodic, a lot of people will feel cheated.

One interesting way to kind of get away with it is a character that moves from place to place. A pretty good example is the manga and anime Eat-Man, or something like Samurai Jack (in a less detailed way). Eat-Man is has a bounty hunter named Bolt Crank who can ingest metal and use it instantly form weapons from out of his body. Some episodes go in pretty large and detailed arcs, but the key is that all the progression happens to the people in the particular town he is visiting. Bolt acts as a mostly unchanging force of nature Deus Ex Machina factor that resolves the particular plot, but then he just moves on somewhere else. This allows meaningful things to happen while still being independant of continuity.

And for shared worlds in general, I do agree that it is a cool meta-universe thing, but it also contributes a lot to keeping things the status quo and the fact that creative teams on a title constantly change can be taken as a positive by some but very negative by others that want their reading more like regular novels.

Also, what defines superhero really? Does a superhero have to wear spandex? Do they really need superpowers (as opposed to just being very skilled)? Do they have to be heroic? The interesting thing is that it seems like the answer to all of these may be no on a case by case basis, yet if you answer no for all of them at the same time, then it certainly isn't a superhero story!

It is interesting to see how stuff really fits. Looking at the GTO comparison, he is a guy that is doing everything in his power to help kids and fight against the bad ones (while still trying to turn them around) and doing aparantly superhuman feats at times. Even though he's a flawed character, if he has amazing skills and fights evil, is it really not a superhero story?

How about the original Gundam anime series. In it, you have Amuro, who is a very reluctant (and somewhat unstable) kid who gets thrown into a war he never wanted to be a part of. He pilots a giant robot and is revealed later to be a Newtype, a sort of evolutionary step that allows him extraordinary control of his Gundam machine. But in this story, the two forces are the Federation versus the Zeon. The Zeon is portrayed as a bit more bad, and is sort of the royalty versus the Federations democracy. Yet neither side is really evil. There are good people in the Zeon who really believe what they are doing is right. There are people in the Federation who due to bueracracy or fear or stupidity or whatever cause people to die. Is it really a superhero story even if the main character has extraordinary powers and is constantly in battles if he doesn't want to be a hero and the people he is fighting aren't really evil? Perhaps...

There is plenty of room for classic fun superhero stories, retro wink-wink stories, serious deconstructions, and genre mergers. But I agree with the person that said we need more stuff outside of this. I think we need more stories that might have heros or might have superpowers but aren't trying to be an extension of or a response against classic superhero stories.

Also, I agree about the need for more endings. As much as there has been lots of fun Spiderman stories out there, I can't help wondering how it would have been if it had come to and end. It seems to me like the original story was about growing up, but it was never allowed to take its course.

What if he eventually settled down? What if he found that he just wasn't happy with the crime-fighting anymore (maybe other heros come out of the woodwork and he doesn't feel so responsible to that city anymore) and cares more about his relation-ship. The constant danger and stress on the relationship or even danger to his wife being hurt just causes him to stop being a superhero. He comes to terms with the death of his Aunt and Uncle (most of my knowledge is from Ultimate Spidey, so don't kill me on details!) and realizes they would want him to be happy, etc...

It gives the potential for Peter doing all kinds of battles and having various adventures while being able to grow up. There'd be room for revamps or various kinds of sequels (past catches up with him, or he has a son that has the same powers or whatever), but you'd still have that original story as classic cannon that could be told to kids over the various generations.

Something like Cyborg 009 was a classic super-heroish story (which actually started the same year as the X-Men) but evolved and was told by the same author the whole time. I think the author died right when he was about to finish it up entirely. Over time it has been animated like 3 times to make it flashy for new generations of kids, but they always follow the classic story and the original volumes of manga are still in print. I think it is no accident that when stuff like Spider-Man or Batman are animated or made into movies, they tend to use the original classic stories and villians. That is the stuff that tends to resonate most, versus the vast continuing monthly stories with the conflicting histories and various reboots. Sure there is variations on origins and stuff to work with, but you could just as easly do a straight updating or re-imagining of stories every decade like Ultimate Spider-Man without trying to continue the cannon stories indefinitely until they almost become meaningless... I think it is more powerful when you have a definite creator driven story that comes to an end, which can then be a definite established classic.

I also agree that part of the reason why this stuff is always brought up is the dominance of the genre to the industry. It wouldn't be as big of a deal if superheros was just another genre. There is plenty of manga and anime categories with their share of overworked themes and modern takes and retro versions. But it is always just one of a variety of stuff, so it doesn't stick out so much. But there's also a lot of fans which like this dominance. If you are mostly into superheros, it is cool for you that when someone thinks comics they instantly think of what you're into. It is also cool that stuff like this is a big issue instead of a side-issue. I think that's one reason why there has been a lot of resistance to change in the industry. And stuff like how it has generally been a boys club, but now more than half of the readership of bookstore comics seems to be girls is a huuge shift in things.

Anyway, I'm starting to get offtrack. I'm not amazingly concerned about superheros having to be realistic or unrealistic or challenging Watchmen or being totally original. I'd like to see more creator-driven stuff, more series that end, and more stories that can decide if they want to be episodic or continuity driven and stick with it. And while you can perhaps do any topic in superheros, I want people to realize it is a self-imposed restriction and niche. You can do a horror superhero title, but why not do a horror title without superheros? And if you want fantastial elements, why not set the horror in a fantasy or sci-fi world? It isn't that a horror superhero hybrid is bad, but you have to question why are you doing it? Is it because it is really the best thing for the story, or because stuff sells better in the direct market if it has superheros in it? Or because you're used to it?

As an example, Books of Magic. I read the first volume of this, involving a kid who ends up getting involved with magic. Several times superheros were brought up, and it just totally threw me out of the story every time! It reminded me that this story of magic underlying the real world wasn't in MY world. It was in the DCU, which already has all kinds of weird stuff going on. I mean why was the kid even skeptical of magic considering all the stuff that happens on a daily basis in that world? I'm sure there was lots of cool references for fans of obscure DCU stuff, but I'd never seen a lot of the bazillion characters introduced in that first volume before and so a lot of the mythology was lost on me. But that wasn't as bad as when someone like Superman was mentioned. I can't help thinking it would have been better with no connections to DCU at all, helping a kid to believe that this sort of thing could really happen. One less suspension of disbelief to have to go through...

When you consider that a lot of kids these days are reading Harry Potter and stories like it, I can see why a lot of superhero stuff doesn't seem so appealing. It also reminds me of all the fantasy young-adult books I read as a kid. Stuff like Dark is Rising, Support Your Local Wizard, Pit Dragon Trilogy, Lioness Quartet, Last Herald-Mage, Pern, etc. A lot of this stuff was great and even involved heros with extraordinary powers, but were quite different from what we normally call "superheros" and really a lot more similar to a lot of the manga coming out.

Pit Dragon with a kid that ends up connected to a dragon by accident and fighting in tournaments and growing as a result is sooo much like a manga plot. Last Herald-Mage of a fantasy series with magic and a gay angsty main character would fit right in as a manga for girls. So in the end I think a lot of the manga is popular because it is more like the YA stories that kids have already been reading for years, except in graphical form, with art styles that they are used to from anime and games. Yes, muscular heros in colorful costumes fighting bad guys can also be popular with kids, but in some ways it also seems a little out of touch with the original audience of kids..

Anyway, I better quit before this gets any longer. If you've read through all of this, you are to be commended! ;)


So, there you go. Also, keep in mind the title is from the name of the thread, not that I personally think superheros are dead, but you'd know that if you read the whole message. ;)

Thursday, January 15, 2004

AnimeOnDVD's year in review begins... 

If you have any interest in anime and what has been happening in the last couple of years, be sure to check out this page. AnimeOnDVD.com has been around for seven years now, so they have quite the perspective on things.

Check out the chart on that page. Things have gone from 6 releases in 1997, to 172 in 2000, to *750* in 2003! For all that people talk about sudden explosions, the chart shows that it has really been a steady expansion (of almost doubling each year). If you add all the years up, it is close to 2,000 anime DVD releases total now. While it is fair to argue that it won't keep doubling every year for ever, I certainly don't see it going away any time soon. Anime seems to have been there from the very beginning of DVDs and been following similar cycles (like price reductions on older titles as well as newer special editions sometimes).

Besides the general overview, there is going to be information on each individual studio (currently there is a page up for ADV, who put out almost 200 DVDs this year, as well as the new manga division and other stuff), as well as pages from individual AoD contributers (currenly one from the retail forum moderator on how retail stuff has evolved, and one from one of the disc reviewers on how he got into it). I'm guessing a manga mod will do one at some point, so I'll probably point that out when it happens for the more comic-minded people in the audience.

Many thanks to Chris Beveridge for keeping the site alive through all these years! I haven't been there the whole time, but it has been an amazing resource for all the time that I've visited it. I think it is fair to say that I wouldn't be writing this blog if it wasn't for that site getting me anime DVD reviews and news and eventually manga and then causing me to branch back out to American comics... :)

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