Hello, and welcome to the second installment of my column, Think About Comics, here at Comics-and-More. This week, I’ve broken the column down into two parts: “Mini-Reviews,” where I briefly provide opinions on some of the comics I’ve read recently, and “Around the Internet,” where I will highlight some interesting comics-related items I’ve come across on the world wide web. First up, the reviews!
House of M # 1-5, by Brian Michael Bendis, Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, and Frank D’Armata: This is probably the best written series of it’s kind that Marvel has published, although I suppose that’s damning it with faint praise. I’m not generally a fan of big company wide crossover/event driven comics of this nature, but I do find myself enjoying this series, despite some weak points. It’s not deserving of the hype Marvel has surrounded it with, but nor is it deserving of the scorn with which certain segments of fandom have greeted it. I like the world that Bendis and his artistic collaborators have dreamed up here, and I am curious as to what elements of it will survive this eight issue mini-series. Bendis’ scripting is fine, although at times characters seem a bit “off,” most notably Emma Frost in the most recent issue. For the most part, though, I’m impressed that Bendis has been able to keep hold of his narrative while dealing with such a large and sprawling cast of characters. I heard him speak about his approach to this series at the Wizardworld con in Chicago, and it’s clear he’s thought a lot about the crafting of the story, and I think that’s apparent on the page. Olivier Coipel’s pencils bother me somewhat. They’re not bad, in fact they work well as drawings, but as a cartoonist and storyteller I think his skills need some sharpening. Often, panel to panel transitions can be awkward and confusing, and this throws the pacing of the story off more than a few times. Still, if you’re a fan of this sort of story or any of the creators involved, I think you’ll have a good time reading this. Although, it’s incredibly popular, so you probably already are reading it. I’ll likely revisit the series once it’s completed and share with you my thoughts on the work as a whole.
Cromartie High Volume 1, by Eiji Nonaka: I laughed out loud, a lot, while reading the first few chapters of this manga. As I read on, though, I became used to Eiji Nonaka’s world and his absurd brand of humor, and found my guffaws dwindling to chuckles. It’s a good, funny comic, but I think it works best in small doses. I’ll probably keep following it, as you do sort of develop a strange affection for the characters, loveable buffoons that they are. Cromartie High is a parody of the school gang/delinquent sub-genre of boys' manga, and its brand of humor is almost impossible to describe, although some have made what I think are apt comparisons to the work of Michael Kupperman. It’s the kind of thing that you’re either going to find hilarious, or you’re not, so I recommend flipping through the comic at your local book or comic book store, and reading a chapter or two….they’re short, usually only five or six pages. That should let you know if it’s something you want to spend your hard earned cash on.
Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, by Frederik L. Schodt: I’m sort of embarrassed that I’ve just now gotten around to reading this book, often referred to as the manga “bible.” One of the first books published on the subject in English, the importance of Manga! Manga! cannot be overstated. The book was originally published in 1983, and it takes you from the very beginnings of manga up through what was then the present day, with predictions for the future of the medium. This last part is sort of interesting to read today, in that Schodt posits that manga will probably never be able to become a serious publishing concern in the United States because of the various cultural barriers, not least of which is the fact that manga would need to be revearsed or “flipped” to read left to right. I found the sequel to this book, Dreamland Japan, in a used bookstore this week, so I’ll bring you my thoughts on that soon. Published in 1996 after manga had become a real cultural presence here in America (although certainly not the publishing juggernaut it is today), it should be an interesting read. Manga! Manga! also features a generous sampling of manga, including excerpts from Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix, and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen. There’s really no reason not to get this book if you’re at all interested in the subject.
The Comics Journal Library Volume 5: Classic Comics Illustrators, edited by Tom Spurgeon: Speaking of great books about comics, here’s the latest in a great series of collected interviews from the pages of the indispensable Comics Journal. This volume, like the previous one (read my review here), focuses on multiple creators. The interview subjects are Frank Frazetta, Russ Heath, Burn Hogarth, Russ Manning, and Mark Schulz. All four men come across as intelligent and serious about their approach to art. I really love these volumes, especially since I only started reading the Journal a few years ago, and most of the material contained in them is brand new to me. Be sure to seek this one out.
Around the Internet:
*If you want to see who the next subject of the Comics Journal Library is going to be, go here. In this Comics Journal Message Board thread, editor Tom Spurgeon has some information on future subjects, as well.
*My review of House of M was partially inspired by Dorian’s comments at his excellent blog, postmodernbarney.com (scroll down to the August 15th entry). His comments didn’t influence my opinion about the series, but they did convince me that I wanted to get my thoughts out about the series sooner rather than later.
*Last week, I mentioned that I was a big fan of James Kochalka. This week, Alan David Doane launches a new blog devoted to the talented artist and musician! Alan David Doane is also the mastermind behind the New Comic Book Galaxy, but of course you already knew that.
*I really enjoy reading Tony’s Tips, an online column by Tony Isabella, a comics writer perhaps best known as the creator of Black Lightning. Tony’s asking for a little help right now, and it’d be great if any Think About Comics readers could offer him some support, financial or otherwise. Click the link above if you would, please, especially if you’ve enjoyed the man’s work in the past.
That’s all for this installment of Think About Comics. I hope you enjoyed reading, and I hope you’ll let me know what you thought, either by posting in the comments section or by sending me an e-mail at the address listed below. I’d love to hear from you!
Next Week: More thoughts about comics!