5/12/2009

The Negative Zone: The Problem With Fancy-Pants Reprints

So, I laid-off this "column" for awhile because basically comics people are super-soft babies that gets all scared and upset about any kind of negative criticism unless it's about how Marvel sucks or it's agreeable feminist/racial criticism about Storm (disagreeable feminist/racial criticism, we're all about though), but David picked up an old-ass copy of Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese last week (and I, some ripped to shreds copies of Kamandi) and was talking about how awfully made the thing was and it got me thinking about the low standards of so many of the 70s and 80s reprints--a radically pragmatic attempt to get this brilliant work out, quality and context be damned.

My first thought was a general frustration with the way comics were archived or reproduced in the past and then, my second thought, was a kind of nightmare flash through my brain of brand new "reissues" of Pratt's work from Fantagraphics or Drawn & Quarterly in big, hardback style with nice graphic design and I thought, "give me this ass copy from 1981 any day..." and not because of some curmudgeonly want for the work to remain obscure or inaccessible but because so much of the time, the work's context is not only changed--context of art will always change--but dramatically shifted not by critical voices reevaluating the work, but by publisher and editor concerns about how to brand and sell the shit. Specifically, it was the Drawn & Quarterly reissues of Tatsumi's work that fit this frustration well.

The act of reissuing is a mix of hubris, fan boy excitement gone wrong in the best and worst way, and opportunism. On one hand, it's really cool to know that Tatsumi's work is now sitting at the shelves of Barnes & Noble for any and everybody to pick up and it boils down to a rather small and independent company putting it out because they really liked it and the popularity of Manga might sell some copies, but on the other hand, there's an uncomfortable sense of imperialistic takeover there too.

The reissue of the work's nice, but why must it get forced through a kind of twee, minimalist style of design as if its the same as the "comix" they release? What could Adrian Tomine, who makes Clowes-derivative comics (minus the all important irony) and draws sad bastard indie fucks contribute to Good-Bye & Other Stories than his name? Whether it's intended or not, there's a line being drawn, then connected between say Tatsumi's "Just a Man", which details a man's ineffable contempt for his wife and child and Tomine's "my girlfriend's mean to me but I'm a dick, oh it's so complicated this world" storytelling. Look at the Catalan Communications version from the early 80s and the recent reissue of Good-Bye:



The biggest contrast is the complete lack of subtlety in the new version, a sexually aggressive image clouded by some "hip" graphic design versus the original which simply illustrates a Geisha, back partially turned in front of a black background. It's not that the latter is somehow any less of a manipulation or closer or even more "pure" to Tatsumi's vision--if anything, it's the opposIte as Tatsumi's had something to do with the D & Q reissues--but there's something less intrusive, less subjectivized about the Catalan edition.


Vertical's reissues of the work of Osamu Tezuka are even more interesting because the design isn't terrible or as obvious, and the act of reissuing stuff like Apollo's Song, MW,or Dororo, hasn't recontextualized the work for the The New York Times crowd only (if you looked hard enough, Tatsumi's work was available), but made the creator of Astro Boy's weirder, more "mature" work really easily available for the first time. But there's still something nagging in the cover design, from the Urban Outfitter all-over print hoodie garbage of Dororo to the Manga-Chris Ware sense for the others. It doesn't fit the comics at all and it's sort of hoodwinking more conventional Manga fans who'll expect something a different than inside, and as I said, aligning the work with American "comix" which for the most part, are lighter than these guys uh, grappling with their country being bombed to shits and then rebuilt by the same dudes and all that--a sub-rant could be made about how saying these works are the "grandfather" to modern alternative comix negates their politicism, particularly a politicism that's rooted in the United States committing acts of horror and continues a trend of wiping American hands clean of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but this shit's long already...

So look, I get it. The goal here's to make these works as appealing as possible and therefore, sell more copies which helps the company (and the creator) so that more weird, cool old comics can be put out. I'm just not sure this kind of design really works because a book made in Wes Anderson hues that'll appeal to people who listen to stuff like The Shins will probably be a little disappointed by Tatsumi or Tezuka's work.

And in a lot of ways, if they aren't disappointed, it's in part coming from the fact that Vertical's design recontextualized it and so, they see it in the cartoon cutesy darkness of Wes Anderson or Neutral Milk Hotel or something when what Tezuka (or Tatsumi) are dealing with is simply, heavier and way darker. Less a retreat into retro that paradoxically, pulls out some immediate emotions or just something about living in America in modern times, but narratives that are wrestling around with Japan's odd history--post-WWII Japan under the eye of America specifically--and of course, the dropping of the Atomic bomb. As I said before, to try to even suggest some connection between the work of more recent "alternative comix" and the work of these guys is not only offensive because it's dead wrong, but because it's lessening the depth and breadth of the work by suggesting its an earlier version for what's going on now.

Tomine can cite the influence of Tatsumi on his work but if it influenced it, he grossly misread one of his comic art heroes. And that his way of paying homage is by kinda sorta recontextualizing dude's work is depressing. Perhaps, an easy example for us all to get behind is the Chip Kidd Bat-Manga controversy in which Kidd slapped together a bunch of incomplete Japanese Batman comics from the 60s, didn't put the artist's name on the front, and released the thing.

That all my examples are Japanese artists being pilfered by Americans wasn't intentional nor do I think it's a form of racism--more like mannered xenophobia, once Moebius comics get reissued in America wholesale, the same thing'll happen--but the main issue here's the obsessive desire, even by those you'd assume to be more "respectable" than bigger, dumber companies, to force others' work into their own expectations and comfort zone.

37 comments:

andreas schuster said...

great read!
i´m not really sure what to think of this myself but i have to say that tomine mostly draws whiney comics that lack fun in story AND drawing.
so eat that adrian!

shea said...

Interesting, but I think this seems like a non-issue. It's fine to not like the design (I'll admit now that I like the Tatsumi covers and most of Vertical's reissues...though I think you picked the ugliest of the lot in Dororo) but it makes sense to me that the person leading the publication of the books will choose an aesthetic for the covers which appeals to them. Perhaps just reusing the original edition covers with English titles and whatnot would be best, but you did say that Tatsumi was involved with his reissues so if they're good enough for him, they're good enough for me.
Also, I think you're being a little condescending in saying that this stuff shouldn't be marketed to hipsters because they wouldn't understand it.

I will agree with you 100% though, in your views on Adrian Tomine.

brandon said...

shea-
I think it's a non-issue for now in the sense that no one matters, but these choices of design and context will have an affect later. For example, in 50-100 years let's say, someone's looking into Tomine or Tatsumi, the two are no sort of connected and that's weird/problematic.

Re: Hipsters. If they made the covers all regal and distinguished and it was appealing to a sort of old-fashioned high-brown crew I'd have the same problem. Or if they presented them as like Naruto-style mange through the design, it would be a problem too. It's just that catering it to an audience that it wasn't made for is kinda weird.

It becomes more problematic with this though because they're publishing something that doesn't have a whole lot to do with Tomine, etc but are presenting it as another piece of the puzzle.

I think it's important to not trust the artists themselves either when it comes to contextualizing their own works. It should be a balance of market expectations, pragmatic design etc.

Also, like imagine you're Tatsumi and your stuff's being bought and reissued, you're probably not going to disagree with how its marketed...you may not even have a choice.

shea said...

I think I understand your point better now.

Out of curiosity (and I promise this isn't a "well, let's see YOU do better" type of thing) what kind of cover would you give Tatsumi/Tezuka/whatever reissues?

I really have no idea what kind of context this stuff was made in and now you've got me curious (guess I should bump A Drifting Life up on my buy list).

brandon said...

Shea-
That's a really good question! I'm not any kind of graphic designer but I think the Catalan cover in contrast to the D&Q is a good place to begin. Simple, conveys the story, doesn't overpower the work.

If you do a google search of "Tatsumi Good-Bye" you'll also get a few even older editions that are much more pulpy but no less accurate but I think even that's something better if only because the inaccurate cover at least has some historical precedent, you know? Like, for better or worse, that's how the book originally came out...what's the excuse in 2009?

Aaron said...

I recently had the pleasure of reading a couple of the original Japanese editions of the Tatsumi material, and the presentation of the D&Q package is much closer to that than the "original" Catalan cover. They were trade paperback style rather than hardcover, but had very similar two-colour design with a simple, evocative image on the front and back. I don't see why this shouldn't be seen as the real precedent for the re-packaging, as it is surely closer to how Tatsumi intended his work to be presented...

david brothers said...

I don't know that I have the same problem with this that you do. Just by bringing the work to the States and translating it, you've recontextualized the work. I think it's fair to say that most Americans do not have the cultural connection to most of the things that Tatsumi, for example, writes about. So, just by reading it in English, the work has been changed.

Looking at reissuing as an imperialist takeover or hubris seems kind of off, too. Setting aside Chipp Kidd and Bat-Manga, I never got the feeling that the people behind these reprints, be it Vertical or whoever, are anything but fans who think the work has some merit. Yeah, they're making money off it, and they're going to try to maximize that profit, but someone had to believe it had some kind of audience who'd appreciate it before the business plans were drawn up.

I look at the Catalan reprint you posted and I see fake-y looking "oriental" text, an attractive figure, but a lack of appealing design. I'm not a fan of the vertical text for Tatsumi's name, either. It's just screaming "Look how Japanese this is!" and feels cornball. The D&Q cover is one I find attractive, in part because of the understated text. I agree that the cover is a little less than subtle, but it looks like an actual book, one that someone put some thought into making attractive, rather than banking on the Japanese-ness of it.

Finally, though-- who cares what hipsters think? Actual people, people who have opinions that they've refined over the years and who are interested in new things, are interested in these books.

Graham said...

I have a hard time understanding any of the arguments you're making here. Let's start with the fact that you dislike fancy-pants reprints/reissues. In what way are these reprints/reissues? I don't really know manga terminology, but Tatsumi has now had three books of short stories published by D + Q, and previously only had one book published. So the vast majority of the material isn't being "reprinted" but published in the U.S. for the first time.

Otherwise, some other commenters have done some good work with your various complaints. I would like to jump in on Aaron's comment - if my reading of the Tomine/Tatsumi Q and A's and A Drifting Life taught me anything, it's that these works were not originally published together in Tatsumi works, but rather published all over the place in various magazines and rental books. So any complaint about "recontextualization" is foolish, as the mere act of publishing a book made up of only Tatsumi is an enormous act of "recontextualization." For you to long for a poorly rendered, Orientalist collection that was published without Tatsumi's knowledge is like when little old ladies complained to me that the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice was not necessary when the "original" miniseries with Colin Firth was so good. Your "original" is so far from the true original as to be not worth talking about.

Otherwise, your complaints seem to read: I dislike hipsters and Adrian Tomine, and therefore...something...something...Tatsumi!

Bottom line: a great cartoonist I had never heard of has finally come to the U.S., and I have four books in my collection I wouldn't have otherwise. Complaining about that seems trivial, and your complaints are particularly unfounded.

DirkStar said...

What pisses me off even more is a book like Incognito (Which I really like.) being three issues into a run and already we have issue one second printed with a variant cover and a Special double issue reprint of issues one and two collected. Talk about milking a cash cow...

This angers me far more than reprinting old books.

Aaron said...

A clarification and response to Graham's comments: the Tatsumi anthologies I read were relatively recent, though older than the D&Q collections. I agree with Graham that even collecting those stories in Japan was radical, as the content was always meant to be seen in semi-disposable magazines. This does not mean that those Japanese editions should not have been collected.

There was one point I really didn't understand in the article: you say that hipsters are attracted to Tezuka and Tatsumi because their respective book covers have pretty Wes Andersen colours, yet they will be ultimately disappointed because of the content. But if they aren't disappointed, it's because the packaging has so grossly "recontextualised" the content that the readers are unable to see past the packaging. It sounds like you think that the readers are all morons; damned if they do, damned if they don't. What about the Barefoot Gen reprints? That is some heavy shit with pretty mediocre packaging. Is it even possible for a North American audience to read it, because what they are reading is "heavier and way darker" than what they can handle? I dunno, sounds like you're setting up a hipster straw man here.

Personally, even though I do not have an in-depth understanding of the mid-century Japanese socio-economic situation, I can appreciate Tatsumi's stories on their own merits. I would say I understand early 19th century Britain even less, but I still am still able to enjoy a Jane Austen book.

I don't like Tomine either, but I am not discounting an entire community because of that...

Matt said...

As a hipster, I don't care what's on the cover at all -- I buy the Tezuka and Tatsumi reprints because I want to read them. I would have been just as excited to buy Good-Bye when it came out if it had had that geisha cover, but because either way, I would have wanted to read what was inside. It would seem you're accusing all potential readers of judging books by their covers. Again, speaking as a hipster, I don't.

Nor do I really think the design of these books are callbacks to Tomine... certainly no more than they are to, say, IDW's Dick Tracy reprints or Evergreen's Guido Crepax translations...

Graham said...

Aaron, I apologize if I suggested anything about the Tatsumi reprints beyond what they are - I understood that they were after the fact Japanese collections of short stories. I was just pointing out that both they and the American "geisha cover" collection were radical "recontextualizations" to begin with.

Matt, I'd probably qualify as a hipster too, and I completely agree with you: I bought the Tatsumi books because I'd heard good things, and although I do like the cover design very much, I bought the first book because I'd heard of it and I bought the rest because I like them. You're right on there.

Finally: I think Tomine's ok. I think he's kind of overrated, and not like some comics genius, but I've enjoyed Optic Nerve, even if he does seem to think he's better than he is. I think he's alright.

Joshua Nelson said...

You make some good points, but don't drag the good name of Vertical into this. The "Buddha" (their spines will seem pretty ambitious after you read this), "Ode To Kirihito", and "Black Jack" editions are incredible and Vertical took a real chance on publishing comics (albeit manga), picked the perfect ambassador/creator for this foray, and didn't even make any money on the hardcovers until the 3rd one hit (well, those Eisners didn't hurt sales either). As far as reprints, I'm more bothered by Marvel (and DC/Vertigo to a smaller degree) pushing out their HCs first, sometimes lagging forever on their SCs, and spitting in the face of the people who bought all those by pushing out an Omnibus a year or so later. Ech, good talk...

Anonymous said...

"That's a really good question! I'm not any kind of graphic designer but I think the Catalan cover in contrast to the D&Q is a good place to begin. Simple, conveys the story, doesn't overpower the work."

I don't see how the Catalan cover is less problematic than the other. The image of a geisha is pretty loaded one to most American audiences, and the combination of that with a cheezy "sort of Asian-looking!" typeface smacks of orientalism. I don't think it's malicious in any way, but I'm not really sure that's the shining example you should hold the D+Q design against.

i'm curious, do you have issues with chip kidd's cover designs for haruki murakami's books?

you're also pretty unclear about what constitutes a "hipster" design sense. the examples you use don't overlap at all - wes anderson movies, chris ware and urban outfitters prints don't have anything in common. and i'm not sure there's anything about the design on the tatsumi cover that directly links him to tomine. tomine's presence on the book isn't felt any more or less than that of an editor or translator on any other translated book. that design doesn't do much for me either, but i don't see it as a particularly "comix" one - muted palette, large striking image, simple sans serif text - it seems to fit in with most other book covers you'll find in a store.

and your criticism of the dororo cover is pretty subjective too. . . i haven't read the book, but my impression from the cover wouldn't be "this is something hip and exciting and hoodie-suited." i'd guess the subject matter was bleak and horrific from the anatomy photos in the background, and the cut up comics figures imply some sort of formal experimentation in the work itself, which sounds about right

this is tough because i sort of know where you're coming from. there's a sort of wrongheadedness about some reprint projects that have bothered me too - something like turning dennis the menace strips into expensive hardcovers, when that material makes a million times more sense read in raggedy paperbacks - but i'm not sure i follow your argument here.

i wrote this pretty quickly, so i hope it's not too scattered a response.

Brandon Graham said...

I enjoy your incendiary camix articles Brandon, I am always in favor of a Catalan edition over just about everything.
Plus I love comparison photos.

And there is definatly something kind of annoying about the design of the newer editions. But yeah, mostly that it reminds me of the design of that brand of nose in the air comics you were pointing and lauging at.

word.

david e. ford, jr said...

the problem with chip kidd is that when you have a dude whose book designs are collected in monographs, you run the risk of relegating the work of the artist responsible for the ostensible content being sold to a sort of second position to the "art" that is supposed to sell it. it's not really a problem for a writer like murakami or cormac mccarthy whose reputations are firm and won't be affected much by design decisions, but what do you say to a dude like jiro kuwata.

briefly, anonymous and graham, i think you have a sort of misunderstanding of the concept of orientalism, because it wouldn't really apply in this case . . . maybe wilson and perker's cairo?

Brandon said...

You're part of the problem.

Anonymous said...

i think the term fits pretty well for that cover design, especially with that "vaguely asian-y!" typeface used. i'm not a big fan of the tomine design, but i think it definitely makes more sense than the other one, which is pretty generic and kind of relies on the fact that a geisha is just a provocative image in any context whether than offer any insight into the tone or content of the book

i'll buy your argument for the jiro kuwata book, but i'm not sure if tatsumi or tezuka's reputations are affected the same way in these two examples. the criticism for either cover design was pretty subjective (the Dororo cover apparently looks both like a hoodie and a Chris Ware drawing? huh?)

it feels strange defending them because these covers aren't really my cup of tea to begin with. but i don't see how either design is forcing their authors into some "western alt comix" canon (one which brandon has pretty narrowly defined as an apolitical, frivolous landscape of "sad indie fucks" or whatever)

david e. ford, jr said...

anon- this is obviously this pointless thing, but orientalism as a phenomenon and also something to be derided in, like, post-colonial studies, or whatever, doesn't really have anything to do with the far east. i know we all grew up calling people from the far east "oriental," but that's just not what the term refers to. orientalists were dudes like sir richard burton or t. e. lawrence, as opposed to lafcadio hearn or donald richie.

i'm not going to try to speak for brandon, but as i see it, it not so much the reputation of tatsumi or tezuka that is at issue here, but rather what the significance of the work becomes once it is marketed in a certain way to a certain audience. it's sorta the same way that, like, gerard manley hopkins has been tossed about from ahead-of-his-time progenitor of modernist poetics, to catholic/christian apologist, to gay icon, to logorrheic throwback and back again. this is a problem in the long run because simple decisions such as jacket design can change a way a text is read, which can ultimately lead to the forgetting of the real significance of the work which can eventually lead to its being forgotten altogether. obviously i am projecting way forward here, but there are implications to these things outside of some argument about what makes a hipster. it's also true that these judgments or interpretations of aesthetics are subjective, but really, what else can they be?

Anonymous said...

newark, nj
time hotel

the term has since been frequently applied similarly problematic western depictions of other non-west cultures. throw a rock on any campus and it'll bounce off five students writing boring essays on said and sofia coppola

"i'm not going to try to speak for brandon, but as i see it, it not so much the reputation of tatsumi or tezuka that is at issue here, but rather what the significance of the work becomes once it is marketed in a certain way to a certain audience."

i agree with you that the context and packaging and marketing of a work like this is important, but i just don't think brandon's arguments for why these two in particular are problems really make sense

he's not even certain what this awful "hipster indie comic" audience is. when he criticizes the dororo cover, he's angry it would appeal as both a hoodie print and a chris ware design? to start, there's nothing about the design that really screams either to me, but even accepting the premise that those were the designer's intended parallels - what is this hypothetical chris ware/urban outfitters demographic that could not possibly have the capacity to fully appreciate dororo? are they granta subscribers or fashionable 17 year olds? is there really that obvious an overlap between the two?

the tatsumi criticism seems even more shaky when that cover does such a better job of of depicting both the subject matter and the severity of tone of the book than the example he posted. when you see an image as striking as that that on the cover, i don't think the immediate reaction is "this is probably about a bassist dealing with his break up! boy, this comic is totally up the alley of a tomine-loving, 'sad, indie fucks' like me." it seems like brandon just doesn't like tomine, and would criticize any involvement from him on the project at all. that's clear when he goes as far as attacking tomine just for having the nerve to cite tatsumi as an influence to begin with - isn't that pretty unfair? can't he be influenced by a creator but be concerned with different subject matter in his own work? brandon's assuming that this audience of western comics readers is filtering all this material through their own shades of "sad fuck" autobio, which is a pretty big leap to make. (and, by the way, painting western alternative comics with pretty broad strokes. there are plenty of well regarded "comix" concerned with politics and history - Maus, Joe Sacco, King, Louis Riel, My Mother Was a Schizophrenic, Jack Jackson, etc)

these posts are getting longer than i wanted them to be, sorry dude

Anonymous said...

oop, ignore the newark thing. i typed out the response on notepad since it's annoying to type in these narrow blogger margins, that got carried over from the copy and paste.

Graham said...

I think I've said all I want to say about Tatsumi, cover design, Tomine, etc, but I do want to back Anonymous up that the term "Orientalist" does not apply exclusively to the Middle East. Sure, Said wrote the book on Orientalism and all of his examples of Orientialists are people like T.E. Lawrence, but post-colonial and its related fields are quite comfortable using the term "orientalist" for any treatment of non-Occidental culture that deliberately "otherizes" that culture. So just because Said's book discussed the perception of Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, etc. doesn't make the deliberate and bad-faith exoticization of South, Southeast, or East Asia not Orientalism. It is Orientalism, which is what Anonymous pointed out in the case of the geisha cover - something I hadn't thought of but became blindingly obvious once he mentioned it.

david e. ford, jr said...

again, this is stupid, but i think the word that you're dancing around is "racism." orientalism specifically carries connotations of colonialism and to my knowledge japan was never a colonial possession of britain or any other country. its not a formerly subjugated culture and so speaking of it in post-colonial terms implies a desire of lumping all non-white cultures together into one sort of "protected" group that is sorta arrogant and paternalistic and probably a little racist. enough with that, though.

again, brandon can make his own arguments, but what i see in that dororo cover that gets to what brandon was describing is on the one hand, a specific use of geometrical visual cues, which is a chris ware hallmark, and on the other hand a sort of highly designed presentation of something that is supposed to look tattered or patched together, which, i think, gets at the urban-outfitters, intended to look perfunctory and used but just sort of coming off as ever so highly designed. in the case of the tatsumi books, the tempering of the highly charged images from the stories in those muted soft palette pastels and design 101 fonts sorta castrates the work by lumping it together with the sort of "highly personal" narrative navel-gazing that is generally presented with a similar aesthetic, like, this book has some tough subject matter but we all know its just pulp and we thus don't have to take it too seriously and it can sit comfortably on your shelf next to all those other books that speak so clearly to your experience. this aesthetic and this culture are definitely out there and just because someone might not recognize it for what it is in the terms in which it was described doesn't mean the person describing it doesn't have a sense of what he's talking about.

Graham said...

david,

I think you're right on in alot of ways about the dororo cover, but I can't say "enough with that" about the orientalism stuff when you seem to have described those of us who would argue that japanese culture could be "orientalized" as "sorta arrogant and paternalistic and probably a little racist." If i'm accused of sorta probably racism, I feel the need to respond.

First, again, there's no need for orientalism to refer strictly to the middle east; Said declares"that neither the term Orient nor the concept of the West has any ontological stability (xvii) - in other words, what we might declare to be the occident and the orient is fluid, and in this case both Anon and I are making (I think a valid) case for Japan as Orient.

So what is Orientalism? It is "a project whose dimensions take in such disparate realms as the imagination itself, the whole of India and the Levant, the Biblical texts and the Biblical lands, the spice trade ...etc etc...many Eastern sects, philosophy, and wisdoms domesticated for local European use" (and post-WWII, American use) (4). In other words, Orientalism is the capturing of "Oriental" culture for the use of the "Occident," with an emphasis on the Orient's difference from the Occident, which is exactly what having a geisha on a cover gives you - an exoticized other, and a far cry from Tatsumi's urban wasteland as depicted on the cover of The Push Man - an urban alley that would look very much like a Western alley if more of the signs were in English.

Finally, although Japan was never explicitly colonized, Said's definition includes the Orient as anything the West wanted to dominate and exoticize for its own purposes, and if Commodore Perry sailing to Japan with an armada, threatening Japan with military force if they did not trade with the U.S., isn't an example of Orientalism, I don't know what is.

There, I've had my say. I'll keep debating if you respond, but if you want to let it rest that's fine too. And I wouldn't mind hearing what Anon has to say, wherever they may be.

brandon said...

I think David's explaining my side quite well and we did discuss my post in the car yesterday so yeah, he's on it..

Quick points:
-Ditto on Orientalism though. It's referring to the Middle East. Check out Edward Said guys...you're talking plain ol' racism/stereotyping.

-Never said the Catalan version was "original" just that it's preferable to the new one especially in terms of American re-issues of his work.

-I'm glad this is spurring discussion.

-Why not just use the Japanese originals then? Not because they're "truer" or "pure"--I addressed this in the post--but because they provide a historical context and when you re-issue shit, part of what you're doing is history or deconstructive history.

-If we're bringing up Said--or trying to, zing!--we know about Authorial intent, right? And how it's sort of a load and/or an impossibility to determine? And so, in the small world of comics let's go for historical context and not "I decided Tatsumi's work is like Tomines"

-I think the Vertical reissues are dope. Still problematic though.

-As I said, if these were being marketed at like high-brow types or were being republished as wacky "conventional" Manga and it was like the character from "Just a Man" dancing with the Geisha riding a dragon and doing a Kung Fu on some Naruto shit, I'd be parodying that audience too.

-The difference in audience though is that this "hipster" audience often considers and presents itself as particularly thoughtful and this or that, and slowly appropriate parts of culture in often negative ways. See: My other love in life, RAP MUSIC.

Anonymous said...

you're using a pretty narrow set of parameters to define "orientalism" and one that's pretty at odds with how most of academia uses the term.

i think discussing the covers at this point is a bit like beating a dead horse, but these arguments are all over the place:

"in the case of the tatsumi books, the tempering of the highly charged images from the stories in those muted soft palette pastels and design 101 fonts sorta castrates the work by lumping it together with the sort of "highly personal" narrative navel-gazing that is generally presented with a similar aesthetic, like, this book has some tough subject matter but we all know its just pulp and we thus don't have to take it too seriously"

well, which is it, a highly personal, navel gazing aesthetic, or a pulp one? since those two don't have much overlap. i think this argument would make more sense if the violent image was just a profile of someone's face, or someone in repose - then i would get a parallel between this tatsumi cover and, say, the book jacket to Shortcomings. but it seems to me using muted colors and simple text is a way of letting the image stand alone as something violent and shocking - if they combined it with distressed type and blood splattered in the background, it'd immediately read as tacky and exploitative.

" just because someone might not recognize it for what it is in the terms in which it was described doesn't mean the person describing it doesn't have a sense of what he's talking about"

you couldn't ask for a more precise example of someone not knowing what they're talking about than what you just described. brandon's lumping aesthetics and visual cues together because he doesn't like their associations, but hasn't really demonstrated an ability to define them or even recognize them at all.

brandon said...

Anon-
First, you got a name? Really, the Anonymous thing is terrible, I don't need an email or nothing but if your name is "Barry" how about that?

Re: Orientalism. I know this is the internet so you can just say anything and not back it up but Orientalism is, at least as I and most people I know, the use (and abuse) of Middle East, Arab, and Islamic cultures.

While yes, it could be extended to Japan--this simply isn't how it's generally discussed. By the vague sense of Orientalism you guys want to apply, it could apply to the exploitation of American black culture (something I've written about in many places w/o lumping it in with Said's thesis), but yeah, come on guys...

I know Wikipedia isn't like the #1 source on earth but we can all meet there I think, so yeah, read this...

Like, this is one of those things where Graham would benefit from just being like "Okay, I used the wrong term" because as I said above, you'd never discuss say, a rapper like Asher Roth in terms of Orientalism even though by Said's broad definition it would apply. You said Orientalism because this involves Asian people--"Orientals" as my aging racist Grandpa might say--and now you're backtracking which is silly. You won't lose any points by being like "whoops man". Graham, you weren't called a racist by David, the choice you made by connecting this to Orientalism was racist.

Back to Anonymous-
You're playing law school undergrad or something by suggesting there's nothing manipulative or connotative about the Tatsumi reissues. If you isolate a single frame or a part of frame and use it as a cover, you're implying a lot without blood splatters...think of those All Star Superman dividers in the trades which blow-up a small piece of a page and totally change the sense you get from it.

Re: "Hipsters" (which is really just an issue of audience). You're really mistaking my critiques of the aesthetics adopted for these reissues as some like deep-rooted dislike of "hipsters" or something. It's simply an audience issue.

Look, the designs for all of these look cool and all but they're problematic because they're forcing the work into ANOTHER wrong context.

That's to say, there ain't nothing we can do about the 1988 Catalan version of the original version, but we can avoid their recontextualizations by not lumping it into a pre-established--and wholly different look and style--because it's convenient or "cool", which is what D & Q or Vertical...or Criterion sometimes or New York Times Review of Books or Continuum or whatever do.

In terms of now recognizing or explaining these "visual cues", I apologize for assuming I could keep this entry to somehow readable length and make a few assumptions about the design. Assumptions that the earlier commenters got--even if they disagreed--until you guys derailed the discussion. I think "Wes Anderson hues" and all it implies doesn't need to footnoted or hyper-explained.

Lastly, why doesn't this just work like music re-issues?? Rarely does a record label reissue an original album with different art. The only one I can think of is Shuggie Otis' "Inspiration Information" (google it) and it's a prime example of making a cover that has little to do with the intent of the music inside.

The only other thing album reissues sometimes do is provide you with the "original" art vs. the one a label decided and even that is sort of pointless since part of a reissue is providing it with its original meanings.

Concluding (for now), it isn't that the original is perfect or ideal, especially in music (older music even more so) where labels possessed insane power over artists not unlike say Jack Kirby and Marvel or something, but that it's the most reasonable way to do it....

Graham said...

brandon,

a couple of brief things.

first, there is no distinction between me being a racist and me making a racist connection. this is the classic "sure, I have sex with men, that doesn't make me gay" argument. it doesn't fly. thus when politicians say "oh, i said a racist thing but i'm not actually a racist" everyone laughs at them.

second, i quoted said to you. that quote made it clear that orientalism can extend far, far beyond the middle east...for said. many others have perhaps taken it farther, i don't know, it's not my academic specialty. but if you'd like to read the actual said quotes I listed, rather than refer me to wikipedia, i would welcome that.

i will close with a wikipedia quote, one which is not from the said entry that you gave us but from the entry on orientalism: "These meanings were given a new twist by 20th century scholar Edward Said in his controversial 1978 book Orientalism, where he uses the term to describe a Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of hostile and deprecatory views of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. When used in this sense, Oientalism implies essentializing and prejudiced outsider interpretations of Eastern cultures and peoples."

brandon said...

Graham-
I'm glad we can keep wasting our time with Orientalism debate some more and my way more interesting points can be ignored. We can go back and forth on this forever dude, my only point and really David's is, "Orientalism" as a term rarely connects to Japan in this sense. In all my academic career, this is rarely how it's used/termed/etc.

That said, if we want to extend it that far, well then, what D & Q's doing is a form of Orientalism too.

One can be a man, have sex with men, and not be gay but I guess I see your point. Still, one can stumble into or accidentally express a racist thought, expression and idea and it not encompass their life. If by your definition you're a racist, then hang your head and get real sad about it...no one here was like "Dude, you're an fucking racist" just that your language stumbled in that direction.

I'll wait for the other more interesting points to be addressed...

brandon said...

Also, this is exactly what I mean by comics fans being soft babies about everything...

Graham said...

brandon,

congratulations on being right about everything. i'm such a soft baby, i'm going to go cry in the corner. sorry i couldn't grasp your more interesting ideas.

mahendra singh said...

I think what you're trying to say is that many successful comix artists today base their success mostly on visual and conceptual stylization.

Even simpler … it's easier to sell pre-commodified things to the public and the critics.

And finally, Zen-simple … make 'em think less & you'll earn more.

Gerard said...

Re: Matt the Hipster

Wait a second here. Part way down the thread, a gentleman by the name of Matt has self-idenitfied as a hipster. Is this a first? I don't know if I have ever heard anyone self-identify as a hipster. Usually "hipsters" are called out as an "other" by a demographic that could probably be described as "hipsters." You dig? Not that I pretend to be clear on what the term actually means. As far as this article goes, the "hipster" is often brought up as the "straw man" in these kind of weird unfounded attacks so I was alarmed to see one of these hipster persons step forward!!

Gerard said...

I must add: I do agree with you in that I do think "shoddiness" is aok in a lot of ways. Depending on what it is. No need for a Garfield hardcover but who knows what is on the horizon. I don't see the design of Tatsumi's new book as all that "fancy" though. It's simple. It fits the purpose. He himself is probably stoked on his new resurgence late in life. He probably doesn't divide his readers into "hipster" and "non-hipster." Your old 80's cornball "oriental" Tatsumi is fine as an artifact and you may hold it close but why in the world would D and Q publish something that looks like that now!!?? It would be absurd!

brandon said...

Damn homey, you're dense. I think I'm giving up on this one. I'm also still laughing at "it's like a guy who has sex with men who says he isn't gay" comparison.

Can Shea step in? I like when people disagree with me and something might come of the conversation.

I prefer an offensive "Oriental"-y cover to a cover that completely recontextualizes the work within the realms of "alternative comics" in 2008/2009 anyday.

afdumin said...

But the Catalan version of Good-Bye is just as much a reissue/re-contextualization as the Drawn and Quarterly one. Neither replicates the original Japanese design. So really, doesn't your argument come down to liking apples over oranges?

brandon said...

afdumin-
Oy...no because I never held the Catalan one as any kind of ideal, just a preferable recontextualization, best of two evils thing...as I said, I think the best would be to just reproduce the original covers, however wrong or off, because it's like the default.