Powerful Panels: Halloween Edition Part II - What You Can't See Will Scare You: The Unseen Terrors of Naoki Urasawa

by far the most terrifying things are those which elude us
-Georges Bataille

While Jesse has taken a look at some of the more terrifying moments in the venerable horror comics genre, some of the scariest comics I've ever read aren't horror comics at all, but are sci-fi manga. Books like Otomo's Akira--seriously maybe the most terrifying thing I've ever read--and Naoki Urasawa's 20th Century Boys and Pluto are frightening not only because they ask important questions about the possible ramifications of technology, but by their creators' ability to create an atmosphere of dread centered on some unseen and terrible power.

This technique of enhancing fear by occultation certainly isn't new and it is flawed insofar as eventually you've gotta show just what it is that is so scary. Urasawa manages to avoid this flaw and thereby redefine what is scary in comics in a couple of ways. First, he doesn't rely on suspense to move his stories forward and instead reveals the nature of the threat early on--like, you know what it is but you don't know what it's going to do. Thus Urasawa's is a terror of suggestion and dread, a psychological fear which is far more awful and satisfying than mere "heart-pounding" suspense. Urasawa also stays ahead of the need to simply reveal his monsters by constantly changing the stakes in his stories, demonstrating repeatedly that everything that readers might have thought was sacred up to a certain point no longer matters at all.

20th Century Boys:

Each of the three panels shown here depicts the apocalyptic robot weapon created by the Friends cult to terrorize Tokyo in December 2000. Though each panel illustrates the same beast, each is terrifying in different ways in large measure due to their context.

20th Century Boys Volume 2

The first couple of volumes of the series are concerned with laying down the basics of the story and readers are just becoming accustomed to the rhythm of the series's jumps in time. The panel from volume 2 comes as the derelict-prophet Kamisama recounts one of his prophetic dreams. Thus readers are getting one of their first real tactile tastes of the devastation that is in store for Kenji and his friends and it is massive and foreboding.

20th Century Boys Volume 4

A lot has happened by the time we get to the next panel taken from the final pages of volume 4. Kenji's convenience store has burnt to the ground; he has been branded a terrorist by the Friends-infiltrated government; and he and his friends are now living underground preparing to fight an enemy they know next to nothing about. As Kenji and his childhood friend Otcho are led by the Friend himself into the warehouse where the robot is being stored, the scale of the thing is apparent. Kenji's observation that the thing's glowing eyes seemed to be watching them pretty much nails the terror in this panel.

20th Century Boys Volume 5

Volume 5 of 20th Century Boys is a prime example of Urasawa's tendency to change the stakes in the middle the game. This final panel comes early in the volume, right after the group's abortive attempt to kidnap the Friend's right-hand man, now an important government minister. The date is December 31, 2000, zero hour for the Friends' millenarian plans. But when you see that robot moving through the streets of Tokyo, just at the moment Kenji and his group seem at their weakest, you cannot help but think, this isn't the way this is supposed to happen. The good guys are supposed to stop the nefarious plans of the villains and go on to live happy lives, right? In short measure it becomes clear that this isn't right at all and this is precisely why Urasawa is so good at terrifying readers again and again.


Each of the panels or pages I've scanned from Pluto also depict the same thing, even though they sorta don't. At a basic level, each panel shows Pluto, a robot bent on destroying each of the world's most advanced robots. The reason for my equivocation, however, is that as Pluto develops, it becomes clear that the identity of the eponymous character is a bit more complex than it first appears.

Pluto Volume 1

This page, taken from the early pages of the series's first volume, show the robot detective Gesicht reviewing the memory chip of a security robot that was destroyed. As the page indicates, the robot's attention was distracted for a split second by what appears to be a human, jumping from one building to another so quickly that the robot only registers it as a blur. That suggestive blur, so minuscule and yet powerful enough to distract a robot-cop sufficiently to allow a drug addled hoodlum to destroy him is among the series first terrifying moments.

Pluto Volume 2

This next page also depicts Pluto, in this case as he prepares to destroy the Turkish warrior robot Brando. Pluto's obscured appearances in these early volumes is terrifying not only because we never get a complete picture of the thing, but also because of his ability to summarily destroy what are supposed to be the world's most powerful weapons. Finally, take another look at the close-up of Pluto's eyes; there is a humanity to them that enhances the terror, an effect that will be magnified in later illustrations.

Pluto Volume 3

This panel from volume 3 is a bit of an oddball, since it only becomes clear later in the series that the giant in the desert is probably Pluto. At this point in the story, however, all we know is that this terrifying silhouette was seen by a small Persian boy just after his village had been completely destroyed in the war. The terror of this image comes from a compounding of the creepiness of the obscured image itself, the massiveness of the figure and the disabling terror that the image has wrought into the little boy.

Pluto Volume 6

The final page, coming near the end of volume 6, shows the confrontation between Pluto--or what we've known as Pluto for most of the series--and Gesicht. What is terrible about the images on this page is not just those horrible gnashing teeth at the top of the page, though they are frightening enough, but even more those eyes, that look of terror, anguish and recognition that is so very human. As I mentioned above, you get a suggestion of this in the panel from volume 2, but in this case it is more extreme. At this point in the story, we have a better idea of what Pluto is, his origins and identity and thus the suffering in those eyes is more devastating. With this volume, as with volume 5 of 20th Century Boys, Urasawa completely changes the stakes and it is unclear what direction the series will take in volume 7.

Powerful Panels: Halloween Edition

It's Halloween and Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader? has decided to celebrate with some fear-filled, powerful panels. Horror is a genre with a lot of comics' history behind it (duh) and it's fascinating to see how that root, horror-influence and the grammar it developed bleeds into nearly every kind of comic. Sometimes there's still just plain old, awesome horror comics, others up the gore or the details, and some graft the signs and signifiers of horror into comics that from the outside, have little to do with the genre. No matter what, you see the powerful horror style in nearly every type of comic.

The Drifting Classroom by Kazuo Umezu

This is a classic Horror manga from the 70s, and the above panel depicts one of the big revelations in the book. This is the first time the main character, Sho, has confronted the current situation of the school. The premise is that after an earthquake an elementary school is transported to some alien wasteland. The fear comes in watching a school full of children essentially riot and the way their teachers have to deal with it. There's no monsters or ghosts so a lot of the fear is psychological and rooted in human survival instincts. It's a bit like a zombie movie.

Umezu does an excellent job of making the landscape look horrific and it acts essentially, as a monster. This double page spread actually isn't the first time the reader has seen the landscape. There is a double page spread directly before this when the teachers first notice the landscape. Sho's double page is more significant because he's the main character but also because he's the first child to see the situation. It's just the landscape and his face really hammering in the effect of this event on Sho. Although he freaks out at first, he's one of the first truly able to come to terms with these catastrophic circumstances. Sho is deeply distressed but seeing the situation actually helps him come to terms with it.

Swamp Thing by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson

This could have been any number of panels from this classic run on Swamp Thing. Wein and Wrightson build a tense and psychologically taxing atmosphere. This is a classic Horror comic through and through, but the twist is, the hero's the monster. This set of panels really shows how the horror of the narrative works. There's no shocking surprises; just a meandering inevitability to the events.

It's a subtle technique that is demonstrated in these panels. Swamp Thing is obscured at first and through each panel takes up more room even forcing out the shooter's speech bubbles. The final, and most powerful panel, puts the reader in the shooters' position. We're forced to stare at a face that isn't particularly scary to us, just kind of weird, but we're coaxed into the same reaction as the shooter because of his position in the panel. He's not scared of Swamp Thing, but he's horrified by the realization that there's absolutely nothing he can do to stop death.

The Maximortal by Rick Veitch

This isn't a typical horror comic, but so much in it is just plain gruesome. Veitch re-imagines the Superman myth with a big twist: this super-being has all the same flaws as a regular human. So, as in the panel above, if he throws a temper tantrum he's able to pulverize you in the process. The real-life idea Vietch addresses here is a unbalanced relationship between parent and child. It's the sort of situation that you come across in maybe the mall or toy store. You'll see a clearly spoiled kid acting like an idiot and getting whatever they want.

Veitch's panel has the same gut-wrenching effects by contrasting the boys perfection against the father's mutilation, highlighting the imbalance. Part of the point Veitch makes is that many of the ideas we hold up as "perfect" grow problematic when analyzed or executed. Even though Superman works mostly as a symbol, Veitch shows that at his worst, Superman is closer to a violent, childish fantasy.

Green Lantern #43 by Geoff Jones and Doug Mahnke

There's been a lot of good recent Horror-ish super hero comics lately. It probably all started with Marvel Zombies, and includes Final Crisis #4, Blackest Night #0, #1, and this issue of Green Lantern. Probably one of the most explicit suicide scenes I've ever seen in any media. Jones actually builds to it throughout the story with a depressing tale of this C-list supervillian.

The real reason this is so chilling is Mahnke's combination of pain and a sheer blank expression on his face. It's exactly what I'd imagine a picture of this to look like. The crisp art really works by showing details like tear ducts on the sides of his eyes (for emotion) and green splattered brains (for a cringe). Of course, it's not really a suicide--the Black Hand is resurrected as a zombie Black Lantern later--but just staring at this full page spread is enough to send chills down your spine.

(Stay tuned for David's Part II. Happy Halloween!)


The Negative Zone: Release More Relevant Old Stuff!

Pepe Moreno's Rebel is the kind of junky, murky, skateboard punk future Euro-comic that once occupied it's own hard-to-place subgenre. Neither big, dumb comic book trash nor super-sophisticated art-comic, it floats around somewhere in the middle.

The kind of thing that might be jammed between more recent trades at an older comics store, or stuck in a box with some other oversized comics, water damaged. It'll feel like a relic because the past two decades of prevailing comics trends, be it the 90s adolescent-leaning hero books or the mannered, cutesy, oh-so-serious alt-comix and all that falls between, don't have much to do with something like Rebel.

And it's not like Rebel's all that good even, but the handmade feeling to the art, in contrast to its Escape from New York action comic exterior--you've been taught, by an industry of businessmen and capital-a Artists that there are no grey areas, that something is sophisticated or isn't--will just kinda confuse you in a really awesome way.

The dusty trade you uncovered will either be priced for a non-existent "collector's price" or it'll be falling apart, cracks when you open it, and at cover-price and either way, you'll leave the store without it. But it might be something you think about as it rubs up against most of your notions of comics or "comix" or Comics or "graphic novels" or whatever.

Then, you wander into Barnes & Noble--which has either replaced your local comics store or has a better selection because your local comics store is run by a bitter fuck who ran his business into the ground and curses Diamond and "the internet" for doing it--and you see, IDW's recent re-issue of Pepe Moreno's Rebel.

Or maybe you still live in a town with a good, functioning comics store, one that isn't trying to just coast along, and they ordered from Eurotica, the recent reissue of Guido Crepax's The Story of O--confusing too because it fits into no categories...it isn't the latest issue of Hot Moms and it's not by Alan Moore and priced at $120 either.

Though both of these reissues are exceptions, they're invigorating because they do sorta kinda answer something I've yelled about in my head or to other comics fans, as I see say, the useless work of Fletcher Hanks reissued or the work of Japanese innovators recontextualized as birthing North American alt-comix: Where's all that weird 70s and 80s shit? Why do I have to run to eBay for a Moebius story? Can someone reissue this stuff?!

These two reissues and this over-arching trend of non-mainstream comics shying away from the alt-comix trend of insularity have me excited for how comic books for "smart people" evolve, but it's gotta keep going. These should be as frequent as designed-by-Seth reissues of 60s kiddie comics and a mess of oddities from some never-remembered Golden-Age weirdo. The act of reissuing is obviously complex and weird and often done for fun, not profit, but well, I just hope it can extend to stuff that's even a harder sell than the comics that do get reissued.

But it seems that the reasons for not reissuing something like Rebel are a little more nefarious. Clearly, it's rooted in what sells and doesn't sell and what's available to reissue (rights and all that good stuff) but it's a kind of self-fulfilling thing, wherein trippy, Heavy Metal-era comics aren't what people want and therefore aren't worth re-releasing because they haven't been released.

And worse, they've been sorta kinda pushed out of comic book history. This quasi-erasure relates to three things, all of them industry-oriented:

1. It does not really benefit Marvel or DC to take note of these things because they were either not publishing it all or were publishing it in the past and now, can't work it inside their mythology. That's to say, it isn't Batman or Spiderman, what's it gotta do with making money in 2009?

2. It does not really benefit the smaller companies, especially the tastemakers like Fantagraphics or Top Shelf to try to republish this stuff because their bread and butter is still very much the overtly sophisticted, gets-write-ups-in-the-New York Times type comics, be it personal, arty stuff made now or lost pieces of early comics history.

3. For many of the comics historians and comics thinkers, stuff like Heavy Metal, etc. doesn't fit into the narrative they're constructing in classrooms, at SPX panels, and on NPR or wherever. It takes too much explanation. Even say, Howard the Duck can be turned into a narrative about iconoclastic creators left to do whatever because a growing comics behemoth was totally not growing during the heavy 70s.

Of course, these comics also occupy a weird place in terms of relevance, rights, availability and all that, but those seem secondary to the way that something as not even that great as Rebel fucks with expectations. A company like IDW and maybe even BOOM! or Image if they were to get into the field of reissuing, are ideal because they don't have a dog in the fight like "the big two"--or the tastemaking two or three--and really, it would only benefit them to start dishing out some nice-looking, affordable weird 70s Euro stuff. They'd not only be filling an important gap in comics history, but quietly usurping many of the accepted notions, convenient notions of where certain comics fit. And that's a really good thing.


Foundation's Edge Fall Sale Haul

Here's what I said about The Foundation's Edge fall sale last year. It's all true this year too:
"Foundation's Edge in Raleigh, North Carolina is probably maybe the best comics store in the world. The people who work there--well at least the owner and the main dude working--are really nice and helpful and know their shit, it's got any and every new issue each week, and an insane amount of back issues, dusty old graphic novels, a stellar collection of porno comics, and a ton of other great stuff, and it's all at ridiculously kind prices. It's a store that's never gotten rid of anything, obviously blossomed during the smart 80s comics boom, weathered the 90s turd-comics storm, and keeps going.

Well, over the past few weeks, plastered on lightpoles and university bulletin boards around Hilsborough Street have been flyers for a big sale, and so, after work, Monique and I headed over there with high hopes but also a boatload of cynicism because other than Baltimore's Cosmic Comix, "comic store sale" usually translates to "take these issues of Shadowhawk off my hands and oh yeah, here's a bunch of XXL T-shirts for 9.99 instead of 17.99!" We were greeted at the door--did I mention these guys are actually friendly?!--with the flyer above and raced upstairs to the back issues and manga and action figures. A bunch of stuff had been put out on tables and marked down to ridiculous sales prices, everything from kinda recent hardback collections to old-as-shit RPG books and tons of weird European stuff."
And also like last year, the money spent (Monique and I's total: $105.35) pretty much means I spent my checks from this and this all on comics! But blah blah blah, let's dig into the haul...

Brandon's Haul:

  • Dare: The Controversial Memoir of Dan Dare #2 & #3 by Grant Morrison & Rian Hughes
  • The issues run like $4 a piece, so I waited until this sale to pick up the next two--still need #4, they didn't have it--but this is just really awesome series. It's basically a take on Miller’s Dark Knight Returns wherein an aged icon—this time Britain’s much-loved Dan Dare—feels the need to get back into the game, only this time he doesn’t go back to his superheroics, he agrees to shill for the Thatcher-esque Conservative party. Imagine if a retired Batman, so bored of life in his old age, picked up a call from Dick Cheney or something around 2004 and helped get Bush and pals re-elected. It’s actually far more dystopian than anything Miller could ever think of.
  • The Last Generation: Book I by Bryer, Foust, & Parch
  • Sammy grabbed the issues of these at comic-con and BLAM! Foundation's Edge had a trade of the first three issues for 2 bucks. Am really excited to read this. Just as an aside...one of the really funny/sad/awesome things about this sale was that some of the stuff I couldn't find anywhere at Comic-Con is just sitting in Foundation's Edge. Not sure what that says about the con, really. Haven't read this yet but it looks insane and there's a cool intro from Chuck Dixon in which he sort of presents the series as somehow, an uncynical post-apocalypse story!
  • Negative Burn #12, #18, & #20
  • These have some stray Paul Pope stories and that's why I got them. Serioulsy--these were at the top of my list for comic-con but they were nowhere to be found, but they're all rotting away in a whitebox in Raleigh, NC. The stories are an illustrated version of part of Engles' eulogy to Marx, a fucked-up Clowes-ian Christmas tale, and one of Pope's signature 90s, smokey autobiographical tales about a dude he met whose girlfriend drowned. Back issues were 40% off, so each of these was around 2 bucks!!!
  • Optimism of Youth by Jack Jackson
  • The Secret of San Saba by Jack Jackson
  • Jack Jackson or "Jaxon" as he's usually known is an underground artist whose work I've been seeking out lately and again, couldn't find any of at comic-con but found these two trades. The thing about stores like Foundation's Edge, which came out when the weird, indie comics boom of the early 80s was there is that they just have so much shit in boxes and piles and for a sale or just every once in a while they sort some of it and stick it on the shelves. I've never seen these in the store until today but they're long OOP, so they probably were unearthed and put on the shelf at cover price--the store's nice like that. One is a bunch of Jaxon's weird, trippy strip type stories and one is somehow about Spanish explorers and Apaches and a giant-ass bug. Looks awesome.

  • The Story of O by Guido Crepax
  • Just re-released in a pretty nice and fairly affordable hardback, made more affordable when all the trades are 35% off. I love artsy-fartsy porno comixxx.

Monique's Haul:

  • Gon: Underground by Masashi Tanaka
  • Gon is everything a manga reader wants without any extra variables. Gon is both a loner and a fighter so that solves the whole "antagonist/protagonist" element but it's the art that reaches above and beyond to both make reading easier and compensate for the heavy nature focus. The bonus here is that it fulfills the quick-reading dream of NO TEXT but still is able to be funny and cute. "Underground" is a collection of stories dealing with well, underground dwellers such as ants and prairie dogs.
  • Magical Pokemon Journey by Yumi Tsukirino
  • Pokemon comics are weird. You want to be really into them and sometimes they can be really awful. I mostly bought this one because it was a dollar and it features some STAR pokemons like jigglypuff and magikarp. If they made these color, it would redeem all problems 100%.
  • Man-Thing: Whatever Knows Fear... by Hans Rodionoff & Kyle Hotz
  • Man-Thing is kind of like this ugly dog breed that the general population thinks is ugly but a certain sect thinks they are the cutest thing ever. I think Man-Thing is cute. I don't think I'd think so in real life but as a cartoon, he's just a stringy, mossy, blob with body builder attributes. Anyway, this collection includes both modern Man-Thangs and 70's Man-Thangs which illuminates a lot of the differences between modern comics and bronze age comics. The biggest contrast, at least for me, is in the art styles but most notably, the coloring. The bronze age stuff just uses color fearlessly which just means the sky is bright blue and a man's shirt is bright yellow while the modern 'mics just struggle for mood and style. Even though Man-Thing is "scary", why does it have to look "scary"? I don't think I'll ever really understand the obviousness of mainstream, modern comics.

  • Morphos The Shapechanger by Burne Hogarth
  • This is really something else. No, seriously. A really great essay prefacing this unfinished work by Gary Groth, of Fantagraphics and The Comics Journal, describes Hogarth as "adapting to the needs of the genre and the character." Morphos is a super-hero like character that is the result of Merlin the wizard, trapped in crystal after falling in love with the Lady of the Lake and getting played, wanting to make the human race greater through his own DNA contained in his hair. The hair is given to a female commercial scientist who eventually, with the help of her partner, is able to conceive Morphos by injecting the embryo into herself. Unfortunately, the company she works for catches on to her plans and most of the completed story is her running from the owners of the company she works for with her co-worker. The story remains unfinished because Hogarth died but the book includes the written epilogue that he constructed as a skeleton for the story. Morphos is eventually able to change shapes but is not capable of true violence. The art is incredibly detailed in color and line-craft so it's especially a shame that he wasn't able to get to the shapeshifting part of the story because he would have been able to do an incredible job of translating that into pictures. 

  • Pink Flamingos: Bring Down the Night by John R. Sanevere, Carol Q. Sansevere & William Rieser
  • This is just a Miami Vice-like story using 4 young women who are in a club called, not surprisingly, "The Pink Flamingos." The art is completely like the cover and all in color. There's not a lot of information on this or the second book on the internets but thats probably because it's put out by Angel Entertainment,Inc but is also called a "Simon & Schuster Graphic Novel."
  • Space Fantasies Vol 1, Number One by Some Weirdos
  • Half-porno comic and half-super hero comic, this is, ultimately, just some weird fan-made 70's comic.
  • Street Fighter by Len Strazewski & Don Hillsman
  • [No Comment]

  • Wallace's Wood's The Wizard King, The King of the World by Wallace Wood
  • I've never read LotR. I've seen the LotR movies but I don't remember them. So, I don't really understand how this compares to LotR but it is said to be similar. Basically, this dwarf-man is tricked into becoming a hero to save the world from an evil force/god. I'm dying to find parts two and three.
  • The World of Ginger Fox by Mike Baron & Mitch O'Connell
  • Brandon Graham has mentioned this one before. It's a really weird (like) 80's feminism story. Basically, Ginger Fox becomes the CEO of a movie production company while also falling in love with one of the asian, lead actors in one of the in-production kung-fu movies. Hollywood old-heads try to take her down but she makes it out on top...Murphy Brown style...or not.
  • Tuesday and Thursday, Queens Blvd, and Dream Big Dreams by Andrew Zaben
  • Altogether, these cost 4 dollars so, I thought it was worth the risk. The art is AWFUL. Seriously, just awful...no use of perspective and sometimes, it's even hard to tell the different characters apart. The stories have this 90's feel to them-- introspective but weirdly self-obsessed. There's a lot of "meaningful conversations" and love triangle type stuff usually umbrella-ed by some larger problem. The "umbrella" of Dream Big Dreams, for example, is the question a bar owner faces when given the option to turn his bar into a franchise. The people who patronize his bar don't want it because it's sort of this old-indie-dude-dive bar but his wife sees those dollar $igns. I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it through them completely but for now, I've convinced myself that I'm into this 90's story aesthetic (even though, I realized I'm much more into it when used with young people--My So-Called Life, Clarissa Explains it All, Blossom--than with older folks who have jobs and marriages, etc.)


The Art of Osamu Tezuka - God of Manga

In a section entitled “Negative Viewpoints,” which comes toward the end of her new monograph, The Art of Osamu Tezuka – God of Manga, Helen McCarthy alludes to a review of the English-language edition of Ode to Kirihito that appeared in the Anime News Network’s Right Turn Only blog, which stated, in effect, that one doesn’t speak of weaknesses when considering Tezuka’s work because he hadn’t any. As McCarthy sagely points out, such fawning serves little purpose and it is just this sort of mythologizing that has prevented, in English at least, the emergence of any serious critical evaluation of his work.

This is one of the underlying themes and intentions to which McCarthy continually refers throughout the book: only when the gloss of myth has been wiped away, can we fully appreciate the significance of Tezuka’s accomplishments. Here also is a major example of the sort of oppositional tension that McCarthy negotiates in order to justly treat this vast subject.

It’s this same tension that allowed McCarthy to pull off what I think is the book’s greatest coup: balancing the needs and expectations of an audience that will be unevenly split between Tezuka fans and academics. One of the problems of the lack of a vibrant critical tradition for comics in this country is that what critical literature there is tends to bend too far in one direction or the other, rather than speaking to both audiences. McCarthy here includes enough neat little tidbits that will wow fans—such as the anecdote about how Tezuka turned down Stanley Kubrick’s offer to hire him to do design work for 2001: A Space Odyssey—while also including information about new discoveries of old comics or Kodansha’s plans to make Tezuka's entire œuvre available in translation online, that will hopefully spur budding academics to continue the work she has begun. And of course there is the art.

Crime and Punishment

From the perspective of a reader with pretensions to serious criticism, but whose only access to Tezuka has been the small portions of his works that have been as yet translated into English, what McCarthy’s book does is contextualize Tezuka and his work in terms of the broader history of art and culture. Thus, in the sequence reprinted from his 1953 adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, we are not only afforded the opportunity to see the incredible level of compositional innovation at this early stage in his career, but also how Tezuka married storytelling techniques rooted in the cinema and his Japanese predecessors to the world’s great philosophical and moral literature.


McCarthy also documents how throughout much of his career, Tezuka was viewed by critics as being passé—an artist who relied on overly simplified characterizations in an idiom rooted in the past—and how this critical ambivalence spurred much of his most interesting work and perhaps more than anything else was responsible for his ability to remain relevant for so long. Books such as MW, Ode to Kirihito and especially Black Jack reflected Tezuka’s attempts to wrestle with his own incorruptibly humanist outlook in the face of the great evil present in the world. Black Jack was originally conceived as a sort of cipher to tie together a four-part miniseries celebrating his career and showcasing all of his characters. The character was so popular with readers, however, that he was ultimately given his own series, allowing Tezuka to explore the medical career for which he trained, but gave up in order to continue making comics. Black Jack is the touchstone of Tezuka’s moral universe and embodies the tension inherent to all of the artist’s mature works between his dogged faith in humanity and the power of good deeds and the realization that all is not well in the world.

Give a God a Break

In the past year, a couple of autobiographical manga—Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life and Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary—have explored the unfathomable pressures under which comics creators in Japan frequently work. In the case of the latter book, it led Azuma to drop all of his responsibilities and go homeless—twice. The film that is bundled with McCarthy’s book is remarkable for its providing documentary evidence of this editorial pressure. In the movie’s first few minutes we see Tezuka set up in the apartment that he stays in five days/week to work. The only person allowed within this sacred workspace is his wife—assistants and editors can come no farther than the entryway. As an assistant pops in to bring Tezuka his dinner, he lets the artist know that an editor wants him to call.

The exchange between the two that follows is illuminating; the assistant continually urging Tezuka to call in the face of the artist’s stubborn assertions that all the editor wants to know is when the work will be finished. Indeed, the pressure of deadlines is perhaps the controlling theme of this short documentary. The entire first section is concerned with the race to meet a deadline so that Tezuka can attend a planned Franco-Japanese cultural exchange in Paris. As the deadline looms closer and it becomes clear that the installments will not be finished in time to make his flight, new reservations are made for the following day. Even then, Tezuka struggles to finish the work and the episode culminates with Tezuka sitting in the backseat of a car waiting outside the airport terminal, hurriedly scribbling pages until it’s decided he can complete them on the plane and fax them from Paris. As if this scenario were not humiliating enough, viewers are then allowed into a publisher’s strategy meeting in which the suits comment that Tezuka gives editors hemorrhoids and that the best way to treat the man who has redefined the comics and animation industries over four decades is to drag the work out of him.

Lots of Neat Shit

Tezuka & Moebius - Kyoto, 1982

There is something incongruous about seeing a photograph such as the one above depicting Osamu Tezuka seated beside Moebius in some idyllic Kyoto setting in 1982. It’s like reading about that dinner at The Majestic in 1922, attended by Marcel Proust and James Joyce. You think about it and you’re like, “yeah, of course that would happen,” but somehow it still feels, I don’t know, supernatural? In any event, I realize that it’s rather a crass way of putting it, but aside from the excellent framework it provides for beginning a systematic evaluation of the man and his work, The Art of Osamu Tezuka – God of Manga is valuable for the wealth of neat shit it contains, of which this photograph is emblematic. Other examples are the images of the earliest comics drawn by Tezuka—one, Pin Pin Sei-chan, was drawn when the artist was in fifth grade—discussions of his experimental animation and even an image of a page in which Tezuka laid out the “Star System,” under which his various iconic characters ‘performed’ in many of his series.

Pin Pin Sei-chan

It is difficult to imagine the scope of the task that McCarthy took upon herself. Contending with a body of work as massive as Tezuka’s and coming out with a book that is beautiful, useful and legitimately informative is no mean feat. The danger of creating a book of this nature is that it will sell poorly and ultimately end up on the remainders shelves of bookstores, snatched up for a small fraction of the original asking price. I think in this case, however, such a fate is unlikely and indeed hope that the book engenders the further critical assessment of Tezuka’s work that McCarthy seeks.


Baltimore Comic-Con 2009 - Brandon's Take

Let me reveal this blog's "cards" a bit: You're getting these nerded-out lists of the random-ass comics we all bought at the Baltimore Comic-Con because that's what comics and comic conventions are about. Not getting poor old Jeph Loeb to sign six copies of Spiderman: Blue or those tiny slivers of industry insider information the big three (I'm counting IMAGE as big at this point) mindfully drop to you, the comics reader. It's about comics.

That said...it was especially about comics this year for all of us because well, we didn't really attend any of the panels and autographs are for suckers. The panels, this year relegated not to their own rooms as in past years but these weird, flimsy, roof-less structures in the back corner of the main room of the con, meaning the roar of the crowd or "your kid is missing!" announcements, over-powered the actual panels making them totally not fun to sit and listen to. Really. This was awful. Disrespectful to the fans and the creators.

Really, if there's ever some kind of sad-sack movie a la The Wrestler about comics artists, there'll be a scene in which the artist tries to speak to a group of adoring fans in a shit-ass, half-structure room, with bad sound, made worse by a loud-ass crowd like nine feet away. The weekend was fun at the time, the not attending panels hardly a big deal, but a few days later I feel a little bit like I didn't really get my $25 bucks worth. Still, when it came to comics, it didn't disappoint...

Awesome Undergrounds
Because I had more money than usual--and I've been super into porn comics as of late--I went hard on kinda expensive underground stuff. It's main appeal for me has been the realization of just how insane this stuff remains...and how artistically interesting it is too. That's to say, if you're making "indie" comics nowadays, chances are you should look at this kind of shit and just feel ashamed. Freak Brothers was a comic that I was into when I was in middle-school--via reprints obviously--and Bode is an obvious legend, so the only "risk" I really took was on Inner-City Romance which turned out to me well worth it. A sort of fine-art, proto-graffiti, urban nightmare sex comic. I'll be on the hunt for the first four issues of this series.
  • The Complete Cheech Wizard Vol 1 by Vaughn Bode
  • Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers #6 by Gilbert Shelton
  • Inner-City Romance #5 by Guy Collwell
  • Junkwaffel #3 by Vaughn Bode
Cheap, Random, Back Issues
All these were from one dude with $1 comics whiteboxes that became 15 comics for $10 if you could find enough stuff. Between Monique and I, were got thirty issues from dude. The only thing here I went in looking for was the Hellboy: Weird Tales because it has a story by Gene Colan and the idea of Colan illustrating the Hellboy universe is too much. That said, I also found the issue of Casanova I didn't have, one of the few Concrete things I didn't have, some dope Eduardo Risso illustrated stuff and some recent Corben too.
  • Casanova #4 by Fraction & Ba
  • Concrete: Eclectica #2 by Paul Chadwick
  • The Exploits of the Junior Carrot Patrol by Rick Geary
  • Haunt of Horror: Edgar Allan Poe #3 by Richard Corben & Rich Margopoulos
  • Hellboy: Weird Tales #6
  • Johnny Double #1-4 by Azzarello & Risso
  • Swamp Thing #7 by Corben & Pfeifer
  • Weird Western Tales #3
Some Trades
You can really clean-up on trades at the comic-con, everyone's offering them at like 50% off or 3 for the price of 1 and all kinds of good stuff. Still though, it's mainly stuff you see all the time and well, at this point in my comics reading career, I get cynical towards stuff that's seen everywhere, unless it's just plain awesome. So, I picked up Red Colored Elegy for $8 bucks, mainly because the only thing that's stopped me from reading it has been it's high cover price. Also, copped this old Elementals trade for $2 from these guys with lots of old Heavy Metals and shit.
  • Elementals: The Natural Order by Bill Willingham
  • Red Colored Elegy by Seichi Hayashi
Trying to complete the run of all the Eastman and Laird-drawn issues and really only need issue 3 at this point. TMNT is just an underground comic really. The art has much more in common with the straggly, nervous cartooning of Shelton or even, Crumb than anything else out there. But then it's basically a trippy Jack Kirby-inspired, Frank Miller-tinged party-action comic or something. I mean you know all this already though...
  • Michaelangelo One-Shot by Eastman & Laird
  • TMNT #2 by Eastman & Laird



Baltimore Comic-Con 2009: Jesse's Take

This was my third year attending the comic-con, and this year I went in with a different approach: the list. We can all agree that the main objective is to take advantage of the flea-market atmosphere and get some great deals on comics. So, it was only natural to take the game to the next level. Maybe I just couldn't handle the next level, but the list had mixed results. I'd definitely get disappointed when a well organized booth wouldn't have anything I was looking for or everything was overpriced. I could really only keep a couple things from my fairly long list in my head, and while I was looking for one thing I'd get distracted by something completely different.

It's the surprises that are really the highlight of the comic-con though. If you're just going to come with a printed-out list of every comic you own and try and fill in the gaps you're not really doing it. You got to go with the flow and see what pops out at you. The list had it's moments helping to keep certain titles in my mind, but next year, any list I take will be short and consulted infrequently.

The biggest surprise for me was probably the highlight of my comic-con and that was the blog's good friend Larry Marder. I hadn't had a chance to meet him in the past and was interested in introducing myself as a fan. The first day I was lost in the throngs of people and missed out, but that night inspired by David's drawing he made to participate in the Beanworld sketch exchange I drew one of my own. The next day I handed it in and spoke with Mr. Marder and got to see first hand what I had heard: that he is a intelligent, friendly, and genuine person. As I turned in my sketch it brought about some laughs and he started sketching immediately so I didn't get a chance to ask for specifically what I wanted. When I saw he was drawing exactly what I envisioned I said, "Wow, that's exactly what I was going to ask for. You read my mind. " He promptly responded, "No, Beanworld did."

And that about sums it up. Come to get great deals and end up getting your mind read by Beanworld. I did get lots of great deals though:

Haul Highlights

The Maximortal by Rick Veitch
One of the classics right here. A super hero deconstruction that is actually thoughtful and gripping. Finally glad I got it and can't wait to read it again.

The Mystery of Mary Rodgers by Rick Geary.
Blanche Goes to New York by Rick Geary
Got to catch them all.

Challengers of the Unknown #1 by Leob and Sale

Space Usagi 92' #2 96' #2 by Stan Sakai
All the quality of Usagi Yojimbo.....in Space.

Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil by Jeff Smith
Big Jeff Smith fan and found the issues for real cheap. I've seen pages of this where Shazam is fighting monsters. The first issue has Billy Batson as a homeless orphan and Shazam sort of powerless to help him. Good so far!
Marvel Fanfare #12, #18, #19, #25, #33
I'm trying to get all these too. Even the worst ones are decent and the best ones are the best. Just read #18 last night and on the last page, after everyone is saved, Captain America goes back inside a burning building to save the American flag. Got to love it.

Star Wars Tales #13
Kind of like Marvel Fanfare, Star Wars Tales aren't attached to any continuity so writers don't have editors looking over their shoulders. This is an all Mace Windu issue and two of the stories are really well done. One has Mace Windu testing and failing an Jedi apprentice and the other features an email from Mace Windu's parents. One of the stories with a stupid time travel plot has great art and a very Moebius looking Mace.

Vimanarama #2, #3 by Grant Morrison and Phillip Bond
I got the first issue of this and it was interesting. The whole first issue is pretty boring minute of daily life then things explode on the last couple pages. A pretty ballsy start to a three issue mini-series.

Thor #387 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz
This issue is the prelude to one of the craziest Thor stories I've ever read. The Celestials are destroying some planet and Thor decides to fight them. With the most powerful blow he's ever struck he cracks open the helmet of one, goes INSIDE the Celestial, finds its brain, and cracks Mjolnir. Yup.

Conan the King #27, #28, #29, #30, #31
These were the real comic surprises of the convention. I found them and picked them up from the cover art alone. They didn't disappoint. The first issue has an evil sorcerer turning eyeballs into worms and summoning demons to fight for him. They have a very Prince Valiant, anything can happen feel. Characters come and go and ones you are attached to could die at any moment. Numerous subplots run through each issue making it rewarding through each and every issue.


Baltimore Comic-Con 2009 - Sammy's Take

After braving the Baltimore Marathon crowds and traffic--cars on the highway literally driving the wrong way to get out of it--we made it to the 10th Annual Baltimore Comic-Con.

Saturday is always a strange experience; the "Collectors", running around with their suit cases filled with newly bought comics and lists in binders, checking things off the list as they flip through the box you're still looking at, the "Dads" ignoring their screaming children while haggling for one more dollar off and of course, the "Wheelers", people in motorized wheel chairs smashing into your legs and looking at you like it's your fault, and then standing up to check on that issue of Cable they are missing.

Sunday is the more fun day in a lot of aspects. You spend all day Saturday mentally preparing your brain to flip through hundreds of dollar priced comics in white boxes hoping to find a "White Box Hero", but by Sunday, the crowds are gone, and you're ready to get down to business. Spending a couple of hours digging through some un-bagged, yellowed issues feels like comic book freedom, the dust blacking the tips of your fingers and the attic smell filling your lungs, that's what it's all about.

Here are my haul highlights:

Good-bye and Other Stories By Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Unfortunately I couldn't even take a picture of my own copy of this book, and the only one I could find available on the internet is actually Brandon's copy. This large format (almost oversized) edition of Tatsumi's Good-Bye and Other Stories allows the art to speak for itself, I love reading manga in a non-digest size and being able to actually see the pictures. It only cost me $2 at Laughing Ogre Comics, which last year I also noted as one of the best booths at the show.

The Thing #3 By John Byrne and Ron Wilson

This was one of the two things actually on my list, along with Marvel Swimsuit issues (that's not a joke), because it's the issue where Lockjaw of the Inhumans speaks, revealing he's not just a big ass space dog, but actually one of the Inhumans who has just been touched by the mists differently. I've been reading a lot of the old Inhumans books lately, and have been thinking a lot about Lockjaw's humanity as an Inhuman, and not just the way sometimes dogs are just plain pals. This essentially completely changes Lockjaw's character and opens up more questions than it really answers.

The Last Generation Published by Black Tie Studios

The Last Generation kinda comes off as a weird Furry comic at first, but once you read the first issue and discover the timeline of events in the back, it completely changes your opinion of the entire story. Karen managed to grab me issues 1-4 for fifty cents each. Being written and published in '86, events in the chronology go all the way to the year 2000, where Russia and the U.S. agree to get rid of all nuclear weapons. An Egyptian God, Angel, Bear and Wolf-Man travel together to discover the secrets of what happened to the world. The art is really incredible in each issue, progressively getting better, and the letters section offers the charm of, well, when comics still had letters sections.

Paul Pope's Solo

Although not that hard to find, Paul Pope's issue of DC's Solo mini series is one of the few ones that I didn't own. I considered buying it at one booth for $10, but felt like I could find it elsewhere for cheaper. While digging through a white box marked "$1" I managed to find it in perfect condition, along with the installments by Howard Chaykin, Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred. Pope's is particularly good, he takes advantage of the freedom given to the creators more than anyone else, even completely dropping the theme of writing about a DC character and telling the story of a toy he bought out of the back of an old comic.

It was weird to see it a few more times throughout the show, the most expensive was one for $70 signed. I started to take notice of how one retailer would have a comic for cover price or even alphabetized in a white box for a dollar, and another would have the same issues for $16 bucks.

Karen and I saw a graded copy of Bendis' new Ultimate Comics Spider-Man which came out about 2 months ago going for $50. It wasn't signed, or a variant, just graded at 9.8 and in a special sleeve. I almost feel bad for someone who'd buy that and not take the time to go visit a few stores outside of their area, you gotta think about the money you save by literally working to get that issue, digging in a white box or riding the subway to a store you've never been to. Especially at a Comic Convention which is all about digging, you paid to get in there to get deals, to see something you usually don't see, not something you can find at the LCS one town over.


Baltimore Comic-Con 2009: "The Youth Market"

While Monique, David, and I were speaking to the sage-like Beanworld creator, Larry Marder, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a little boy about five or so, clutching his own sketch of the Beans. His sketch, clearly influenced by the Beanworld Holiday Special was not only really awesome, but led to a flash-flood of thoughts about non-Marvel/DC comics, the market, the internet, and lots more.

This was something of a trend I noticed this year: Lots of kids walking around excited about comics in general, wrapped in a Wolverine costume but clutching an Owly poster or glaring at the Araknid Kid table.

Back to the Beanworld kid for a second. Let's begin with a word of advice for all us aging comics nerds: Pay attention to your surroundings! Seriously, while I've made it something of an art to totally ignore obvious collectors just bouncing table to table getting shit signed to later sell, I've made myself super-sensitive to anyone under say, 15 who is wandering in the background as I get my yip-yap on. Let these people ahead of you. At least step to the side so he can walk up, get his shit signed, say thanks or gasp--talk to the creator too! Also, do this because it's a little weird to talk to creators. Even if you're older, it's just odd. So imagine you're a six year old comics fan who is into Beanworld. Shit's probably scary.

The other reason this "Beanworld kid" is interesting is because he undoubtedly heard about Marder's sketch exchange (you draw something Beanworld, he gives you a sketch of his own) via Marder's blog or Twitter. That means he's either incredibly internet-savvy or he's got a really cool mom or dad or both that told him about this. And though I'm projecting, the fact that he illustrated something from the "Holiday Special" makes me think that it was the issue that introduced him to Beanworld or it's the only issue/trade he has.

All this is brought up because really, the whole scenario was pretty moving because it was just so awesomely sincere, but also because it's symbolic of the Youth Market for comics and how it manifests itself for better and worse. Namely, I'm interested in how this kid or the other kids I saw at the Con got there. Or how, these kids got into Owly or Beanworld, which especially in the current comics market is nearly impossible to stumble upon.

I say this because as a middle-schooler into indie and undergrounds way too early, this interest was prompted by a comics store in a big mall that had a decent "indie" section and the fact that The Comics Journal was available in pretty much any Barnes & Noble or Borders...even in my fairly rural hometown. Neither of these things are very true anymore.

What it means is, the kids at comic-con are either A) The children of comics fans or B) The children of really nice parents who took the time and have the time to take their kids to a comic convention because their kids are really into comics. The Baltimore Comic-Con in part, encourages this by allowing any children under 10 in for free and that too is awesome.

The main point here though, is the one being made by comics creators and industry types all the time: The comics audience is aging, it isn't being replaced by younger people and this is a problem. Seeing these kids at comic-con, not just grabbing-up the totally "expected" stuff was awesome because it shows how despite being, next to "tweens", the main target of big corporations, kids are also totally free of this kind of corporate collusion and whether it's Mickey Mouse or Beanish or Owly or Beverly Hills Chihuahua, if it's cute and funny and interesting to them, they'll dig it.

Seeing kids doing this at comic-con was also kind of depressing because it touches on the insular nature of comics and really anything that isn't hyper-corporate. To sound like an old-man or a knee-jerk anti-Capitalist (which I ain't), there's very little room for anything even the least bit different, with even the tiniest touch of a human hand in it and this even extends to comics.

Put simply: Most comics shops don't have and maybe can't afford to stock Owly or Beanworld. And so, on top of them being speciality things, they're pretty much only available at some comics stores. That's to say, it isn't like the toy store at the mall--not that those exist anymore either--where it's the promise to the kid at the end of a five-hour bedsheets buying spree, it's extra-gas and extra-time for Mom or Dad. Put on top of that the sheer "you're an outsider" glare normies get from comics store clerks, and well, it makes it real tough for kids to get into Beanworld. I'm sure there's a lot related to DIAMOND in all that but discussing that would be an undertaking in and of itself.

At the Baltimore Comic-Con though, access to Beanworld and the discovery of something like Araknid Kid is made a bit easier and that's a tiny blessing in the vacuum-sealed world of comic books.


Baltimore Comic-Con 2009 - David's Take

My experience at Comic-Con differed considerably from that of last year. The territory is more familiar, the world of comics no longer has the air of a foreign country as it did just a year ago. Also, although the event was once again held at the Baltimore Convention Center, it was in a different space within that facility, which, as you'll see, had consequences for the experience. But first, here are some of the highlights of my haul:

Pineapple Army #3, #7 and #8 by Kazuya Kudo and Naoki Urasawa

I had picked up the other ten issues of this mini at a 25 cent sale at Cosmic Comix and Toys earlier in the year and was glad to have the opportunity to pick these up, especially considering the fact that I was only able to read the first two issues despite having near the whole series. My interest in the series itself came from the fact that it was illustrated by Naoki Urasawa, a creator for whose work I've become quite fond. The series was initially published in Japan in the mid-eighties, so it definitely represents an early phase in Urasawa's career. It is interesting to see how the illustrations resemble those in such more recent books as Monster and 20th Century Boys and how his style has changed. Of particular note are the figures, as I think that Urasawa's subtle representations of the human face are perhaps the most impressive aspect of his art. Some of the features (noses, in particular) are distinctly Urasawa-n, while others (eyes, mostly) are more conventional, calling to mind other manga from the period, like the works of Shirow Masamune.

Heavy Metal January-June 1983 and November 1983-March 1984

These issues of Heavy Metal were picked up at $2 each and were selected in particular for two Guido Crepax stories that ran during these months: "The Man from Harlem" and "Valentina." Of course, being the early-eighties, each issue has some other great content, from Christin/Bilal collaborations to Moebius stories and even a few episodes from Tamburini and Liberatore's "Ranxerox."

Alien Legion - Grimrod by Chuck Dixon and Mike McMahon

Dixon and McMahon did an excellent three-issue arc in Legends of the Dark Knight called "Watchtower," which was one of the earliest series I ever bought. McMahon's quasi-Cubist designs are sorta perfect for half goofy/ half deadly serious comics and at $1, this prestige issue was irresistible.

A Patch of Dreams by Hideji Oda

I'm not really sure what this vaguely fantastical manga is even about, but the designs are really great and I almost picked it up at a local comics shop for the full $23 asking price. I could thus hardly resist picking it up for a whopping $4 at Comic-Con.

Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire

This is a really great looking, huge paperback published by Ashtray Press, which I also picked up for $4 from the vendor mentioned above. I've no idea what to expect from the book in terms of narrative, but it's populated by this great hulking farmer in red-striped sweater. And that great, crimson red is the only color in a book slathered together from deep, thickly-brushed blacks. It looks rather impressive, at the very least.

Other Convention Highlights:

Larry Marder

The Beanworld creator had posted on his blog that anyone presenting a sketch of a Beanworld character at his booth could trade it for a sketch of that character drawn by the man himself. I therefore was up into the wee hours of Saturday morning working on a sketch I'd brainstormed during one of my classes earlier in the week and which was loosely based on John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn"--complete with a few lines of Keats's ode reimagined to correspond with the scene sketched on my urn. Marder is of course a genius and an early friend of this very blog so it meant a lot to me to get the chance to formally introduce myself and talk about Bean-things past and future.

Brian Wood

The DMZ and Northlanders writer was at Comic-Con to promote his upcoming run on DV8. I happen to think he is one of the most skilled writers in comics right now and I've spilled not a little 'ink' on these pages singing his praises as well as being critical of some aspects of his work. Shortly after the 2008 elections, I wrote a piece on political cynicism in comics and used DMZ in order to illustrate many of my points. Apparently someone showed my post to Wood and he commented on it on his blog and sent me a nice email. In any event, it turns out that not only is Wood a talented writer, he is also a legitimately nice guy. When I introduced myself and reminded him of our brief exchange, he seemed immediately to recall the incident and commented that we had given him a lot to think about. Whatever his thoughts were about what we presented here, DMZ continues its trend of staying a step ahead of events on the world stage and the current series displays a level of political sophistication that worth noting.

30 Rock at Comic-Con?

As my cohorts and I made our way to the events area to attend the panel on seventies comics, I couldn't help but notice a weirdly familiar, impressively tall figure making lonely way through the convention. Upon reflecting for a moment, I realized that it was none other than Scott Adsit, better known as Pete Hornberger from NBC's 30 Rock (although, let's be real, before checking IMDB, all I could say for certain was that it was "the dude from 30 Rock"). Who knows what Adsit was doing at Comic-Con--my guess is that he's a comics fan who makes his home somewhere near Baltimore--but there was no doubting the expression that was on his face; he was just waiting for the penny to drop and someone to yell out, "Hey, it's the dude from the 30 Rock!" Of course, to be fair, this is precisely what I said, although in my defense, I said it only loud enough for Brandon to hear and I knew he would have the politeness not to make it known to a convention hall full of fan-boys.


Baltimore Comic-Con!

So, we'll all be at the Baltimore Comic-Con tomorrow and Sunday with a ton of other people and then, we'll probably blab about it all next week. In the meantime, check us up on our recently-ignored Twitter @Comics4Serious which Monique will be handling all throughout the weekend.

Also, if you're looking for something to do tomorrow night and you're around for Comic-Con, I'd encourage checking out Big Bang Saturday night.

Here are our impressions from last year's con:
-Karen's Haul
-David's Take
-Sammy's Haul
-Brandon's Take
-Jesse's Take
-Brandon on Kirkman vs. Bendis