Saturday, 30 April 2011

Tokyo Zombie

We’re told never to judge a book by its cover, but it’s probably fair to say if you don’t like the artwork on show here there’s little reason to dig deeper. Promoting a style described as ‘Heta Uma’ (bad, but good), Tokyo Zombie’s artwork is deliberately simplistic and causes much turning up of noses of readers browsing the manga aisles. Diversity in your manga reading is one thing, but for many this is a step too far.

Originally serialized in the underground AX magazine, Tokyo Zombie is about two amateur wrestling fans who find themselves in the middle of a zombie outbreak. The plot ambles on in its own peculiar way as our heroes munch their snacks while driving through crowds of zombies. Some stuff happens in between including zombie blowjobs and pig surfing, and culminates in a human/zombie showdown at an underground fighting arena amidst a social revolution. It’s as bizarre as it is stupid, and will have more people wondering what the point is rather than accumulating fans.

The manga was popular (or should that be ‘obscure’?) enough to warrant the making of a live-action film which came out on DVD in English a couple of years ago. To be honest I found its understated humour to be a little on the dull side, and it works a lot better in comic form. It’s undeniably stupid, and yes the artwork is quite, quite bad, but then who said that zombies were neat and tidy? As a final note the main character has an afro - some things I just can’t say no to…

Monday, 18 April 2011

Lupin III

A master of disguise and professional thief, Lupin the Third will do whatever it takes to steal cold hard cash while checking any hot girls going. If you’re only familiar with the character from his anime incarnations, forget everything you know. Author Monkey Punch apparently wasn’t too keen on Miyazaki’s gentler interpretation of the thief in Castle of Cagliostro, and ever since that film came out Lupin has been presented with a bit of a lovable rogue that betrays his true origins. Reading this will count as a bit of a shock.

Chapters are generally one-shot affairs with no overbearing plot and expected allies Jigen and Goemon randomly drop in and out with no loyalty between them while cop Zenigata is more hardboiled than buffoon. Rather than saving and seducing the dames, Lupin just drags women into bed at every opportunity. Making no apologies Lupin is more likely to stab, shoot or blow his enemies up rather than give them a second chance. This is noticeably edgy stuff with a merciless streak that is completely at odds with more modern interpretations. The outlandish slapstick humour still remains but the starkly harsher outlook could will put many readers off.

Also not helping the series is scratchy artwork that is frequently poorly reproduced throughout the volumes. This is probably an issue with inadequate source material, but as a manga that is sometimes difficult to follow due to unusual panelling this can act against it. It’s just a bit of a shame as when you stop and look at the dense crosshatching and warped backgrounds it becomes apparent that Monkey Punch is a hell of a draftsman. Style over substance where this series is coming from as it combines murder, double crossings and slapstick humour and coats it all with an unapologetically sleazy shtick.

With Tokyopop recently announcing that is will cease publishing manga, looking back on its old catalogue digs up quite a few worthy titles. Lupin III is a risky choice for any publisher due to its ago and unusual style. To be perfectly honest Tokyopop’s later output contains very little approaching this sort of individuality (the recent anomaly that is Neko Ramen is both surprising and welcome), and the overall lack of diversity in its range is disappointing. These days only a few of the 14 original volumes are readily available, but as the chapters are self-contained I’d its worth grabbing any of the volumes if you fancy taking the risk.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

How to Draw Manga - Getting Started

I’ve not uploaded a review for while, the main reason being that I’ve been busy working drawing some comics. So as someone who’s gone through the comic-making process unearthing this book was a pretty interesting experience. If this post turns into half review and half tutorial, then I apologise in advance now.

There are virtually hundreds of ‘How to…’ books on the market (and let’s be honest, a good deal of them are cynical cash-ins), so it’s good to check ahead to make sure you’ll get one that will be of genuine use. The first thing to consider is what you actually want to draw. A lot of books will be advertised as being about drawing manga, but inside is a sole focus on making pin-up work in full colour, ignoring generally universal standards of manga being in black and white and maintaining some form of story. It’s totally fine if that’s the kind of work you want to make, but as these books mainly focus on faces, bodies and proportions it’s essentially a regular life drawing book aimed at the otaku market. Again there’s nothing bad with that, it’s just good to be aware.

If you’re wanting to draw a comic containing proper sequential art you might need to be a bit more picky about what to buy. The book for this post isn’t a totally perfect example, but it’s most definitely one of the better ones out there. Originally published in Japan, the ‘How to Draw Manga’ line has been popular enough to run into multiple volumes. ‘Getting Started’ gives a general overview of many aspects which makes it a good starter for first timers. There’s a lot covered, so a list of pros and cons is probably for the best way around this one:

- Emphasis on black and white artwork, including information on ink and pen types, as well as drawing techniques.
- Speedlines, tones, speech bubbles - advice on skills that are specific to comic making.
- Considers double-page layouts, bleeds and lots of tips on how to position your artwork without it running off the edge of the page when reproduced (a genuine hazard not to be underestimated!).
- Creating thumbnails and ideas on how to create a page layout. Simple stuff but it’s remarkable that most manga creation books do not include this.
- There’s a chapter on backgrounds…. seriously. Manga. Backgrounds. Madness!

- Originally released in 1997 it’s a bit of an old book now. Consequently there’s no content relating to drawing digitally and other areas such as manual toning are essentially redundant.
- Stationary references are obscure and potentially hard to find in western territories.
- For my money the bit where it encourages ‘referencing’ in your artwork is morally, and potentially legally, dubious.

A mix of good and bad then, but as an all-in-one starter guide this is very good for anyone wanting to clarify a few of the more technical areas before diving in. More typical areas regarding human figures, proportion etc. are still all present and correct as with any other drawing guide, but here are suitably brief which gives you enough of an idea on issues to be aware of, without enforcing any one particular style on the reader. Comics, and in my opinion this especially applies to manga, are very much about an individual expression. Replicating someone else’s style will only get you so far. Get the book, understand what you need to do, and then get drawing!