Saturday, 16 July 2011


I’m going to stretch a bit outside of my safe zone and check out some comics to time that are not manga-related at all. It’s in keeping with the Japanese definition of manga at least (comics, right?), and if that explanation doesn’t gel then fine it’s my blog so I can write about whatever I fancy! ^_^

In terms of American comics I’ll be honest and say most mainstream superhero comics bore me. There have been shockingly few new significant characters introduced over the last couple of decades, and the old ones are so ingrained that no one dares change anything about them, which kind of kills any attempt at credibility in the drama as you know you’re pretty much guaranteed a predictable happy ending each time. Manga’s a bit more risky and suits my taste, but every so often I still get a little worn out with that too start to crave something… different. And so I turn my eyes to the mainland…

Known locally as bandes dessinées, or simply BD, the French and Belgian comic industry is well-established with comic volumes regularly selling in the hundreds of thousands. Not as big as Japan, but I’d hazard bigger than the US and certainly more so than in the pitiful UK. A standard volume is around 50-odd pages, A4-ish in size, hardback and therefore quite expensive. They’re premium goods with titles seemingly holding their value several years after their initial release. Aside from the anomalies such as Asterix and Tintin, most BDs are inexplicably ignored and unknown in English-language territories, but thankfully the walls are slowly bringing broken down.

John Blacksad is a private investigator cat who works in a world where corruption, sleaze and crime run rife throughout society. This is pulp territory of crime fiction with an animal twist. Mammals and reptiles mix as well as black horses and white wolves in this tense 50s-style world where prejudice only barely runs under the surface. The animal designs create archetypes that enhance characterisations rather than distracting from the plot or making it look silly. There’s a strong style to this substance, and the sublime watercolours brim every page with a finesse that is very rarely seen in comics of any sort.

Dark Horse released a volume that compiles the first three comics into one solid hardback. It’s lovely stuff and serves as a real showcase to the work. A fourth volume did come out in France last year, but as yet there’s no sign of a translated release and as years go by between individual releases, it might be quite a long while before a second triple-volume book is feasible (assuming it would even be considered). All the same Blacksad is an amazing comic, and well worth risking regardless of your normal taste in comics.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby

Some manga you might want to hide from your parents, but this one you might want to keep safely buried away from everyone you’ve ever met. Quite what kind of possessed creature you’d have to be to produce a manga like this, I have no idea. That it was even considered for translation, let alone actually released over here, is something worthy of my respect. Everyone involved in this book has major cojones, or simply dont care. And that also applies to anyone who attempts to read this.

Consider this a warning then that this is a pretty obscene and depraved manga. Comparisons to Robert Crumb are absolutely justified

Containing a series of short stories, the first of which depicts a penis that doesnt want to be used for rape any more, and so knocks its owner out, flips the main body upside down and takes control as the main head (look at the front cover hes walking on his hands, see?). This is just for starters

Serialized originally in Garo magazine, this is underground manga with humour about as dark as it gets. Sane people will be repulsed as they read a later story about a mutant sperm that becomes sentient from being ejaculated in the middle of a nuclear explosion, and goes on the depict his life as he grows up. It’s probably not wise describe further what else goes on in the book, but needless to say it involves a lot of penises, masturbation, most/all orifices, necrophilia, sex from inside the womb (you read that right), and pretty much any combination of all the above.

Certainly not for prudes or the judgemental. This is truly dangerous waters and if you’ve read it dont be offended if I then have nothing to do with you.

Genkaku Picasso

For more cynical and world weary manga readers its somewhat easy to skip out on any manga sporting the Shonen Jump logo on it. Expectations are low with a near-guarantee of juvenile action stories (I can say it because I love them). But while the heavy hitters such as One Piece and Naruto duke it out at the top of the sales charts, Viz somehow decided to sneak in this bizarre little curio when no one was looking.

Usamaru Furuya may be familiar to more experimental readers from Lychee Light Club which was recently published by Vertical, and Short Cuts from Vizs own retired PULP line. Both books are aimed at older audiences and depict strong violence, bizarre subject matter and a quirky sense of humour. Even Furuya voices surprise at being published in such a mainstream manner, but despite the change of target audience the artists is still sticking to his creative roots.

Hikari Hamura loves to draw, to the obsessive extent that his classmates nickname him Picasso. He is introverted and hates being distracted from his passion, but due to certain circumstances (insert spoiler here) he ends up with the power to be able to sense and draw out the hearts of those around him. He is forced to interact with them more frequently, much to his annoyance, but by entering the world of the drawing he can help people overcome their deep-seated issues and gradually get to know his new found friends.

Its a strange concept, but one that works safely in Furuyas technically able arms. His artwork is very strong and switches to a penciled look when Picasso enters one of his drawings, creating a distinct look to both worlds. The surreal figments found within Picassos drawings are extremely weird and are gradually interpreted and understood as the chapters evolve. Its a bit of a psychology session, but moreover its about learning to accept oneself and others without getting all emo. In fact its oddball nature and self aware sense of humour makes this a lot of fun. It’s pretty short at 3 chunky volumes so is definitely worth a shot.