Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Manga and ComicsAnd...

As a general rule, I don't read Manga. It’s partly the small size of the books. It’s partly the having to learn right-left reading. Mostly it’s unfamiliarity with it. This doesn’t mean I don’t browse Manga at the book store, it just means as a rule I don’t buy it. But, something totally unexpected happened the other day. I bought a brand new Manga book. In my defense, it was oversized like a Marvel Essential or DC Showcase and it was standard left-right reading. Basically, it was a Manga packaged and marketed for someone like me. The book in question was Tekkonkinkreet.

AND, this is really hard for me to say.... It was awesome!!!!!

The full title is Tekkonkinkreet: Black & White by Taiyo Matsumoto, published by Viz. Seriously, the only other Manga I’ve read is Gon, What’s Michael, and Akira (most of it). That’s my entire exposure to Manga so you know I don't go for this stuff... but Tekkonkinkreet was really, really, really worth it.

The art is amazing with all sorts of angles, panel layouts, fish-eye lens type stuff. And the story... it's in three parts but each one is distinctive. AND, it's almost Watchmen like with the amount of symbolic little details in panel.

For example, at one point three characters are talking about selling out the city and for 3/4 of the page they are people. But, in a series of three little closeup panels, they are shown with obvious animal symbolism. One as a rat (also his name), one as a pig (selling out the city), and one as a snake (the developer). It was a really nice touch to the story. And the whole book is loaded with sequences like this.

As for the story, change is a major theme, along with friendship, and growth, and all sorts of stuff that I realize now after I read it. It's super cool subtle stuff that really make this not only a good read but a visual masterpiece. It is crazy good.

In conjunction with my new found Manga, this week ComicsAnd… was deluged with emails wondering where we come up with daily ideas and how the team works together. Well, tonight I shall part the veil of secrecy and show you how the conversation regarding Tekkonkinkreet went.

It started with a rough draft of a review I sent to Jim...

Lee: Yadda yadda yadda. You should really buy it. You'll like it.
Jim: WTF - I don't think so - My favorite Manga of all time was Battle Angel - loved the art
Lee: Yeah, yeah, yeah but that's old stuff. This is new stuff. And it's really good. It's better than good... I would go so far as a masterpiece. There I said it. Masterpiece.

Jim: Then mail it to me to read, I don't want to buy it.
Lee: Why not? Afraid of something new?

Jim: No being frugal
Lee: WHAT? You buy 5k books a month. Skip two books one month and get this. You telling me Supergirl is a better read than this????

Jim: What a cheapskate, can't loan a book to a friend?
Lee: You haven't read the last books I loaned you!
Jim: One book, one book!

Jim: And yet I send you free books and you have held Revolution in Silver hostage also.
Lee: Damn... you might have me on that one. AND, I have Johnny Hart too.

Jim: True
Lee: So... ya gonna buy it.

Jim: Dork
Lee: Pinhead
We go on like this for awhile but you get the idea.

As you can see we have a simple, Older Brother - Younger, cuter, & smarter Brother relationship. Personally, I think it irritates Jim because I am right so much of the time.

BUT, back to Tekkonkinkreet. If you haven't read Manga this is a good place to start. And, for those of you who were wondering how things work here at ComicsAnd..., we tend to be obnoxious and call each other names. Just like family.


  1. Older brother = wise, handsome and just gosh darn wonderful

    Younger brother = brash and annoying

  2. Actually, along with the constant bickering, they like to spam my inbox with imaginary deadlines *rolls eyes*

  3. SPAM??? Wha'chu'talkin' bout spam?

    That's motivational email! Making sure you're aware of your commitments to the ENTIRE WORLD that reads ComicsAnd...

    Spam??? Pffft!

  4. Hah! I wondered how you guys worked out this place.

    Regarding manga: Lee, you have some of the same hangups that I do. Small size, right-to-left. Another of mine is that I'm a color-snob, although that's not a deal-breaker. So yeah, manga is hard for me to get into.

    That being said, I'm very much into anime, and because of the anime I'm reading Naruto in Shonen Jump right now (Shonen Jump=larger size! And sometimes color!). It took my boyfriend forever to convince me to read it. He knew I enjoyed the anime, but it took forever for me to get past the reading conventions you mentioned. When I do read it, though, I really enjoy it and don't want it to end. If I weren't enjoying the anime of Death Note so much right now, I'd be reading that to find out the ending -- but I don't want to spoil my TV viewing fun (there's motion AND color).

    At one point, some manga were reverse printed to make them flow from left-to-right (was that done in the book you describe)? But then right-handed people become left-handed, and any non-translated text or signage in the art becomes reversed, too. Other problems, I'm sure.

    But to me, it's worth it. It's sometimes hard enough following text balloons and panels in an American comic. In a manga I often have to just break it down and try it multiple ways until the dialogue or story makes sense. But that breaks up the flow of the story. Hard to enjoy a story when I spend more time concentrating on how to read it than on what it's about.

    I'd be 100% more likely to read many more of these little books if only they would take into consideration this one, not altogether small for us, western custom. The direction we read is quite important to our understanding a visual medium like comics. Reading is something we learn at a very early age, so perhaps that's why younger kids have an easier time adapting to the backwards reading than us old-fogies do (can I be old if I'm not yet 40?).

  5. Hmm, I know a lot of American comic readers have these same complaints about manga, but honestly it's never bothered me. I have no problem with the smaller size (which is nice and portable, not to mention the same size as most novels I read) and it's fun to read 'backwards'.

    Then again, I started reading manga when I was fairly young so maybe I adapted early on.

    I do prefer color in my comics - BUT, most manga has clear enough artwork that it's still fairly easy to follow.

  6. Any of you guys get to see the actual animated film for this? It's not bad, save for the really weird and seemingly superficial twist three-quarters of the way through, but still worth checking out.

    Well, if you do happen to read some manga, you'd get used to the way it's laid out sooner or later.

    There are manga compilation mags like Shounen Jump that do have normal comic book sized pages stacked an inch and a half thick. Couple reasons why the tankoubons [volumes if you will] are so small is because Japanese readers will have an easier time reading them in places like crowded trains or behind textbooks in class. And you can make room in the bookshelf for more books.

    Japan is a small country after all.

    I personally prefer a nice finished series like the one above, it beats having to read chapters of certain series that drag on forever.

    The artist on Kuro & Shiro [Black & White] also did an acclaimed manga series called Ping Pong, which had been made into a live action film a few years ago. I'd recommend checking those out too.

  7. Gwen,
    After reading Shonen Jump for about a year, it has become easier, but not quite yet *easy*. I'm pretty good now at which panel to go to, but if there is more than one word balloon in a panel, all bets are off.

    I agree that the lack of color is less distracting in manga than in many American B&W comics for me -- mostly due to manga's use of duotones for shading to indroduce a grayscale effect. It bothers me more in American comics in places like the Showcase editions (are those the B&W cheap editions?) because the art on those were never intended to be B&W, so it doesn't always work well. And plus, it sounds really, REALLY stupid to have a book called "Green Lantern Showcase" be in B&W. If there's a color in the title, I think the book was intended for color. To me, that's like putting out a collected hits of the Beatles, but leaving out the instrument tracks so they can fit more digital information on the CDs to make them cheaper (wouldn't work that way, but still). Sure, you might get more songs for your money, but it's not at all the same as the original.

    The size thing isn't a dealbreaker, but... well, yeah, it has been a dealbreaker on American comics that are put out in this digest size. DC has collected both TT Go! and JLUnlimited in the smaller format, and the text was almost unreadable to my adult eyes. Perhaps that's less of a problem with manga because, since they have to be translated, maybe they put the new lettering in at a more appropriate size, whereas the Johnny DC books just seemed scaled down to a nearly unreadable point.

  8. Bjooks-

    Tekken was reverse printed to keep the flow. Which is nice and didn't seem to impact flow. Or should I say the original flow was maintained. I think if I learned how to read right-left it would be fine but I freely admit I'm lazy. Mostly don't have the time. I really want to read "Blade of the Immortal". That's supposed to be good but I'm such an art guy the small size is hard to get past.

    Then again, more and more indies are coming out in the smaller size so I am starting to become more accepting of it. It seems if I want to read certain books (Castle Waiting!) I just have to accept its going to be smaller.

    As for B&W. There is just so much indie stuff that's sans color that I really like the format now. It also comes about because I collect art and I've learned to subtract color to see what the artist was trying to do.

  9. Axl99-

    Thanks for the tip on ping pong. I'll have to try it out.

    As for the strange twist 2/3rds thru the movie... it's in the book too. BUT, in the book it makes perfect sense and is a logical extension. It's still a jarring jump but handled better. It might be like the Akira movie, trying to capture too much in too little space. Good but misses alot of what the original had.

    Good the movie was interesting good too... might have to check that out at some point.