Author Archive

Comics to Film: Who Boosts Whom?

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

There’s been a clear trend over the past few weeks on the NYT Graphic Books Best Seller list. Blackest Night, the Green Lantern storyline extravaganza, and Scott Pilgrim, the film arriving to rock your geek movie world, dominate the lists. Siege, a title clearly aimed at reintroducing and reinvigorating the Avengers comics, ranks well, heralding good news for the still years-away Avengers movie (currently scheduled for 2012).

The just-wrapped San Diego Comic-Con was awash in new announcements for films based on comics, demonstrating once again the power of geek fandom as well as the ease with which Hollywood gobbles up potential source material.

All of this leads me to ask a question I’ve long wondered about in this era of Hollywood rehashing comics; how much good does media exposure, via films or TV, do for a comic book series or graphic novel?

It’s clear that interest spikes around a film’s release. Watchmen, the graphic novel, certainly sold more during the build up to the film’s release, but it continues to sit pretty on the Best Seller list, having stayed there for 74 weeks. Watchmen was a consistently popular title before the film, and it continues to be a popular title after. The bump in film popularity may have helped to introduce more people to the book, but how much did it need the help and did that translate into an appreciation of the format beyond Watchmen itself?

Scott Pilgrim, as a comic book series, has long been beloved by its devoted fans. Creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and Oni Press have reaped great rewards from the upcoming film’s buzz (poster at left), as well as the fact that the final volume’s release so nearly coincided with the film’s release this Friday.

Both of the previous titles are no-brainers. The comics were the direct source for the films, so if people walk in off the street wanting the origin of the movie they’ve just seen, you can hand them the books without qualms.

What about Green Lantern, coming out next June? The Blackest Night volumes are racing up the charts and holding steady. The film is highly anticipated, as indicated by Entertainment Weekly’s cover featuring it nearly a year before the movie’s release. It was also promoted at Comic-Con this year, where star Ryan Reynolds charmed everyone by reciting the entire Green Lantern oath for a young fan.

However, those intrigued by the Green Lantern movie are unlikely to be engaged by the continuity-heavy, you-must-buy-every-single-collection tale like Blackest Night. The folks buying Blackest Night?  They are already Green Lantern comics fans. People haven’t been tearing into my library to get the skinny on Green Lantern, at least not yet, and I’m wondering if and how much they will. In chatting with patrons, it’s clear they know Batman, The X-Men, Wolverine, and Spider-Man from the movies and pop culture osmosis. The bulk of them are not interested in reading the comics related to the franchise; they’re happy to wait for the next movie.

The most viable titles for a library to collect are those that have a direct connection to the film or TV series, either as the direct origin or a strong inspiration for the style or voice, not comics that simply feature the same characters.

When Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were carrying away box office millions, it was easy to locate and hand out the inspirations: Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, Grant Morrison’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke, and Brian Azzarello’s Joker. Fans of the campy Batman TV show may have been startled, but the grim view of the Batman movie reboot had been flavoring Batman comics for decades. Similarly, The Walking Dead, the much-buzzed about AMC TV adaptation of the now complete Robert Kirkman series, beginning in October, is already leading folks to the source material.

Librarians need to know which titles are worth our investment. Ed Brubaker’s strong run on Captain America and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead are both quality and popular, and thus very much worth any library’s dollars. But I have yet to hear of a significant Thor volume I must purchase from either fans or reviews. The 2011 movies Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, as well as 2012’s The Avengers will need clear, continuity-free volumes to have an significant affect on the comics’ popularity with readers.

For lesser known titles, the impact remains to be seen. In previous years, my library patrons requested Mark Millar’s Wanted from the film of the same name, although readers were disappointed that the film had little to do with the comic — the film rights were purchased even before the comic had been finished. The graphic novel Wanted seems to go out now because it’s a Mark Millar title, not because it’s related to the lackluster film.

At Comic-Con, Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren were on hand to trumpet the upcoming film adaptation of Warren Ellis’s little-known Red, coming in October. The casual Bruce Willis or Helen Mirren fan may not realize the film is based on a limited series comic book. I will be waiting to see if sales and requests for the single-volume graphic novel start to rise.

So my question to you, dear reader, is what comics titles are getting demand due to films and TV? Which have proven worth keeping in your collection? I’ll be tracking this year’s upcoming tie-ins, and will report back on how much impact media attention has on graphic novels and comics beyond the first big bump.

The Importance of Scathing Reviews

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

If you track best sellers, you know that many of them are not loved by the critics. Take, for instance, the vicious (and often brilliantly funny) reviews of a title that appears on the NYT Graphic Books Best Seller List, Justice League: Cry for Justice. I admit, it can be fun to see a critic tear into an enormously popular title, such as the amusing reviews of Dan Brown’s latest tome.

The comics world, especially when you move outside the standard review journals and into industry and blog reviews, can be wildly entertaining as a forum for criticizing the bizarro turns that comics sometimes take. They can be especially critical when the publishers of the great universes of Marvel and DC come up with oddball moves to rejuvenate a series, a character, or their entire world. All Star Batman and Robin, created by the superstar team of Frank Miller and Jim Lee, was initially met with harsh reviews, accusing both creators of turning into horrible mockeries of their former greatness. The Green Lantern: Blackest Night storyline, which is both incredibly popular and embraced by many fans, also was chastised as an overly complex fantasy that only appeals to compulsive fans (for example, Shaenon Garrity’s commentary: “See, I think that’s an awesome idea for a comic book. For ten-year-olds. It’s the part where it’s being written for adults that worries me.”)

Since most comics initially appear as serial issues allows for a lot of dissection and brewing commentary before a story line is finished, and roundtable reviews easily facilitated online make for entertaining reading while also airing opinions as each chapter comics to light. Check out Comics Alliance’s roundtable review of the latest Avengers incarnation by Brian Michael Bendis which criticizes the reinvention of a yet another major superhero franchise.

Aside from indulging in a mean-spirited giggle, negative reviews help selectors figure out how long a title might last. Are fans are running out and buying certain titles simply to complete their collections or is it something that will gain some ground and be popular despite initial reactions? Most of the time library selectors ignore snide comments and purchase what our public is clamoring for. But what if there’s no local interest in the latest big wave on the best seller lists? How do we judge epic tales that come out in many volumes before we get the full story (such as Blackest Night or DC’s Final Crisis)?

This is where reviews of individual titles in a series can be helpful, even though libraries generally wait to buy the collected editions in hardcover or paperback. These sites are also the place to find reviews of ongoing volumes in series that library journals choose not to review: library sources may review New Avengers volume one, but they rarely review New Avengers volume four, and fan sites become the only place librarians can check in on the continuing quality of a series.

There are several critical sites that review single issues; Newsarama, Comic Book Resources, Comics Alliance, and Pop Matters are just a few places to start. The comics journal Journalista is a great site for news as well as daily collections of reviews for every type of comic and graphic novel. As with movie reviewers, you’ll learn which comics critics match your community’s tastes and be able to get a preview of the book before you purchase it.

It you’re still wondering about a giant universe-wide event (storylines that cross over into many
different series), like Marvel’s Civil War or any of the many DC’s Crises, ask your fellow librarian fans and selectors. I frequently use the Graphic Novels in Libraries listserv to pick the brains of my fellow librarian fans about which volumes from major event series I must collect to satisfy my patrons. Marvel’s Civil War, which finished with the much-reported death of Captain America, spread over 80 different comic book issues and ultimately was featured in 23 different collected editions I could have purchased for my library. I found no reviews from library journals on any part of this series. On the advice from my fellow GNLIB librarians, I narrowed down my purchases to an essential ten volumes and have never had any complaints. As an online forum for librarians who also have an encyclopedic knowledge of comics, listserv can’t be beat. Many of us don’t have the time or inclination to read the series as they come out, so it’s helpful that many librarians are comics fans and understand both the comics universes and budget restraints.

A Librarian’s Guide to the Eisner Winners

Monday, July 26th, 2010

At San Diego Comic-Con this past Friday evening the winners of the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced and as always the winners provide an interesting snapshot of what’s hot, what’s great, and what’s making fanboys hearts pitter patter this year.

For those not familiar with the ins and outs of the industry, here’s a run down of the not-to-miss winners and a guide for selectors of titles that are (or will soon be) in high demand.

First, the easy part: a number of the winners this year are no-brainers.  You should already have them on your shelves, and if you don’t, shame on you.  Now’s the time to get them!  David Mazzucchelli and his acclaimed Asterios Polyp walked off with three awards, including Best Graphic Album (the equivalent of the Best Picture Oscar) and Best Writer/Artist.  Robert Kirkman picked up another Eisner for the acclaimed The Walking Dead for Best Continuing Series.  This series is already popular, and the new TV series arriving from AMC is adding even more buzz.  Scott Pilgrim Volume 5, Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe won Best Humor Publication, and creator Bryan Lee O’Malley was presented with the award by no less than the cast of the Scott Pilgirm movie due out in just a few weeks.  Ed Brubaker, one of the hardest working and best writers in the business, took home his third Eisner Award for Best Writer for his work on Captain America, Daredevil, Marvels Project, Criminal, and Incognito. Brubaker’s work on Captain America and Daredevil has reminded readers how compelling superheroes can be in the right hands.

Artist J. H. Williams III deservedly won for his gorgeous work on Detective Comics, the flagship series from DC Comics, launched in 1937, that currently has Batwoman as its tantalizing focus. The hardcover edition rocketed on to the NYT Graphic Best Seller list and has stayed there. Jill Thompson is well known in the comics industry but sadly not as recognized outside of it, so it’s lovely to see her gaining two awards: Best Publication for Teens for Beasts of Burden and Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (Interior Art) for both Beasts of Burden and Magic Trixie and the Dragon. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young, is beloved by comics fans and young readers alike, and Young’s art in particular shines.

A few pleasant surprises improve this year’s list of winners from past years. In recognition of the plethora of adapted works, the Eisner Judges created a new category this year to recognize creations from outside source material, and Darwyn Cooke’s brooding Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter handily took home that honor. I cheered to see Emmanuel Guibert’s gripping The Photographer take home the Best U.S. Edition of Foreign Language Material award, and overjoyed to see A Drifting Life and Yoshihiro Tatsumi win not only for Best Edition of Foreign Material – Asia but also for Best Reality-Based Work. Personally, I’d hoped that Naoki Urasawa might finally have his year for winning, with both Pluto and 20th Century Boys in the running, but it’s no shame to lose out to Tatsumi’s epic memoir.

One final note: Marian Churchland won the distinguished Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award for her critically acclaimed Beast. Past winners include Scott McCloud, Eric Shanower, Jeff Smith, and Eleanor Davis, so this award is a solid predictor of talent. Sadly, Beast is very difficult to locate from the usual vendors, and Image Comics has allowed it to go out of print, but there are a few copies still available via Amazon, so if you can get your hands on a copy, snap it up.

The Best Manga You’ve Overlooked

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

What manga titles have libraries overlooked? That was the question posed to a group of panelists, including myself, at the recent ALA.

Below are my own takes, plus one mulligan, to borrow an idea from fellow panelist Brigid Alverson.

Katherine Dacey was also on the panel,  moderated by Library Journal’s graphic novel columnist Martha Cornog. At the end of this post, check out Brigid and Katherine’s commentary and lists for the full complete panel experience!

To illustrate that these titles have indeed been overlooked by libraries, I’ve included at the end of each recommendation a note on how many libraries own each one according to Worldcat — for comparison, 705 libraries own the first volume of Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto and 634 own Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira.

est em

Yaoi manga, or male/male romances written for a female audience, has the problem of containing a stereotypical triple threat: ridiculously pretty men, outrageous melodrama, and complete disregard for realism. Sometimes that’s what readers want, but if you want depth, honesty, and unvarnished romance, give est em’s work a try. Age Called Blue features brash young rock musicians trying to navigate professional opportunity and personal codependency, but this is no pop idol romance. It is about passion for music and for people, and est em gives readers an unflinching look at love between damaged, fragile people. It’s about figuring out how far is too far and why everyone’s limit is different and the betrayal you’ll forgive from a person you love. It’s about the moment when you have to let go of old fantasies and realize what you need is far simpler than what you dreamed.

est em has a strong sense of gesture and silence, and her rock ‘n’ roll men speak eloquently by trading guitar riffs as much as words. For libraries wondering about content, her works are adult but avoid full front nudity and explicit sex. est em is an intriguing, crossover creator. Her work is frequently published for gay men in Japan, and her stories strongly appeal to both men and women, gay and straight, in the US. (Owned by 6 libraries.)

Fumi Yoshinaga

Fumi Yoshinaga is well known for her titles including Antique Bakery and recent historical drama Ooku, but this series has slipped under the radar. In this series, Yoshinaga brings fresh life to the many cliches of high school dramedy manga. Here are high schoolers aspiring to be manga artists, school festivals, holiday celebrations, awkward romantic confessions, and even a clandestine teacher/student romance. Instead of manipulating all of these elements for cheap thrills, however, Yoshinaga relates these slice-of-life episodes with her trademark blend of honesty, sympathy, and wry sense of humor. In her hands, a Christmas gathering becomes an ode to good company: the music may be terrible, the food lackluster, and the decorations cheap, but if you’ve got your friends, you’re golden. Each chapter neatly sidesteps cliches by returning again and again to the characters. Yoshinaga can’t resist adding in moments of goofy hilarity, but every joke is balanced by a quiet observation. Side note: this is also one of the only manga series I’ve ever read that features an overweight character who is not present simply to provide comic relief. The Flower of Life is about high school but appeals to a wide range of teens through to adults. (Owned by 86 libraries.)

Natsume Ono

This title is one of the few recent manga out there aimed squarely at adult women, and more librarians (and foodies!) should be picking it up. As a girl Nicoletta was left in the care of grandparents by her flighty mother Olga for one logical but unfeeling reason: her mother has met a new man who says he’ll never want children. Her mother chooses a new husband over her inconvenient daughter. Now 21, Nicoletta takes off for Rome to confront her mother once and for all. Instead she’s pulled into Olga’s world: she gets an unexpected chance to rebuild her relationship with her mother and discovers a new home in her mother’s restaurant. Ristorante Paradiso, full of deliciously described cuisine and staffed entirely by older, suave gentlemen, as well as squabbles, unsolicited advice, romantic tension, and dashing mentors. Nicoletta struggles to master cooking, family, and matters of the heart, and Ono’s fluid, sketchy art suits this young woman’s coming of age tale perfectly. Ono’s work is especially appealing for readers who are seeking out the indie side of manga; her art is intentionally unpolished and wonderfully expressive. (Owned by 24 libraries.)

Naoki Urasawa

Monster and Pluto get a lot of press as the go-to titles for Naoki Urasawa, one of the best manga-ka working today writing for adults. I am an unabashed fan of Pluto (old-school sci-fi gets me every time) but 20th Century Boys is the lesser known of his works. 20th Century Boys spans twenty two volumes, with nine volumes currently out, making it the longest of his series to hit the States; perhaps libraries are reluctant to commit to the series. This is a grand shame. An ambitious epic, I’d compare it in scope and style to the TV show Lost. The story starts out as a glimpse into the lives of a group of middle school friends and shows the way their childhood dreams have alternately lingered or faded as adult reality has set in. In Urasawa’s clever hands, though, 20th Century Boys quickly morphs into a thriller with conspiracies, secret organizations, cults, terrorism, and insidious politics. Multiple timelines, memories, and points of view to create a growing sense of unease as more and more threats are revealed like the ticking of a hidden bomb. Wisely, Urasawa keeps returning to the initial theme of lost dreams, particularly looking at the power of young imaginations as a gift that needs to be reclaimed. Urasawa has a flair for investigatory dramas, and the puzzle pieces falling into place as 20th Century Boys unfold is utterly compelling. Urasawa is not full of violence or sex, elements which sometime feel like the hallmarks of men’s manga, but counts on sincere emotion, heroism among everyday people, and deft pacing to envelop the reader. (Owned by 118 libraries.)

Kazuya Minekura

My own mulligan was a hard choice — which rare and relatively unseen manga do I add to my list? I decided to go with the still (sadly) incomplete but evocative Wild Adapter from manga creator Kazuya Minekura. I almost decided to chime in with Akimi Yoshida’s Banana Fish (please do check out the ongoing roundtable discussions I’m a part of here for more information): after all, who doesn’t like epic crime drama with a strong dose of emotional intensity and frequent mexican standoffs? With six volumes currently available, however, Wild Adapter provides a lot of the same appeal for less money spent by an individual library. Minekura is famous for combining smokin’ hot bad boys and demon action into an irreverent retelling of the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West in the popular series Saiyuki and Saiyuki Reload. The dreamboat stars are a calculated draw for female readers while the vicious action and goofy humor call out to the guys. Wild Adapter balances older audience elements just as well.  Minekura mixes together all of my favorite crime story flavors: yakuza (Japanese organized crime families), shadowy experiments, amnesia, badass fights, shifting loyalties, and bursts of bitter humor. A cryptic pair of leading men, who hide as many secrets from each other as from their myriad enemies, borrow attitude and grim determination from the best seinen (men’s) manga. The relationship between the two, however, full of slowly building tension that borders on but never explicitly becomes romantic, is pure josei (women’s manga) tradition. Her artwork delineates the action and mystery just as surely as she loads a touch or a glance with meaning. Minekura has been on hiatus in order to recover from illness, but fans both in Japan and in the US eagerly await news about when the series will restart. (Owned by 45 libraries.)

Read about Brigid’s picks:

Cat’s Paradise by Yuji Iwahara (Owned by 42 libraries.)
ES: Eternal Sabbath by Fuyumi Soryo (Owned by 86 libraries.)
Suppli by Mari Okazaki (Owned by 19 libraries.)
Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma (Owned by 44 libraries.)
And her mulligan: Me and the Devil Blues by Akira Hiramoto (Owned by 46 libraries.)

You can also check out Martha Cornog’s two picks in Brigid’s post:

Cinderalla by by Junko Mizuno (Owned by 29 libraries.)
Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike & Kazuo Kamimura (Owned by 144 libraries.)

Read about Katherine’s picks:

The Four Immigrants Manga by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama (Owned by 443 libraries.)
Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki (Owned by 130 libraries.)
Satsuma Gishiden by Hiroshi Hirata (Owned by 36 libraries.)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumyio Kouno (Owned by 206 libraries.)
And her mulligan: Phoenix: Civil War by Osamu Tezuka (Owned by 309 libraries.)

Graphic Novel Programming at ALA

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The ALA Annual Conference, just over a week away, boasts a wide array of programming devoted to comics and graphic novels. This year, there is a program for everyone.

There are excellent conference programs in the Programming Guide. If you’re having trouble navigating it, search the event planner for the keyword “graphic novel.”

This year, for the first time, additional graphic novel and comics programming will also be taking place at the Graphic Novel Pavilion in the exhibit floor courtesy of Diamond Book Distributors. These events grew out of a partnership between Diamond Books and the ALA Show Management Team, involving a lot of hard work and brainstorming by ALA Show staff Tina Coleman, Patrick Murphy and John Chraska and Diamond Books’ John Shableski.

Throughout the weekend at The Graphic Novel Pavilion, publishers will present previews of their upcoming titles in half-hour sessions at the Graphic Novel and Gaming Stage. Creators, including Raina Telgemeier (Smile: A Dental Drama), Barry Lyga (Archvillain), and Geoffrey Hayes (Benny & Penny) will also speak about their latest works. For the listing of the full schedule of programs and creators (which is not included in the ALA Programming Guide), click here.

Below are must-attend programs for anyone who works with Graphic Novels.

Friday evening, 8:00 p.m.

The popular Booklist Forum this year is called Comic World: Graphic Novels Come of Age and features an exciting panel of creators and publishers Francoise Mouly (TOON Books), Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Prime Baby), Mark Siegel (To Dance, Seadogs), and Matt Phelan (The Storm in the Barn).
Location: Washington Convention Center, 144A

Saturday, 10:00am

The Art of Graphic Novel Collection Development is for all of you librarians keen to understand the ins and outs of how best to maintain your collection, with librarian panelists Kat Kan and Ty Rousseau alongside Jill Faherty from Baker and Talyor and Raymond Barber from HW Wilson and moderated by Unshelved‘s Gene Ambaum.
Location: Exhibits, Graphic Novel and Gaming Stage

Saturday, 4:00 pm

Library of Congress Newspaper Section Head Georgia Higley and graphic novel publisher extraordinaire Francoise Mouly will present Back to the Future: Comics and Graphic Novels in Special Collections, investigating the format’s impact on juvenile publishing and the evolution and use of comics and graphic novel collections in the Library of Congress.
Location: Washington Convention Center, 145B

Sunday, 4:00 pm

The bloggers from School Library Journal‘s Good Comics for Kids (myself included) will present a primer on graphic novels for younger readers addressing such topics as creating a successful juvenile collection, age ratings, and favorite titles.
Location: Washington Convention Center, 152A

Monday, 10:30 am

David Small (Stitches) and Audrey Niffenegger (The Night Bookmobile) will speak about their ventures into creating graphic novels.
Location: Washington Convention Center, Ballroom C

Monday, 12:30pm

Christian Zabriskie presents Superbooks: How Graphic Novels Can Save Your Library with Amazing Circulation Numbers, providing an in-depth look with statistics at how much bang for your buck graphic novels give you.
Location: Exhibits, Pop Top Stage

Monday, 1:30pm

School librarians take note! Peter Gutierrez, Sari Wilson, Prof. Katie Monnin, and David Serchay all pool together their considerable knowledge to help you navigate the best methods and resources for teaching with graphic novels.  Make sure to check out all the other school-related programs here.
Location: Exhibits, Pop Top Stage

Monday, 2:30pm

Closing out the events on Monday at 2:30 pm, a diverse panel of graphic novel editors giving attendees the lowdown on graphic novel creation.
Location: Exhibits, Pop Top Stage

If you’re wondering just where I’ll be at during the weekend, I’ll be part of the panel The Best Manga You’re Not Reading panel Saturday as well as two more panels discussing the joys (and struggles) in creating the Great Graphic Novels for Teens List and serving as an Eisner Judge.

Finally, join everyone at the Graphic Novel and Gaming Stage for the Cosplay on Parade Cocktail Reception from 4:00-5:00pm on Saturday. Librarians will be strutting their stuff dressed as their favorite characters and showing off just how much fun cosplay (or costume play) can be. I’ll be in costume all day Saturday, so I hope you’ll say hello! Just look for Rapunzel from Shannon Hale’s Calamity Jack.

If you’re on Facebook, help spread the word and let us know you’ll be attending the Graphic Novel Pavilion events here.

Are You Buying Comics for Women?

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

A good friend and colleague, Eva Volin, posed a smart and challenging question for librarians during the recent BEA panel Hot Fall Graphic Novels for Libraries: how many librarians are actively collecting graphic novels written for women?

One of the titles she included as a runner-up for the “Hot” list is a classic, soon-to-be published yaoi manga series Kizuna by Kazuma Kadoka. Yaoi, or boys love, manga is a subgenre featuring romances between two men, aimed at female audiences. Kizuna is a classic of the type, brimming with romance and drama (even melodrama), and Kadoka’s style develops beautifully over the long-running series. Yaoi is a strong seller among women, periodically appearing in the Amazon top 100 sellers for manga and even cracking the New York Times Best Seller list. In my own library, which is one of the very few that purchases yaoi, they are consistently top circulators, right alongside Captain America, Ghost in the Shell, and The Push Man and Other Stories.

Librarians may balk at purchasing yaoi partly because it often features sex and, in the case of this subgenre, the lovers are two men. Yes, there is sex in Kizuna. Yaoi titles can be very explicit, but Kizuna doesn’t push beyond what’s seen in series many libraries collect including Old Boy, Vagabond, Lady Snowblood, Powers, Sandman, Watchmen, and Y the Last Man. The fact that sex and romance is part and parcel of a female fantasy make Kizuna no different from the romance novels we all collect in piles. When women represent over 51% of the population, and gay people are estimated as representing up to 5%, we should be very careful not to dismiss a significant portion of our readers.

It’s true that a few titles in the yaoi genre show adult men and teenaged boys involved in relationships and some skirt the edges of what is acceptable to American audiences, but don’t write off the entire genre because of a few titles (reviews will point out such elements if that’s a concern).

So, who is buying for women comics fans; not teenage girls, not tweens, but women? Librarians who buy graphic novels are aware of the major audiences: teenagers of both genders and, for adult collections, adult men. When fans, including women, are clamoring for the latest Ex Machina, Iron Man, and 20th Century Boys volume, it’s easy to overlook other interests. Are you building a graphic novel collection that everyone will want to browse, or just the most vocal fans and obvious readers?

When I speak to women patrons in my library about comics, they are clearly interested in titles aimed at them. I’ve let them know I do the buying for the graphic novel section. As a result, a few women, from their twenties to their fifties, now approach me to request titles from creators like Lucy Knisley, Marjane Satrapi, Rutu Modan, Posy Simmonds, Alison Bechdel, and Hope Larson. They request the giant multi-creator Tori Amos comics anthology Comic Book Tattoo. They get excited when they see our collection has josei (women’s) manga series including Yayoi Ogawa’s Tramps Like Us and Fumi Yoshinaga’s All My Darling Daughters. Many young women gravitate toward the yaoi titles we collect, relishing the romance, and I’ve had a number of requests for more titles from both women and one young gay fan.

Many of these women don’t realize what’s out there for them to read. The manga lovers still indulge in girls manga, but delight in realizing there are  titles written for older audiences. Readers of western comics who started with Bechdel’s Fun Home or Satrapi’s Persepolis branch out to the Dykes to Watch Out For collections and Embroideries. They discover these titles in the library, but I’m willing to bet that, if we didn’t have them on the shelf, they’d simply stop looking.

Think about Eva’s challenge as it relates to your own collection. Which graphic novels do you have that were written for women?

EX MACHINA Hits Number 1

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

At the top of the  NYT Graphic Books Paperback Best Seller list this week is one of the few comics series that I buy as it comes out: Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan. Mitchell Hundred was just a civil engineer who, through the time-honored tradition of being too near alien technology when it exploded, discovered he has the ability to command any machine or mechanical device. At first that may not seem so useful — so he can turn on his TV by talking to it, big whoop — but as a crime-fighter, he can tell guns not to fire, wipe out communications, and tell a bomb timer not to go off. He used his powers for good, not always with grace but well intentioned, and managed to become a superhero known as The Great Machine. When on 9/11 The Great Machine was able to stop one plane from hitting the Twin Towers but not two, Hundred decides he’d do more good as a politician than a superhero, and runs to become the Mayor of New York City.

Ex Machina has a lot going for it as a series: it’s a superhero tale, yes, but it’s also a sharp political drama and promises ultimately to be a critical portrait of a man’s struggle to be a hero in political terms rather than as a super powered vigilante. Writer Brian K. Vaughan has foreshadowed from the beginning that Mitchell Hundred’s tale is a tragic one, but one that is full of humor, surprises, and pathos. Starting in 2001, the series is a period piece looking at a slightly alternate history of the country and NYC as Mayor Hundred struggles with a number of issues: freedom of speech, gay marriage, anti-war demonstrations, possible terrorist attacks, and public speculation about his own sexuality. At the same time, because he was once a superhero, his past frequently rears up to complicate his current position, from repercussions of his less than spectacular days as a superhero to his own staff being in danger from old enemies. Tony Harris, a strong artist known for creating much of his work from friends and family in reference photos, does a stellar job capturing the rapid pace of the day-to-day job and the contemplative moments alike. Ex Machina is finishing in the next collection, volume ten, and if libraries don’t already own the series, now is a good time to pick it up in paperback trades or in hardcover deluxe editions. In my library, this remains one of our top-circulating titles.

Brian K. Vaughan is a writer that every library collecting graphic novels should know. He’s the kind of author, like Stephen King, who always brings entertaining and thoughtful speculative visions to his work. He has a smart sense of both dialogue and over-arching plot. His series benefit from a strong structure and a set plot, and his mixture of humor with dramatic challenges make his titles appealing to a wide range of readers of both genders, from comics fans to literary buffs. He writes for teens (Runaways) or adults (Y the Last Man, Ex Machina) and everyone in between (Pride of Baghdad), and has even jumped to other formats (as a writer for ABC’s Lost) and his titles are deservedly popular. He has not announced any new projects as of yet, promising that nothing new will start until Ex Machina is finished, but his name is a strong indication that a series outside the established universes of DC or Marvel will be a hit.

Ex Machina, Book 1 (Deluxe Edition)
Brian Vaughan
Retail Price: $29.99
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: WildStorm – (2008-07-15)
ISBN / EAN: 1401218148 / 9781401218140


Runaways, Vol. 1
Brian K. Vaughan
Retail Price: $34.99
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Marvel Comics – (2006-01-18)
ISBN / EAN: 0785118764 / 9780785118763


Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1 (Deluxe Edition)
Brian K. Vaughan
Retail Price: $29.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Vertigo – (2008-10-28)
ISBN / EAN: 1401219217 / 9781401219215


Pride of Baghdad
Brian K. Vaughan
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 136 pages
Publisher: Vertigo – (2008-01-02)
ISBN / EAN: 1401203159 / 9781401203153

Farewell to CMX: manga casualties just keep coming

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

This has not been a good month for the manga readers. VIZ, the company at the top of the manga publisher heap buoyed up by sales of Naruto and Bleach while taking chances on excellent riskier fare like The House of Five Leaves and Saturn Apartments, announced a restructuring that resulted in laying off 40% of staff.  This change seems to be a streamlining move in order to survive the economic downturn rather than a portent of doom for the company, but with all of the changes in the manga landscape lately, VIZ’s announcement felt like one more step down for manga’s status in the market.

In April, ICv2 reported in their annual white paper that manga sales dropped another 20% in 2009 on the heels of a 17% drop the year before. Smaller, specialized manga publishers have been blinking out for a while now.  Broccoli Books shut down in 2008 after a year’s effort. Central Park Media, more of an anime distributor than a manga publisher but notable as one of the first publishers to release yaoi manga under its Be Beautiful imprint, declared bankruptcy in 2009 after close to 19 years in the industry. One of the more endearing smaller manga publishers, Go Comi!, missing from the scene for months, has finally disappeared: their website has expired, and staff have moved on to other ventures. Other manga publishers still maintaining an online presence but have been inactive for months include Aurora and DrMaster.

Then, this past week came the announcement that DC Comics is shutting down it’s manga imprint, CMX, in July. Commentators cited the tough economic outlook as an obvious cause and mourn the missed opportunity for a DC-backed manga line. Many lay the blame at DC’s feet for their mismanagement of the line including not pushing for stock in bookstores and a dearth of representation for CMX at conventions or book conferences. Christopher Butcher at Comics 212 lays out the history with a brutal but accurate catalog of errors that deflated CMX’s potential from the get go. This sudden closing of shop is the straw that broke the camel’s back for many manga industry watchers. The outcry over the demise of CMX has run the gamut: eloquent, vitriolic, mournful, bitter, and dismayed but unsurprised, all frequently punctuated by expletives. The Beat sums up all of the reactions (updated, as the headline proclaims, now with more ire!).

Most disappointing is that, in 2006, with knowledgeable director Asako Suzuki and editor Jim Chadwick leading the charge, CMX launched titles like Kaoru Mori’s Emma, their stand-out success, but by then they were already an afterthought when it came to promotion. They soon established a whole host of titles perfect for younger teens desperate for manga but not quite up for the melodrama and maturity offered by teen fare. Their smart choices apparently came too little, too late.

All of this does not mean manga is over.  In my experience, the readers are no less demanding and are just as (if not more) visible.  Remember, in 2007 manga sold at an all time high, with over 1500 titles coming out, whereas by this year we have 968 titles.  The decline is partly a result of the shifting of the market due to the economic downturn, a natural flattening out after manga’s initial boom, and possibly the creeping competition of free scanlation sites.  As ICv2 points out, “…manga titles still represented 35% of all the graphic novels released in the U.S. in 2009 and accounted for a similar percentage of sales in the category.”

Gathered from both my own reading and from fellow manga reviewers, here is a list of the must-have CMX titles to get or complete as finished series before all of the remaining copies are snapped up. David Welsh at the Manga Curmudgeon gives a great run down of titles he suggests collecting for all age ranges. For all of you Children’s and teen librarians looking for titles for your tweens, make sure to check out my colleague Katherine Dacey’s Good Comics for Kids Guide to CMX Manga over at School Library Journal.

Swan by Kyoko Ariyoshi (incomplete)
From Eroica with Love by Yasuko Aoike (incomplete)
Two absolute classics of manga may have been a tough start for the CMX line, but these two series are landmarks in the history of shojo manga. Swan is the breathtakingly beautiful soap opera set in the world of professional ballet, and From Eroica With Love is the cheeky, daredevil cat-and-mouse game between a master thief (inspired by Robert Plant at his 70s, sexy best) and the detective set to catch him. Dirk Deppey over at The Comics Journal mourns Swan will be without an end and makes a great case for why it’s still worth reading.

Emma (volumes 1-10)
Shirley (stand alone in the Emma universe)
all by Kaoru Mori
My own must-have is Emma: a gorgeous, rich historical romance telling a tale of love between a ladies’ maid and a gentleman in Victorian London. With meticulous visual detail, Mori embraces both opulent and everyday Victorian life while escaping the traps of stodgy historical drama by giving her characters spirit, heart, and witty intelligence. The chasm is wide between our two lovers, and Mori explores social barriers with the finesse of many a great historical novelist. Don’t just take my word for it; Emma was the subject of a recent Manga Moveable Feast, a initiative among manga bloggers to all read and discuss the same title for a set period of time. Check their archive of entries to see how much love these reviewers have for the series as a whole.

Apothecarius Argentum by Tomomi Yamashita (incomplete)
Kiichi and the Magic Books by Taka Amano
The Lapis Lazuli Crown
The Palette of 12 Secret Colors
Two Flowers for the Dragon

all by Nari Kusakawa
All of these titles are wonderful for younger teens and older kids who are fascinated by manga’s style, storytelling and art but are not yet ready for teen titles. Nari Kusakawa has charming series staring spunky girls, and all of her series are short (ranging from two to six volumes.) Kiichi and the Magic Books is a strong fantasy adventure for older kids, recommended by Katherine Dacey at Good Comics for Kids as one of the best kid-friendly manga of 2008. Apothecarius Argentum mixes magic, politics and princesses. Sadly not all of these series will be finished by CMX, but here’s hoping someone might pick the licenses and finish their runs.

Chikyu Misaki by Yuji Iwahara
Land of the Blindfolded by Tsukuba Sakura
The Name of the Flower by Ken Saitou
Oyayubihime Infinity by Toru Fujieda
The Recipe for Gertrude by Nari Kusakawa
All of these shojo series are finished, so if you buy them, you won’t be stuck with an incomplete set. The Name of the Flower made Katherine Dacey’s best manga of 2009 list, and Chikyu Miksaki has long been recognized as a strong, short series full of oddball appeal. All of these have devoted followings in my teen collection, and are as they are all shorter series, are a cost-effective way to add diversity to your collection.

Stand Out Standalones

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Debuting on the NYT Graphic Books best seller list at #3, is the latest title from indie-comic favorite Daniel Clowes, Wilson. In the deluge of more mainstream superhero and manga titles, single volumes from independent creators can be lost in the shuffle, so it’s a pleasure to see one of them shoot to the top ranks of the list.

Over this past weekend, I had a chance to attend the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (fondly known as TCAF), considered by many to be the top convention devoted to independent and innovative creators and publishers in the comics world. Since TCAF was first held in 2003, the event has been curated and promoted by the indefatigable Christopher Butcher, owner of one of the best comics stores in North America, The Beguiling, a no-holds-barred comics blogger, and an advocate for the diversity and literary quality of the medium.

TCAF is not a comics convention in the usual sense: there were very few folks in costume (and those that were were sporting richly detailed steampunk outfits, not superhero spandex), and the attendees were clearly more from the hipster set than the stereotypical fanboy horde you see at the larger, mainstream cons.

In 2003, TCAF’s attracted over 70 artists and a crowd of 600 attendees. Last year those numbers grew to over 300 exhibitors and 10,500 attendees. This year’s numbers are sure to come in even higher.

Daniel Clowes himself was front and center debuting Wilson in a special program Friday evening. The trumpeting of both Clowes’s talent and independent publisher Drawn and Quarterly‘s street cred shows clearly where TCAF’s heart is: with the innovative, literary creators who are both entertaining and challenging readers. Throughout the weekend, programs highlighted such creators (Charles Vess, Paul Pope, Dash Shaw, James Sturm, Seth, and Chester Brown are but a few headliners) as well as topics of interest to the eclectic crowd: manga outside the mainstream, comics history, the dangers of creating autobiographical comics, and the impact of webcomics and social media on creators.

TCAF also features a whole raft of kids programming. I poked my head in to see the happy crowd of children drawing their own comics and mercilessly interrogating creators Mike Deas (Soccer Sabotage), Eric Wight (Frankie Pickle) and Matt Loux (Salt Water Taffy) about their work.

At the show, treasures of comic art and beautifully crafted prints and books were waiting to be discovered. The most artful finds included a gorgeous hardcover of the webcomic The Abominable Charles Christopher, Kathryn and Stuart Immonen’s Wolrd War II drama Moving Pictures, and Jim Woodring’s Weathercraft. Fanfare/Ponent-Mon’s anticipated Korea as Viewed by 12 Creators (a follow up to their excellent anthology Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators) was newly available. TCAF is also the place to find the small, crafted editions of mini-comics and show specials including Jim Zubkavich’s A Slightly Fictional History of Popcorn, Colleen Frakes’s Tragic Relief, and an amusing fanzine for Lady Gaga Prison for Bitches. (Thanks to fellow TCAF-goers Deb Aoki and Eva Volin for their input on the most memorable finds!)

Even more exciting to this librarian?  TCAF takes place at the Toronto Reference Library. The main floor’s study tables are replaced with row after row of artists and writers while another room upstairs was devoted to webcomics creators. Among the stacks are the lines for creator signings, artists sketching and signing prints, and a number of critical conversations to be overheard among fans, publishers, and creators. The library takes full advantage of hosting the festival, pulling out titles for display to show off their own graphic novel and comics collections. Open during the festival and welcoming to all comers, from their usual crowd to the more unusual comics afficcianados, the library has truly embraced all that this event brings them, from new visitors to visibility on the grander city-wide stage.

This is the kind of event that I could imagine organized at other city libraries, like Boston or New York. Of course,  you’d need a show organizer with the expertise and zeal of Butcher to pull it off. What a wonderful melding of comics and libraries such a movable feast could be.

Do the Sirens Call to Female Readers?

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

The introduction to this week’s NYT Graphic Books Best Seller lists notes the rise of Gotham City Sirens, a new series from DC Comics featuring the misadventures of iconic female antagonists: Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and the Joker’s main squeeze, Harley Quinn. DC Comics frequently feature enticing female characters who are also strong, smart, independent, and well able to stand up to the big boys of the DC Universe including Batman, Superman, and the whole host of Justice League men. Birds of Prey, a long-running series following the crime-fighting trio of Oracle (Barbara Gordon, once Batgirl), Black Canary, and the Huntress, remains one of the few titles to feature an all-female team bristling with both smarts and fighting skills.

You’d think that these series would be a natural place to engage with a female audience. Strong female characters? Check. Action crime plots? Check. All of these women, as written by writers including Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, and Chuck Dixon, are well able to give Buffy Summers a run for her money. The big difference? Take a look at the cover for Gotham City Sirens. The image is clearly, overwhelmingly intended for readers who want to ogle women: teenage and adult guys. It’s not just the cover, either (click for a preview of the first issue from Newsarama.) Female superheroes not only have to contend with ridiculous costumes (check out Project Runway guru Tim Gunn smartly tearing apart the costumes designs in this priceless video), but are drawn in poses that defy logic to emphasize actual physical prowess. Good girl art, as such sexualized, pin-up style comic art has been termed, is still a frequent style in superheroine tales. Women may deduce right alongside Batman, but their body shapes and fighting contortions make it very clear their purpose is to be on display.

Of course, manga has its fair share of pin-ups too. Rosario+Vampire, currently occupying the top spot on the NYT manga list, is a fine example of scantily clad young ladies squarely aimed at a male audience. However, manga balances out such titles with two things: comics for girls, like Gentlemen’s Alliance, Black Butler, and Nightschool on this week’s list, and comics that cater to girls’s desires to ogle pretty boys, as with Gentlemen’s Alliance and Alice in the Country of Hearts. Harem manga, aimed at young male readers in Japan, features a hapless young man surrounded by a bevvy of buxom young ladies who all want to date him. Think Judd Apatow comedies with about ten bombshell starlets instead of just one.  Reverse harems feature instead an ordinary girl suddenly gaining the romantic attention of a wide array of gorgeous young men, and Alice in the Country of Hearts is a classic example.  In the manga publishing world, there is at least that balance, while in the U.S. mainstream comics world, comics for girls are almost nonexistent and comics for those who like a little male eye candy are even more scarce.

So what’s a woman who wants female heroes to do? Mainstream superhero comics give you very little choice: either you ignore the cheesecake pin-up art and read for the stories or you stop reading and go find your superheroines with more normal body types somewhere else. Comics outside mainstream continuity feature a plethora of excellent, intriguing female heroes who need not fit the spandex suit. For younger readers there’s Emily Edison, Alison Dare, Rose from the world of Bone, and GoGirl!. For adults there’s Tara Chace in Queen and Country, Liz Sherman in Hellboy, Maya Antares from Red Star, and Jenny Sparks in The Authority. Many female readers, teens and adults alike, turn to manga for their kick-butt women. Favorites include Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Nobara in Crimson Hero, Miura Ito from W Juliet, Arena Pendleton from Train + Train, Nana Osaki in Nana, Alice Malvin in Pumpkin Scissors, and Rukia from Bleach.

I’m all for readers enjoying the sexiness where they find it, but as a reader, I get tired of conflicting messages. If there aren’t fully-realized characters to balance out the sex bombs and vixens, we’re left with the message that sexy posing is all women are good for in the superhero world.  To those who claim that the men are just as exaggerated and sexualized, I say until there’s a comic where Batman periodically preens in his bedroom and then runs around fighting crime in only a speedo, there’s nothing in the portrayal of male heroes that compares. Do these pin-up comics sell in the short term? Of course. Do they lose a potentially large audience? Speaking for the many women open to reading comics who glance at such covers and immediately turn away, I’d say, yes.

Playing Manga Catchup

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

VIZ’s manga series One Piece dominated the NYT manga best seller list last week, taking up five of the total ten positions. But, come this week, none of the One Piece titles showed up on the list. What does this mean?

Last week’s spike is due to VIZ’s aggressive One Piece publishing schedule.  Since January of this year, One Piece has been published in five volume sets instead of the usual one volume per month. Volumes 21 through 53 will be published by June allowing VIZ to get closer to the Japanese release schedule.

VIZ  is no doubt trying to meet fan demand and to battle the continuing appeal of instantaneous access to series via illegal scanlation sites, where fans translate Japanese manga titles and make them available on the internet. In 2007, VIZ worked to catch up with the Japanese releases of their best-selling series Naruto. Over four months, three volumes were released a month, allowing VIZ to finish out the current storyline of Naruto and be ready to launch the new story arc, referred to as Naruto Shippuden, marking a two-year break in the tale’s narrative. Then, early in 2009, VIZ once again began a blitz campaign, releasing four new volumes a month in February through April, to catch up with both the Japanese release schedule and to stay in line with the animated Naruto TV series arriving in the US.

For the best seller list, this accelerated publishing rate doesn’t necessarily mean much.  Naruto dominates the manga list whenever a new volume is published, and similar spikes happened during the bulk releases in 2009.  One Piece, on the other hand, has not been an automatic best seller for VIZ.  This series, which follows the slapstick-filled and charmingly oddball adventures of a pirate, Luffy, who has been cursed (or blessed) with a rubberized body, has never been as strong a presence as other popular shonen (or boys comics) titles like Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist, or Bleach.  Last week’s arrival in force on the NYT list indicates the fan base is growing and we should pay attention to it in selection.

In a time of tightening budgets, sudden increases in releases can wreak havoc on a library’s orders especially if you have a standing order plan. In my library, both Naruto and One Piece are on standing order, and while I wasn’t forced to cancel the plan when the publishing schedule changed, I was lucky that my budget could accommodate the shift. However, this year’s One Piece push was a dramatic increase.  Instead of five new volumes, I suddenly had to pay for thirty. VIZ sent out press releases informing consumers and library publications about the increase, but my own warnings came from comics sources and individual librarians, not from vendors or standard library publications. So far, VIZ has been choosing wisely, only accelerating series that are in high demand. Libraries need to keep up to satisfy their readers, so it’s important to keep tabs on VIZ’s press releases and publishing schedules.

The other major issue that affects libraries is publisher’s fighting the widespread ease and appeal of scanlation sites.  Publishers acknowledge that they will never catch up in print with the scanlations that are released within a matter of days after the source material hits the magazine racks in Japan.

A hullaballoo over the weekend, smartly broken down by Robot 6‘s Brigid Alverson, noted a new iPhone app available for download that cheerfully makes the most popular illegal scanlation sites available.  Just yesterday I chatted with a favorite adult patron who revealed that, now that he’s discovered scan sites, he’s been checking out fewer titles from the library. Scans feed his desire for instant reading. Some titles are available to library users digitally via Overdrive, such as Tokyopop’s, but most of them are older and US-originated titles and thus not likely to keep fans away from the scan sites. Librarians need to work with publishers and digital media vendors to get what our users are looking for, or we face losing them.

Eisners: The Oscars of Comics

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

This last Friday the nominations list for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards were announced. The Eisner Awards, now in their 22nd year, are the Oscars of the comics industry, featuring close to thirty categories and highlighting everything comics related including best writer, colorist, and penciler to honoring new titles, series, and academic work. The nominations, as with the Oscars, are voted on by those within the industry.

The nominations list is created every year by a panel of five judges made up of industry experts, creators, comic shop owners, and, for the past five years one of their number has been a librarian. This year librarian Francisca Goldsmith holds that honor, as I did back in 2007. It is a grueling, invigorating, demanding process. Paring down thousands of titles into a list of a just under 150 works is a Herculean task.

Looking at this year’s list with a strong memory of how much work it takes, this year’s round up is a solid, intriguingly eclectic list.  David Mazzuccheilli’s Asterios Polyp leads with the most nominations for a single work. For the first time a manga creator, Naoki Urasawa, walks away with the most nominations for his two works Pluto and 20th Century Boys, demonstrating that manga can compete in multiple categories. In fact, as Deb Aoki at Manga on notes, manga titles doubled in number of nominations. Eric Shanower’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz gains two nominations. The Best Publication for Kids category presents a wonderfully competitive slate proving how creative and diverse kids comics has become. A new category was created this year, Best Adaptation from Another Work, to honor those creators who managed to successfully transform another medium into comics excellence.

Nominations are debated, critiqued, and mocked by comics-watchers and fans with a glee on par with skewering the Oscar ballots. As with any list, people wonder at titles left out, publishers snubbed, or head-scratching over new categories or obscure works. Second guessing any set of nominations is part of the fun. One publisher has already caught bloggers’ attention, asking why their company, as a frequent contender, received zero nominations this year. Commentators like Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter have broken down the publishers and started critiquing. DC Comics picks up a whopping twenty nominations, but as this is an industry award, perhaps this should not be such a surprise. With Fantagraphics, a notably independent publisher, picking up seventeen nominations, indie fare is not exactly underrepresented. Intriguing for libraries, book publisher Abrahms boasts eight nominations, on par with Marvel Comics, showing a welcome awareness of work created outside of the traditional comics industry. David Welsh, manga blogger extraordinaire, contemplates the recognized manga titles and, being unable to resist the temptation, offers a few more he might have included. Already causing chatter is the Best Publication for Teens category featuring titles many have not had on their radar, and a glaring lack of manga, which is awkward as teens are still the largest audience for manga works.

I have found, in my years of Eisner list-watching, that the nominations list is more useful for selection than the ultimate lists of winners.  Much like the Oscars, internal politics and branding mix in how voters make their decisions.  Predicting the Eisner winners is akin to an office Oscar pool, and betting starts now.  Consider who the industry wants to win, who the big names or publishers are, and be pleasantly surprised when a relatively obscure but deserving contender takes the prize.  The nominations list, on the other hand, is the work of five people from a variety of perspectives on the comics world pulling out what they consider the best and brightest of the past year.  It’s a complicated, human (and therefore fallible) process, but the resulting nominations always point toward quality, significant work worth considering for your collection.

Manga or Not Manga? That is the Question

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Continuing at #1 on the NYT Manga best seller list this week is Warriors: Clan in Need, the new title in the wildly popular series (which is also popular in its prose format). Meanwhile, the manga-influenced version of another wildly popular title, Twilight is #1 on the Hardcover list.

So, why is Warriors on the Manga list, while the manga-influenced Twilight is not? These placements highlight a debate among comics and manga readers as to how to best define manga for the US readers. Manga is simply the Japanese word for comics but it has evolved to define a particular style. What constitutes that style, however, is highly debatable. Some say it should only include titles originally published in Japan by Japanese creators.  Others expand the definition to include manga-influenced titles, like both Warriors and Twilight. This then raises debate about how many manga elements a title needs to include (the Graphic Novel Reporter gives a good rundown of manga style). Does only art style come into it, or should the other aspects of manga including symbols, pacing, and storytelling techniques be necessary?

But, in the end, readers don’t care so much about these distinctions; they just want to know if particular titles appeal to fellow manga fans. Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova is a US-produced title that is beloved by manga fans because it adopts not only the visual style but also the intricacies of symbols, pacing, and layout that make manga a recognizable art form.  The popular series Megatokyo and stand-alone works like June Kim’s 12 Days occupy a more complex middle spot between manga and western comics sensibility.

On the other hand, the Warriors graphic novels are not particularly appealing to manga fans (they’re appealing to Warriors fans, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).

I am a librarian who believes, for the purposes of creating lists and organizing collections, it’s easiest to define manga strictly as comics produced in Japan for a Japanese audience.  Once you start including titles from outside Japan as manga, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine a line between manga and non-manga. As art styles and influence grow more intermingled, it is problematic to leave the term up to individual tastes or publisher’s marketing schemes.  The most important thing, however, is consistency, something which is not happening on the New York Times lists.

The Warriors series has appeared on the manga list multiple times, as have other US created manga-style series including Vampire Kisses: Blood Relatives from Ellen Schreiber and Maximum Ride by James Patterson. On the other hand, Scott Pilgrim, a series with marked manga influences, appears on the softcover lists, as does Adam Warren’s Empowered and X-Men: Misfits, both of which are clearly manga-style in terms of art.

How does the NYT decide what is manga and what is not? It seems they simply take the publishers word for it. If a publisher calls a title “manga” it goes on that list; when a title has no designation, it goes on either the hardcover or paperback lists.

As a result, sometimes true manga titles don’t appear on the manga list. Last year, A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a stunning memoir by one of the founders of gekiga, or dramatic manga aimed at adult men, showed up on the softcover list, with no indication that the list makers realized that it was manga. Even more troubling, Death Note: L Change the World appeared for many weeks on the manga list even though it is a prose novel and thus not even a graphic novel. Death Note is indeed a best-selling manga series, but L Change is a novel spin-off, and its continued placement on a graphic novel best seller list made it appear that the New York Times list makers weren’t quite paying attention.

In selecting, we need to be aware that all the titles on the manga list may not appeal to manga fans. Buying Warriors or Vampire Kisses will not be a way to satisfy your readers’ demand for more manga.

Ooku wins the Tiptree Award

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

The first two volumes of Fumi Yoshinaga’s alternate history series Ooku: The Inner Chambers, have won the James Tiptree, Jr Award this week. The Tiptree award, given out at Wiscon, the feminist-oriented science fiction convention, is awarded for, “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” Given the rarity of a graphic novel winning literary awards (unless there is a separate category for the format), this recognition indicates that comics are infiltrating the worlds of literature.

Ooku is a challenging premise illuminated by one of the most accomplished and adventurous manga creators working today. Fumi Yoshinaga is known for her sly comic timing, her spiky and complex characters, and her keen observations on family, love, friendship and the ties that bind. Ooku, an alternate history of the Edo period of Japan, ponders how a male-dominated society structured by complex, emperor-driven heirarchy would cope with the catastrophe of having over three-quarters of their male population die in a sudden plague. The government struggles to maintain  control, and eighty years after the first outbreak, women have taken over all major offices including the shogun. Men have become a precious commodity, and the finest are kept hidden away for the female Emperor’s enjoyment. One of the line of VIZ Signature titles, aimed squarely at adults and brimming with intelligence and ambitious interrogations into gender and power, Ooku is well-deserving of the award.

Over at The Comics Journal, Shaenon Garrity comments eloquently on what I agree makes this award important: namely that comics and graphic novels as a whole are not a format one traditionally expects to contribute significantly to exploring gender. Mainstream superhero comics are not known for exploring questions of gender and gender identity explicitly. A reader usually has to dig into the independent comics scene to find gender related tales and commentary. This award also points to how tracking the titles committees outside the comics industry notice is instructive as to what appeals to readers in general versus what appeals to already established comics fans.

I encourage all selectors to consider why graphic novels have won the awards they have. As always with awards, the winners reflect the list makers as much or even more than they reflect the titles or the readers. It’s heartening to see a graphic novel recognized by a group that admits they’re not particularly manga fans nor comics readers: they just know that Ooku challenged perceptions of gender in a literary, complex tale, and that’s all they needed to know.

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1 (Ooku)
Fumi Yoshinaga
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2009-08-18)
ISBN / EAN: 1421527472 / 9781421527475


Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 2 (Ooku the Inner Chambers)
Fumi Yoshinaga
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2009-12-08)
ISBN / EAN: 1421527480 / 9781421527482

The Best Graphic Novel Spin-offs

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

The two new titles this week on the New York Times Graphic Books Best Seller list both have strong ties to other media: Star Wars: Legacy Tatooine is a spin-off of the Star Wars films, speculating on the future of Luke’s bloodline. The Invincible Iron Man collects together the new stand-alone comic book series and is rocketing up in popularity due to the recent film franchise (Iron Man 2 arrives in theaters on 5/07).

Graphic novels connected to other media can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, they enhance a known universe and engage fans with a new format. On the other hand, they can be subpar in production, from art to writing, and depend too heavily on their source material to lure in new fans. A few creators have balanced the mix of homage and new storylines well.

Here are some of the best recent reboots.

Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto started as a retelling of the famous Astro Boy novella, “The Greatest Robot on Earth“, published in 1964 by the legendary Osamu Tezuka. Within the first few pages, however, readers are swept away into a world far more detailed and uncertain. Urasawa follows the basic plot of Tezuka’s world-renowned series, but he redirects focus away from Atom (aka Astro Boy) and concentrates on the Europol robot investigator Gesicht. Gesicht, called in to investigate the murders of both robots and humans, uncovers a trail of clues leading back to the tragedies of a recent war and long-simmering hatred. Urasawa investigates complex questions of prejudice, international conflict, politics, and artificial identity through eight volumes, and with the final volume due out on April 6th, it’s an excellent time purchase the complete run.

Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, Vol. 8
Naoki Urasawa
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2010-04-06)
ISBN / EAN: 142153343X / 9781421533438

Jim Butcher’s novel series The Dresden Files is a long-time favorite of urban fantasy fans, and while a recent TV show based on the books only aired for one season, the prequel graphic novel Welcome to the Jungle and adaptation of first novel Storm Front entered the New York Times Graphic Books Best Seller lists in April of last year. Featuring rich art and Butcher’s familiar mix of noir and magic, these are fine examples of adaptations and spin-offs done well.

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle
Jim Butcher
Retail Price: $19.95
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Del Rey/Dabel Brothers – (2008-10-14)
ISBN / EAN: 0345507460 / 9780345507464

The Dresden Files: Storm Front (Dresden Files (del Rey))
Jim Butcher
Retail Price: $22.95
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Del Rey/Dabel Brothers – (2009-06-02)
ISBN / EAN: 0345506391 / 9780345506399

On the younger side of storytelling, one could not ask for a more charming reinvention of a classic story than Shannon and Dean Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge and the latest adventure Calamity Jack. Rapunzel’s Revenge starts with the familiar elements of Rapunzel: girl in a tower, endless coils of hair, and a paranoid, overprotective witch in control. Within a few pages, however, Rapunzel has gotten herself out of the tower, slyly misdirected the prince coming to her rescue, and started off on her own adventure to rescue her land from the witch’s iron control. Calamity Jack takes off from the end of Rapunzel’s Revenge, this time zeroing in on the charming con-man Jack (of the Beanstalk). Jack and Rapunzel return to the city of Jack’s birth to find it overrun with giants, at war with a mysterious ant-race, and in desperate need of two clever, spunky heroes to set matters straight.

Rapunzel’s Revenge
Shannon Hale, Dean Hale
Retail Price: $14.99
Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books – (2008-08-05)
ISBN / EAN: 1599902885 / 9781599902883

Calamity Jack
Shannon Hale, Dean Hale
Retail Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books – (2010-01-05)
ISBN / EAN: 1599900769 / 9781599900766

Serenity: Those Left Behind and Serenity: Better Days helped mollify fans still disappointed by the abrupt cancelation of the quirky Joss Whedon science fiction western Firefly. As a television series, the show had no ending even with the spin-off film Serenity, but this accomplished graphic novel series contains all of the humor, character development, and heist-driven adventure that marked the series. Joss Whedon’s other beloved series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, got its own vivid stand-alone spin off in Fray: Future Slayer, a graphic novel showing the adventures of a slayer in the far future who is unaware of what vampires or slayers even are.

Serenity, Vol. 1: Those Left Behind
Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, Will Conrad

Retail Price: $9.95
Paperback: 104 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse – (2006-02-08)
ISBN / EAN: 1593074492 / 9781593074494

Serenity, Vol. 2: Better Days
Joss Whedon
Retail Price: $9.99
Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics – (2008-09-26)
ISBN / EAN: 1595821627 / 9781595821621

Joss Whedon
Retail Price: $19.95
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Dark Horse – (2003-12-09)
ISBN / EAN: 1569717516 / 9781569717516