Sunday, 21 October 2012

Manga-Making Manga!

You may or may not already know, but in between my manga reading I dabble in the world drawing, comic making, and otherwise wannabe artist-type person.  It’s a time-consuming but satisfying way to apply yourself but yes, I’ve not been tending very well to this blog because of it.  Sorry about that!  In recognition that there are many people who also enjoy drawing and such, I thought it’d be fun to have a super-quick rundown of manga about drawing manga!

There’s no real order of preference here, but the general trend is to start with the most positive titles and work my way down to the more bitter levels of creativity.

Bakuman  – Probably the most famous title on this list.  It tells the tale of two boys who decide to become manga artists in Shonen Jump, and succeed pretty damn quickly.  Rapid success of any sort is basically the only reason I need to put it first on this list.  The creative discussions between the various creatives are interesting and valid to anyone who’s thought about their plotting, whereas the internal politics of Jump’s editorial system should be taken more with a pinch of salt.  Needless to say it’s spawned a generation of ‘experts’ on the Internet who can now make insightful opinions on why certain manga do or don’t succeed.  That may sound cynical, so perhaps it’s better to think that encouraging people to think about comics more critically is a good thing.  I’ll leave it at that…

Comic Party (Tokyopop) – Moving away from professional manga making and into the world of doujinshi (self-published fan comics).  Comic Party is about a failed artist who becomes involved in making his own comics.  He works hard, sell a couple comics, and makes some friends along the way.  It’s the idealised model of starting out as an amateur artist, and a cute read.

Comic Party (CPM Manga) – An interesting spin-off series of books that contain actual doujinshi based on the original Comic Party series.  Some of the comics aren’t so great, but that’s not the point. It’s quite a rare to be given a chance to own translated doujin in this manner, and I feel gives a more accurate representation of the kinds of things you’re likely to find at your average Comiket rather than the back-to-back porn that otherwise seems to filter its way over here.

Pretty Maniacs
– The chronicles of a school Manga Club that works together to build its membership and sell its own comics at Comiket.  Less time is dedicated to the drawing part of comic-making, but more to the production side of things.  I now know how to compile, trim and bind my own perfect bound book which, to my knowledge, is a rather unique aspect of this manga.  Not exactly deep, but it’s high on humour and enthusiasm.

Dojin Work – Changing the romanised spelling of a Japanese word at the mid-point of an article, I’ve already written about Dojin Work elsewhere on this blog.  If Comic Party were a cute little puppy, Dojin Work would be the runt who’s humping your leg.  Scraping through an event where selling a single copy of your comic is considered a victory, and then making your next comic a porno in a desperate attempt to get more sales.  This is comic-making for the cynics, and frankly not totally unjustified in its approach.   A personal favourite and I always have a couple volumes to hand when I’m trying to hit a deadline.

Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
– Two guys in a room decide they will conquer the world with manga.  To do this, they need to make manga that will appeal to every audience in every style, and so mercilessly tear through every cliché and archetype that can be found in manga.  Pointing out weak storytelling is normally a criticism, but here it is something to use, celebrate and then exploit.  It’s funny, almost to the point at which you’d think the creators hold manga with contempt.  But there’s a special kind of love there, and I share it with them.

I’ll Give it My All… Tomorrow – This series is about a deadbeat guy who’s hit middle age and so decides to become a manga artist in between his shifts at a fast-food joint.  His comics suck, his father tells him he’s wasting his time, but he maintains a self-belief throughout which frankly without would make him the most miserable man alive.  It’s a comic that encourages the reader to judge the protagonist in the early stages, but as time goes on you gradually fall in line with his near-delusions of success.  You may not succeed as an artist, but so long as you’re trying and enjoying life, it is a life worth living.  There’s always a chance you’ll succeed… right?

I’m sure there’s a bunch more manga I forgot about, as well as those that feature creating, but are not a central part of the story (School Rumble is one example).  For those inspired to draw forget about those ‘How to Draw Manga…’ books.  The best way to learn how to draw is to draw, and the best way to understand comics is to read them.  Have fun!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


The team of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata seems pretty much invincible when it comes to dialogue-led manga.  Death Note came out and gained legions of fans and Bakuman pretty much did the same again, but what happens when that team is broken up?  RalΩGrad (we’re informed not to pronounce that omega) has the same artist, but the impact of a different writer is interesting to read.

Ral is a prince possessed by a shadow at birth which has the power to assimilate and consume its host.   With the threat of his transformation imminent, Ral is locked into a prison without light before he can attack his father’s kingdom.  Over the years Ral forms a pact with his shadow (Grad) to work together as equals, and when asked to defend their home from invasion, they fight together against a common enemy.

RalΩGrad’s biggest problem is its dumping too much information on its readers.  The unnecessarily convoluted descriptions on shadow classes (who basically range from possessed humans to full-blown monsters) and the endless world-building starts to take its toll on story progression.  The fights could’ve acted as a break to even things out, but they are tactical in nature with an equal emphasis on dialogue as much as action.  Also working against it are overly-complicated monster designs that are squeezed onto the pages.  Even at the end of the final volume I still couldn’t really tell you what Grad looks like as we never get a proper look at him.  Essentially the comic’s trying too hard to impress and doesn’t find much time to relax.

It’s not quite as bad as I’m making out though.  The artwork is amazingly detailed and Obata’s clearly gone all out after his stint on the more internally dramatic Death Note (great manga, but for an artist drawing a guy writing in a note book it’s not much to play with).  I also really enjoyed the crude sense of humour of  Ral and his penchant for ‘boobies’.  For a shonen manga this contains a lot more nudity than you’d expect as he nuzzles in on many a nearby cleavage.  It’s really stupid, and helps things from becoming too po-faced in an otherwise typical and straight-laced manga.

With only a 4 volume run, this is a brief and rushed affair.  Far be it from me to give a manga a bad review, but I found it difficult to read at time due to its sheer density.  Most manga can be read in a matter of minutes, but it took several attempt to fight through.  This is stodgy stuff and perhaps only really worth checking out for curious Death Note fans.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Ebook vs. BOOKbook

It’s been a rising trend for a few years now and is pretty much in full flow by now, and the idea of discussing its relevancy is in itself pretty much irrelevant already.  It’s here and it’s not going to go away any time soon.  Be that as it may I still feel the urge to talk about ebooks.

I don’t like them.

So yes I’m one of those old-school grumps who likes having books on my shelves, and I want to whinge about my concerns.

The benefits of ebooks are easy to understand, ‘easy’ being the operative word.  It’s convenient to be able to have a multiple books on you at any time while avoiding the bulk.  Ebooks are also generally cheaper and aren’t susceptible to running out of print which avoids heavy browsing for obscure titles on auction websites.  But while easy is one thing, lazy is another.  I can’t help but feel that publishers who can’t be bothered to maintain an inventory will simply refer their readers to their digital copies as an easy out.

The issue of digital content has often been highlighted in the media, particularly towards the issue of copyright and piracy, but also that of ownership.  It’s easy to pass a book on to a friend, but the idea of switching USB sticks with a friend could prove legally inviable (if it isn’t already, excuse my ignorance).  Also the digital world is very fast moving.  Formats quickly come and go and entire collections run the risk of being outmoded in a few years.  It already happens with home media such as video games and films every decade or so, so it’s not impossible.  Just how much do you own that comic, and how reliable and sustainable is the current format?

For me comics are about the physicality of turning the page to discover more of the story.  I also like the idea of publishers going to the trouble of making an actual product as opposed to taking my money in exchange for a data file.  Materialism can be counted as a character flaw, but once I’ve got that book that, it’s mine and I can do what I want with it.  I can throw that shit in a time capsule, and it’ll work just as good when I dig it up again in 50 years’ time.  I don’t need to update my eyeballs, and I don’t need to shove a compatible rechargeable battery into it either.

I do think that content for short-time use it quite a good idea.  Things like Viz’s weekly Shonen Jump Alpha and Yen Press’ monthly Yen Plus are as immediate as they are disposable.  So long as a proper edition is later available I’m up for it.  The real flaw in my argument?  I don’t own a dedicated e-reader which opens me up to cries of ‘if you had one you’d so convert!’.  Sorry, but I don’t see it.  If I wanted one, I’d get one.  I can already do it via my PSP or desktop, but I choose not to.  Even now I don’t like reading webcomics unless they’re doing something with the medium that only the digital medium could provide (like inserted flash animation or similar).  Some people go for that, and that’s fine, but given the option I’d take hardcopy any time.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Lucky Luke - Billy the Kid

Everyone’s heard of Asterix, and most likely Tintin, but for most people that’s a far as it goes when it comes to knowledge on Franco-Belgian comics.  It seems strange that Lucky Luke has somehow slipped under the radar in English speaking territories.  It enjoys phenomenal success around the rest of the world, pulling in the kinds of sales figures that only the top manga artists could hope to measure up against (how does 300 million sound?), and while there have been sporadic attempts over the years to get Lucky Luke printed in English it’s only relatively recently that Cinebook have made some real headway into the 75+ volume catalogue.

For those new to the character, Lucky Luke is ‘The man who shoots faster than his own shadow’.  A quick-draw deadeye of a cowboy who can easily outshoot anyone, he travels on his trusty steed, Jolly Jumper, and travels from place to place righting the wrongs of thieves, bandits and anyone else up to no good.

‘Billy the Kid’ is originally the 20th Lucky Luke album from 1962, skipping the comic’s formative years and heading right into the classic stuff from when creator Morris was collaborating with René Goscinny (a name that might ring bells as the writer of Asterix).  Lucky Luke comics are stand-alone affairs however so any concerns about losing the chronology aren’t necessary.  As for the plot Billy the Kid has his entire home town cowering in fear at his gunmanship.  Everyone is too intimidated to press charges against him and he can essentially do as he likes and enforce his own sensibilities on the people.  The arrival of Lucky Luke in town upsets the balance as he doesn’t bow to Kid’s intimidation, and will plainly scold the misbehaviour like the child he is.

Events unfold and escalate as the gap between Luke and  The Kid widens, but the tone is ever light and it’s pretty clear no one’s really going to get hurt.  Instead of escalations in aggression, it’s creativity and clever mind games that win the day.  Light entertainment in hand with friendly artwork equals a work that virtually anyone could read and enjoy.  Its decades of success aren’t unjustified, and if Lucky Luke had been available to me as a child I’d definitely already have a bunch of them.  I’ve got some catching up to do…

Thursday, 12 January 2012

So I Need to Lose 15 Pounds

Disclaimer: I know that everyone who’s reading this is already a perfectly formed and svelte individual. As such don’t be offended if I recommend this book to you as there’s more to enjoy on top of the weight-loss angle.
This manga almost passed me by completely, and only on one of my aimless journeys of online book browsing did I randomly fall upon it and decided to give it a chance. The title describes the content of the book exactly: ‘So I Need to Lose 15 Pounds’ is a comic-diary where the artist attempts to lose weight over a period of 5 months. From her first encounter with her editor to the final weigh-in, we get to read the artist’s experiences of various techniques. Different diets are applied alongside working out and health plans while suffering both to positive and negative outcomes of each treatment. A pretty rigorous scheme gets out initially reluctant artist through 27 such methods from jogging to hypnosis via way of saunas and colon cleansers. There’s a constant stream of new things to try (with varying results) and we get a monthly update as the mission continues throughout the book.
Those considering this as a fool-proof manga guide for weight loss should be warned that this is predominantly a work of entertainment. There’s very little science involved in any of the techniques - some could even be argued as being detrimental to your health (I’m certainly no expert to judge that however). There are a couple of tables and graphs at the back of the book with starred recommendations for each of the methods which give the impression of a proper health guide, but this book is more about trying to keep up with pensioners while jogging or avoiding the family when they’ve bought home a massive cake. This is one person’s unique experience of losing weight – not a valid health guide in the slightest.
The charming and light-hearted art is drawn in a simple style that reflects our sometimes flaky heroine quite accurately. The everyday sense of fun is really appealing and while I doubt it I’ll be applying any of the book’s contents to myself I’m very glad to have found it.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Whisper of the Heart Art Book -「バロンのくれた物語」の物語

It’s no real secret that I’m a big fan of Ghibli, and any excuse to talk a bit about them makes my day. I love their work, and I especially love their artbooks in all their various shapes and sizes (I’m a sucker when it comes to pencils and watercolours). Alongside the recent Arrietty, the next few days will see the release of Whisper of the Heart on Blu-Ray. It’s a sublime film and if you haven’t already seen it I strongly encourage you all to seek it out. As for the artbook for the film, it’s a bit of a weird thing.

I could be wrong, but after hours of hunting through places such as Ebay and Amazon Japan, I couldn’t actually find an artbook specifically for Whisper of the Heart. None of the film’s depiction of Japanese suburbia exists in book form or even character sketches of the main cast were available to me (if there is such a book please let me know!). The volume I was able to come up with though focuses solely on the Baron – the cat figurine that features briefly in the film. This book is dedicated entirely to around 5 minutes of the entire film in miniscule details, so fans of the Baron who want to check out his origins will get a kick out of this book. I’ve taken a couple of photos but please forgive the blur:

What you get inside are watercoloured and pencilled storyboards for the Baron’s sequences, about 20 pages of content, with the rest presenting an extensive look at the fantasy backgrounds. The reproduction is lush, but anyone originally after any content even vaguely relating to its parent film might be a little disappointed at this somewhat slender 96-page offering. I’m proud to have it on my shelf as it opens a window to something that passes so fleetingly in the main film (and I’m a fan of the Baron too which helps), but these books don’t exactly come cheap so it’s always good to give a heads up to anyone who might be tempted so they know what to expect.

Sadly Whisper of the Heart turned out to be the only film directed by Yoshifumi Kondo before passing away. For those interested in his work I recommend checking out his artbook ふとふり返ると近藤喜文画文集, perhaps even more so than the Whisper of the Heart book.

Naturally as a non-Japanese reader I can’t tell you much about the book’s real intentions, but inside is page upon page of delicate drawings made with coloured pencils. Everyday scenes or people riding bikes, getting caught in the rain or just having fun are depicted. It has about 100 pages and is a sturdy hardback. While it has no actual relation to Whisper of the Heart at all, the vibe of the gentle nondramatic instances of life this is really worth checking out as a spiritual accompaniment to the film.