Saturday, March 24, 2018

Reader's Diary #1771- Kanako Inuki: School Zone Vol. 1

Well, this was a disappointment.

Known as the Queen of Horror Manga, I thought for sure I'd enjoy Kanako Inuki's School Zone, Vol. 1. Unfortunately, this collection of stories set in a haunted school was not scary and poorly drawn.

See that wide-eyed, open-mouthed girl on the cover? She looks terrified. But when every character looks like that all the time it kind of takes the oomph out of it when something meant to be truly scary happens.

As for the stories themselves, the best I can say is that they got better as the volume progressed. The first ones are hard to follow and seem to be missing info. In fact, a couple of times I flipped back thinking I'd accidentally skipped a page or two that might have explained what had happened or why the character focus suddenly switched.

Oh well.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Reader's Diary #1770- Abhishek Singh: Krishna A Journey Within

Abhishek Singh's Krishna: A Journey Within is another suggestion that came to me via Paul Gravett's Mangasia as an example of a religion/mythology based comic (which are popular across much of Asia) and as an example of Indian comics.

Krishna: A Journey Within is stunning to look at. While the characters are sometimes Disney-esque, the backdrops, the colours, the patterns, and inventive layouts are just gorgeous.

Story-wise, I wasn't always clear what was going on and the book seemed to fade in and out of straightforward narratives (of a battle, for instance) to poetic religious philosophy. I am sure more of it would have been clearer had I better understanding of Krishna or Hinduism, but I'm not sure that the book is meant to act as a primer on the subject anyway.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Reader's Diary #1769- Cecil Castellucci (writer), Marley Zarcone (art): Shade The Changing Girl Vol. 1 Earth Girl Made Easy

My favourite corner of DC Comics by far has been the weird Justice League Dark stories. It was here that I first encountered the Shade the Changing Man (Dac Shade). I don't recall much about him, but I did quite enjoy this passing of the torch, or jacket as it were, to Loma Shade. Like Dac, Loma Shade is an alien from the planet Meta, but Loma is an Avian (basically a humanoid bird). Loma is tired of her life and looking for a change, takes up residence in the comatose body of a teenage Earth girl named Megan.

She seems to be making the most of her time in this body, except that apparently Megan was a bully and Loma needs to navigate that and her new, complicated relationships with Earthlings. To further her difficulties, some of Megan's negative energy has residual effects on Loma's psyche, Megan's spirit is trying to reclaim her body, and the dimension-transporting jacket that Loma used in the first place tends to make its wearers go insane. Still with me?

Yes, it's bizarre. But it relishes in the bizarre, with fast pacing and psychedelic art and funky colours. Plus the "finding oneself" takes on more poignancy with the teenage angle as it's typically a time of self-discovery anyway. Strong, defined characters and complex friendships help ground the weirdness without diminishing the fun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reader's Diary #1768- Yusei Matsui: Assassination Classroom

The first volume of Yusei Matsui's Assassination Classroom is the most fun I've had with manga in quite some time.

This came as a pleasant surprise when I wasn't entirely sure of the premise. A story built around a class of kids trying to kill their teacher? In the wake of all of the school shootings in the U.S., it sounded distasteful to say the least. Fortunately, this isn't real world violence at all.

The teacher, it turns out, is some sort of ultra-powerful supernatural being who has already destroyed most of the moon and plans to do the same to the Earth by the end of the school year. However, first he (or she? or something else?) has decided to be the teacher for a low performing class of kids. He's given them the assignment to assassination him by the end of the year. The world's governments and military have thus far been powerless to stop him and thus they not only give into the bizarre demands to become a teacher but to also offer an additional reward: 100 Million to any student that can pull it off.

Its quirky, somewhat dark sense and occasionally self-aware humour, is prevalent throughout as students try and fail to take this teacher down. But more than just fun murder attempts, there is a surprising amount of character building in the book, not the least of which involves the enigmatic teacher who bizarrely seems to care for his students and their learning, despite his promise to destroy their entire planet. Who is he and what is his motivation?

I also quite enjoyed the art. You'd not know it from the teacher who is essentially a smiley face with tentacles, but the scenes are often finely detailed.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Reader's Diary #1767- Li Kunwu and P. Otie: A Chinese Life

Another book brought to my attention courtesy of Paul Gravett's Mangasia book was A Chinese Life written and illustrated by Li Kunwu with assistance from P. Otie. Gravett had used it as an example of historical comics, a genre that enjoys popularity across a large swath of Asia.

It's interesting to note that A Chinese Life is also Kunwu's autobiography as I found myself questioning his role as history teacher. Documenting China from 1949 (creation of the People's Republic of China) to the present, it is through one individual's eyes; one who was a celebrated propaganda artist for the Republic and became a member of the Communist Party. P. Otie, who is French, states in his intro that he tried to balance patriotism against fact, propaganda against critique. And while I'd suggest that they succeed on that front, I wondered if one man out of a billion would be representative. I'd be okay if he wasn't (it's A Chinese Life after all, not Chinese Life), but when all was said and done, I do feel that I have a better sense of China as a whole, rather than just of Li Kunwu.

This period of history is fascinating and like nothing I can compare it to in Canada. The overt and sudden upheavals brought on with Mao, the adoption of Communism, the Cultural Revolution, felt almost shocking in its intensity. Children ratting out adults resulting in imprisonment, outright disdain for cultural history, modern technology coming almost shockingly late compared to most of the world, the hybrid of socialism and capitalism that they have currently adopted... it's all so very overwhelming.

Li Kunwu's art is perfect for this story. It actually (and this will probably seem like an odd comparison) reminded me of Jim Unger's Herman cartoons. This was in the inky, rough, caricatures. Clearly the roughness was intentional. Describing his time as a propaganda artist, Kunwu shows some of his Mao art and we can see that he is quite capable of refined line work. But there's something more truthful about the roughness. It also seems at times like Kunwu barely raises his pen, and it gives the history more of a connection, more of a natural fluidity.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reader's Diary #1766- Molia Dumbleton: If She Were to Lay Down

Molia Dumbleton's "If She Were to Lay Down" is a quietly beautiful story of a woman working through her attraction toward a man who is asleep on her couch.

At the very beginning there's a slight implication that she doesn't find him physically attractive, perhaps even finds him a bit on the simple side. But as the story progresses, we (and she) begin to understand just what she does like about this man.

It's thoughtful, full of purposeful imagery, and overall, quite lovely.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Reader's Diary #1765- Rob David and Larry Goldfine (writer), Freddie E. Williams II (artist): He-Man/ Thundercats

I was a huge He-Man fan back in the day, spending any chore money I had on the dolls, refusing to let go when all my friends had moved on to G.I. Joe. Somehow though I don't have any recollection of the Thundercats. Looking them up, I see that they first aired just a couple of years after He-Man, when I was still a Saturday morning cartoon junky, so I must have encountered them, but even this crossover comic between Thundercats and He-Man didn't jog any memories.

I did learn a little about a few Thundercat characters and the mythology through this book, enough to find it even stranger that I wasn't into them back in the 80s. My favourite He-Man characters were the animal based ones (Buzz-Off, Stinkor, Clawful) and Thundercats were all cat-based He-Man-looking heroes. Again, how did I miss these??? Was my childhood retconned?

Despite being impressed with the Thundercats though, the crossover comic by Rob David and Larry Goldfine didn't do a lot else for me. The story, which revolved around Skeletor and Mumm-Ra, the main villains of both franchises, teaming up to take over the world was pretty obvious for a crossover comic. That is to say, it was fine, but nothing terribly original. Likewise, all the typical crossover tropes were there. There's a contrived scene where the heroes turn on each other, that sort of deal. There wasn't much of the background characters either, which in old He-Man cartoons I always found more interesting than He-Man himself.

There were some small problems that perhaps would have been overlooked with a stronger story. For instance, there are attempts at narration, basically the heroes offering their philosophical interpretations, but it's completely unnecessary and distracting. Also distracting is the busy art. Normally I like watercolours, but combined with Freddie E. William's abundance of lines and panels, the pictures were a bit over-complicated.

There were a few fun moments here or there. In the final comic, for instance, they explore the multiverse. In one world and making the best of their home at DC Comics, we see Prince Adam/ He-Man as Clark Kent/ Superman. In another we see a world where the Thundercats and He-Man characters are all morphed into hybrids. I would have liked a visit to Etheria and a meet-up with She-Ra as well, but I guess I couldn't have it all.