Adult Manga for beginners

In Japan, Yoshihiro Tatsumi is an important creative figure, having branded the adult-oriented manga style of gekiga, which elevated the form to serious levels of narrative equal to the headiest literature. In 2010, Tatsumi released a massive graphic autobiography, “A Drifting Life,” a gentle endeavor that revealed in great detail the process by which he became such an eventual success, both creatively and commercially, that grabbed attention worldwide.

Singaporan filmmaker Eric Khoo’s “Tatsumi” is presented as an animated adaptation of Tatsumi’s autobiography, but it really isn’t, and because of that, much more ambitious than any film project of the subject matter that you would expect.

Khoo knows that Tatsumi is still of limited fame abroad, and to present his life without context for the reason it is worth presenting it misses a chance that was likely not to repeat itself. Khoo makes the very interesting decision of wrapping a pared-down biography of Tatsumi’s career around adaptations of five of his short stories, powerful nuggets of the dark soul of Japan that will pummel any doubters that the form of manga has anything to offer.

Dark souls are indeed the specialty of Tatsumi’s narrative focus, and this film gathers some of his most effective pieces, including the disturbing “Good Bye,” about a Japanese prostitute and her father; “Hell,” a devastating analysis of Hiroshima as a turning point in history by making Japan a victim and obscuring the uncomfortable realities; and “Just A Man,” a gloomy accounting of the soulless, demeaning existence of modern working man in Japan.

While the graphic novel really unveiled the intricacies of the history of manga and its place in Japanese culture, as well as the personal life of Tatsumi, the film lets go of the microscope in favor of a broader lens and, in doing so, makes it a mandatory introduction to the work of one of the great narrative artists in the world that may have escaped your attention — until now.

You can write!!!

Here’s a delightful gift for the budding writer in your fold that outlines the sheer amount of exhausting work involved in writing genre novels without actually making any of it seem exhausting at all — in fact, when you’re finished with “Wonderbook,” you will look at all the labor involved as a sheer joy you cannot wait to get down to. The trick? It’s a book about writing that gets a lot of its message across with pictures.

As explained by Vandermeer — who has authored very successful novels (“City of Saints” and “Madmen”) and genre guidebooks (“The Steampunk Bible”), and edited anthologies (“The New Weird”) — there is much consideration in writing that goes beyond what ends up on the page. In fact, there is plenty involved in the writing process that might never make it into your story, and if it does, only in dribs and drabs and insinuations.

Vandermeer goes through the whats, whys and hows of these like a one-man writing workshop — and, here, I point out that you don’t have to take everything he outlines to heart, as I would also suggest with a writing workshop, since you don’t want to disarm the personal kinks that make your stories yours — with clarity, organization and, thankfully, personality, but accentuates these instructional sections with good illustration that really shows you the value of good storytelling.

A good illustration shouldn’t just mirror what is in the prose anymore than it should overtake it — a good illustration should work with the prose, revealing new depths that the words don’t necessarily touch on, but never so strongly that the words don’t have their own innuendoes. Words and pictures should hold hands with a common goal.

And they do in “Wonderbook.” The goal, of course, is to give young writers plenty to think about as they hone their craft. Along for the ride are other writers contributing shorter pieces about precise writing topics.

My favorite is Kim Stanley Robinson dismissing the tired “show don’t tell” finger wagging of so much modern fiction, as if we were making movies not books, but there are other great ones by Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. LeGuin, Charles Yu and others.

It’s a book to be savored, meditated on, read quickly and then again slowly, over time, to be applied and sometimes dismissed, to start a debate in your head and maybe with your friends. It makes writing seem fun, but also serious — which it is.

Jana Christy’s chicken cards!

Excuse the almost-self-promotion – nepotism? – but among the online stores from locals that have cropped up lately is my talented wife’s – Jana Christy – who is selling these lovely notecards of her chicken illustrations – several of which are portraits of our very own chickens! Jana and I maintain our own Tumblr here, for those interested.

Kim Gordon comes to Mass MoCA

Kim Gordon will be at Mass MoCA tomorrow night with her Body/Head project – you can read my interview with Kim here.

Press Gallery 2014 calendars!

The dynamic Melanie Mowinski and the Press Gallery have a 2014 Mantra calendar available, fully created on its Vandercook Letterpress. If there are any left, you can fill out the order form for the calendar here – more details on the gallery website.

Hey! Anna Moriarty Lev is selling new cat greeting cards in her Etsy store!

Go find them here! You can check out Anna’s comics here!

Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2013


1 Paul Joins The Scouts by Michel Rabagliati (Conundrum Press)

Rabagliati expresses the worst sides of people without casting his narrative into depression, but instead an amiable and well-considered humanity, with the political backdrop of 1970s Quebec as a bonus.


2 Crater XV by Kevin Cannon (Top Shelf Productions)

Inventive and gripping, Crater XIV captures the true, over-the-top spirit of comics, while still keeping things down to earth enough to allow you to care what goes on inside.


3 The Property – Rutu Modan (Drawn and Quarterly)

One of the most accessible of graphic novelists, with a cinematic presentation and the ability to capture the complexity of larger human experience within smaller family dramas, all with good humor.


4 TEOTFW by Charles Forsman (Fantagraphics)

A perceptive, neo-realist slice of deadpan alienation and gloom about a teenage Bonnie and Clyde.


5 Jerusalem by Boaz Yakin and Nick Bertozzi (First Second Books)

An epic sweep that never breezes past the humanity as it examines how history happens to real people.


6 Journal by Julie Delporte (Koyama Press)

Personal and colorful, engaging and cryptic, Delporte slices up her own life into an abstract emotional puzzle.


7 Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. (Abrams/SelfMadeHero)

Beginning like a murder mystery, continuing like an episode of the Twilight Zone, and finishing up with the kind of existentialism that wouldn’t be out of place in a Von Trier film, a frantic examination of the human reaction to mortality.


8 Little Tommy Lost by Cole Closser (Koyama Press)

Rebooting the concept of period adventure comic strips and with tongue barely in cheek and an impressive graphic sense.


9 Susceptible – Genvieve Castree (Drawn and Quarterly)

A dysfunctional childhood and the toll it takes are presented with humor, honesty, and a huge amount of charm.


10 Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon (First Second)

A smart and funny story, charmingly drawn, that is constantly hurling something new within the trope of odd couple friendships.

Coeur de Pirate gets cute for Christmas

I’ll be keeping an eye out for new and interesting Christmas songs this year, and to start with is an adorable English-language performance by Quebec’s Coeur de Pirate … cuteness to lead up to Christmas.

Tiny loveliness existing in the world

Renata Gasiorowska’s Jungle Night is a lovely meditation on the difference between celebrating freedom and being free. Lili has been missing in the jungle for three days. Found at last, she offers the readers an explanation of her disappearance, rather than anyone in authority. It all begins on Jungle Night, a day that everyone in her village celebrates the way their ancestors lived. But Lili obviously wants more. Gasiorowska’s narrative is personable, hinting at levels beyond its simplicity, and her art gorgeous — dark and dense, filled with luscious deep greens. It’s a great work in a small package, and a copy can be ordered here.

Kim Deitch stymies me in a good way

I don’t know that I have a lot coherent to offer about Kim Deitch’s most recent book, The Amazing, Enlightening, and Absolutely True Adventures of Katherine Whaley, but this is my attempt at it.

This illustrated story with graphic novel parts is a further effort by cartoonist Deitch to present stories that seem to be true, even as you acknowledge that they aren’t, but pull from such obscure corners of early 20th Century American history that they seem like they could be real after all. It’s a sort of alternative history endeavor, meting out the mysterious romance of the past with the plain weirdness that it also has to offer.

Purportedly a reminiscence by Eleanor Whaley’s Aunt Kate — Eleanor was the subject of an earlier Deitch story — Deitch weaves one of his typical frenzied, early show biz, conspiratorial slices of wackiness, but he throws in so many other unexpected elements — including ancient technology that has recorded the voice of Jesus Christ — that the story defies description, it’s all over the place.

At its root, it follows Katherine, who watches her hometown of Lumberton become overrun by the film industry, which leads to her involvement with the odd Charles Varnay, who plans to mount his own motion picture starring her and, without knowing it, setting off a narrative snowball that careens in such ways that you won’t see any of it coming — and yet all realized in Deitch’s typical calm, but cunning, tone (or Kate’s, if you accept the conceit).

As with any of Deitch’s work, you won’t be the same after you’ve finished it and allowed him to connect the dots in your brain for you.

You can also read a review of the book by Deitch’s fictional cat creation, Waldo, here!