Most of us English-speaking folks know the word “Rashōmon”, if only as a synonym for “conflicting points of view” and not as the title of a classic work of Japanese short fiction. A fair number of us know Akira Kurosawa, he who took the short story by that name, plus another by the same author, and fashioned one of the most famous Japanese films. But too few know Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, the author of the stories in question and a great deal besides. A fair part of that has been the way his work has been translated into English: in a scattershot fashion, with most of that material out of print for decades at a time.
Jay Rubin’s new translations of “Rashōmon” and seventeen other stories from throughout Akutagawa’s short but fiery career goes a long way towards fixing that problem. It compiles several of Akutagawa’s most important works — including, of course, “Rashōmon” and “In a Grove”, but also key stories from the end of his career (“Spinning Gears”, “The Life of a Stupid Man”), freshly-translated work that shows off his affinity for cheeky interplay (“Green Onions”, “Horse Legs”), and at least one of his other masterworks (“Hell Screen”). And the whole thing sports a manga-esque Yoshihiro Tatsumi cover — great by itself, but next time around, maybe they can get him to do illustrations within, too? Read more
The books looks great — with one minor (and I do mean minor caveat): the front cover is slightly misaligned. It's not fatal; it just means I'll have to fix it when I get back — and since this is on-demand publishing, it means the fix will take a total of ten minutes and one file upload. (As one of my friends put it, this means the first batch is all the more unique.)
Also, this is probably the last batch of books I'll be selling that will have the Glinebooks appelation — after this, it'll be Genji Press all the way. Once I get a logo design together for it, that is.
When you open what you know to be the last volume of a manga series, you tend to go in with preconceptions or second guesses about how everything’s going to turn out. With Dororo, I thought I had all the cards face-up on the table after the first two books: the hero, Hyakkimaru, was going to win back all of the missing body parts demons had stolen from him; and Hyakkimaru’s impish sidekick Dororo was going to earn Hyakkimaru’s sword for himself at last.
It doesn’t quite work out that way, for reasons that seem at least as much due to Tezuka’s production schedule as the mechanics of the story he was telling. Dororo’s final volume wraps things up with a little too much haste for my own comfort — but at the same time, it doesn’t feel thematically wrong. Everyone gets what they have had coming for a long time. That and what might come off as middling (or rushed, or clumsy) for Tezuka is still outstanding by anyone else’s yardstick — and really, the whole of Dororo is more than worth the cash and the effort. “Nobody is born whole,” reads the blurb on the back cover, and now that I’m done with the series it makes sense as more than just ad copy.Read more
This'll be something of a first, as I've used the open-source desktop publishing app Scribus to assemble the cover art (although not the interior; I'm still using Word for that). My previous efforts were all Photoshop, but this time I did the graphics alone in Photoshop and added text and layout through Scribus. The end result I exported directly to .PDF and uploaded to Lulu.com.
It astonishes me how easy it is to do so much of this stuff now. It's desktop publishing in the most complete sense of the term. — not just the design, but every single stage of the publication down to the fulfillment. I'm still working on the promotion end of things, but I figured that part would always lag a bit.
You've been hearing me crowing about The Four-Day Weekend for long enough — now it's time to actually see for yourself!
I've posted the first chapter sampler (.PDF format) for 4DW, a cut-down version of the first several chapters of the book to fit in a 32-page booklet format. This is the same item I'll be distributing at AnimeFest when I head there later this week, although after I get back I do plan to have a much longer, more complete chapter sampler available as well.
Part of the reason I decided to do this was because my Summerworld sampler — the first four chapters of the book — fit perfectly into 32 pages with almost no editing needed. Since that wasn't the case here, and 32 pages is about the upper limit of what I can produce on my own thanks to the magic of Kinko's, I decided to cut down and assemble highlights from the first several chapters to produce this particular sampler. The booklet has a note to this effect, and again, I'll be offering a longer preview at some point in the future, too.
The book itself won't go on sale until I get back from the show, but until then, check out the chapters and sock away those pennies! (And if you're lucky enough to see me at the con, you can buy signed copies of it and my previous books directly from me.)
Readers of Roger Ebert’s reviews columns will probably remember his discussions of the “hyperlink genre”, a variety of movie where multiple plot threads intertwine, overlap, lead into and out of each other, and sometimes strap on crash helmets and collide. Two Days in the Valley, Traffic, Syriana, Babel and (in my opinion the vastly overrated) Crash typically get tagged with this label.
I don’t think Hideo Okuda was consciously paying homage to any of these movies when he wrote Lala Pipo, but I suspect few people are going to make that connection anyway if they read it. They’re going to be laughing too hard, and gaping at how many boundaries of taste are cheerfully violated, to make any connections. I read most of the book while sitting on my bed with my cats nearby, and kept scaring the poor beasts half to death with my guffawing. You laugh at the book, and then you laugh at yourself for having laughed at it in the first place. Read more
You might have noticed by now that the title bar for the site now reads "Genji Press" instead of just "Serdar" or "TheGline.com." This is the next step in my gradual rebranding of the site as GenjiPress.com, which I'll be using as the new identity for all of my current and future work.
I've been using "The Gline" as an identity for a long time now — ever since the old dial-up BBS days, come to think of it — and over time I've found it's become less and less useful or relevant to the things I've been doing. I also found out that the term "Gline" had some other connotations (for instance, in the world of IRC) that I didn't particularly care for.
So here's what's going to happen:
Look for other incremental bits of spit 'n polish as time goes by.
Friday night I sojourned into Manhattan for a visit to the small but gloriously productive offices of Vertical, Inc. for a roundtable discussion about the Guin Saga books, hosted by none other than Vertical's Editorial Director, Ioannis Mentzas.
Joining us was Erin Finnegan from PopCultureShock:
The whole conversation was quite complex and meandering, but in the best way for each. I'll link to a copy of the whole thing when it goes up.
Andy Warhol once made an eight-hour movie of nothing but the Empire State Building at night. Ditto a five-hour movie of his friend (poet John Giorno) asleep on a couch. Ditto a twenty-five hour movie cobbled together from endless reels of his buddies horsing around. Like most of the rest of his art, they weren’t about anything except looking at something. Warhol took things people normally didn’t pay attention to — like a Campbell’s soup can — forced people to notice them in the context of a painting or a lithograph (or a film), and called that his art. You didn’t have to agree it was art, but you couldn’t ignore the impact it had on the art world at the time. Why’s a soup can less interesting than a sunset, especially when we see both of them every day?
Now enter Lucky Star (if you dare), a smash hit anime with the fans, now available domestically thanks to the good graces of the folks at Bandai. It’s also not about anything except … well, looking. And like Warhol’s movies, you’ll either be enthralled or you’ll be thrashing around screaming for it to stop. The best analogy I’ve heard yet was actually drawn by a friend of mine: Lucky Star is like a moé version of Seinfeld. There was obstinately, deliberately, intentionally no point at all to the goings-on in Seinfeld, either: it was simply a document of Seinfeld and his buddies colliding with the real world, over and over again.Read more
There's a part of me that still feels like I have something to do, but I know there isn't.
Last night I sent the files for Four-Day Weekend to the printer's. After the usual endless round of checking and cross-checking, tweaking this and fixing that, it's now being prepped for its debut at AnimeFest 2008. Signed copies will be available directly from me at the show for $15+tax, and after I get back it'll start showing up here on the site for sale.
I'm exhausted but also hugely happy. The book started off very differently, in a far more scattershot and meandering vein, and I'm now certain if I had tried to write it as I had originally imagined it, it would have been an overblown mess. After I found the discipline to cut it down to the story it needed to be, it took off and really started to go places.
I've talked with friends about the possibility of revisiting Winthrop and Henry and all the rest in another story, but I haven't decided completely what that is. One idea that sounds better than most of the others is for them to visit Japan — but I'd want to actually do that before I attempted to write about it. So there's no hurry about embarking on a follow-up — yes, I'm loathe to say "sequel" if only because I've always been against the idea of simply writing another book for the sake of it. This would have to stand on its own two non-prosthetic feet as an idea before I could even think about hitting the keys.
So, where from here? I'll save that discussion for another post, but I'll leave the last word to Kurosawa: "People always ask me what my favorite of my own movies is, and I say, 'My next one'."
Slowly, with the help of its southern brother, North Korea may be changing from an iron-curtained isolate into an actual international player that does more than manufacture, say, counterfeit Viagra. The biggest tool shaping that changeover: Kaesong Industrial Park, a South Korean-run manufacturing facility on North Korean soil.
What's most crucial about this place, to me, is that it is a way for the North and South to go eye to eye in a non-military environment. Instead of staring each other down over a conference table, they can roll up their sleeves and get to work on projects together. They're dealing, however marginally, with another country as people, and no longer have to see themselves as pariahs of the world.
I was most fascinated a few months ago when the New York Philharmonic, with Lorin Maazel at the helm, journeyed to Pyongyang and performed there. The resulting concert was filmed, and it is one of the few classical concert films I can see myself owning for that reason. I hope there is at least as much footage of the audience as there is of the performers.
My friend Eric has fired up his blog, Gone In 60 FPS, which is highly gaming-centric. Now that I've inherited Sarah's old PS2 and unearthed my old Dreamcast (which, amazingly, still works) I have the distinct feeling I'm going to be following these conversations a lot more closely.
I've since set up an Amazon wishlist for my gaming. Most of the stuff I've been advised to get is old or dirt cheap, so I shouldn't have too much trouble filling out my library.
At just a few minutes shy of 1PM today, I completed the third-draft edits for The Four-Day Weekend. I've since sent the edits on to my readers — who, with any luck, will be sending me back corrections before I have to get the book to the printer's a little later this week.
I don't have a sampler chapter yet, but I'm aiming to have that ready by the coming week. What I may do this time around is excerpt a few pieces here and there rather than just the first couple of chapters straight through, as a way of giving people a better flavor for the book. (One might argue that is itself a case for moving chapters around, but I've got reasons for keeping things as they are.)
As it stands, I've managed to achieve about 90% of what I had in mind with this book, and the 10% that's missing is not a 10% that I'll miss in the long run anyway.
Expect the book itself to be available for on-line ordering the first week of September!
Criterion's announced pricing and availability for their first Blu-ray titles!
All of these are $31.96 from the Criterion store (with an SRP of $39.95, but you can expect to pay a lot less at most places). All are also single discs, including Last Emperor (which faintly surprised me).
My friend Mike is finally back home, safe and sound, in Seattle where he belongs. Getting him there turned out to be an adventure and a half.
On Tuesday, I took him to the airport (JFK) under the impression that his flight was in fact leaving that day. It wasn't just me; he was under that impression, too. We made it all the way to the airport before my Something Ain't Right senses kicked in; I pulled the car over to the side of the service road and looked at his schedule.
Thursday. Not Tuesday.
"Oh," we chorused, and I put the car back into gear. On the plus side, that was two more days that he had to plow through my comic collection. Back home we went, and he spent most of that night and the whole of Wednesday in my company.
Needless to say, he got a lot of reading done.
Come Thursday, I dropped him off at the airport once more, and then four hours later discovered he'd spent 2 1/2 hours sitting in the plane on the tarmac ... with no departure time available. Finally they forced everyone to deplane and sit around while they tried to figure out what to do. "New York doesn't want me to leave," he cried out to me over the phone.
They finally put him and everyone else sound for Seattle on a flight that arrived at something like 2:30 in the morning. He's now at home, sound asleep, and will probably be that way for at least another week.
Serdar was one of the very first authors to query his book to us here at LLBR when we were getting started, and we almost passed on it. I’m so glad we didn’t. It’s philosophical journey, mixed with fantasy and realism and set in a world created somewhere between our own and whatever else is out there, is one I am now happy to have taken.
Thanks so much to Shannon Yarbrough for the great review!
Baltimore, Maryland. 8/8/8.
There's a strange and beautiful vibe that you get when you see something that has been pretty much a done deal for three years running finally have the ink dry on the contract, so to speak.
This is a long story. Make some coffee, but it'll be worthwhile.Read more
When Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise, I was born. With the descendants of Adam and Eve, I was stolen away … and thrown into a new world. And in this land I was raised, amid the suffering of its people … My name is the Blues.
So begins Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues, my most recent and dramatic example of how ambitious manga can truly be. It’s doubly unusual in that it’s a Japanese comic about a figure from American musical history — but let’s face it, you’d have trouble overestimating the impact of American popular culture in Japan in all of its forms, especially American music. One of my own favorite musicians from Japan, underground guitar-god Keiji Haino, was inspired by Blind Lemon Jefferson and calls himself “just a bluesman”; heck, they even the word blues itself in Japanese — ブルース — is a direct import from English.
Devil turns to the life of Delta bluesman Robert Johnson for its inspiration, someone whom the term “legendary” follows around like a halo. The broad outlines of his life do read like legend: he had a prodigious talent for the guitar at a young age, drifted around and played and womanized, recorded only a bare handful of songs that have all since become blues staples, and had only two photographs taken of him in his entire life. And then in 1938, at the age of 27, he was dead — poisoned by a jealous husband, or so the mythology goes, for hitting on his wife. The mythology was all the more aggrandized by the notion that Johnson had indeed sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his guitar wizardry. Devil assumes the myth is true, and spirals feverishly outwards from that conceit to create a kind of parallel mythology of Robert Johnson’s life. It’s not meant to be a factual biography, but a fantasy about Johnson and the America he lived in at the time — a land of depression, Prohibition, racism, superstition, violence, and, yes, that ole devil blues.Read more
In December of last year I stood less than ten feet away from Takehiko Inoue and watched him as he painted with sumi ink on a blank wall, where a single mistake would have scotched the whole job. He was putting the finishing touches on a mural commissioned for the second story of the New York City branch of the Kinokuniya bookstore. Grasses bending in the wind and the embroidery on a samurai’s kimono appeared casually from the end of his brush, like they had somehow been stuffed in there and he was just gently shaking them out one line at a time.
Inoue is easily one of the single greatest manga-ka alive right now, and I don’t feel I’m indulging in hyperbole by saying that. Here is the guy who created Slam Dunk (which is only just now reaching us in a legitimate translation; how’s that for slow justice?), Buzzer Beater, and Vagabond — with Vagabond alone being so good that anyone else could easily have retired after finishing it. But he started another manga, Real (about wheelchair basketball), while Vagabond was still running, and judging from what little we’ve seen in English so far it’s clear he’s not doing it out of a sense of responsibility to anything but his art.Read more