It's so very, very hard not to start babbling like a little kid about some things. In between meetings in the city over the last couple of days, I ran over to Kinokuniya and found the third volume of the Japanese edition of Usamaru Furuya's manga adaptation of Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human.
Without going too deeply into spoiler territory, because I want to save all that for a formal review of the series when it's published Over Here, I will discuss some of the changes made to the storyline in the comic version. Some are practical, some aesthetic. (Note that these may not make much sense unless you've read the book, and if you haven't then what the heck are you waiting for?)
All three volumes (1, 2, 3) are now available for preorder in English. There's even a French edition, under the title "Je ne suis pas un homme" ("I am not a man"), although the actual French title for the original novel was La déchéance d'un homme.
The recent live-action movie (marketed overseas as Fallen Angel) has no English edition yet. I did, however, bump into a copy of a movie called Picaresque, which is supposedly an Osamu Dazai biopic, but the price was a bit steep. Maybe after the money situation settles down again...
Add this to your list of books to seek out and bring into English: Sailor Suit and Machine Gun, super-prolific Japanese author Jirō Akagawa's satirical crossbreed of teen drama and yakuza violence. I finally bumped into a copy ($1 at Book-Off, where else?), and apart from a translation it could also use a clever marketing plan in the U.S. After the recent wave of Nordic crime drama (girls with dragon tattoos and the like), how about a similar wave of stuff from Japan, albeit with a comedic bent? They've foisted worse stuff off on us lately.
… and that cover art is a joy to behold.
Although, now that I think about it, the butterfly should be on the gunsight.
(Anyone who gets that in-joke receives a free bottle of Kewpie mayo.)
Over at Ain't It Cool News there is a roundtable discussion regarding the much-reviled, widely-discussed DC Reboot. I haven't been a reader of the Marvel/DC axis for literally decades, so many discussions of the individual titles (Infinite Earths in its infinite permutations, for one) are lost on me. But there is a ton of meat in this piece re: the health and future of the comics industry as a whole, which has — like the rest of print publishing — been derailing slowly for a long time and is now finally about to hit the wall.
... I almost think the world of comics needs a "reboot", though apparently that's not what this is exactly. Right now the model of comics is to bleed dry a meager and dwindling fanbase that is left in print and make your money putting those same properties on the big screen. Not only is that business model [completely] insane and I don't get how people get paid to consciously maintain that decision-making process, but it obviously cannot endure.
I think the word he's looking for is unsustainable, which I completely agree with. The general unsustainability of the industry is made all the clearer by the discussion of digital vs. print later on in the piece: the hustle is on to make digital the primary medium, with print being the "collector's" format. That means printing costs will almost certainly go up even further, and that books that use print as a medium will be shortchanged all the more.
Not long ago I finished reading the first volume of Adam Hines's unclassifiable indie comic Duncan the Wonder Dog, available in a large-format volume for a limited time. Adam's website also seems to have the whole thing digitally, but reading it on an eye-cramping screen is like "watching movies through a mail slot" (as someone else once complained about letterboxing films like Lawrence of Arabia for 1.33:1 TVs). There was no substitute for holding the book in my hand, spreading it across my lap, and putting my nose to within an inch of the page.
We have been lucky, I suppose, in that we have had both the resources and the social privileges to provide printed books to so many people for so long. That age is not gone yet, but the sun's hitting the horizon, and we're now entering an age where a printed page may become a rarefied luxury. I don't expect digital devices to deliver anything like what a printed book could offer, at least not until there are a couple more breakthroughs in how display technology can work — and even then, is that really a substitute? Is it better to have only a picture of a Vermeer when the original seems to glow with inner light, even if you have to go to the museum to see that curious phenomenon with your own eyes?
What's worse is that, if the AICN guys are right, there might well be many of us who never knew what went missing.
I have been reading The Shores of Light, a collection of literary criticism from the 1920s and 1930s courtesy of Edmund Wilson, a very capable and perceptive critic who as far as I can tell isn’t sung much of these days. He has an essay — “It’s Terrible! It’s Ghastly! It Stinks!” — wherein he uses a rather hagiographic-sounding biography of Louis B. Mayer as a jumping-off point for what he perceived as the near-total stagnation of Hollywood by 1937 (!). The Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races had just been released, and Wilson could barely bring himself to sit through it.
Time and chance have been such that most every Marx Brothers film, even the "bad" ones, are now classics. Most of the movies Wilson complains about — yes, even the "bad" ones — are still yards better than most of what is dumped out today, and not just because they're older but because they were fashioned according to a different set of sensibilities. Those sensibilities are gone today except as a memory or an artifact; they're as extinct as the knights of yore.
I go back and forth about how bad this is. Perhaps it's neither good nor bad, because films of quality can be found in any era if you look hard enough. I suspect there is little merit in arguing whether the brassy musical revues of the Depression were "better" than the PG-13 gross-out comedies of today, because each satisfies an audience a world removed from the other. We are not people of the Twenties and Thirties, and we can never be those people again. But that doesn't mean we can't make an effort to taste a little of what the world might have been like for them, and how they amused themselves in the face of it.
When I took various classic-lit courses in college there was, for just about every work published before 1970, at least some degree of acculturation needed by the class for a given work. For Shakespeare, that was inevitable: most everyone who walked out of the course knew what the "groundlings" were and how this or that scene in a play had been aimed at them to shut them up a bit before the real action commenced. But some of it was required for F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway as well — maybe not as much, but it was that much more a sign that the reader of the 1990s was not the reader of the 1950s, let alone the 1920s.
I don't believe for a moment that anything written today will survive a thousand years without copious footnoting or explanation, just as Chaucer required the same. Not just because of this reference or that allusion, but because the very people the work was written for do not exist anymore in any form. What I'm still struggling with is whether or not that's always a bad thing. If a book written to disabuse the ignorant is no longer in fashion because its particular species of ignorance has gone extinct, that might well be one of the best things we could hope for: a concrete example of progress. My real worry is that we will, in decades to come, look that much more askance at something which saw life in an inimitable way, because we will have unthinkingly discarded our appreciation for such a vision.
Which is all my roundabout way of saying: I hope never to find myself in a world where people don't find the Marx Brothers funny anymore.
Do I complain or do I savor? That’s the dilemma I’m faced with after reading this manga adaptation of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, one of the first titles from Kodansha’s domestic manga publishing division (which eclipsed Del Rey’s and more or less continued where they left off). The TV series was easily one of my favorite shows of any variety, live-action or animated, and so I looked forward to seeing a comic re-adaptation of the same material. It would at the very least present the creators with a challenge: how do you create a comic adaptation of a show that was itself adapted from a comic, albeit with a good deal of creative liberty on the part of the adaptors?
I didn’t have an inherent problem with this cycle of reworking. It’s not as if there isn’t a long and venerable tradition of one-for-one adaptations between various forms of media in Japanese popular culture. Manga begat TV series, TV series begat second TV series, series (plural) begat light novels, light novels begat side-story manga spinoff, and so on. It’s not as if precedent for this doesn’t exist with GitS:SAC either, since some very good light-novel spinoffs from the TV series were produced in Japan and released domestically by Dark Horse. I enjoyed those books because they managed to mine the same vein as the TV show, where tough people living in a very complicated world do even tougher jobs and in the process discover they are sometimes all too human. I hoped, perhaps in vain, that the manga would be along the same lines: new stories set in the same universe, redolent of the same flavor as the show.Read more
The closet-cleaning for the Black Jack series continues, since everything after volume 11 has been bonus material. But this being Black Jack and this also being Osamu Tezuka, it’s a fascinating closet: Tezuka’s throwaways are better than what most other manga-ka produce in their prime. Read more
I haven't done this in a while, so here are some recent Blu-ray issues that grabbed my attention. Some will end up on my own shelf by year's end or so.Read more
There was a time when I sought out writing and artwork that seemed to exist mostly to find rules to break. William Burroughs, Dennis Cooper, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Maldoror, Eden Eden Eden, Michael Gira’s The Consumer. Once the novelty of all that taboo-smashing and transgression wore off, though, I was left with very little worth keeping. There was the occasional author who shocked you into a new kind of awareness — pace Hubert Selby, Jr. — but the vast, vast majority of the time they simply bludgeoned you into numb submission in what amounted to a game of one-upsmanship. Eventually I got fed up with what I called the Endurance Test School — the precept that the real value of a work of art was in how effectively it weeded out the weak ones in the audience. If an author or creator could find a way to make boundary-breaking a logical outgrowth of his work, great, but I wasn’t going to hold my breath waiting for the next Naked Lunch. And even if something like that did come along …
For those reasons, I was a little reluctant to dive into Lychee Light Club. Author and artist Usamaru Furuya had impressed me elsewhere without plunging nose-first into taboo-breaking. His contributions to the Underground Comics Japan compilation, for instance, attached jumper cables to the humdrum four-panel comic format and zapped unpredictable new life into it. There, as well as in the two volumes of Short Cuts — published in English by VIZ under their now-defunct Pulp imprint — he also showcased an astonishing capacity for dead-on stylistic mimicry of a precision I haven’t seen since MAD Magazine’s heyday in the Sixties and Seventies. Furuya, it seemed, could pick up any set of visual tropes and run with them, not only out to the end of the dock but clear across the water itself. So for him to do something like Lychee, an exercise in stylized brutality and cruelty, almost seemed like a step down — a narrowing of his wide-ranging focus, like Andres Segovia plinking out Foreigner or Chicago covers. Read more