August Favorites

I can tell that the summer is coming to a close because all I want to do is drink buckets of tea. I always love tea, but I slow my consumption down in the sweltering summer months. As soon as it dips below 75, however, my body decides that it is now autumn. Needless to say, I’m excited for more clement weather and my favorite holiday right around the corner. (Not that anyone is going to be trick-or-treating this year, but I’m determined to stay positive about Halloween anyway.)

My working life looks a bit different these days. I’m taking on less so that I can take care of my daughter during the day, but my focus is also shifting to things that I really want to be doing. I’ve been having a lot of fun with podcasting lately; it’s something I obviously have enjoyed ever since I became a permanent host of Manga Machinations, but now it serves as a tie to my pre-mom identity. And it’s a great bit of social time I’m able to look forward to every week. We wrapped up our Kasane retrospective this month, and phew! What a series! I enjoyed it way more than I anticipated, and I really loved talking about it with the guys.

Generally, with these monthly favorites, I choose to profile series that I haven’t talked about before. So if I’m continuing to read a series, I don’t always bring that up, even if I really love it. I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge that I’m still enjoying BEASTARS. I’m a couple volumes ahead of release because I get review copies, so I just gotta say…if you’re keeping up with it so far, or if you’re on the fence as to whether or not to continue…it remains really solidly written, beautifully illustrated, and completely wild. Going forward, I’m going to try to mention series I’ve continued to read, since that usually means I’m really into it. (I have a tendency to forget about series if I’m only lukewarm on them, even if they had a strong start.)

I had a chance to read a few manga this month that I had been eagerly anticipating, so I’m excited to finally be able to share those with y’all!

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Venus in the Blind Spot — by Junji Ito, published by VIZ Media

It’s always a good month when there’s a new Junji Ito book on the horizon. I usually try not to read review copies of his stuff, because I want the experience of buying and reading the book. But this time, I just felt really compelled to write a review for Comics Beat. I really loved it; I think it might be the strongest of his anthology collections available in English so far. I was especially excited to see his adaptation of Edogawa Rampo’s creepy short story, “The Human Chair.” Ito did not disappoint — I had the same visceral reaction to this manga version as I did the original prose. My favorite offering in this collection has got to be “Master Umezz and Me,” an autobiographical piece where Ito talks about his relationship with Kazuo Umezz’s work. I have this (perhaps futile) hope that this story will inspire English-language readers to become more interested in Umezz’s work so that we can have a reprint of Cat-Eyed Boy….

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Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children’s Crusade — written by Kurt Vonnegut, adapted by Ryan North, illustrated by Albert Monteys; published by Archaia, available September 15, 2020

I was in an airport on my way to Japan when I learned about Kurt Vonnegut’s death. It was a huge blow to me, though I had only read a couple of his books at that point. Vonnegut was a huge influence on me as a teenager, and many of his ideas remain an integral part of my personal philosophy. I was thrilled when I found out Ryan North, the writer behind Dinosaur Comics and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, was responsible for writing an adaptation of Slaughterhouse-Five. While I think that this comic is best appreciated if you’re already familiar with the original novel, I thought it was incredibly well done. I especially appreciate the in-story acknowledgement that it is an adaptation, talking about Vonnegut in the third person and pointing him out in crowd scenes to give the reader added perspective on his role during World War II. I’m not worried that Vonnegut will ever become an unknown name, but I like to think that this graphic novel version of one of his most beloved novels will help keep his legacy current.

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I Don’t Know How to Give Birth — by Ayami Kazama, published by Yen Press

I have been waiting for this manga forever. It was originally intended for release around my own due date, but delayed twice over. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I finally got my hands on it. I’ve mentioned before that I intend on writing a full reflection on pregnancy through comics, and the real reason I haven’t already is because I was waiting to read this, the only manga translated into English that deals directly with pregnancy. In it, Ayami Kazama talks at length about her struggles with infertility, the excitement of finally becoming pregnant, the struggle to find maternity underwear, and the uncertainty of becoming a parent. Though her experience was very different from my own, I always appreciate hearing other moms talk about pregnancy and birth. It really reinforces for me that there’s no single correct way to have a baby or to be a mom, and I find that really reassuring as a new parent, myself. Kazama’s husband, Azure Konno (also a mangaka), has little pages at the end of each chapter where he mentions his own experiences of his wife’s pregnancy. I thought this was a really nice touch, since it takes (at least) two people to make a baby! I Don’t Know How to Give Birth also reminded me a lot of chii’s The Bride Was A Boy, in that it was an autobiographical manga that used factual information to gently educate its readership on the topic at hand. I think this is a great read for anyone, but it will be of special interest to new parents, or those planning on having children.

A pretty solid lineup for August, if I do say so myself! September is gearing up to be busy (and I always get busier in the fall, but let’s see what happens since COVID prevents me from going anywhere). Hopefully I’ll have a nice little roundup for you next month, as well. Until then, stay well!

July Favorites

I’m not the biggest fan of summer. It’s been in the 90s here for weeks, and Sev and I have mostly holed up in either her bedroom or mine, the only places in the apartment with window unit air conditioners. I’m looking forward to the end of July, and the end of August, if I’m being completely honest. The heat makes me lethargic and grumpy, feelings that are compounded by this whole coronavirus ordeal.

Still, this pandemic has afforded me even more time to read, something I thought would vanish as soon as I had a baby. I hope that you all have had similar experiences with being able to reinvest in the things that make you happy, even if circumstances are rough right now.

This month I made a comic haul purchase through Comicopia, and I’ve also been borrowing comics through the library — both through Libby and through Hoopla. This is my regular reminder to you all to support your local comic shop, support your library, and if you simply must order online, try to do it through Bookshop, which will in turn support independent book stores. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record here, but I am really concerned for the state of small businesses and libraries in the wake of this virus.

But enough of the doom and gloom! Let me tell you about some comics that made me happy this month.

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Pretty Deadly, Volume 3 — by Kelly Sue DeConnick (story), Emma Rios (line art), Jordie Bellaire (colors), and Clayton Cowles (lettering), published by Image Comics

I know I don’t usually profile comics in a series after the first one, but Pretty Deadly comes out so infrequently that I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to write about it on this blog before. My pitch when I used to hand sell it at Comicopia was “it’s a Southern Gothic comic about Death’s daughter,” and that usually caught a customer’s attention. The second book focuses on wartime, and this third one is a 1930s Hollywood noir. Discussion questions at the back of the book mention how the creative team is intentionally invoking the era of pulp comics: westerns, war comics, and noir. The comics history nerd in me thrilled at that. In this volume, subtitled The Rat, Deathface Ginny, the Reaper of Vengeance, is helping Frank Fields, linked to the reapers through his family, find out how his niece died. The pair hop from one Hollywood haunt to the next, interviewing other reapers until they get some answers. It’s gruesome, it’s gorgeous, it’s probably my favorite currently running non-manga comic. I can’t recommend it enough, even though I know it will be a while before we see another installation.

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I Had That Same Dream Again — by Yoru Sumino (original novel) and Idumi Kirihara (art and adaptation), published by Seven Seas Entertainment

Once again, I’m glad that I read something I wouldn’t normally have tried, because I find myself surprised by how much I enjoyed this all-in-one manga. I Had That Same Dream Again was originally a light novel, from the writer behind I Want to Eat Your Pancreas. I have not read Pancreas, but going into this adaptation, I knew that it was an emotional novel, manga, and film. I Had That Same Dream Again also has an emotional tug, though it is an ultimately happy story. The action follows grade school student Nanako, who doesn’t really have many friends in school. She does have friends outside of school, however: the kindly Obaachan, the sweet and sassy Skank-san, Minami-san, the aspiring high school author, and a little black cat. Nanako brings her daily troubles to her friends, who encourage her to do the right thing at every turn. Nanako finds that these friends will disappear soon after she has a particularly helpful conversation with them, and this mystifies her. I don’t want to spoil it, though the twist becomes obvious about halfway through the book. It’s a really gentle, thoughtful, somewhat bittersweet manga.

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Chainsaw Man, Volume 1 — by Tatsuki Fujimoto, published by VIZ Media (available to read through Shonen Jump subscription, in print October 6, 2020)

I read the first couple chapters of Chainsaw Man when they initially came out on Shonen Jump. I had had a subscription to read Kazuki Takahashi’s new manga (yeah, I’m that nerd), and since I had finished doing that and still had a subscription, I thought I’d give the newest series a go. I really liked it even then! But I’m notoriously bad at keeping up with things as they come out (I can’t tell you the last time I even knew what anime were airing at any given time), so I let it drop. I’m glad VIZ is doing a print version of this strange, hyperactive, gruesomely fun series! Protagonist Denji is a simple man who just wants something to eat and some boobs to grab (remarkably not as sketchy as it sounds, somehow). He’s been “hired” by a demon hunting agency because his own pet demon, a doglike creature with a chainsaw nose, saved Denji’s life by merging with him and becoming his heart, thus allowing him to transform into a demon himself. The premise is wild, the artwork is frenetic, and the entire thing is a great deal of bizarre fun.

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Prince of Cats — by Ronald Wimberly, published by Image Comics

This is one of those comics that I’ve been meaning to read for ages and have only finally gotten around to. I plan on writing about it more extensively in the next Black Creator Spotlight, but suffice to say I’m completely on board with Ronald Wimberly’s reinterpretation of Romeo & Juliet, a play which I’m honestly a little tired of otherwise. Focusing on Tybalt, mixing Shakespearean dialogue with AAVE, and rolling in some Japanese influence makes this a truly unique, rich comic that makes me feel more invested in the characters than reading the original play ever could. (I swear I’m not a Shakespeare hater, but Hamlet is more my speed.) And I can’t get enough of Wimberly’s artwork, which I was able to see very clearly up in the digital version of this comic, as it took me through each individual panel up close. I bought a physical copy of Wimberly’s Black History In Its Own Words, and will be snagging a physical copy of this soon, as well.

That’s gonna do it for July. My to-read list is huge right now, so look forward to a similarly robust entry next month. And if you’re looking for a deeper exploration of a series, you should check out the retrospective of Daruma Matsuura’s Kasane that we’re doing on Manga Machinations!

 

May & June Favorites

Toward the end of May I began to lose steam on writing, partially because of mom duties, but chiefly because of current events — namely, the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests. Between the fight for racial justice, the extremely blatant displays of police brutality, and the ever-looming specter of COVID-19, there were so many things going on in the world that were so much more important than my opinions on comic books. I needed to step back for a little while so that I could more actively engage with what was happening.

To help hold myself accountable to continuing anti-racism work, I will be starting the Black Creator Spotlight series in July, with the intention of featuring a new Black comics creator once a month. As always, I have a lot of lofty goals for this blog that may be upended by motherhood, but this is important to me. I hope it will inspire readers to branch out in their comic book choices. While I continue to search for ways to be helpful, this is one way I can use my skills to uplift Black artists. I also intend on continuing my Comics Lockdown series, as it seems that we’ll be in COVID hell for a while longer, at least here in the US. I’m working on being better about scheduling my posts regularly so that I can balance all this new content I want to bring to the site.

Needless to say, since this is a two-month favorites post, there are a lot of comics on the list! And as June is Pride month, a lot of them are queer or queer-adjacent. That wasn’t really intentional, since I try to keep up with new and upcoming releases and queer content is what publishers have been putting out. But it’s a happy coincidence, and I hope that Pride helped to reinvigorate and inspire the community to keep striving for positive change for all people in all walks of life.

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Lowriders in Space — by Cathy Camper & Raúl the Third, published by Chronicle Books

The Lowriders books were something I had intended to read for a long time. Raúl is a Boston-area local, and he visited Comicopia several times while I worked there. In addition to being a warm and friendly person, his artwork is just so beautiful, and I love the fact that he illustrates the Lowriders series with only ballpoint pens. Lowriders in Space is the first book in the series, and I finally read it when I was gathering titles for the “Middle Reader Mayhem” installment of the Comics Lockdown series. It follows Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria as they trick out a new ride to win a car competition to fund their very own garage. They inadvertently rocket into space in their lowrider, decking it out with Mars dust and constellations, and avoiding a black hole with the clever use of white-out. This is the kind of comic kids clamor for, with wild adventure and new ideas. The essay in the back about lowrider culture is one of my favorite parts, as the whole story is a love letter to the drivers who want to ride bajito y suavecito.

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Love Me for Who I Am, Volume 1 — by Kata Konayama, published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I will admit to very nearly skipping this manga over because of the suggestive cover, which I think does not help the manga’s chances. I was actually really impressed by the story, so glad that I got over my biases a little bit to check it out. It revolves around Mogumo, a non-binary high school student who feels as though they are not understood by any of their peers. Their classmate, Tetsu, decides to invite Mogumo to work at his older brother’s maid cafe — a cafe where all the staff are otokonoko, or boys who dress like girls. Upon learning the nature of the cafe, Mogumo insists that they are neither a boy or a girl, that they like wearing girls’ clothes because they feel better on, but that’s not how they identify either. As a result of this declaration, readers are able to learn more about the various identities of the characters at the cafe. It’s a really sweet, non-judgmental exploration of different gender expressions that doesn’t shy away from how difficult it can be to break away from the binary and forge your own path.

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BL Metamorphosis, Volume 1 — by Kaori Tsurutani, published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I was so thrilled when I heard that this series had been licensed, and the first installment has only made me more certain that it’s exactly what the North American manga market needs. Ichinoi is a seventy-five-year-old calligraphy teacher who lives alone after the death of her husband. She happens into a bookstore on a whim, and seeing the manga on display, remembers her own youth reading comics. She picks up a manga and loves the artwork on the cover so much that she decides to buy it. While reading, she discovers that it’s a boys’ love manga, something she had never read before — but she’s so invested in the romance! She goes back to the bookstore to get the following volumes, and she ends up befriending the teenage store clerk, Urara, who is also a BL fangirl. I love how the delicate artwork compliments the gentle story of a wholesome friendship borne out of love of a not-so-wholesome genre of manga. As a protagonist, Ichinoi is treated as a whole, complete character, whose everyday difficulties are portrayed with compassion, and whose personhood is well-developed. I’m really eager for the next volume in this series, when Ichinoi and Urara find themselves at a doujinshi event!

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Rock Against Racism — by Bianca Xunise, available on her Gumroad shop

Bianca Xunise will be the first Black comics creator I cover in my Black Creator Spotlight series, but I wanted to take a moment to talk about her zine Rock Against Racism anyway. I really loved all four of the digital mini-comics I bought from her, but this one was a blend of a few of my favorite things: rock music, history, and comics. As much of a history lover as I am, I have to admit that I didn’t know much of anything about the Rock Against Racism movement, and Xunise laid it all out in clear, simple terms for readers in this mini. I’ve long admired how her adorable artwork simultaneously helps to teach and console her readers on issues of racism and sexism, and her knowledge of the alt music scene gives her a unique perspective.

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Goodbye, My Rose Garden, Volume 1 — by Dr. Pepperco, published by Seven Seas Entertainment

In the past, I have bemoaned the state of yuri manga. So much of it feels either like it’s pandering to the male gaze, or that it treats lesbianism as a “phase” that one grows out of after middle or high school. So I’ve been really pleased by some recent offerings in the genre. In particular, Goodbye, My Rose Garden speaks directly to my interests in literature, English nobility, and history in general. Hanako is a young Japanese woman who has traveled to England in an attempt to get her novel manuscript published. She is especially interested in having her favorite author, Victor Franks, read it and offer his critique. When she is told in no uncertain terms that Mr. Franks will not see anyone and has not time to read other authors’ work, she is despondent. But a young noblewoman by the name of Alice Douglas notices the entire exchange and, impressed with Hanako’s single-mindedness and ability to speak her mind, offers Hanako a job as her personal maid. Hanako gratefully accepts, and the stage is set for a turn-of-the-century melodrama, in which Hanako tries to help her mistress, who wants nothing more than to die because she is bound by duty to marry a man she does not love. I feel like a broken record every time I say it, but it’s such a relief to have queer romances set anywhere other than a modern high school, and it’s clear that Dr. Pepperco has done their research on the time period. Looking forward to seeing where this one goes!

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Fangs — by Sarah Andersen, published by Andrews McMeel Publishing (available September 1, 2020)

I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t recognize Sarah Andersen’s “Sarah Scribbles,” a quasi-autobiographical webcomic chock full of relatable content. Andersen brings her impeccable sense of humor and her appealing artwork to Fangs, which unites Elsie the vampire and Jim the werewolf in a spooky-cute romance. There is a vague time progression, but the story is mostly just vignettes about Elsie and Jim’s day-to-day interactions, learning how to navigate each others’ quirks, just like in any relationship. The catch is that those quirks mean Elsie can’t wear silver jewelry, Jim can’t open the curtains during the day, and no one ever sees Jim’s mysterious new girlfriend. This kind of sweet monster stuff is completely my jam, and I think it definitely has a solid spot amidst the modern fascination with the supernatural. The comics are available on Tapas already, but a physical collection is coming out in September!

Okay, that’s going to do it for May and June. I thought that having a baby would slow my book consumption, but it’s actually increased somehow. I hope to keep up that energy going forward so that I can have lots to recommend each month! Thanks for reading once again, and I hope you all keep an eye out for the Black Creator Spotlight series, starting (hopefully) at the end of this week!

 

April Favorites

Time moves differently when you have a baby. Though being stuck at home without seeing family and friends makes things feel sluggish, I also can’t believe that my daughter is approaching three months old in a mere few days. Maybe it’s the fact that I turned 30 at the beginning of the month, but I’m starting to feel like an old person who can’t stop saying “Where has the time gone?” Not that 30 is remotely old; in fact, I’ve been excited to reach this milestone for quite some time…though doing so while isolated has been an odd experience.

Still, some exciting things have happened this month. I’m back to recording with Manga Machinations! It’s so nice to be back talking about manga with the guys, getting a little time away from mom duties. I’m super excited that we’re doing a Yu Yu Hakusho retrospective series right now! I haven’t had an opportunity to write all my feelings about Yu Yu Hakusho (because they are vast and hard to articulate), but it’s one of my favorite series. To pique your interest, there’s an awesome promo video, as well as my reread thread on Twitter. And of course, there’s the first episode! Check it out!

Happily, I’ve been able to do quite a bit of reading this month. I’m starting to get into a good routine where that’s concerned, trying to read when Severina nurses (if she’s cooperative, which is less often lately), and then getting more reading done at night after she’s down for bed. Writing gets done during nap times — like right now, she’s sleeping on me in a sling. By the time I finish this blog post, I probably will have come back to it several times. There’s a learning curve to balancing working and parenting (and luckily I have my husband home right now to keep helping), but we’re getting the hang of it. In many ways, being at stuck at home right now is working to my benefit, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. At least there’s plenty to read!

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Happy Mania, Volume 1 — by Moyoco Anno, published by Tokyopop (out of print)

I’ve been feeling really nostalgic about manga lately. I’m wondering if this is a byproduct of no longer working in comics, and therefore not being up on everything that’s new right now at all times like I used to be. Regardless, this led me to find some used copies of old Tokyopop volume ones that I never got to read back when they were in print. As someone who came late to Moyoco Anno, it was important to me to check out Happy Mania. And as I expected, it was a riot. Protagonist Shigeta works at a bookstore and is desperate for a boyfriend. She continually keeps going out with guys who take her for granted, meanwhile her coworker Takahashi is clearly in love with her — and is a decent, dependable guy to boot. Shigeta is very much her own worst enemy when it comes to romance, and I continue to admire Anno’s willingness to depict women with glaring flaws. Her protagonists toe that line between insufferable and lovable, and as always, her frenetic artwork is a refreshing break from overly-trendy styles. It looks like there’s a sequel to this series in Japan. With the original out of print here, I doubt this new series will see the light of translation, but I can hope!

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Spy X Family, Volume 1 — by Tatsuya Endo, published by VIZ Media (available digitally through Shonen Jump, print version out June 2nd)

People have been talking up Spy X Family for a while, and I finally got on the train because it’s coming out in print, and I have an opportunity to review it for Comics Beat (which I plan on doing). This is another one of those circumstances where I kick myself for not reading it sooner; it’s way more up my alley than I had anticipated! A spy known as “Twilight” is put on a mission to infiltrate the prestigious school, necessitating the acquisition of a fake family. The catch is that his “family” cannot know about his mission, otherwise it will be jeopardized. He adopts a little girl named Anya, not realizing that she is the result of government experimentation that left her with psychic abilities. Through happenstance, he marries an assassin named Yor, who is also trying to keep her job a secret from him. Little Anya is the only one who knows the whole story, and she isn’t telling anyone! I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m a sucker for found family stuff, and I especially love Twilight’s reasoning to become a spy in the first place. The first volume is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming, and I am definitely planning to continue reading.

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Wave, Listen to Me!, Volume 1 — by Hiroaki Samura, published by Kodansha Comics (digital available now, print version out May 26th)

Time to confess that I’ve never read Blade of the Immortal (and I suspect it’s not really my kind of manga). This is actually the first Hiroaki Samura manga I’ve read all the way through, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. Minare Koda is a loud-mouthed waitress who spills her drunken heartbreak to a local radio show host at a bar one night. He records her ramblings and airs them on live radio, pulling her into the world of broadcasting with his desire to harness her untrained but ceaseless voice and see what comes of it. Minare reminds me a bit of Shigeta from Happy Mania, actually, in that she’s a fast-talking lady preoccupied with her love life who goes off on wild fantasy tangents a lot. Samura is an excellent artist, so I’m really glad to be able to read something of his that doesn’t seem to rely on the, uh…torture of women. Though Minare might feel tortured to some extent in this series! There’s a current anime adaptation of this series airing right now, as well, which makes the print version’s timing excellent.

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The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions — by Junji Ito, published by VIZ Media

When VIZ announced that they were going to be publishing this for North America, I was really glad I hadn’t dropped $90CAD on the original Japanese printing at TCAF last year — though it was extremely tempting. To say that it’s a gorgeous collection of paintings and illustrations is an understatement. The silver and black of the jacket is echoed on the interior pages that were originally black and white, giving the feeling that they are truly special. Most fans are used to seeing Ito’s pen and ink illustrations, and while there are plenty of those, it is exciting to see his painting work, and to learn in the interview at the back that his original intention was to be a painter and not a mangaka at all. As always, his quirky and self-deprecating sense of humor shines through in translation. This is a must-have for an Ito completionist (like myself), and a great addition to any art book library, as well.

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A Man and His Cat, Volume 1 — by Umi Sakurai, published by Square Enix

Square Enix is having a moment right now with the release of the new Final Fantasy VII remake. But a couple months back, they released their first manga as a North American publisher (having already been a publisher in Japan for many years). One of those new manga is A Man and His Cat, AKA the exact kind of thing I love to read. In it, a chubby, so-ugly-he’s-cute cat who has been ignored by shoppers at a pet store for over a year is worried that he will never find his forever home. One day, however, an older gentleman adopts him, naming him Fukumaru. The man had been living all alone after the death of his wife, and the two had always talked about getting a pet. The first volume is packed with situations instantly recognizable to those who share their home with a cat. In many ways, it reminded me of What Michael?, except there is a loose ongoing plot and far less absurdist humor. It’s sweet, it made me chuckle, and I’m looking forward to more!

If we stay in a state of relative physical isolation for much longer, all of my monthly favorites are going to be this long! Hopefully there’s something here to help you pass the time, as well. Stay safe!

March Favorites

Hey all, I hope you’re all doing well. This has been a wild month for all of us, I’m sure. For my part, not a whole lot of day-to-day has changed. I already work from home, so I’ve been meeting deadlines as usual (though I’m taking on fewer things right now as I still adjust to being a work from home mom). My husband is still on paternity leave until April 13, but it’s looking like he’s going to be working from home after that point, as well. We were already largely staying at home since Sev can’t get her flu shot until she’s 6 months old, but now the flu has been completely overshadowed by COVID-19. And of course, we can’t have any visitors now. My mother had been coming up from Connecticut weekly to spend the day with us, and we really miss her presence.

It almost feels silly to do a reading round-up, a little unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But I think a lot of people are trying to find ways to spend their time at home, so hopefully some reading recommendations won’t be amiss. And besides, sometimes it’s helpful for our mental health to try to keep some sense of normalcy in the face of adversity.

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The Golden Sheep, Volume 1, by Kaori Ozaki — published by Vertical Comics

This is one I missed when it initially came out and ended up borrowing from the library before we all had to avoid public spaces. I had read and loved Kaori Ozaki’s The Gods Lie, so I was eager to read something else of her’s. In The Golden Sheep, protagonist Tsugu Miikura is moving back to her hometown after having moved away in elementary school. She is eager to reunite with her three childhood friends, expecting that nothing would have changed between them in the intervening years. Unfortunately, she finds that tensions in the group are high, and her dream of coming home to something familiar winds up backfiring. Ozaki’s got an incredible ability to pepper her high drama stories with humor and gentleness. The simplicity of her character designs does not hinder their expressiveness; indeed, her characters are full of emotion. I may have to wait until I can go back to the library to read the second volume, but I’m looking forward to it!

Kakushigoto: My Dad's Secret Ambition

Kakushigoto: My Dad’s Secret Ambition, Volume 1, by Kouji Kumeta — published by Kodansha Comics, available digitally

I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this manga. I almost didn’t read it at all, in fact. At first glance, it can seem like one of those series where a father has a questionable relationship with his daughter. In this case, father Kakushi Goto is a mangaka who specializes in “dirty” manga. He is desperately trying to keep his career a secret from his little daughter, Hime. He wants to protect her from the embarrassment of having a father in a sleazy line of work, not realizing that everyone around him respects him and loves his work. In pursuit of keeping his secret, Kakushi gets into a lot of weird and humorous situations. But I was most struck by the fact that this really does seem to be a sweet story about a father who wants what’s best for his daughter, and a daughter who loves and supports her father no matter what. I personally also like the inside baseball stuff about the manga industry. My favorite part was the frankly absurd cameo by Kazuhiro Fujita, creator of Ushio & Tora and The Ghost and the Lady. Really fun, and available digitally — so good quarantine reading!

Therapy Game

Therapy Game, Volume 1, by Meguru Hinohara — published by VIZ Media’s SuBLime imprint, available June 9, 2020

This is another manga I liked more than I anticipated! This is the sequel series to Meguru Hinohara’s oneshot Secret XXX (coming out April 14), which I also had a review copy of and thought was reasonably cute. But Therapy Game has character types I like better: the aloof, beautiful, and very gay guy who is actually very sensitive, and the gentle, heartbroken guy who is trying to sort out his feelings. The story focuses on the brothers of the main characters from Secret XXX, Shizuma and Minato. Shizuma had been drinking his sorrows away in a gay bar after getting dumped by his girlfriend, and Minato happened to listen to him and then take him to a hotel room to sleep off the booze. Shizuma, allegedly straight and definitely wasted, ends up giving Minato an extremely memorable evening — which Shizuma completely forgets by morning. Minato decides that he’s going to get revenge by seducing Shizuma and then dumping him, but of course…real feelings crop up unexpectedly! It’s definitely a dramatic, sappy manga, and it leaves off on a bit of a cliffhanger in terms of the guys’ relationship. But I often feel like I have to wade through a lot of middling to bad BL, and this one stood out in character and artwork for me. You don’t have to have read Secret XXX to understand what’s going on, but a couple references might be lost on you. (I didn’t realize it was a sequel going in, only realizing it after seeing characters from the other manga.) Needless to say, this is absolutely a mature manga for readers 18 years old and over. There’s not a lot of explicit sex, but it’s definitely there, so reader beware!

And that’s March! I hope that by the end of April, we’ll all have some better news about COVID-19. In the meantime, I have to spend my birthday and Easter both at home away from family and friends, and that’s hard — but it’s necessary, and I know we’re all giving up a lot to make sure that we flatten the curve! Please be safe and responsible, and if you can, take advantage of any free time to catch up on reading, or take up a hobby, or just simply rest. And wash your hands! ;3

A Little Life Update + January & February Favorites

As promised, I didn’t update last month because I was busy being 9 months pregnant. On February 3rd, my daughter Severina was born, a little late but in good health! In the ensuing weeks, I’ve been busy trying to learn how to do this whole “mom” thing, and just generally enjoying her presence. She sleeps a lot, of course, so I’ve had a chance to get a little reading done as I ease back into work, on top of the reading I got done before she arrived. That means this is a longer “favorites” post than usual — a nice challenge for me as I get back into the groove of writing!

I’m also trying something new this month. I’ve become an affiliate of Bookshop.org, a website that is seeking to redirect some of Amazon’s book sale profits to independent bookstores. I try not to preach too much, but I have serious concerns about Amazon’s affect on the publishing industry, so I’m glad to be able to provide an alternative option to readers. Full disclosure: If you order books through my links, I will get a percentage of that sale. I am obviously very grateful if you do choose to do that — but I would also encourage you to try to do more of your book shopping through the website itself when you can’t get to your local independent bookstore or comic shop, regardless of whether it kicks back to me or not. It will benefit other affiliate bookstores and folks in the world of book retail and reviewing.

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What’s Michael? Fat Cat Collection, Volume 1, by Makoto Kobayashi — published by Dark Horse Comics

Those of you who follow me on Twitter will likely have seen some of my ravings about What’s Michael? in the past, and will know that I’m a huge lover of cats. This hilarious series is about the quirks of cats, as shown through Michael, a sort of stand-in for all orange tabbies everywhere, and his cat companions. This is also, however, a series about the quirks of cat lovers; frequently the human characters are depicted as going above and beyond what seems reasonable in favor of providing the best for their cats. My personal favorite recurring characters are the yakuza member known as K who doesn’t want anyone to know that he keeps and dotes on a cat, and his rival yakuza member M who doesn’t want anyone to know that he is horribly afraid of cats. Each man is worried about shattering his manly image, you see. Makoto Kobayashi seems to enjoy the incongruity of stereotypically masculine men loving cats, and it is clear from his keen observation that he himself is a great lover of felines. Dark Horse had originally published this series in smaller volumes back in the 90s, and I’m really, really excited that they’re bringing it back in this “fatcat” edition for a new wave of cat-loving readers!

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Our Dining Table, by Mita Ori — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I read a lot of BL, and the majority of it is…not great, honestly. I wade through a lot of excessive drama seeking out romances that are sweet, or comforting, or just plain pleasant. Luckily, those kinds of BL are becoming easier to find, and I would count Our Dining Table among them — though honestly, the romance is more of a bonus than a feature in this cozy food manga. Yutaka is a salaryman who has trouble eating around others. One day, he intercepts the young Tane, a little boy with a big appetite who becomes obsessed with Yutaka’s homemade onigiri. Through Tane, Yutaka meets Minoru, his older brother, and the three fall into a pattern of sharing meals together regularly. Obviously a romance buds between Yutaka and Minoru, but the real draw is the focus on shared meals — regardless of their quality — as a vehicle for creating familial bonds. As someone who grew up in an Italian household (and who loves food), this idea of sharing meals as a family is really important to me. I loved to see it utilized in a “found family” narrative, highlighting the importance of nourishing each other physically and emotionally.

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You Are New, by Lucy Knisley — published by Chronicle Books

Okay, I’m cheating a bit here. You Are New is actually a picture book that I bought for my daughter before she was born. But I’m including it here because it is another in an ever-growing collection of works by cartoonist Lucy Knisley about…well, babies. I haven’t forgotten my promise to write a piece about pregnancy and parenthood in comics, and I’m slowly accruing a small horde of books and links to use to that end. Knisley keeps churning out content that simply demands to be part of that future post! In this case, she speaks directly to children instead of parents, assuring them that their newness — whether it’s because they were just born or because they are meeting new people or whatever the case may be — is a wonderful gift of growth and change. We are constantly in the process of reinventing ourselves day to day, and none moreso than children. I’ve read this to Severina a few times now, both before and since she was born. Soon, she’ll be able to appreciate the lovely, bright illustrations that depict kids of all ages and backgrounds. Until then, well…she’s still very new!

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Kodocha, Volume 1, by Miho Obana — published by Tokyopop (out of print)

This also feels a bit like cheating, since this is actually a reread — though I first read this manga in 8th grade, about seventeen or so years ago! I have a soft spot for “old” shojo (stuff from the 90s and early 00s, basically), and on a whim realized that I wanted to revisit this series, which is so good at balancing absurd, slapsticky humor with intense, soap opera-style drama. Protagonist Sana is a famous actress, and she’s having trouble at school with a bully named Akito. As she tries to fight back against his classroom tyranny, she learns about his tragic past and is spurred to help his family overcome their issues through her performance in a movie that closely mirrors their experiences. It sounds trite, and perhaps in some ways it is…but there’s something so appealing about the characters that I find myself drawn in, anyway. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but if you can find old copies of Kodocha at your library or used somewhere, I do recommend checking it out, especially if you remember the good old bad days of North American manga publishing.

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Blue Flag, Volume 1, by KAITO — published by VIZ Media (available April 21, 2020)

This is one of those series around which there’s been a lot of buzz, so I was really excited to see it getting a print release through VIZ this year. In many ways, Blue Flag seems like a straightforward high school drama revolving around an uncomfortable love triangle. Protagonist Taichi is entering his final year of high school, and discovers that he’s in the same class as his childhood friend, Toma. While Toma doesn’t seem to think anything between them has changed, Taichi feels that Toma’s popularity and good-naturedness separate them, and he doesn’t really considering Toma a close friend. He happens to discover that a timid girl in his class, Futaba Kuze, has a crush on Toma. She asks for Taichi’s help to get Toma’s attention — and complications ensue. The three get along well, but Toma is hiding his real feelings about his own affections, and Taichi suddenly feels far more attached to Kuze than he anticipated, especially considering he rather disliked her at the outset of the manga. I had never read anything by KAITO before, but his artwork is absolutely lovely, and he manages to keep a high school love triangle (one of my least favorite tropes) interesting through genuinely likable characters. So far, there’s no overly-dramatic backstabbing or eyeroll-worthy declarations of romantic intention. And besides, there’s an LGBTQ+ angle here as well, and I’m curious to see how that’s handled in future volumes.

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My Androgynous Boyfriend, Volume 1, by Tamekou — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

Upon seeing my Goodreads rating of this volume, a friend with whom I didn’t think I had much discussed my love of androgynous men commented, “Oh brand.” And truly, this is a very on brand manga for me in so many ways. Wako is a hard-working manga editor who isn’t terribly interested in her own appearance, but who loves cute and beautiful things. This affection extends to her boyfriend, the fashionable and feminine Meguru. This unlikely couple loves each other fiercely, and the story mainly revolves around the misconceptions others have about their sexualities (since some people assume Meguru is a woman, or that he is gay). So far, even though Wako and Meguru both deal with some struggles in their professional and personal lives, this is a series without any malice. These two lovebirds are happy with each other, and they work hard to maintain their relationship with a great deal of mutual respect and admiration. The first volume was simply relaxing and enjoyable to read, and I look forward to seeing what future volumes have in store.

Well, there’s two months’ worth of recommendations for you, dear readers! I’ll be getting back to reviewing for Comics Beat soon, too, so continue to look for my long-form reviews there. Much as the time away has been nice (and brief!), I’m looking forward to diving headlong back into manga writing, as well as my other work. It’s important to keep the mind active, even when caring for a child! At the very least, I’ll be back again next month for another favorites post, so keep an eye out for it.

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December Favorites

It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote up my favorite comics from November, but here we are already — the last day of 2019. It’s been quite the year for me, both in terms of my involvement with comics and in my personal life. A new year and a new decade is an exciting prospect! This will probably be my last monthly favorites post for a while, since next month I’ll be getting my bearings as a mother. As promised, I’ve been trying to slowly collect comics on pregnancy and motherhood, so I hope to write about that once I have some of my own experience with this new part of my identity! And I’m thinking of trying to combine some of my parenting experience with comic recommendations, but that might have to wait until my little one is out of infancy — we shall see!

But anyway, I’m jumping the gun a bit here. For this month, I’ve got a couple goodies that deserve some recognition!

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Hell’s Paradise: Jigokuraku, Volume 1, by Yuji Kaku — published by VIZ Media

So far, I’ve only read the first volume of this series, despite the fact that it can be read chapter-by-chapter on the Shonen Jump website. A print copy is coming out in March, so I snagged an advance review copy — and I’m glad I noticed it, because otherwise I may not have thought to read this series! Ninja assassin Gabimaru has been sentenced to death for his crimes, but the stoic executioner Sagiri has been able to discern that he wants nothing more than to be reunited with his wife. She makes a deal with him: Gabimaru can go free if he finds the elusive Elixir of Life on behalf of the shogun. The Elixir is rumored to be on a mysterious island that keeps sending back every explorer as hardly human, blissful and with flowers growing out of their bodies. I enjoyed this first volume because it combines my interest in aesthetic violence/gore, my appreciation of a supposedly unfeeling character with an emotional weakness, and a complex female character who has to overcome her own insecurities as the story progresses. There are some seriously creepy monster designs even just in this initial book, so I’m looking forward to what this strange hell island has to offer going forward!

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The Harrowing of Hell, by Evan Dahm — published by Iron Circus Comics, out March 10, 2020

It’s been a…hellish month, I guess! I don’t talk much about religion in general, but I was raised Catholic and even though I am not practicing, there are a lot of aspects of my religious upbringing that are still important to me. Chief among them is Jesus as a man, trying despite all the setbacks to preach radical peace. I follow creator Evan Dahm on Twitter, and I’ve been looking forward to his interpretation of Jesus’s descent into Hell for a long time now. The final product — or at least the advance copy I was able to get — is a gorgeous, black-white-and-red, ink-heavy, heart-heavy journey that was a pleasure to read. It spoke to me very directly as a lapsed Catholic, and as someone who appreciates seeing the humanity in Jesus more than the divinity. I think I’d like to read it again once it officially comes out to see what I’ve missed, because I suspect that the physical book will offer a more satisfying, tactile read than the digital galley. This is the second of Dahm’s works I’ve read, and I continue to be impressed by his ability to say so much with imagery. Also, I just really liked the little ribbon-like tails on the word bubbles in this volume. It was a sweet little detail that felt very special and carefully considered.

I suppose it seems odd to end the year/decade reading books about Hell or Hell-like places! It wasn’t really intentional, but these types of stories tend to be among my favorites. I’m hoping to read a lot of Jigokuraku while on my self-imposed maternity leave; in fact, I’m hoping to get a lot of reading done, in general, since I’ll have a lot of time where I’m sitting still holding/nursing a baby. Best laid plans of mice and Mo, of course — I feel as though I say I hope to read more every month.

There may be one more blog post in me after the New Year and before the baby arrives. But just in case there’s not, I hope everyone has a wonderful start to 2020, and that the year ahead brings lots and lots of manga to everyone!

November Favorites

Well, I realize we’re already nearly halfway through December, but I promised monthly favorites lists, and by golly I’m going to get one out to you! I had considered rolling November and December together, but I have a brief moment of respite between all the end-of-the-year deadlines, so I thought I’d take a few to get this done.

Like many people, my life gets increasingly hectic starting in October and ending…well, never, but at least settling down somewhat by January. November saw me baby showered, nursery tidying, having my blood pressure monitored at the hospital, celebrating Thanksgiving with my family, attending a birthing class, and just generally becoming more worn down as I entered the third trimester. Even more has happened since November, but I’ll leave that to next month’s favorites list (which might be the last one for a while).

And of course, much of my reading these days comes down to what is necessary for work, not always what is foremost on my personal interest list. I’ve gotten much more reading done this month already — somehow, being extra busy means finding creative ways to get other things done sometimes! But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at two stand-out comics that I read in November!

Nicola Traveling Around the Demons' World

Nicola Traveling Around the Demons’ World, Volume 1, by Asaya Miyanaga — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I wrote a full review of this manga over at Comics Beat, but I couldn’t help but talk it up again. I have a hard time finding manga that I can unreservedly recommend for all ages, but Nicola is one of those rare books that I can hand to any kid confident that it will be fun, appropriate, and suitably weird. Obviously, parents who keenly object to sympathetic depictions of Hell might be put off, but on the whole, this is a story about a sweet little witch girl who is scooped up by a traveling Devil merchant on her quest through the demon world. She has only one magical ability: she can make a flower appear. She is proud of this, but sad that she can’t seem to get any further in her magic abilities — except that she’s had a couple big breakthroughs that she can’t replicate. The premise is fun, the characters are charming, and the sketchy quality of the artwork (printed in brown ink in the physical version of the manga) is unique and rich. I was pleased that my initial review on Comics Beat led my cousin to consider it for his daughter’s Christmas gift; it’s an excellent pick for the kid who delights in the weird but isn’t really keen on being outright scared.

Baby: A Soppy Story

Baby: A Soppy Story, by Philippa Rice — published by Andrews McMeel, out January 14, 2020

When I announced my pregnancy, I put out a call for comics recommendations about pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. The options, especially for pregnancy narratives, were very slim, and I was beginning to get disheartened. But it looks like there are a number of autobiographical pregnancy comics coming early next year, right around the time my own baby will be born! I was lucky to be able to grab an early copy of Philippa Rice’s Baby, which is both gentle and honest in its depiction of Rice’s experience with her first pregnancy. (Judging by her Instagram feed, it looks like she’s pregnant again — with twins!) I’ve read a little bit of her other work (like Sister BFFs), and I’m always struck by how similar our experiences are…and only slightly because she draws herself a little bit like how I look/used to look, all bobbed hair and red/black/white clothing, haha. This little book had me laughing, nodding, and sighing along with how relatable it is to my own pregnancy experience, and it really got me excited about bringing this new little life into the world. Her work is very sweet, so I definitely recommend looking back through her previous works while you wait for this book to come out in January!

So this month was something for the kiddos and something for moms and moms-to-be, it looks like! Next week, I’m expecting my in-laws in town for the holidays, so there’s a chance that the December Favorites will also be delayed. I am pretty keen on getting it done, however, since who knows how much I’ll be able to do once I have a tiny baby attached to me at all hours of the day. Until then, I hope everyone has an enjoyable holiday season full of warmth, tasty meals, family and/or friends, and excitement for the year ahead!

October Favorites

October is over! Can you believe it — my favorite month zipped by so quickly, just like it does every year. I love Halloween but also always get a little sad when it gets close because that means the spookiest month of the year will soon be done. But no matter, November is also lovely, and the holidays are coming up fast. I do enjoy spending the cold winter months with family — and this year we’ll be inviting a new member come late January or early February, so there’s a lot to look forward to!

This year, I helped to organize and run the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, better known as MICE. Because it was my first time helping, and because I was not as mobile as usual, I felt like I did more observing and learning than anything else. But I had a wonderful time, and I was even able to pick up a couple zines on pregnancy and motherhood! I’m slowly chipping away at my goal of writing about what I’m affectionately referring to as “mom comics.”

Other than MICE and Halloween, it’s been business as usual. I read a couple lovely things this month that I want to share with you, both very much in the spirit of the spooky season!

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The Wize Wize Beasts of the Wizarding Wizdoms, by Nagabe — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I actually did a full review of this manga for Comics Beat (along with a review of Cats of the Louvre), but I just wanted to reiterate how much I enjoyed it since I don’t write those reviews in the first person, and these posts on my blog are more about my personal opinions! Wize Wize Beasts is, in a word, great. It is fluffy BL romances set in a magical wizarding world full of humanoid animals. It plays with some BL and romance tropes that aren’t my favorite (like a student-teacher mutual attraction, though it doesn’t get taken too far), but it’s mostly just fun. I keep using the word “indulgent” to describe it, because it’s not pretending to be anything other than pure entertainment. And, as always, Nagabe’s artwork is wonderful — dark and whimsical, with deft character designs.

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The Twilight Man: Rod Serling and the Birth of Television, by Koren Shadmi — published by Life Drawn (Humanoids)

Oh, Rod Serling. I had been looking forward to reading this advanced copy I had for a while, and I finally just went for it. No regrets. I’m a huge fan of The Twilight Zone and of Rod Serling as a writer and a person, so this biographical comic was always going to be my catnip. It is thoroughly and lovingly researched, and follows Serling from his days serving in World War II all the way through post-Twilight Zone and to his all-too-early death. Koren Shadmi chose to depict the entire book in black and white/grayscale, which I really appreciate. As a manga reader, I often prefer black and white comics because I like to see the use of texture and shading really pop (which is possible in color comics, of course, but less common). In this case, it also lends that old-TV look and feel, giving us the Rod Serling we all recognize from our small screen. I also love the way Shadmi used the framing of The Twilight Zone to pull a bit of a twist on the reader — but I don’t want to give anything away! Definitely give it a read if you’re interested in the show, the man, or in the television industry in the 50s and 60s. There’s a lot of really fascinating information about how writers, producers, and studios operated at the time that I think most people wouldn’t know much about otherwise — and a lot of conversation about commercialism, appealing to the “lowest common denominator” of an audience, and being subject to the whims of the censors.

And that’s October’s recommendations! Just two months left this year, and I’m way behind on my Goodreads reading challenge, which isn’t too much of a surprise. We’ll see if I’m able to make it to 250 books (an ambitious goal to be sure) by the end of December. I definitely have some really interesting manga in my to-read pile, so I’m looking forward to having more to share by the end of November. Until then, happy reading!

 

September Favorites

I’m a little later than usual this month! September was a good month, full of lots and lots of writing work, visiting in-laws, and a trip to New Hampshire for some good New England-y early autumn fun. I continue to grow rounder with each passing day, and the baby has decided to set up a dance studio in my belly.

In manga-related news, I got to cover Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-san and The Way of the Househusband for Comics Beat this month. I did mini-reviews of them here last month, but you can read a more detailed review if you follow the links. I’ve also officially started as one of the hosts of Manga Machinations, and it’s been so much fun. It’s really rewarding to be able to have good, engaging conversations with people about manga. And knowing that others are interested in listening to those conversations and providing their perspective is awesome, too. Aaaaaaand Selling Comics came out! My name and my writing is in a real, printed book! It’s so cool, I’m still kind of in shock.

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In terms of reading this month…unfortunately, a lot of it was for work or the podcast (and right now I’m reading a long-anticipated novel), so I only have one pick for you all. But it’s a real good one!

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Phantom Tales of the Night, Volume 1, by Matsuri — published by Yen Press

Some of you may remember my love letter to Matsuri Akino’s Pet Shop of Horrors, one of my favorite manga of all time. My exposure to that series set in motion an obsession of mine; namely, the episodic morality play that utilizes an unreliable or amoral shop owner or service provider involved in the supernatural to mete out cosmic justice — or just sate his own desires — all wrapped up in a pretty, artistic package. Phantom Tales of the Night falls neatly into that description, with a mysterious innkeeper who trades protection, information, or a room for his clients’ secrets. And like every good nameless creepy innkeeper, his origins and history appear to be less than savory, though the first volume only gives us a glimpse at his arcane abilities. I’m such a sucker for stuff like this. It’s kind of pulpy, kind of queerbait-y, definitely pure, shameless entertainment. And while nothing will ever quite move me like the artwork in Pet Shop of Horrors, this series’s creator Matsuri (a different Matsuri!) has a lovely style that lends itself equally to beauty and body horror and weirdness. Again, totally my kind of manga.

And so, I end September and begin October on a decidedly spooky note. Historically, October has been an extremely busy time for me, and this year is no exception. I have volunteered to help with the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) this year, which is one of my absolute favorite local shows. If you’re around Boston the weekend of October 19-20, you should totally check it out and say hi! In between that, celebrating the season, and getting my normal work done, I’m going to try my best to read more. I’m hopefully going to also talk a bit about my horror manga recommendations! It’s something I always want to do but never quite get around to, and I’d really like to make the time to write about one of my favorite genres of manga.

Until then, happy reading!