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!

TCAF Recap!

This past week has been an absolute whirlwind. Last Wednesday, I got on a plane to Toronto to start my volunteering adventure with the Toronto Comics Art Festival. I always love seeing the behind the scenes stuff at events, love learning how each team organizes their time and resources differently. And absolutely everyone on the TCAF team is absolutely lovely — so very kind and accepting and helpful.

I decided to volunteer for TCAF after leaving Comicopia, out of a desire to remain close to the comics community in a more tangible, physical way than just sitting at my desk at home and writing about manga. (I’ve also volunteered to help organize the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo this year, for the same reason.) And for me, that’s really what comics is all about: a sense of community.

There were so many incredible events going on and comics work to see, but by and large the best thing about this show was the people I met and interacted with. Some of those were people I had met before and got to know better, and some of those were people whom I have been following and admiring for years and whom I was lucky to finally meet in person. And through it all, everyone was so kind and so supportive. I received so many words of encouragement and definitive, actionable advice from people with more experience and a better understanding of what the industry needs from an authoritative voice in manga.

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And honestly — I just had a lot of fun. I got to work all the Junji Ito events, which was a really exhausting experience in many ways because everyone was SO EAGER to meet and listen to him. But that also means that got to listen to him, even got to chat with him briefly. Hearing stories about his journey as an artist and what motivates and inspires him has rekindled an interest in writing about him — so look out for that soon, hopefully! He’s one of my absolute favorite mangaka of all time, and up until now I felt that he didn’t necessarily need my help getting any kind of recognition (whereas I strive to write about women a lot because I want to boost their readership). But sometimes…I just have to write things that are meaningful to me, and I would get a lot of satisfaction out of exploring the reasons I find his work so evocative and resonant in my life.

Because I was working events, I didn’t get a ton of time to peruse the show floor, but all the work I saw was truly incredible. Artists from all over were arranged on three full floors in the Toronto Reference Library selling their comics, bonding with readers, working on commissions. Attendance was enormous, and I heard from a lot of artists that they were amazed at how much they sold. This support for the arts, and for independent artists, is so admirable. It was so gratifying to be in such a positive, upbeat space. Even though I was working hard and not sleeping as much or as well as normal, the general good mood was palpable and infectious.

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I was relieved to come home to my own bed, but also very satisfied in my decision to go to TCAF for the first time as a volunteer. It was a truly remarkable experience, and I hope that I can go back again next year — as a volunteer or otherwise — and experience the jubilant atmosphere and incredible conversations once again. I know that I’ve started relationships this past week that will last for many, many years to come. I’ve come away from this festival feeling rejuvenated, motivated, inspired, and so very, very grateful.