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.

The Golden Sheep

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

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!

August Favorites

I feel as though I start every one of these entries with “a lot has happened this month!” But yet, here I am feeling that sentiment all over again. With the last installment of our four-episode podcast series on Tokyo Tarareba Girls, the Manga Machinations podcast welcomed me on as a permanent host, starting in September. A couple weeks later, I announced my pregnancy to the Internet at large. And next week, CBLDF’s Selling Comics essay anthology is coming out, including a piece that I wrote.

I was able to see an advanced copy of Selling Comics recently and I was moved to tears — only partially because of the hormones. I saw my name listed among the names of so many comics retailers and other professionals for whom I have a great deal of respect and admiration, and I was honestly so honored to be among them in this wonderful collection. One of my favorite things to do is provide retailers with tools to sell manga, and it was awesome to have the opportunity to reach a wider audience — and to be featured in a print book! That’s so cool, y’all! I’m so excited.

Even with all this excitement, I managed to get quite a bit of reading in. Now that I’ve gotten into the swing of reviewing for Comics Beat, I am trying my best to stay a little ahead of the curve so I can write about manga close to their release date. This month, I reviewed one of my all-time favorite manga, Asumiko Nakamura’s Classmates, as well as the first volume of Akiko Higashimura’s Blank Canvas, in keeping with my brand of talking up Higashimura whenever and wherever I can.

I’m also looking forward to reading a lot more now that I’m a regular on Manga Machinations! The nice thing about reading in a group is that I’m going to have to branch out and read some things I normally wouldn’t consider. I’m expecting my monthly faves to start to change and evolve to include different, unexpected genres more frequently. But until then, here’s what moved me in August!

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Skull-Face Bookseller Honda-San, Volume 1, by Honda — published by Yen Press

There was no way I was going to come away from this manga without loving every second of it. I had already seen a few episodes of the anime (which I fell behind on because I’m terrible at keeping up with anime) while I was still working at Comicopia, and I shared it with my coworkers at the time. Honda, depicted as a skeleton, works in the comics section of a large Japanese bookstore. Honda has to deal with all kinds of comics fans: Americans hunting for explicit doujinshi for their daughter, foreign BL fangirls, enthusiastic shonen manga otaku — you name it. The customer interactions are relatable enough, but it’s a lot of the nitty-gritty detail of working in book retail that really hit home. From dealing with reps and publicists, to stocking shelves, to having to adhere to street dates…it’s all too real for someone who has been in the trenches. I especially like the part where Honda admits to having difficulty carrying American comics, which are made on heavy, expensive paper and printed in color — and therefore are much, much heavier than manga. I’m also intrigued by the fact that I went into this manga assuming Honda was a man (and the anime gives Honda a masculine voice), but their gender isn’t ever stated, and there are hints that they might be a woman. Honda’s gender doesn’t particularly matter to the story, but I find it fascinating that I assume skeletons are men until told otherwise.

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Snow, Glass, Apples, by Neil Gaiman & adapted by Colleen Doran — published by Dark Horse Comics

This short story by Neil Gaiman has always, always been my absolute favorite of his works, ever since I first read it in his Smoke & Mirrors collection. As a tween, I had an obsession with fairy tale retellings (I was the generation of Ella Enchanted, after all), and as I grew older I was also interested in darker themes in my fiction. And here comes Snow, Glass, Apples, weaving my inherent love for vampires and apple-related betrayals (I have a lot of feelings about the Garden of Eden, okay?) together with a story that places the traditional villain as the victim (I’m named after Morgan le Faye from Mists of Avalon…), and rendering me completely agog at its perfection. I didn’t think I could love it any more than I already did, but Colleen Doran’s adaptation is spectacular, utilizing a sublime influence from Harry Clarke’s illustrative works and steeping this horrifying tale in gorgeous lusciousness. My favorite kind of horror is always horror that is beautiful, and this adaptation is stunning from the lines to the colors and everything in-between. I cannot recommend it enough.

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Parasyte, Volumes 1 & 2, by Hitoshi Iwaki — published by Kodansha Comics

I admittedly came to this manga really late! It was one of the early licenses that TokyoPop had back in the day, but I was too young to read or appreciate it back then. It’s one of those series where I kept thinking “I really should read this” but never got around to it — though I did watch the first few episodes of the recent anime (but again, I’m bad at keeping up with that stuff). And I am really, truly enjoying it a lot. I like well-done body horror — stuff that’s a little gruesome, but that has a point to it. I also am a sucker for intelligent entities sharing one body (thanks, Yu-Gi-Oh), as well as the struggle of main character Shinichi to determine what it is that makes him human — or what makes humans morally superior to other animals. It’s also really interesting to read about co-habitation of a body when I’m hosting my very own little parasite. Some of the things Shinichi is dealing with — a boundless appetite, new and strange emotions — are very similar to what I’m dealing with…though my baby is probably not an alien parasite bent on human destruction. I’m only two volumes in so far, but a friend of mine lent me the whole series so I’m gonna finish it all soon!

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Way of the Househusband, Volume 1, by Kousuke Oono — published by VIZ Media

I was looking forward to this so much, and I was not disappointed in the least. I got an advanced copy of this and breezed through it. I…really, really love comedies about gangsters, whether they be high school hoodlums or members of the yakuza. In this manga, our protagonist Tatsu is a former yakuza boss who has left “the family” in order to concentrate on keeping house for his wife, a careerwoman working at a design firm. I love the dichotomy of Tatsu’s tough yakuza exterior with his apparently very serious dedication to wearing an adorable apron and making cutesy bento lunches for his wife. He seems to have taken all his yakuza training and applied it to being a househusband, and the results are an endearing and hilarious romp that just leaves you feeling good after you read it. This has its official release later in September, so be sure to preorder it or keep an eye out for it on bookstore shelves!

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Komi Can’t Communicate, Volume 3, by Tomohito Oda — published by VIZ Media

I’ve actually been reading this series for a little while, starting with an advanced copy I got back in April or May. I thought the first volume was cute, but something about it compelled me to keep reading. And now, three volumes in, I’m just really enjoying it. The premise is a boy named Hitohito ends up sitting next to a girl in his class named Komi. Komi has a hard time communicating — and that’s actually an understatement. She doesn’t speak at all, but she is also beautiful and her silence leads classmates to believe she’s just a “cool beauty.” In reality, she’s an anxious mess, and somehow only Hitohito has picked up on this so far. He promises to be her friend, and to help her make 100 friends in high school. Watching Komi’s struggle with making friends is equally charming, relatable, and heartwarming, especially as her newfound friends find ways to help her overcome her communication disorder. This is another one of those simply fun manga, and I encourage anyone who feels the need for a little warm-hearted humor in their life to give it a go.

And with that, August is rapidly coming to a close. I’m always super busy in the fall, and my schedule has already started to ramp up. But I also love September and October, and as I gain baby weight I’m very much looking forward to cooler temperatures. If you’re local, you can find me paneling at LadiesCon on September 21st (some say hi!), and be sure to keep an ear on the Manga Machinations podcast starting first thing in September!

 

July Favorites

It’s been another bustling, busy month, but I made good on my promise and read more comics in July! I’m still more behind on my reading than I’d like to be, but it feels good to get back into some kind of routine (even if I have been doing all my work from our new couch instead of at my desk…).

At the top of the month, I started recording a four-part series with the wonderful gentlemen of the Manga Machinations podcast, a retrospective of Akiko Higashimura’s EISNER-AWARD WINNING Tokyo Tarareba Girls. Long-time readers and folks who follow me on Twitter will know that this is one of my absolute favorite modern series. I wrote about my feelings on the first volume ages ago, and those feelings have multiplied and intensified with each passing volume. By the time this post goes up, we’ll be three-quarters of the way through the retrospective. I hope that those of you who have had a chance to read the series will listen to our discussion of it and give us some feedback on your feelings about Higashimura’s love letter to 30-something women and the problems they face. It’s thrilling that I was able to talk about this series in the midst of its Eisner victory. Deb Aoki asked for some of my thoughts on the win and its potential affect on sales for her Answerman column over on Anime News Network, as well. I can’t reiterate enough how every manga fan should follow Deb on Twitter if they want all the latest news from cons and publishers. She’s a force of nature with her Tweeting skills!

I’ve also continued my work for The Comics Beat with reviews for Beastars volume 1, Junji Ito’s Smashed anthology, and the first two volumes of Satoko and Nada. Writing long-form manga reviews is my favorite job right now, hands down. It’s nice to be able to take the skills I utilized recommending manga to customers through working at Comicopia and translate that into recommending manga to readers all over the world. Since leaving the shop, I had been feeling a little isolated from the comics community, but writing for The Beat has helped me reaffirm my place within it and remind me that the work I do is worthwhile and (hopefully) helpful to readers.

So a lot is happening for me these days, and I’m hoping to have even more good news for you next month. But for now, it’s time to talk about what you all came to read — my favorite comics that I read in July. Some of these will likely be given the full Comics Beat review treatment in the near future, but I wanted to write about them a bit in a space where I can let my personal bias really shine through. :3

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Popocomi, by various — published by Eriko Obayashi of Books and Gallery POPOTAME

I bought this wonderful anthology at TCAF and finally, finally sat down to read it. Organized by the Japanese comic shop POPOTAME, this collection features works by “underground” Japanese mangaka — something readers in the West rarely get to see. This collection runs the gamut from more straightforward short narratives to surreal or nonsensical offerings. It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was really impressed with the variety and the skill on display. I was especially fond of Ikumi Nakada‘s melancholy “In a Worm-Eaten Town” and Maiko Dake‘s bubbly “FROM the BOOK SHOP.” They’re very different little glimpses into the lives of a couple of young women, but they both struck me with their ability to convey tone and emotion through the expressiveness (or lack thereof) of their characters. This collection was created in collaboration with TCAF and translated by the incomparable Jocelyne Allen, who has translated scores of my favorite books, provided interpretations for Junji Ito during TCAF, and who is a lot of fun to hang out with. The book was enthusiastically sold to me by one of the artists (whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch!), and came with a sweet little map of bookshops in Ikebukuro-Mejiro. The whole experience of buying and reading this book was unique, and it reminded me of the importance of connecting bookshops and artists with their products — something I believe in very strongly. Support your local bookstores! Support your local artists! Remember that a lot of love and care goes into putting together the works you love.

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Waves, by Ingrid Chabbert & Carole Maurel — published by BOOM! Studios

I’m going to be completely honest — I sobbed through this book. The protagonist is pregnant, and the reader is made to believe this is not her first pregnancy, but that her other attempts thus far have failed. She and her wife are deeply invested in having a child, but because the protagonist’s condition is so tenuous, she is made to stay in the hospital. Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst and the couple loses their precious son — stillborn. God, I’m starting to tear up just typing this! But the story is not just about losing the baby. It is about how that loss is used to help the protagonist push forward and find hope in a new career of writing books for children. This is an autobiographical comic with gorgeous illustrations by Carole Maurel that utilize color to great success. It’s definitely not a light read, but it is short and extremely affecting. I thought it was brilliant, even if I had to read a lot of it through blurred vision.

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Our Dreams At Dusk, by Yuhki Kamatani — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

I have been SO excited for this release for so long, and I finally got my hands on a copy through the library. It is a little different from what I anticipated, but I’m not at all disappointed in it; rather, I think it’s great, and I can’t wait to check out the next volume which just recently came out. Protagonist Tasuku Kaname is struggling at school. Not with bad grades, but with being the new kid and being singled out for being gay. Of course, he didn’t tell anyone that he was gay, and he vehemently denies it, but the teasing comes anyway, to the point where Tasuku’s conflicting feelings nearly lead him to make a fatal decision. Luckily, he is distracted by a woman he sees in the distance who appears to be jumping to her death as well, and when he runs to see what became of her, he is confronted with her, whole and hale, and referred to by everyone in the drop-in center he found her in as “Someone-san.” Through this strange encounter, Tasuku meets others who are queer, and he is able to begin confronting his own fears about his sexuality and what it means for his life and his relationships. I find it deeply gratifying to have a fictional LGBTQ+ manga written by a non-binary creator and depicting a supportive queer network. A lot of the genuine queer works we’ve seen coming Stateside are autobiographical, and while their messages are so important, it is nice to see the field open up to fiction that isn’t relegated to BL or yuri — both of which are great in their own way, but which seldom reflect lived experiences or common concerns, especially amongst queer youth. Kamatani is know for their other manga series, Nabari no Ou, and I’m hoping that the name recognition might help get this manga into the hands of those who need it most — though my guess is that it’s already doing quite well based on the force of its subject matter alone. The importance of the story and characters aside, Kamatani’s artwork is gorgeous — fluid and expressive, with a boldness that I wasn’t expecting based on the dreamy cover designs.

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Blank Canvas, by Akiko Higashimura — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

This month I finished reading Tokyo Tarareba Girls and then immediately delved straight into Higashimura’s autobiographical work Blank Canvas, where she details her teenage experience of attending art classes outside of school to help boost her portfolio for college, and her relationship with an old, ornery art teacher who helped her improve immensely. I love Higashimura’s no-holds-barred, unflattering depiction of herself at that age: cocky, under-motivated, and underneath everything, deeply uncertain. This helps to shed new light on Higashimura’s many successes as a mangaka, reminding readers that while there might be something about her that is innately talented, it took years and years of work and drilling to become the master she is today. I could have used this manga as a self-assured teen, if only to light a fire under my butt to work harder at my dreams and to seek out the guidance I didn’t really think I needed. I’m still a little too cocksure sometimes, so it’s amazing to see someone I respect as much as Higashimura humble herself for her audience in this way. I’m not sure I’d have the same confidence if I were her, but she has absolutely, 100% earned it. And besides, she seems like the kind of teen it would have been fun to be friends with.

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Classmates, by Asumiko Nakamura — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

There was a time, not too long ago, where I was very skeptical of Seven Seas’s output. They published a lot of works that were not for me in the extreme, with plenty of fanservice and an uncomfortable blurry line between what constituted age-appropriate content and what did not. And yet here I am today, promoting three of their recent manga with nothing but my highest accolades. At some point around the time they published My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, Seven Seas took a deep dive into queer stories and have really set the standard for what types of manga readers are really scrambling for. Among those is one of my all-time favorite manga, Classmates. DMP had already owned this license, for digital distribution only, so I had read it a couple years back. I was struck then by a few things: the genuine sweetness of the story itself, and Asumiko Nakamura’s bizarre, stretchy, almost uncomfortable art style (which I adore). In my twenty-ish years of manga reading, I’ve read a lot of BL. A vast majority of it has been purely horny trash, stuff I didn’t particularly even like but felt compelled to read just to see if I could find the hidden gems. And the hidden gems are there, but you have to wade through scores of tropes: near-rape or rape scenes, coercion, incest, abuse, student-teacher relationships…basically, the tawdry, the inappropriate, and the obscene. But sometimes a manga like Classmates comes along — a sweet story about two teenage boys who fall in love and stumble through a predictable teenage relationship without too much meddling from the outside. And it’s a happy manga, one that brightens your day with its effortless charm and its delightfully wacky artwork. Nakamura’s long-limbed, long-lashed, almost alien-looking characters seem suited to eroguro works or philosophical stories — and she’s done things like that, too (I’m thinking specifically of Utsubora) — but somehow her distinct flair makes the characters’ expressions of amorousness, embarrassment, and teenage hilarity all the more effective. I’m so glad that this series has gotten the print treatment, and I hope that it draws in many, many new readers!

Phew! A really long one this month to make up for June’s scarcity. It’s nice to be back on a roll with reading — let’s hope I can keep it up for a while. Until next month, I wish you all happy reading!