If there’s one thing that thinking about your personal Best Of lists at the end of the year means — and right now, I’m working on variations for three different outlets, including the podcast, so this is very much on my mind these days — it’s that you’ll realize how much time you spend talking about the things that you love. Or, in my case, how much time I don’t spend talking about the things that I love. Continue reading
This will be a very speedy post and, as always, I apologize. Unlike always, this isn’t because of my own personal scheduling shortcomings this time around, but because—as mentioned in the header—this post is kinda time-sensitive. Through December 4, you can get a month of Marvel Unlimited for 75 cents. Exactly one year ago, a very similar deal got me hooked on the service, and I thought I’d return the favor to all of you. In, fact, just the other day on Twitter we got this question:
— Timothy McCarthy (@casanovanaut) December 2, 2014
(Which, me being me, didn’t realize was in reference to this tweet:)
If you have a tablet, consider getting a month of Marvel Unlimited for seventy-five cents: http://t.co/wFPxdC2tku Absolutely worth it.
— Wait, What? Podcast (@WaitWhatPodcast) December 1, 2014
so it does seem this is the kind of thing some of you might want to know. What really could you read for your seventy-five cents? I tried to do some quick research of stuff I could advocate for and here’s what I came up with. Please note I stole a suggestion or two from Graeme who weighed in on the conversation above, and also note that I haven’t actually read all of what I’m about to list: some of it is what I’m looking forward to reading, what I’m looking forward to re-reading, and, in a few cases, what I actually have read.
So! Behind the jump so I don’t bump Graeme’s excellent Superman Unchained post off the page!
There’s a sense of deja vu finally reading Superman Unchained in its entirety after following the Superman run by Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. for the last few months — Superman Unchained is out in hardcover soon, and I was reading an advanced copy of that; amusingly, the back copy boasts that it’s got “COMICS’ BIGGEST WRITER! COMICS’ BIGGEST ARTIST!” which is arguably true, but feels like Johns is crying somewhere in response nonetheless. Both Johns and Snyder are clearly trying to… not reboot Superman, exactly, but trying to convince fans that he’s super cool and awesome, honest, and both do so using the same method: comparing Superman with a fake Superman created especially for the story. I’m not sure if “Superstrawman” was ever actually considered as a name for either of the Super stand-ins, but it probably should have been. Continue reading
Hey, everyone! Maybe you’re discovering this right in the thick of Cyber-Monday, busily hitting refresh for the opportunity to get a $1.99 DVD copy of Jonah Hex (confession: I did this) or maybe you’re ignoring all the folderol, and are busy hitting the web for what’s really important: podcasts of two grown men speaking in conspiratorial tones about comic books. Either way, we decided to give you the hook up almost a day early so you can re-sharpen those forks and knives and tuck in to our two hour and thirty minute episode! Remember: if you want just the straight link to the episode, check out OUR VERY FIRST COMMENT where I will give you the connect along with the bonus of MORE WORDS IN ALL-CAPS.
But first (for me, you can skip straight down there if you want): Show notes ahoy!
00:00-16:20: Greetings (of a sort)! Things are a bit wonky right at the beginning and, us being us, there’s even more conversational scratchings of the head than other podcasting teams might otherwise give you. And yet! We are talking about the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer almost immediately out of the gate so…take that, competent podcasters! We talk the trailers for the prequel trilogy; exposition versus imagery; the Jurassic World trailer (which I thought about linking you to or even embedding and then went nahhh); the charms of Chris Pratt; and the secret appeal of Zack Snyder movies; all of which leads us into:
16:20-1:11:14: Movie talk! Jeff has seen some movies so…let’s talk about movies! Discussed: The Wolverine; Baz Luhrmann and “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” the most terrible songs or musical artists we can confess to liking; Jesus Jones; The Jesus and Mary Chain; Hugh Jackman pooping in the woods; The Lego Movie; and the glory of Lego Batman; the movies we’ve seen the most (incomplete conversation due to Jeff’s curiosity about the commentary tracks on the Scott Pilgrim movie); Wim Wenders; 22 Jump Street; Tom Cruise’s movie Edge of Tomorrow (with a brilliant stealth retitling as Live, Die, Repeat); and more. By contrast, Graeme has been catching up with the TV series Helix, currently available on Netflix Streaming; Jeff forgot to mention Le Quattro Volte in his list of recent movies and somehow (don’t ask us how), that brings us around to:
1:11:14-1:55:11: Pax Americana! Yes, 70 minutes in and we finally start talking comics on our comic book podcast. The spoiler warning here is at Defcon Full Spoiler Jacket, because we discuss this remarkable Grant Morrison/Frank Quietly meditation on Watchmen from just about every possible angle including the stalker love letter angle; the critique of formalism angle; the hole in things angle; gnostic and Christian interpretation angle; the misremembering of Watchmen angle; the digressing about From Hell angle; the incomplete Bleeding Edge anecdote angle; the “but isn’t Alan Moore paranoid?” angle; the “where does Obama play into all this?” angle; and the “maybe Jeff talked too much and Graeme didn’t get to talk enough” angle; and then…
1:55:11-2:10:45: Annihilator! Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving’s strange twin to Multiversity. Graeme has a great take on the idea that Pax Americana is Morrison on Moore, and Annihilator is Morrison on Morrison. Jeff thinks maybe it’s Morrison on Morrison’s influence? (Spoiler: Graeme’s take is much, much better.) Also mentioned: Flex Mentallo; The Filth; Wanted; Change; Grayson: Future’s End; and more.
2:10:45-2:32:21: Graeme quick-reviews Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #4 by Tom Scioli and John Barber; Superman/Wonder Woman #13 by Peter J. Tomasi and Doug Mahnke; Supergirl #36 by Mike Johnson and K. Perkins with art by Emanuela Lupacchino; Dr. Spektor, Master of the Occult #4 by Mark Waid and Neil Edwards; and then there’s some talk about the holiday that might make you think we are getting ready to get to our closing comments, but don’t be fooled because Graeme also has a comment or two up his sleeve about the Flash Gordon Annual! And Jeff blurb-blabs The Fade Out #3 by Brubaker and Phillips; Southern Bastards #5 by Aaron and LaTour; Batman & Robin #36 by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Mick Gray; Wytches #2 by Scott Snyder and Jock; and Justice League of America issues #139, 140, 141 by Steve Englehart, Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin. Also, why are gifs so hard to search for? There’s a related gif I’m having trouble finding. Oh, no wait, here it is!
2:32:21-end: Grame begins his transformation back in to The Fly, so the closing comments are mighty, mighty hasty! But of course, we have nothing but love for you listeners, especially everyone who’s contributed to us on Patreon where, as of this count, 85 patrons make this whole thing possible.) Tote For Your Life, Charlie Brown! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! Itunes! Twitter! Tumblr!
Thanks for listening! Follow our posts here and/or come back in two weeks for more!
By the time you read this, it’ll be Thanksgiving, people in the U.S. will be gorging on food and trying not freak out on their families. As I will definitely be one of those people, I thought it best I try and jump on the weekly post train early in hopes of bringing you something to read while trying to escape good ol’ Uncle Jim’s terrifying opinions about the state of the country.
So, yeah. Don’t listen to that: read this!
SENSATION COMICS #14 and #15 (DIGITAL): FINALLY, the Gilbert Hernandez story they’ve been teasing us with since this series was announced! Interestingly, it’s a little more modern than I would’ve expected, in that Beto’s story has Wonder Woman falling under the control of Kanjar Ro (and space-villain-slash-anthropomorphic-lizard-warthog Sayarr) and punching it out with Supergirl (and then, in part two, Mary Marvel). If this had been drawn by, say, Drew Johnson and inked by Ray Snyder, who did some very lovely work in issues #12 and #13 (albeit a little high on the “exposition asscrack” shots), it might’ve fit in a bit too well with the New52’s current “a pinch of charm, slather on the mayhem” approach. Wonder Woman even says stuff like “well, now—learn your last lesson and join the rest of the Kryptonian dead, little girl!” Admittedly, she’s mind-controlled for the majority of the issue, but she’s kind of a little…bitchy in a lot of this.
Fortunately, Beto’s art takes the sting out of Beto’s writing, and John Rauch does a great job coming up with a deceptively simple color scheme that avoids any kind of pop art cliches but still keeps the art looking simple and charming. And although his Wonder Woman is an enjoyably broad-shoulder cartoon and his Supergirl is lovingly nostalgic (she’s got the blue skirt, no exposed belly look of her first appearance), it’s his Mary Marvel that looks truly fantastic, with scrawny arms and a broad expressive face. Despite my repeated clamoring for this story, I generally prefer indie cartoonists to continue to do their own thing (especially when that thing is as weird and as frequently great as Gilbert Hernandez’s), but man do I kind of wish DC would greenlight a Beto-written and drawn Marvel Family epic. That could be pretty fantastic. This was….Very Good, and at $1.99 to get the whole thing, well worth the price and wait.
KING OF EXTREME COOKING VOL. 1: After the Fumi Yoshinaga cooking comics misadventure which brought me one step farther away from the stove and one step closer to the fact of my impending death, I cast about to find some sort of cooking manga like the one that’d started my love for the genre: Iron Wok Jan, the series that proved that cooking manga doesn’t even have to be good to be great. I probably should’ve just done my due diligence, figured out what the last volume of Yakitate! Japan I’d read and then checked out more of the same from the library, but instead I found myself over at Emanga.com, the Internet’s one stop yaoi/hentai/Tezuka [??] shop for ereaders and impulse-purchased the first volume of King of Extreme Cooking by Shigeru Tsuchiyama.
Unfortunately, KoEC is less of a cooking manga, and more of a restaurant management manga, the first half of the volume concerns Ryosuke, a down-on-his-luck ramen shop owner about to get crushed by the mega-successful Kuchifuku House chain. Fortunately, Yuiko, the geisha in training who has a crush on him, saves up her money to buy the services of restaurant consultant, Toshizou Kitagata, a fancy-jacket-wearing dude who looks like he just escaped from a fighting manga. (Or maybe I just think that because I spent most of my time wishing someone would punch him in the face.) Kitagata has harsh words for poor Ryosuke—lots and lots of harsh words—but manages to completely make over Ryosuke’s lax approach to customer service as well as his restaurant, turning it into an inexpensive stand-up restaurant with bowls of all-you-can-eat food.
That’s all well and good, but I wanted, I dunno, a cooking competition where someone sprinkles a mystery ingredient on pickled goat intestines causing it to wriggle and do the “Mysterious Pickled Goat Intestine Dance!” which the judges find irresistible and can’t help but yelling superlatives and expositions at one another. That shouldn’t be so hard, should it?
Oh, and I’m not crazy about the PDF arrangement of this book where the individual pages read right-to-left, but the book itself is read left-to-right, thus effing in the A any bleedover spreads. I’m sure if I was reading porn this may not be such a big deal but…do they really expect me to read Tezuka this way?
[And as long as I’m asking the questions: is there anything really worth getting at Emanga? Despite my grousing about the format, I’m so in the mood for some decent second-rate manga that isn’t written for thirteen year old boys that I’d happily overlook the limitations if there was something worthy…]
THE FILTH #1 and BATMAN #701 and #702: I re-read these digitally, having picked them up in recent Comixology sales (there will come a terrifying time in the not-too-distant future where Comixology will have a Batman sale and I’ll have all the issues) and a few things struck me:
(1) The Filth looks gorgeous digitally, oh my god, you guys. I love Chris Weston’s art (and this is the book that taught me to love it) . But on a fancy-dan iPad? Holy hell, do Matt Hollingsworth’s colors kick this book up to a whole another level of bad drug trip authenticity. The colors of the wallpaper and the bathroom tiles in Greg Feely’s flat are simultaneously utterly authentic and otherworldy. It’s a nasty piece of work, The Filth, but the digital color gives it an extra level of wallop. How this ties into The Function of The Filth’s observations about experiencing the work, I really can’t say for sure: the issue seemed much funnier than I remembered it being? Maybe the closer the comic comes to being viewed on the same device as mindless Hollywood product, the easier it is to see it as a bracingly mean dust-up of same?
(2) Speaking of which, I didn’t really notice until this time around how much the first issue of The Filth is more or less exactly the first issue of Mark Millar’s Wanted: miserable man trapped in a dead-end existence is (re)activated by a woman of color who comes bearing the news of his true legacy and delivers him unto a wilder, even darker plane of being. Doesn’t it stand to follow that there’s so much to be inferred about the differences between G-Mo and M-Mill that Millar’s protagonist is young, blond dead ringer for a white-hot rapper and Morrison’s is a balding wanker whose closest friend is his cat? No matter how much Morrison cranks up the hyper-uglies here, his heart is still with the loser, and convinced the loser’s life is of infinite importance.
(3) Going from The Filth #1, where Greg Feely wakes up to his real life, and Batman #701 and #702, where Batman fills us in on how he got from the pages of R.I.P. and into the pages of Final Crisis, made me realize that I am heavily disinclined to diss Morrison for attending to the same themes in his work over and over. I would pay good money to read the book Chris Weston draw the issue of Batman where lecherous boozer Bruce Feely is snapped out of the Scarecrow’s spell by the appearance of cat-headed Selina Kyle at some third string comic book convention (no, wait, not Bruce Feely…it should be Bob Kane, shouldn’t it?) But, in a way, jumping from The Filth #1 to Batman #701 kinda gave that same kind of frisson.
(4) maybe I’ll end up re-reading Batman, RIP? Based on #701 and #702, the whole thing seems like it’d be much more fun to re-read than to read. Also, can we start a Kickstarter to get David Uzumeri enough money that he can go and write the book-long analysis of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman? I don’t know if that shit is more or less aching to be written, but I sure as hell am aching to read that shit.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #151: Finally, I read a Bob Haney and Jim Aparo story called “Disco of Death,” wherein Batman and The Flash team up to fight, yes, a disco that is killing people. It has a Phatom of the Opera figure in a disco, The Flash being saved by his own superspeed in a stunning example of Bob Haney and Jim Aparo clearly not giving a shit how superspeed works, a great flashback pastiche of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and Batman throwing three sticks of dynamite at fleeing thugs, while saying “Got to lob this just right…don’t want…to kill them!” It’s an amazingly dumb comic, and an absolute delight, and I didn’t have to read from right to left.
There are things that we just can’t untangle from our own biases, our own tastes and likes and dislikes, to see underneath and work out whether they’re actually any good or not. It happens in both directions; I have such an inexplicable attachment to Doctor Who that it dulls my critical faculties and yet leaves it open to the most random, meaningless dismissals, for example (“It’s not humanistic enough!” isn’t a reason to get grumpy at a science-fiction show, I feel, and yet). Similarly, my dislike of Frank Miller’s machismo deadens the appeal of almost all of his work. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.
All of which is a long-winded way of getting around to admit that I have no idea whether or not Ody-C #1 is any good or not.
It is, after all, a perfect storm of things that I have problems with; Matt Fraction is very much writing in his lyrical “mythic” mode — something that he’s used in his Thor, sure, but also elsewhere; I feel like Casanova goes there, occasionally, as well — and using broken narration that
different caption boxes with
little rhyme or
reason, neither in the breaks in the text nor the layout on the page; it’s something that other writers do as well, and it always floors me in my reading. I find myself too conscious that I am reading, all of a sudden, whatever spell I might have been in broken. Two strikes so far, and that’s before I’ve reached Christian Ward’s art, which — and this is the most arbitrary of tastes, of inner rules, I know — feels like it’s too scratchy and rough for me to read properly as the psychedelia that I feel it wants to evoke. The hand of the artist is too present, for want of a better way to put it; the slickness I associate with the colors and shapes detourned by the quality of the line and unfinished nature of the visuals.
(The art is fascinating to me, I admit; Ward is, if nothing else, a wonderful colorist and an ambitious penciler, but there are moments here where it just doesn’t come together and the result feels more disappointing as a result of his ambition than it would from other artists; the wide shot on the 11th page, for instance, features faceless characters whose positioning is stiff and unnatural. Elsewhere on that same page, indistinct lifework is given form by the colors, which feel as if they’re overpowering the lines instead of supporting them. Throughout the entire book, it’s simultaneously ugly and beautiful, and I can’t quite figure out what to make of it. It reminds me of a bad trip version of Fiona Staples’ work at times, and I’m not even sure if that’s a compliment or an insult.)
(I have suddenly realized that the writing, in many ways, reminds me of the Heavy Metal-ness of Prophet that I have such trouble connecting to. But calling this book “It’s like Prophet and Saga but not really” almost feels like I’m misrepresenting it dramatically. Nonetheless, it’s not unlike those two books mixed together.)
My point being: Ody-C is a book that, based on this first issue, is very much not my bag. But what interests me about it is that it’s so not my bag that I have trouble working out what I actually thought of it. On some base level, I “know” that I didn’t like it; it’s filled with all these things that I don’t like, after all, so how could it be otherwise? I found myself reading it as if my mind was stuttering, stopping-and-starting and getting distracted, unable to stay in the moment. It wasn’t something that I could honestly say that I enjoyed. But.
But there’s something about it. There are things, small things, perhaps, but things that I found myself loving for as little reason as those things I disliked. The numbered narrative in the captions! The understated line, “Fuck the war,” so dismissive and casually intent in dismissing traditional narratives for kindness. The feeling that things are strange and uncomfortable and unfamiliar — this feels very much like Casanova does at its best, that Fraction is stumbling towards some emotional reality that’s beyond his consciousness, and I appreciate that very, very much. And those colors! Those shapes! For all my problems with Christan Ward’s linework, there really is something very beautiful happening here.
What I’m left with, I feel, is that there’s a lot to embrace in Ody-C. It’s definitely not a perfect book, but I suspect that it’s an interesting one, and that my inability to truly appreciate that is very much my own failing, and my own fault. In that way, it reminds me of what I said about The Wrenchies on the last episode of the podcast — it’s not something that I can honestly say I enjoyed, but it’s something that I find myself hoping that other people read and find a connection there that I didn’t. Ody-C, I think, deserves the attempt if nothing else.
Previously: Jeff decided to start writing on Fumi Yoshinaga, the brilliant mangaka behind Flower of Love, Antique Bakery, What Did You Eat Yesterday? among many, many others, and her one volume work Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! But, first, he figured it was worth exploring a line he’d written a week earlier and how it tied into his own feelings about American superhero comics, along with a spectacularly dour view of his brief time entering—or more accurately, not entering—the comic book industry after trying to break in. The column ended with Fumi Yoshinaga, still on the horizon, undiscussed, and her connection to all of Jeff’s other verbiage unclear.
Around a decade or so ago, I pulled a page from the Jor-El playbook and packed up my love of comics and shot it to Planet Manga, in the hopes that, free from the shackles of corporate-owned comics (while still allowing me to read something on a semi-regular basis), it would grow strong. I’m overplaying it to stick the Superman analogy because I still continued to read many, many superhero comics, both old and new, but…if nothing else, I was at least commuting to Planet Manga, and had staked a lot of my hopes there.
And for a while it was pretty much successful, at least until I realized somewhat early on that, hmm, wait a minute, I can only read so many stories about a plucky young hero driven to be the best at [some sport/serial killing/girlfriend having] and finally overcoming tremendous obstacles to become the best [sportsman/serial killer/girlfriend haver] by virtue of his [indomitable spirit/mysterious link to ancestors/good heart and/or penis]. It’s not a bad formula at all, but sort of in the same way manga lovers who’ve transitioned to superhero comics can get a little antsy after a while, running a finger under their collar and nervously asking, “uh, there is more to it than just this, right?”, I found myself getting a bit skittish, not in love enough with the tropes to appreciate the nuances with which they were handled. Wasn’t there something for everyone in manga? Where was all the, I dunno, delight?
Enter Shaenon K. Garrity’s Overlooked Manga Festival, a collection of LiveJournal entries that were was absolutely everything I needed to keep me interested in the field, with entries covering all corners of the manga map—shonen, shōjo, bishonen and other terms I always have to look up to make sure I really do mean what I’m writing.
In fact, looking over the list now, I’m a little appalled about how many of my very favorite manga are on that list. I didn’t just go down that list entry by entry and immediately assumed every find I liked was my own personal discovery, did I? I hope not—but there are a couple of books I know with positive and absolute assurance I wouldn’t have tried without Shaenon writing about it: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is definitely one. And Flower of Life by Fumi Yoshinaga is another.
Me attempting to describe Yoshinaga’s work is going to be like watching a monkey drive a stick shift but… Fumi Yoshinaga is a shōjo mangaka, which means her work is for a largely female audience. If I’m understanding Wikipedia’s super-brief entry on her correctly, I’m guessing that Yoshinaga was at the right age to be a reader during the dawning age of shōnen-ai, also known as the “boys love” manga of the ’70s and ’80s. Shōnen-ai, if I’m following it right, started off as stories of platonic love between young boys which then, thanks to the fanfic of the dōjinshi markets, got steamed up and became more explicitly gay (though the definition of the word “explicitly” here can be misleading since I’m not necessarily talking about depiction of sexual acts—maybe I should use the term “openly”?)
Frequently set in distant times and in different cultures (like Europe), shōnen-ai is Otherness with a generous side-helping of Other, the kind of stuff I imagine being read by whipsmart outsider girls of the time: character-driven, educational, but also kinda hot—like regency romances, I guess? But with gay protagonists, so as to allow more sexual concepts into the mix without resulting objectification anxiety?
From a critical perspective, what’s (probably) interesting about Yoshinaga is how her work, having emerged from this framework, moves freely to embrace all its aspects: Flower of Life is definitely a platonic love story between teenage boys in a manga club (which provides for more than a few fond anecdotes about making dōjinshi); Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is an alternate history in which a man-killing disease turns medieval Japan into a matriarchal society; and Antique Bakery is a character study of three hot awesome dudes who run a hot awesome bakery.
But from this fan’s perspective, what’s great about Yoshinaga is how effortlessly exquisite her characterization is, how leisurely her storytelling is, and how deftly she can upend my expectations. It’s always hard for me to properly calibrate my comparisons of creators when their work does not feature explosions and brainpunching, but Yoshinaga’s work reminds me of Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, two films long on charm, leisure, and wry affection for their characters.
Jonesing for exactly this kind of fix—and finding myself for whatever reason too daunted to dig into Ōoku, despite really digging the first volume—I eagerly picked up the first two volumes of What Did You Eat Yesterday?, Volume 1 (2007?), Yoshinaga’s multi-volume chronicle of a middle-aged gay couple and the meals they prepare and eat together. Perfect, I remember thinking. I love food manga! I love Yoshinaga’s characterizations! I love how slowly and subtly Yoshinaga insinuates her themes into her narrative. I can’t wait!
Two volumes later, I found myself a bit cross, not quite willing to admit I’d been bored by what I read but unable to rally any excitement for it, either. By and large, the stories in the first two volumes take the concept of “slice of life” storytelling to a brand new level of diceyness: handsome and fastidious, Shoji is an indifferent lawyer by day and a spectacular cook by night, who spends most of his time trying to figure out how to prepare the most delicious meals for the least amount of money. Kenji, his partner, is a happy-go-lucky hairdresser who is absurdly grateful for all the great meals and props up the meals with his stories and charm.
I can’t fault Yoshinaga for the series doing what it says on the tin: it shows you the foods Shoji prepares and how he prepares them, and it shows the couple enjoying the meal together. And it’s a handy comic: most of the drama comes from how Shoji prepares his meals based on what’s available, fresh, and cheap, and also how he takes his ingredients and plays them out over several meals. It’s not hard to imagine other less lazy people than myself getting inspired to think about how to be prudent about what they eat, how to get the most out of the foods they buy. And, even more impressive, is how this ties into the emotional theme of the books (at least as I could discern it), where two middle-aged people who aren’t perfect for one another are nevertheless right for each other. What Did You Eat Yesterday is a very middle-aged book, since its ongoing topic is how to do more with less. Around the fringes of What Did You Eat Yesterday hovers a secret sense of dissatisfaction…but beyond that dissatisfaction is acceptance, and with that acceptance is love (of a very middle-aged conception of it). Like I said, I couldn’t fault it but for whatever reason I didn’t much enjoy it, either.
Yeah, right. “For whatever reason.” I guess the reason is pretty obvious: I’m 48, and I’m uncomfortable with how much acceptance I should be feeling, how much dissatisfaction I should be copping to in my life. As mentioned in my previous entry, I genuinely consider myself blessed to be married to the woman I’m married to, I have friends, I have my health (or what the non-physically-fit 48 version of it looks like, probably), I have a job that allow me at least a little financial comfort and the time to enjoy that comfort.
But is it what was expected from the kid who looked at the top-of-the-pagecredit box of Marvel Comics and imagined his name there? No, it’s probably not.
Like everyone else, I’ve got days where I open my email and there’s correspondence from friends and family, from people I communicate with on a regular basis thanks to the podcast and the website, and people I’m just getting to know. And there are those days where all I get is junk, mailing lists I no longer follow, ten thousand bloodcurdling calls to action from activist groups, up-to-the-minute reminders to buy stuff based on stuff I’ve bought, and endless, endless sales. (I should just acknowledge the fact I’m never going to buy anything from Think Geek and unsubscribe.) Depending on how lonely your childhood was, I think it’s easy to imagine adulthood as this amazing place where you’re paid attention to all the time. You just command it, it’s yours by right of being an adult. And while I have to say—one hand on my heart, I’m being absolutely sincere—I’m genuinely grateful that is not the case, I also have to say: this, right here? Not what I was expecting. What Did You Eat Yesterday? is one of those works where I didn’t connect because I couldn’t bear to connect. I think adulthood in some ways is like landing a jet: sometimes you have to touch the truth and bounce away a few times before you finally get all your wheels on the ground. There wasn’t anything terrible about What Did You Eat Yesterday?, there wasn’t anything I hadn’t really considered before, but I also had no desire to face it, story after story, chapter after chapter, chopped scallion after chopped scallion.
But I still wanted to read Fumi Yoshinaga in a contemporary setting. Well-observed characters! Slow and subtle themes! Food, if possible!
So I did a little bit of desperate late-night shopping and ordered Not Love But Delicious Foods(Make Me So Happy),(2005?), a single volume of stories by Yoshinaga that are ostensibly reviews of some of Yoshinaga’s favorite places to eat in Tokyo, but are also something like whimsical autobio comics. The book itself came out in 2010 and existed in that “oh sure there are copies because not a lot of people bought them (this ain’t Naruto, after all), but you’re gonna have to wait a couple of weeks to get it into your grubby little paws instead of two days (this ain’t Naruto, after all)” state I’m growing mercifully less and less aware of in my dotage. (Cue footage of Amazon drones shooting down American eagles with laser beams.) With optimism and trepidation, I dug in. (Food pun…intended?)
As mentioned, it’s a one-off volume, and in some ways it’s a dry-run for What Did You Eat Yesterday?, since it’s part food manga, part slow-burn relationship comedy. It’s much more immediate and funny, however, because Yoshinaga continually presents herself in an unflattering light: even the image above, where Yoshinaga is all dolled up and I think presenting some sort of come-hither look, has her scarfing down a hilariously unsexy piece of food and wearing a charm necklace that all but flashes “WARNING: CRAZY WOMAN!” And when she’s back in her studio complaining about work, or not having a boyfriend, or not having any good food to eat, she’s drawn even less flatteringly (and more winningly):
For those of us hoping for more of a story, NLBDFMMSH teases a bit more romance. The relationship between “Y-Naga” and her school-chum-turned-assistant, “S-Hara,” looks as if it might be bloom into romance (the two had promised to marry if they were still single when they were thirty four; the story where this is revealed ends with them pushing the date back to forty), and at several points the narrative feints like it’s going to be a coming-of-age story of a late-bloomer (S-Hara) finally coming into his own in the manga business, or a romance between S-Hara and the other assistant of Y-Naga he’s been crushing on, or several other narrative strategies that never come to pass. Unlike What Did You Eat Yesterday, I found the gambit far funnier here: sandwiched in between all the pages showing you the delicious food making Y-Naga happy, these teases are clearly just jokes that help the book live up to its title.
I also finished the book feeling a little bit distraught. As you may notice in the caption above, Y-Naga is hilariously harsh in her descriptions of herself, and her relationships with those closest to her involve at least one person being frustrated by her selfishness or abrasiveness or… And she herself only seems intermittently satisfied with her life, happiest when at a restaurant but even there, on a date, she’s willing to say that she calls herself “an illustrator” rather than admit to being a mangaka, moving beyond the standard Japanese convention of modesty to something closer to genuine shame . At every point, Yoshinaga, her friends, her dates fail to connect when they should, greeting confessions with embarrassment or indifference. It’s funny in a Seinfeld kind of way, but it’s also sad.
And that’s my big stopping point? “It’s funny in a Seinfeld kind of way, but also sad?”
Yeah, I guess it is. It was sad in a way that gave me pause, but also maybe courage: it made me think about dissatisfaction, and if conveying dissatisfaction will help move someone to the next level (acceptance, love). And it made me think about community: sometimes you still have community but that community never quite coheres in the way you think it does because we’re people, not refrigerator magnets. (By the way, if it turns out we are indeed refrigerator magnet? Please DO NOT tell me.) Maybe if it’s Not Love, But Delicious Comic Books that make me so happy, it seems to follow I cannot be happy all the time, or even a chunk of the time?
The meal is consumed, the comic book is read (and stored, or lost, or forgotten, or remembered). I’m 48 and soon I will be dead—I mean it’s a very relative term “soon,” I’m not offing myself and I don’t plan on getting into any gunfights anytime soon, but if by “soon,” I mean “less than 48 years,” then yeah, probably soon—and what is left?
I don’t know the answer—I don’t think I should know the answer— but in the fringes of these books, I found clues that led me to suspect I should finally be asking the question.
If you haven’t already checked out the new episode of the podcast, scroll down to the next post, for it is there and it is good. Or, you know, at least okay. For everyone else, click through for some random thoughts I had while re-reading John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers/Avengers West Coast run this weekend. Continue reading
Hello, everyone! My computer is acting a wee bit erratically today—I’m thinking it’s the mistake of trying to upload 547 files to Dropbox all at a go, but who knows for sure—so I’m gonna get right to the show notes, if you don’t mind. Remember: if you just want the link to the podcast for your own downloading/making-a-secret-weapon purposes, just go to the VERY FIRST COMMENT.
(Note to self: DO NOT FORGET TO PUT LINK TO THE SHOW IN THE VERY FIRST COMMENT.)
And with that, we’re off!
00:00-2:52: Greetings! Oh, the weather outside is frightful (in Portland) but having an Internet kill switch makes Graeme delightful, so…uh, I don’t know the rest of the song? I think it’s something about having no particular place to go? Man, “Let It Snow” is a harsh, harsh song: men and women on the edge of homelessness trapped in a snow storm with their own choices being starvation or cannibalism! No wonder everyone likes that “conceal, don’t feel” song so much. Snow-related songs are grim.
2:52-12:02: Jeff’s been to the comic store for the first time in a few weeks and here’s a thing: we have trouble remembering all the stuff we meant to buy until we get home. Mentioned and discussed (and forgotten in a few cases): Gotham Academy #2, Outcast by Kirkman and Azaceta; “Kirkmanitis,” and more. One of the things I realize now we should’ve talked about is when we decide to just hold off on getting the forgotten book until next time, and when we buy the book digitally. (As I did with that third Multiversity issue and I think Graeme’s also done? Like I said, we shoulda talked about it.)
12:02-59:11: Here comes a stealth transition to talking about The Wrenchies, the truly noteworthy graphic novel from Farel Dalrymple published by First Second. One of us loved it, one of us did not, and yet both of us are telling you to read it: how does that work, exactly? Find out here as Graeme and Jeff dig in deep to this remarkable book. Discussed: Jonathan Lethem; Philip K. Dick; The Divine Invasion and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch; self-destructive narratives; Flex Mentallo; The Filth; Grant Morrison; Too Many Cooks (and yes, I just spent another 11:11 watching it again to get that link); our relationship to despair; late ‘80s X-Men; the inherent ambiguity of “comic book-y” material; The Rise of Aurora West; First Second Books; having things you say on the Internet taken the wrong way; and much, much more. Is this possibly our longest talk on a single book ever? It might be!
59:11-1:08:41: And then we go on to talk about Superior Iron Man #1 by Tom Taylor and Yildiray Cinar; Bucky Barnes The Winter Soldier #1 by Ales Kot and Marco Rudy; Captain America and the Mighty Avengers #1 by Al Ewing and Luke Ross, but none of them for nearly as long as The Wrenchies.
1:08:41-1:25:02: And, as long as we’re talking Marvel, we also decide to talk about Captain Marvel: success or social media success? We talk Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Girl, The Death of Wolverine, Inhumanity (and, more particularly, Inhumanity on Marvel Unlimited); and the nearly criminal lack of Marvel Two-In-One on Marvel Unlimited. (Seriously, it’s heart-breaking.)
1:25:02-1:52:12: “Okay, let’s talk about Avengers, then.” And with that, we continue our re-read of the first 300 issues of Avengers, this time covering Avengers #251-277 by (largely) Roger Stern, John Buscema, Tom Palmer and editor Mark Gruenwald. An amazing run…but why did Jeff find himself wishing he was reading Chris Claremont comics instead? Discussued: A Skrull saga in space (again), The Masters of Evil (again), In The Case of Change v. Illusion of Change; X-Men Forever (all on Marvel Unlimited!); a slam against the Justice League; and much more.
1:52:12-2:03:25: Jeff has just started reading The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore; a fascinating, intensely readable and yet also glib overview of the life of Charles Moulton Marston; and Graeme talks a bit about an upcoming article he’s writing about the Five Most Powerful Comic Book Writers in Hollywood, and about corresponding with Robert Kirkman, Brian Bendis, Mark Millar, Geoff Johns, and Chris Claremont. But also: Lemire! Jodorowsky! And as a bonus, a good review from Graeme about a very good Earth One title coming out from DC, and more.
2:03:25-end: Closing comments! Light applause! What’s on our website! What’s coming to our website! And, as always, our thanks and appreciation to everyone who’s contributed to us on Patreon (where, as of this count, 83 patrons make this whole thing possible.) It’s The Great Tote Bags, Charlie Brown! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! iTunes! Twitter and Tumblr!
Thanks for checking in and we’ll see you in (probably) another two weeks!
Last week in my piece about cinema, I wrote this line, which at the time I liked very much:
Superhero comics are a dream of community, a dream created and supported by very lonely people.
It’s not like I tend to sit around for hours after I write something, dreamily rereading my prose. Typically, I forget the bulk of what I’ve written once it gets out there in the world. My brain is a crowded bus, so there’s rarely more than just a momentary feeling of relief at some space opening up (and then the next batch of obsessions climb on, re-jostling everything). But this line kinda nagged at the corner of my thoughts: a discharged passenger running behind, waving and yelling, because only after they got off did they realize they’d left something important behind.
Are superhero comics a dream of community, a dream created and supported by very lonely people?
To give the idea an aphorism’s towel-snap I pared down any equivocation or context. Most of the people I know now in comics are not lonely people…I think? Being in your twenties and thirties, it can feel like everyone’s got their shit together but you, and one of the great solaces of middle age is realizing just how much energy everyone was expending trying to look like they had their shit together (yourself included). And now, in your forties, with less time left on the clock and less brain power and less patience with your own bullshit, you either can’t keep up the facade anymore or it’s just not fooling anyone now (if indeed it ever did).
And yet, no matter how much people in their forties show you about their lives in the course of a leisurely mid-Sunday brunch, it’s still difficult to gauge how lonely they might be. Your web browser knows. Google and Twitter and Facebook know. But I’ll never know how truly lonely you are.
And—despite me typing this—you’ll never know how lonely I am, in no small part because I myself have no idea. I am nine and a half years into my marriage and still absurdly grateful for every minute I get to spend with my wife. I have enough friends that I could hop from meal to meal with each and not end up repeating partners after a week. And I get to spend close to three hours every other week talking about my favorite subjects with one of my favorite people in the world.
How lonely can I really be?
(And when the hell am I going to start writing about Fumi Yoshinaga?)
I find it easier to look back on my past and talk about it with clarity (if not necessarily accuracy). I was absolutely a lonely kid back then, and superhero comics were absolutely an imaginary community for me, one in which my power fantasies could intermingle with a feeling of community in whatever way I wanted: I feel like the common example here is to The Legion of Superheroes or The X-Men, but I think Graeme has done a great job pointing out how much Marvel Two-In-One was about The Thing helping out his pals, and Marvel Team-Up, at its best, really captures the way certain childhood friendships are formed—you meet, you fight, and then comes respect and friendship (by teaming up to throw rocks at that kid you really hate).
In fact, the genius of Marvel Comics back in my day (ugh, old) was how there was another fantasy of community layered on top of the superhero fantasy of same: the Bullpen Bulletins, where everyone got an alliterative nickname and was affectionately razzed, and the letters pages, where editors bantered with readers. By having the courage to step forward and make yourself known, you could become part of this community, join it, be accepted by it. (Which community? Did it matter?)
And I gotta say—and this is just me—but many, many years later (and not so many years ago), when I was exchanging emails with Mark Waid about the stories he’d bought from me, or chatting up Axel Alonso at Wondercon, or being introduced to Mike Richardson…it didn’t feel like that at all.
Part of that is the crucial difference between the fantasy and the reality—sure, okay, step forward and make yourself known, fine. But what can you do? What do you have to say? What can you contribute?
And once you’ve realized that and learned what those things are, then comes the constant clamor of having to prove it to the gatekeepers, the ones who leave every con with bags bulging with new material to look over (and that’s just the stuff that cleared the bar of “Has this been published? Is this not about our characters? Do you seem sane enough not to sue us when we publish a story with a character whose name starts with ‘H’ just because you gave us a story with a character whose name starts with ‘H’?).
It’s interesting. I was probably still a long ways off from breaking in…but maybe not that far off? There were far worse names to drop at Marvel at that point than Mark Waid (who I should point out was 100% gracious in allowing me to do so, and supportive and kind in every very brief communication I had with him) and my follow-up with Axel Alonso, although brisk, caught him just as he was making the big move up to EIC at Marvel. He was not unreceptive—didn’t go out of his way, mind you, but he did say “oh yeah, email so&so at the X-books and tell them I told you to pass your stuff along.” That’s a tangible step, you know? I could now go into my next random encounter equipped with Name To Drop +2.
And yet it was, for whatever reason, terrible. Part of that was just probably the feeling of, man, if I wanted to prove myself over and over again to distracted harried people who are barely pretending to pay attention to me, I’d just talk to my parents. You know? And part of it I’m sure is my own hey, fucker, I’m a precious unique snowflake, god damn you! But also, a surprising amount of it was just I am too fucking old to help you prop up your sagging status quo for this little money.
By engaging in a psyche-up ritual so desperate and unhinged I resembled an enemy boxer in a Rocky movie (slapping myself in the face and balls, injecting myself with steroids made from mongoose blood, asphyxiating a hospital orderly) (I’m realizing I haven’t watched a Rocky movie since Rocky III, and have since confused a lot of it with Cobra), I could come up with a decent story about Wolverine… because at that time you could still tell stories about Wolverine without having to worry too much about the current state of the Marvel Universe. But what if I had to pretend to care about Gambit? Or had the opportunity to pitch a six page Storm/Black Panther for an Avengers/X-Men crossover title in which I had to pretend I didn’t hate what they had done to both characters?
And but so: foisting myself upon the indifferent; injecting myself with mongoose blood; working my ass off so I might get the chance to later pretend I can prop up a status quo I ceased to care about at least a decade ago? It all seemed a bit too poisonous, too much living up to the letter of a childhood dream while betraying the spirit.
(In fact, I wonder. I admit I’m not paying a lot of attention, but it seems like Marvel and DC are both spending a lot of time on stories where the superheroes are expending tremendous amounts of energy trying to keep their earth from being destroyed/overrun by another earth, another dimension: all these heroes having to put all their energy into this impossible task, preserving their reality, keeping an invasion of otherness from subsuming them, the man on the wall, etc., etc. I’m sure that’s just, you know, what Americans tell stories about these days, about zombies and antimatter and some big-ass explosion taking out some sacrosanct object held to be inviolate, and hard decisions having to be made because. you know, 9/11 or at the very least, hey, where did that middle class go again? But, again, I just imagine all these Marvel and DC creators hustling, hustling, hustling, giving interviews where the phrases “can’t” and “couldn’t” always seem disquietingly prominent—”I couldn’t be happier with the art by [artist]” and “I couldn’t be more pleased” and “I couldn’t be more excited”—as if unable to avoid subconscious confessing that, you know, there is only so much happiness or excitement or pleasure really possible in their particular situation. And then what comes out of these summits is stuff like: “what if the Marvel heroes suddenly got infected by the Red Skull’s hate rays and all they cared about were selling their pilots to cable networks?” and “So Darkseid destroys the Earth 2 entire universe just by showing up, you know, just like video games did!” and “what if some old turd just could not stop fixating on Wolverine to the point where Wolverine got so god-damned tired of it he died, he just died?”)
Anyway. I have to start in on the podcast editing so…here is where I leave us for now, in this very special happy place. Tune in next week where I maybe go on to do more of what I did last week but better! Don’t worry, I think it’ll probably get a perkier. (I sure hope so, anyway.)
NEXT: Planet Manga; the mysteries of shōnen-ai; Fumi Yoshinaga (finally); and more! (Unless there’s actually less.)