Saturday, March 30, 2013

Lowering the Boom

In the olden times of translating comics, foreign sound effects had to be whited out and then the relevant text painstakingly handwritten to ensure that the replaced font would match the artist's handwriting.  Compared to  that laborious practice, passing the torch of letterers to computer programs can seem like a quick fix.  Programs like these are a boon for people with excellent drawing, but lousy lettering.  (Nothing can be done to fix lousy writing though - computers haven't learned how to become influential editors yet)  There are notable detractors who'll lament the cold usage of static font that displays none of the warmth of a finely honed penmanship, even as modern writing has relied more on typewritten texts than lead on paper.  Some programs have gotten so good that they're able to blur the line between human and machine perfectly.  However, this is still a long way off, since defects do occasionally pop up.

One such occurrence is in Papercutz's Smurfs line where the HEY LOOK! font were a tribute to Harvey Kurtzman's comic title.  Upon first glance, the sound effects look equally innovative.  But until the latest book, The Baby Smurf, I hadn't quite noticed how much the sound effects were basically copied down to the shaky letters.

In the relevant scene, Jokey Smurf gives the newborn baby a token of appreciation in the form of an explosive practical joke that he hands around to everyone, friend and foe alike.  This is an early life lesson that should be encountered the earlier the better, and once the baby learns of this cruel fact of life, the better off he'll be.
Don't worry - the baby walks away without a scratch.  A little soot maybe, but essentially harmless.
Later, when everybody in the village learns of news that due to a mix-up, the baby Smurf was dropped off at the wrong address.  (Which makes one wonder who ELSE would Baby Smurf belong to?  It's not like there's plenty of other Smurf villages out there for Gargamel to terrorize - just this specific one) After some interference from Grouchy Smurf, in a show of Moe overload, suddenly finds himself unwanting to relinquish a cute new arrival that emulates him in miniature, kidnaps the baby in an effort to keep him all to himself, until he finds out that life as a fugitive in care of a young child is beyond his capabilities, and is eventually forced to return the baby to ensure the little tyke's survival.

The celebratory party that takes place after is something of a much grimmer affair, lacking the usual  spontaneity and happiness that one usually associates with Smurfs, and even Jokey Smurf's attempts a humour fall flat.

Upon first sight, there would seem to be no difference in terms of mood, but I noticed that the sound effect consistently remained the same size throughout.  For comparison's sake, here's the original scene in all its violent glory.

As you'll see, not much has changed.  But what's different is the follow-up scene where everybody is demoralized.

As Chuck Jones mentioned in his biography, Chuck Reducks, a lot of humour comes from defied expectations of perceived outcomes.  In that Golden Age of Warner Bros. cartoons, sound effect editors felt that they should have maximum volume so the audience could hear it all the way to the back of the theater.
A particular sound editor, Robert North was in charge of the various sound effects that would take place in a typical cartoon.  From the screech of the Coyote's heels on asphalt to the whistle as he falls through the ground to the deafening CRASH on the ground.  Only, this editor had accidentally tweaked the dial in the opposite direction for the CRASH sound effect so the only thing that was heard was a barely audible "plop".
That was the only time I ever heard Bob laugh, and he laughed so hard he fell out of his chair.  But being a professional sound effects man, he recovered himself, jumped up, and announced, "We've got to fix that."
Jones:"Bob, if you touch that, you're a dead fixer, and you will never mix another picture."
Bob: But we've got to get it right.Jones: What, Bob, is the purpose of an animated cartoon?Bob: To [make people] laugh.Jones: In all the years we've worked together, you've never laughed before.  Why did you laugh?Bob: It must have been very funny.Jones: And you want to take it out, don't you?Bob: (Unconvinced) Okay... but I may get hell from Jack Warner.
The sound effect stayed.  It was a happy accident, but I had to be ready to recognize it.  It may never have happened again.
There's a relevant quote that I can't quite find about an enthusiastic comic fan wanting to do a story with EXTREEEEEEME 90's Liefeld moments of constantly shifting from one gun-toting tough-guy scene to another.  (I think the Joker was in it)  There were dozens of bad guys with gunfire coming from all directions.  Then there were bombs going off everywhere.  The guy listening to this mostly pointless story of one-upmanship made polite inquiries to let the events breath on their own, until he countered with, "And then there's a nuclear explosion."  At that point, the fanboy's enthusiasm evaporated with a resounding "Oh."

"You see?  You've kept the level of action so high that when it comes to actually showing a real explosion, it gets lost in the shuffle."

There's a time for increasing suspense and dramatic character interactions turned up to eleven, and there's a time to slow down and let the characters catch a breath.  Very few comic creators out there are able to fully pull this seemingly simple trick off.  It should be up to the letterer to ensure that those intentions remain during the transition.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Red Ketchup Vs. Russia

It's been almost a year since I translated the first half of the second volume of Red Ketchup, and it only occurred to me that I should at least attempt to make the second half available this year.  A year between scanlation side projects is simply too long a wait time, regardless of quality.
This made me laugh more than I care to admit.
The ironic thing was, shortly after I mentioned that my translator hadn't been very forthcoming in giving me further updates, I was suddenly given a deluge of the remainder of the Ultra Kamarade volume.  The reason for the extra long delay basically boils down to one rather silly reason - I couldn't remember the exact font I'd used for the back cover in the first album, and didn't feel up to going through the whole list in order to find out which one it was.  That coupled with the various other side projects I was otherwise preoccupied with made putting the remainder text in the balloons seem rather easy by comparison.  This is a reoccurring problem I have - I'll go head along at the outskirts of the project I'm involved in, eager to get the whole ordeal over and done with.  Then, once I've made steady progress and can see the endgoal in sight, I start to slack off, believing that the job'll be done eventually.  It's a combination of the old Tortoise & Hare fable and Zeno's paradox - I'm ever so slowly inching towards my endgame, but the amount of time it takes me to get there takes me longer than it normally would if I didn't become so overconfident in my ability to deliver the goods.

Another reason for the long delay was that after I posted the first half, very few people bothered to download it in the first place, leaving me to feel that there wasn't much of a demand for Red Ketchup in the first place.  This might've been tempered by a certain warning image that likely scared some people off:
This one, f'r instance.
Apparently, people really don't want to see humanoid birds get harmed, even fictionally.  There's a double-standard that protestors are more likely to defend against an endangered animal if they're cute, rather than bug-ugly.  You're more likely to hear arguments for saving snow seals than kodomo dragons.  This was a theme in Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, where a beautiful plant was threatening the livestock of other wildlife, because it was growing like a weed, crowding out other plants a chance for their day in the sun.  Sometimes too much of a good thing can turn out to have potentially devastating effects, as seen in Neal Shusterman's dark fairytale adaption, Duckling Ugly.  But that's nothing new - we're essentially a vain species.  Just recently, a study was shown that people are more likely to take medical advice from doctors if they're fat.

What spurred my interest back in the project was a recent article that signaled attention towards this old Canadian comic using my old blog post as a reference.  The number of commenters there suggested to me that there was still viable interest out there.  They also brought up the suggestion that Canadian-borne Drawn & Quarterly might have some interest in producing the title in English, though it's certainly more risque than their usual titles by Seth, Michel Rabagliati and Adrian Tomine.  It's somewhat closer to the dark humour of Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Chester Brown, so there's still hope there for a certain red-haired FBI agent strangling a penguin's neck out.

Part one
Part two

Sunday, March 17, 2013

License Recommendation: Magi: Magical Labyrinth

(Disclaimer: this was originally going to be a License Request post appealing for a Manga series I just recently marathoned, but only later found out it'd already been licensed by Viz a month ago.  Still, my arguments in favor of it still stand.)

I didn't hold out much hope for this, since it started out with a pretty predictable formula of an optimistic rowdy youth hiding a great power, with the ever-prevalent theme of friendship being the most important value.  That, and it was serialized in Shonen Sunday, which is the weak sister to Shonen Jump's Manga with their episodic stories.  Not to mention that the surest way to motivate anyone was to threaten a cute little girl into a horrific situation.
What unfeeling human would let a little girl get eaten by a monster?
However, once I got past the initially silly premise, I found myself drawn into the world of magic and humour.  (The surest way to win me over is by seamlessly weaving jokes into the narrative) The story revolves around Aladdin and Alibaba - two names that'll sound familiar to anyone well acquainted with fairy tales.  But this isn't the Disneyfied Aladdin and the Prince of Thieves that you'd be more familiar with.  Here, Aladdin is a plucky young boy with a magical flute that holds a Djinn that's all muscle and no head.
Obviously compensating for something.
Alibaba (a run-on name if there was ever one) is a jack-of-all-trades shifting from one demographic to another, trying to elevate himself to a higher position from his lowly state.  Later on, we also see a Jafar (or more specifically, Ja'far), but he's so far removed from the stereotypical Evil Chancelor figure that he's actually closer to the historical Ja'far who was the only authority figure in charge keeping his kingdom afloat and falling into ruin.  Any arguments he brings up are purely logical in themselves, and are more in protest to his lord's more outlandish proclamations
A face you can trust.  Really.  Trust me on this.
But the title is slightly misleading - it doesn't really focus as much on dungeon exploration as you might think.  The first raid ends in the 2nd volume, and they don't get the chance to explore a new dungeon until the 10th volume.  That discrepancy gap would be annoying for Zelda enthusiasts hoping to get the chance to explore a new unexplored cavern, but it never feels like filler.  In between expeditions, the team are split up, wander about with their prospective adventures, meet up again, form new alliances, meet new enemies and set the stage for the next adventure.

It feels very like an ongoing RPG with ever-escalating rising challenges.  No sooner do our heroes get past one threat than a new one appears.  Normally, when you read such videogame adaptions, there's the sense that you're not fully invested in the storyline unless you're already familiar with the gameplay mechanics of the source, and some of the in-jokes can be lost to non-gamers or people who haven't bothered getting the console for that game.  But there's no such barrier here.  Each new magical element comes with their own rules and is introduced with minimal exposition and builds up on what's been shown before.  The team will recuperate after a grueling battle against the dungeon boss and getting the treasure, only to be ambushed by a team of opportunist thieves taking advantage of the heroes' fatigue.  After all, unlike regular dungeon raids, you don't get your health refilled upon completion.  Every battle feels like a constant stream of adrenaline, leaving the reader on the verge of exhaustion, wondering whether they'll get out of this predicament or not.

However, as with any child-friendly Manga, there's bound to be problematic culture clashes.  And Aladdin's compulsive habit of constantly groping any bountiful girl's breasts certainly falls in that realm.  And that's not counting some of the saucier Djiins that can be found elsewhere.  Clearly, this Arabia is based more on the Scheherazade tales of lore, and less on Koran religious overtones.  It'd do no good to censor out Aladdin's filthy little habit, since like Goku's casual groping people's privates to determine their sex, it's a pretty important story element.

But the role of skin reveal shouldn't be that much of a deterrent for reasons that'll be outlined later below.  So far, a personal fan favorite would be someone who reminds me very much of Cassandra "Batgirl" Cain; Morgiana, the straight-faced stern looking girl of the Finalist Clan, composed of the toughest warriors on the planet.
Striking a classic heroic pose with some role reversals.
Unlike most Tsundere tough girls who start out as tough-boiled eggs but let their defenses down in the presence of their love interest, Morgiana betrays no convictions this way.  She gradually softens up and begins to open herself to others, but she never loses that fighting edge.  What's most noticeable is that despite her aerobatics involving a variety of kicks, with her barefooted legs, there's remarkable very few crotch shots of her in action.  The lack of male gaze in her fighting techniques led me to believe that the author was a woman, and the Omake (extras) at the back confirmed it.
Are you paying attention to her movements and not her poses?
If so, it's working!
In later stories, Aladdin even enroles in a magic school that has a energy diagram that's very reminiscent of the Nen chart from Hunter X Hunter.  Anybody familiar with the complicated nature of Nen training should appreciate the similarities, since it's certainly well-thought out and not just a shameless pandering to the Potter fanbase.  The result is a more interesting read compared to Negima with their stock loli Barbie figures.

But it's not just the action that dominates - there's still time for talking head scenes that manages to stay riveting in terms of arguments.  The current arc has what's a war between two different magical nations, each with their varying policies.  One believes that magicians should found their own country, taking control over the majority of the unpowered population that's more interested in lazying about and have no further ambition.  The other side believes that all citizens can contribute to their nation, regardless of class.  This is a gross oversimplification of the clashing viewpoints, but it serves as a worthy explanation.  And the major bad guys aren't even the main instigators behind the conflict!  It happened purely organically as a result of a country's agent having conflicting emotions over the side he's working for.

And much like the original Arabian Nights it takes its influence from, you're constantly left wanting to see what'll happen next.  The full realm of variety and innovation makes it a contender for what could very well be the next Full Metal Alchemist.

The constant one-up-manship for rising power levels between opponents rivals One Piece in terms of imagination.  It succeeds in a level of dealing with magic without emulating Fairy Tale, which is an accomplishment in itself.  And the artwork and character design are closer to what would be more appealing to typical Manga fans, compared to the relatively goofy art of Eichiro Oda.  Plus there's the added bonus of not that much repetitive exposition that's such a common theme in typical One Piece arcs.

I'm looking forward to it coming out in August!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Miscellaneous Sundays

For a site labled Sunday Comics Debt, I realize that I haven't exactly been quite forthcoming in producing lost newspaper comics for quite some time now.  The reason for this is somewhat obvious - I've already
my stock of comics that would be considered worthy of a reread or outright notable.  Also, there's the shift from my newspapers being less experimental in replacing old strips with new ones, and a consistency throughout which led to fewer comics being sampled.  The only comic I haven't uploaded yet are The Flintstones, and there's hardly much of a demand for those, since they're easily found elsewhere.  (If I'm proven wrong about this and people actually are interested, I'll upload what little I have)

The exception to my homegrown comics were the various comics I would get to sample when my Bubby would go to Florida, and bring back some newspapers from her time there.  However, she didn't always go out of her way to save these priceless relics unless I made certain to ask her beforehand, so several comics were therefore lost.  On the one hand, while there were comics I'd never seen, there was still the question of quality of these strips, only a handful of which were truly worth saving and sharing with the world again.  In later years, I've become greatly disfranchised with newspaper comics, and haven't bothered to keep any full collections of Sunday pages, and just clip out various comics that I personally feel are funny.  The only comics that regularly get my attention are Pooch Cafe and the relatively new Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog.

Below are the few comics from that brief span that I found acceptable.  First up is the not-so-cleverly titled Wright Angles.  There's hardly any information to go further from this small sample here, apart from the fact that the author, Larry Wright enjoys writing comics with cats in them.  Further research has shown that the strip has been repackaged and retitled as Motley Classics.

Until the advent of the internet made searching wikipedia pages for plot spoilers of the latest comics a necessary evil, finding out the backstory for a new comic with no forewarning could be something of a challenge.  It can take a while for an avant-garde comic like The Far Side to really get their brand of humour going, and sometimes some comic strips can have an off day.  So I would be forgiven for thinking that Arnold was composed purely of static images of a kid named Arnold who only yelled "AIEEE!" to his friend, with all other side characters being conveniently offscreen.  So I was surprised to find out that my first impressions were pretty much spot on.  Apparently, Arnold has something of a cult following.  Who knew?

The last one is emblematic of what would be a reoccurring theme for newer strips - building on the skeletons of more successful working models.  Free For All clearly plays on the format that would be the foundation of Doonsbury and Bloom County: talking heads that belied the personality of the crude artwork.  In fact, the premise actually started out similarly to those comics in the form of a college strip, and was even made into an animated TV series.  Until I looked it up, I had no idea it was even optioned for a TV show, which goes to show how obscure this strip was.

While the main character is Johnny Jenkins, the scenestealer continues to be the alternate zany guy who can afford to be much more outlandish than the vanilla protagonist.  In this case, that role is usurped by Clay Zeeman, the guy in white shirt, shades and spiky hair is  who through a series of scams and tax fraud, has managed to acquire more money than he knows what to do with, which is somewhat dangerous for someone with the personality of Steve Dallas and the hairdo of Binkley, which feels wrong on several levels somehow.  Innocence shouldn't be paired up with cynicism.  Fortunately, all his spare time is spent lounging on the couch injecting drugs and playing video games, and figuring out more ways to acquire more money.  Truly a man after my own heart.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Underlying Reason

Recently, I've been enjoying a recent crime-time drama, Motive about a TV show that has shades of Columbo in it. After the finale of Special-OPs negotiation team Flashpoint, it's gratifying to see another Canadian series that plays on the traditional cop show formula.  Each episode starts off with brief synopsis of the murderer and the DOA, leaving no doubt of who committed the crime.  The only difference is that after the two main players are introduced as the Killer and the Victim, we don't get to see the actual crime committed, but only reenacted through flashbacks of what led up to that point.  Once the lead detectives go through the procedures of how the victim was killed and start zeroing in on the correct suspect do we find out WHY the victim was murdered in the first place.  It's nothing terrible groundbreaking, but still somewhat pleasant to watch.

There were two details that jumped out at me in particular for last week's Motive episode, "Against All Odds".  The first was the grocery store clerk putting away cartons of milk.

The logo was Lactancia, which were the exact type that's available at stores here, and also the same brand bought at home.  This would stink of product placement, but only if you received that particular milk in your hometown.  Often, I'd see commercials for cereals that weren't available, very much like the infamous Raymond Brigg's Snowman commercial of IRN-BRU.  Fancy-looking, but you'd have to import it in order to sample it.

The second noticeable detail was the address for one of the suspects near the end.

That little detail might be surprising if you're expecting the location to be in America, and finding out that other locations worldwide have a similar makeup.  Despite its familiar American setup and the friendly snarky banter between the two lead detectives, the whole series takes place in Vancouver BC.

This is quite different from when allusions to Canada were purposely left out in order to expand our market, because audiences wouldn't be able to identify with TV characters if they weren't American.  (The book Canada for Dummies exemplifies this by explaining that Americans believe that deep down, EVERYONE wants to be American, and are surprised to discover not everyone feels the same way)
Fortunately, times have changed, and allusions to exotic Canadian landmarks and themes have managed to sneak their way in, from subtle Maple Leaf signs on officer's uniforms to the Space Needle to Tim Horton's coffee shops.

Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, The Odyssey, and The Raccoons were some of my favorite shows growing up, simply because they were unlike anything else on TV at the time.  If there's a reason why Canadian media tends to be more oddball, it's not just because of the climate (though that's certainly a contributing factor), it's also because we're faced with stiff competition from our more popular cousins down south.  Canadians have to work twice as hard as our American rivals to produce anything that'll be noticed.  That's probably why so much of our homegrown media can at times be quite innovative and weird compared to the competition.  To get an idea of what it sometimes feels like, the story-within-a-story TV show A Sky of Heads from Concrete were some of my favorite stories of the comic's run.

And yet, while we seem to have made great inroads with our Television shows, we're still struggling with the movie industry.  With exceptions such as Bon Cop Bad Cop, C.R.A.Z.Y., Men With Brooms and Seducing Doctor Lewis, the majority of French Canadian-themed movies tend to be serious and clinically depressing to the point of making Russian novels look like bastions of positivity in comparison.  A particularly cynical director's cut of Pig's Law had an unwanted baby be plowed under by a harvest combiner.  You'd think a climate that fosters good humour would want to produce material that'd be ambassadors of same.

In closing there was one final detail I particularly enjoyed.  When the lead detective browsed the convenience store, she picked up a box of Sugar Bombs, as in Calvin's Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.  Detective Angie Flynn even goes off in a Columbo-esque non-sequitur saying that these cereals were full of sugar and were here favorite things to eat as a kid.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Unleashing a Torrent of Toren Smith

Like most veteran Manga fans, I was shocked to hear of Toren Smith's sudden and untimely death.  I hadn't thought about the man in a long time, but was surprised to hear he died so suddenly.  He was uncomfortably close to the age of Douglas Adams' demise - dying way too soon.  He was probably the most influential ambassador and promoter of Manga, even though he was painfully shy about being seen in public.  There's not much I can tell about the man's life, though there are accounts from close friends who give more informative accounts of the man's history than I ever could.

You talk about pioneers braving the elements, blazing a trail to a new path that no one else's ever seen before?  Toren Smith did it all - he traveled to Japan on his own dime, living on ramen on a day-to-day basis, lived in an apartment with Yakuza ties, all for his love of Manga.  One memorable horror story was where he was living with GAINAX founding members who didn't bother to clean up or wash, and their room was so smelly their house was considered a health hazard and destroyed.  And after all he went through in Japan, he went back there for repeat business.  His life story was the stuff of legend, and it's somewhat surprising it hasn't been made into a Manga autobiography yet.  (Hopefully, it'd be a better read than the lukewarm cliff notes biographies of respectable celebrities such as The Dalai Llama, Che Guevera and Gandhi)

From the start, he faced an uphill struggle trying to convince publishers on both sides of the pacific that there was a potential market for Japanese comics.  Initial resistance to stories such as Oh My Goddess! were so high that Toren Smith put his own money and reputation on the line to ensure that it would have a fighting chance.  For this fan favorite title, he deliberately skipped ahead after the first chapter to  introduce Urd, the saucier rival to Belldandy's maidenly housewife figure.  Such a feat would be considered unthinkable in today's Manga-saturated society, though there are certain recent titles that have attempted this line of skipping ahead, such as the various "best of" collections of Golgo 13 and Oishinbo, and the lackluster sales of wine Manga Drops of God led the publisher to do some advance work of the story, even if the content suffers in comparison.  (Dark Horse also attempted similar results for 3x3 Eyes during their Super Manga Blast run)

His first outreach program was translating Mangas that would appeal to the Heavy Metal crowd.  To ensure their popularity in the male-dominated comics market, they released titles that would appeal to their demographic, such as Drakuun, Outlanders, Caravan Kidd, Last Continent, Venus Wars, Rebel Sword, Version, Cyber 7, Hellhounds, Spirit of Wonder and The Two Faces of Tomorrow; none of which are available for scanlation online.  More mainstream titles such as Gunsmith Cats, Ghost in the Shell and Lone Wolf & Cub would gather a larger audience.

What politer news sites will neglect to mention is that some of his most widely-read translated material were most probably part of the Eros line, famous for titles such as Bondage Fairies, Sexcapades, Spunky Knight, Super Taboo, Silky Whip, Slut Girl... you get the idea; which, until the Peanuts license was properly secured, were Fantagraphics main source of income.  While most translators would've been content to simply translate the dialogue balloons and sound effects with various grunting noises and cries of pleasure, Toren Smith went the extra mile to ensure the erotic line produce material worth fapping over by painstakingly reworking the dialogue and redrawing the background details.  In the realm of entertainment, it's the small stuff that matter.
It's not like you read porn for the plot and sterling conversations, right?
This sample image reminds me of the scene in Waltz with Bashir where the General had his subordinate fast-forward the porno tapes past the sex scenes so he could get to the "meat" of the story.

General: Faster.  Faster!
Soldier: Impossible sir!  I cannae break the laws of physics!
GeneralAaaaaand... STOP!
TV: Prithee forsooth kind sir, doth thou desireth to rest a moment?  Thine arches doth ache.

The ironic part is that his mandate of providing high quality sample from the original artwork and not cheap photocopies along with rewrites that laboured to be read naturally was what led to his downfall.  To be accepted seriously alongside the competition of homegrown American comics, Manga paperbacks were printed on double-bounded stock paper and released once a year.  Twice if the customer was lucky.  So when Tokyopop started releasing fluff titles such as Chobits and Love Hina volumes on a bi-monthly basis on cheap paper stock while barely bothering to translate the SFX, the sudden availability of popular titles in batch form made them more desirable compared to the old model of releasing long-form Mangas one chapter at a time.  This was back in the dark DARK ages where titles such as X/1999 were shown at a rate of 20 pages a month in Anime magazines.  If you've ever read any of Clamp's works, you know that it takes more than a volume for the story to really start.

For all his contributions and efforts in promoting Manga, he was simply unable to adapt to the sudden changes around the turn of the century when Manga finally became popular enough to warrant quick releases.  Even today, there are still comics customers who prefer the old business model of receiving their fix through a rigidly enforced schedule.  To get an example of this sudden shift in the market, here's an excerpt from a Toren Tech interview:

TS: The manga market is not what it used to be. I always tell these guys up front exactly what sort of sales they can expect. Well, a year ago, I could tell them that they could expect sales of like 40,000 a month. Now I have to tell them differently because, y’know...

AH: Things are tough all over.

TS: Yep. The manga market has simply settled down to what I think is probably more of a realistic level for it.

I mean, before it was riding on a wave of hysteria more than anything else. Where it is now is at a nice stable level as far as what we can expect for manga in the American comic book market. Certainly I think more people should be buying the books as opposed to some of the rubbish that’s out on the stands. But realistically, I think we’re at a very good level right now.

We’ve gotten a letter from a guy who’s a professor of Japanese at Cornell University who said that our translation of Nausicaa was near perfect as it could’ve been made. That makes us feel real good to hear that because that’s what we’re trying to do. Yet there were several places in Nausicaa where we changed things to make it read well in English.

The purists don’t like that. They don’t want to read our writing, they say--“We want to read Miyazaki’s writing.” The ideal situation would be if everyone would go out and learn to read Japanese so they could read Japanese comics. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. Still, I get letters saying, “Why don’t you just print them the way they do in Japan and get people to read the panels in backwards order?”

AH: Now that person’s got to be kidding.

TS: We’ve probably gotten several hundred letters like that and I don’t understand how these people can think this way. I mean, you can’t sell it in America!
His model of adapting Manga to the typical comics market was noble, but flawed, since his rationale was that readers were willing to pay full price for a new chapter while forgetting that the majority of chapters were first available in large magazines alongside dozens of various comics of differing quality, much like a fat newspaper comics page.  Not to mention these issues had already been published elsewhere, so why go through the trouble of pushing them on the comics rack when you could cut through the middleman and put them on the bookshelves in the first place?  It was the equivalence of acquiring popular posthumous series The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and releasing it on a chapter-by-chapter basis, because that model worked perfectly fine for novels of yesteryear.

Toren Smith's greatest lament was that all his past contributions to founding the Manga industry as we know it today was overshadowed by his resistant to change to the new business reality of quick-'n-easy mass production.  In addition, at a time when readership and fandom was at an all-time high, he spoiled the party by predicting a bust period for hastily produced Manga available for cheap.  A prophecy that was later proven to be correct.  He was someone who rallied against the mainstream, wanting to change it for the better, and only became disfranchised once it grew popular, but not the way he wanted it to.  He was a hipster before it became cool.

I saved the majority of the interviews and FAQS on the old Dark Horse Manga page before it was revamped to the new user-unfriendly format available now.   If anybody's interested, they can download the contents here.  I should warn you that there's a large amount of material present - over 200 pages worth!  And some of the entries are of forum discussions of Studio Proteus' business decisions.  One of the most amusing things about the letter columns is the frequent announcements that Hiroaki Samura plans to end Blade of the Immortal very soon... in *1999*, and it didn't conclude until late last year.

Here's a page I wasn't able to copy properly for formatting issues, since the program I originally saved in wasn't compatible with Word.

The only thing I'm missing is an Animerica Extra (or Super Manga Blast) letter of an argument between Toren Smith and Simon Cooper.  If anybody could help me fill in the details, I'd be grateful.

Speaking of which, I hope Toren Smith got the chance to finish his work for Blade of the Immortal, which he considered "his baby", which remains one of the few licensed titles that's still released in "flipped" format that's only rivaled by Yoshihiro Tatsumi's works.  It would be gratifying to know he saw how it all ended before he shuffled off this mortal coil.  He even went so far as to proclaim BOTI to be far superior to Lone Wolf & Cub, which was "rife with junk", and if it were up to him, would cut at least half of the stories out in favor of the stronger stuff.  Fortunately, due to fanboy OCD mentality of acquiring every single issue, no matter how lousy, we got to see the entirety of the legendary classic.  I still wouldn't be averse to seeing BOTI available in its native form, even if it'd mean revamping the dialogue to fit the natural pace.

While it's not by Toren Smith, below are the article The Heartbreak of Mangaphobia showing the regular high resistance from typical comics readers, and an except from a Previews Review account on Dark Horse, with added reader commentary.  More after the cut:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Marching in a Storm

Not much to say about this month's batch of comics, other than they have very little to do with the theme of March, save for the last one, and only tangentially.

Dear Diary... I sunk a tube of toothpaste and two hairpins in a fierce naval battle today.

While Garfield is well reputed for being a lethargic fat cat with realms of imaginative concepts throughout, this party concept is probably the laziest one that was thought up:

The 10 Minute Coffee Break Party

You can party anywhere, anytime!  Liven up those coffee breaks with your own miniparty.  Photocopy your face (or anything else) and decorate your work area!

This feels like something that was thought up at the last minute, with nothing else but a looming deadline, and office surroundings being the only inspirational reference material handy to provide content.  Fortunately, the remaining party months are more varied in themselves, so you can consider this a momentary lapse.

To make up for that glaring oversight, here's what I consider to be the second-funniest comic in the whole 1993 calendar, if we're going by visual gags.

Brace yourself - the funniest comic won't show up until November, so be prepared for a load of mediocrity until then.