Tuesday, June 25, 2013

CAKE 2013: Minicomics can be all about exciting innovation, or just fun stuff for (and by) kids

The Box
By Jason Shiga

Jason Shiga is a cartoonist whose mind seems to be continually at work coming up with new ways to use the medium of comics. His specialty is interactive stories that branch off into multiple paths in surprising, delightful ways. This is probably best exemplified in his book Meanwhile, but he has several other examples of innovative ways to tell interactive stories, ranging from short minicomics made from folding up a single piece of paper to massive self-published volumes that have the reader flipping back and forth through hundreds of pages. The Box is one of the former, and its mind-blowing innovation in comics technology involves the way it is intricately folded in a way that allows one to flip it either horizontally or vertically whenever a choice needs to be made, if that makes sense. In fact, Shiga thinks it is a previously-undiscovered mathematical shape called an octatetraflexagon.

As a story, it's a simple one, with four possible endings, but Shiga's goofy sense of humor makes each of them surprising and funny, as a kid chooses whether or not to open a box that he finds, usually with amusing consequences. It's a testament to both his genius for the physical form of comics and his ability to come up with satisfying stories within the clever structures he develops.

Redbird #2, Tel-Tales #1, and Cut-Away Comics #1
By Dan Zettwoch
Self-published (Redbird and Tel-Tales), Published by Oily Comics (Cut-Away Comics)

Dan Zettwoch's comics are also innovative, in the way they explore pictorial ways of conveying information, using cut-away views, captions, diagrams, maps, and all manner of using images to create easily-understandable representations of real-world objects and locations. But what's more, he makes the stories he tells fun, obviously enjoying himself as he comes up with fun ways to describe his subject, whether it's a travelogue of the road trip he and his wife took across the "Midsouthwest" (spanning Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas) in August of 2012, a story about the old telephone equipment his father used when working for AT&T in the early 70s, or a biographical look at John James Audobon as he studied chimney swallows in Louisville, Kentucky in 1808. Whatever the subject, Zettwoch brings an enthusiasm to it, and his cartoony artwork brings the various scenes to life, adding some exaggeration, but still making the reality of the scenes obvious, and demonstrating what he finds so interesting about them.

Redbird and Tel-Tales even include fold-out sections that expand the size of the page when the imagery (large-scale maps and diagrams) warrants it. Cut-Away Comics is more modest, fitting into the small, cheap format that Oily Comics does so well, but Zettwoch still finds room to include a double-page spread of a massive hollow tree that contains what must be thousands of birds, turning it into an ominous monolith that entices the reader into curiosity as much as it does Audobon. Zettwoch has such a fun way of imparting the information that he has accumulated that one can't help but enjoy following him wherever he wants to go. He's got at least one full-length book, but even if he just keeps cranking out little minis like this and designing fascinating infographics, I'll keep reading whatever he does.

Classic Characters #1 and Providence Car Crash Consortium #1
By The Providence Comics Consortium

The Providence Comics Consortium is a group of cartoonists who put on educational events for kids at libraries throughout Rhode Island (and other states as well, I think), working with them to create characters and then publishing comics based on the kids' creations, some of them even including comics by the kids themselves. They're pretty great, offering a chance to see the kids' imagination at work, and letting them see the stories they create in print. Of these two issues, Classic Characters includes several stories featuring characters which had appeared in previous PCC publications, including a duck-wolf named Dolf who angsts over his crush on a classmate while dealing with a skull-headed bully, a space cow who travels to Earth from another planet and very nearly ends up as the contents of a hamburger, a teacher who is actually a were-owl, and an alligator bank teller. The Astro-Cow story is drawn by 11-year-old Keegan Bonds-Harmon, but the other stories are by the cartoonists Zejian Shen, Aaron Demuth, and Marc Pearson. All in all, it's a super-fun book.

Providence Car Crash Consortium has a more focused theme, covering car safety. Its messages seem to be to wear a seatbelt, don't drive drunk, and don't text while driving. The way the kids convey these lessons isn't always instructive, but can be pretty entertaining, including a rampage by Cuc the Drunken Pony drawn by Asuaka Rafiq, the adventures of Zombie Scented Tree, an undead car air freshener by Faye Thompson (and elaborated upon by Elliot Lamb); a heartfelt message from a zombie named Rotten M'Gee by Dakarai Williams; more message-laden adventures from a disembodied eyeball created by Abigail Ramos and illustrated by David Waterhouse; and an odd story about three fuzzy dice named Boby, Bob, and Bobert created by Keegan Bonds-Harmon and illustrated by Marc Pearson. As team-ups between today's talented cartoonists and the stars of tomorrow, these series are great little encapsulations of creativity, making for a wonderful chance to encourage kids toward artistic pursuits. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for more of these comics; this consortium is doing work that benefits us all.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

CAKE 2013: Indie Groo is also pretty great

As happens at every comics convention I attend, I try to get as many contributions to my Groo sketchbook as possible, and this year's CAKE was no exception. Here are the awesome pictures that a bunch of talented people drew for me:

Chuck Forsman makes Groo look worried.

Josh Simmons contributed a very Josh Simmons-style freakout Groo.

Dan Zettwoch adds his signature bulging eyeballs and flames to our favorite mendicant.

Michael DeForge turned in this cute super-deformed Groo.

Joseph Remnant gives Groo some nervous sweatiness.

Box Brown also makes Groo cute. Somebody bumped him from behind while he was sketching, causing him to leave some handprints on the page, so he turned those into a snake and a signature.

Pranas T. Naujokaitis gives Groo a nice cartoony style, and a sentimental tattoo.

Kevin Huizenga contributed what could be Glenn Ganges doing some Groo cosplay.

Jason Shiga drew Groo in his signature simple style, but he still got the nose right, and he even added in a good Rufferto!

Aaron Renier depicted Groo experiencing every dog owners frustration.

Noah Van Sciver contributes this dismayed Groo.

And Ezra Claytan Daniels provides a pretty realistic Conan-style version of Groo, along with a glimpse of his backside.

Monday, June 17, 2013

CAKE 2013: Indie swag is the best swag

This past weekend was the second annual Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (or CAKE), and it was awesome, a great collection of amazing cartoonists from the Windy City and parts beyond. I met a lot of people and had a great time, and here's the massive pile of comics paraphernalia that I came home with:

The contents of that picture are, starting from the upper left and proceeding across the back row:
Second Row:
Third row, starting below the Project: Ballad comic:
That is a lot of comics, but it's only a fraction of everything that I saw over the weekend. In addition to these, here are several creators that I would love to learn more about:

  • Mardou, who was debuting Sky in Stereo #2.
  • Rachel Foss, whose minicomics I regretted not picking up.
  • Sarah Morton, who had, among other comics, an interesting-looking book about her grandfather's Mormon missionary trip to Japan in the 60s.
  • Zachary Garrett, whose webcomic Doom Carousel is about man's effect on nature.
  • Veronica Graham and Jesse Eisenhower, who produce some weird, diagrammatic comics that I don't really understand, but still find kind of fascinating.
  • Ezra Claytan Daniels, whose digital comic Upgrade Soul is an amazing use of the Ipad as a medium for comics completely separate from both paper and regular desktop/laptop computer screens (he was also a killer emcee for the comic art battle that took place at Quimby's the night before the show).
  • Ed Luce, whose Wuvable Oaf looks like a great series.
  • Kinoko, who is in the midst of serializing a comics adaptation of The Epic of Gilgamesh, among other works.
  • Leigh Luna, who has a super-cute art style, often featuring animals.
  • Sam Sharpe, a local artist with a cool style.
  • Emi Gennis, who had, among other books, an anthology she edited called Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends.
  • Lucy Bellwood, who has a fun-looking nautical-themed series called Baggy Wrinkles.
  • Bernie McGovern, another local artist with some serious chops and a nice sense of the surreal.
  • Tyrell Cannon, who was selling a nice-looking fantasy comic called Victus and a comic about the Green River Killer called Gary.
  • Dakota McFadzean, who has several cool comics, as well as a webcomic with the appropriate title of Drawing Every Day.
  • The Cartoon Picayune, a regular journalistic comic featuring a number of talented contributors.
  • Evan Palmer, who has several great-looking comics, such as The Feast.
  • Laurel Lynn Leake, who displays a nice variety of art styles on her tumblr, but settles on a cool semi-realistic style with some lovely naturalistic shading for her series Deep Forest.
  • Cody Pickrodt, whose series Reptile Museum looks pretty wild.
  • Tony Breed, who has a cute webcomic called Hitched, about a married gay couple.
  • James the Stanton, who has some weird, goofy comics both for sale and online on his site, Gnartoons.com.
  • Jaclyn Miller, who has a style that's cute and simple, but also nicely expressive.
  • Luke Howard, who had several cool minicomics in his "Dosey Doe" series, with each issue containing two stories that share a back cover, instead of being a flip book.
  • Mike Freiheit, who had a neat autobiographical comic called Monkey Chef, which is about what it sounds like.

Even with all that, I'm sure there was much more that I missed, but I had a great time nonetheless, and I'll be writing about as much of it as I can over the next week or so. Good comics, good times, good people, what a great show.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

One Piece Is Awesome, Example #57

Having read up through volume 67 of Eiichiro Oda's One Piece, I've caught up with the currently-available English-language volumes of the series in print, I'm in the new-to-me position of having to wait for more of the series. Up until now, there's always been more to read, and the series is so propulsive, it's easy to just pick up the next volume and keep plowing forward. I'll have to see how well it reads with a wait of a few months in between volumes, and how satisfying a single volume is as one chunk of story.

In the meantime, I've got some other options of stuff to check out in the One Piece universe, such as the anime, which is available in its entirety online (with the latest episodes even farther along in the story than volume 67; I didn't realize that they've become near-simultaneous). I'm also interested in some of the animated movies, especially Strong World, which was written by Eiichiro Oda. And exploring the vast amount of information available on the One Piece Wiki is another option for satisfying my fix; I had been looking stuff up occasionally out of curiosity, but I often found I had to stop reading to keep from spoiling myself on material I hadn't read yet. But now I can read away, learning all the details about the characters and locales of the series.

Before putting these posts on hold (unless I think of other stuff to write about, since this manga has apparently occupied a significant part of my brain), I'll note a couple of heretofore unmentioned aspects of the series that I find remarkable. For one, I'm regularly weirded out by Oda's playful sense of scale. Characters can range from five feet to well over ten feet tall, and certain species like mermaids and giants can be even taller and more massive. Since he draws a lot of crowd scenes, one suspects that he started doing this for the sake of variety, to keep from drawing dozens of people who all look similar, but he ran with the idea, and soon enough, encountering people of all shapes and sizes became commonplace. Here's the latest example, from volume 67, in which the Straw Hats are fleeing through a scientific research facility and encounter a room full of children:

Oda doesn't just arbitrarily assign sizes to his characters though; he keeps their scale consistent, sometimes making them larger so they seem like more of a threat (one that may or may not still be easily defeated by our heroes and their ever-increasing strength), or treating them as gentle giants, or just acting like it's no big deal that they tower over everyone else. It's a weird choice, but it's one of those things that Oda does that makes the series unique.

The other thing that I find striking about the series is the level of violence. For a comic aimed at kids, it's often surprisingly bloody, but even though characters often get shot, stabbed, impaled, or beaten with such force that their heads and/or bodies are distorted beyond recognition, the level of violence doesn't seem gratuitous. It's not something grafted on to the story to make it seem more "adult" or "edgy"; it's just something that's inherent to the genre, and it usually ends up being a sign of high stakes, with our heroes facing real, physical danger. It helps that nobody seems to actually die, no matter how badly they are beaten or how grievous their injuries are. Here's a case in point from volume 67:

That's kind of horrifying; it works to establish the villains as a real threat, utterly lacking in morals and willing to blow away even somebody who is completely helpless. However, judging by the preview image for the next volume, even a guy who was repeatedly shot in the face can survive in this series, and that sort of thing leavens the sense of danger. The violence can be shocking and disturbing, but it's part of the story; it's not just senseless death thrown in for the sake of impact. There's always some thought behind what Oda is doing, and I trust him to use what he's got to tell the stories he's ready to tell. He's consistently amazing, and even if I'm going to be consuming the series differently from now on, I'm ready to read it for years to come. He's made a fan for life, methinks.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Neverending Fray: Groo is definitely still Groo

Groo the Wanderer #105
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1993

With this issue, the Groo Crew seems to have hit their stride, finding the perfect way to handle Groo's adventures now that he is slightly smarter, with him seeking to help people out and actually using his brain a little bit, while still being impulsive and destructive and managing to screw things up for the most part. It starts when Groo comes across a guy who has an animal's head, and he learns of a labor camp where all the prisoners have been forced to take an elixir that gives them animal heads, preventing them from escaping. Groo sets out to liberate them, but first he has to come up with a disguise that will allow him to infiltrate the camp:

He eventually settles on wearing a pig's carcass over his head, which is rather gross. Once in the camp, Groo gets up to other various antics, such as trying to come up with a secondary disguise:

But when he eventually succeeds in freeing the slaves, it turns out they were being held there for a good reason, giving us a classic Groo ending where he seems to have succeeded, only to find out he screwed things up even worse without realizing it. The fun thing about the story is seeing Groo actually come up with plans and use his "smarts" to try to accomplish his goal. He also is beginning to learn from his mistakes, as we see in this moment when he tries to find the elixir which will cure the slaves from their beast-headedness:

It ends up being a really fun story, a near-ideal use of Groo's current status quo to tell a classic Groo story with a new wrinkle. This is pretty great stuff.

I also really like the Sage backup story for this issue, in which he comes across some kids who are lazing around with nothing to do, so he suggests they race some horses around a lake. Returning to the area a few months later, he finds that the town's adults have taken over the horse races, turning them into big business and muscling the kids out. So Sage teaches them a new game, one that seems suspiciously familiar to modern eyes, only to return later and find out that the same thing has happened again:

He resolves to teach them something the adults cannot co-opt, so he shows them how to play Capture the Flag, and upon his return, well, you can probably figure out the results, but Sergio and company still make it rather amusing, while making a nice point about the ridiculousness of adults taking childish pursuits so seriously. This is classic stuff for Groo, a perfect use of the Sage character for his own little stories. I wasn't sure how well this stretch of the series was going to hold up, but it looks like I needn't have worried; it's turning out to be as good as I could hope for.

Next: Since I'm missing the next few issues, I think it's time for "The Life of Groo".
This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: The Sage has what seems to have become a regular backup strip, and Chakaal is featured in the Groo-Grams header:

Also, a story full of people with animal heads makes for the perfect opportunity to feature an Usagi Yojimbo cameo:

Moral: "There are two sides to every cause. Do not join one until you know the other." And for the Sage: "The older a man is, the greater the stakes in his games!"
Spanish words: The mines of Criaturas are named after the word for "creatures". Sergio says "amigos" ("friends") and "adios" ("goodbye").
Running jokes: Groo imagines that the slaves' terrible conditions include rationed cheese dip. Groo updates one of his catchphrases to "You take me for the fool I used to be and occasionally still am!"
Intro follies: Sergio tries to spell out the issue's welcome message in fireworks, and is, surprisingly, mostly successful:

Note also that Stan Sakai is wearing a shirt covered with Usagi Yojimbos.
Value-added: Another fun maze this month:

Mark Evanier's job(s): Lector ("lecturer")
Letter column jokes: Keith McCafferty congratulates the Groo Crew on 100 issues and says he's impressed that they don't just beat a dead horse month after month. Mark says they've received suggestions that doing so would be funnier than what they do print. Keith also notes that he doesn't know Brent Anderson, and Mark says he's a lot like Groo, but doesn't draw as well. Thor Newman wonders why, according to the credits in each issue, Groo has three editors. Mark isn't sure, but he thinks there's a rule about one editor for every ten readers. Jonah David Weiland (is that this Jonah Weiland?) sends in a list of things that are cool (Groo, Rufferto, getting six back issues of Groo at a convention for $2, the movie Night on Earth, The Life of Groo coming out soon, the L.A. Clippers) and not cool (The Life of Groo being delayed, the Clippers not doing well, the wacko in Waco, people writing to demand that their letter be printed (which he does, in a P.S.)). Mark replies by listing some other things that aren't cool, including "people telling us what's cool and what's not" and "having your letter printed in Groo-Grams". Elisa Blanquez says her life has been ruined by reading Groo, and as proof she notes that she named her three kittens Rufferto, Mulch, and Rufferto II; she doesn't date anymore because nobody lives up to the "virile and handsome" standards of Groo; and she finds herself plotting to murder Chakaal. She asks Mark to arrange for a date with Groo, and asks him to be their best man. Mark refuses, saying that the last time he went to a comic book wedding, he caught the bouquet and got stuck with this job. He can't imagine what the next step down would be, but when Al Weinberg  writes to say that Mark should be "King of all Comic Books, ruler of all companies, getting credit for everything good in comics today and blaming everything bad on people who won't do exactly what you tell him to do", Mark thinks Al has figured it out. Frederick Schweig writes that he realized how incongruous Rufferto's articulate thoughts are in "this otherwise highly realistic comic", so now that Groo is somewhat intelligent, he demands they make Rufferto comparably stupid. John Bunco notes that with 100 issues, Groo has outlasted all but four non-funny animal humor comics (Police Comics starring Plastic Man, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Millie the Model), and around the year 2000, it will be the longest-running of them all. But then he remembers Archie, so he realizes Groo #100 was of no significance at all, and apologizes for wasting everybody's time. T. Newman wonders what Groo did in a previous life to merit being reincarnated as Groo, and also what he could possibly end up as in the next life that's even worse. Mark says he may come back as a Groo reader.

The Neverending Fray index

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

One Piece Is Awesome, Example #56

I'm often impressed by the depth of the themes that Eiichiro Oda works into One Piece; whether he's touching on religion, arms proliferation, or systematic oppression. The latter seems to have emerged a major theme as our heroes have come into conflict with the powers that control their world, and I've been fascinated to see how Oda works it into his ongoing conflicts, examining how racism, segregation, and slavery can affect a people, and how much work it takes for them to emerge from generations of suffering. He had previously expressed the optimistic view that while those under oppression might not be able to let go of their hatred, they can pave the way for future generations to do so, but in volume 65, he gives us the flip side of that, demonstrating how decades (or centuries) of anger, even if it is justifiable, can institutionalize a vengeful spirit in people, leading eventually to pure nihilism. We see this most clearly in the main villain of the arc, Hody Jones, the leader of the New Fish-Man Pirates, who has gone beyond vengeance against the humans that have oppressed his people and begun also attacking any fish-men who befriend, help, or collaborate with them. After launching a scheme to take over Fish-Man Island (fueled by steroidal drugs that have begun to drive him mad), he ends up deciding to wipe the island and its inhabitants out entirely, no longer caring who is the victim of his destruction. When questioned what happened that made him so hateful, his answer is chilling:

The closest real-world analogue I can think of for this is terrorism, people who might feel they have a righteous cause, but have become so perverted and distorted through anger, hatred, and religious brainwashing that they have no sense of what is just or right and are willing to destroy anything or anyone in the name of their cause, which has become meaningless. Oda confirms this link by invoking the term "holy war", and even drawing some parallels to real-world terrorism:

Even though this is all background for a big battle, it's a fascinatingly deep examination of the cultural forces that can drive people to do horrible things. I'm regularly blown away by the ideas that Oda builds his stories on; he could just be throwing goofy characters and awesome action onto the page, but instead, he's building a complex foundation to everything, and delivering a message to his readers about the way the world works and how it can be changed for the better. This guy is pretty amazing.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Neverending Fray: Rufferto is too insecure

Groo the Wanderer #104
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1993

Rufferto-centric stories are often nice, but it seems like they tend to go over the same territory repeatedly, with our favorite canine becoming worried that Groo is going to replace him in his affections with some other animal. I end up irritated at him and wanting him to just realize that Groo looooooves him, so quit being so touchy. However, it's easy to forget that even though we're privy to his thoughts, he's still a dog, and he follows the typical doggy behavior of craving constant affection from his master, fixating on what happened to him when he's absent, and overflowing with happiness every time they are reunited. Rufferto might seem smart (especially compared to Groo), but he's still an animal, and sometimes we need a reminder of that.

So, with fellow dog Oso sticking around after the last issue, Rufferto is worried that he's being replaced, so he sets out to find a home for him. They go through several amusing scenarios, including a house full of children who abuse him mercilessly and a circus that wants to dress him up like a clown, before he earns a position as a guard dog, leading to a classic Grooish ending in which he refuses to let anybody enter the building he is guarding, whether they are supposed to get past him or not. It's a decent enough tale, highlighting the relationship between Groo and Rufferto and reiterating that nobody will ever come between them.

There's an interesting bit in the middle of the story in which Rufferto sort of relates his origin story to Oso, describing how, as a royal dog, he was constantly pampered, but when he got a glimpse of the way the common people lived, he grew ashamed at the luxuries he was granted when there was so much suffering going on outside his door. It's an interesting aside, making for a good demonstration of why he gets along with Groo so well, and it also fits in with Groo's burgeoning sense of social justice.

It's not a bad issue, although it's kind of light on the jokes. I did like this gag though, even though I'm often not especially enamored of jokes about Groo not being able to count:

I also found the Sage backup story pretty amusing; upon encountering a town full of workers who are being exploited by their bosses, he urges them to strike, leading to a funny misunderstanding and a great example of the sheer chaos that Sergio does so well:

At this point in the series, I'm wondering if the Groo Crew is slightly past their prime; the stories are still enjoyable enough, but they're not quite as packed full of gags as they used to be, and the focus seems to be more on the plots, which may or may not lead to good jokes. It seems like they're still trying to get a handle on the new direction that came with Groo's increased intelligence, so we'll see if they can manage to find a balance of funny stuff, character work, interesting stories, and good artwork. But even if the series is in a decline from here on out, I'm happy to keep reading it. I can never get enough Groo.

Next: "The Curse of Criaturas"
This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Oso, and Rufferto's former owners show up in a flashback, plus the Sage has a backup strip.
Moral: "One lesson learned is never enough." And for the Sage backup story: "No one ever fixed a broken system by destroying it."
Spanish words: Sergio says "mucho", which means "much".
Running jokes: Oso still wants to tear everything apart. A new running joke seems to be forming in which Groo makes sure prospective employers know he can read, whether it is relevant or not.
Intro follies: Inspired by Groo learning to read, Sergio brushes up on his English and decides to read the letter columns from Groo back issues:

Value-added: The inside back cover features a craft where you can make one of those booklets where you can mix up characters' body parts:

Mark Evanier's job(s): Realtor
Letter column jokes: This month mostly features semi-serious letters, many of which congratulate the Groo Crew on getting to 100 issues, but there are still some jokes. David Schuldt compliments Mark and company on coming up with a new joke in issue #100. Mark says expecting a new joke out of them is ridiculous, and next people will start expecting the stories to make sense. Carter Himes asks if Groo considers himself a samurai or a barbarian. Mark says he just considers himself Groo, but the Groo Crew considers him Sergio's rent, Stan Sakai's part-time job, Tom Luth's life work, and Mark's role model, which means something is terribly wrong with their value system. David Zackin writes to Bob Smith asking how his family is because he's a lot more interesting than Mark. Mark says "Ha! Let's see if Bob Smith will print your letter!" Somebody calling himself "The Marshmallow Dragon" says he shoved a stack of Groo comics into his Nintendo in an attempt to create a Groo video game, but now they're stuck inside and when he turns it on, it just flashes the word "Zigfried" on the screen. Mark suggests he take up checkers. Brad Griffin asks if the warrior chicks that often show up in the bottom corner of the comic's title pages are modeled after the Barbi twins. Mark can't think of a funny answer, so he suggests readers send some in. I'm looking forward to seeing if this becomes a new running gag.

The Neverending Fray index

Monday, June 3, 2013

One Piece Is Awesome, Example #55

Here's something interesting: Eiichiro Oda breaking the 180-degree rule in the 64th volume of One Piece:

That rule doesn't always apply to comics, and Oda kind of demonstrates why here; there's no confusion as to what is going on, even when all the characters are mirrored in the transition between panels. But really, it's the most dramatic way to depict what's happening; having Luffy continue in the same pose between panels, or even with a slight variation in viewing angle wouldn't be nearly as effective; instead, we get a transition from seeing his almost casual posture to a view of the determination on his face. And while the appearance of Zolo and Sanji to defend him would be sudden at any angle, this reversal really makes it seem like they're leaping in from out of nowhere. It all works beautifully as a single page in the middle of a chaotic battle scene, just one tiny example of how great Oda is at what he does. More, please.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

One Piece Is Awesome, Example #54

If you want tragedy and drama, the extended flashbacks in Eiichiro Oda's One Piece are where it's at. The one that takes place in volume 63 is no exception; it details the struggle for the denizens of Fish-Man Island to gain acceptance among humans, focusing on the heroic Fisher Tiger, who we had previously learned led a raid on the capital city of Marijoa and freed all the slaves (both human and fish-man) being held there. We don't get to see that battle, but we follow the aftermath, as Fisher Tiger and his crew of pirates keep fighting to free the oppressed and fight back against the tyranny of the humans. Interestingly, since he's fighting for acceptance, he insists his men refrain from killing humans, no matter how much they want revenge for decades (centuries?) of oppression:

What really gets me though is when Fisher Tiger is grievously wounded, and the only thing that can save him is a blood transfusion from a human, but he refuses:


As much as he wants the best for his people, struggling to do what's right even when his entire race is despised and oppressed, he can't bring himself to completely get over his hatred of the humans. This is fascinatingly complex character work, more of the thing Oda does so well, situating his rich characters in the distinctive world that he has created, but still reflecting the societal concerns of the real world. I especially like the way he recognizes that while prejudices and hate can be difficult to stamp out, if we fight for what is right, future generations will receive the benefit. It's optimistic, but I feel like it's happening in the world every day, and the way Oda details it here is beautifully encouraging and moving. As ever, I'm amazed by the richness that he brings to his work. This is great stuff.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

One Piece Is Awesome, Example #53

One thing I like about Eiichiro Oda's One Piece is the letter columns which are included in the collected volumes. I don't know how common this is in Japan, but it's the only translated manga series I know of that includes this sort of material, and it's absolutely essential, adding a glimpse into Oda's sense of humor and camaraderie with his fans, as well as a great source of information about the series itself, with Oda explaining little details of his world or confirming little artistic details and Easter Eggs that fans ask about, or discussing the inspirations for various characters or locations. One example of the latter from volume 57 was when a fan asked about the three admirals of the navy, and Oda confirmed that they are based on the famous Japanese actors Yusaku Matsuda, Kunie Tanaka, and Bunta Sugawara:

Likewise, he revealed in volume 58 that Emporio Ivankov, the world's greatest drag queen, was inspired partly by Dr. Frank N. Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but also by the cross-dressing stage actor Norio Imamura. And what's more, when Imamura found out Ivankov was based on him, he auditioned as a voice actor for the role in the One Piece anime, and he was the person who got cast, which is pretty amazing. I love the neat stuff you learn from these pages; how do other translated manga series manage without them?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Neverending Fray: Dogs and jails

Groo the Wanderer #103
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1993

It's nice to get a Rufferto-centric plot once in a while, and that issue does this, splitting its main duo up for most of its length and giving our canine pal a fellow dog to hang out with. It starts when Groo and Rufferto stop to hang out with some guys who turn out to be bandits, and when the authorities show up to arrest them, Groo ends up tasked with escorting them to jail. This separates him from Rufferto, who, along with his new buddy Oso, searches for his master, who he thinks has been imprisoned. And from there, hijinx ensue, with the best stuff focused on Rufferto and Oso repeatedly causing massive breakouts when they try to free Groo from various jails. The two of them have a pretty fun relationship, with Oso being dumb, impulsive, and violent (kind of a stand-in for Groo, come to think of it, although he's more talk/bark than action) and Rufferto often being frustrated with him, but still accepting of him and happy to have a fellow animal that he can communicate with.

Meanwhile, Groo continues to demonstrate his newfound (semi-)intelligence as he accepts the task of delivering his prisoners to a jail and sticks with it, refusing to be swayed by the bandits' guile. When he can't find a jail that has enough room for them, he ends up figuring out a way around the problem by helping to rehabilitate them:

The issue touches on some social issues, such as the necessity for jails weighed against people's preference not to have them nearby, and the way a lack of options can drive those on the lower rungs of society toward crime, but it's a pretty cursory glance at the subject, which is fine for a story like this. If anything, it's an indication of Groo's increasing awareness of the world around him, demonstrating that the knowledge he has gained from his reading is making him consider new ideas and pay attention to how people are affected by his actions. Luckily, he still enjoys frays and does dumb stuff, so we don't suffer for a lack of laughs, but it's fascinating to watch his character develop.

Next: "A Home for Oso"
This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: The Sage stars in a backup story, and Oso will be hanging around for at least one more issue.
Moral: "Where there are hearts of gold, there is no need for bars of steel." And the moral for the Sage backup is "You do not solve a problem by making it someone else's."
Spanish words: Sergio says "lo siento" ("I'm sorry") again. Oso is named after the word for "bear". The town of El Bote means "the pot".
Running jokes: There aren't many of the regular running gags, but within this issue, the robbers mention several times that they like to "rob, loot, and pillage (usually in that order)." And Oso constantly wants to tear people or animals apart, but he never gets to.
Intro follies: Sergio prepares to read an introductory speech that Mark wrote for him, but he forgot it, so he tells the readers to wait until he comes back before they start reading, with the page just ending on a blank panel. I disobeyed him and read the story anyway.
Value-added: This month's puzzle page is an actual puzzle:

Mark Evanier's job(s): Warden
Letter column jokes: The initial theme this month seems to be threats to Mark's person if he doesn't print people's letters. Matt Peck threatens to go to Mark's house and make him read every Groo ever written. Mark begs for mercy, then realizes he read the letter wrong, thinking Matt had said he would make him write every Groo ever read. Robert Feldman threatens to flood the Marvel offices with cheese dip. Mark isn't worried, since he is located more than 3,000 miles away from New York, and he doesn't think the smell would go much further than Kansas. Joey Cool Nicolosi threatens to reveal Mark's secret fear of Kermit the Frog, which is apparently the last straw, prompting Mark to announce that he's retiring the running gag (or attempting to do so) of sending in these sorts of threats. As a replacement, he suggests "Groo is so dumb..." jokes, providing some examples, including "Groo is so dumb, he thinks Rush Limbaugh is a very fast dance from the Caribbean." He also offers an autographed copy of The Life of Groo to anybody who can get a "Groo is so dumb..." joke printed in some other comic's letter column. I'm not sure if this prize was ever awarded, but I wouldn't be surprised, since Groo fans can be pretty resourceful. Rayson Lorrey compliments Sergio and company on their inclusion of explicit morals in their stories, saying that Sergio is like a modern Aesop. Mark agrees, saying that when Sergio promised to pay him, it turned out to be a fable. Charlie Ehrenpreis thinks James Horton's suggestion of a Groo 2099 comic would be a good idea. Mark says that he wants to revive the 2001 comic as 2001 2009, and since Dark Horse has a book called 2112 and Image has 1963, they should all do a crossover and call it 8175. John Lewis wonders if he's the oldest Groo fan on record, at 60, so Mark asks if anyone else wants to lay claim to the tile of oldest Groo fan (or Groo fan, period). He also notes that his mom is older, but he doesn't think she counts, since she gets her copies from him at 20% off. Zeke Saed says that he chose to write to Groo instead of to his grandmother, so he asks Mark to print the letter to make sure she reads it. And in an M. Wayne Williams reference, he says she only reads one issue of Groo a year, so he wants to make sure his letter gets printed in an issue she'll read, not one she'll skip. Mark agrees, claiming he'll print the letter each month for the next 12 months. We'll see if he keeps his word.

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