When one mentions "manga," to the average passer-by, one is usually met with the question, "what is that?" Mention manga to the average American manga reader, you'll likely hear mention of such series as Soul Eater or Negima!, or of such high-profile mangaka as Nagai Go or CLAMP. But many of them will likely not know about the sort of underground works that seldom actually make it outside Japan.
This is where AX: Alternative Manga (ISBN 978-1-60309-042-1; $29.95) enters the picture. A 399-page behemoth from Top Shelf Productions, AX is an English-language compilation of alternative manga works taken straight from Japan's cutting-edge anthology periodical of the same name. Many, if not nearly all, American manga readers will likely not have heard of any of the artists or writers featured in this collection. They would be doing themselves a disservice, however, to not try this collection out; manga is more than just magical girls, large-scale fantasy romps or wacky romantic comedies. Manga can be just as experimental and surreal as American underground comics, and AX has such a selection in spades.
One year at Halloween, when Field Marshall Stack and I were in high school, we went to his neighborhood, went to the closest 7/11, got as much candy as we could afford (which wasn't much, as we didn't have a lot of money on us, it was Halloween, and it was a 7/11, so, pretty much we were getting the Ultimate Gouge). It wasn't to just eat, since everyone knows for that, the best time to get candy is the day after Halloween, when they mark down all the bulk stuff. Sort of like the day after Easter or Valentine's Day. Our reason for getting the overly-expensive convenience-store candy: We decided that we were going to go Reverse Trick-or-Treating.
The setting is a ballroom, dark and perhaps sort of dingy -- think the rave in Zion from the second Matrix movie, but the difference is that instead of the audience finding it unpleasant, the ravers are the ones having a bad time. They are dancing, but their facial expressions are pained and tortured. Some are crying, some are just grimacing. A few of them have facial bruises. We pan up and find burly men holding guns in the balconies, looking serious and harshly militaristic. The band is on stage, and they are performing the song neither happily or scared -- they've got a job to do and they're doing it, nothing more, nothing less. The song itself should be a happy, upbeat, electropoppish type number -- ideally nothing lyrically to betray the unpleasant scene.
The Comic Book Industry, and I, Grow Up by D.J. Sylvis
For comic book fans, last week signalled the end of an era as the last few publishers abandoned the Comics Code Authority. It was actually an era that had ended for all intents and purposes anyway – DC was only submitting its kiddie comics for review, and if anyone really believes that Archie Comics were ever really pushing the boundaries of acceptability, maybe they’re the ones stuck in the fifties.
But for those of us who grew up with those little stamps marking the corner of all our issues of Batman or Captain America, whether we knew what they meant or not, it’s a final acceptance of a shift we’ve grown up watching and participating in. In fact, it’s a growing up process in its own right, for the entire comic book industry, and one that feels awfully familiar if you were raised the way I was.