Eccentric Flower:201101/Manga and Cake

From Eccentric Flower

«January 2011 «Eccentric Flower

Manga (and Cake)

I dreamed last night that I was at dinner with my whole extended family and had provoked a discussion with my uncle about football scores for this season. I think my point was the "ace or dead" trend - the fact that in recent years NFL records tend to be generally "beat everybody else" teams or "lose to everybody else" teams with no middle ground - put the lie to the whole "any given Sunday" myth. My uncle was disagreeing with my conclusions in what passes for a calm, reasonable manner in my family - that is, the decibel level was high, but no furniture was actually being thrown, so it was harmless.

Meanwhile, Mrissa, who was one of the two non-family guests present (reason unspecified) had sliced the beautiful multi-layer pumpkin cake she had brought, and was demurely eating her slice. She was completely uninterested in the football argument, but there was the very slightest of amused smiles at the corners of her mouth which was enough to imply, "Now, if you were talking about hockey, I might get involved."

Manga is hard for me. I've tried reading manga on more than one occasion and it just doesn't seem to work. I do own some:

- I have a boxed set of the entire Nausicaa story, which I bought because the only animated version at the time was an abomination, disowned by Miyazaki; so I figured if I was going to get that story I had better get it in the original form. I have never opened the books.

- I have two volumes of Lupin III books; I have never finished the second one. These are the books where I realized that panel flow in non-flipped manga is very hard for me (more on that in a minute).

- I have the whole set of Mai the Psychic Girl, the first manga I ever bought, years ago, and I loved it, but it's flipped; so for purposes of this discussion it doesn't count.

- I have one book of Futaba-kun Change which I bought strictly so I could see how Hiroshi Aro handled the gender-change themes in it as compared to those in Ranma 1/2. (Answer: Rather more realistically, but then, it's a more real-world-based story, too.)

In general I do not agree with the purists about not flipping manga. I realize that the people reading this who are bigger otaku than I am are now going to fuss at me about artist's intent and why break something that wasn't broken and so forth. And normally, that is a line of argument I'd agree with strongly; in general I believe that one should present something in as close a format to the author/creator's original intent as possible. (But see also the recent rant on audiophiles; I have limits.)

But I'm acting entirely out of selfish interests here. Manga is difficult enough for me even when flipped. First, there are Japanese social situations and terminology to deal with; they are not like ours. Fortunately I have absorbed enough of that over the years that it's not too bad a hurdle, and the things which are still mystifying yield to a little research. Second, and a harder problem, is that Japanese comics do not use the same visual language as American ones. When you read American comics over a period of many years you learn a particular visual shorthand without being aware that you are doing so. Japanese comics have a completely different shorthand, and if I'd read them for many years, I'm sure I'd find it just as intuitive after a while. But I don't, and I haven't, and so it isn't. (The one that annoys me most is not actually a facial or visual cue, but the fact that so many manga don't translate the drawn-in sound effects. So I can tell some kind of sound is happening but not what.)

What kind of noises is Danbo making?

If you add to these hurdles the difficulty of reading a format which depends on knowledge of visual flow exactly backwards, suddenly the process of reading becomes too intrusive for me to actually get lost in the story. That is, I have to think too hard about the physical mechanics of what I'm doing; it's hard to be drawn into the plot when you keep stopping and saying, "Oh, hell, which of these panels comes first?"

You wouldn't think that right-to-left and top-to-bottom would be so bad. But it's not just that. First off, a good artist arranges the action in her panels to fit the way she expects her readers' eyes to scan those panels (check out this page). Since we scan panels left-to-right, an artist sets up panels like a director panning a camera left-to-right - a miniature flow of time; we will see and process what is on the left of the panel before we process what is on the right. In manga, this is backward. (In the panel above you are supposed to see Danbo flapping its arms before you see Yotsuba's reaction - a minor thing, but a lot of them taken collectively do make a difference.)

So even if I'm reading panels right-to-left, I can't keep my brain from processing what's in the panels left-to-right. I have the larger flow in the right order but the flow of time within the panels in the wrong order, which makes the experience a bit like watching Memento. If you flip the entire page, you don't have this problem (but you create a whole host of other problems).

I don't have a problem with the big numbers as much as the little ones in ovals.
My brain would scan panel 1 in reverse order. I can't make it not do this.

I would like to read more manga, because I hate feeling like I'm missing out on a whole world of potential stories to read. I'm just not sure I can train my brain to do it.

(And, frankly, my preferred reading niche in comics is so small that I need to exploit any opportunity I can find. I've been more-or-less completely disillusioned with American superhero comics for years. As far as I'm concerned, the twin waves of nothing-without-irony and the market forces in what's left of the American Big Comics Industry have killed them - that's a rant for another day, though. I also don't like books that are just about normal people and their interactions with one another, just as I don't like mainstream litfic where nothing extraordinary happens. I find things like Love and Rockets boring and things like Ghost World boring and depressing. I need there to be some dose of the strange and unusual, and some sort of forward-motion of plot, a reasonable pace; but it doesn't have to be the garish-costume crowd. What I really want is The Spirit, the superhero book with the most understated superhero of all time, and the most delicate hand ever for tripping off into the fantastic unexpectedly. But it takes a genius to pull something like that off, and we only get one Will Eisner per generation. Or a book which is about the real problems of people with unreal abilities, like Mai or a lot of Miyazaki's stuff - so long as they're not whiners all the time like Peter "Schlub" Parker. The thing about the Japanese is that they seem to understand the "daily reality and then something unexpected weirdness happens to disrupt it and we watch the ripples" better, collectively, than Americans do - thus my suspicion that I'm missing a lot of Good Stuff that is right up my alley.)

Today is the last day of the Holidailies project. If you came here to visit because of that, and had never been here before, I hope you enjoyed yourself, and I hope you'll come back and check in again in the future (although entries will not be so often). If you were already an established regular here, I hope you enjoyed the extra content this past month; I also hope you didn't get too used to it!


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Wow, the Cranky Octopus entry made me realize that even is I have read very little of Manga, it is still more than I have read American comics and as result my eyes start moving like they should in manga, NOT the way Cranky Octopus shows they should move.

-- 17:56, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


that Nausicaa boxed set you have should be in left-to-right. if i remember correctly, Viz did those before Tokyopop changed everyone's expectations. there's a more recent right-to-left version printed at a larger size.

i still don't have much of an opinion on flipped vs. unflipped, but i suppose unflipped means that things get through the production pipeline quicker. it didn't take me very long to get used to right-to-left, but i read a lot of comics.

it may be easier if you 'train' with some stuff done with a less 'creative' layout (closed rectangular panels). Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service or Emma might meet your tastes... (and it's BD, but maybe Adèle Blanc-Sec?)

anyone interested in manga layout/flow should look at Telophase's Manga Analysis Series, specifically sections 2 through 4:

-- 19:01, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


I have suspected for some time that my experience with Hebrew has made manga a lot easier for me to read. (That is, I don't have any problem knowing what to read first, but I have an awful lot of experience reading things right-to-left.)

-- 20:29, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


For some reason, I don't have a particular problem with reading manga right to left. (Though I used to get irked at what was then called OEL Manga -- Original English Language -- for repeating the flow and structure. I think Tokyopop and Viz insisted on it so that they could put it into Japanese more easily. Then both companies killed their OEL lines, so that disappeared anyway.) It just never was that much of a problem for me, for some reason. I do get irritated about the untranslated noises, though; I get that they usually can't do much with those without hurting the artwork, but especially in frames where nothing is going on but background noises, it can be very irritating. One good thing about Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is that in the copious editor's notes in the back, they tell you what those sounds are supposed to be.

Another thing you might want to try, if you decide that you'd like to see if simpler art and layout might make it easier for you, would be Ooku by Fumi Yoshinaga; it hypothesizes about what Japan would have looked like if a plague had killed 75% of all males, and continued to do so. (The subject matter is right up your alley, really. That said, I do think that the shogunate's response for itself would be wildly improbable.) There aren't a lot of background noises, and Yoshinaga's art is very delicate but doesn't use terribly complicated layouts.

that's a rant for another day, though.

Like ... tomorrow? Or soon? (What? I want to see you get ranty about comics is all.)

What I really want is The Spirit, the superhero book with the most understated superhero of all time, and the most delicate hand ever for tripping off into the fantastic unexpectedly. But it takes a genius to pull something like that off, and we only get one Will Eisner per generation.

I think you might enjoy the first volume of Darwyn Cooke's reboot of The Spirit. I think he caught most of what made it work without being slavishly devoted to Eisner's style. (On the other hand, if you really really really want something more Eisneresque, you'd probably enjoy the Aragones/Evanier volume, which I utterly hated, because they were basically imitating Eisner.) Alas, nobody has ever managed to solve The Problem of Ebony, though I think Cooke came close. (You'd like the done-in-one black and white backup stories in the current reboot of The Sprit, I think, but it's not probably not worth wading through the front story to do so.)

it may be easier if you 'train' with some stuff done with a less 'creative' layout (closed rectangular panels). Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service or Emma might meet your tastes... (and it's BD, but maybe Adèle Blanc-Sec?

Bande dessinee isn't normally laid out right to left, though, since French doesn't read that way.

-- 21:04, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


I looked at a couple of those sample pages of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, but I had to stop when I was completely unsure whether the line "Man, it sucks being an entry-level Buddhist" was supposed to be funny. (I thought it was hilarious. Then again, I find the whole idea of a Buddhist university hilarious. Have I mentioned my sense of humor is sort of bizarre?)

-- 21:12, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


That said, I did eventually go read the rest of that excerpt and I gather that the story is supposed to be sort of bizarre too, so maybe I'm okay. (I'd like a footnote on why that forest is such a hotspot for suicides, though.)

-- 21:17, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


I was there to bring the pumpkin cake. Clearly.

I want to thaw out that loaf of pumpkin bread in the freezer, but I should finish the gingerbread loaf first.

Mmm. Pumpkin.

-- 22:06, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


I looked at a couple of those sample pages of Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, but I had to stop when I was completely unsure whether the line "Man, it sucks being an entry-level Buddhist" was supposed to be funny.

I always thought it was supposed to be, but it's not hugely important in the scheme of things. Some stories rely on the characters having a knowledge of how Buddhism is supposed to work, for certain aspects, but it doesn't generally assume that the reader knows. And most of the time, it's not at all relevant, except that it's a university. (Also: longest collegiate senior year EVER. Even allowing that the publication schedule here is slower because of translation issues, they've been seniors for about four years now.)

I'd like a footnote on why that forest is such a hotspot for suicides, though.

I think that may actually be covered in the editor's notes. (They're very very ... editorial. And thorough. And opinionated.) The impression I've gotten from the other volumes is that Japan's forests in general are suicide magnets, in part because there are so few of them. People like a nice natural place to shuffle themselves off this mortal coil, it seems.

-- 22:59, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service is quite funny! (and also creepy and disgusting--but still funny.) it's one of the rare ones available in the US where the "strange and unusual" isn't dialed up past 11. Kurosagi also has the most amazing and detailed footnotes i've ever seen (puts me in mind of the ones in From Hell). you get a really big chunk of background and explanation of the suicide forest, for example.

sorry, i was trying to shoehorn in Adèle as a general non-manga recommendation of interest, not a right-to-left example.

-- 23:03, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


Have you tried early Love and Rockets, back when they had actual rockets and robots and stuff like that, mixed in with the girly punk soap opera? The Hernandez Brothers are excellent, you're missing out. Early-ish Daniel Clowes could also have a lot to interest you. Check out "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron" sometime.

Does anybody every annotate freakin' manga? There's some baffling cultural thing on nearly every page, and if they'd just have little notes at the bottom of the page that said something like "In Japanese culture, the bubble emerging from his nose means he's in a frenzy of sexual arousal," it would all be easier to follow and it'd be educational to boot!

I like some manga... But a lot of young manga fans remind me of the bicycle racer guy in Breaking Away who desperately wanted to be Italian. Loving manga is fine, but if you read 3000 pages of kinky comics a month and you've never heard of, say, R. Crumb, you're missing out.

-- 23:29, 5 January 2011 (GMT)


Iain: Ebony is a tricky one. When they announced there was going to be a Spirit movie, I remember thinking they should cast Gary Coleman or Emmanuel Lewis or some other adult who could be 12 or 45, and write him as kind of a young Eddie Murphy character, broke and rather frantic but also streetwise and funny.

I think the clumsiest attempt to deal with Ebony was probably Alan Moore's. He told a Spirit story from some jerky guy's POV, and had the guy tell the audience, "I'm afraid I've never been able to see Negroes as anything but stereotypes!" Then he went ahead with an old-fashioned Ebony. Man, was that clunky.

-- 00:02, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


So, I bought volumes one of Kurosagi and Ooku, and I would just like to thank the two of you for the recommendation of the former. I devoured it this evening and I think I am going to have to go buy the next few tomorrow. It's a great mix of Bones with slackers and really dark humor.

I reserve judgement on Ooku. It's certainly interesting so far but I am not sure yet whether I'll want more, whereas with Kurosagi I want more now now now.

I love recommendations I can trust!

-- 00:28, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


P.S. I have had no problem with reading either of those, so I'm wondering now just how much of the trouble is with Monkey Punch's very, um, freeform layouts in Lupin III.

-- 00:30, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


P.P.S. to Ursula: Both of the books I bought today have endnotes and so do many others I've seen. It's a nice thing, I agree, and more should do it.

-- 00:34, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


Endnotes are OK, but they require a lot of flipping back and forth and that can really take you out of a story. I'm talking about little notes at the bottom or sides of the page itself, so you can just absorb that stuff as you go.

-- 01:37, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


I'm glad you enjoyed Kurosagi.

I reserve judgement on Ooku. It's certainly interesting so far but I am not sure yet whether I'll want more, whereas with Kurosagi I want more now now now.

It occurs to me that one of the things with Ooku is that it has exactly the issue with Japanese history that I mentioned that Kurosagi doesn't have with its treatment of Buddhism: Ooku assumes a fair amount of knowledge of what was actually supposed to be happening, so that you understand how it's being subverted. If you don't have a decent baseline history of the Tokugawa shogunate, it's probably not as interesting. Plus, while I understand for story purposes why Yoshinaga did what she did with the ooku, I did have a hard time with the concept initially, since I'm pretty sure that the country would have risen in rebellion at the concept that the shogun was keeping hundreds of young men for her own personal use, and there were so few around.

Since you liked Kurosagi, you might also want to try Mail, by Housui Yamazaki, the artist of Kurosagi. I think there were only three volumes published. There's a bit of a crossover with Kurosagi, in which we get the first explanation of what exactly is happening with Karatsu and how his ability really works. It's not necessary to read for Kurosagi; his abilities are explained in more detail in the series.

Depending on how you feel about Astro-Boy, you might also enjoy Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka, which reworks the story of "The Greatest Robot on Earth" for more modern and adult audiences. The layout is a bit more difficult than Kurosagi, so you'll definitely want to take a look at it first. It doesn't require that you have read the original or watched the television version to understand what's going on.

For what it's worth: MPD Psycho is an indirect prequel for Kurosagi, but you don't have to read it to understand anything, and in fact, I don't recommend reading it at all, unless you have a strong stomach for violence and gore along with the weird. (More violence and gore than Kurosagi, anyway. A detective with multiple personality disorder works with the Metropolitan Police Department of Tokyo to pursue the serial killer that is in turn pursuing him. Said serial killer kidnapped and then mailed the detective's wife to his office in a refrigerator box, missing her clothing, arms and legs, and inducing the aforementioned multiple personality disorder. Which was the point at which I stopped reading.)

-- 06:13, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


Iain: Ebony is a tricky one. When they announced there was going to be a Spirit movie, I remember thinking they should cast Gary Coleman or Emmanuel Lewis or some other adult who could be 12 or 45, and write him as kind of a young Eddie Murphy character, broke and rather frantic but also streetwise and funny.

Ursula: the current reboot tried to solve The Problem of Ebony by making the character an adult black female, which could have worked ... except then they made her a damsel in distress in every appearance. And her very first appearance was buck-nekkid, with carefully placed hands, of course. So ... didn't really work well, no. (And then they introduced the character of Imani, an eleven-year-old girl who fills exactly the same role of the streetwise smartass kid that the original Ebony filled, making the reworking of Ebony absolutely pointless.)

-- 06:21, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


hooray for Kurosagi! i think that the restrained layouts will ease you into the flow better and then you can try the more complicated free-form stuff later. i developed an interest in manga slowly over a long period of time, so i forget how unusual some of the techniques can be. i've gotten my partner interested in some comics but i still haven't found a manga that he was willing to try (my best bet was Kurosagi, and i'm not sure where to go after that). i should really find out what Iain's reading that i'm not, because our tastes sound pretty similar. :)

DO open your Nausicaa set and give it a look. your version should be left-to-right and the layouts are fairly restrained. it's not a perfect thing but, like Eisner, he really knows what he's doing and it's amazing to see.

-- 15:55, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


(not manga, but a welcome bit of news: POGO VOLUME 1 will be released in the Fall of 2011 - yes, seriously, for real this time; first in a complete reprint series of 12)

-- 16:09, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


Again, I don't mean this as a hijacking of this thread, but I thought you'd be amused, as I was, at the twitch of dyslexia I occasionally get. I first read this title as "Magna and Cake," perhaps because I was a Salisbury Cathedral the day before yesterday and saw one of the four remaining original Magna Cartas. So I thought to myself, yeah, Magna Cake-a. If King John had just promised everyone cake, maybe he could have held on to that Divine Right of Kings business a bit longer.

Sorry. Please go back to incomprehensibly discussing Japanese cartoons now.

-- 20:49, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


There's a "cake or death" joke in there somewhere waiting to happen.

Also, I'll have you know we are incomprehensibly discussing Japanese comic books, not Japanese cartoons!

-- 21:04, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


Cartoons are what are inside comic books. From what little I could gather, you are discussing, in part, how to read said cartoons, not some inherent aspect of the books in which they appear. But it's incomprehensible, so I could be wrong here.

-- 21:53, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


Cerebus (no longer running, but you can still get the "phone books") might fit your bill. It started off as a parody of Conan the Barbarian/Howard the Duck (Cerebus is an aardvark barbarian in a human world), then turned into social satire (in High Society where Cerebus was running for Prime Minister of a city-state against a goat, then into Church and State I and II, where Cerebus was made Pope). Past that, it turns into mainstream litfic (with an aardvark) where nothing much happens (but the artwork is absolutely fantastic). Just don't look too closely to the politics of the artist, Dave Sim (he want, as they say, batshit crazy).

Another underrated American comic book is Uncle Scrooge (no, really!). In the hands of Carl Banks (and even as an 8 year old, I could tell a Carl Banks story from every other one, even if Disney never allowed the artists to sign their name) Uncle Scrooge was a wonderful read (and I certainly learned a ton---where else would you learn of a credible reason for the Flying Dutchman? Or one could use inner tubes to raise a sunk Mississippian paddle boat?). Don Rosa's Uncle Scrooge is also worth reading (he did an Inception style story years before the movie came out, and it was logically consistent).

And that's pretty much it for the comic books I've read (oh, I've read a ton of them, but the only two that have ever stood out were Cerebus and Uncle Scrooge).

-- 23:33, 6 January 2011 (GMT)


Oh, we have all the Cerebus books. They belong to my wife. I think she bought the last few out of some sense of completion. I made it all the way through the story up to the end of Church and State. About then I realized that the book had mutated into something I was uninterested in (mostly because Dave Sim had gone batshit insane), and I stopped. I have no idea how my wife persevered, especially in the face of Sim's extreme misogyny.

I hate to correct you, because I don't want to sound like I'm diminishing, but (he whispers hesitantly) it's Carl Barks.

You're not the only former 8-year-old who has expressed that sentiment - he was legendarily known as, in the era of unsigned art, as "the good duck guy." I didn't discover Barks' stories until later - with one or two exceptions which I barely remember from childhood - and I have a lot of catching up to do, which is why I am excited about this announcement which has had some of the circles I run in all abuzz.

-- 01:13, 7 January 2011 (GMT)


Mea culpa! You're right. Sigh. And I even *have* a book of collected Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks right on my book shelf.


But that announcement ... wow! I just wish it was more than two volumes per year.

-- 09:32, 7 January 2011 (GMT)


And now for mixing two topics in one!

Inception, Uncle Scrooge style (drawn by Don Rosa I belive), before the movie came out:

-- 04:05, 8 January 2011 (GMT)


I hesitate to make this comment, but you also complain when I don't comment.  :)

I wish I had something useful to tell you. I love manga and I read a lot of it and you're not the first person I know to have trouble with the directionality assumptions. Manga just works for me, better than western comics, for whatever reason (though I have trained myself to read western comics too). Flipped manga actually tends to get me lost very easily, for whatever reason. I hate flipped manga for this reason -- it appears to do to me exactly what you describe manga doing to you normally.

-- 16:55, 10 January 2011 (GMT)


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