Hi Dear Reader,
I hope you’re finding the home stretch into StarWarsmas not too taxing. I’d just like to quickly take this opportunity to thank you for reading, thank the staff at All Star for putting up with me and wish you all a Merry Christmas. May Santa fill your stocking with comics you love and if you get some Christmas money you don’t know what to do with, or a voucher for the shop, I encourage you to try something a little different, some manga, some bande dessinee, something photocopied and stapled by an artist in Melbourne. I’m cooking up a best of 2015 column for sometime in January, but if you think my taste blows, just pop in and ask whoever’s behind the counter. They’re all ace.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : INUYASHIKI
By Hiroya Oku
Published By Kodansha Comics
Surprisingly, for a comic designed as little more than a piece of pure popcorn shonen manga, there’s an awful lot going on in Hiroya Oku’s Inuyashiki. It’s so clever I’m wondering whether or not Oku’s either loaded his latest work with this much subtext by complete accident or I wrote off his previous manga, Gantz, as weightless, gratuitous fluff far too early.
In many ways, Inuyashiki is a decidedly Japanese take on classic Marvel Comics’whole “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” riff (Spider-Man is even name checked in the book) and/or chance exposure to deadly things/substances that allow many a Marvel character access to his/her full potentiality. Inuyashiki also functions as a commentary on manga itself, with characters calling Gantz “a shitty manga full of murder and crap,” and Inuyashiki representing the old school, heroic Japanese character and Shishigami the new wave of hyper-violent, breast-obsessed pretty boys. The inter-generational shift in not just Japanese manga but in the perception of national character is also represented –Inuyashiki sings the Astro Boy theme song as he struggles to work his rockets and adopts a dog from a shelter, Shishigami reads Shonen Jump, lacks empathy for anything not on the comics page and is, most notably, a serial murderer.
Let’s not call Inuyashiki high art just yet however. Oku’s frustrating tendency to waste comic real estate in order to chew through his weekly page count remains like a bad hangover from Gantz. The photographed backgrounds are a distracting nuisance and some of his dialogue is weak (to be kind). But when Oku’s at his best, he’s undeniable, saving his artistic hustle for moments that border on the iconic such as this one:
The bulk of volume one is dedicated to presenting a portrait of Inuyashiki as an enfeebled loser. Prematurely ageing and perpetually trembling, Inuyashiki is the old man Japanese everyman, downtrodden, ignored, treated with distain and loathing by even those closest to him. Oku gives much space (perhaps a little too much) to this portrait of his protagonist as misfortune after misfortune pile up on this kindly old man. There are some genuinely touching moments however – Inuyashiki hugging his dog Hanako and weeping in despair at the state of his existence chief among them – contrasted with volume two’s exploration of Shishigami as a power-mad, cold-blooded killer.
If you’re curious, I recommend grabbing both volumes currently available and reading them back to back as things really pick up in the second book. Doing so may give you the comics equivalent of feeling like you’ve eaten way too much McDonalds, but Inuyashiki’s multiplicity of subtexts and strikingly rendered posthumans may well linger with you far longer than its images of exploding heads. With Shishigami growing ever darker and Inuyashiki growing ever more saintly by the conclusion of volume two, the series seems poised to continue picking at all manner of Japanese psychic scabs while remaining disguised as high octane, carb-loaded comics. The series has as much potential as its very own hero and, hopefully, Oku’s up to the task of realising it.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : THE GENTLEMAN’S ARMCHAIR: GRAVITY
By Wes Hotchkiss
I’m assuming you have even less time to read webcomics than I do this week (thanks a lot, Christmas!). Fortunately, I’ve got something that will take you all of six seconds to read – “Gravity” by Wes Hotchkiss from his ongoing webcomics gag series The Gentleman’s Armchair.
COUNTDOWN TO MOZ METAL: HEAVY METAL NOVEMBER 1978
The November 1978 issue of Heavy Metal opens with the following angry reader missive: “…your politics are as psychotic and culturebound as those of David Bowie.” HM and The Thin White Duke (who, incredibly, played Melbourne’s very own MCG in November ’78) together at last. My work here could very well be done.
But wait! Further music news awaits us as we get a full page ad for The Cars’ self-titled debut featuring the tremendous “Let The Good Times Roll,” “Just What I Needed” and “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Great band, says Old Man Cam to the kids. Have a listen on me.
Richard Corben continues to illustrate some of comics’ greatest ever sunsets and landscapes as “…Arabian Nights” soldiers on (sans exposed male genitals) with Sindbad entering the land of the Jinn and engaging with an army of skeleton warriors riding winged steeds. Business has picked up here, with the prospect of a full chapter of bonkers Corben battle sequences looming for next issue.
Dionnet and Bilal’s beautifully drawn “Exterminator 17” continues with the knowledge that our reanimated murder-bot may well be inhabited by the soul of his creator who died in the opening chapter. Largely just talking heads, it’s still perhaps the loveliest actionless, psychedelialess sequence in the mag’s history up to this point. Not be outdone, Druillet’s “Gail” heads towards its mental climax with pages featuring mandala-patterned insets and the most evil looking spaceships in the cosmos, “Airtight Garage” is also beautiful. It always is, of course being Moebius, but the artist outdoes himself with this two page chapter, showcasing the expressions of Major Grubert and company gorgeously.
The Frenchies must’ve sent a memo around because Nicole Claveloux also appears to raise her already considerable game with this issue’s “Off-Season,” with some super-fine crosshatching and striking juxtaposition between her hatched and solid blacks. There’s immense depth to her pages with the subtle gradients of her blacks shifting ever lighter or darker depending on her light source or subject. Truly gorgeous pages – any inking aficionado or student would do well to seek this issue out.
Holy smokes, twenty fully-painted Howard Chaykin pages follow, part of his “Empire” project with SF legend Samuel Delany. Delany, noted for being one of the earliest SF writers of colour to rise to spectacular prominence is the kind of writer whose work is always interesting but burdened with the kind of made up, SF mumbo jumbo jargon that makes my mind go blank. Sure, that may sound like Star Wars, but (prequels excluded) those films are front-loaded with fun. Delany…not so much. Still, Chaykin is Chaykin and that’s always a good thing. Far Out costuming and some fittingly grimy world building highlight “Empire” along with blaster fights and endless sand dunes that probably should make me rethink my earlier comparison to Star Wars. Intriguing stuff, if a little stiff as these prose adaptations tend to be in their valiant attempts to please two differing mediums at once.
Shed a tear, for “Heilman” concludes. Heilman, unable to rouse himself back from the dead, watches on from the grave as a young fan, distraught at his idol’s passing shoots himself in the heart at the foot of his fascistically symbolled grave. Paramedics try to save the fan, but fail. Heilman’s ghost somehow visits the boy’s corpse and the dead fan finds himself not only resurrected but able to play all of Heilman’s hits on the rock star’s very own guitar (bequeathed to him by Heilman’s opportunistic manager). Allowed to convalesce for a few days more, Heilman’s successor, along with robot backing band The Rockbots, play a set before a rapturous crowd of music critics. But there is something sinister about Heilman II – a demonic shadow hovers over him, the very demon Heilman initially summoned, and concerts become “Black Masses” with fans “vampirized” by the music, becoming the Black Demon’s slaves. Whatta comic. Goodbye, Heilman, I won’t hold my breath for a fresh collected edition, but what a world it would be if one surfaced.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : PUGS
For those of you dog people feeling left out by last week’s cat bonanza column, here as a peace offering is a video of French cartoonist Boulet drawing some pretty rad pugs. I trust all is now forgiven.