Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Hi again,

Year end lists of most excellent comics are beginning to circulate but like last year mine will come in early January, giving time for last minute stragglers to sneak in before the dust settles on December 31st. Quite a bit of reading to do before then and quite a few titles elbowing and shoving their way into my top 15. It's pretty much a given, however, that you'll find the below title on there.

Before we get to that, however, I keep forgetting to point out that fans Naoki Urarasawa's Master Keaton might want to check out Tokyo Stories: Midnight Diner on Netflix. It's the closest thing I've seen that captures the type of syrupy, over-the-top but completely charming Japanese sentimentalism that Keaton excels at. Set in a tiny, all-night diner, Tokyo Stories focuses on a particular dish every episode and ties the lives and struggles of the diner's customers into it. The mysterious owner/chef plays a bit part in his own series, like Keaton much of the time, and if you have any affection for Japan, you may well feel yourself pining for the place after watching. Great stuff. Master Keaton, by the way, is up to its eight volume, which kicked off with "Special Menu," the ripping tale of Keaton helping a Caucasian man working in a Chinese restaurant in London. Ruddy (that has to be a translation error surely) wants to cook Hong Kong style food, but his boss, an older Chinese gent, refuses to let the white boy cook. That is until Keaton helps him crack the secret ingredients to a very special recipe. Seriously, comics can do anything...

By Taiyo Matsumoto
Translated by Michael Arias
Published By Viz

Concluding in magnificent, tear-inducing fashion is Taiyo Matsumoto's Sunny, a series that, by manga standards, may seem slender at a mere six volumes but had depth and scope far greater than its total page count would appear to allow.

It's 1970s Japan. At Star Kids Home lives a group of children who have either lost or been abandoned by their parents. It's a combined orphanage/foster home of sorts, and the kids who reside there try to move on with their young lives even as they pine for families they no longer have. When the going gets tough for the kids, the tough kids get going. At least their imaginations do. On the property is an old Nissan Sunny and the kids, escaping the world and its perpetual angst, drive it as far as their dreams and their imaginations will allow in spurts of lovely magic realism. The car itself is something of an outcast, left to sit neglected on the property. A quick Google search will reveal the vehicle's generic, boxy design which may hold some retro appeal now, but looks essentially like any other '70s car, unremarkable and average -- it's great "casting" by Matsumoto, the perfect car for the kids to transform into something special through their imaginations and to use as a place to retreat from the world and feel safe in the confines of its chassis.

Volume 5 ended up on last year's Best Of list and it's been a long wait for the arrival of this concluding volume. Based, in part, on Matsumoto's own childhood experiences, there's a tremendously authentic feel to the project as a whole and the author's ability to get inside the minds of his young cast is remarkable. The kids are essentially a gang of misfits, the oversized, mentally challenged Taro, the rebellious, white-haired Haruo, the nerdy, bespectacled Sei, among many others, bound together in a semblance of family, and yet individually each is something of a societal castaway. It's heartbreaking, made even more so by just how lovingly each page is drawn.

Haruo's troublemaking tendencies reach critical mass in this final volume, with a group of local men travelling to Star Kids Home to tell long-suffering supervisor/father figure Mr Adachi to get him under control. "None of these kids is here at the home because they want to be," Adachi responds before bowing in apology to his unsympathetic visitors, "Sure, on the outside they're laughing and singing, but on the inside they're hollowed out. They're miserable because they feel alienated..." The reader is, of course, well aware of this fact, but Adachi spelling it out for his visitors reveals the emotional disconnect the world at large has with these forgotten kids who we are now so very close to. The men, of course, do not care. They have said their piece and, job done, are off to drink some beers.

Earlier in the volume, the kids are taken to Kiddyland on a daytrip. It's chance for them to indulge themselves, have fun and create some new, happier memories. The sprawling theme park, however, has the opposite effect, with the kids finding themselves surrounded by prototypical nuclear families. They rebound emotionally by playing Happy Family, acting out parental and grandparental and sibling roles for one another. It's yet another heart-punch in a book and a series full of them.

Considering the overall tone, it's a clear challenge for Matsumoto to end things upliftingly without squashing the overall realism with some optimistic plot contrivance. Enter, for the final time, the Nissan Sunny, this most unremarkable of cars, for a final trip, a final escape and one of the most singularly perfect images Matsumoto has ever made. Visually beautiful, rich in character, literary in writing, heartbreaking but radiating true warmth, I will miss this book and these very real characters dearly.

By Kate Moon

Melbourne artist Kate Moon arrived at The Nib a couple of week's back with "Why Is The Great Barrier Reef Dying?" an excellent webcomic that details the effects global warming and our government's seeming disinterest are having on the only living structure that can be seen from space. Beginning by outlining the problem, Moon brilliantly moves from cause of coral bleaching to effect, first on the marine life dependant on the reef, then to us humans. There's a lot of information crammed in here, but it's excellently structured and described, leaving readers with no doubt that this is a serious problem and we need to act.

Moon does some lovely work here, highlighted by a long, scrolling panel that details the marine life found around the reef. There's easily room for this project to be expanded into something like the work Maris Wicks and others are doing for Science Comics and, once again this week, we see the variety and flexibility, of comics on full display.


And it's a hearty well done to this particular YouTube uploader who squeezed Taiyo Matsumoto's short story "Universe" into a perfect little 40-second video. Cosmic but simultaneously oh so human, "Universe" is perhaps a perfect introduction to Matsumoto's worlds.

See you next week. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you'll likely never read. He's the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.


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