An enjoyable Guy Delisle piece, like the others, but it suffers from an orientalist viewpoint and contains some really racist moments - such as when hAn enjoyable Guy Delisle piece, like the others, but it suffers from an orientalist viewpoint and contains some really racist moments - such as when he encounters a full-on blackface performance in an amusement park and breezily describes it as just some Chinese folks goofing around in facepaint and dressing up as Africans. I realize that Delisle makes no claims to offering penetrating analysis, but one doesn't need a degree in ethnic studies to have a bit of self-awareness and cultural sensitivity....more
A thrilling, loud read; Nietzsche eschews the niceties of philosophical reasoning and takes up the hammer (as he called it) to pulverize ChristianityA thrilling, loud read; Nietzsche eschews the niceties of philosophical reasoning and takes up the hammer (as he called it) to pulverize Christianity - and pulverize it he does, for all the wrong reasons. Although titled "The Anti-Christ," Christianity is here used as a gateway to his real enemies: the poor, the weak, socialists, women, Jews, Germans, and anyone else he perceives to be less than manly, less than virtuous, to be unwashed in some way or another. It's all supremely exciting, and at the end of the day, supremely hateful and sad. A right-wing screed, not at all the sort of radical nihilist attack on Christianity that his (somewhat false) popular reputation would suggest....more
I consider myself something of a radical - the job of radicals being, in my mind, to challenge the dominant discourse in complex and exciting ways thaI consider myself something of a radical - the job of radicals being, in my mind, to challenge the dominant discourse in complex and exciting ways that serve to pull people out of their lull and realize the many ways in which our current ways of living are simply not good enough, not humane enough, not sustainable enough, not wise enough. What Zinn serves up in the course of his talk is nothing of the sort; although a positive figure in American activist history, he is also something of a cartoon radical, delivering simplistic paeans to The Ordinary Folk, assuring us that "experts" aren't good for much, inveighing against The Elites, reminding us that War Is Bad. I've not read *A People's History of the United States*, but a number of reviews describe it as being thick and well-sourced but offering up a simplistic, good-vs.-evil approach to radical history. This does not surprise me.
Deeply thoughtful intellectual figures abound on the radical Left: Eric Hobsbawm, Judith Butler, Slavoj Zizek, Sartre and De Beauvoir, Antonio Gramsci, Walter Benjamin, Terry Eagleton, Marx and Engels, Foucault, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Eve Sedgwick, Herbert Marcuse, and on and on. The leftist intellectual has become such a stereotype that some right-wing thinkers - capitalist "libertarians," especially - like to cultivate an air of rebellion about themselves, declaring themselves to be against The Academic Establishment and its evil Leftist Hegemony. Milton Friedman was known to do this. Given the embarrassment of riches in radical leftist thought, it is unfortunate that the American public needs a proponent of simplistic dualisms as one of its few icons of radicalism....more
Hadashi no Gen is one of the all-time classics of golden age manga. It began when Keiji Nakazawa, one of the originI've wanted to read this for years.
Hadashi no Gen is one of the all-time classics of golden age manga. It began when Keiji Nakazawa, one of the original crop of shonen manga (boys' comics) artists inspired by Osamu Tezuka, published a 45-page autobiographical story entitled Ore wa Mita ("I Saw It"). The story outlined his experiences as a child survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima - as an aside, it was translated and published in pamphlet form in 1982 by Educomics and is very much worth reading in and of itself, if you can get your hands on a copy. I found mine at the gift shop of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Nakazawa's story was published as part of a series of autobiographical manga, and was apparently a success, as his editor asked him to start a long series on the subject. He did so, this time fictionalizing the story somewhat, changing names and tweaking events to suit the needs of the story. It ran to 10 volumes in the English translation, and I should say that as of writing this review I have read only four (in addition to I Saw It).
Barefoot Gen is a product of a time when long-form manga on serious subject matter was still a new thing, and it should be read with this in mind; Nakazawa was working with the visual vocabulary available to him at that point, which was still largely that of children's entertainments. The story initially ran in Shukan Shonen Jampu (Weekly Boys' Jump), an anthology magazine of comics for adolescent boys. It is drawn with a great deal of exaggeration and a substantial dose of humor, all of which the reader of grim historical tomes on Imperial Japan and Nazism may have some trouble swallowing, but such a reader may in turn be shocked that it does not shy away from or sugar-coat the subject matter one bit. Nakazawa's frankly adorable characters - Art Spiegelman correctly characterizes them as "dewy-eyed" - witness mounds of dead bodies, zombie-like half-dead atom bomb victims with their skin hanging off, mass burnings of human flesh, murder, rape. It is ordinary to see child characters dying of starvation, attempting to kill themselves, or wielding knives in defense of their parents. Sheer apathy towards the pain of bomb victims, really one of the wickedest crimes committed, is a constant theme. Nudity, too, is relatively commonplace - but this reflects differing ideas and standards of what is "decent" and appropriate for children between our culture and theirs. They, after all, are accustomed to communal bathing. We Americans are not.
Simple honesty, neither flinching nor lurid, has got to be this series' greatest strength. There is a sense of humanness that pervades the work, and that raw emotion - that straightforward communication of human feeling - is so effectively delivered that I am able to forgive with relative ease the obvious illustratorial shortcomings from which the work suffers - the artist's inability to properly depict a child's or baby's chest, for example, or his limited ability for posing and facial expression (a weakness from which I also suffer).
This is not to say that Nakazawa's pictorial style is without merits. The backgrounds and environments he provides for his characters can be vivid and rhythmically intense, reflecting both his own memory and his influence from Osamu Tezuka (whose highly textural and curvilinear environmental drawings could serve as musical compositions). While his Tezuka-influenced exaggeration of poses and expressions suffers greatly from his own inferior drawing ability, his environmental drawings do not. While not quite Tezuka-caliber, they serve admirably in a story which is fundamentally about an environment - a city, a homeland - which, both socially and physically, explodes.
Of course, I love the styles of the Japanese comics golden age for their retro charm, being the Japanophile that I am. The oversized eyebrows, heavily lined eyes, and blocky features of Keiji Nakazawa's male figures remind me of Takao Saito's extremely long-running classic assassin manga Golgo 13, which started at around the same time (and runs to this day!). Pioneering works and styles in any art form tend to hold a special charm, and the work of Keiji Nakazawa is no exception.
Barefoot Gen was not just a milestone in manga, but in the journey of Japanese comics to American shores, it having been translated and published here by a team of volunteer peace activists just a couple years after the end of its run in the mid-70s. This made it one of the first manga to be released in English.
The translation is okay, but the lettering is frankly nonexistent. It is hard at times to tell whether a block of preachy and simplistic dialogue is the fault of the translators (who were anti-war activists) or the author himself (who was an anti-war atom bomb survivor targeting a juvenile audience). Either way, if you're not part of the choir he's mostly preaching to, you really need to read this series - and maybe you'll be singing in the peace chorus by the end....more
I was hoping that some of these shorts (I was about to write "short stories," but "stories" would seem to need, you know, -things- and -people- in theI was hoping that some of these shorts (I was about to write "short stories," but "stories" would seem to need, you know, -things- and -people- in them) could provide a visceral new experience, if not "beautiful" or engaging in the way that more traditional comics can be then at least a whole new punch in the gut, akin to listening to experimental noise or drone music.
A couple managed to excite me - most notably R. Crumb's "Abstract Expressionist Ultra Super Modernistic Comics," which I had read previously and already treasured. The core of that piece, though, is a joke on the supposedly highbrow modernist art that Crumb detested. He succeeds at the joke so brilliantly by creating a parody of highbrow modernism much more immediately engaging and better-crafted than most actual modernist art, and yet still appreciable as a masterful and vibrant piece of absurdist abstraction in its own right. As a final zing, the piece parodies both the sly allusions to and extremely indirect evocations of sexuality that pervade various corners of Modernism, while simultaneously making fun of the sexual self-parody in his own work (and perhaps even engaging in said self-parody).
Of course, much of the rest of the material is actually something quite the inverse of Crumb's work - instead of being a complex, fun and zingy parody of conceptual and visual artistic abstraction in comics form, it simply takes that sort of work and introduces, straight-faced, into a sequential format. This means that the bulk of the book suffers from the exact same characteristics that Crumb was satirizing: the great difficulty with which most viewers relate to the work (effectively asking the reader to make most of the communicative effort), the requirement of substantial theoretical knowledge for some of the work to be appreciated at all, the frequent seemingly intentional aversion to communicating any human emotion whatsoever, and accompanying all of that, the assumption that such work must by nature be highly dense and sophisticated, and that a viewer who gets nothing out of it must be dense, uneducated, a simpleton.
I am not about to condemn an entire genre of art; I am a firm believer in the maxim that all genres and forms should be considered at least theoretically capable of producing great work, that one should make a solid effort to approach a work on its own terms, that no form or genre can be proven bad because all of the work in that area has by definition not been produced yet. The new evidence is always coming out. I also understand that different brains loaded with different experiences, ideas, etc. appreciate different qualities in creative works, and that is a good thing - that's how the various genres and forms got established in the first place.
I love me some Andy Goldsworthy, and I find a few of Richard Serra and Pat Steir's works very striking. However, my brain just isn't configured in the right way to find the majority of super-abstract and non-figurative highbrow art, or the majority of concept art, satisfying on a visceral level. This is not for lack of exposure; I have been to plenty of exhibits, looked at plenty of books, taken classes. I live blocks away from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA).
I'll tell you how I do appreciate many of these comics, though: as wonderful technical exercises, explorations of closure, rhythm, layout, movement, color, the nature of the panel, the nature of line, and the evocation of representational forms that may not actually be there. As a comics artist, I find many of these ideas exciting, and would like to use them myself. However, in the completely abstract form in which they are presented, many of these wonderful formalist ideas become simple diagrams, losing much of their impact.
I will mine this book for formal ideas, and for that it should prove valuable. However, most audiences are not comics artists (or connoisseurs), and given that even I have trouble engaging in them as anything other than formal exercises or emotionless idea-grams, I can't give Abstract Comics more than three stars....more
I can think of no better author for this book than Frederik Schodt. He was one of the first American "otaku," a leader in early Japanese-to-English maI can think of no better author for this book than Frederik Schodt. He was one of the first American "otaku," a leader in early Japanese-to-English manga translations and imports, translator of works such as Barefoot Gen, Astro Boy, The Rose of Versailles and Phoenix, writer of the groundbreaking Manga! Manga!, and personal friend of Osamu Tezuka. He's done so much to establish Japan as a major cultural producer internationally that he was given the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government in 2009, AND the Tezuka Cultural Prize in 2000. He doesn't just know his material - he's been intimately involved with it for decades.
Astro Boy Essays was an easy and engaging read, given my high level of interest in the material, and I found it to be built in such a way that it was both plugged into the moment in which it was written and of lasting value. Manga! Manga! is written in this way, as well: though very much a product of the late '80s, its value as a primer history of manga up to that point and as a snapshot of manga culture at the time remains high.
Schodt's writing style is journalistic more than it is scholarly, and you won't find any complex sociological theories here - but for what it is, his work is damned near perfect, and his influence has been enormous.
As for Tezuka-Sensei himself, what needs be said? Certainly a worthy subject....more
This admittedly has additional stars from me simply because I harbor an aching love for Franklin C. Ware, and paging through his sketchbooks feeds thaThis admittedly has additional stars from me simply because I harbor an aching love for Franklin C. Ware, and paging through his sketchbooks feeds that aching love of mine by giving me a look into his creative process. Seeing both familiar and unfamiliar strips and characters in their gestational stages and watching Ware develop them in different directions, getting a looksee at his simple sketching practice, seeing him copy other cartoonists - Rube Goldberg, R. Crumb - and try out cartoon styles he never uses in finished work... There are many treasures here. One of the special features unique to the two Acme Novelty Datebooks (as far as I'm aware) is the plethora of more realistic figure drawings in various styles and media, including graphite, pen, and amazingly free and loose brushwork. I admire him all the more for his exceedingly tight work knowing that he is not chained to it - knowing that he can also be gestural, and can attain beautiful results in so doing.
It is also wonderful to be able to read his pages of miniscule notes, recounting dreams and experiences, outlining strip ideas, trying out layouts, and first developing the stories and characters that I have come to love so much. Many drawings have written criticisms beside them; many others have written griping: creative block, headaches, obsessions, sexual frustrations. Many of the same concerns that are so artfully laid out in the finished Acme Novelty Library editions are more directly and personally dealt with here: images of sexual frustration that are more direct and Crumbian than I'm used to from Ware are common.
This also makes Chris Ware more accessible and less intimidating to me as a fellow artist, and is inspiring in pushing me to pay more attention to my own sketching process and generally sketch more. Seeing this work seems to be the nudge I need to respect sketchbooks and take them more seriously as brewing pots for ideas.
That being said, much of the above is probably a bit obvious; if you're not a drooling fan like I am, you may well not care about the contents of the Datebook a whole lot.
The book is as beautifully designed and built as one would expect a Chris Ware book to be, and is done up in what I would call a mainstay Ware style. The main goody he's hidden in plain sight is a small circular timeline of his life on the front cover, which is exploded with added detail on the back.