Monthly Archives: June 2012

Fairy Tail!


I first encountered Fairy Tail by Hiro Mashima a few years ago by way of a blog called Hot Fictional Guys. One day, the blog had a post featuring a ad for the anime. I was struck by Gray Fullbuster and his penchant to be shirtless more often than not. A few more posts on the seires followed, I think, each one increasing my interest in the series.

So, one day while I was in Barnes and Noble, I happened to be perusing the manga shelves when I saw Fairy Tail volumes available. Curious about it, I picked up the first volume(along with some Naruto).

And damn, but I was impressed. I have to say that, aside from One PieceInu Yasha, and Pluto this is the first volume of a work that I’ve really liked. Usually, I really dislike first volumes of manga (like Naruto and Fullmetal Alchemist).

From that first volume, I was hooked. Though I only possess four of the nineteen released volumes (1, 7, 13 and 14), I am incredibly lucky that my local library has a standing order on the series. I have read the entire series (as its been officially released in English) twice so far. And I’m looking forward to rereading the series again when either 20 or 21 is released.

So, what has me so passionate about the series, even as I’m falling out with most of the manga I’ve read? I think it is because Fairy Tail has been consistently excellent from its beginning. And the series is getting better with each new arc.

Mind you, there is a fair bit of formula in Fairy Tail, but it is a winning formula, if you ask me. Each chapter, each volume leaves me excited and satisfied. And that, I think, is a sign of a good series.

Are there deeper meanings, too? Yes. The role of friendship in making characters stronger. And there is much to the argument that Fairy Tail Guild acts as an alternative family. There are also questions of redemption and motivation. Can Jellal be redeemed? Why does Laxus act the way he does? And Master Jose?

Outside of these deeper themes, the series is also highly imaginative in its presentation of magic. Magic is rather like a learned mutant or metahuman power. Personally, I like this usage of magic. Perhaps, some look into this series as an example of dungeon punk is in order.

Moving on to the characters, I enjoy so many of them that it is hard to pick a favorite. Even the villains and minor characters are extremely well done. The interplay with the characters, how they complement and bounce off each other is, oftentimes, very well done. Hell, who really is the primary protagonist? The secondary protagonist? And, what exactly is Lucy’s role? I’ve blogged before about the difficulty of figuring out Lucy’s role. As the story progresses, it gets even harder. Is she “just” the effective narrator? Or does she have a larger role to play?

Now, a lot of these questions will be answered when the series finally reaches a conclusion. As it stands, it is likely to go beyond Mashima’s first series, Rave Master. But how much longer is the question. Could this series extend into the forty or even fifty volume range?

Whatever the answer is, I look forward to the journey. I first came to this series because of images of Grey Fullbuster shirtless. In the years that followed, I have come to love this series for the great story telling and art. So, maybe the lesson should be, you never know what will lead to gems. It could be anything. Even a hot shirtless character.

MonkeyBrain Comics (Redux) and Creator Owned Comics

I want to take another look at MonkeyBrain Comics outside of the controversy surrounding Roberson’s exit from DC Comics. Now, I haven’t been able to find out much more about MonkeyBrain than I did when I last posted. So, expect a third post to come when the press release hits next week.

As I said in my last post, I hope this venture is a success. I really hope so. I hope MonkeyBrain Comics will join the other creator owned comics publishers as a home for creators who wish to own their own work.

But, I can’t help the niggling doubts I have. MonkeyBrain Books hasn’t published since 2010 (and that a single anthology). What happened to MonkyBrain Books? Did it go on hiatus? Is it, perhaps, being retooled into MonkeyBrain Comics? Will it be relaunched? Given new life?

And will whatever happened to MonkeyBrain Books happen to MonkeyBrain Comics after a few years? I hope my fears are for naught and MonkeyBrain is a great success.

I agree with Joey Esposito of IGN Comics that more independent and creator owned publishers are needed in the comics industry. Check out the recent IGN Assemble podcast for his arguments for more independent and creator owned publishers.

Now, I do fault myself for being a bit of a DC fanboy. I need to read and buy more independent and creator owned titles. And that, I think, is another pledge I’m making- to take the time and effort to seek out creator owned comics (and maybe promote my local comics shops, too). Maybe something like the Russ Pledge is in order to bring attention to comics that aren’t published by Marvel and DC.

With the emergent success of The Walking Dead not only in the trades but also (apparently) in the individual issue releases, is this a sign that maybe, just maybe, creator owned comics are finally standing up to the comics superpowers? I hope so.

At the end of it all, will comics other than Marvel and DC’s superheroes be as successful? Only time, patience, and diligence will tell.

But for me as someone who wants to write comics, I am keenly interested in and hopeful for the future of creator owned publishers. Right now, my goal is not to write comics for DC or Marvel, but to write the comics that I created and own.

 

Dropping Naruto

I’ve fallen out with Naruto. I’ve had it. Now, this series has been teetering on the precipice for some time now with me. But finally, the series as made a leap off that cliff and is currently plunging deep into the abyss. So, why am I dropping Naruto?

Because the Fourth Shinobi World War arc sucks. Has any named character from the Allied Shinobi Forces been killed yet? No. Now, the status of Yamato, Anko, and Samui are up in the air, but that is it. If this is a war, then there should be more death and losses on the hero’s side. The heroes should be loosing until the turning point. Not winning every damn battle.

My frustration with the series was crystalized when I read The Sinestro Corps War and Justice League: Cry for Justice. Compared to those two comics, Naruto falls far short. Hell in TSCWit is made fairly apparent that Sinestro actually won. The whole purpose of the war is to force the Guardians into taking the actions they did. And the good guys have losses, maybe not major characters, but the body count is considerably higher than in Naruto so far.

Mind you, I’ve torn into Naruto several times over the course of this blog. The Invasion of Pain royally pissed me off because of the mishandling of Naruto’s reactions and the whole thing with Hinata, The Five Kage annoyed me because of super Sasuke, and how much potential was wasted with Dark Naruto? It’s a miracle that I kept up with this series as long as I did.

Hell, so far, there are only two arcs that I’ve actually liked (Hidan and Kakuzu and the Hunt for Itachi). And I utterly hate the first volume, so would I have even continued the series if I had started with volume 1? Honestly? No.

But now, even though the series is coming to its end, I’ve decided to give it up. I’m tired of it. The series has, honestly, been going downhill for years now. But, I’m not going to be continuing on from here on out.

Taking a step back from Naruto and exploring manga as a whole, I seriously think that I’m falling out of love with the whole genre. I couldn’t get into Blue Exorcist volume 4, Card Captor Sakura was decent, I didn’t care for X, I’ve dropped Bleach months ago, etc. The only series I really care about anymore is Fairy Tail.

So, I’m pretty much done with manga. I may come back to it later, though. But I wonder, is there something to the idea that some of these long series could benefit from creative team changes?

A Rant of Hot and Cold

I don’t like George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I remember fully reading A Game of Thrones and being impressed that it wasn’t the usual dreck that I read. Which consisted mostly of the old Tor Conan pastiches. This was ten years ago. Then, about 2o03, I picked up A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords. I skimmed those two novels. And I was not impressed. Now, almost a decade later, I have no desire to go back and give them another look. Why?

My problem with ASoIaF is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be. At first, the historic-political elements of the novels are balanced by the high/ epic fantasy elements. But as the series gains in popularity and the series has to be approaching its conclusion (if there are still to be seven novels), the stronger fantasy elements seem to be thrust into the back seat. And the game for that damned Iron Throne takes center stage. (As an aside, I also think the series is too bloated).

The series, when advertised for the HBO adaptation, is described as The Sopranos meets The Lord of the Rings. Am I the only one who goes ugh? Am I the only one who really does not want this kind of fantasy?

I think I shall start calling the school of fantasy that has developed around Martin the historicist school of fantasy. Or just historicist fantasy. Now what is this new genre? Well, it is a constructed world fantasy that utilizes history as inspiration and the basis for world building. It is separate from historical fantasy in that it does not take place on Earth.

And I really don’t like this type of fantasy. If I wanted to read fantastical visions of history, I’d read historical fantasy. Or I would actually read a history book. Which would be more entertaining.

What I want is fantasy not history. I want myth not realism. Often, verisimilitude and the suspension of disbelief is brought up in critical discussions of fantasy. Maybe I just have an easier time of accepting the world building, but I could give a crap if a writer inserts bales of hay or gets the weaponry wrong or neglects religion. I don’t care. Is the story good? Can I see it in my mind’s eye?

This brings me to the grimdark fantasy. I’m honestly not very interested in them, either. I did enjoy reading Morgan’s The Steel Remains and liked Polansky’s Low Town far more than I thought I would. But Bakker, Abercrombie, etc.? No, thank you.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of darkness in what I read. But, I like that darkness mixed with almost an equal measure of light. I want joy with sadness; I want hope with despair. I don’t want a continual parade of despair and horror.

I guess what I’m yearning for is a rediscovery of the fantastic, of pushing the boundaries of the imagination out from what we have.

Will I ever write a historicist fantasy? Maybe. But if I do, I want to do it right. I want to write the type of story that I would enjoy.

 

MonkeyBrain Comics?

So, a few months ago, Chris Roberson created a brief internet storm in the comics community when he blasted his then employer DC Comics for their ethics. And DC promptly terminated his contract. At the time, and to this day, I still have the impression: Chris Who?

Roberson is back in the news now with MonkeyBrain Comics, an offshoot(?) of Roberson’s own MonkeyBrain Books. The details are still sketchy (apparently, there is some kind of press conference scheduled in about twelve days). Hopefully, questions about this new venture will be answered then.

How do I feel about this? Honestly, I’ll reserve judgement on MonkeyBrain itself until after the press conference. But, I am not so sure about the whole thing.

On the one hand, I’m excited about publishers being based out of Austin. It is a wonderfully wacky and weird city that should have an increasing cultural role. I love that city, so I’m thrilled that MonkeyBrain Books is headquartered there.

But, on the other hand, I checked out the website, and MonkeyBrain has not published anything since 2010 (unless their website is out of date). And that was a single anthology. I’m not sure exactly how many people are working for MonkeyBrain, so I don’t know if the company is chained to Roberson’s activities or not.

And this brings me to my fears over MonkeyBrain Comics: Stu Levy. Is MonkeyBrain doomed to a similar fate that Tokyo Pop was? If the company is successful, will it survive a shift in the publisher’s artistic interest?

I am all for independent and creator owned comics. But, there is something about this whole situation that does not sit well with me.

I think it is the suspicion that Roberson engineered his termination at DC to promote (after a few months) MonkeyBrain.  All of this talk of “independents” and plays off of Independence Day leaves a bad taste, in my opinion.

As asked elsewhere, if Roberson truly felt so strongly about DC’s ethics, then why work for the company for years? Why continue to accept their money? Why wait till now to publicly complain about it? And why use that controversy (which probably only a small number of comics fans actually care about) to promote your own venture?

Will MonkeyBrain Comics be a success? Time will tell. I don’t think the patriotic marketing campaign will really prove successful. Rather, what will make or break this new company will be the books and series they publish. Will they be good series? Will they grab the shop owner and the comic fan’s attention? Or will they languish on the shelves of the largest comic shops? And will the company (and the creators associated with it) be held hostage to the creative endeavors of Chris Roberson?

We’ll have to wait and see.

A Hypothetical: Making a Career in Manga (OEL) Style

I contemplated writing in a manga style for a time before settling on American style comics for those ideas of mine that demand to be comic books. But, Ihave never quite let go of ideas that could possibly help young artists (and writers) who want to work in manga.

The first question one has to answer is: Is there a genuine demand, a possible market, for original manga created outside of Japan that does not tie in or adapt other media? It is clear that any such demand is a tiny fraction of the demand for Japanese manga. The key, possibly, is to produce a series that is compelling and accessible that creates an increased demand.

So, there is a young artist who wants to get into manga. What should she/ he do? There is always art school. Now, I won’t pretend to know what type of education beyond just art a typical art school provides. But, I suspect going to a traditional university may be a better bet for a burgeoning manga artist. Now, if doing only art is the goal, art school may be the best option.

But to be a manga artist also means that one has to be able to tell a story (unless there is a writer collaborating). So, I would recommend majoring in art and minoring (or double majoring) in creative writing. While I’m at it, ask around and see what types of business classes would be good for artists to take. A tragedy of arts education is that the business side of it is typically neglected.

Once that is out of the way, what should our hypothetical artist do? Well, getting one’s name out there is certainly key. So, be willing to work on adaptations and (maybe) super hero comics. Have a web presence that showcases your work. Maybe just samples or an entire web comic.

Now, what to do when it comes time to create one’s own series? Right now, the manga market is rather depressed. While this means that it is unlikely that any of the major surviving manga publishers are actively looking for “home grown” manga talent, it does not mean that one cannot get lucky (and it does not hurt to submit a proposal). But, I think there may be another option.

Part of the problem with self publishing is that, often, it comes across as  having poor quality and polish. Now, there is a trend for self published writers to take the time to make their work as professionally polished as possible. This is a great development, but I do not know how long it will be before the stigma is eased.

So, here is my idea. Take a page from creator owned comics and work on producing your own publishing company (or group). Find like minded manga enthusiasts and artists and create a webzine similar to Shonen JumpWeekly Shonen, etc. There are a number of excellent web magazines in existence that can provide inspiration (like Clarksworld and Lightspeed). Focus on web and e publishing before taking on print. And finally, do not be afraid to market outside of manga fandom.

So, this is my, perhaps, dumb idea on how a manga artist could break into the industry. So, I wonder, can it work and be a success?

Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus Book 3 Review

It has been a few months since I last read CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura. I’m honestly still surprised by how much I liked the first two omnibuses. Now, I’ve finally read the third omnibus. To be honest, I am not as enthusiastic about the volumes in this book as I was about the first half of the series. Why?

Well, I think the problem with the second half of the series is that there is very little suspense. It is pretty apparent right from the get go that Eriol is the main antagonist of this half of the series. There is no attempt to hide what he is up to, although Sakura and her friends are unaware of what is going on. Though, perhaps, it should be apparent. I mean, who helped Sakura with Yuki’s teddy bear? And Ruby Moon is not very subtle in stating her intentions, is she?

Another issue I have with this half of the series, so far, is the fact that it mirrors the first half of the series. Yes, the first half of the series is about Sakura collecting the Clow Cards and proving her worthiness to be their master. And yes, the second half is about Sakura transforming the cards into her cards with Eriol forcing her into that necessary change.

My problem lies in the fact that both arcs are so heavily tied in with Clow Reed. Are there now wizards of note beyond those connected to Clow Reed in this world? Could Sakura not face someone with no connection to Clow Reed?

That said, the characterizations are still delightful. And, of course, the real dramatic quality of the series lies in the various comedic romantic entanglements that the characters find themselves in. Though the development of these plots are a little slow, it is nice seeing the recognition from Toya and Sayoran in regards to their romantic interests. The final image is especially powerful, I think.

I’m disappointed with this half of the series so far, but since there are only three volumes left, I will likely check them out of the library when I can. I hope the final volume sees a return to form. But I will have to save my final analysis of the series until then.

Double Issue Review

Today, I have two reviews of the first two issues of Dial H and Earth 2. Now, the easy review would be that I love both series and urge everyone to check both out. But, to do a just review, one must utilize depth.

Dial H

From the brilliant and creative mind of China Mieville, this series has all of the elements that makes a great Mieville story. The series follows Nelson, an obese out of luck Londoner, who happens on the H Dial when his friend is attacked by the gangsters he works for. Thus begins the random heroic career of a most unlikely superhero.

And that’s the key. Nelson should not be a super hero, but he is. And that, I think, makes this series work so well. Nelson is not even an everyman. He is someone no body would want to be. He doesn’t even want to be himself. Which introduces an amazing series of characterization shots.

Indeed, beyond the superhero surface is a heartfelt and compassionate study of identity and the desire to become someone else, someone heroic.

The progression of the series has so far been fast paced and addicting. And the villains have so far been very cool and extremely weird.

Mieville has found an excellent partner in Mateus Santolouco and the rest of the art team. My goodness, the art is gorgeous in a weird, somewhat surrealist style.

For those of you who have not checked out Dial H, what are you waiting for? Do it now!

Earth 2


To begin this review, one must acknowledge the controversies surrounding it. For one thing, the revelation of Alan Scott as a gay man in this new universe. And, of course, there are the deaths of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman in the first issue during the final battle with the forces of Apokolips.

The thing is, you see, this series is a radical departure from the usual Earth Two depiction. Instead of these heroes existing in a Golden Age of Super Heroes, these heroes (Scott, Garrick, etc.) are the second generation of heroes (or wonders as the residents of Earth 2 call them).

James Robinson has embarked on something akin to an superhero epic. The old heroes, hell the old gods, are dead. Who will take their place when the world needs new heroes? I look forward to that answer.

The first issue is powerful and heart breaking. Especially the relationship between Batman and his daughter, Robin. And that last scene, wow.

The second issue picks up with the introduction of the Flash (Jay Garrick). In this reality, he gains his powers from a dying god (guess who). So, much of this issue is built around him learning how to use his new powers and his first experiences as a hero. Indeed, his growth as a character is very well done. He is, I think, going to develop in to a fine hero.

Less time is devoted to Alan Scott and the newly arrived Michael Holt. I look forward to seeing how Mr. Terrific integrates into this new world.

Moving on to the future Green Lantern, the handling of his sexuality and his love life is excellently handled. There is a touching frankness to it that is deceptively simple to achieve. And Robinson achieves it. Now, the question is, what will happen to Sam? That final splash does not look good for him. Again, making a reader worry for a newly introduced character mere moments after their introduction is an excellent achievement.

The art team on this book led by Nicola Scott is excellent. Again, I think the series is very well served by the art.

This series has me dying to know what is coming for the future Justice Society.

If you haven’t checked this series out, why the hell not. Get to it! Now!!

To Create a World or Not

Yesterday during a brainstorming session, an idea struck me. When is it appropriate to utilize a secondary or constructed world in a fantasy story (or a science fiction story for that matter)? What are the advantages of creating and utilizing a constructed world rather than our own Earth? What, maybe, are the disadvantages? Are writers maybe too willing to utilize constructed worlds in their stories when our own consensus world would be a better setting? Now, I could bloviate as a blogocritic, but I rather don’t want to. I want to rather work through this as a writer myself.

A project I’ve been working on for a while has been predicated on being a constructed world. But yesterday, I realized that I don’t need that world to be constructed from scratch. That the project works just as well, if not better, set in a, perhaps, highly mutated, weird, and fantastic version of Earth had never occurred to me.

Once this leap was made, I realized that I don’t have to rack my brain trying to come up with fictional names of planets, countries, states and provinces, cities, species, and people. I can just use Earth as the backdrop for some really strange adventures. That’s what I meant by the highly mutated comment.

This new direction also opens up avenues of deeper and more complex interrogations and explorations of issues that a secondary world may not readily allow.

So now I have to question, why was I so hell bent on a secondary world in the first place? I don’t quite know. The earliest iteration of this now mutated idea was set in a strange and terrifying postapocalyptic or dying earth setting on earth. Now, elements of that original idea have spored out and become a beast of its own. Gradually I had the idea of creating a constructed world based on the early twenty first century. But while that idea may be fun, I really do not know if it really has a chance of working. Then I began to gravitate more and more around creating worlds inspired by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (roughly “steampunk” and “dieselpunk”). And I’ve flirted with modernizing the ancient world, but while that idea has merit, the story never quite fit.

Now I’m excited and happy with these developments. And I don’t have to worry too much about sounding silly when I have to create a lot of fantasy names. Particularly since all of them pretty much were Earth based in some way anyway. So, I think, it is easier to avoid some of this flak to begin with.

This is not to mean that I won’t ever use constructed worlds in anything I do. I have some ideas floating around now that would probably work better being set in constructed worlds rather than being set on Earth. But I think it is important to question at the outset whether or not a constructed world trumps setting a story on Earth rather than Fantasy World 239 or something.

I haven’t touched on, yet, the possibilities and dangers of so mutating and weirding Earth as to make it virtually a constructed world on its own. This, I think, really raises questions about creating secondary worlds and what makes them different from Earth. How heavily mutated does Earth have to be before it is a certified secondary world? Very interesting question. I’ve read arguments calling the Wizarding World of the Harry Potter a secondary world. But I don’t know if I really agree with that argument.

Well, my niece is getting impatient with me, so I’m going to have to cut this post here. I may update this post if   I get the chance.

200: A Potpourri of Writing, Comics,Texas Politics, and Current Children’s Cartoons

I had intended this post to explore my love for Fairy Tail, but I decided to wait until I read volume 19. So, it could be a while. Instead, I have a potpourri post up tackling some issues that have been bugging me over the past week or so. Let’s begin with:

Texas Politics

I’m dejected right now. Seriously, should I even bother to vote? Yeah, I could just vote for President Obama and the democratic senate nominee then ignore the rest of the ballot. But still, this is depressing.

What I find so distressing is the real weakness of the Texas Democratic Party in my area. I’ve checked and no Democrat is running for our congressional seat, or state house seat, or seat on the state board of education. Who am I to vote for, the Libertarian candidate if he/ she is less egregious than the Republican candidate?

Well, I guess that is what you get for having a one party state…

Next topic is . . .

Current Children’s Cartoons

This is an example of me putting my foot in my mouth. I had, for years, believed that PBS’s children’s shows were the best. But having watched many cartoons geared at children with my niece, I have come to the conclusion that I am wrong.

Dora the ExplorerGo, Diego, Go!Ni Hao, Kai-lanPocoyo, Yo Gabba Gabba, etc. are all very good. And they’re all on Nick. That’s not to say that PBS’s offerings are any worse than I remember. But, PBS is not the only show in town anymore when it comes to excellent and educational children’s programming.

It is always nice to be proven wrong.

Moving on to . .  .

Comics of two subjects

The rumors are true, Alan Scott is revealed to be gay in Earth 2 #2. Personally, I love this development. Reading James Robinson’s interview about his processes in making the decision is highly informative and, I think, paints DC in a much better light than a number of fans seem willing to grant. Unlike Northstar’s wedding next month, DC had not intention of announcing it. Dan Didio answered a question at a convention. The media (both comic and not) took it from there.

Despite the fact that gay and lesbian characters are becoming more common in all sorts of media, the inclusion and introduction of gay characters still draws media attention, however the company approaches the issue.

One aspect of this whole event is how much it reveals about the relative ignorance of how the creation of a comic book actually works. Robinson has been planning this book for at least eight months. And the same is true of Marjorie Liu’s run on Astonishing X-Men. Comic books are not produced on the fly. It takes months of planning, editorial input, rewrites, artwork, etc. to produce a final product.

Speaking of writing, I’m wondering if one of the problems with global manga may be issues of writing. Whenever I read articles on creating global manga, I mostly see it discussed almost exclusively in terms of art  rather than writing.It is important to remember that sequential art tells a story. And that story requires some form of writing. To be a successful manga artist, one needs both excellent art skills and strong writing skills.

But regardless of my own feelings on the matter, I look forward to Deb Aoki’s look at ways to correct the sorry state of American manga.

Now finally. . .

More writing

As I have stated before, it is important for writers in this day and age to be willing to produce works in multiple formats. From novels and short stories to video games, comics, movies, etc all should be on the table at least in the contemplative stages. Now, some of these formats are harder to break into than others and all have their own intricacies when it comes time to shop your ideas and work around. And, at the end of the day,  you may find yourself preferring one or two formats rather exclusively. The key thing is, I think, to explore one’s options to the fullest.

And this is true of how one publishes. I’ve gone on record that I prefer a more traditional approach to publishing, but I also think that all writers need to be aware of what e-publishing offers. Personally, I would feel like a hypocrite if I rooted exclusively for self e-publishing. How can I write about this subject when I don’t have an e-reader?

Anyway, that’s it for my 200th post.  I’ll try to get a few more posts up later this weekend.