Everything is Oll Korrect!

An eclectic bibliophile's journal…

Category: graphic novels

2019 in Bibliophilia

It’s the end of the year, and now that the reminiscing and navel-gazing is over it’s time for the most important year-end festivity, looking at how many books I read. In 2018 I read thirty-six, compared to 2017’s forty-two. This year, I have twenty-nine books recorded in LibraryThing, but this excludes eight volumes of Toriyama Akira’s DragonballZ because they’re part of a box set and so, from LibraryThing’s perspective, are only one book. There’s also The Bowl of Tears and Solace, which isn’t in their catalogue at all last I checked. That brings us up to a more typical thirty-eight, two more than last year.

Since I’ve already mentioned DBZ, that, Ito Juni’s Frankenstein, and the second omnibus volume of Go Nagai’s Devilman make up all nine graphic novels I read this year.

I only read three books of poetry, all by Dante: RimeLa Vita Nuova (my second time reading this one), and a collection called Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the ‘Vita Nuova’. Of those, La Vita Nuova is the best and I can recommend Mark Musa’s translation, but Dante’s Lyric Poetry is nice because it includes ample commentary. Speaking of Dante, I also read Marco Santagata’s fine biography Dante: The Story of his Life and Dante’s prose work on vernacular poetry, De Vulgari Eloquentia, which was more tedious and less interesting, and less focused on poetry, than I’d hoped. Another great poet, Homer, was represented in The Printed Homer: A 3,000 Year Publishing and Translation History of the Iliad and the Odyssey, by Philip Young. One last work of serious literature worth mentioning was Fables françaises du Moyen-Age.

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Frankenstein (Actually, it’s Ito Junji’s Monster)

When I pick up a story by prolific horror artist Ito Junji, there are two things I expect: It’s gonna be good, and it’s gonna be gross. There are a few exceptions at least to the latter point, but his adaptation of Frankenstein delivers on both fronts. If you’re looking for a manga to read for Halloween but want something more classic than Uzumaki or Gyo, this will be a solid choice.

Since comics are a visual medium let’s start with the art. Every panel is filled with detail, and the heavy linework and monochrome colour make the whole story feel appropriately dark and uneasy. Panel layouts are effective throughout the work, and the design of the monster is excellent. Perhaps this sentiment comes from reading it so recently, but thinking through other designs for Frankenstein’s monster, like the 1931 film or Hammer’s movie series among many others, this may be my favourite. He looks appropriately terrifying and obviously stitched-together, but also strong and agile as he is in the novel. I was less excited by the human characters, who all look good but not particularly special. I suppose that’s fine, though, since Frankenstein is best kept relatively realistic to aid suspension of disbelief, so wild character designs aside from the monster may call too much attention to themselves.

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Go Nagai’s Devilman

Go Nagai has long been an artist I’ve been aware of and was interested in perhaps checking out someday, but I only got around to doing so recently. My interest was piqued last year when I watched Yuasa Masaaki’s anime adaptation of Nagai’s comic Devilman, titled Devilman Crybaby. Yuasa is always excellent and this anime was no exception, and as soon as I saw that Seven Seas had published the first half of the original in an omnibus edition I picked it up right away. They released the second and final omnibus late last year and I recently finished it and, though it’s been a while since I last reviewed a comic, I figured I’d share a few thoughts about it.

The protagonist is high schooler Fudo Akira, who isn’t exactly a wimp but definitely doesn’t have much backbone. His friend, rich genius Ryo, asks for his help with something and takes him to a rave crazier than a Chick tract, where crap happens and he ends up merging with a demon, making him part-devil and part-man, Devilman. So, now that he has awesome powers (and a far more aggressive personality) Ryo explains that demons are roaming the earth seeking to destroy humanity, and asks for his help in stopping them. Those who’ve seen Crybaby will know what’s up, and those who are new to Devilman are in for a hell of a ride. As one may expect from only two omnibus volumes, the story is short and keeps up a brisk pace throughout. The first 2/3 or so is more-or-less episodic, with most chapters using action scenes to nudge the plot forward, though a handful of time-travel themed chapters are, frankly, just filler and Crybaby was right to exclude them. The last third is by far the most intense, with betrayals, characters dying left-and-right, and leading up to a contender for the bleakest ending I’ve ever seen in a work of fiction.…

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Is There a Hierarchy Among the Arts?

tezuka_osamuLast weekend I wrote up a recommended reading list as a permanent page, and as I came to the end I briefly considered adding a section for comics, but decided against it because my goal was to direct people to higher art; pop culture already has enough promotion.

While thinking about some of the graphic novels I may have added, I noticed that most of them were works that I’d only really recommend to someone specifically interested in the medium. I took a look at the general fiction section and considered whether I’d encourage anyone to read them before even the relatively lighter works, like The Things They Carried or The Napoleon of Notting Hill, and the answer was no, I wouldn’t.

Why is this? It’s not as though I’m only working from a small sample size; I’ve read dozens of these works, including those that are commonly cited as the best of the medium, like WatchmenThe Dark Knight Returns, a few works by Tezuka Osamu, as well as some more niche titles like Onward Toward Our Noble Deaths or A Bride’s Story. Are comics just inherently an inferior medium? How would one even go about comparing different media?…

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