I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels lately. I don’t know why. Back to back, practically, it was The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga vol. 3 (2008) which was actually rather disappointing. To be fair, I’m not much of a manga fan, which is why I’m always trying to improve my exposure to that genre. The book was quite a worldly mix of styles and genres, and the artists’ genders and nationalities were refreshingly varied. However, the length for inclusion really stunted the writers’ creativity, in my opinion, for as good as the artwork was, few stories really merited it.
I liked Kitsune Tales by Andi Watson and Woodrow Phoenix, with beautifully stylized art and a traditional (though rather bloodthirsty) story about the kitsune (fox/trickster) spirit. I enjoyed the Omake (sort of gag strips) by Laura Howell (I’ve seen her adventures of Gilbert & Sullivan before somewhere; it’s delightfully weird) and Joanna Zhou (her Carlos & Sakura strips were very funny). Ground Zero- The Woge and New York Stories by James Romberger didn’t really seem like manga to me—distinctive and sort of manic, reminding me of Bill Sienkiewicz’s art.
I didn’t quite know how to react to the “Boys Love Story” and “Girls Love Story” genres. Snowfall by Rainbow Buddy was sickeningly sweet and rather pointless slash fiction, in my opinion. White, on the other hand, by Sofia Falkonhelm (for some reason there’s a theme with winter!), was stunningly drawn. Friction Between by Niki Smith was a domestic, rather subtle, “Girls Love Story.” I loved the art of A Dream in Garden by Xia Da and In Manoa by Zhu Letao, but the stories were a bit removed and flat.
Apocalyptia seemed to be the order of the day, with the best example of this genre being Shari Chankhamma’s Ed & Ecchi, a sort of V for Vendetta-like tale with a really cute kitten! It was quite interesting to see the results of the Manga Jimon Competition; Ramen Jimon by Michael Kacar, who was only sixteen when he wrote and drew it, was a rather amusing dissertation on ramen noodles! Darumafish by Gillian Seing Ying Ha, which won first place, was beautifully drawn in a distinctive, watercolor-like style . . . the story was okay.
My favorite piece was Moonlight by Chi-Tan and Chie Kutsuwada. The art wasn’t the most fantastic I’ve ever seen, but it had a clever script involving a ghost!
I Saw You . . . Comics Inspired by Real-Life Missed Connections is much more my style, but then it ought to be: Jamie got it for me for Christmas after we’d worked together on Passion. In contrast to the manga book, not very many of the artists in this are particularly accomplished, but their art is eloquent in that it’s narrative and tells a story. Story, in my opinion, was what some of those manga lacked. The book is long enough and varied enough that it’s a smorgasbord of different styles and different responses to “real-life missed connection ads posted on Craigslist and in local papers around the country” (ie the US). I actually found it really inspiring from an artistic perspective. Plus, I was psyched out by the number of accomplished female comic artists.
You’d be surprised at how many thoughtful variations there are on the theme, and many of them impressively expressed in either 1, 2, or 4 pages. Dan Archer’s tale turns out to be a plea for the identity of his father. Joan Reilly’s winter self wishes for the confidence and beauty of her summer self. Kenny Keil’s clever one-page strip interprets “We exchanged smiles” literally. He also contributed the slightly longer and totally wacko story about Grog the Cave Man and missing his long-dead cavewoman! Indigo Kelleigh’s is thoughtful and poignant and beautifully shows the eloquence of minimalist script. “Looking for My Print Pal” by Matt Leunig has a similar twist: “After a bit, we realized we were both homeless.” “I Was Not This Guy” by Isaac Cates and Mike Wenthe contains the classic argument, I think, that goes through sane people’s head when they consider posting “I saw you” ads: “You’re acting like a creep. Seriously. Posting something like that on Craigslist is borderline stalker behavior.”
I love Kelly Tindall’s for its graphic simplicity and bold style. Shout outs to Jon Adams and J. T. Yost who accomplished a lot of exposition in single-panel stories (I should also mention the latter is one of several risqué entries in the collection that made me wonder if I should be reading the book in a public place!). In a bit of poetic justice I’ll conclude with Dan Mazur’s meeting of two people with the help of John Philip Sousa’s ghost!!
Yes, this is definitely a collection to pick up if you’re at all curious about a) “I saw you” ads; b) contemporary comics artists; c) love bitter and cynical or neurotic and romantic; d) any combination of the three. I will now trawl the artists represented and see if any of them want to contribute to The Terrible Zodin!