What I'm Lookin' At

A column article by: Park Cooper

A review of the popular-culture-related things Barb and I have been lookin’ at lately...

--Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq, by Mark Alan Stamaty; Knopf, 2004

The art certainly isn't very pretty, but I suppose it isn't a pretty war, as somebody probably already said at some point. If you don't mind the editorial-cartoon-level art (no one can tell me I'm being cruel, because that's what this author's day job normally is), this short book about an Iraqi librarian who, with her friends, started smuggling out and hiding the books from the main Baghdad library because she could just tell that something bad was going to happen to the building... And it did. But first, she and her friends got many thousands of books out, some of them irreplacable, hiding them in their own homes and businesses that made for much less appealing targets for bombs and missiles. Barbara thought it was pretty good, my mother (always an accurate test of the casual reader) liked it, she went and told the librarians at the elementary school where she works about it, "because it teaches kids the value of libraries and books!" There's more historical facts about libraries in the back, mostly about how when Genghis Khan or the Vandals or who-have-you move in and pillage, they always like to go for the libraries, so as to help stamp out that culture... scary (especially for librarians and other bibliophiles)!

--Tyrannosaurus Beth #1, by Matthew Petz; Monster Island Media, 2008

I left NYCC 2009 on a Friday evening as the floor was closing... on my way, I passed a cold and lonely little comic wrapped in mylar that was just lying on a low stone wall. "My name is Tyrannosaurus Beth," said the little lost comic, "and as you can see from my title and my cover, my pages contain a story that in some way involves a Tyrannosaurus and a girl named Beth." the comic squeaked.

"Why, that’s one of the least-stupid things I’ve heard all day!" I exclaimed, and off we went. This story by a former Zuda contestant (although Tyrannosaurus Beth was not in fact his Zuda entry) is a delightful tale of a girl who one day had some dental work done by a very strange and creepy dentist who apparently had replaced her regular dentist. To this day, whenever she eats anything particularly sweet, she is able to choose to turn into a T-Rex for a while. Bank Robbery? Large robot running amok? No problemas for a T-Rex with the mind of a cheerful young Latina! Frankly, the intimidation factor often does most of her work for her. Where will she go next? What will happen in her future adventures? Will that mad scientist ever get back to her and explain what the heck this is all about? Unanswered questions all, which do not remotely bother you as you enjoy the pleasant affair that is Tyrannosaurus Beth.

--Marvel: Your Universe (Saga), by employees of Marvel Comics; Marvel, 2008

Another comic, if you can call it that, which I picked up for free at SDCC (because, you know, they were giving them away for free) was this little floppy explaining the events of the last year-and-a-half-or-so in the Marvel Universe. You don't really think about things so much when you get them one-at-a-time, but the effect of adding it all up is sort of mind-boggling, considering it all happened just in the last year or so... I can say no more. But the results are... somewhat interesting.


You can pick them up readily enough on EBay.

That in itself, says something, but I don't know what.


While I was busy networking at NYCC, some companies, like, actually made announcements about important things! Why in the world would anyone announce anything at a convention? All the journalists are on the con floor trying to get jobs/get their pet projects published! But sure enough, that's what Yen Press did, and boy is this one important, seriously:

Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma - Starting with volume 6, Yen Press will be picking up this comedy series from the creator of Azumanga Daioh. For those not familiar with the series, it’s the story of an energetic girl named Yotsuba and her encounters with everyday objects. Her enthusiastic curiosity is both hilarious and heartwarming, and we are very pleased to be releasing the rest of this fantastic story.

WOW! (What they don't say is "Because ADV Manga has proven unable to do so for reasons no one is privy to." Go ahead, try to call ADV and talk to them about this. Ask them about volume 2 of Blue Inferior, too, I dare you. But Yen Press is stepping in to continue the magic!) YAY! Librarians and people who like fun stories, rejoice!

--Ikigami: The Ultimate Limit

Like Battle Royale meets Confidential Confessions... only more of a downer. A terrible, horrible, evil country (Battle Royale started this trend of allowing Japan to vent about things it doesn’t like about... gee, I don’t know, could we be thinking of North Korea maybe?) inoculated everyone against diseases... but because of something intentionally added to the syringes, one in one thousand is going to die suddenly sometime in their very late teens or very early twenties... Partly to make us realize how precious the gift of life is, but mostly to underscore what it’s like to have a government that’s ready to kill you at any time if you get out of line—which they also do, any time anyone gets out of line and speaks up against the government. Depressing, and so far there’s no way out in sight.

--The Baby’s Room

A horror film from Spain. Juan and his wife move into a new house with their new cute baby... but they hear a weird voice over the baby monitor. Juan discovers the joy of _video_ baby monitors... and starts SEEING a shadowy guy through the baby monitor... and worse. He finds out that his house is sort of in-between realities... and then the movie all falls apart and ends up really sucking. Often, the only thing worse than a BAD horror movie... because we’ve all seen those, and they can sometimes be sort of fun... is a horror movie that could have been really good but they screwed it up and failed. The farther from the beginning they do this, in general, the more you resent it, and guess what: I resent The Baby’s Room.

--Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan; Pantheon Books, 2008

Guess what yet again: back in the day, Batman existed in manga form in Japan. Here is a collection of some of it. This is a pretty cool book, actually, if you like dated camp... and I am capable of liking dated camp, to a point (we own six copies of Bride of Deimos in this house, after all). But there is one noticeable flaw: it gets boring whenever they make up bad guys, and is therefore only interesting when they are doing their take on Batman’s usual rogues’ gallery, such as Clayface.

--Conan: The Frost-Giant's Daughter And Other Stories, by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord
Dark Horse, 2005

This was actually pretty good. I have read everything good by ol’ Robert E. Howard EXCEPT Conan, so I was wondering how a comic of Conan wouldn’t get same-y. The answer is by adding in the Sorcery element into Sword-and-Sorcery whenever the pot needs a bit of spice. It works fine, really... in fact I would argue that this is rather better than, say, past attempts I’ve seen to render Moorcock’s albino Elric into comic book form...

--The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels
by Danny Fingeroth with some illustrations by Roger Langridge
Rough Guides Ltd, 2008

Better than one might think.

Every time I pick up any sort of guide or index to graphic novels these days, they tend to marginalize, put down, slight, and/or ghettoize manga. Or else they just do it wrong. They certainly show that they don’t approve of manga and that mention of manga is only there because their publishers/money-loving hearts made them include manga so that the book would sell better.

But THIS book doesn’t seem to have that problem, or at least it’s not jumping out at me on very casual inspection (I’m afraid to sniff too closely at each sentence, since I don’t WANT to find such an attitude), thereby putting this guide very very very much in the noble minority these days.

I do wonder about listing Megatokyo in the manga chapter, though... so much for 10 million American manga fans (and Chynna Clugston, as I seem to specifically recall) telling me that “manga is defined as comics created and originally published in Japan”. I always disagreed anyway, but... Megatokyo, eh? I’m on your side about this IN GENERAL, Danny, but did you run this idea past the last 10,000,001 American manga fans I talked to?

Of even more interest to me was: the “included graphic novel!” that comes with this book—Fingeroth and Langridge did a little graphic novel about making graphic novels. What fascinates me is that the artist is a dude but the writer he finds to work with is a female! Why, it's as if Fingeroth respects the concept of women who can create-- indeed, WRITE-- comics and graphic novels! Golly, wotta concept.

It is a little odd how they show that the big companies want to ruin the creators’ work, so they self-publish, and immediately are picked up by a small indie company... there were a few cases where I wanted to say “what’re you trying to say, Danny?” but I have to admit... that’s about as realistic of a hypothetical example as one can probably get...

--Disappearance Diary
by Hideo Azuma
Fanfare/Ponent Mon 2005 (Japan)/2008 (in English)

The artist/creator has had three times in his life when he just couldn’t take the pressure any more and dropped out of his own life.

Part 1: He can’t stand the manga industry any more and becomes a homeless man, eating stuff he finds on the street and smoking the best cigarette butts he can find.

Critique: This is the least likable part. Azuma, stop that and get back to work. People aren’t supposed to choose to do this until they have absolutely no other options. You could have gotten manga work, or even other work, and you weren’t on drugs, and you weren’t insane enough to be an insane homeless person, so just cut that out.

Part 2: He drops out of his life again and gets a job in the natural gas/pipe fitting/utilities industry.

Critique: This is better than last time, and yet, at the same time, boring. Azuma, if you’re going to chuck your manga career, that’s up to you, but if your new job isn’t interesting, don’t make a manga about it later.

Part 3: He drops out of his life again, this time to go into rehab for being a truly, seriously sick alcoholic.

Critique: Well, it’s the best section... First of all, he gives us a lot more about the wacky, irritating workings of the manga industry, somewhat establishing what comes next, which he really didn’t do in the other two parts. (He’s still a PROLIFIC MANGA CREATOR IN JAPAN, of course, so you have my permission to have absolutely zero sympathy with him, especially when he talks about knowingly doing a half-assed job, but at least he tries to set things up this time to a certain extent.) Second, he’s actually got a reasonable excuse for leaving his life this time: say what you want about the foolishness of his BECOMING an alcoholic, but he sure enough FULLY QUALIFIES as an alcoholic—the guy from LOST WEEKEND wasn’t this close to dying (plus, that only took one weekend). Third, therefore, we get his adventures in rehab, rounding out this section and helping to make it the above-and-beyond least-boring section of the whole book.

So, if you want to see a guy ruin his life while drawn in a cute, halfway-to-chibi style, come on down to Hideo Azuma’s Disappearance Diary, and watch a storyteller with every intellectual and emotional faculty at his disposal except for Wisdom and Shame tell about the most embarrassing parts of his life. I hope his nice little wife gets some of the proceeds.


Say, fellows and girls:

Remember when everything you needed to know about Wicker Man Studios was at this site?


Well, now there's another site that's just as important! That's right, it's:


Yes, it's true: Gun Street Girl now has its own site, just to fool those readers who sayeth in their hearts, "I love webcomics-- but I hate studios!"

Now, Gun Street Girl comes to you in a manner free from the confines of its role as a webcomic brought to you by people-- now it's almost as if it just appears on the internet spontaneously! But wait, there's more! GSG has also broken free of the confines of a regular ol' computer screen-- now it's ALSO on your iPhone or iPod Touch, thanks to Apple's iTunes App Store! Read the following press release for the nifty keen details!

Wicker Man Studios Launches Gun Street Girl on the iPhone App Store

Wicker Man Studios is proud to announce the launch of a new website specifically for flagship title Gun Street Girl, www.gun-street-girl.com, from which WMS is already offering its latest Gun Street Girl story, “The Jealous Dead,” on the iPhone App Store. “The Jealous Dead” will cost 99 cents to download (in the US and Canada–other stores may vary), and can easily be read on the iPhone and the iPod touch with Wicker Man Studios’ own brand-new application, a comics reader which will allow readers using these devices to easily read stories panel-by-panel, simply by touching the screen and dragging the panels from right to left; tapping the screen will show thumbnails of all panels in a story so that one can, for example, easily pick up where one left off during a previous interrupted session.

In addition to the brand-new, never-before-seen story “The Jealous Dead,” WMS also offers another GSG story, “Where It All Began,” for free on the iPhone App Store, for new readers to try out the Gun Street Girl experience free of charge, featuring the secret origin of GSG’s main characters, bodyguard Liz Pendragon and down-on-his-luck magician Eddie Caution. All one needs to do is visit the iPhone App Store and search under “applications” for Wicker Man Studios, and then download the stories– “Where It All Began” is free, and all others are 99 cents.

For those who do not own either of these devices, regular PDFs will also be offered at the new GSG site of each respective story, to be purchased, in the case of “The Jealous Dead,” using PayPal.

Gun Street Girl’s archives will still be mirrored at the main Wicker Man Studios site of www.wickermanstudios.com.

With a high concept that feels like La Femme Nikita meets Grosse Pointe Blank with a little dash of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Gun Street Girl has won praise from a variety of reviewers, such as Curve Magazine: “Our current rave [for digital graphic novels] has to be Gun Street Girl . . . Sassy, smart, and socially subversive…”

When Gun Street Girl’s Eddie Caution, a heavyset magician and supernatural investigator, meets tough-girl Liz Pendragon while she’s getting herself in trouble defending her girlfriend from the roving hands of some relations of the local mob, he offers her a job as his bodyguard and muscle, and she accepts, having wanted all her life for there to be a way to encounter magic on a regular basis. The two of them investigate ghosts, rescue those kidnapped by monsters, try to stay out of trouble (often difficult), and generally enjoy life.

Barbara Lien-Cooper and Park Cooper, the creators of Gun Street Girl and owners of Wicker Man Studios, have a column on popular culture at the website Comics Bulletin, found at www.comicsbulletin.com/pb. Barbara has written for many websites, and served a one-year stint as Managing Editor of the multiple-Eisner-award-winning print magazine Comic Book Artist. Park is the Editor-in-Chief of indie comics company Septagon Studios, and of the website MangaLife. Together, they also co-wrote the graphic novel Half Dead, published by Dabel Brothers Productions and Marvel Comics, and later picked up again by Desperado Publishing, and the New Media project The Hidden for manga publisher Tokyopop. They both also adapt manga and edit manga and comics for various companies.

Ryan Howe is the illustrator of Gun Street Girl, and the Art Director for Wicker Man Studios. He is also currently drawing the third of his three issues of the political comics project Female Force for BlueWater Productions. The previous two issues he drew both sold out and went to multiple printings.

The new application was created by Dale Zak, a mobile software developer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. His website can be found at: http://www.dalezak.ca

For all inquiries write to: Park Cooper at parkgsg@gmail.com


Apple, the Apple logo, iPod, and iTunes are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. iPhone is a trademark of Apple Inc.

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