After Tardi and Joann Sfar, Cartoonmuseum Basel celebrates another Franco-Belgian master, albeit from Switzerland this time: Cosey (Bernard Cosendai), born in Lausanne in 1950 and above all famous for his long-running adventure series, Jonathan (1975–2021). Recently he attracted some renewed attention with his two Mickey Mouse tribute albums, and over the years he has also produced a number of standalone albums, e.g. In Search of Peter Pan. Accordingly, the exhibition devotes the most space to Jonathan, displaying many original drawings, and also some sketches and even artifacts that he collected from Tibet and other places where his comics are set.
For someone who has read Cosey’s comics only in translation, it is fascinating to see his hand-lettered speech balloons and title pages, and to realise what a skilled calligrapher he is. One of the downsides of this presentation of the original drawings, however, is that once more – as in the Tardi exhibition – no translations of the French text are provided.
The other, perhaps more lamentable, downside is that all the drawings show the pages after inking but before colouring. That is a pity, because (as the accompanying texts in the exhibition mention too) Cosey colours his comics himself and does so with considerable success, using a reduced palette to great effect. Only a single page is displayed with an overlayed colour cel, and there are also some watercolour sketches.
As usual, the artist’s published oeuvre can be perused in the museum library, where one can also watch a documentary film about him – alas, again, in French only.
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○
It’s that time of the year again: the Internet has picked the best comics of the year. More precisely, I have compiled several year-end best-of-2022 lists into one, awarding points to each title depending on its rank and the total number of entries on the list (full explanation here).
Shortly before Christmas, about two thirds of the usual sources have posted their lists. I’m going to update this blogpost with the data from the remaining lists in January, so make sure to come back here, as there are likely to be some major changes still.
Anyway, for the time being, these are…
THE TOP 25 COMICS OF 2022:
- Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton (269 points)
- The Night Eaters: She Eats the Night by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (159)
- Immortal X-Men by Kieron Gillen and Lucas Werneck (131)
- Fantastic Four: Full Circle by Alex Ross (127)
- The Flash by Jeremy Adams and others (110)
- Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith (99)
- A.X.E.: Judgment Day by Kieron Gillen and Valerio Schiti (90)
- Squire by Nadia Shammas and Sara Alfageeh (89)
- The Nice House on the Lake by James Tynion IV and Álvaro Martínez Bueno (88)
- Batman/Superman: World’s Finest by Mark Waid and Dan Mora (87)
- Who Will Make the Pancakes by Megan Kelso (85)
- Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (83)
- The Many Deaths of Laila Starr by Ram V and Filipe Andrade (79)
- Akane banashi by Yuki Suenaga and Takamasa Moue, tied with
One Piece by Eiichirō Oda (73)
- Action Comics by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and others (72)
- Acting Class by Nick Drnaso (70)
- Clementine by Tillie Walden (68)
- Genkai chitai (a.k.a. The Liminal Zone) by Junji Itō (67)
- Shuna no tabi (a.k.a. Shuna’s Journey) by Hayao Miyazaki (66)
- The Human Target by Tom King and Greg Smallwood (64)
- Once & Future by Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora (62)
- Talk to my Back by Murasaki Yamada, tied with
The Keeper by Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, and Marco Finnegan (61)
- Little Monarchs by Jonathan Case (59)
[UPDATE: 16 more lists added on January 15]
This time there are quite a few high-ranking manga on the list (possibly due to the inclusion of several new manga-specific lists). Who would have thought One Piece would make a return, and on rank 14 at that? Honourable mentions go to Sayonara Eri (a.k.a. Goodbye, Eri) and Look Back by Tatsuki Fujimoto, Jujutsu Kaisen by Gege Akutami, Yomi no tsugai (a.k.a. Daemons of the Shadow Realm) by Hiromu Arakawa, and Spy × Family by Tatsuya Endō, all having just missed the top 25 with 50+ points each.
It seems to have been not quite such a good year for (non-English) European comics. Geneviève Castrée: Complete Works 1981-2016, Malgré tout (a.k.a. Always Never) by Jordi Lafebre, and Dagen van Zand / Jours de Sable (a.k.a. Days of Sand) by Aimée de Jongh, the highest ranking ones, would not even make the top 50.
As for German comics, there were a few noteworthy ones in 2022, such as Das Gutachten by Jennifer Daniel, Stockhausen by Thomas von Steinaecker and David von Bassewitz, Rude Girl by Birgit Weyhe, and Das Humboldt-Tier by Flix. But the only way for them to reach the top 25 is to get picked by at least three of the four German lists, which didn’t happen.
The following lists were evaluated: Barnes & Noble, The Beat, Book Riot, Broken Frontier, CBC, CBR, Chicago Public Library, ComFor (German), ComicGate (German), Comickunst (German), DoomRocket, Entertainment Weekly, Forbes, Gamesradar, Goodreads, Gosh (adult, kids), The Guardian, IGN, Kono manga ga sugoi via Anime News Network, Kotaku, Looper, The Mary Sue, NPR, Paste, Polygon, Publishers Weekly (Holiday Gift Guide, Critics Poll), Screen Rant (“Best Comics”, combined “Best New Manga” and “Best Continuing Manga”), Tagesspiegel (German), Top-Selling Manga in Japan by Series via Anime News Network, The Washington Post, YALSA.
Chainsaw Man (チェンソーマン Chensō man) vol. 1
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Author: Tatsuki Fujimoto
Publisher: Egmont (originally Shūeisha)
Year: 2020 (originally published 2018)
Total number of volumes: 12 so far in Japan
Price: € 7
Website: https://www.egmont-manga.de/series/Chainsaw%20Man (German publisher), https://www.mangaupdates.com/series/ylx5wzn/ (Baka-Updates)
The world of Chainsaw Man is similar to our own, except for the constant threat of so-called ‘devils’ – demons in various hideous shapes who seek to enslave or outright kill humans. Thankfully, the Japanese government has installed a devil-hunting task force to protect its citizens. The newest among those devil hunters is Denji, a teenager who himself has fused his body with a devil, which allows him to transform his head into a chainsaw and to grow chainsaw blades from his arms.
So far, so weird. But protagonist Denji has a backstory that endears him to the reader: having inherited his father’s debts to the yakuza, he was destitute before joining the devil hunters. All the money he earned went straight to the mob, and he could barely feed himself and his pet devil dog. It’s not as powerful a poverty narrative as e.g. Hideo Azuma’s Shissō Nikki (Disappearance Diary), but it seems to work well, as pretty much every reviewer on the Internet ends up rooting for Denji.
Unfortunately, as in so many other manga of this type, this origin story is quickly told and done away with, and then it’s monster slaying time. Denji continues to be an interesting and relatable character though, being driven by much more basic needs and desires than his co-workers who have more noble (or enigmatic) motives. The action scenes are also enhanced by Tatsuki Fujimoto’s drawing style. Some people have called the artwork crude, but it’s actually often quite elaborate on closer inspection. Fujimoto deliberately uses coarse-grained screentone effects to diversify the tonality of his artwork, and his sound effects are a masterclass in typographic design.
As for the design of the ‘devils’, however – they look more silly than terrifying. What is it with the Japanese and their rather ridiculous monsters, one is tempted to ask? Kiseijū, Evangelion, Naru Taru… Perhaps the look of those creatures fits the overall wackiness of Chainsaw Man, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.
Scariest moment: there is a simple but effective sort of ‘jump scare’ when the devil hunters open a door to reveal a ‘fiend’ (a human body possessed and grotesquely altered by a devil).
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○
It’s rare for Deutsche Post to dedicate a stamp to a trademarked character, owned by a foreign company at that, with that company’s name prominently placed. But on July 7, they did just that. According to the press release (German), the Spider-Man stamp is part of a new superhero series in which two stamps per year are going to be released, each with a different character.
Last month they also issued a Smurfs stamp, but that seems to belong to a different series called “childhood heroes”. Its design is different too, with neither Peyo’s nor the original publisher’s name visible. (The copyright info at the Deutsche Post website reads: “© Peyo -2022- Lic. I.M.P.S. (Brussels)”.)
Also remarkable about the Spider-Man stamp is the way in which the character is rendered, both the drawing style and the classic blue-and-red costume, which perhaps looks unfamiliar or at least old-fashioned to many comic readers (and moviegoers) today. Then again, the press release says that the stamp is meant to celebrate Spider-Man’s 60th birthday and explicitly mentions Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, so that old-school look may be intentional.
In my last Moon Knight review I said I couldn’t be bothered to read “The Age of Khonshu”, a story arc involving Moon Knight that ran in Avengers in 2020. Eventually I did get around to it though.
Avengers vol. 7: The Age of Khonshu, collecting Avengers #31-38
Authors: Jason Aaron (writer), Javier Garrón (artist), Jason Keith (colourist) and others
Cover dates: April 2020 – January 2021 (= on-sale dates: February – November 2020)
In the life of every superhero, there comes a time when he or she briefly turns evil and fights other superheroes. This is essentially what “The Age of Khonshu” is all about. The explanation given here is threadbare to say the least: Moon Knight and his god Khonshu (allegedly) try to thwart Mephisto’s plans of world domination by stealing the superpowers of several heroes, which in turn makes Moon Knight and Khonshu powerful enough to achieve world domination themselves. Naturally, this does not sit well with the Avengers who take on the resistance against Moon Knight and Khonshu. Who will prevail? Will Moon Knight come to his senses again and realise who his real enemies are? And what will become of Mephisto and his sinister schemes?
Spoiler: we never learn what becomes of Mephisto. Presumably, that is resolved in one of the next Avengers trade paperbacks. And that is one of the major flaws of this TPB. It’s not a self-contained story at all; of the eight issues it collects, the first two and most of the last one have very little to do with Moon Knight and the actual “Age of Khonshu” plot. They might provide a pretext for Khonshu’s actions, but first and foremost, Avengers vol. 7 is meant to be read by people who have already read Avengers vol. 6, not by Moon Knight fans who have not been following Avengers.
That being said, parts of The Age of Khonshu are surprisingly entertaining. Especially the beginning, i.e. #33, when Moon Knight takes on some superheroes one by one. Or the design of Khonshu’s domain (even though once more Khonshu himself is not a very imposing figure for a god), ‘New Thebes City’, his mummies, moon priests and werewolves, the whole faux-Egyptian iconography. However, whenever one aspect of Moon Knight’s character – in this case, the Egyptian theme – is emphasised, his others are likely to fall by the wayside. His mental illness, for instance, is only passingly referred to by other characters. (Once again, the way in which Moon Knight’s mental health issues are handled borders on an insult to people in the real world struggling with such issues, as Connor Christiansen has pointed out in his review at AIPT.)
The Age of Khonshu is a mixed bag on all levels. Javier Garrón’s art has a great clarity to it and makes the action easy to follow, but if we single out individual panels, characters or poses, there is nothing particularly striking or outstanding about the way they are drawn. Likewise, Jason Aaron’s dialogue writing is sometimes genuinely funny, but sometimes all those witty quips are a bit too much and make every character seem like Spider-Man.
Needless to say, in the end the status quo is restored. “So I’m going back where I belong, to keep saving my crappy little corner of the world the only way I know how”, Moon Knight says in his last scene in this comic. There is no need for Moon Knight fans to read The Age of Khonshu to understand and enjoy his current solo series. It adds very little to his character, except maybe that it sheds some new light on his fraught relationship with his god. Then again, as far as Moon Knight comics go, it’s not the worst one either.
Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○
In this year’s Labour Day / Warren Ellis blogpost, we’re going to examine what might be considered his chef d’oeuvre, Transmetropolitan (penciled by Darick Robertson and published in 60 issues from 1997-2002). It’s also probably Ellis’s most overtly political comic, so it comes as no surprise that there are already many texts, even some academic ones, on politics in Transmetropolitan. Most of those focus on the presidential election story arc (with a noticeable spike in 2016, on the occasion of Donald Trump’s candidacy and win), but I’m going to stick to the very first self-contained story which spans issues #1-3, as it already exhibits the main political mechanisms at work here.
The first issue serves mainly to introduce the protagonist, Spider Jerusalem, a journalist writing political columns for a newspaper in an unnamed American city, in a future that seems not too far away (but is apparently supposed to be the 23rd century). In issue #2 he pays the Transient community a visit – humans who, for some reason, chose to have their bodies genetically engineered to gradually take on the shape of aliens. Now these human-alien hybrids “can’t get jobs” and are “forced” to live in the slum quarter Angels 8, according to their leader, Fred Christ. They feel discriminated against by Civic Center (the City government), and their solution is to announce the secession of Angels 8 to the Vilnius Colony, a sovereign alien territory. “The threat of secession will force them to treat us decently”, says Fred.
The Transients erect barricades around Angels 8, but Spider already fears that the police are going to stifle that uprising: “It’s an election year for a law-and-order president. They’ll come in and stamp on your bones, Fred.” And indeed, bombs are thrown at a Transient demonstration, which prompts the police to crack down on the “Transient Riot”. Spider, however, realises what is actually going on in the district. He has witnessed how individual Transients got bribed to incite the riot. Otherwise, “It would never have happened. The Transients were too confused, gutless and dim to start a real confrontation on their own. Until some money changed hands.”
Spider goes to the scene of the crime to report, in a sort of live newsfeed, on the extremely and unnecessarily violent police action, and also to provide his background information on the cause of the riot (“They paid a few Transients off to start some trouble, deliberately marring a non-violent demonstration.”) People read his newsfeed, call Civic Center to complain, and the police are withdrawn from Angels 8 at last.
Comparing this story to the other Ellis comics we have covered here before, we find similarities as well as differences. The major commonality is the ‘abusive government’ trope: while we don’t know for sure whether the bribing lawyers who instigated the riot work for the President, we see the City government personified in the policemen who quash the Transient uprising. Not only do they beat unarmed men, women and children to death, they even enjoy doing it. The big difference to Ellis’s more supernatural and fantastical narratives seems to be that the protagonist who stands up to the government is not a superhero – it’s a journalist. Some people have read Spider Jerusalem’s character as an inspiration for ordinary people to do what they can and make a stand against (Trump’s) government. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that such readings are misinterpreting Spider’s character a little.
Spider Jerusalem is not an ordinary journalist but rather, for all intents and purposes, a kind of superhero. He is the only journalist brave (or mad, as he himself puts it) enough to enter the Angels 8 district. His astounding hand-to-hand combat skills allow him to overcome not only the Transient barricade guard but also two Transient bouncers at once, not to mention his proficiency in operating rocket launchers, hand grenades and handguns. And, perhaps his most superheroic trait: when at the end of the story he gets assaulted by a police squad and severely beaten, he is not intimidated at all – “I’m here to stay! Shoot me and I’ll spit your goddamn bullets back in your face!”
Without Spider, the public would never have learned the truth about the orchestrated Transient riot. Instead, the citizens would have been the CPD’s partners in crime, according to Spider: “You earned it. With your silence. […] Civic Center and the cops do what the fuck they like, and you sit still. […] They do what they like. And what do you do? You pay them.” Without Spider, there would be no critical journalism in the City, only “papers and feedsites that lie to you”.
In Transmetropolitan, there are evil individual politicians, but Ellis makes clear that it’s the complacency of the populace that allows them to thrive. Once more, society on its own is helpless against an oppressive government and needs the ‘strong man’ to protect them.
Between her two major books on feminist art history, Old Mistresses (1981, co-authored by Rozsika Parker) and Vision and Difference (1987), Griselda Pollock published an article titled “Women, Art, and Ideology: Questions for Feminist Art Historians”¹. In part a summary of the former book, it outlines Pollock’s notion of a feminist art history (or should that rather be “feminism in art history”?). The problem with previous feminist art historians, according to Pollock’s essay, is that they only tried to amend the canon of art history by adding female artists that had been omitted before. Pollock calls this an “unthreatening and additive feminism”. Instead, she argues, “a central task for feminist art historians is […] to critique art history itself”, because art history (as well as its object of study, art) is a system that “actively constructs and secures the patriarchal definitions for the category Woman”.
How, then, is a feminist art history possible at all? “The important questions” need to be asked: “how and why an art object or text was made, for whom was it made, for what purpose was it made, within what constraints and possibilites was it produced and initially used?” The importance of such questions to any art historical analysis seems self-evident today, and in fact they were already being asked back then – Marxist art history and the social history of art were a big thing. But they didn’t satisfy Pollock, who says that Marxist thinking about art, which treats “art as a reflection of the society that produced it”, has some severe shortcomings: it “oversimplifies the processes whereby an art product […] represents social processes that are themselves enormously complicated, mobile, and opaque”; it “condemns women effectively to a homogenenous, gender-defined category” and “effaces the specificity and heterogeneity of women’s artistic production”; it places works of art in ideological categories when in fact “ideologies are often fractured and contradictory”, etc.
So the overall tendency of Pollock’s feminist art history is: specificity, particularity, complexity and heterogeneity instead of generalisation and categorisation. Clearly, such a kind of art history is a radical shift away from scholarship as it is traditionally understood. It is perhaps best summed up in Pollock’s demand that “the relations between women, art, and ideology have to be studied as a set of varying and unpredictable relationships.” However, when Pollock’s essay provides some examples of what such an analysis might look like (taken from Old Mistresses), they don’t seem quite so radical after all. Sofonisba Anguissola’s 1561 Self Portrait With Spinet and Attendant is interpreted as a display of the artist’s aristocratic class position which allowed her to become a professional painter, unlike women of lower classes. Johann Zoffany’s 1772 The Academicians of the Royal Academy, in which the only two female Academy members are not part of the group in the room but represented as portrait paintings on the wall, shows how the system of the art academy actively constructed “distinct identities for the artist who was a man – the artist, and the artist who was a woman – the woman artist.” The late 18th-century family portraits by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun show how the ideal of the woman at that time had changed to that of “the happy mother, the woman fulfilled by childbearing and childrearing.”
Thus, in contrast to ‘mainstream’ art history, Pollock’s vantage point is always the (female) artist’s biography. Let’s see where this approach takes us when applied to a random comic.
The last comic by a female author that I read was Moe Yukimaru’s Suisai (more on that manga in a later post) vol. 1. What can we find out about this mangaka? Born in 1986, Yukimaru worked as an assistant to Nana Haruta (on another shōjo manga, Love Berrish) before debuting as a mangaka in 2006. Most of her manga were published in the shōjo magazine Ribon. Suisai started in 2015, i.e. when Yukimaru was 28 or 29. According to e.g. her Japanese Wikipedia page, her dream for the future is to become a “mangaka and charismatic housewife at the same time”. However, we don’t know when and under which circumstances she said that.
Yukimaru also has a weblog, yukimarublog.jugem.jp. She hasn’t posted for a while and her latest blogposts are about her current manga, Hatsukoi Retake, and transitioning from print to digital-first publishing. But her earlier posts from around the time when she was working on Suisai are quite interesting. In one of them, from late 2014, she apologises for “not having a particularly stylish lifestyle to blog about” and not being one of those “bloggers who write about highly feminine content with fashionable images every day”. Apart from promoting her manga work, though, there is quite a lot of cat content, food pics, and even a post about Yukimaru doing her fingernails.
So the image that we can perceive of Yukimaru is that of a ‘highly feminine’ artist who is firmly associated with the shōjo manga segment. Interestingly, Suisai doesn’t quite reflect this image. Although often labeled ‘romance’, this first volume at least is not so much of a girl-meets-boy story (there is something of that, too) but more of a ‘girl-meets-flute’ story of a high school student who enters her school’s brass band. It is a music manga first and foremost. Other music manga, e.g. Naoshi Arakawa’s Shigatsu wa kimi no uso / Your Lie in April, have been published in shо̄nen magazines. Granted, that one had both a male protagonist and a male author, but the point is that demographic categorisations such as shо̄jo or shо̄nen are often quite artificial, and that Suisai isn’t a particularly ‘girly’ manga.
Taking a closer look at Suisai, however, we find some interesting points being raised in terms of gender. Right at the beginning, we learn that the protagonist, Urara, had been a successful track-and-field athlete in middle school. But now in high school, she wants to “try something new” instead of a sports club – so that she can spend more time wearing the “cute” sailor uniform of her new school. “After quitting the [track-and-field] club, I have grown my hair long just for that”, she says, which prompts her classmate to say: “So there is an actual girl hidden in you after all.”
In the following course of the story, there are several scenes in which Urara’s energetic and bold nature is seen as undesirable and un-girly, and her lack of “cuteness” is pointed out. Thus we could read this coming-of-age story as the story of Urara moving on not only from middle to high school, but also from a sports to a music club, leaving her boyish childhood behind and becoming a woman. As Griselda Pollock would perhaps say, Urara succumbs to the allure of this artificially created category of Woman; a category created both by the fictional society in the manga and real society, including Moe Yukimaru, her publisher, and her readers.
¹ First published in Woman’s Art Journal Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring – Summer, 1983), pp. 39–47, https://doi.org/10.2307/1358100; re-published in Women’s Studies Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 1/2, Teaching about Women and the Visual Arts (Spring – Summer, 1987), pp. 2–9, https://www.jstor.org/stable/40004832.
Tomoji (とも路; German title: Ihr Name war Tomoji)
Language: German (originally Japanese)
Authors: Miwako Ogihara & Jirō Taniguchi (writers), Jirō Taniguchi (artist)
Publisher: Carlsen (originally Futabasha)
Year: 2016 (originally 2012)
Number of volumes: 1
Price: € 17
Website: https://www.carlsen.de/softcover/ihr-name-war-tomoji/978-3-551-76104-0 (German); https://www.mangaupdates.com/series.html?id=119718
A very short summary of this story would be that it tells the life of Tomoji Uchida (1912-1967), who, together with her husband Fumiaki Itō, founded a Buddhist sect. But that would be misleading. Instead of a hagiography, Taniguchi (together with co-writer Ogihara) does what he is best at: telling a story of ordinary people living ordinary lives. He is able to pull this off by having the story end in 1932, after Tomoji had married Fumiaki but before they became religious leaders.
What makes this story interesting nevertheless is that it’s also a portrait of Taishō and early Shōwa era Japan. We see Tomoji as a young girl in the countryside of Yamanashi Prefecture, helping out at her family’s shop, working in the rice paddy, going to school, and later going to town to attend a sewing school. Some dramatic events in Tomoji’s life are also shown – e.g. her father’s death, or how her mother abandons the family – but the only historic one is the Great Kantō earthquake in 1923, which is mainly depicted from Fumiaki’s perspective in Tokyo.
This is actually one of the more unusual aspects of the manga: Tomoji and Fumiaki don’t meet until 1932, but the perspective shifts several times from her to him, and it is strongly implied that they are somehow destined to be together. For instance, on p. 111, Fumiaki in Tokyo looks out of the window; the next panel shows a bird of prey in the sky; the one after that shows Tomoji looking up from her work in the rice paddy near her faraway home village – as if they were both watching the same bird – and then on the next page the sequence is reversed until in the last panel we’re with Fumiaki in Tokyo again. The caption on the page after that reads: “Fumiaki was 18 years old, Tomoji 12. Both were looking at the same sky, but some more years would pass before they met.”
With the knowledge of how Tomoji’s life story continues after the end of the manga, one is tempted to look for other hints in the story, apart from her fateful meeting with Fumiaki, as to how and why she became a religious leader. And indeed there are many little episodes which one can read as examples of young Tomoji’s kindness, compassion, humility, studiousness, piety and spirituality, all of which are probably appropriate prerequisites for a future temple founder. That being said, Tomoji remains a charmingly ‘ordinary’ slice-of-life manga.
Art-wise, Taniguchi is once more at the top of his game, which shows particularly in the many landscape panels and the endless variations of the page layout. Thankfully, the German edition also includes all the watercoloured pages (22 including chapter title images) in colour, and I have already sung Taniguchi’s praises as a watercolour painter before. Then again, the colour pages are probably German publisher Carlsen’s reason to charge the hefty price of € 0.10 per page for this book.
If Tomoji can be considered required reading for Taniguchi enthusiasts, it’s because it bridges two gaps in his oeuvre: as some people have pointed out, it is one of only two of his manga with a female protagonist (the other being Sensei no kaban from 2008, adapted from Hiromi Kawakami’s novel). And, chronologically, Tomoji is another piece in the puzzle that is Taniguchi’s manga history of Japan, as it were, as the time period that it covers fits nicely between the Meiji-era Bocchan no jidai (1987) and Harukana machi e / A Distant Neighborhood (1998), small parts of which are set in WWII.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
A very special manga exhibition is about to close soon: curated by none other than Japanese Studies professor Jaqueline Berndt, it may well be the most scholarly sound manga exhibition yet.
The special exhibition space at Museum Rietberg is basically one large room, divided into five partitions for this show. The first of these contains a reading area with a selection of manga tankōbon in both German and Japanese for visitors to peruse. The second section, titled “Panels – Pictorial Storytelling”, takes a closer look at how manga are made, in terms of both craftsmanship and layout. To this end, a manga has been purpose-made and is displayed in various stages of completion, including a video of the manga being drawn. The short manga in question was made by German mangaka Christina Plaka and is a present-day reimagining of the Japanese fable of the Poetry Contest of the Twelve Animals, which is shown in the exhibition as a 17th century picture scroll (in reproduction – apparently, the original scroll from the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin had been shown in another Japan-themed exhibition at Museum Rietberg which has already ended in December).
The following section, “Genres”, contains more pages of Plaka’s manga, but this time each double page is drawn in a different style that corresponds to the major manga demographics – seinen, shōnen and shōjo (setting aside the question of whether “genre” is the adequate term here). The fourth section is called “Studio” and invites visitors to continue Plaka’s manga story by drawing their own little yonkoma manga. Finally, there’s the “Genji” section which presents three different Japanese manga on the same topic – the 11th-century Tale of Genji – by means of enlarged reproduced pages with accompanying texts in German and English. These manga are Asakiyumemishi by Waki Yamato (1980), Ōzukami Genji monogatari Maro, n? by Yoshihiro Koizumi (2002), and Ii ne! Hikaru Genji-kun by est em (2015).
For the most part, the exhibition works fine and dandy. There are just a few points at which it perhaps oversimplifies things, or which for other reasons are not as convincing as they could have been. For instance, large parts of the exhibition rely on Christina Plaka’s Tanuki vs. Zodiac 12, i.e. a German manga, to explain things about Japanese comics. Of course, Plaka is an accomplished mangaka, and it would have been much more complicated to collaborate with a Japanese mangaka, translate the resulting manga, etc. But no matter how closely Plaka’s manga imitates Japanese manga, it can never fully replace the ‘real thing’. And when people come to the museum to learn something about how the Japanese make comics, they probably want to do so by looking at comics created by Japanese people.
Another somewhat problematic thing – not only about this but also some other manga shows in the past, e.g. Hokusai × Manga in Hamburg, or the more recent Rimpa feat. Manga in Munich – is how contemporary manga are forcibly connected to historical Japanese arts and culture, as in this case the Twelve Animals fable and the Tale of Genji. This carries the danger of perpetuating the myth that modern-day manga are direct descendants from such older Japanese arts. It may also give a false impression when manga as a whole are represented only by manga set in or otherwise concerned with Japanese history, when in fact there are only relatively few of those compared to present-day, futuristic or fantasy settings.
Lastly, the identification of manga as a necessarily participatory fan culture, as claimed by the “Studio” section, is a bit exaggerated. There is nothing wrong with including such an activity section where visitors can draw their own manga in an exhibition, but the accompanying text goes too far when it suggests that manga fandom with its fan art and fan fiction is not only an integral part but even “at the heart of manga culture” in Japan. While that is a common view, it is actually perfectly fine to regard the published manga independently from their readers (and vice versa). Also, not every single one of the millions of manga readers can be considered a ‘fan’, let alone one who creates fan art or fan fiction.
Speaking of the exhibition texts, it is a pity that no proper exhibition catalogue has been published, but at least the texts from the wall placards are collected in a free leaflet (both in German and English). It is available for download here: https://rietberg.ch/files/ausstellungen/2021/Manga/MuseumRietberg_Manga_Handout_EN.pdf
Rémi Lopez: The Impact of Akira. A Manga [R]evolution. Translated by Jennifer Ligas. Toulouse: Third Éditions, 2020. 192 pages. ISBN: 2377842801. Print: $ 29.95, ebook: $ 13.99
When I first heard that there was going to be a book about Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira, I was very excited and could hardly wait to read it – naturally, given that I had spent years studying this manga (and still am). Did it live up to my expectations? Find out in my review in the current issue of Asian Studies: https://revije.ff.uni-lj.si/as/article/view/10358
If my criticisms of this book seem overly harsh, bear in mind that I only tried to assess its value for a scholarly audience (for which it wasn’t even written). For other readers, it might still be an enjoyable book.
Another reason why I am pleased with this little review article is that it marks my first foray into a journal from the field of Japanese Studies or Asian Studies. I have always been bemoaning a certain divide, or at least a lack of communication, between manga scholars from Japanese Studies and comics scholars from other disciplines (like myself). Publishing in journals (or speaking at conferences) of the ‘other party’ might be small contributions to improving this situation.
A review copy of the ebook version was provided by Third Éditions.