Shōjo manga roundup: Crayon Days, Pocha Pocha, Kase-san

It’s been a long time since I posted a straightforward review of a comic. The last one was actually from June 2013 (of Before Watchmen). All the while I’ve been reading comics, of course, some of which I found noteworthy. Here are three short reviews of some of them, united only by the fact that they are all shōjo manga from the last few years.
Painting is still very much a physical activity in Crayon Days.

Painting is still very much a physical activity in Crayon Days.

Title: Kreidetage (くれよん でいず ~ 大キライなアイツ / Crayon Days – Daikirai na Aitsu)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Kozue Chiba
Year: 2013-2014 (originally 2012)
Publisher: Tokyopop (originally Shōgakukan)
Pages: 192-196
Price: €6.50 (D)
Website (German): http://www.tokyopop.de/manga-shop/index.php?cPath=872_901
Volumes reviewed: 1-3 (of 3 volumes in German so far; vol. 4 is scheduled for April)

Shima is a 16-year old girl who likes to paint, but is otherwise unremarkable. The story starts with her changing from a regular high school to an art school. A fairly standard love story ensues, her (main) love interest being a rough and unfriendly schoolmate who is already an acclaimed painter. While I can’t say I find the depiction of high school life in Crayon Days convincing, it might be an interesting manga from an art historian’s perspective, as we get to see people painting and talking about painting. For instance, in the world of Crayon Days, abstract expressionism still seems to be en vogue. However, as in many other manga, the setting isn’t all that important here – it just serves as a backdrop for the characters and the story.
Rating: ● ● ○ ○ ○
Katsuyo being caught at what she's best at.

Katsuyo being caught at what she’s best at in Pocha Pocha Swimming Club.

Title: Pocha Pocha Swimming Club (ぽちゃぽちゃ水泳部 / Pocha Pocha Suieibu)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Ema Tōyama
Year: 2014 (originally 2011)
Publisher: Egmont Manga (originally Hōbunsha)
Pages: 112
Price: €7 (D)
Website (German): http://www.manganet.de/buch-buchreihe/pocha-pocha-swimming-club/
Volumes reviewed: 1 (1 volume in German so far; vol. 2 is scheduled for March)

When overweight Katsuyo finds out that the boy she fancies only likes slim girls, she decides to lose weight and joins the swimming club of her school. I must admit I hadn’t read a yonkoma (4-panel) manga before, mainly because I thought that format was employed only for gag strips. As Pocha Pocha shows, longer stories can be told just as well in such a rigid layout of 2 × 4 panels per page. I’m not even sure  whether I find ‘comedy’ the right genre designation (though I suspect some of the humour gets lost in translation). Then again, romance isn’t the decisive element either here, as the story revolves rather around swimming, eating, and losing weight.
Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○
Yamada and Kase, our soon-to-be lovers from Asagao to Kase-san.

Yamada and Kase, our soon-to-be lovers from Asagao to Kase-san.

Title: Ipomoea (あさがおと加瀬さん / Asagao to Kase-san)
Language: German (translated from Japanese)
Author: Hiromi Takashima
Year: 2013 (originally 2012)
Publisher: Egmont Manga (originally Shinshokan)
Pages: 159
Price: €7 (D)
Website (German): http://www.manganet.de/buch/ipomoea/
Volumes reviewed: 1 (only 1 volume in German so far)

The shy schoolgirl Yamada meets her athletic schoolmate Kase when watering flowers (ipomoea or morning glories, asagao in Japanese) at their school and gradually falls in love with her. Yuri (Girls’ Love) is another kind of manga that I’ve shied away from in the past, finding it somewhat creepy for adult men to read about lesbian teenage love. Kase-san, however, handles the topic sensitively, as there is no nudity at all in this manga. It is quite similar to a heterosexual romance story, except that the protagonist Yamada struggles to come to terms with her sexuality and that of the eponymous Kase. Their homosexual love is still experienced as a somewhat ‘forbidden love’, which adds an interesting twist to this story. Hopefully Egmont will translate more of this series.
Rating: ● ● ● ● ○
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Stencil graffiti website goes semantic

Screenshot from http://graffiti.freiburg.bplaced.net/As a first step towards releasing the information on my stencil graffiti website as Linked Open Data, I have now created XHTML+RDFa files for all graffiti. They can be found in the directory http://graffiti.freiburg.bplaced.net/lod/, or by clicking on the RDFa icon in each entry. These files contain only two pieces of information so far (not counting ID and licence): place and date. Now that they have been normalised (to the W3C Basic Geo and Dublin Core vocabulary, respectively) and cast in standard RDFa syntax, it should be easy to query and analyse this data, and to re-use it in mashups.

I did a short presentation on this conversion recently, the slides of which can be found on SlideShare (in German). The next steps are obvious: there is still a lot of information on the website that could be normalised, expressed in RDFa, and added to the XHTML files. Once I’ve got round to that I’ll post about it. As a good resource for getting started with Linked Open Data, I recommend Ed Summers’s recent paper “Linking Things on the Web: A Pragmatic Examination of Linked Data for Libraries, Archives and Museums”.


Stencil graffiti website: the biggest and best update yet

stencilled paste-up advocating organ donationOnce again it’s been a while since I last updated my website, Schablonengraffiti in Freiburg-Mittelwiehre. There are some noteable things about yesterday’s update:

  • There are now over 200 stencil graffiti (i.e. pictures + metadata) documented on the website – 203 to be precise. For the record, no. 200 is a heart near the Max Planck Institute.
  • This piece is also part of a larger, multi-medial series advocating organ donation. It consists of several stencil graffiti showing hearts and lungs (nos. 182185, 199200, plus more instances of these motifs on Sedanstraße which I haven’t photographed yet), a spray-painted slogan (which you can see on the picture of no. 185), and stencilled paste-ups (pictured here but not included on the website).
  • There is another three-coloured piece now, “Lausbuben” (nos. 188190, though no. 190 is only two-coloured). I guess it refers to a sprayer crew of the same name. (The first three-coloured piece in Mittelwiehre, at least since I started the website, would be no. 174 with three different shades of grey.)
  • I’ve discovered two more instances (nos. 192193) of the “Mikey Wilson” piece (no. 168), and on these newly found graffiti the words “I HATE NAZIS” are legible. I hadn’t been able to discern the writing on no. 168 before, so the anti-fascist connotation had escaped me completely.

I hope to get round to updating the website more frequently in the future, and I also have some exciting changes to the data structure in mind – more about that in a later post.


Using a daily art calendar for age determination exercises

Harenberg's motif for October 20/21

Harenberg’s motif for October 20/21, 2012

As the year draws to a close, you might think of getting a calendar for 2013. While there are other ways of keeping track of what day it is nowadays (computers, watches, mobile phones), a calendar with a sheet for each day is useful for age determination (dating) exercises.

In her book Das Studium der Kunstgeschichte, Renate Prochno says an art historian should be able to determine the age of any work of art with an accuracy of +- 20 years. To practice this, she recommends using books like Propyläen Kunstgeschichte, or a postcard collection. However, even more useful for this purpose is an art calendar, because each day it shows a work that is likely to be new to you.

There are drawbacks, of course: all images are printed in the same size, they are cropped in different ways, there’s usually only one view of three-dimensional works, and the selection of motifs is always biased and must not be mistaken for a scholarly sample that is representative of anything.

That being said, I’ve been using Harenberg Kunst calendars (other brands are probably just as good) for years, and I use them like this: when I turn the sheet, I cover the lower part of the new sheet where the artist and title are given (sometimes they’re on the left hand side instead), plus maybe the lower part of the image where the picture is sometimes signed and dated. Then I try to guess the exact year in which the reproduced work was made, and write my guess down on the sheet. On the next day, when I tear the old sheet off, I turn it and compare my guess to the actual date given on the back of the sheet.

This is my success rate for the first ~100 days of 2012 (if a date range was given, I simply took the year that was closest to my guess):

  • exact matches: 4 (I guessed the precise year of production of four paintings, all from the classical modern period which I feel most comfortable with.)
  • within +- 20 years: 66
  • missed by more than 20 years: 31
  • missed by more than 100 years: 3 (All of them are Dutch landscapes from around 1665, and each time I mistook them for early 19th century paintings. This is clearly an area I still need to become more familiar with.)

Sequential art at documenta (13)

Comics will be part of documenta when hell freezes over. However, there are some works at this year’s documenta (Kassel, June 9 – September 16) that come quite close to the McCloudian definition of comics. The following list is just a personal selection and by no means meant to be exhaustive.

The very first work I’ve seen at documenta could actually be called a comic, sort of. In the Ottoneum, Amar Kanwar has several books (and other things) on display. One of them, Photo Album 1: The Lying Down Protest, documents a protest action in India through a series of photographs, sometimes with captions added. There is one photo on each page, on both sides of the leaf, resulting in a layout similar to that of Martin tom Dieck’s hundert Ansichten der Speicherstadt (cf. my essay).

For an exhibition of contemporary art, there is a lot of old art to be seen, e.g. a sizeable collection of abstract drawings from the 1940s and 50s by Gustav Metzger in the Documenta-Halle. Some of these drawings are arranged like comic panels, i.e. in different sizes, with clear borders, on the same sheet of paper. Are these drawings meant as independent sketches which Metzger placed closely together on the sheet only to save paper? Or is there a relation between adjacent drawings, maybe even an intended sequence?
Another example of a not-quite-contemporary exhibit is Charlotte Salomon’s widely publicized Leben? Oder Theater?

Khadim Ali‘s four-part painting The Haunted Lotus in the Neue Galerie is reminiscent in style of traditional East Asian religious paintings, but at the same time the framing makes it look like a panel sequence in a comic: the continuous background evokes a “tracking shot” from left to right or vice versa, so that each of the four parts can be seen as one point in a chronological sequence. The figures in the foreground remain largely the same in all four parts of the painting, thus giving the impression that some figures move between the “panels” while others stand still. Another comic-like feature is the writing next to the figures’ heads.

Then there’s Nedko Solakov at the Brothers Grimm Museum. Among many other works, some drawings are shown in several display cases. Their arrangement in two horizontal lines suggests a sequential relation between them, but although each drawing has a handwritten caption text on it, it’s hard to make out any order in which they could form a narrative. Still, the surrounding works by Solakov strongly suggest a narrative reading, since they are all about his dreams and fantasies of medieval knights in shiny armours.

All in all, while not completely absent, sequential art is sadly underrepresented at documenta (13). Unfortunately, the exhibition of comical art, Caricatura VI, which is on in Kassel at the same time, doesn’t show many comics either, although it contains cartoons by comic artists such as Guido Sieber, Harm Bengen or Nicolas Mahler.


Stencil graffiti website updated

taken from http://graffiti.freiburg.bplaced.net/I have just updated my website, Schablonengraffiti in Freiburg-Mittelwiehre [stencil graffiti in Freiburg-Mittelwiehre], adding 11 new pieces, including the iconic lion’s head pictured here. While doing so, I realised it has been almost a year since the previous update (July 2011), due to my less and less frequent visits to Freiburg. Although graffiti in this part of Freiburg have quite long runs on average, many pieces must have been sprayed and buffed between this website update and the last. Does that mean the website has missed its aim to record all stencil graffiti activity in Mittelwiehre? Not quite. It still works well as an extensive and thus representative sample of the totality of stencil graffiti pieces in the city district. This is a major difference to most other street art websites that arbitrarily select only the “best” pieces. The former, broader approach is valuable – and even necessary – for a street art history that doesn’t focus on the big names. Maybe one day, the data gathered on Schablonengraffiti in Freiburg-Mittelwiehre will prove useful for graffiti studies. In the meantime, enjoy the lions, the Stewie Griffins (from Family Guy), Mikey Wilson (a.k.a. the middle finger kid), the hip hop monkey


Exhibition review: Neue Galerie, Kassel

Between documentas, Kassel hadn’t really been on the map for art lovers lately. With the reopening of the Neue Galerie in November last year (which was closed for five years for refurbishment), this is likely to change.

This collection of 19th-21st century art is truly impressive in terms of both quantity and quality: there are masterpieces by Hans Makart and Wilhelm Trübner, two rooms of Paul Baum paintings including his lesser known pre- and post-pointilist phases, two rooms of works by the underrated Curt Herrmann, lots of stunning impressionists and modernists I’ve never heard of… It’s almost easier to name artists you won’t find there. For instance, I think I didn’t see a Hans Hartung there, although it would fit nicely into the otherwise well-equipped Informel section.

However, the gaps become larger the closer we get to the present, and that’s where the problem with this collection becomes evident: its scope isn’t clear. For the 19th century, the museum does a great job at representing German painting (with some local or regional emphasis). In the contemporary section, though, the scope widens to encompass international art, at which point the collection isn’t complete or even representative anymore, showing classics next to artists that have yet to make a name for themselves. Likewise a problem of scope is the ratio of painting (predominant) to sculpture (very little) to other arts (almost none). Maybe the museum should be named “Gemäldegalerie” instead of claiming to house a “collection of modernism – art of the 19th-21st century”.

That being said, the Neue Galerie is still definitely worth a visit. Besides, the admission is only €4 (conc. €2). Another cool thing about this museum is its website, which is made entirely in posterous (albeit in German only).

Rating: ● ● ● ● ○