YEAR END STUDIOS WRAP UP AND HOLIDAY MANGA GIFT GUIDE
It's OEL manga time once again on Manga Island as the year end wrap up continues. Being in the current crop of OEL creators, I thought I should spend time in that area of the Island with the studios and books that made the OEL scene great this year. For the purposes of this article I am using the term OEL or "Original English Language" for these books. While the books don't come from Japan, they are definitely influenced by manga in a major way and are part of a movement to give back to the comics and manga scene with all the passion that they have had as fans of manga and anime. Making the jump from fan to published creator is not an easy task, and this week I wanted to salute the companies and creators that have carved out this special area of the Island for themselves.
I have to say that this list may be rather subjective; it is sometimes hard to include every book and publisher that is producing OEL, as many artists are influenced by manga these days. If I accidentally left one out (there are a couple of companies I left out of the last column that I have included as addendums at the end of this week's edition), I have to apologize in advance and I hope to cover those books in future columns.
First and foremost I have to say that Antarctic Press has made quite a comeback this year. Perhaps it is doing the studio a disservice to call it a comeback actually, considering the studio has been producing comics for the past 20 years. Truly they deserve a column or two devoted to their long history. People seem to be polarized about the quality of some early books, but I have always been of the opinion that AP deserves a lot of credit and respect for their contribution to the world of OEL comics. I feel that the current crop of OEL artists owe AP their respect for having a hand in starting the whole thing. It would be much harder to do what we are doing without Antarctic Press' contributions over the years.
This year, AP's books really hit home here on Manga Island. We saw the reboot of "Ninja High School" (with the return of Ben Dunn), and new batches of quality books in both standard staple "floppy" format and the standard graphic novel/manga format.
Antarctic Press recommendations:
I've read a lot of cool books from AP this year, from "I Hunt Monsters" to "Gold Digger," "Duel" and others, but the books that stand out to me have been:
"Oz: The Manga" by David Hutchison - A fantastic retelling of the Oz books, "Oz: The Manga" is fantastic to look at and entertaining to read. It sticks closer to the source material than the "Wizard of Oz" movie and makes me long for an animated series of this book. I can't get enough of this book and its art!
"How NOT to Draw Manga" by Kris Reid and John Kantz - This book kept my office mates and I (some of which draw anime style characters regularly) entertained for quite a while. A witty and hilarious send up of how-to books and the manga and anime genre. It's a great book to have for artists, otakus, or those of us who are both.
Honorable mention has to go to Rod Espinosa's fantastic "The Courageous Princess" in full color, gorgeously illustrated and (new to me) Sherard Jackson's "The Assembly," a great mech action book with tons of fantastic battles and a weighty story.
Tokyopop blazed a trail this year with their OEL lineup, as well as more than a few series that are up their in my top manga reads. While otakus everywhere are clearly divided on some of Tokyopop's decisions, its contract practices and the definitions of what exactly should and shouldn't be termed manga, the fact of the matter is that Tokyopop's distribution and willingness to try different genres and artistic styles in order to narrow down what their core audience will go for is one of the best ways talented fans who want to make the jump to becoming creators have. It's hard to refuse a publisher who wants to put your book in major stores, pay you for your work and market that book across the internet and magazines all over the country and possibly even internationally. I have had the opportunity to meet many of the creators of these books and it has been great to be a part of this passionate group of talented individuals and teams of creators.
I have enjoyed many of the Tokyopop lineups and have covered many of them, so I thought I would recommend some I haven't covered yet. ("MBQ" is still on of my favorite reads this year, and I am a sucker for "A Midnight Opera").
"Steady Beat" by Rivkah: Ok, so the fact that the book takes place in my favorite city, Austin, TX (where I live when not on Manga Island) is only part of the reason I enjoy this charming shoujo book full of romance and high school intrigue wrapped up with some great art. The central themes of family, acceptance of alternative lifestyles and hints at politics and the like have me anxiously awaiting book 2!
"Dramacon" is a fan favorite, and rightly so. "Dramacon" takes the craziness of the anime convention and puts a shoujo comedy spin on the preceding. Anyone who has been to a con and dealt with all that they involve should check out this book.
Honorable mentions should go out to the next crop of Tokyopop OEL such as "Fool's Gold" (fantastic art here!), the hilarious "Mail Order Ninja" (the Manga Online preview of this story was laugh out loud funny, and proves that ninjas are still super cool!), and the very interesting "Mark of the Succubus" (cool gothy high school fantasy full of great costumes and an intriguing premise).
Seven Seas has really taken the OEL market by storm as well. The quality of their books, the notes section in the back and the great flash trailers and previews they have are a treat for OEL manga fans everywhere. Their contract ideas and the licenses they have acquired are impressive. I think that Seven Seas has the potential to give a lot of companies a run for their money for sure. The whole Seven Seas lineup is extremely impressive, and recent press releases such as "Aoi House" being serialized in Newtype magazine (way to go Seven Seas!), the acquisition of the "Boogiepop" license, and the re-working of contracts to give creators more control of their properties, show that Seven Seas is well on its way to be a major force in the comics marketplace. I'm looking forward to great things from Seven Seas in the coming year for sure.
Seven Seas recommendations:
"Captain Nemo" written by Jason DeAngelis with art by Aldin Viray. I am a sucker for the steampunk and Victorian classical genre, and "Captain Nemo" hits exactly in the right spot for me. The characters designs and tech are really something to behold and the storytelling is everything that fans of the genre could want.
"No Man's Land" written by Jason DeAngelis with art by Jennyson Rosero. One of the most authentic looking OEL books I have seen, "No Man's Land" has become one of my favorite comics in the western genre next "Jonah Hex" and "Blazing Barrels." Get your western and quality manga fix all in one with "No Man's Land!"
A couple of smaller publishers have come out with comics influenced by manga that I thought I should mention in my wrap up as well.
Americanime Productions has recently started producing stapled comics influenced by anime and manga. Staying in the direct marked, Americanime has an interesting and diverse lineup. While I wish that they were producing the more affordable (for the consumer at least) standard manga trade paperback sized books, I can understand the cost for the publisher and why they are doing comic books. The art in Americanime books is not always as Japanese influenced as say Seven Seas, but there is a lot of variety and hard work put into their lineup.
Americanime Productions recommendations:
"Airshell" by Lia Fiengo is one of the most manga-like of the Americanime lineup. A cool sci-fi story with interesting elements and really nice characters designs, the "Airshell" preview I have read suffers only in the fact that I want more "Airshell." The first issue is a bit on the wordy side, but not every sci-fi epic has to be action oriented. I would love to see a collected volume of this story so I could read it in one sitting.
Other previews for Americanime that struck a chord are "Bounty Killer" (fantastic art, but not so much story in the preview) and "Kartharsis" ( I wasn't a huge fan of the art, but I dig the story). If the quality of the books matches CEO Michael Westerman's enthusiasm for his company and his books, I can see some great stuff coming out of this company in the near future.
Real Buzz Studios have set themselves up in an interesting niche in OEL books, the Christian inspirational market. I think that there is a lot of potential for growth in this market and I find it fascinating that real Buzz studios seems to be the only studio that has tried to marry manga influences and scripture outside of the manga Bible adaptation from Japan. While not everyone is looking for this marriage of western religion and eastern manga influences, I have to give it up to the Buzz Dixon and his studio for trying to break into the OEL scene and attempt to put out books for a possibly underserved market of people who dig manga, but may not be into a lot of the content that is prevalent in the works being brought over from Japan. "Serenity" is their flagship title and may find it hard to compete for shelf space in the already saturated market of OEL books, but it's a very interesting attempt to broaden interest in manga influenced books, especially for Christian parents who may not be comfortable buying their children more edgy books.
In my effort to be a completist, I have to add that I left out CMX and GoComi from the last article and I wanted to put in my 2 cents before I do my wrap up for the year.
CMX is a mixed bag to me to be honest. I can't believe that someone would license a popular book like Tenjho Tenge, water it down, and then use the "well the artist approved our edits" excuse. I don't want to watch a PG version of some of my favorite R rated movies like "The Thing" or "Reservoir Dogs" because I want to watch the movies as they were made. There are plenty of licenses that don't require the kind of editing that "Tenjho Tenge" needs to be a lucrative non-shrinkwrapped book. Any speculation as to why this book was handled this way is just that on my part, and I can't fault CMX for wanting to make the most of the license they have, but I just wish that we could get the book as it was originally produced, in a legit, non-scanlated way.
That being said, I really dig "Madara" and I love that they are putting out "Kikaider 02." Those books are pretty darn cool to me and I am looking forward to collecting them in their entirety. I have to give it up for CMX for having a truly diverse and interesting lineup as well, their licenses are certainly ones I hadn't expected. I'm hoping that the coming year brings us many more books in CMX's eclectic lineup and a lot less editing and changing for new series that get licensed.
And finally I have to add in GoComi. The small but earnest GoComi has a neat, tight lineup of titles and take great pride in their authenticity and the quality of their books. Jake Forbes (a well respected name in the manga scene indeed) along with CEO David Wise and manga veteran Audry Taylor make up a dedicated and devoted crew who truly want to give manga fans unique, uncut, quality books. Having read "Cantarella" I can say that they are doing a darn fine job in achieving this goal. I dig the lineup that they have and I can't wait to see what they have on the horizon.
As the holiday season spreads across Manga Island, I want to wish all the manga fans and Otakus everywhere a happy holiday season. Best wishes in the coming New Year and thanks to all of you who have supported this column, bought and/or read "Psy-Comm", or just dropped a note saying what you would like to see more of. Sharing our love of this art form makes it all worthwhile. Take care and Best Wishes, I hope to see you here on Manga Island in 2006 and beyond.
PS My final recommendation, if you haven't bought it yet, is Bryan Lee O'Malley 's "Scott Pilgrim." I love this book. It is a great mix of manga influence, old school video game references (I love that "Pro Wrestling" VS font), and music that is addictive, heartfelt and just plain fun to read. It's one of those stories that I can't help but feel jealous for not writing. This one would definitely be in my OEL pile of books I would want on a desert Island! Just go get it!!!!
Tony Salvaggio has been a fan of anime and manga from an early age. He has been an animator in the video games industry and is currently co-writing an original graphic novel for Tokyopop, PSY-COMM Volume 1 is out RIGHT NOW!!. He regularly hosts anime and Japanese related shows in Austin and his passion for all things anime and manga related is only excelled by his quest to become King of the Monsters.