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Posted by Ash Brown

TCAF 2017 Poster - Sana Takeda

©Sana Takeda

I didn’t actually realize it until I started writing up my random musings for the 2017 Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), but this year was actually my five-year TCAF anniversary! For the first two years I coordinated the trip with a friend (a different one each year), but for the last three years my TCAF adventures have been combined with a Toronto family vacation. 2017’s TCAF trip leaned a little more heavily towards family activities than in years past, but I still found the opportunity to enjoy what the festival had to offer. And seriously, TCAF has a tremendous amount to offer. It’s the only comics-related event that I currently attend, and it’s absolutely worth challenging my social anxiety and general awkwardness.

Although there are TCAF-related events throughout May, the festival-proper usually takes place on Mother’s Day weekend which was May 13th and 14th this year. As mentioned, much of the emphasis of my trip this year was on family vacationing. We made a long weekend of it, leaving on Thursday and returning on Sunday. On Thursday, after treating ourselves to breakfast at a favorite local restaurant and taking the young one to a weekly language development play group (which I hadn’t actually had the opportunity to visit before since I’m usually working when the class is held), the four of us (three adults and a toddler) piled into the car on headed out.

If we were to drive straight through from where we live in Michigan to Toronto, it would take about four and a half hours but we arrived a little over six hours after we left. Things always seem to take a bit longer when kids are involved, not to mention the fact that we also happened to stop for a leisurely picnic lunch once we were in Canada and well on our way. I don’t remember exactly what time we finally pulled into Toronto, but it was late enough that I missed the book launch party for Jane Mai and An Nguyen’s newest collaboration So Pretty / Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Culture which I had hoped to attend. Instead, we all took our time settling into the room for our stay and then ordered tasty takeout from a place that was a surprising combination of pizzeria and Asian fusion.

On Friday, the whole family spent most of the day at the Ontario Science Centre, which was fantastic. We mainly focused on the interactive areas geared towards younger ages and so certainly didn’t see everything there was to see; I would like to go back sometime and explore even more of the centre because we all had a great time. After resting up in our room for a bit, we eventually made our way down to The Distillery Historic District for dinner, drinks, and other diversions. In the past, Friday night would have been the night that I would take off for the Sparkler Monthly mixer, but this year that party was held on Saturday evening instead. (Sadly, this also meant Sparkler’s party conflicted with the annual queer mixer.)

After spending most of Thursday and Friday with the family, I was mostly off on my own on Saturday enjoying the first day of TCAF. As in years past, I started my morning off wandering the exhibitor areas before they got super crowded. I mostly explored the Toronto Reference Library,  which had three floors of exhibitors this year, but eventually made my way to the exhibitors situated in the Masonic Temple as well. I wasn’t quite as social as I have been at previous festivals, but I did make a point to at least say hello to the creator’s that I recently supported through Kickstarter who were at the festival. I spent a fair amount of time going through all of the exhibitor’s online portfolios before arriving in Toronto, making notes to myself of the tables that I wanted to be sure to stop by, but in the end I really did try to see everything there was to see. One of the things I love about TCAF is the wide variety of comics at the event, but I especially appreciate the number of queer creators and the amount of queer content present.

Ontario Science Centre Rainforest

Exploring the rainforest at the Ontario Science Centre

In addition to all of the phenomenal exhibitors, TCAF also has a strong lineup of panels, workshops, and creator spotlights. As usual, it was a tremendous challenge deciding which events I wanted to go to, especially as so many of the conflict with one another. In the end I settled on six, all but one of which were held on Saturday. There were definitely others that I wanted to attend, too, but for one reason or another (such as waking up with a migraine on Sunday morning or a cranky toddler) I wasn’t ultimately able to fit them all into my schedule.

Since I’m a musician on top of being a huge fan of comics, one of the panels that immediately caught my interest was “Sounds and Vision: Music in Comics,” moderated by Phillipe Leblanc, which explored how artists portray and convey music and sound in a visual medium. Although I haven’t actually read any of their comics (yet), I did recognize the panelists by name–Dave Chisholm, Nick Craine, Anya Davidson, Sandrine Revel, and Eric Kostiuk Williams. All of the creators on the panel had at least some musical background, formal or otherwise (Chisholm even has a doctorate in jazz trumpet), and consider music to be one of their passions. In some ways the two artforms, music and comics, are incompatible since each one requires so much time to master as an artist, but they can still be brought together. If nothing else, creators’ experiences as musicians can inform and influence the stories they want to tell. Effectively incorporating music into a comic requires more than just putting music notes on a page. As Chisholm pointed out, musical notation isn’t really music either–it’s simply ink on paper, a visual shorthand (much like comics themselves). In order to convey the intended feeling of the music, comic creators must instead rely on page and panel design to capture a sense of tempo, movement, and flow. Creative use of typography can also be effective, especially when lyrics are involved, and imaginative onomatopoeiae can serve as a device to form a visual soundscape. Often a literal representation of music isn’t what is demanded by a narrative, it’s the emotional resonance and impact of that music that needs to be seen, whether it’s the focus of a comic or simply being used as a background element to help set a scene.

After spending a little more time browsing the exhibitor areas, the next panel that I attended was simply titled “Sports!” which included Michael Nybrandt, Ngozi Ukazu, Sonam Wangyal, and Jarrett Williams as panelists and RJ Casey as a moderator. While in Japan sports comics have been immensely successful, the subgenre hasn’t thrived in the same way in the North American comics industry. Although there have been some independent sports comics with impressive followings, such as Ukazu’s Check, Please!, in general sports comics continue to be a hard sell for many major publishers. In the 1990s there were some unsuccessful mainstream attempts that basically tried to turn sports comics into superhero narratives rather than focusing on the underlying human story, something that didn’t work well at the time. There’s also the question of audience since there is a lingering and inaccurate stereotype that “nerds don’t like sports.” (Ukazu commented that it might actually be more difficult to sell sports comics to sports fans than to comics fans.) Sports stories provide ready-made and easily understood narratives which allow the incorporation and exploration of other subjects such as politics, religion, and performance of gender, making those issues more acceptable or palatable for readers. Emotional highs and lows are inherent to the stories, often directly tied to the athletes’ successes and failures in competition. Sports comics can risk becoming repetitive since the most basic story arc is the often same–someone will win and someone will lose–but while the ending may be already be determined, how the comic arrives at that ending is not. Changing the implications of winning and losing can introduce new dynamics and not all the conflict and drama has to happen within the context of the sport itself.

TCAF 2017 Haul

TCAF Haul 2017!
(minus a t-shirt and poster)

While the first two panels I went to were both held at the Stealth Lounge at The Pilot, my next three panels were located at another of TCAF’s primary event locations, the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel which allows for larger gatherings. It’s a good thing, too. Glen Downey, who was moderating “Creating While Depressed,” noted that it was one of the most well-attended TCAF panels with which he has been involved. The subject matter being discussed appeared to strike a very personal chord with many of the people in the audience, myself included. The panelists–Meredith Gran, Tara Ogaick, Meredith Park, and Shivana Sookdeo–were all very candid and open, sharing their own experiences as creators who have to carefully balance their mental health with their creative work. They talked about how damaging the idealized stereotype of the “tortured artist” is and how the romanticized portrayal of depression found in popular culture is often vastly different from actual experience. In reality, people with depression are creating despite depression rather than because of it. For them, comics can be an outlet for expression and a way to alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, but at their lowest points it may be impossible for them to produce any work at all. It is at those times when communication and honesty are particularly crucial in order to clearly delineate limitations and establish realistic expectations not only for themselves but for the people with whom they might be working. The panelists also emphasized the importance of finding a supportive, close-knit community. Although they were specifically speaking as artistic creators with depression, I found that their experiences strongly resonated with my own and could be more broadly relatable.

My fourth panel of the day was “21st Century Webcomics,” featuring Michael DeForge, Blue Delliquanti, Priya Huq, Matt Lubchansky, and moderated by Tom Spurgeon. I don’t actually follow as many comics online as I used to–I find reading digital content difficult and/or frustrating for a wide variety of reasons–but I am still a huge supporter of webcomics, frequently buying print editions if they exist. As with any medium, webcomics have evolved over time especially as advances in the creation of digital artwork have also been made. Likewise, the relationship between webcomics and print comics have changed and there is less of a sense that they are at war these days. Instead, webcomics are often used to support their print equivalents. Because they are online, webcomics are inherently more discoverable and more widely accessible which helps to build an audience and further promote a creator’s work. Webcomics can also give a creator the opportunity to experiment with new methods and formats of expression that simply aren’t realistically feasible or even possible in print, such as the use of infinite canvass, animation techniques, or interactive elements. Creators have a tremendous amount of freedom when it comes to webcomics, allowing personal or experimental works to be produced and distributed that more traditional or mainstream comic publishers might initially be reluctant to take a risk on. However, while it was hoped that the Internet would allow creators to more directly deliver their content to readers and flatten out publishing hierarchies (which to some extent has occurred), the reality is that there has been a rise in intermediaries. More and more, creators find they frequently have to rely on multiple external systems and platforms like Kickstarter, Patreon, and social media to sustain their work.

“LGBTQ Comics Abroad,” moderated by Justin Hall, was the one panel that I wanted to be sure to make it to above all others not just because the subject matter had to do with queer comics but because Gengoroh Tagame was participating. (Even if someone isn’t a fan of Tagame’s works, his immense historical knowledge and experience as a gay comics creator makes his panels well-worth seeking out.) The other panelists included A.C. Esguerra, Molly Ostertag, Tommi Parrish, and Martina Schradi. Anne Ishii was also there, technically to assist with interpretation for Tagame, but she also had her own thoughts and experiences to bring to the discussion. The panelists talked about their work and the state of queer comics within their own countries (Japan, United States, Australia, and Germany) but also the challenges presented when considering international audiences. Queer identities are formed differently from culture to culture, and some of the nuances of those differences can be difficult to convey or translate, however there are still some shared and common experiences that are not limited by borders; social mores and contexts will often vary, but universal themes can still be found. The online environment has presented an opportunity for queer comics to be successful in ways that are currently difficult through traditional publishing, although the mainstream comics industry has been slowly making progress. The Internet allows for an unprecedented ease of global access to and distribution of queer content; it has been possible for numerous communities and support networks to be established which aren’t limited by geographic boundaries. But along with the good, there is also the bad–the piracy, scanlations, and extreme levels of fan entitlement present online can be hugely damaging.

TCAF 2017 Poster - Eleanor Davis

©Eleanor Davis

As mentioned, Saturday night I went to the Sparkler TCAF Mixer. I brought the little one along with me to allow the family’s other two adults to have a child-free dinner date. A good time was had by all and I had the chance to catch up with not only the Chromatic Press/Sparkler Monthly folks but some of Seven Seas’ people as well. There’s a bit of an overlap between the two groups even though the demographics of each company’s audience are currently the inverse of each other. (Interesting tidbit: According to a recent Sparkler Monthly survey, while women form the core readership, at present Chromatic Press has more nonbinary readers than male readers.) Expect some really great things and exciting announcements to come from both publishers in the near future.

Sunday ended up being a much shorter day than was originally planned (I was really hoping to attend the So Pretty / Very Rotten discussion on Lolita culture at the Japan Foundation, for one). However, I and one of my partners were able to at least make it to The Pilot for the panel “Looks Good Enough to Eat: Comics and Food” before we all headed back to Michigan. We sadly missed out 2016’s food comics panel, so we were particularly happy to be there this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering my well-known love of food comics, I was already familiar with the work of most of the panelists: Sarah Becan, Emily Forster, Robin Ha, Jade Feng Lee, and Kat Verhoeven. Along with moderator Lauren Jorden, the group discussed what appealed to them about creating and reading comics that prominently feature or incorporate food. The subgenre of food comics is actually quite diverse, including comics explicitly about food (recipe comics, autobiographical works, or journalistic reviews) as well as comics that use food as a theme or aesthetic. Everyone has to eat, which can make food comics particularly accessible; it’s a shared experience that can serve as a gateway into comics. Food is a multisensory experience, so it can be challenging when working in a medium that primarily relies on one. However, an important part of eating is the visual experience, so to that extent comics are a natural fit. Comics can evoke a feeling or mood that can’t be captured in the same way with photography or other visual artforms. Often there is a strong emotional component to food comics. Even when the subject matter is specifically about food, food itself isn’t just food–it’s history, community, culture, relationships, and personal expression. And comics can be all of those things, too.

And with that,  and after one last tour through the exhibitor areas, the whole family prepared to depart for home. Though I didn’t end up doing everything that I had originally planned or hoped to do,  but I still had a fantastic trip. Toronto is a terrific city and TCAF is a phenomenal festival. However inadequately, I’ve tried to convey some of that greatness here by highlighting a little of what I learned and experienced. However, there’s so much more that I could have (and perhaps should have) written about because there’s so much more to the festival. I definitely plan on attending TCAF for the foreseeable future.

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Posted by Sean Gaffney

By Hiro Ainana and shri. Released in Japan by Fujimi Shobo. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.

There is a bit of a cliche about the typical isekai hero. The abbreviation used, I believe is ‘OP’, as in ‘overpowered’. In fact, it gets applied to light novels heroes whether it’s an isekai or not, but generally tends to mean that the hero wins most of his fights with ease, has very little difficulty amassing a group of girls who like him, and wanders through the story being a cool wish-fulfillment character. Of course, when you examine the works more closely, no one here is ever QUITE that bad. Taking the two most obvious examples, Kirito has various issues in both his real and gaming life (which admittedly the author does not emphasize as much as he should), and Tatsuya has genuine issues communicating properly with people much of the time due to literally being engineered to not have strong emotions. Hell, even Arifureta’s hero spends almost half the book suffering as a bullied loser before he goes through hell and becomes Grimdark Araragi. And then there’s Death March’s Satou.

Even Satou’s very name, one of the most common last names in Japan, screams generic. The author seems to have this misguided opinion that being above the age of 25 somehow manages to let you control all your emotions perfectly, and so Satou strides through situations with barely a raised eyebrow. His briefly getting mildly annoyed at the villain at the end of this volume is a major breakthrough, something he even lampshades. Hell, you know the scene in KonoSuba where Kazuma goes through hell in order to get laid with a brothel employee only for everything to conspire against him? Here, Satou can simply go to a brothel, level up in many erotic ways (which he refuses to tell us), and suffer no punishment other than being briefly yelled at by his loli slave, who he spends most of the book chastising in any case. You could argue that Touya from Mixed Bathing and Touya from Isekai Smartphone are generic nice guys too, but at least they have normal reactions and are somewhat fresh-faced and shiny. Satou is “been there, done that”.

Oh yes, speaking of that loli, Arisa is the major new cast addition this time around, and is also from Japan, though we don’t know the details yet. Given her behavior, I suspect that she’s much older than her fantasy appearance here. But on that note, can we dial down Satou reminding us he’s not a lolicon just a bit? I realize he’s surrounded by young girls (most of whom he owns – the slavery aspect to this work is still very uncomfortable, especially as his reaction is along the lines of “well, that’s the way it is”) but it’s annoying given that the author clearly IS a lolicon and is happy to give us lots of service whether asked for or not. Other new characters include Arisa’s companion, who is painfully shy except when discussing Arisa, and also cursed to look ugly to everyone (except Satou), a generic mook villainess who is #7 of a group of eight, so is naturally named Nana by Satou because he is awful, and a cute realtor who seems to want to be ravished by her boss. Oh, and an elf princess, also very young.

Is there anything in this book that isn’t painful? The last third or so, where he’s battling his way up a huge tower full of monsters, shows the author can be decent when he’s writing fight scenes. At one point, Satou has to literally breakdance his way past the villains, the only time in the entire volume I laughed out loud. But for the most part, if you’re interested in an isekai published in North America, literally any other novel is better than this. Congrats, Death March, you’re the first light novel I’m dropping for simply being bad, rather than dark (Black Bullet, Goblin Slayer, Grimgar) or offensive (Siskan).

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Episode 1515: Together in Orectic Dreams

If an NPC has to make a speech, make it relevant and entertaining.

Or you could go the other way and make it long-winded and boring, and require the PCs to make Stamina saving throws to not fall asleep. And of course anyone who has the temerity to fall asleep during the king's speech wakes up in the dungeons.

Girls’ Last Tour, Vol. 1

May. 27th, 2017 08:38 pm
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Posted by Sean Gaffney

By Tsukumizu. Released in Japan as “Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou” by Shinchosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Kurage Bunch. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Amanda Haley.

As I read this manga, I kept wondering which of the many slice-of-life series starring young girls drawn in a moe style it reminded me of. I’d said on twitter that it was like a post-apocalyptic Yotsuba&!, but at times it also reminds me of Strawberry Marshmallow, Sunshine Sketch, and Non Non Biyori. The key thing that connects all of those titles is that they’re all slice-of-life – note that Girls’ Last tour doesn’t really remind me of other post-apocalyptic mangas where survivors wander the remains of the Earth. Because while that’s the gimmick here, it’s not what keeps people coming back to the title week after week. You come back to see Chito and Yuuri, the two leads, discuss reading, or find hot water so they can take a bath, or meet up with other survivors who help them get up to higher levels of the wasted world they drive their small, cute tank through. It’s… relaxing.

It’s never really made clear, at least not in this volume, exactly what happened to the world that the two girls are wandering through, and honestly it’s not all that important yet. All we know is that there are multiple levels, they are decaying and falling apart, and that for the first 2/3 of the book or so, the girls are the only two survivors we meet. Their concerns are basic: food, heat, shelter, and finding a way to get to a level where there might be more of all three. As you’d expect with a slice of life title, the girls have contrasting personalities. Chito is serious, studious, and does most of the thinking for the two; Yuuri is cheery, dazed, a bit of an idiot, and provides the muscle and shooting skills. And yes, they drive around in a tank and have guns, though we don’t really run into much of anything in this first volume that would require them. Unlike a lot of the slice-of-life seinen titles out recently, there’s not even any faux yuri tease in this – the girls are simply friends, with one perhaps finding the other one more aggravating than she’d like.

About 2/3 of the way through, they meet an older man who is trying to map out the desolate landscape they’re both exploring. Sadly, thanks to a malfunctioning elevator, his maps end up scattered to the four winds (this is even lampshaded right before it happens, with one of the girls talking about the poor design of the freight elevator they’re riding and how it needs railings). This also shows off that even if the girls can slide into moe sameness a bit (I still tend to forget their names), they both have a drive to explore more, to find out what’s beyond the next level, and they convince the understandably distraught mapmaker to do the same thing. Girls’ Last Tour is exploring a landscape quietly and peacefully with two cute young girls. It’s not just a slice-of-life moe manga, it’s trying to be the last slice-of-life moe manga you’d read before the end times cast the universe into heat death. And for the first volume, at least, that’s not too bad.

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Part of the power of a recursive neural network is that the same framework can teach itself to generate text in a huge variety of styles. So far I’ve used it to generate things like recipes, Dr. Who episode titles, D&D spellsstory titlesmetal band names, Pokemon, and paint colors.

But could the neural network learn to generate names for 1980s American action figure toys?

Trent Troop, an indie toy designer who blogs at therobotmonster.tumblr.com and bmogtoys.tumblr.com and also runs https://www.facebook.com/prizeinsidetoys/, gave me a list of about 3,700 action figures from the 1980s and 1990s, from lines including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and My Little Pony.

I give you: 80′s action figures, designed by neural network. I remember there were lots of ninja toys and battle toys in the 1980s, but I don’t remember the stank-themed toys, to be honest.

Stanker
Action Bun
Sanesaur
Bull-Bat
Stenky
Slorp
Stan Bad
Bluck-ing Ding Tark
Slimetrat
Ninja Rain
Flarg
Ninja Rat
Shy Moat
Stank Spenker
Pumble Cat
Catrain
Fracken
Narkle
Alter Pant
Danky
Stalking Spanking Narlo-tie Dere
Shark Troll
Storm Shrek
Treed Trooper
Arnon Prombot
Rotercomming Pingaling
Mama
Mindlick
Claw Wind
Strong Boot
Potter Stank
Sharkstorm
Head Snarp
Blue Man
Casthean Cuttlebat
Disky Thik Topping Toth Ottamus Prime
Sewer Man with Slagg Light
Battle Command Master Cramp
Viperlord
Crustillar
Blaster with Man Dreads
Rench Beast
Cobra Funk
Headstank
Burble Beast
Battle Battle Action Master Growl Teom
Strawberry Shorttake with Burdball
Battle Bong
Snack Blast
Spocky Man
Princess Pow
Princess Backing Punch
Slothar
Surfer Bat

Manga the Week of 5/31

May. 26th, 2017 08:52 pm
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Posted by Sean Gaffney

SEAN: Believe it or not, under 20 releases is now a quiet week. Welcome to the Manga Boom, here’s your accordion. So what’s out next week?

J-Novel Club has an odd license. Despite being available to them, no one thought the company would license Invaders of the Rokujouma!? for two reasons: 1) It’s 23 volumes and counting in Japan, and 2) it already had a well-regarded fan translation of the first 22 volumes. But J-Novel has licensed that fan translation, is giving it an edit, and doing a fast release of the first three volumes of the series, with more to come monthly, apparently. As for the title itself, it’s a harem comedy, so moving on…

ASH: It’s probably not a series that I’ll ever pick up, but that’s an interesting publication history!

SEAN: Kodansha has more digital Del Rey rescues. Alive 16, Nodame Cantabile 20, and Yozakura Quartet 12.

…and I guess that Kodansha has Battle Angel Alita 1-3 out digitally too. I knew it was coming, but not so soon. This is the original BAA (as opposed to the Last Order reboot), with a new translation.

Their lone print release this week is the 60th volume of Fairy Tail, which should be wrapping up in Japan soon.

Kodansha also has new digital releases. Kasane is an award-winning work, and runs in the magazine Evening. It appears to be a dark thriller with lots of bullying and abuse overtones. But, magic lipstick!

Real Girl (3D Kanojo) is a shoujo/josei title from Dessert, involving a nerdy outcast type who ends up working with a cool beauty, the sort he hates, but gradually comes to realize that cool beauties are people too.

ANNA: I have mixed feelings about these digital releases, I’m so happy that more shoujo/josei is coming out, but having been burned before by the crash and burn of digital manga programs in the past, I’m concerned about some of these titles actually being finished. Also, it would be great to have some more josei print manga! Even with these handy reminders for the Manga Bookshelf team, I’m having a hard time keeping track of all the digital releases that I’m interested in.

MICHELLE: There certainly are a lot of them! That said, I will give these two new ones a try. And yay for more Nodame, as well!

ASH: I’m glad that these titles are being licensed at all, but I’d definitely like to see more of the released in print, too.

MELINDA: I share Anna’s concerns. I’m glad these are being released, but I’m still reeling from the loss of some JManga series I was really invested in (that have not, to my knowledge, been picked up by anyone else), and I admit I still mistrust digital.

SEAN: If it helps, the JManga title To All Corners of the World was rescued by Seven Seas and will be out in November in one (print) omnibus.

Seven Seas has a few new titles next week, starting with a (gasp!) novel, The Disappearance of Hatsune Miku, based on the seemingly unstoppable Vocaloid idol.

The manga debut is The High School Life of a Fudanshi (Fudanshi Koukou Seikatsu), a comedy title from Zero-Sum Online about a straight guy obsessed with BL, and his drive to find someone else to share his obsession with.

ASH: Knowing a few straight fudanshi myself, I’m rather curious to see how the series handles the topic.

MELINDA: Cautiously interested.

SEAN: And there’s a 5th volume of Shomin Sample, which must have run out of girls showing us their panties on the cover by now. (checks) Sadly, apparently not.

Vertical has the 8th Ninja Slayer, for all your Ninja needs.

They also have a light novel based on the Seven Deadly Sins manga, subtitled Seven Scars They Left Behind. Judging by that title, I wouldn’t expect a lot of laughs.

Yen Digital has some new volumes for us, as we get the 10th Aphorism, the 10th Crimson Prince, and the 10th Sekirei.

And while it’s not Vol. 10, Yen On does have the first four Sword Art Online novels now available digitally, for those obsessed with reading light novels on their phones (like me).

Are you taking a week off? Or getting something here?

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Posted by Katherine Dacey

The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal recently touched off a fierce debate about whether colleges should teach comics as literature. In a provocatively titled article “Graphic Novels Are Trending in English Departments, and That’s a Problem,” writer Shannon Watkins argued that a crisis was brewing in higher education, as more and more colleges taught graphic novels alongside or instead of “standard text-based curricula.” She raised two objections to comic studies: first, that comics are an inherently political medium, and second, that comics demand less of the reader than purely textual works. Both objections are easy to refute, in part because Watkins’ arguments rest on anecdotal evidence; it’s hard to argue that comics are a “trend” if you don’t provide hard numbers to support your claim that universities are ditching The Iliad for Watchmen or Fun Home.

As for her argument that graphic novels are compromising the true mission of colleges and universities by “push[ing] a social justice agenda” instead of teaching the classics, Watkins ignores the political impulse behind “Great Books” courses. My alma mater, for example, created its core curriculum in 1919. The faculty viewed courses such as Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities as a lens through which to view the present moment; by reading the great novels, essays, dramas, and philosophical tracts of the previous 2,000 years, they hoped to develop students’ ability to solve such 20th-century problems as “how to achieve political and legal forms which are at once flexible and stable; how to eliminate human and material waste of every kind; how to preserve national integrity and still enjoy the benefits of international organization; and finally, how to provide an education that will advance personal and social interests, cultural and industrial.” If that isn’t political, I don’t know what is.

Watkins is on firmer ground when arguing that reading comics and reading text are different skills. In one of the most quoted sections of her essay, she argues that “Texts without pictures require students to exercise abstract reasoning in comprehending the meaning of the text, leaving the accompanying visualizations to their own imagination.” Watkins then leaps to the conclusion that “the images found in graphic novels… remove much of the need for students to exercise their intellects in order to process the main ideas.” Yet she never supports this claim with any substantial research on literacy or cognition; instead, she suggests that reading comics dulls the intellect, an idea popularized by Frederic Wertham in The Seduction of the Innocent (1954). “By no stretch of critical standards can the text in crime comics qualify as literature, or their drawings as art,” he opined. “Considering the enormous amount of time spent by children on crime comics, their gain is nil. They do not learn how to read a serious book or magazine. They do not gain a true picture of the West from ‘Westerns.’ They do not learn any normal aspects of sex, love, or life” (89).

For additional perspective on the controversy, I encourage you to read Heidi MacDonald’s essay at The Beat, in which she explains why Fun Home is not, in fact, a “political” text, and Maren Williams’ article documenting efforts to ban controversial graphic novels from the College of Charleston, Duke University, and other schools around the country.

Now on to the rest of this week’s manga, anime, comics, and pop culture links…

Seven Seas just added two new titles to its Winter 2018 schedule: Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale and Fauna and the Dragonnewts’ Seven Kingdoms, both of which look charming and weird in equal measure. [Seven Seas]

Erica Friedman explains how lesbian activism gave rise to yuri manga. [Okazu]

Brigid Alverson compiles a list of seven essential sci-fi manga, from Knights of Sidonia to Bodacious Space Pirates: Abyss of Hyperspace. [B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog] 

Should you watch Netflix’s adaptation of Blame? Serdar Yegulalp considers what’s lost and gained by condensing Tsutomu Nihei’s manga into a two-hour movie. [Ganriki]

Leave it to a Japanese bakery to design a cat-shaped loaf of bread. [Sora News 24]

Tickets for the 2017 J-Pop Summit just went on sale today. Joining this year’s line-up of musical acts are Babyraids, Misaki Iwasa, Yanakiku, and Band-Maid. Too broke to go? Consider volunteering! In exchange for donating your time, skills, and enthusiasm, you’ll receive a free, one-day pass to the festival. [J-Pop Summit]

To promote their book So Pretty/Very Rotten: Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute CultureJane Mai and An Nguyen provide an illustrated primer on lolita style. Their book is now available from Koyama Press. [The Paris Review]

Scholar Kathryn Hemmann reviews Indian Summer, a novel by Kanai Mieko that was published “the same year as Yoshimoto Banana’s famous girls’ literature novella Kitchen.” Though Mieko’s novel “has more of a satirical bite” than Yoshimoto’s, “both stories reflect the heady energy of [Japanese] consumer culture at the end of the bubble years.” [Contemporary Japanese Literature]

Google’s AlphaGo software just defeated the world’s greatest living Go player. [The New York Times]

If you’re planning to read Delicious in Dungeon — and I hope you are, because it’s a hoot — check out this excerpt from Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Birth of D&D first. It will give you a new appreciation for D&D’s influence on comics, movies, and television. [Wired]

And speaking of gaming culture, Sam Riedel takes an in-depth look at the fallout from 2014’s Gamergate scandal, noting just how little meaningful progress has been made towards addressing nerdom’s misogyny problem. [Bitch Media]

Last but not least, Star Wars debuted 40 years ago this week. It’s hard to understate its impact on popular entertainment and merchandising, and difficult to fathom its box-office success: it remained the top-grossing film in America for 20 weeks in 1977. (By contrast, Finding Dory, last year’s top-grossing film, was the box-office champion for just four weeks.) Justin Bank and Sean Alfano have sifted through the New York Times’ original coverage of the film — and the phenomenon — and compiled a terrific assortment of links, from Vincent Canby’s original review to a editorial arguing that Star Wars needed more sex. Ah, the 70s… [The New York Times]

Strike the Blood, Vol. 6

May. 26th, 2017 07:57 am
[syndicated profile] mangabookshelf_feed

Posted by Sean Gaffney

By Gakuto Mikumo and Manyako. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jeremiah Bourque.

Sigh. And here we are again, blank screen. It’s you vs. me, as I try to fill you up with another 500 or so words about the latest volume of Strike the Blood. The goal, as always, is not to simply cut and paste from the previous five reviews. As always, this goal tends to be thwarted by the plot, characterization, and writing in Strike the Blood, whose cookie-cutter quality means that the same things happen over and over again. Let’s face it, the big surprise in this volume was that for once Kojou is not biting a different girl to gain more superpowers… though in an icky way, I suppose that his possessed younger sister may count. I’d prefer to think that it does not. Other than that, though, it’s business as usual at Strike the Blood, Inc.

Even the covers depress me, as you can’t even get the ‘new harem member gets the cover’ cliche that you do with most other series of this sort. No, Strike the Blood now has 16 volumes out in Japan, and it’s Yukinas all the way down. The ‘new girl’ this time, sort of, is Nina Adelard, an immortal alchemist with a tragic past that’s tied into Kanon’s own tragic past. She spends most of the book either occupying Asagi’s body or taking on her appearance, and I suspect her ending up as a “fairy-like” creature will allow her to take on a role in future books similar to a magical girl mascot. (It also reminds me of Index, as much of this series does, though for once I believe that Strike the Blood actually did this first.) The plot involves lots of alchemy and liquid metal, and a few guards end up dead in horrible ways, but aren’t dwelled on.

Asagi also ends up dead briefly, which might have had more impact if there was any chance that it would stick. We do get more concrete proof that as long as she’s on the island she’s effectively immortal. Unfortunately, with no computer problems to solve this time, Asagi is in full on “tsundere anime girl” mode, which means wacky cooking antics and exploding stoves. (Yukina, of course, is also in cliche mode, reacting any time Koujo even briefly pays attention to another attractive female.) Everyone else fills their function: Kanon is waifish and still somewhat broken, Natsuki flits around saving the day and being the cute loli teacher. and Yaze continues to get hints that he may one day be relevant to the plot without actually being so in this book.

And so as ever I’m left with saying the same thing. The writing is good, moves quickly, the fights are exciting. But this could be written by the Light Noveltron 3000. And there’s still no real sign of any developing main plot, anything that might carry over from book to book. Things are neatly wrapped up, and I suspect Book 7 will have another danger to the island that is also neatly wrapped up. Strike the Blood is, when you get down to it, Strike the Blood. It is shaped like itself, and can’t really be reviewed as anything but that.

FEED THE BABY – 3 days left!

May. 26th, 2017 07:09 am
[syndicated profile] wondermark_feed

Posted by David Malki

I’ve had a great response to the FEED THE BABY super sale:

To celebrate my baby turning 49 days old today, you can get 49% off orders of greeting cards, stickers, books, and puzzles in my in-house store!

Just what I have in stock at the moment, and just for a few days, I think…

Use code FEEDTHEBABY at checkout to get the discount! All proceeds go directly to feeding my baby.

Thanks very much for feeding my baby!! I’ll leave the 49% discount active through Sunday the 28th, EVEN THOUGH he will ACTUALLY be 59 days old by then. (I won’t tell him we’re doing this if you won’t.)

 

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