Entirely by coincidence I ended up buying mainly manga on my weekly visit to my local comic shop. Fortunately for me my local shop is Page45 and fails to meet the usual expectations of comic shops. Unlike Forbidden Planet and many other larger comic shops it's not a toy shop pretended to be a comic shop, it's clean, tidy and well laid out. The big difference between Page45 and most other comic shops is that it doesn't just pay lip service to independent or alternative comics, it puts them up front and displays them proudly. Of course the superhero stuff is still there, just not in the usual quantities or prominence. It would be dull of me to drone on about the superhero/alternative divide, or the notion that what comic fans consider alternative is what non-comic fans would consider mainstream (Maus, Jimmy Corrigan, Palestine for instance), or even to talk of the slow death of the comic industry. They're self evident to anyone who has taken even the slightest bit of notice. This isn't an advert for Page45 either, I do have a few problems with them and the standard of many other comic shops has risen in the last 5 years or so, but it's still a damn good shop.
So, back to those comics. The only non-manga I bought was two zines, King Cat, totally impossible to describe but utterly irresistible and unique, John Porcilleno is creating something utterly personal and has been doing it himself, his way, for years. Fantastic work. I bought two to send one on to Danny, I've always thought he'd like it.
Manga is not something I'm amazingly familiar with but I still have quite a few books, Uzamaki (scary and weird in a way that I've rarely seen), Lone Wolf and Cub (Kill Bill 2 name checks the film adaptation Shogun Assassin), Ranma 1/2 (and a few other Rumiko Takahashi books, she does character based comedy and drama better than anyone, whether it's realistic such as Maison Ikkoku or genre based such as Lum or Ranma), Hellbaby (brrrr.....), Miyazaki's Nausicaa (the excellent director creates an epic comic using his favourite themes of nature and love) and a fair few more. But still, I know very little about manga beyond the big stuff and the odd quirky little title, the recent massive expansion thanks to publishers like Tokyopop and the huge leap in sales in the US, and presumably the UK, has meant that there's just too much out there. Also I suspect that in an effort to keep up with the demand a lot of filler stuff is being translated. A quick look at the bulging shelves in Page45 reveals the same stuff being repeated over and over again, the skill on display is undeniable but the thing I've always loved about comics is that they are a great medium to produce something unique and personal. Unlike the big US comic though though manga publishers at least have more strings to the bow it's repeatedly plucking with Sci-fi, horror, fantasy, crime, romance and comedy the popular staples of manga genres, as opposed to superheroes and the odd horror and crime title.
But not all manga follows the usual blueprint, there's quite a lot of interesting 'underground' style manga out there (Fantagraphics did an excellent collection that had me wishing for more translations) and many other more personal tales, which finally leads me to the point of all this rambling. Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man is a wonderfully sweet life affirming book that manages to avoid being trite or manipulative. Imagine the excitement of... taking a walk. Because that's all that happens. No day dreaming flights of fancy to spice things up, just a guy who likes to walk. What makes this so special is the very ordinariness of it all and the walking man's openness. He might stop to help some children get a toy plane from down a tree, take a look at the view from the top of the tree, find the toy plane broken lying in the gutter on the way home and take the time to fix it and send it flying once more. Or he'll get over taken by a gentlemen walking faster than him so he'll catch up, be over taken, catch up, be over taken and so on until a silent understanding is met and the two men walk together sharing the moment. The slow pace, sparing dialogue and exacting artwork make this a pleasure to read and an inspiration to go outside and enjoy the world. Sadly I couldn't find this on amazon, just mention of Ibooks translation of Taniguchi and Moebius' collaboration which didn't terribly impress me when I saw it, lovely artwork from Taniguchi but Moebius' writing is not half as interesting as his drawing. I haven't looked at it yet but the publisher does have a website though ponentmon.
The other book I picked up is also by the same publisher, Fanfare/Ponent Mon, and is a book I've been wait for for a while now. I haven't had a chance to read it yet so you'll have to wait for my long winded opinion (!), but I've got seriously high hopes for Kazuichi Hanawa's Doing Time. It's about the author's time in jail for possession of a gun. The reason for having a gun is fairly innocuous and the three year sentence seems to have been unnecessary. The book looks to be slow moving, lacking in melodrama and beautifully illustrated in a style that reminds me of Yoshihiro Tassumi (who's work is sort of Raymond Carver-esque and is apparently getting a new translation through Drawn and Quarterly) Hopefully Doing Time will live up to my expectations.
And that's it.