Category Archives: Comics

Graphic Content – Mushishi

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
40/501Title: Mushishi
Creator: Yuki Urushibara
Years: 1999-2008
Country: Japan

Well, this may be one of the most magical/mysterious manga that I have ever read. It’s described on Wikipedia as being a supernatural detective story which, whilst true, doesn’t really get to the heart of it.

Mushishi is set a few centuries ago in rural Japan where otherwordly creatures, known as ‘mushi’, exist. The series described mushi as being life in it’s purest form, so pure that few people can actually see them and the mushi themselves take on magical properties. The titular character (a mushishi named Ginko) is a specialist in mushi that travels around solving mushi-related problems.

The whole manga plays like a supernatural procedural with Ginko coming into a village and solving their mushi related problems. This can encompass everything from helping with joint pain to helping people deal with the psychological consequences of their loved one being resurrected.

Whilst there are common themes of light/dark, nature and blindness throughout the 10 volumes, it doesn’t feel that there was any real repetition in the cases found in Mushishi. Whilst it’s not true that every case is unique, there is enough in the variation, development and outcomes to keep it feeling fresh. It also helps that every story has a different type of mushi at the centre.

8 years ago I asked some friends at university about anime that I just had to see. Thanks to this I fell in love with Genshiken and started watching films by Satoshi Kon. Mushishi is the final recommendation from this list I have yet to see and now, since I have read the manga, I will be able to cross this off. Soon. I know I just finished reading this, but I have to see how they dramatised these stories.

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Graphic Content – Tex

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
39/501Title: Tex
Creator: Gian Luigi Bonelli and Aurelio Galleppini
Years: 1948 onwards
Country: Italy

Before I start on this, it’s worth noting that in the 1001 Comics book it has this comic nestled under 1969. I am guessing that my reference book decided to use the date of when this comic was either first translated into English or was first released in the USA. In any case, having read some of the earlier issues of Tex it falls very much into the trappings of a 1940s comic book.

Tex is the first comic I’ve read that falls into the western genre. What sets this apart from the other western comics on the list is that it’s also a spaghetti western with it being originally written in Italian and being based on American western movies. This might go a long way to explain how the depiction of Native Americans and other non-white races feels progressive by the standards of 1940s America. Sure, it’s still cringeworthy at times with most non-whites being subservient to white people and/or being referred to with weird epithets… but it’s still better than other comics at the time.

When you read Tex you’re presented with exactly what you expect – swashbuckling (or whatever the cowboy version of that word is) adventures with bandits, gunfire and peril. Tex also gets his kit off a lot since he is regularly captured and stripped because, you know, cliffhangers. I point this out not because it’s particularly erotic, but because it becomes hard to differentiate the titular Tex from other characters when he isn’t wearing his trademark yellow shirt.

As a comic book it’s fine, but after a while you see how templated a lot of these stories are. It began to get a bit silly the third time the villain was a masked version of a character that Tex had just met, but Tex was unable to connect the dots. It stands to reason that Tex was not a comic meant to be binged the way I did, but that’s the way it goes.

In the end, Tex is fine to read a bit of but there’s plenty of better comics out there.

Graphic Content – Parasyte

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
38/501Title: Parasyte
Creator: Hitoshi Iwaaki
Years: 1988-1995
Country: Japan

I like to think that the comic choices that myself and the hub make say something about us. For example, he picked out Mopsy for us to read (make of that what you will) and I opted for Parasyte. I mean, it helped that this was also on my anime list… but I enjoyed this incredible contrast too much to not draw attention to it.

So what is Parasyte all about? Well, think of it as a sci-fi horror manga about parasites that are taking over human bodies and trying to take over the world. These parasites, once inside the human, have a hunger for human meat and are able to attack by turning parts of their body into fast moving knives.

At the centre of this is high-schooler Shinichi who, thanks to a freak accident, is infected by a parasite… but the infection stops at his right elbow. This leads to the main dynamic of the manga as the shy high school student interacts with the parasite infecting his right hand (later named Migi) and is forced to take part in the human battle against the parasites.

What really made this manga an enjoyable read for me was the body horror angle. You have heads unfurling into teeth, blades and other weapons, people being sliced into pieces… it’s a glorious gorefest that I can appreciate as a manga or an anime but would turn my stomach if it was done as a live-action.

Over the course of 64 chapters I was utterly absorbed in this battle between human and parasite to the point that it felt like it ended too soon. I ended up reaching the latter chapters and it began to see that this was wrapping up, if I’m honest, a bit too easily for the humans. Would it have been good to see the parasites spreading outside of Japan and the world being on the verge of destruction? Probably, but then again this wold have lost some of the charm of keeping this very much a local phenomenon with Shinichi as the emotional core of the piece.

I paint it this manga as being just a gorefest (and it has a lot of gore), but there are flashes of humour and real emotion. The deathcount in a manga like this is high and the cost that it takes on Shinichi becomes an interesting measure of how much he is being effected by the (rather friendly) parasite that he has been stuck with.

Of course, I am now interested in how this translated onto the small screen. But I think I’ll have to first make my way through some of the sports animes before I get to that. At least I’ll have something to look forward to.

Graphic Content – Mopsy

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
37/501Title: Mopsy
Creator: Gladys Parker
Years: 1939-1965
Country: USA

It isn’t too hard to believe that there weren’t many female comic writers back in the 1930s, hell there aren’t enough of them right now. This alone explains the inclusion of Mopsy on the 1001 comic book list and why it is influential in of itself.

Considering that this comic peaked in popularity in the 1940s and 50s, Mopsy is on the road to being feminist. I say on the road because Gladys Parker made the conscious decision to have the character of Mopsy not be too intelligent as it would negatively impact the success of the comic.

Still there are ways that Mopsy helps to break some of the moulds. Following the example of Katherine Hepburn there are many times that Mopsy walks around in trousers. We also see her hunting, fishing and playing sports as well as some more stereotypically feminine pursuits.

I’m not sure how much ground, if any, this broke – but it feels like something I haven’t seen before. Mopsy is self-determined and independent. Sure she spends a lot of the time looking for a man… then again so would I be if I hadn’t met my husband 9 years ago. It’s an interesting comic to read for the historical context alone.

Graphic Content – Great Teacher Onizuka

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
36/501Title: Great Teacher Onizuka
Creator: Tooru Fujisawa
Years: 1997-2002
Country: Japan

After the earnestness of The Sojourn and David Copperfield it was a bit of a culture shock to enter the world of Great Teacher Onizuka. Honestly, I don’t know if there was any amount of preparation that could have lessened this.

Great Teacher Onizuka is a multi-award winning comic in its native Japan, with a critically acclaimed anime adaptation (which I will be watching for my anime list) and some fairly successful live-action versions. It is also one of the most sexist things I have ever read. The number of frames in this comic depicting characters looking up skirts, squeezing arses and in various states of undress made me feel genuinely embarrassed to be reading this on a commuter train.

And yet. There was some kernel of truth in this comic book. Yes the sexist behaviour is deplorable, but it is a recognised problem in Japan. This leads us to what has probably made Great Teacher Onizuka so successful – it acts as a satire of both actual Japan and Japan in fiction.

Delinquency, flawed school systems, adults yet to lose their virginity, the oversexualisation of Japanese schoolgirls. All are things that are rife for satire, it’s just that Great Teacher Onizuka does so in a very ham-fisted way. I know of the whole idea of the only one being able to mock the king is the jester, but this is beyond the pale.

Storywise. there isn’t too much to Great Teacher Onizuka. A delinquent wants to become a teacher so he can be around attractive young girls. Along the way he finds that he actually wants to be good at this and decides to be the teacher he wished he had had as a kid. Not a bad turn of events and you do have some legitimately weird and funny set pieces.

It’s just… I am guessing that I am not the audience for this. I also wonder if watching this as an anime in the comfort of my own home would be the better way to watch this. I guess I’ll get their eventually.

Graphic Content – The Sojourn

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
35/501Title: The Sojourn (Le Sursis)
Creator: Jean-Pierre Gibrat
Year: 1997
Country: France

After the madness of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure it was sobering to get to a graphic novel like The Sojourn. It helps to prove the point, if it needed proving, that the medium of graphic novels can deal with the same serious subjects as regular novels.

The story starts with a man having escaped from enforced labour in World War Two by jumping off a train. Having been declared dead, Julien takes up refuge in the attic of an old building and watch as his hometown deals with being occupied by Germany.

Yet, whilst this is story is set during France’s occupation, this is a story very much about the average citizen rather than military men. Through his art and storytelling Gibrat gives us sight of the human drama that unfolds from a community divided. He recognises the work done by those in the resistance, the acts of those who sided with the occupational forces and those who just let the occupation take it’s course.

It’s these human interactions (and the interaction of Julien with the coat stand he takes up residence with) that makes The Sojourn a good read. Much like Julien spying on the town below, we too are given a voyeuristic vantage point into their lives; albeit through Julien’s sometimes glib commentary.

At no point does this graphic novel fall into sentimentality or comedy. Everything is character driven and very much grounded in the perils of war. People get shot, loved ones get injured and there is a real sense of danger throughout both books. I mean, Julien isn’t always careful when he leaves the building at night and you just know that he is going to get caught eventually.

Being two books long it does not take too long to read all of The Sojourn and yet you get extremely attached to these characters and their problems. As with anything slice-of-life, a lot of things end up unresolved… then again it goes keep you thinking about what would happen next.

So that’s going to be it for the comics list for a while. It’s been a few months since I last completed a non-graphic novel and I believe it is time for me to actually read again. Being the person that I am it will likely be one of the longest novels that I have left… so that’ll be Middlemarch or David Copperfield.

Graphic Content – JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
34/501Title: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure
Creator: Hirohiko Araki
Year: 1987-now
Country: Japan

What a fantastic name for a manga series. I have been holding off starting the anime adaptation until I got a chance to sit down and actually read it first. From the images of the recent Diamond is Unbreakable seasons I was not entirely sure of what to expect when the manga started in the 1880s. Now it makes more sense.

It takes a lot for a manga to be able to last for 30+ years and still find commercial success. The genius with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure being that the titular JoJo has changed a number of times in the manga’s run. All are descendants of the original 1880’s Jonathan Joestar and we move between them (and eventually different timelines) between the story arcs.

Doing this was a real gamble; especially since the first JoJo dies rather unexpectedly at the end of Phantom Blood. Full credit to Hirohiko Araki though – by going down the family line it helps to keep the story fresh whilst still keeping it in the same world. A world of vampiric masks, column-bound demigods and powerful auras based off of tarot cards.

It’s all good fun, but there are times where JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is let down by the artwork. Especially early on. In the later chapters there is a substantial improvement where it kept the slightly over the top burly look of the male characters, but everything felt more detailed. I guess the budget went up or something.

Getting back to the name – it feels a little bit loaded and, honestly, it takes a good while until things start to feel truly bizarre. For me that moment where the bizarre truly hit me was in the third JoJo incarnation where they were battling a pissed off orangutan on an imaginary boat. Nope, it wasn’t the robot Nazi or the killing people with soap bubbles that did it – it was that weird orangutan.

As of writing this I am coming to the end of the third section, which means I haven’t even gotten to the Diamond is Unbreakable section that I mentioned at the top. I will, however, be continuing with the JoJo family for as long as there are still manga for me to read.

Graphic Content – Squeak the Mouse

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
33/501Title: Squeak the Mouse
Creator: Massimo Mattioli
Year: 1980-1992
Country: Italy

Of all the comics in the list this is the one that grabbed my husbands interest. Okay sure, I mean how many comics do you come across that inspired Itchy and Scratchy?

Squeak the Mouse is one of those comics that you do not want to be reading on the train to work. When we first looked this up it was pitched as a violent take on Tom and Jerry as a comic. With that, I am on board. I was similarly on board with the idea of the cat managing to kill the mouse, only for the mouse to come back as a zombie and kill a bunch of other cats.

But then there’s the cat and mouse penises and vaginas. That is not something I expected. I especially did not expect the orgy sequences. It feels as graphic (or possibly even more graphic) than Fritz the Catwhich is not something I thought I would be saying about another comic featuring animals.

At only two volumes Squeak the Mouse is an interesting read. Especially if you always felt sorry for Tom not being able to catch Jerry – or like weird cartoon violence. Just make sure you do it at home because you will get weird looks on the train as you quickly flick through parts featuring mouse orgies…

Graphic Content – Tomorrow’s Joe

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
32/501Title: Tomorrow’s Joe (Ashita No Joe)
Creator: Ikki Kajiwara and Tetsuya Chiba
Year: 1968-1973
Country: Japan

From what I’ve read Tomorrow’s Joe was an early example of a widely serialised manga that touched a real nerve with a large section of society in Japan. The release of this series coincided with an increase in prosperity following their defeat in World War II, so a number of readers began to sympathise with the story of this street orphan’s ascent through boxing.

The central character is Joe – a delinquent kid who bounced from orphanage to orphanage and has a natural ability to box. He has a hatred of authority and generally anyone who tells him what to do and is pretty damned rude. You can probably start to discern that I didn’t like him as a character.

Having recently watched Hajime no Ippo it is astounding how different the characters of Joe and Ippo are. There is only 20 years between the release of these two manga series and yet the type of boxing protagonist is the polar opposite – other than the fact that they are both stories about the ascension of an underdog.

Where Ippo was kind-hearted, shy and a bit goofy, Joe is selfish and naturally violent. Sure the circumstances surrounding both of their upbringings are different, but it’s not as if Ippo cane from privileged stock.

The other stark-contrast is that where Ippo is eager to learn and never stops practicing, Joe is initially work-shy and has to be tricked into learning how to harness his potential. I say initially… as eventually he starts to take it seriously.

Boxing becomes something other than a vendetta against one of his former prison inmates (oh did I mention Joe ended up in prison?). However by this point my interest in the manga started to wain. I had hit my minimum read and I was glad to be giving this up. When I dislike a protagonist that is pretty much it for me and Tomorrow’s Joe just never struck a chord with me. Maybe I’ll get it more when I watch the anime, but for now I am happy to stop reading this.

I now only have a few titles left on both the manga and anime list. Since it is the hub’s choice on which comic to read next I have no idea what to expect… but I know that I will be soon experiencing JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure when it is my choice again.

Graphic Content – American Born Chinese

List Item:  Read half of the 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die
Progress:
31/501Title: American Born Chinese
Creator: Gene Luen Yang
Year: 2006
Country: USA

After a graphic series as complex and compelling as Monster it was a weirdly massive shift to start on American Born Chinese. At least when I was reading Monster I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every time a racist character came onto the page.

As a graphic novel, American Born Chinese deals a lot with stereotypes. It deals with the idea of stereotyping across three separate story arcs that end up being neatly tied together in the end. Almost a bit too neatly to be honest, but hey it was an interesting ride.

The first of the threads is a retelling of the backstory of the Monkey King from Journey to the West. It’s a cute way to start the graphic novel and it features the best artwork of the three. It makes me think that I should read that old epic, but I’m sure that feeling will pass.

The remaining two tell the stories of stereotyping against Asian-Americans in high school. The first one is a straight telling of the main protagonist as he negotiates being one of only three Asian kids in his classes. The level of racism encountered in these threads is actually upsetting. As an ex-teacher who witnessed this between students, and as someone who went to a school where racist jokes were not punished they should have been, I was taken aback.

However, the racism is there to make a point. The whole piece is about stereotypes and how they can isolate and trap you or even force you to homogenize in order to feel some form of acceptance. The way that the concept of stereotyping is done differently depending on the thread, but the most blatant is the character of Chin-Kee (yes, I cringed too).

Both the extreme negatives and positive Asian stereotypes (e.g. Engrish vs high school attainment) feel extremely on the nose as you read through this graphic novel for the first time. However, once the three stories tie together you get a better idea that this was meant to be a deconstruction rather than pure shock tactics.

Personally I found the way that the three lines tied together in the end to feel a little bit forced, but it doesn’t prevent the enjoyment of American Born Chinese. Nor does it diminish the fact that this is a fairly unique third culture voice in a 1001 book full of superheroes, talking dogs and assorted manga.