Monday, September 24, 2012

"the Garo tribute issue"

There was a small controversy a few months back on The Comics Journal website, a website where I am not registered to comment, at least in part because I find their controversies largely uninteresting. It concerned the Kickstarter page for a book that was trying to find funding so it could be printed and released. It's out now, but I'm not sure anyone has reviewed it, which is a perfect place for someone like me, a not-particularly-strong reviewer, to come in and say something insightful.

The book is issue 7 of Secret Prison, generally published as a free tabloid newspaper in the manner of Smoke Signal or Paper Rodeo. Issue 3 had some good comics in it, but by and large, one page comics are not the best way for unknown cartoonists to make an impression. This issue is, indeed, a book, squarebound, and every cartoonist gets a few pages to have their voice be a distinct thing. It is a "tribute" to Garo, but moreso the idea of Garo than Garo itself: Garo is an anthology of manga that began publishing in Japan in the sixties. I have never seen a copy, and even if I had, I would not be able to read it. I would wager most of the participating cartoonists never read an issue. (Besides the translated reprint) But whatever: That's a red herring, despite some contextual essays trying to explain what Garo is. (Probably as a response to the stupid fake controversy. Fake controversy, fake tribute, fake manga.)

The idea, actually, is that there are American cartoonists functioning today who are influenced by comics from Japan who are making work that nonetheless still has a sensibility closer to that found in SPX than what you would find in the sketchbook of the average Otakon attendee. The comics are pretty great, the cartoonists get a chance to impress when given the length of a story to tell a story. A lot of these cartoonists have appeared in Thickness or Sock, but watching them draw non-porno comics gives a better sense of what they do. There's still more penises in this comic than would be in manga, though.

The problem is the editorial decision to tell these people to do comics that read right to left. For someone whose pages are generally pretty chaotic, free-flowing things, like Mickey Zacchilli, this is a problem. Honestly, it's a problem for everyone, it's a contrived conceit. I don't really like reading manga right-to-left: It's how the work was originally drawn, but this idea of "authenticity" seems like the romance of kids. The inside cover cites a list of work, available in English, related to Garo and alternative manga, and, if I am correct, most of those books cited are "flipped," to read left-to-right, because Drawn And Quarterly, along with Pantheon, when they publish most Osamu Tezuka comics, considers that the way that appeals to the adult readers of the work they're publishing.

It's also a problem for reading the text-only essays, in that, when flipping a page (from right to left) it is unclear which page of an all-text spread the reader should begin with. But who cares! That was my point when writing this review, that I wanted to point out that the comics were good. The pages are large- again, closer to the unfolded newspaper page of the previous issues of Secret Prison than that of a collected manga volume (again, the influences are really mixed and matched all over the place here) which is obviously flattering to artwork in a way that manga's expanded pagecount is more flattering to storytelling than the format found in previous Secret Prisons.

Anyway, Ryan Cecil Smith's stuff is fun action-adventure comics, Noel Freibert's comic is sort of based in horror but is more interested in the creepiness of anti-social behavior than anything else, Angie Wang tells a delicate short story, Mickey Z goes for the fury of mark-making and not giving a shit, Chuck Forsman turns his attention to masturbating teens, Katie Skelly makes a comic that's pretty wack. People do what they do. Well, Tom Hart does an adaptation of someone else's work. In general, the art looks good. No one story is earth-shattering the way Tsuge's Screw-Style is but there's an homage to that comic which seems like it's heart is in the right place.

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