Mature Manga: I missed this as I was in Japan

Black and White Movie - Tekkon Concrete

From Dirk Deppey at Journalista:

[Commentary] Christopher Butcher declares that scanlations are wrong and even the mildest of snark is unacceptable in a Comics Journal blog. Duly chastised, I also learned something else: Recommending Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases earns you fewer critic’s-choice points than, of all things, Taiyo Matsumoto’s flashy but shallow Tekkon Kinkreet.

Dirk pretty-much missed the point, as he is wont to do anytime anyone takes the argument to him. I like his writing and he seems like an affable enough guy, but he certainly does like to pout when when anyone calls him on anything. So for the record: Scanlations are not wrong; scanlations are the wrong suggestion for a journalist looking to recommend mature manga on a newspaper’s website. As for the critic’s-choice points? Completely besides the point, again, as it isn’t about which work is more indy or arty than which, but what’s going to open up the market for similar work; The one just solicited prior to release, or the one thats a few years old with the print runs set?

“Don’t get me wrong. Matsumoto’s comic isn’t by any means a bad read — as crime-themed fight comics go, it’s an enjoyable little bit of fluff — but if you’re going to hold a book up as an adult’s alternative to Naruto, shouldn’t it be something other than a mildly more mature version of same? You don’t even need to leave Matsumoto’s own back catalog to find worthier books for grown-ups; his Blue Spring is a dark and absorbing look at teenage restlessness that satisfies in ways Tekkon Kinkreet simply can’t match. Hell, even the out-of-print No. 5, while no titan of depth or complexity itself, at least offers a wildly inventive, surreal formalism that fairly leaps off the page, somewhat elevating the two-volume series above standard genre fare. Of the three Taiyo Matsumoto works to be translated for English-reading audiences so far, Tekkon Kinkreet is actually the weakest of the lot. I hate to break it to Butcher, but I strongly suspect that Guardian readers aren’t any more likely to consider this book an interesting alternative to prose literature than they will Naruto or Hot Gimmick.”

Blue Spring sold terribly, and the two volumes of No.5 are considered by Viz to be their worst-selling books of all time. I own and love them both, but when we’re having a discussion about reaching the broader audience with work that’s more mature, and opening up the market to more of that material, holding up two books considered as sales failures by their publisher isn’t the way to go. Especially because both of those books probably sold better than the majority of Fanfare’s output. What Tekkon has going for it is a massive mainstream media push thanks to a DVD release by the creator of The Animatrix, which sold a lot of fucking DVDs. While I love Tekkon and think its of high quality and recommend the hell out of it, I also recognize that there are other works that are more literary and of higher aspirations; I’m not an idiot. But I also think that getting behind books that do have the capacity for mainstream success, making the category more profitable (or profitable at all) is more important than bemoaning our lot or sending readers out to the grey market.


Having a Beguiling employee berating me for spotlighting “low-print run books with poor bookstore distro” over comics like Tekkon Kinkreet is the single most perplexing and dispiriting way to start a week that I can imagine at the moment. By this logic, Thunderbolts is a better introduction to the possibilities offered by Western comics than It’s a Good Life if You Don’t Weaken, the latter of which cannot be found at either of the two chain bookstores closest to me — and you now know what that means.

I hope Dirk is well and truly recovered from being perplexed and dispirited, mostly because it was of his own doing. His example above is the best example of a straw-man argument I can come up with today, a few steps further afield than simple apples and oranges. If someone were doing a fall preview and I decided to push the new Thunderbolts collection instead of Shortcomings, that might be one thing, but the situation that went down was more akin to Dirk pushing those great, more-or-less out of print books that Zack Sally published (Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man by Porcillino, and his own Recidivist) and some random shit on scans_daily… instead of the Ware-edited “Best American Comics 2007”. The latter suggestion at least has a chance to sell, and a lot to recommend it, even though there might be better books coming out… the former two suggestions are entirely irrelevant.

(Besides that point, anyone who thinks that Tekkon Kinkreet is on an even keel with Ellis’ Thunderbolts simply hasn’t read one of the two books, or either of them. Not even Ellis would make this claim.)

Finally — and I realize that it might not occur to a brick-and-mortar retailer to think of it — the books published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon are in fact available online through such outlets as Waterstone’s and To get you started, here are the listings for Kan Takahama and Jiro Taniguchi. For that matter, I’m sure Forbidden Planet International would be glad to sell you a book or two through their website. Welcome to the 21st century.

Hahaha… Yeah, of course. Welcome to the 21st century, us brick and mortar retailers might not be able to figure out that Fanfare/Ponent Mon’s books are available online. Whatever, I’m glad the books are available to people who want them, but those print-runs are already set, and my friend Stephen at Fanfare has made it quite clear that the endeavour is a labour of love for him, likely to continue virtually regardless of sales (though he was quite happy at JAPAN and MARIKO PARADE needing to go back for new printings, recently). When it comes to publishers with deep pockets being willing to license and publish work for grown-ups, sales are king and it makes a lot more sense to push the books that are coming out… or books that are legally available at the very least, than to not.
Tekkon Concrete
Anyway, I’m glad that, at the very least, I “perplexed and dispirited” Dirk enough to actually do the work and send people over to Forbidden Planet to buy some good books… I suppose sending them to The Beguiling’s Book Store would have weakened his argument that The Beguiling (or the online-since-he-was-12 representative of said brick-and-mortar retailer) had no idea about online book sales. Ah well.

I’ll keep making noise about good books that you should be buying, and even picking my battles. Wish me luck.
– Christopher

5 thoughts on “Mature Manga: I missed this as I was in Japan”

  1. To be fair to Dirk- His position at The Comics Journal would lead him to recommend work based on a perceived critical worth, rather than from a selling comics position, or even a position of activism.

    I do think he maybe fails as a critic in his evaluation of Tekkon Kinkreet, which I just read the other night and thought was amazing. I speak as someone who reads very little manga. For me, it’s comparable to American stuff like Gary Panter’s Jimbo Adventures In Paradise and Brian Chippendale’s Ninja. (I picked up a copy of and older printing of Black And White before I was familiar with that stuff, and was expecting something more like Paul Pope, and so was flummoxed.) Which is not necessarily the type of stuff I’d expect a Guardian blogger to talk up, and so I can imagine not recommending, but that I would expect a Comics Journal staffer to be sensitive to.

    It is weird that Tatsumi wasn’t recommended though.

  2. I was actually waiting all week for this response. His response to this post does have some points, but like Brian I think his take on Tekkon is off. As it happens the rest of the internet seems to have fallen in love with it, so as long as it sells fairly well I’m cool (kind of disappointing they didn’t whip out Fraction’s “flipped my fucking shit” line for the promotions though).

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