Impressions of Odaiba: An artificial island set in the Tokyo Bay, Odaiba, to me, felt like a very calculated escape from the rigours and density of areas like Shinjuku (home of Tokyo Municipal City Hall) or Ginza (‘old Tokyo’). It has the feeling of a massive theme-park, incorporating malls, rides, and bonified attractions. While much of our trip to Japan felt very specifically accomodating to tourism, Odaiba felt very much like a place for the locals to hang out and visit, particularly on a weekend. It also had a considerably more Western feel than many of the places we visited, thanks to it’s “box store” archetecture, wide streets, and very deliberate-feeling street layout.


Our first stop on the way to “Good times island” was Asakusa, a lovely area of town that, again, felt like actual people lived there. Japan’s transit system (as I may have mentioned) is awesome, and there are regular (and quick!) trains that head to Odaiba island regularly. But for our approach, we heard about a special little water-transport that would be worth investigating. Since we had two hours to kill before or trip, I figured we’d investigate the area. Right across from the ferry dock is the golden headquarters of Asahi (they make drinks, but are solely known in the west for their dry beers), and next to it is a building with a golden “flame” on top. Yeah.

Keep reading…

I was saving this for tomorrow, but I figured I’d bump the other stuff down the page for a little bit because I don’t think it needs any more attention positive or negative, it’s been pretty thoroughly torn to pieces by this point.

So, with that: another awesome post about Japan!

- Chris


I’ve been invited to dismiss, point by point, the… let’s be kind and say “unsupported” notions in Heidi MacDonald’s essay yesterday. It’s quite tempting to do so, but to what end? You don’t get to write something like that and then play the “I was just trying to encourage debate!” card. Quite honestly, I don’t find that the arguments that Heidi has set forth are worth debating, or really, that they’re arguments at all. Further, I feel like even engaging it gives it an unwarranted weight, and I’m sorry for two posts on the subjects in as many days.

Essentialy, I feel like this commenter at The Beat got it:

“The vagueness of Heidi’s argument (more like a collection of complaints) demonstrates the lack of intellectual rigor and attention to detail that so much comics “criticism” trades upon – particularly, but unfortunately not only, in an online forum such as this one. Only through generalizing conflations such as those employed by Heidi can one reduce an entire art form to polarizing binary categories, which then sinks the whole discourse to the dumb level of attacking and defending.

“Sweeping, provocative opinions need to be supported by analysis of detail in order to avoid coming off as mere gut reaction or the whims of taste.”

- Stephen Hirsch

I can’t see saying much else about the situation as it currently stands. I just don’t think there’s anything worthwhile there, despite, as Tom mentioned, the ‘broad emotional appeal’ of the piece. It sounds a lot like my cartoonist friends bitching after a few pints at the bar, and I tend to hold that to a slightly different intellectual standard than criticism or debate. Usually I just order them another drink, secure in the knowledge that they’ll feel better in the morning.

- Christopher

bestamericancomics2007.jpgHey there. I wrote a review of the Chris Ware-edited Best American Comics 2007 book this week, and I think it came out pretty well. In it, I was trying to walk a very fine line between respecting the vision and accomplishments of the people involved in that work, and looking at the larger North American publishing industry to see if, really, the book was indicative of what is on store shelves and what’s “good”. Over at Publisher’s Weekly, Heidi has decided to obliterate that very fine line with a shotgun, and gives us one of the worst pieces of writing I’ve ever seen her put up on the blog. I understand her sentiments, but not only do I not agree with them I also think that she uses a series of outright untruths to bolster her arguments, which are muddy at best. 50% of the comics in The Best American Comics 2007 are not as good as a work published 10 years ago? Thanks for that, that’s very relevant.

My friend Cameron Stewart pops up in the comments section (first post!) to agree with Heidi straight-away, and although I was reading Heidi’s post with a growing sense of horror at the outlandishness of her statements (Really, Heidi? None of the literati are creating lasting characters or fiction? Then what the hell was Wimbledon Green? Which is excerpted in BAC2007 by the way…), seeing Cameron’s response (as well as that of Jennifer De Guzman at Slave Labor Graphics a little further down) puts the whole thing into perspective for me; no one likes to feel unappreciated, particularly not in what they believe to be a systematic way. But this whole post is symptomatic of the absolute worst, stupid, old-school “small-pond” mentality as anything I’ve seen on the internet in years. The complete narrative ouevre of Seth and Chester Brown has nothing to do with the critical, fan, or sales response to Johnny The Homicidal Maniac or The Other Side. If someone else’s artistic output is the recipient of critical or commercial success or acclaim, that is not a shot at anyone else’s work (except in the case where it is a direct and obvious shot at someone else’s work). You don’t like Houghton Mifflin, Anne Elizabeth Moore, and Chris’ Ware’s take on the best comics of 2006? Hey, neither did I, but at least I didn’t decide to blame a mysterious cabal of shadowy autobiographists/Art Spiegelman for it.

Heidi makes a passionate argument, and if the trackbacks in her comments section are any indication, there’s a hell of a lot of agreement about it already (and more in the wings). But passionate arguments aren’t necessarily intelligent ones either, and if I sat down and disarmed every single fallacy in this post I’d look like the world’s biggest asshole. Sadly, that role falls to poor Tom Spurgeon in the comments section, doomed to be the voice of reason which sets him firmly against more-or-less every other commenter.

What a train-wreck.

- Christopher

detective_27-280px.jpg…or “It is October 8th and my rent is now over a week late. PLEASE BUY THESE.”

So I don’t really talk about the real ins and outs of store business very often, mostly because so many of our customers read the blog and I always get a little creeped out when they seem to know more about what’s going on ‘behind the scenes’ here at the store than I think they should. But the recent story about someone finding a copy of the first appearance of Batman in their attic, coupled with comics retailer Mike Sterling’s recent post about buying comics off of the general public in that sorta situation led me to want to post about it a little.

First and foremost, I hate buying people’s comic collections.

I’m pretty lucky in that, generally, I don’t actually have to do it all that often, what with the store’s owner being a CGC-level grading expert, and a long list of friends that can do similar for us. Five minutes with a stack of comics and the owner can give a solid guess as to condition, value, and how much to pay for the lot. His efficiency at purchasing comics is a wonderful compliment to my aversion to same, and usually things work out well. But the past two weeks saw the owner on vacation, and that combined with school starting and rent needing to be paid and all that by half of the city, I probably picked up something in the neighborhood of 8 or 9 collections of comics while he was away. The material we picked up ranged from a poor art student selling her 20 beat-up alternative comics like Eightball and Hate, to four full long boxes of late 80s/early 90s drek, including a full box that included (and I’m not kidding here) only copies of X-Force #1 and X-Men #1. I bet when that guy bought 50 or 60 copies of X-Force #1, he wasn’t expecting a massive negative98% return on his investment, huh?

The best collection I bought was from a fella who was moving out of town and wanting to part with his beloved collection of material from the 1980s, almost exclusively bought at The Beguiling. That was awesome, and full of comics that I had (quite honestly) never seen before, as well as real rarities. Just digging through two massive suitcases of comics like that was fun in and of itself, and one of the more enjoyable aspects of picking up a collection, wading through not only rare comics, but actual comics history.

But mostly? No.

dell-zorro.jpgThere was the sweet old guy who came in with a painstakingly collected complete run of Alex Toth Zorro comics, including some of the later Gold Key reprints. That’s a situation where a couple of points of difference in the comic’s grade changes what you sell it for by quite a bit of money. The pressure to grade and price the comic accurately is definitely on, and then you add in the fact that he clearly loves these comics and he needs the money that day with the implication that something terrible has happened to him, and he needs this money more than the joy of owning his favourite comics. So, no pressure there right?

Then the guy who comes in needing to sell off his prize collection, the comics of his youth, including WOLVERINE #1!!! He needs to pay his rent and he’s in a bind and… the Wolverine #1 is actually, somehow, the Rucka/Robertson Wolverine #1 from 2 or 3 years back, and anything older than 10 years is generally wrecked. Dude’s getting, on average, 25 cents a book when he’s expecting to walk out of the store with a few hundred bucks in his pocket. The desperation is palpable, and really, really uncomfortable. I mean, I could be all Comic Book Guy about it and try and completely disconnect myself from my job, both emotionally and rationally, and hand him his $50 and go back to watching YouTube, but man, who wants to be The Comic Book Guy? So you go through and start guiding a bunch of the books, trying to see if any of the random shit that comprises all of his childhood hopes and dreams might have a key book or two–a first appearance, an origin, a first-fight-scene, anything to push the comics he’s got out of the dreaded $3-$5 ‘filler’ range into something that’ll get his landlord off his back and make it seem less like he’s selling out for pennies. BAM! It looks like a bunch of bronze-age Justice League and Wonder Woman issues are just early enough to guide for $20-$40 depending on condition, and they’re (miraculously) in better condition than any of the more recent books. That raises his per-comic payment up to about 75 cents on average, and has him leaving with enough to feel good about the transaction. I breathe a sigh of relief, and put the boxes of comics in the “to be priced” pile.

Which I think I earned the right not to have to deal with… :-/

wolverine_1.gifI don’t like being in the position of breaking bad news to desperate people, and “your comics investment is not what you think it is” certainly qualifies. In the story about the Detective Comics #27 purchase, it’s mentioned that the seller originally tried to deal with another local store and didn’t feel like they were getting a fair shake. Even my first response was “that owner was probably a cheat!” despite the fact that I’ve been in similar situations. Sometimes what we’re willing to pay does not match the expectations of what the seller wants for their books. That’s the beauty of not being the only shop in town I guess, but we’ve had people take personal offence at the suggestion that their white-polybagged-return-of-Superman comics are, in fact, not worth more than the nickel each we are willing to pay. Or that their ‘genuine first issue of Action Comics!’ is really a give-away reprint (worth about a nickel), or that their really old Spider-Man comics are the ones that the police used to give away warning about the dangers of like, child abuse or whatever, and they’re worth about a nickel. Or, you know, the massively successful Rucka/Robertson Wolverine relaunch. **Cough**

Granted, this is an original Detective Comics #27, and if the seller didn’t feel like they were getting all that they could? I’m glad that they went out and found someone else to deal with. There are always options (hell, they could’ve auctioned it themselves if they really wanted to, and gotten the retail price for it (less commission by the auction house) instead of whatever fraction of its guide value, however large or small, that they eventually sold it for).

So, there you go. A little bit more about my job: things I don’t like to or try to avoid doing. Don’t worry about me though, I make up for that aversion by inserting gratuitous links to The Beguiling’s online store in my personal time. It all balances out.

- Christopher

ITEM: Let’s start off our comics linkblogging with a link that is almost not comics at all. Sorry. It’s just that ever since I’ve been playing Super Smash Bros., the Nintendo character fighting game for the N64, Gamecube, and soon-to-be-released-for-the-Wii, everyone’s been saying “Wouldn’t it be great if you could make Mario fight against Sonic The Hedgehog?” Alas, it was never to be with the characters destined to live on different systems and in different worlds. Until today. This is my generation’s “The X-Men meet the Teen Titans”…

Edit: I had to removed the inlay trailer because it looked like Firefox was choking on it. Sorry guys, go click the link though, the video is great.

ITEM: Over at The Forbidden Planet Weblog, it has been announced that the British Edition of Bryan Talbot’s 2007 graphic novel Alice In Sunderland has broken the 10,000 copy mark, a pretty stunning achievement for a $30 hard cover that no one wanted to publish in the first place. Much as FP did, I’m going to attribute this to a lot of hard work on Talbot’s part, as well as the book finding a natural home in its native country, being a (thinly disguised) history of Northern England, of specific interest to many of the denizens of… Northern England. Talbot’s 5 stop U.S. tour, his appearance at San Diego, and a non-stop press push in England are remarkable, and he’s set a very high standard of creator involvement for graphic novel promotion. The book is going into a third printing in the U.K., and is on (I believe) it’s second printing from Dark Horse Comics here in North America.

ITEM: I’ve been going on and on about Taiyo Matsumoto’s Tekkon Kinkreet / Black & White for a little while now, so I’ll take a little break to let Jog do the talking for a little while. Over at The Savage Critics, my favourite comics writer spends a little over 4,200 words talking about Tekkon Kinkreet, both the manga and animated adaptation, in an essay that I quite honestly have not sat down to read just yet. I plan to though, when I’m done this. As a reward to myself. If you’ve got some time to spend, why not check out the review?

ITEM: Today marks three years of The Comics Reporter. Congratulations to my pal Tom Spurgeon and all of the wonderful writers he’s working with.

That’s all for now.

- Christopher

Hey there! Welcome back to my little travelogue of Japan. If you’ve missed the previous entries, they’re now all indexed under the Japan 2007 tag. I’d watch out clicking that, though, as those entries have a lot of photos for those of you on slow connections.

Just a quick note that the entries are going to lose their “Day” tags in the titles from this point on, because after this day (and even during) our trip compressed, doubled back on itself, and in big parts stopped having anything at all to do with comics. As this is a comics-related blog I don’t want to dilute the focus too much, but almost all of my photos will be going up on a public sharing service thingy sooner or later so you won’t miss anything, promise.

With that, Akihabara:


Patrick Macias recounts the history of Tokyo’s Akhiabara district in the excellent Cruising The Anime City: A Guide to Neo-Tokyo and since you should all read that, I’ll spare you the bio and just point out that Akhiabara is a neighborhood that is in the process of evolving from a discount electronics mecca to a hardcore manga and anime Otaku paradise. Shown above is Chuo-dori, the main drag in Akihabara facing towards the train station, I believe. We visited Akihabara twice during the trip, on Day 03, and on Day 11. The photos here are from both trips.

Continue reading after the cut:

Keep reading…

bestamericancomics2007.jpgThough the official release date isn’t until today, The Best American Comics 2007 can already be found on store shelves everywhere, be they ‘comic’, ‘book’, or virtual. In fact, even before this Chris Ware guest-edited volume was available, the vast majority of the works in this volume could be found on the bookshelves of any artcomix fan who was paying attention from August 2005 through August 2006. Even though the raison d’etre of the Best American series of anthologies is to scour the totality of printed material for good works, the 2007 Comics edition is particularly notable for drawing the majority of its material from the output of publisher Fantagraphics books, and in particular their anthology Mome makes a very strong showing. In fact, upon receiving the book a few days back one of my more outspoken retail compatriots remarked (with a good measure of actual anger) that there was nothing for him in this book, since he’d already bought all of the Mome volumes, Kramer’s Ergot, and Charles Burns’ Black Hole. It’s actually that anger, which I’ve heard from more than a few people now, that made me want to review this volume and Mr. Ware’s examples of the best of comics in 2006.

Ware’s introduction to the book is interesting, as he writes about visual literacy and invention in the context of his own work and in the work of the artists he has assembled here. Of course (and in typical self-depreciating fashion) he throws the idea that this is the ‘best’ work in comics right out the window in the first paragraph: No matter how much you criticize Chris Ware, you can be sure that he has already beaten you to the punch in doing so. Instead he talks about the work in terms of “telling the truth,” which he states to be the primary attribute in comics stories that he personally enjoys. This shouldn’t be mistaken for an elevation of non-fiction over fiction or any other such fallacy, but instead Ware seems to best respond to works that seek to understand, explain, and celebrate the human condition, and that’s evident in the book. More than half of the books’ stories are outright biography or autobiography; the only real concession to the fantastic seems to be in Ware’s appreciation of C.F.’s Blond Atchen And The Bumble Boys and Paper Rad’s Kramer’s Ergot; the hypercolour cute-brut works descended from the Fort Thunder collective and, in Ware’s estimation, the work Gary Panter (Panter also included here via an excerpt from his Jimbo In Purgatory). If “Fiction,”as Mr. Ware has posited elsewhere, “allows details and doubts about actual events to be bypassed and the remembered essence of a person to suddenly ‘come alive’ again,” then it seems very much like that fiction oughtta stay as close to plausible as possible, if the choices here are anything to go by.

The collection isn’t a bad one, and seeing as it is produced and marketed for a ‘general public’ graphic novel reader it’s a lot harder to fault it for being picked from a fairly small (though very deep pool). I’d have a hard time arguing against any of the included works as being undeserving of the “Best Comics” tag, and I probably wouldn’t bother either because that kind of behaviour is kinda dickish. But even the briefest page-through of the book will show that while it is a coherent and considered opinion on comics, it also isn’t representative of the North American comics publishing industry as a whole. Luckily Ware has already forestalled such criticism (told ya!) but it’s still a little aggrivating that, for example, anything with a whif of genre about it is seemingly disqualified, despite its ability to get to get at “truth” in it’s own way. Further absent are any comics that don’t mark print as their primary medium. I wonder what kind of view of the industry this presents to the ‘general public’?

Next year (and for the foreseeable future) the Best American Comics collections will feature new, permanent Editors in the tag-team power couple of Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. I feel fairly confident in saying that their vision of the Best Comics will look substantially different from Ware’s, just as my own ideas about the best comics released this year do. Will that make for a better, more coherent or thorough anthology though? Will those opinions be any more or less correct? I quite honestly have no idea, but there’s a much better chance I won’t own previously released versions of 80% of what’s in the book, and that’s pretty exciting to me at least!

So my recommendation? Check out the table of contents for this one over at The Publisher’s Website and see how many of the works–or creators–are new to you. If you haven’t purchased much of this work already I’d strongly recommend you do so through this volume… but maybe keep the other eye open and on the rest of the graphic novel rack too.

Meanwhile, Chris, What Did You Think Were The Best Graphic Novels of 2006?

Well I’m glad you asked. Now that literally every award for graphic novels published in 2006 has been given out, AND they made a book out of it, here’s what I thought were the best comics in 2006. I’m not limiting myself to works by North American creators as Mr. Ware is, but I am requiring English-language publication in 2006. I’ve included my (whopping) 28 choices behind the cut below. Let me know what you think:

Keep reading…