The Cultural Gutter

the cult in your pop culture

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

AX: An Edged Collection

Carol Borden
Posted September 16, 2010

File0001.jpgThere are reasons I left alternative comics for superheroes and there are reasons I keep going back. They each have their wonder and joy; they each have their irritating and sadly heartbreaking points. Nothing’s perfect, not Superman, not Jimmy Corrigan. But there is a way to find comics that you love and avoid ones that make you disike comics: collections. I’ve gone alternative again, even for just a while, with Top Shelf’s AX: Alternative Manga (2010), compiled by AX Magazine editor Matsushiro Asakawa and edited by Sean Michael Wilson.

AX is a fine collection of alternative manga with insect horror, insect romance, hitmen, existential gag strips, dark erotica, suburban kink, gentle beauty, surrealism and whimsical but edged children’s stories. And though Drawn & Quarterly has been publishing a lot of alternative manga and gekiga lately, I’m not surprised that Top Shelf is publishing AX. After all, Top Shelf has the best samplers. I have a copy of their Seasonal Sampler 2007 and it is amazing—even more amazing that they gave it away at stores.

This collection isn’t free, but it’s nicely edited and made, presenting the diverse manga and mangaka published by AX Magazine. AX is the descendant of Garo, a Japanese alternative manga magazine founded in 1964 by Katsuichi Nagai. AX represents a lot of history, more than I know or could ever know, so make sure to read the introduction and biographies. They are at least a way to begin learning more about Japanese alternative manga and finding more of what you like. AX is printed in a Japanese format, so all the panels and pictures are in their original orientation. The lettering isn’t fantastic, but it isn’t distracting and for the price, that’s great. Manga, manhua and webcomics have helped me realize that I have taken good lettering for granted and I apologize to all letterers past, present and future.

File0003.jpgSome of the stories in AX annoy me in exactly the same way that certain European and North American alternative comics annoy me. I won’t bother saying which ones because the point isn’t what I like or don’t. The point is that AX is a burly enough book that if you don’t like one story you can flip to another and there are many, many more. The point of a collection is diversity, the opportunity of finding something new, and Asakawa and Wilson have done an amazing job of including a wide variety of stories and creators. So you can read AX to get a little overview of alternative manga, catch a
glimpse of a favorite mangaka (who maybe hasn’t been published in English) or to find something new. Manga fans could also use AX‘s artistic respectability and mighty size to put an end to arguments that manga are all the same. (Yes, AX is brawny enough to be
a respectable bludgeon).

AX includes some creators who have recently had longer works released in English. Yoshihiro Tatsumi has his own Drawn & Quarterly series designed by Adrian Tomine. Drawn & Quarterly also realeased Imiri Sakabashira’s The Box Man (2009). Last Gasp published Yusaku Hanakuma‘s Tokyo Zombie (2008), featuring his character, Afro / Fumio, who also appears in AX‘s “Puppy Love.” I was happy to see all three, but I was most pleased by the number of female mangaka collected.

AX features seven women: Ayuko Akiyama, Seiko Erisawa, Namie Fujieda, Akino Kondo, Mimiyo Tomozawa and Yuka Goto. Nishioka Brosis is a
brother and sister team. And yes, seven out of thirty-three seems pretty good to me, especially with their range of style and interest—from Fujieda’s parody of manga with inspiring teachers to Goto’s heta uma* depiction of a violent feud between neighbors. In fact, Goto’s “The Neighbor” and Nishioka Brosis’ “A Broken Soul” remind me of Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly’s 1980s American alternative comics magazine, Raw. The portrayal of extraordinary events as ordinary—a broken soul, for example—abstraction in style and layout,surrealism, scratchiness, an emphasis on the form itself, an appreciation of naive art and drawing for the joy of drawing all remind me of Raw. In fact, AX overall has some of the same concerns—revealing society’s corruption, secret cruelty and kinks. The concerns of bohemian artists everywhere.

It’s true that the point still isn’t what I like or don’t like, but what the hell: I love Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s confident lines, Yusaku Hanakuma’s characters, Yuka Goto’s revenge, Ayuki Akiyama’s butterfly girl, Toranusuke Shimada’s clever “Enrique Kobayashi’s El Dorado,” Kotobuki Shiriagari’s otherworldly gags and traditional brushwork and Akino Kondo’s graceful perfection (and elegant cover illustration). I respect Kazuichi Hanawa’s terrifying ant-woman. But my favorite story in the collection is Shigeyuki Fukumitsu’s “The Song of Mr. H.,” about a salaryman, Mr. Hirayama, who overcomes divorce and disrespect to become a boxer, with a combover and highly reflective glasses.

At least, it’s my favorite story right now. This collection is big enough that I’m likely to go through many favorites.

*Heta-uma is an aesthetic term and visual style meaning, “bad, but still good” or “skillfully clumsy.”

~~~

“There are dark parts in people, but there are always parts that shine, too! Carol Borden will never give up!! She will hold on to her dream!! She’s not gonna die till she has her chance to shine!!”

Comments

6 Responses to “AX: An Edged Collection”

  1. Sean Michael Wilson
    September 18th, 2010 @ 2:42 am

    Hello Carol,
    it Sean Michael Wilson – the AX book editor. Thank you for your thoughtful review and you are quite correct in seeing some connection to RAW i think. Though i think i the books lettering is pretty good for the most part. But then i am biased!
    Best wishes,
    Sean

  2. Carol Borden
    September 18th, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

    Thanks, Sean. You might be biased but you are right, AX’s lettering is pretty good. My unclear thought was–having read some books now with truly terrible lettering, I have learned to appreciate good lettering or at least have started noticing lettering. I didn’t mean to imply that AX was one of those books with bad lettering. Too many thoughts in one place.

  3. Sean Michael Wilson
    September 18th, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

    Thanks for that ‘setsumei’ Carol (explanation)
    and thank you for spreading the word about our lovely book and the mature style manga it contains.
    Best,
    Sean

  4. NefariousDrO
    September 22nd, 2010 @ 10:14 pm

    This really shows me just how little I know about the world of Manga. Being something of a typography nerd I can certainly appreciate good letting, too.

  5. Jim
    September 27th, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

    Takashi Nemoto has also previously been published. Picture put out ‘Monster Men Bureiko Lullaby’ and it’s an amazing book!

  6. Carol Borden
    September 28th, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

    thanks, jim. i’ll have to look it up.

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims talk abouts the art of lettering in comics. “Comic book lettering is up there with inking and coloring in the holy trinity of underrated comic book skills, but it’s also one of those things that, once you start paying attention to it, you’ll never be able to not notice it again. I’m not exaggerating even a little bit when I say that it’s one of those things that can absolutely ruin a comic if it’s done wrong, even if everything else is perfect. But to be honest, of those three elements, lettering is still probably the most underrated. The thing is, when it’s good, it can be absolutely gorgeous in its own right. And fortunately for us, there are a lot of people who do it very, very well.”

    ~

    Comics Alliance suggests seven Star Wars comics to read before Disney makes them disappear. (Including a comic by one of Comics Editor Carol’s favorite creative teams–Corinna Bechko and Gabriel Hardman). “Starting in 2015, Disney’s handing the publishing of any and all new Star Wars comics over to Marvel Comics, with an all new, optimized-for-corporate-synergy canon that will spread across all their media platforms. Anything that’s not a movie (especially one of the Original Trilogy movies), or a Clone Wars cartoon, will be unceremoniously Order 66-ed out of existence, giving future filmmakers a clean-ish slate to make movies (and money) on. But what about all those Dark Horse comics? That’s where we come in with 7 Dark Horse Star Wars comics you should track down before they disappear.”

    ~

    At the New York Observer, Ashley Steves writes about Craig Ferguson’s The Late, Late Show. “No one could ever prepare you for watching an episode of Ferguson’s Late Late Show. A friend could not sit you down and explain it (“Well, it’s really meta and deconstructive and there’s a horse”). There was really no good way to recommend it. It was something you discovered and became a part of. You had to stumble upon it on your own, perhaps restless or bored or simply curious while flipping through channels when your eye quickly caught some of the madness. And that’s the best part. It was an unexpected gift. At its worst, it could still send you to bed grinning and comforted. At its best, it was art. It was silly and fun and truly not like any other late night show.”

    ~

    At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims interviews Ed Brubaker about his work on Batman, Gotham Central and Catwoman. “When I look back at [Catwoman], I’m so proud of the first 25 issues of that book, when I felt like everything was firing on all cylinders. I probably should’ve left when Cameron Stewart left instead of sticking around. That’s one of those things I look back at and think “Ah, I had a perfect run up until then!” (Incidentally, Comics Editor Carol’s first piece for the Gutter was about Brubaker’s first 25 issues of Catwoman).

    ~

    At Sequential Art, Greg Carpenter writes a lovely piece about Charles Schulz’ Peanuts. “After only two installments, Schulz had solidified the rules for his comic strip.  Random acts of cruelty would punctuate this irrational world, and Schulz’s trapped little adults would be forced to act out simulations of human behavior, using hollow gestures to try to create meaning in a universe where no other meaning was evident.  If Shakespeare’s Macbeth had been a cartoonist, the results of his daily grind, “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” might have looked somewhat similar—each character a “poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage” until he or she was heard from no more.”

    ~

    The Smithsonian Magazine has a gallery of US spy satellite launches. “Just as NASA creates specially designed patches for each mission into space, [National Reconnaissance Office] follows that tradition for its spy satellite launches. But while NASA patches tend to feature space ships and American flags, NRO prefers wizards, Vikings, teddy bears and the all-seeing eye. With these outlandish designs, a civilian would be justified in wondering if NRO is trolling.”

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: