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 New York Magazine, David Wallace-Wells writes about bees, colony collapse disorder and beekeeper Dave Hackenberg. “It’s been a long decade for bees. We’ve been panicking about them nonstop since 2006, when beekeeper Dave Hackenberg inspected 2,400 hives wintering in Florida and found 400 of them abandoned — totally empty. American beekeepers had experienced dramatic die-offs before, as recently as the previous winter in California and in regular bouts with a deadly bug called the varroa mite since the 1980s. But those die-offs would at least produce bodies pathologists could study. Here, the bees had just disappeared. In the U.K., they called it Mary Celeste syndrome, after the merchant ship discovered off the Azores in 1872 with not a single passenger aboard. The bees hadn’t even scrawled CROATOAN in honey on the door on their way out of the hive.”

    ~

    Andrew Nette has a pair of interesting pieces on pulp you might be interested in. First, he writes about “the New Pulp” and a bit about Fifty Shades of Gray in “Fifty Shades of Pulp.” Then he writes about pulp and literacy and furthering social advancement in “Pulp and Circumstance.”  “Most people view pulp as either exploitative lowbrow culture or highly collectable retro artefact. Yet pulp has a secret history which Rabinowitz’s book uncovers. Her central thesis is that cheap, mass-produced pulp novels not only provided entertainment and cheap titillating thrills, but also brought modernism to the American people, democratising reading and, in the process, furthering culture and social enlightenment.”

    ~

    The Projection Booth interviews actor Ed Asner.

    ~

    Transcript from BAFTA’s tribute to director Johnnie To, “Johnnie To: A Life In Pictures.” It’s a great interview with To about his films and process. “Like when I made The Mission I didn’t have a script. It was 1999 and I didn’t have any money so we went to Taiwan and they gave us very little money to hurry up and make a film, so without any script we just started making it. And after 19 days we made the film.” (Thanks to the Heroic Sisterhood!)

    ~

    A gallery of sweet geeky art from Native American artist, Jeffrey Veregge. “My origins are not supernatural, nor have they been enhanced by radioactive spiders. I am simply a Native American artist and writer whose creative mantra in best summed up with a word from my tribe’s own language as: ‘taʔčaʔx̣ʷéʔtəŋ,’ which means ‘get into trouble.'”

    ~

    John Reppion continues his series on English magic and Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell. Next up, “Away With The Fairies.”

    ~

  • 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: