Archive for October, 2010

The Soul of the Japanese Kitchen

Friday, October 29th, 2010

One of the problems I had with the Oishinbo A la Carte series was its lack of context. By collecting stories based on the foods they cover, they gave you a generous helping of a particular subject, but there were also snippets of actual plot that were tantalizing, but ultimately not very filling—they just made you hungry for more.

Read multiple volumes, however, and the larger picture starts to emerge. It’s still somewhat fragmentary, but sometimes it seems like the stories were chosen far more carefully than just by what foods they feature. One volume may reference a story that happens to appear in another volume; others may contain essential back story.

So it seems in Oishinbo A la Carte:  Japanese Cuisine, where they take a more general direction with the food spotlighted. Here, the focus is on the “fundamental ingredients” that constitute the “soul of the Japanese kitchen.” We get to read about making dashi (stock), sashimi, chopsticks, the tea ceremony, and general hospitality. At the same time, we receive a healthy dose of the cast, learning more about Toyama, Kyogoku, Tomii, and even Kaibara and Yamaoka. Want to know why Yamaoka can’t stand his father? The answer is revealed here!

It’s always interesting to see early chapters of the manga, as there have been significant changes in the character design (never mind the art style). Kurita has seen the most dramatic progression, but even Yamaoka has his evolution as well—in early chapters he seems to sport a bad attempt at facial hair and he tends to roll the sleeves of his suit up. It is also in the earlier chapters that we see the most plot development; in running so long with the same plot (the Ultimate Menu), the characters end up stuck in a holding pattern. I suppose things will start to progress again once the creators decide to end it, but we’re almost at thirty years already.

On to the food! This volume feels a bit less instructional than others, because they focus more on the culture surrounding food in addition to the food itself. There is still a bit about cutting sashimi that was very informative, and the volume contains two recipes for seabream sashimi, both of which sound delicious and appear relatively easy to prepare. However, this volume’s main instructional purpose is to make the reader aware of their etiquette, both in preparing and serving food as well as eating it. Food is more than taste; it’s an experience.

Oishinbo A la Carte: Japanese Cuisine
story by Tetsu Kariya
art by Akira Hanasaki
translated by Tetsuchiro Miyaki
edited by Leyla Aker
published by Viz Signature (San Francisco, 2009)
ISBN 978-1-4215-2139-8

Cornish Love

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

As we approach Thanksgiving, cooking bird is on a bunch of people’s minds. Tonight, we turn to one of the birds you may have not tried before: Cornish hen. It’s like the second cousin of chicken, and as the webcomic Little Tales (written and drawn by a girl whose real name is actually Genesis) points out, you can do a lot with some simple ingredients to make a hen that’s moist, juicy and succulent.

The recipe is pretty straightforward, so even a novice cook like myself couldn’t mess this one up—just add salt, pepper, lemon, and paprika, and there you are. Even better, Cornish hen is a meal that sounds exotic enough to impress a date. The strip suggests serving one of your favorite sides with the hen, but why not try something a bit different? The Design Files features a few pages from the Australian magazine Tango, including a recipe for a vegetable dish that could work as a full meal or a side dish, depending on your preference.

Roasted tomatoes, garlic, wilted spinach, leeks, wine, butter, Parmesan cheese make this quite the snappy dish for a lover or loved one. The vegetables are quite hardy, but use portion control here to ensure you can both have seconds if you’d like. Put this set of recipes in your repertoire for when you really need to impress, and you might leave your lady speechless after eating such a decadent meal.

Blowing in the Wind

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Kids can be really passionate about the environment. Kids love cartoons. So what better than to combine the two? It certainly worked with Captain Planet and the Planeteers; now Dan Wright and Dave Ponce are attempting to continue that educational awareness with their comic Rustle the Leaf. They’ve even included monthly lesson plans for teachers to use in their classrooms, and created flyers and posters that people can download.

Well, it seemed like a good idea on the surface. The environment is a major concern, and the characters are cute enough to make complex issues palatable…but does everything have to be so cynical? The comic isn’t about offering tips and tricks for living a more environmentally healthy life so much as it is about condemning the one we currently have. Humans are the enemy, and the characters are not shy about this fact—in fact, the character of Rooty is constantly making jokes about how it awesome it would be if and when all the humans finally die off. It’s seriously weighty and politically-heavy stuff, not appropriate for an audience of kids, especially when they’re the ones the comic purports to be trying to protect.

The comic is careful not to point fingers at the children, but it’s not shy about its targets—vegan food is also heavily slagged on by the characters, in addition to all the tirades about factory farming and genetically-enhanced corn. So, what exactly are we supposed to eat? Environmentalism is great, but you can’t just tell people what they’re doing wrong, you need to tell what they can do right.

Iron Bryant and the BasketBrawlers

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Tonight the NBA begins its brand new season as the Miami Heat, now with Lebron James in their corner, take on last year’s Eastern Conference Champions, the Boston Celtics. To commemorate the league’s return, ESPN Magazine has teamed with Marvel Comics to produce images of their best players in superhero guises. The talent inside the issue includes Marvel artists Salvador Larocca (Iron Man), Greg Horn (Ms. Marvel), Kyle Baker (Deadpool MAX) and even Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Joe Quesada.

They cover each team in the NBA, calling on different inspiration for each. The most obvious—my favorite of the bunch—is Lebron James inserted into the classic page from Amazing Spider-Man #50, where Peter Parker throws his Spider-Man costume in garbage. This time, Lebron does the same with his Cleveland Cavaliers jersey, much to the chagrin of every Cavaliers fan on the planet.

There’s also Michael Jordan, part owner of the Bobcats, as Nick Fury (looking way too much like Samuel L. Jackson), Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban as Hank Pym, an adamantium-clad Yao Ming of the Rockets, along with many others living out their superhero fantasies. The issue is on sale now, so you can find it pretty much anywhere magazines are sold. For more images from inside the issue, as well as how Marvel will (or won’t) capitalize on this cross-promotion between branches of Disney, head over to Comics Should Be Good; I am also curious how Marvel will benefit from this exposure, as even though there have been numerous news articles on the subject, there has been a surprising lack of internal ads promoting the issue.

Hi Five, Leads Man!

Monday, October 25th, 2010

When making a nonfiction comic, creators have a whole toolbox of genres to choose from—romance, action, science fiction—but there’s something about the business world that makes the creators of comics for that market gravitate toward the iconography of superheroes. Maybe it’s because businessmen feel like superheroes when they find a solution that helps their clients, or maybe it’s just that they wish their life was far more exciting than being stuck in an office all day, answering e-mails and attending countless meetings. I can’t say for sure, but do you get some interesting examples of one-off nonfiction comics from them:

Aside from the “contact us” link and the offer of “4 hours free business analysis,” this comic is presented without context and I have not seen similar offerings on any of their other pages. Perhaps this really is the entire gist of their marketing. This might be the first and only outing of “The Super Dynamic Partners,” which is a bit of a shame, because I do dig The Scrambler’s crazy hair.

Out of Sync

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

There’s a pretty big divide between what we know as mainstream comics (mostly superhero books) and the small press/indie stuff. Not to say that there aren’t people who read both, or that creators don’t cross over from one to the other, but comparing the crowds at say, New York Comic Con and Alternative Press Expo; they’re very different. And there’s mutual disdain—a mainstream fan might find indie/small press stuff boring or pretentious, and an indie/small press fan might find a superhero book idiotic or uninspired.

The disconnect is a real shame, because sometimes it feels like the people on the indie side of things have dismissed all superhero books outright, without looking at what they have to offer. I’m not talking about plotting or characters—let’s face it, sometimes they are pretty stupid—but the actual construction of the comic, the way they use panel layouts to create pacing, the way they integrate the text and images into a cohesive whole. The nuts-and-bolts that hold the medium together. The superhero genre has been around a long time, and they generally have the “how-to” part down.

The “how-to” part is the biggest problem with Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays, edited by Brendan Burford with a very diverse field of contributors. The term “picto-essay” is perhaps more correct; it is Burford himself that uses the word “comics” in his introduction and on the back cover. Many of the stories in this volume are reminiscent of photo essays, which are generally slideshows where each photo is accompanied by a caption. I have nothing against photo essays, or even these picto-essays, I just find the actual “comics” component weak. Two of the segments (“Portfolio” and “Subway Buskers”) don’t even have text; they’re simply sketch galleries of Washington Square Park and subway buskers respectively.

It also feels like the definition of “essay” gets muddled at times; a few segments lack a solid narrative structure that would have strengthened what they were trying to achieve. “What We So Quietly Saw” by Greg Cook presents segments from prisoner interrogations at Guantanamo without making the transitions from incident to incident clear. “Like Hell I Will” by Nate Powell presents various scenes from the Tulsa race riot of 1921 in a confusing jumble, not clearly connecting the captions to the panels with dialogue; what exactly are the latter type of scenes showing us?

Even with its weak points, Syncopated does have its bright spots. A few of the stories integrate text and images and follow a cohesive narrative flow, the result being some very excellent comics work. “West Side Improvements” by Alex Holden made for a very strong essay, teaching the reader a bit of New York history while also making a point about urban renewal. “A Coney Island Rumination” by Paul Hoppe and “An Encounter With Richard Peterson” by Brendan Burford also follow similar threads and themes. My favorite story is “The Sound of Jade” by Sarah Glidden, where she accompanies her father on an adoption visit to China. Another strong point was “Dvorak” by Alec Longstreth, who we’ve covered previously here in the blog.

For an early attempt at a comics essay anthology Syncopated isn’t bad, but it is wildly uneven.  Most essay anthologies follow a theme, something that ties all the disparate contributors and narratives together, something that this volume lacks. Future editions of Syncopated would definitely benefit from more direction.

Syncopated: An Anthology of Nonfiction Picto-Essays
edited by Brendan Burford
published by Villard Books (New York, 2009)
ISBN 978-0-345-50529-3

Cow and Chicken

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Hailing from New York, I have mostly gone without the joy of Chick-fil-A. The only location in the tri-state area is in the food court of NYU, so it doesn’t really count. Luckily, there is a Chick-fil-A in the Orlando International Airport, so I’ve eaten there three or four times. Each time I was there, I was struck by images of two animals, both on opposite sides of the meat spectrum. Of course, there were chickens, as that is pretty much all Chick-fil-A serves. Then, on the counter, and on a sign or two, were cows. Yup, the chicken joint has cow mascots, a major part of their ad campaign for more than a decade. And best of all…these cows are also superheroes!

The superhero cow phenomenon began in 2004 with a series of advertisements, followed by a Supercow Calendar. Now, Chick-fil-A is releasing comic books to fully flesh out the backstory on these magnificent cows. The Grissle Missile, Cold Cuts, Smattter, deciBell, and Cowborg round out the list of titles available so far. Each comic will have a unique story, written and drawn by a different set of creators. From the previews, none of the creators appear to be names the average comic book fan would be familiar with; after the country-wide exposure these comics could bring, that may change.

Out of all the concepts, I snicker the hardest at Cold Cuts on name alone (do you think Cold Cuts makes its own ice cream when prompted?). Still looks like it should be barrels of silly fun, though. If you’re looking to support these cows in their war against being turned into burgers, head on down to the Eat Mor Chikin site. Hint: chiken is the right answer when asked. Finally, if you’re considering getting these comics during your weekend off, don’t head down to Chick-fil-A on a Sunday. Each and every location is closed on Sundays, and have been since the chain opened back in 1986. Sorry!

(via Comics Alliance)

Be Careful What You Post

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Once upon a time, privacy was just something you naturally had. Unless you were a celebrity or purposely sought attention for whatever reason, you could live your life pretty low-key and under-the-radar. Not anymore, thanks to the Internet. Whether you want it to or not, information about you is going to show up on the ‘net, and there are even sites and apps that actively encourage you to share your life with the world.

This shrinkage of privacy is happening pretty quickly, and perhaps we’re ill-equipped to handle it. PrivacyActivism is doing its part to battle this knowledge gap, and last year they launched Networked: Carabella on the Run, a graphic novel by Gerard Jones and Mark Badger following the adventures of a strange blue girl named Carabella as she navigates college life while keeping her past a secret. Carabella has some very legitimate reasons for wanting her life to stay private, and her attempts to preserve her privacy are embedded in a twelve chapter narrative involving a pair of a high-tech shoes and extra-dimensional invaders.

The story might be science fiction, but sci-fi has always been used to explore social concepts that can’t always be properly discussed in other genres. Science fiction often uses metaphor and symbolism when dealing with sensitive subjects, but Carabella is pretty straight forward in its advocation of privacy, drawing your attention to some of the common problems and hopefully guiding the reader towards making better decisions about what information they choose to share.

Most of the novel is available to read online, but perhaps it’s better to pick up the printed edition offered by NBM Publishing. The novel hasn’t finished its serialization on the website, only going up to chapter 10 at this time; the online presentation is also less-than-stellar, using flash gimmicks that destroy the pacing and generally frustrate the reading experience.

There Has to Be More to Dating Than This

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

I admit to watching the occasional episode of Singled Out back in the day, but I can’t say I was really a fan. The first round of the show operated on absolutes; they’d ask the guy if he preferred “wash and wear” or “high maintenance” and of course the guy would pick wash-and-wear, because really, who wouldn’t? I would, and I’m not really a wash-and-wear girl—nor am I high-maintenance.

This 1995 ad for tapings of Singled Out at Kings Dominion seems to operate in that same world of absolutes—the girls don’t have dates so they have no choice but to do laundry; the guys have little to do but lift weights together. Subtext, anyone?

(via mgrhode1 @ Flickr)

The Longest Weekend

Monday, October 18th, 2010

With all this talk about New York Comic Con (now a week over and done) let’s not forget that Gabrielle Bell’s Comic-Con “Comicumentary” was still in progress, detailing her various experiences during this year’s San Diego Comic-Con.

She’s finally posted the conclusion, wherein Tom and her are witness to some MTV shenanigans and have a nice drink at the Hilton Suites.

Catch up on all ten parts using the links below:

(via The Beat)