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Buckle Up and Get Ready to be Startled by Manga with Ax!

Logo handmade by Bannister Column by Scott Green

Manga Preview: Ax (Vol 1): A Collection of Alternative Manga To be Released by Top Shelf Productions in July

The fact that I write for AICN probably attests to my love for pop culture in and of itself. Admittedly I've only spot read One Piece and abandoned Naruto long ago, but in the abstract, I can't get enough of those best sellers. I'm neither too high minded nor too mature to fail to get enthusiastic about the pop bulk of manga. At the same time, what positively excites me is the frontiers of the form. And that's why I'd like to draw some attention to one of the highlights in what is shaping up to be a superlatively exciting year for manga in North America. In July, Top Shelf Productions will be releasing a collection of alternative manga from the Ax anthology. If you're a direct market/comic shop frequenter, this is the month (May) to put in your preorder. With the work of 33 of manga's pioneers, innovators and brilliant talents, the book is an embarrassment of wealth. The introduction of this sort of diversity to the manga available to English readers is important. Beyond, the significance, that expression of diversity is exciting in and of itself. I got chills reading through Ax. The notion that manga has a "house style" is laughable (I heard it espoused from a comic podcast as recently as last fall), but the medium still has entrenched features - entrenched features that Ax either torments or casts aside. This is justifiably label "underground." Its circulation figures can attest to that. And, as such, its limitations are those of the medium and of the skill of its artists, and not the constraints of the industry. Last Halloween, I wrote about Studio4C's (the animators behind TekkonKinkreet) shorts collection Genius Party. The catchphrase there was “seiyaku zero" - zero restrictions, and the works it produced were noteworthy for their distinctiveness. More on the difference later, but anime and manga don't work the same way. Given the creative freedom at work here, even if you have some idea what to expect, Ax's whip crack material will still put your head on a pivot. There are movements at work here, but it's evident that the manga artists looked at the page and, when it fit what they aim to convey, invented their own language and grammar. Sometimes this sees works executed with precision, while others are marked by punkish energy. In Top Shelf's Sean Michael Wilson edited collection, you get stories like Yoshihiro Tatsumi's hopefully soon to be notorious yarn of a reaction to rejection in an age before a guy could lose himself in media distractions - Love's Bride. There's Toranosuke Shimada's convoluted pseudo-history of El Dorado, the legendary city of gold, and a like named Brazilian motorcycle manufacturer, and swindlers and war criminals. There's Yuka Goto's suburban throw down between a girl and the old woman next door, that breaks the norm in terms of behavior and style There's Yuichi Kiriyama's serial of deaths, with a aggressive, blood on the pavement approach featuring rawness lacking in the practice spectacles from genre minded students of horror like Eiji Otsuka (MPD Psycho, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service). I’m a vocal Otsuka booster, but there is a real distinction here between attempting to trump the mainstream for a point, as Otsuka does and circumventing the discussion with something harshly new. In Adult Manga: Culture And Power In Contemporary Japanese Society, Sharon Kinsella described avant garde in the predecessor of Ax, Garo as "characterized by obscure and typically nihilistic vignettes about individuals living on the fringes of society." The prototypical creator of that type of work, and influence on many of the manga creators featured in this collection of Ax was Tsuge Yoshiharu. Frederik K. Schodt has compared Yoshiharu to William Burroughs and called him the premiere eccentric manga artist. This outsider, child of the reconstruction struggled to make a living as a manga creator, suffered depression, abandonment and alienation, and famously disappeared for stretches of time. Yet, the imprint of his style and his stories still register. Muno no Hito (Man Without Talent) about a destitute manga artist who starts and fails to sell suiseki rocks and Nejishiki (Screw-Style) featuring the tableau of a grotesque troll-man with severed artery on arealistically rendered seascape are indelible marks on the landscape of manga. There certainly are ugly stories about tired men's unproductive or self destructive ways of exercising their agitation, but there's also humor, reconciliation, transformation and female viewpoints among this collection stories. No one theme or approach unifies the material.
Ax contributor Yusuku Hanakuma described his creative mindset for Tokyo Zombie, released in North America by Last Gasp... "I made sure to give fans what they wanted (or at least I tried). I crammed in zombies, trucks, pro wrestling, martial arts, factories, Mt. Fuji, pigs, intense battles, wealthy people, slaves, porno, gym teachers, a little dog, Calipis, tonkatsu, a prince, a professor and so on, to try and create a comic that was a sort of fin de siecle celebration of manliness." He pursued this with a style called heta-uma or "good-bad." A glance at Tokyo Zombie shows pages that look ripped out at rapid speed. If you are not an artist, it is hard to reverse engineer an average page of manga.. envisioning the rules and zip tones, layering the construction of the image. Looking from the illegible handwriting of most people to the intricacies of lines in a character's hair from even a nondescript manga, the gap seems almost insurmountable. In contrast, examining a page of Tokyo Zombie, you can almost see the pen flailing out each panel: four fingers and a thumb wrapped in a fist, a sleeve and a jutting explosion of blood. In a punk sense, you can picture almost anyone with the right intension scratching out the image. Preparing the AICN Tokyo Zombie feature, I read up on heta-uma; especially Frederik L. Schodt's discussion of Teruhiko Yumura in Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. (1996) "I wanted to draw the picture I wanted in the space provided, rather than tell a story. I started drawing whatever I wanted in each panel, and because I can't draw the same face twice, the character faces all changed." The result was manga with a weird mix of primitivism, energy and dada-ist storylines - a comic where the art, the text and the entire concept fused together in a good-bad style... At first glance Terry's cartoons appear to be bad art, but on close inspection, they are also good. Hence, they are heta-uma or bad-good. Terry believes that everyone starts as a "bad" artist and tries to become good. But simply becoming "good" is not enough. Artists who try too hard to become "good" emphasize technique over soul, and the life goes out of their drawings; their spirit fails to live up to their technique. What struck me was that, though dated in some aspects, Schodt's Dreamland Japan was years ahead of most North American discourse on manga. It drew out that the majority of North America's most fervent manga devotees hadn't really seen much of the medium and didn't really know much about it. Even after seeing releases like releases from gekiga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi and significantly more Osamu Tezuka, Top Shelf's release of Ax is a giant leap forward in the manga available to North Americans. Between this, Fantagraphics' release of Hagio Moto's Drunken Dream and Last Gasp's release of Suehiro Maruo's adaptation of Rampo's Strange Tale of Panorama Island, fans of series manga will have their jaws on the floor for the latter part of this year. Ax is an especially deep, deep well, presenting one creators worthy of talk and consideration after another. The topic of anime versus manga comes up from time to time. These are intertwined fields. Since an Astro Boy adaptation kicked off Japanese produced televised animation, a lion's share of anime have been based on manga. And, the subjects tend to get conflated. Hell, this is an anime/manga column. Honestly, if I had to pick one, I'd choose manga. Anime does produce kinds of output not found elsewhere. There are auteurs like Makoto Shinkai, outstanding artists like Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon and Mamoru Oshii and innovative institutions like Studio 4C, Madhouse and Production I.G. Yet, there is not that much anime that isn't for very specific audiences... kids, teens, otaku. Even with the aid of technology, it generally takes considerable people and resources to produce anime. Then, there's the "Curse of Tezuka." When Osamu Tezuka brought Astro Boy to Fuji TV in 1963, he erected a low ceiling for what animation studios would get per episode. It's been said that this was what was needed for Japanese produced animation to get on television. The other, less charitable suggestion is that Tezuka hope to set up a difficult barrier for entry into the field to avoid competition. To this day, workers in anime trace the need to cede creative control to sponsors for funding to that initial rate. The consequence is a large majority of anime being fine tuned to appeal to audience known to watch anime. Conversely, there really is manga for everyone. It's a medium that offers anthologies dedicated to golf or pachinko or other endeavors that bore young audiences and rest outside the interests of otaku of the traditional definition. Mobile devices have dated the image of the adult consumer reading manga on the train, but, to name a few mainstream or near mainstream manga that haven't been released in North America to give some example of the medium's range.... Tadashi Agi and Shu Okimoto's The Drops of God - the son of a wine critic must seek out the 12 wines the his father alluded to as comparable to the 12 disciples of Jesus in order to inherit his parent's valuable wine collection - credited with popularizing western wines among a thought to be resistant Japanese public. Along those lines, there's also Sommelier, about an orphaned young woman pursuing her dreams to study wine fermentation. Hotel - a classic, popular among adults manga institution looking at the workings of a world class hotel, created by Shotaro Inshinomori, the artist behind Cyborg 009 and many of the TV franchises that made up Power Ranger-esque tokusatsu programming. Ken Wakui's Shinjuku Swan, a 22 volume series concerning a yakuza talent scout working the Kabukicho red light district former Fist of the North Star assistant Masanori Morita's Beshari Gurashi, about an aspiring stand-up comedian Igarashi Daisuke's Little Forest, a short series about a young woman who prepares food that she gathers in nature, published in Afternoon, the home of Blade of the Immortal If this sounds like the breath of manga is full of interesting works that never the less repeat familiar formulas, that's because it's true. The barriers creating and distributing manga are far lower than animation's. That helped to create an environment in which manga speaks to audiences that are rarely, or never reached by anime. Still, the manga industry is... an industry. Many North American readers have some concept of how it works: how there is the name of a single creator, or less frequently a writer/artist partnership on the manga, how there are uncredited assistants working behind the scenes; how the length of a manga series has more to do with editorial and persistent popularity than artistic vision. There is a business mindedness and orientation to much of manga production. One of the creators who received the most nominations in the 2010 edition of the North American comic industry's prestigious Eisner Awards was seinen author Naoki Urasawa. His 20th Century Boys was nominated for Best Continuing Series. Pluto was nominated for Best Limited Series or Story Arc. Pluto and 20th Century boys were both named for Best U.S. Edition of International Material-Asia. And Urasawa himself was nominated for Best Writer/Artist. Japanese profile TV show the Professional dedicated an episode to Urasawa. This is not a solo artist laboring over the comic page. Between planners, background artists and other specialized assistants, Urasawa's role looks like that of a very hands on project manager. I've made no secret that I'm a software developer in my day job. In that capacity, I've seen products with well over a million lines of code that had less people around their planning table than Urasawa had around his. Modern manga and its industry did start out as the business of producing kids entertainment, but as it expanded its reach towards older audiences, the foundations for Ax were laid. The momentum towards modern manga, both mainstream and alternative, started with cheap akahon ("red books" referred to as such due to the ink used in the covers) sold by stream vendors. Among these was Osamu Tezuka's 1947 boy's adventure New Treasure Island, a foundational success story in the swelling wave of post war manga. It's been said that New Treasure Island revolutionized the visual repertoire of manga with the introduction of cinematic story telling. It's been said that the Shin Takarajima wave inspired the seminal generation of modern manga creators. There's frequently a debate about overstating the case when it comes to Tezuka, but, regardless, he's an essential point of reference in this story. In the early 50's, Tezuka would sign onto Gakudosha's Manga Shonen and Kobunsha's Shonen where he would begin serializing what would become Kimba: The White Lion and Astro Boy on a monthly basis. Frederik L. Schodt's The Astro Boy Essays quotes Tezuka in saying that the early 1950's marked a "manga renaissance" ushered in by a confluence of intellectual freedom and the establishment of manga as a mass medium. With audiences looking for something fresh, like a sci-fi story informed by western animation, raised by Tezuka's brilliant storytelling, Astro Boy took hold. The San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed on September 8, 1951 ended America's post war occupation of Japan. As Japan began rebuilding itself, the publishing industry began offering weekly magazine's with 1956's Weekly Shincho. That set the stage for 1959, when Kodansha launched its first manga dedicated weekly, Shonan Magazine as Shogakukan launched theirs, Shonen. A reaction to these popular trends of manga for kids began developing, largely to be found in the kashihonya manga rental shops; in many cases with ties to kamishibai, a performance of narrated story boards that was put out of business with the introduction of TV into public spaces in the wake of the occupation. With monthly 1957's serial Kage (Shadow), Yoshihiro Tatsumi launched a movement called gekiga (dramatic pictures) that set to distinguish itself from manga (irresponsible pictures). These works would view the world through the lens more adult concerns, and specifically cast harder gaze on the legacy of World War II. For see Drawn and Quarterly's release of Tatsumi's manga memoire A Drifting Life. Masura Uchida is credited with creating a more commercial vehicle for gekiga when he invited artists into the Kodansha fold in 1965 with Magazine. The biggest institution to grow out of this trend was Shogakukan's Big Comic family of anthologies, launched in 1968. This has been the home of dark James Bond guy fantasy Golgo 13, (released by Viz) Osamu Tezuka's most adult, rage filled works - the look at suffering and faith Ode to Kirihito, his relentless revenge thriller Swallowing the Earth, his story of a Jew boy and a half German, half Japanese boy growing up together in Japan before their lives becomes shaped by World War II, Adolf (technically from Big Comic Special) and his tragedy of a Japanese family's changes under the pressure of post war reconstruction, Ayako (all of these but Viz's out of print Adolf and DMP's Swallowing the Earth are released or to be released by Vertical), as well as Kaiji Kawaguchi's look at American politics come Shakespearian drama Eagle: The Making of an Asian-American President (released by Viz). To the laments of fans of josei (manga for older female audiences), when American manga followers think about manga for adults, it's often seinen and often from some Big Comic publication. In fact, the majority of this year's manga related Eisner nominations come from the franchise: 20th Century Boys ( Big Comic Spirits), Pluto (Big Comic Original), Jiro Taniguchi's A Distant Neighborhood (Big Comic) and Oishinbo a la Carte by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki (Big Comic Spirits) Constrasting the development of commercial seinen anthologies, in July 1964, Katsuichi Nagai launched Garo. This was an anthology that did not dictate editorial control to its artists. Dreamland Japan quotes the rules as outlined in Nagai's autobiography 1) works must be interesting 2) that content must be emphasized over form. "Nagai viewed the magazine as a training ground where people with unpolished technique but good ideas could find a forum for expression." What might strike some as curious is that the killer ap for this publication was a ninja manga. In fact, Garo was named for a character from the works of Legend of Kamui creator Sanpei Shirato, who, like Tatsumi, Shirato had a legacy in kamishibai and kashihonya. His work focused on ninja, but Naruto or even Lone Wolf and Cub it was not. Osamu Tezuka had begun moving towards the time in which he was seen as the old man of manga (see the discussion of Black Jack's development). In 1967, Go Nagai had launched PTA denounced, nudity infused comedy Shameless School, jerking the curtain to the days of cruder manga for kids. In 1968, a manga and a anime pilot were produced for Tezuka's Prince Norman - a sci-fi concerning a conflict between aliens and super powered humans. According to Tezuka's now offline English language site, the story was a reaction to how the Japanese student protest movement of the time had been reverberating through society, spawning children's manga that Tezuka judged to be too violent. Never one to be left out, Tezuka stepped into the gekiga movement. Through his Mushi Productions, Tezuka published his answer to Garo, COM from 1967 to 1972. In his magazine, he gave himself freedom to create the first six part of his life's work examination of human nature, Phoenix. A 1967 Tezuka quote Kinsell'a Adult Manga It is said that now is the golden age of manga. So shouldn't works of outstanding quality be published? Or isn't the real situation one in which many manga artists are being worked to death, while they are being forced into submission, servitude and cooperation with the cruel requirements of commercialism? With this magazine I thought I would show you what real story manga is. Though he had some love for media attention, Tezuka was reluctant to publically address politics. In comparison Mizuki Shigeru (GeGeGe no Kitaroh) and Tezuka disciples and COM contributors Shotaro Ishinomori and Fujiko Fujio (Doraemon) drew union/anti-war pamphlets. Tezuka's work frequently addressed principals, and much of it was implicitly political. Stories like Astro Boy's Angel of Vietnam that drew a direct line to events weren't common. You can point to 1971's Phoenix: Nostalgia (started in COM, continued in Manga Shonen, 1976-1978) and note that it's themes of diaspra and yearning had real world parallels. But, as in this case, Tezuka often framed his issues in the abstract. And, COM was a platform for voices like feminist manga author Murasaki Yamada, who explored the role of women in society. Fiery politics... they were Garo's thing. Legend of Kamui was a revenge story that concerned social injustice and peasant uprisings. It's even been described as Marxist. Shirato's father was a prewar proletariat artist, and, as noted in Manga! Manga! Shirato's kashihonya distributed Ninja Bugeicho would be adopted as an important treatise on "historical materialism." Legend of kamui would draw from the buraku rural underclass (part of the subtext for otaku favorite Higurashi: When They Cry) and the dispossessed indigenous Ainu. This was the time frame of the student protest movement that would draw in or influence a pivotal generation of figures in manga and especially anime (see Mamoru Oshii). And, Garo was capturing the sentiments of the moment. Beyond the political, art, underground and avant-garde movements were making their manga expressions through Garo. Previously mentioned King Terry (Teruhiko Yumara) and the heta-uma good-bad movement took its foothold. As exemplified by, Suehiro Mauro, another movement prominently featured in Garo was ero-guro-nansensu.
"Ero guro nansensu" (erotic, grotesque nonsense) was an artistic movement of Japan's Taisho era, a liberal time, also known as the "Taisho democracy," between the rapid modernization of the Meiji period and the war time that would open the Showa period. I don't think Germany's Weimar Republic is an entirely misrepresentative comparison. The movement looked to precursors in ukiyo-e prints like the infamous sea creature erotic encounter, Dream of the Fisherman's Wife and found itself tied into true crime sensationalism, such as the 1936's Sada Abe case, in which a woman strangled and castrated her lover, then carried around the severed organ in a bag. It would inform the abnormality infused work of Edogawa Rampo, a titan in Japanese crime and sci-fi fiction. Many forms of media still look back to ero guro, but, relevant to this column, its imprint can be seen in the work of manga artists such as Suehiro Maruo and Shintaro Kago. Garo never sold much. Dreamland Japan says 7,000 a month for years - at a loss, 150 a year by the end. In 1991, Garo sold to a software company. Nagai was retained as a chairman until his death at age 74 in 1996, but game adaptation of Garo work and music articles began to shift the magazine. It continued in print until 1997 and still has an online presence. A view on Garo's history was recently exhibited at The Center for Book Arts in New York Center. See curator Ryan Holmberg's thoughts here. Also, coverage here and here - Three Steps Over Japan's trip through Garo. behind the scenes interview After walking out in 1997, many of Garo's key contributors regrouped to form Manga's Devil Ax in 1998. As such, a direct lineage exists between the revolutionary Garo and the install innovative and underground Ax. Even a well read manga fan will be surprised by what is yielded by the freedom Ax affords its artists.

Contents of the book include

Introduction by Paul Gravett

Osamu Kanno - The Watcher

His manga work has been compared to that of Tsuge Yoshiharu, and beyond that he's been a poster and book cover designer. Set on July 13, 2560 "early morning on the first block of West Arai Sakea at the End of the World" - the beautifully ugly, absurd short concerns looking in on a neighbor snoring, despite the fact that the man has a knife stuck in his head.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi - Love’s Bride

Previously previewed online. The kind of story of male frustration that will be familiar to readers of the Tatsumi collections released in North America, such as the Pushman and Other Stories... but, especially funny despite its bleakness. The perspective and action of the subject points to some of the guy-y-ness of in a significant subset, though not all, of the Ax collection.

Imiri Sakabashira Conch of the Sky

Imiri Sakabashira's The Box Man has been released in North America by Drawn and Quarterly A gallery can be seen here In some sense, it fits Sharon Kinsella "obscure and typically nihilistic vignettes about individuals living on the fringes of society" quote, but the way that those images are spun around folk-lore inspired phantasms into this dream logic parable are anything but typical.

Takao Kawasaki - Rooftop Elegy

An illustrator turned manga artist specializing in what the appendix aptly describes as a "soft-boiled" take on genre. Rooftop Elegy is black comedy concerning a meeting between a suicidal laid off office worker and a more mortal, more fidgety Golgo 13.

Ayuko Akiyama - Inside the Gourd

Akiyama is the first of the women to be featured in the collection. Her work brings in a background in "ethnology, or minzokugaku in Japanese, and entomology." Inside the Gourd is a delicate, attractive parable that defies notions that alt manga is rough, ugly and nihilistic.

Shigehiro Okada - Me

From one of the younger contributors, a dark, funny story that destructively plays around with that rough, ugly and nihilistic alt mentality.

Katsuo Kawai - Push Pin woman

Kawai's on FaceBook and MySpace. He's worked in film including 2007's Quiet Room and the 2004 adaptation of Jun Hanyunyuu's Koi no mon. Performing with Jun Hanyunyuu, he's the first of this list to have appeared in the Mangaka Band Wars. By theme and metaphor, his Push Pin Woman offers comparable to a love song.

Nishioka Brosis - A Broken Soul

A brother/sister team creating manga that calls to mind pictures book for adults. Think the fairy tales appearing within Urasawa's Monster, in a more recognizable context, for an audience already worn down.

Takato Yamamoto - Into Darkness

Official site can be found here gallery interview An Ukiyo-e motif applied to ero-guro, where the ero part is specifically "boys love" related.

Toranosuke Shimada - Enrique Kobayashi’s Eldorado

Shimada worked in television commercial production, but then won New Artist recognition in the 2008 Osamu Tezuka Cultural Prize for his work on Träumerei. Other manga includes Last Waltz and New York set Danny Boy. Enrique Kobayashi’s Eldorado flashes from a bit of modern motorcycle prep to the strange, tangent branching history of that motorcycle's maker. When the appendix lists Kurt Vonnegut among Shimada's influences, the connections seems about right.

Yuka Goto - The Neighbor

Beyond manga Goto is active as a painter, muralist, and animator. The Neighbor demonstrates her approach to sledgehammering casual settings and relationships with heta-uma scrawl and violence.

Mimiyo Tomozawa - 300 Years

a short profile another profile some of her music An artist whose fat, disconcertingly baby-ish figures you have seen in places such as Jim O'Rourke album art

Takashi Nemoto - Black Sushi Party Piece

his English site The English release of Monster Man Bureiko Lullaby “Nemoto is the undisputed master of filthy comics. His work is brutal and horrifying and sure to shock even the most jaded comics reader. And yet underneath all his absurd depravity is a beautiful and touching story...”-Johnny Ryan maybe the grossest, most vulgar of Ax's heta-uma contingent. From the appendix However, in Nemoto’s work, abjection is aggressively political and should be seen as an all-out assault, launched at the height of the economic bubble, against Japanese family and work values, and against notions of national and racial pride

Yusaku Hanakuma - Puppy Love

Hanakuma (of Tokyo Zombie, hopefully to some readers, fame) mainstay Fujio (aka Afro) does Cronenberg with his wife giving birth to a litter of pups. "Second generation heta-uma" applied to male worries.

Namie Fujieda - The Brilliant Ones

author's web site Fujieda has been published in Young Magazine (home of Akira, 3x3 Eyes, Dragon Head and xxxHoLic). Of the manga collected in Ax, The Brilliants Ones has the look and the context that aligns most closely with the manga that typical gets brought over to North America. Yet the teen audience look and classroom setting offer the casual presentation of startling subject matter that is very at home in Ax.

Mitsuhiko Yoshida - The Hare and the Tortoise

exhibition An illustrator whose work has appeared in novels of historical fiction and theatre poster design. I've been comparing many of the Ax stories to fables and parables. This one’s is a very well known fable. In this case, there's a twist that takes the classic, familiarly cartoonish story and gives it some nice social commentary implications.

Kotobuki Shiriagari - The Twin Adults Vol .17 and Vol. 2, The God

The appendix calls Shiriagari the champion of vaudeville in manga. Shiriagari has also been successful as a commercial artist, with work that has included character design for tv such as one of Kitano’s variety shows. Twin Adults applies a rough, brush inked stylization to routines in which a pair of naked, unshaved men argue metaphysics like children.

Minami Shinbo - Haiku Manga : Robo and Pyuta

A former Garo editor with plenty of contributions to media outside manga, who uses simple forms in the haiku manga to re-introduce children's questioning to the discussion.

Shinya Komatsu - Mushroom Garden

Another young artist (born 1982). Maybe called to mind by the cover for Shooting Star, the look of the manga is reminiscent of European children's comics from artist like Herge. A literally whimsical story told with the attention of a child.

Einosuke - Home Drama : The Sugawara Family

The appendix lists that Einosuke's influences include Tsuge Yoshiharu, Otomo Katsuhiro (Akira), Matsumoto Taiyo (Black and White, Gogo Monster), Furuya Minoru (Ping Pong Club - a gross out comedy with a small cult following), and Furuya Usamaru (Short Cuts, 51 Ways to Save Her). Home Drama features a neat trick that will delight the dark hearted. A comfortable, home environment, with comfortable home interactions are recast in gross distortions.

Yuichi Kiriyama - A Well-Dressed Corpse

Maruo Suehiro inspired ero-guro, graphically focused on the consequence of the bosozoku young biker punk life style and explosive desperation.

Saito Yunosuke - Arizona Sizzler

Arizona Sizzler is a memorably silly bit of blue absurdism from an artist who likes to joke about giant sizes and unwelcome interactions with the human body.

Akino Kondo - The Rainy Day Blouse & The First Umbrella

artist's site video of artist's work Another artist whose work you might have seen. It's on the cover for one thing. Another young voice, and another female voice. Her work has been described as magical realism, and in The Rainy Day Blouse & The First Umbrella attire, weather and memory find a strange overlap.

Tomohiro Koizumi - Stand By Me

Another participant of the Mangaka Band Wars From Tokyo Scum Brigade's report on his group, the Fevers If you write comics about awkward twenty-somethings who have fallen through the cracks of society, then forming a college hardcore band ten years after the fact is the next logical step. There’s something cathartic about watching someone else’s eyes bug out for a change in rage over girls and their crappy nine-to-five. They even had their own mascot, Taske, to incite the crowd with it’s raving and impromptu air guitar. Koizumi hyped Taske’s poems which is what got it through the door in the first place, so I assume he feels responsible to placate Taske with stage time in order to keep it from blitzing the stage and destroying other bands’ instruments. His manga Life is Dead, about a zombie problem passed as an STD as well as biting is running in Young Champion. Stand By Me project a gekiga guy frustration back into high school.

Shin’ichi Abe - My Old Man & Me

Abe was one of the Garo old guard along with the likes of Oji Suzuki (Red Kimono). Abe's early work captured, or created, the spirit of what it was to be a manga artist. My Old Man and Me is a bit of a different, less familiar view of the same, a manga artist whose life is seen from the perspectives of his 35 year old rock musician child and 51 year old wife.

Seiko Erisawa - Up and Over

artist's blog One of the artists with something of a cross over into the domain of mainstream, more familiar manga, with work in Big Comic and illustrations contributed the recent, popular (unlicensed for North America) anime Bakemonogatari. Up and Over interject a bit kindof sweet, kindof trivial bit of human interaction into the Ax entries. A cute (for the most part) yarn told in a cute, expressive style.

Shigeyuki Fukumitsu - The Song of Mr. H.

Jason Thompson (Manga: The Complete Guide) has called Fukumitsu The Most Emo Man in Japan Born in 1976, Fukumitsu dropped out of college to draw manga, and drew pornographic manga for money while submitting short work to Garo, Japan's longest-running manga magazine, and Ax, its unofficial successor (the same Ax coming in an English edition from Top Shelf in 2010). Fukumitsu's early work combines surrealism, absurdity and body issues in a not atypical underground comic style. In one story, the protagonist has his brains pecked out by a human-headed bird; in others, young boys have traumatic and shaming encounters with women and sexuality. (Fukumitsu's non-adult work is not sexually explicit, but there is a bit of Robert Crumbian detail in the way fabric clings to women's breasts.) ... Fukumitsu's work flirts with self-pity, but also shows self-awareness. He's one of the most interesting creators in Japan at the moment—his climb to mainstream success isn't just due to some cultural Revenge of the Nerds. I look forward to the development of his work—will he continue to document his own life, or will he make another shift in subject matter? Reading his current work, I was reminded of the train-wreck fascination of Joe Matt's autobio comics, Peepshow and The Poor Bastard, about his even more troubled relationship with his longtime girlfriend. In The Song of Mr. H, which flirts with heartwarming and flirts with melancholy, an old, non-descript salary worker recaptures a bit of youthful spirit in the boxing ring.

Kataoka Toyo - Kataoka Toyo Pathos Theater (2 Stories)

The appendix notes that Kataoka Toya "means “Kataoka of the Eastern Sun.” In his manga, however, Japan typically rises late, hungover, and homeless" Ed Chavez wrote about him here. TOYO's characters are vagrants; a poor retiree, a garageman, and the mangaka himself. They're lazy bums, a bunch of womanizers, and they lack of self discipline. They do not care about the future and live to their heart's content. If they wish to laugh, they laugh, if they wish to cry, they cry. They do not act. While we, on the other hand, act smart, rich, diligent, disciplined and make our life stressful. What impresses everyone about Toyo is what his work is hand-drawn, without any screen tone (fill layers applied the spaces). In that case, as abrasive as the style is meant to be, the smelly, dank floor mats and blankets and bars of Pathos Theater's environment are still a marvel to look at.

Hideyasu Moto - Kosuke Okada And His 50 Sons

Another designer with international reach. From Poteko's profile Hideyasu Moto is a Tokyo-based comic artist/illustrator. His comics feature unique and lovable, though sometimes malicious, characters. His work has been featured in books, on magazines, and on CD covers. Additionally, his work on TV set design, commercials, and animation make him one of the busiest artists around. But he still manages to collect CDs and records in his free time. And though only in his 30s, he is the leading specialist on George Harrison. Vinyl Pulse's coverage of Moto Hideyasu’s Greatest Hits show His 8 volume ongoing comedy Wild Mountain is running in Ikki (selection of the anthology are published in North America by Viz). From Ed Chavez's profile of Ikki, works like Moto's "look like they could have come from another country or continent. The character designs for these titles are akin to indie comics seen in the US and Central Europe." Kosuke Okada And His 50 Sons is amazingly cute look at mortality.

Keizo Miyanishi - Les Raskolnikov

An ero-guro artist with an interest in modern Russian literature. The manga opens with a Friedrich Von Schiller quote as it ventures into Dostoevsky territory. It proceeds with poetic imagery that culminates with the tableaus of grasping death that could be expected from the movement.

Hiroji Tani - Alraune Fatale

The appendix notes that Tani grew up near the United States military bases around Yokohama and was exposed to American comics and pulp magazines at an early age. That make sense, because Alraune Fatale is a gekiga story of a man who lost his job, his wife and possessions, as might be filtered through Poe and Strange Tails. Wondering into a park, he finds a scruffy man coddling a beautiful naked woman who offers no resistance. The protagonist clubs the man and takes the woman... who in turn leaches away what little is left of the protagonist in a very pulp sci-fi horror manner.

Otoya Mitsuhashi - Sacred Light

A Garo devotee and mainstay who would also work as a visual artist, musician and painter. Sacred Light is a gekiga story of sweat and naked woman, told in a very abstract, geometric motif. In other words, the sort of entry that might be hope for from someone with Mitsuhashi's distinguish talent and perspective.

Kazuichi Hanawa - Six Paths of Wealth

From Lambiek's profile Cult horror mangaka Kazuichi Hanawa began his career in Garo in 1971 with 'Kan no Mushi', a tale about a destructive boy who is taken to a sadistic acupuncturist. He then focused on macabre satires on Japan's medieval aristocracy. Perversion, aggression and sadomasochism are recurring themes in Hanawa's work. In 1994, Hanawa was arrested and put in jail for possession of illegal firearms. He collected his experiences in the manga 'Doing Time', which was published in AX from 1998. Every day, a mother trains her daughter's erogenous zones and maintains her youthful beauty by making ant crawl over her body. This takes a Twilight Zone twist, then another...lack of restraint, applied to genre, applied to tradition yields something trangressive and amazing for Ax's finale.

Biographies Compiled By Ryan Holmberg

For more information see Electric Ant Zine’s Ax research project Sean Michael Wilson’s blog

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