Review: Insufficient Direction

insufficient-directionManga artist Moyoco Anno and husband, anime and film director Hideaki Anno are just like any other married couple: They binge-watch TV shows, try to find shelves to accommodate their collections, eat junk food (although they really try to eat better, with mixed results) and sometimes drink too much.

You know, all the normal couple things.

Moyoco Anno’s Insufficient Direction (Vertical, 2014), is a charming and hilarious look at a couple who happily indulges each other and creates a happily equilibrium.

Moyoco draws herself a baby she refers to as “Rompers;” she calls Hideaki “Director-kun” and presents him round-faced, wild-haired overgrown kid. Clearly, this is how the couple sees themselves.

The stories are small, episodic vignettes about married life without much consequence, but that’s the joy of them. Usually, “Director-kun” will get excited about something and “Rompers” will try to be the mature one (something she obviously resents). The ultimate conclusion is usually trivial but involves the two coming to some understanding.

But refreshingly, very few of these tales are a case of “patient wife indulges her silly husband.” The best moments of the book is when the two influence each other in the best and worst ways — singing along loudly to anime theme songs in the car, waking up early to watch children’s TV shows or embracing the joy of being lazy. It’s sweet and hilarious.

Moyoco renders scenes between “Rompers” and “Director-kun” in a loose, exaggerated style that suits the childlike world they inhabit. While it’s almost always just the two of them in these stories, Moyoco draws everyone else in a much more realistic fashion, further placing these two in their own world. It’s adorable.

The Vertical edition has extensive annotations about the references made in the book, and while I appreciate them, I didn’t mind not knowing about everything. Hideaki Anno’s essay about the book and Moyoco is sweet and heartfelt and makes the perfect cap to the end of the book. The only thing I question is including a short biography and filmography of Hideaki, putting the focus on him, when the book is much more about both of them.

And that’s ultimately what I take away of Insufficient Direction – it’s the story of a couple whose playful affection and obvious love for each other is a beautiful thing. I’m sure that Moyoco and Hideaki Anno’s relationship is not always easy (because no relationship is), but as presented, they’re so well suited to each other, it’s impossible to not find joy in getting to know them.

Copy of Insufficient Direction provided by Big Planet Comics.

Review: Alone Forever

aloneforeverAre you enjoying your Valentine’s Day or are you wishing you could just spend the whole thing in bed? Do you try to find a balance between ignoring the day entirely with your partner and the over-the-top show of chocolates, roses and Teddy bears?

Do you have no actual idea how you really feel about romance in general?

If you go back and forth about loving and hating the whole idea of being in a relationship, Liz Prince has you covered.

A collection of mostly humorous autobiographical comics, Alone Forever (Top Shelf, 2014), chronicles Prince’s adventures in love and lack thereof. She crushes on every boy with a beard she sees (there are many!) and cuddles with her cats. It’s a playful look at modern romance.

Prince never shies away from making herself look silly. Her detailed descriptions of outfits (usually including unwashed hoodies and band T-shirts) provide a certain self-awareness about why she’s unlucky in love. But she also shares the dates that go well and the dates that go just OK. It’s not just comics about feeling sorry for herself. Even in her darker moments, she keeps a sense of humor and in her brighter moments, her joy is clear. I love that it’s a refreshingly full picture of a life.

Since they’re autobiographical comics, a few feel do feel a bit tossed off and rough, as if it was just a quick attempt to get a moment down, diary-style. But Prince’s style is warm and friendly, and there’s a bold sweetness to the way she draws herself, her friends and her love interests. Prince feels like someone you know (or she may remind you a bit too much of yourself), and her comics feel like hanging out with a friend.

It’s maybe a bit slight but it’s a quick, fun book to read. Alone Forever is going to be what you need this Valentine’s Day, whatever your opinion of the holiday is. No matter your success in love, you’ll find a kindred spirit here.

Near Miss: Minx

minxLast year, I read Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe. The graphic novel is about a teenage girl, in attempt to make herself seem intriguing, fakes having a peanut allergy. It’s a lovely book that I feel deserved more attention.

But my one thought after reading it was “That could’ve been a Minx book.”

An imprint of DC, Minx launched in 2007 and was dead by 2008, but there were problems as soon as it was announced. The name Minx never bugged me — it was cute and just salacious enough — but the lack of female creators was an issue. Minx had too much to prove and had to do it too quickly.

But Minx ultimately faced a bigger problem than just skepticism: The books just weren’t very good.

The majority of the 12 titles follow this extremely set format: An introspective, outcast teenage girl flirts with danger and boys before learning some very important life lesson, delivered with some moralistic overtones. They play a bit too safely, shying away from any real issues. For a moment in Confessions of a Blabbermouth, there was an implication of possible sexual abuse before it was quickly resolved into a “twist” that had been obviously almost from the beginning. Emiko Superstar isn’t the worst of the bunch, but when compared to the devastating and beautiful Skim, also written by Mariko Tamaki, it feels obvious the Minx editors didn’t trust their audience’s ability to handle anything that could be perceived as “dark.”

If this was just one or two of the titles, it could be forgiven. But when faced with about seven titles that all share what is more or less the same character and the same plot dressed up in different ways, it begins to feel a bit paternalistic and tiresome.

Not every one is like this, though. Ross Campbell‘s Water Baby is refreshingly crude and physical and has teenagers that actually act and talk like teenagers. The New York Four, by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, has its issues, but at least felt like something teenage girls would want to read. I don’t know where Aaron Alexovich‘s Kimmie66 was originally pitched to, but with its twisty sci-fi story about identity, it’s definitely the oddball of the bunch (and is perhaps the most interesting because of it).

But I think beyond issue of repetitive plot structure, what bothered me the most about the Minx books is that they’re all basically a waste of good talent.

The editors had a good eye at hiring creators who appealed to young women but then buried the exact things that made them appealing to that audience.

Jim Rugg is a phenomenal artist, and while his work on both of the Plain Janes books is attractive enough, it lacks the kinetic, playful energy of his Street Angel. Both Andi Watson and Derek Kirk Kim are poetic, thoughtful writers, but Clubbing and Good As Lily suffer from the lack of their art. For the most part, there’s very little chemistry between the writers and the artists. These books feel like work for hire and it shows.

Still, there’s a part of me that admires Minx not for what it ended up as, but for what it wanted to be. Minx was definitely an attempt to capture the young female readers of manga, but I think it provided a point of transition for publishers to realize this was an audience worth catering to. I can’t think of too many graphic novels aimed specifically at teenage girls before Minx. I can think of way too many that have come out since then.

I don’t think it’s quite right to say that Minx opened the door for those graphic novels. But, at the very least, I think Minx deserves some credit for making publishers realize that there was a door worth opening.

Near Miss is a semi-regular feature that will be appearing on Comicsgirl throughout 2013-2014. This project is sponsored by Big Planet Comics.

The D.C. Area Comics Scene is now on Tumblr

I thought about what I wanted to do with this feature since while I love it and I wanted to continue it, it was just taking up too much time. It was still taking up too much time even when I went to once every two weeks.

So the solution: The D.C. Area Comics Scene is now on Tumblr. I will have a few people working with me on this and we’ll post things as we see them (but I encourage you to submit if you’re on Tumblr. If not, email me. But the short of it is: that will all be there now, and not here.

The conversion is still a work in progress, but I think it will provide much more timely updates and a better sense of community. It’s one I’m excited about and I’m glad I found a way for it to work out best for everyone.

33 for 2013

This is my list of the 33 things that happened in the comics world in 2013 that made me happy. They’re in alphabetical order.

Blue is the Warmest Color