Friday, March 4, 2011

40 whacks with a Top Shelf AX

You know the funny thing is about a couple of years ago when Tokyo Zombie came out I went ahead and purchased several issues of AX (the de-facto spiritual successor to Garo) from Last Gasp figuring, "There's pretty much no way I'll ever see this in English." Well wouldn't you know that Top Shelf would have to go and prove me wrong by releasing an English language version of the eclectic bi-monthly indy-manga anthology and I've finally had some time to dive into it and I gotta say I'm loving this book.

There is a wide variety of stuff sandwiched between these covers and at times it can be a bit of a mixed bag. I mean let's be honest there rarely is such a thing as a perfect anthology (although Kramers Ergot comes pretty damn close. RIP Buenaventura Press...) but the pluses far outweigh the minuses and we've been needing this book. There hasn't been this in-depth an examination of alt-manga since Viz's Secret Comics Japan or Blast Book's Comics Underground Japan (and let's throw Fantagraphics' Sake Jock in there while I'm thinkin' about it...)

The book itself is a shockingly beefy little tome. You get 400 pages in a compact 6.5 x 8.5 inch package (pretty close to the dimensions of the OG AX...) graced with a lovely cover by Akino Kondo and inside there's wide variety of alternative manga. There's good stuff by some familiar faces (Kazuichi Hanawa, Imiri Sakabashira, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Hanakuma...) and there is a bunch of new artists who's work I've never seen before. Some stand outs for me included Enrique Kobayashi's ElDorado by Toranuskue Shimada, Takao Kawasaki's Rooftop Elegy, Shinya Komatsu's winsome Mushroom Garden, Yuka Goto's The Neighbor, Takato Yamamoto's ero-guro-esque Into Darkness, and of course Akino Kondo's pair of charming tales The Rainy Day Blouse and The Umbrella. And there were even a couple of stories in there from the volumes I bought from Last Gasp! Namely Mitsuko Yoshida's The Tortoise and the Hare as well as Namie Fujieda's The Brilliant Ones.

There are a ton of comics here and this book is definitely well worth picking up. And I just found out that it is official and Top Shelf will be releasing AX VOLUME 2!!!

I really enjoyed the first volume and I can't wait to see what the second one holds in store. Hopefully we'll see more work from AX regulars/superstars Shigeyuki Fukumitsu and Shigehiro Okada. I'd love to see Yuka Goto's totally bonkers art-brut Justice Corps in action. I've heard Toranusuke Shimada's Traumerei is a great read. And I'm dying to know what is the deal with Kotobuki Shiriagari's sprawling epic which seems to involve lots of explosions and people shrieking in terror.

Hopefully the next book will also include some artists who didn't make the cut for the first volume like the intricate screen-toned stylings of Shizuka Nakano. There's the European-flavored sci-fi/fantasy comics of Minoru Sugiyama (Mother Cosmos looks pretty cool...) And the crazy work of Michihiro Hori who's current series involves a group of high school students obsessed with making lacquered bowls. Of course if wishes were horses it'd be nice if they started including articles about manga/gekiga as well (a'la Comic Art) but I don't think that's gonna happen. Oh well.

Anyways... AX #1 is great GET IT. AX #2 don't drag yer feet gettin' here.

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