Sharing my overcrowded space with my beloved classic literature and fictional books are an ever expanding shojo manga collection. The days when I don’t feel like reading a regular book and prefer the company of beautiful artwork to captivate the eyes and get swept up in romance, humor, and adventure I tend to pick up a manga volume.
I have an appreciation for art and beauty in general and it’s no surprise I became a huge fan of the Japanese style of drawing. When shojo manga became popular in the American market, I gravitated to the pretty art style and the wide focus on romance in most shojo manga. As much as I enjoy the shojo manga genre, it’s only in the last few years have I developed more of an interest in expanding my reading to also include American comic books.
I’m trying to be better about finishing things this year, guys. That’s why in addition to finishing a video game every month, I’m also making it a goal to read a new comic book each month.
I don’t know a lot about comics, so over the December holidays, I made a long (like, way too long) list of graphics novels and comics series that I would like to try. For instance, I’ve never read any X-Men comics. At the time, I had played the first episode of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us but had never read Fables. Things like this, I needed to fix.
I’m happy to report that I’m actually ahead of schedule when it comes to reading my new comic books. Here’s what I’ve read so far this year:
V for Vendetta
I’ve loved V for Vendetta‘s story for a long time. When I was 18, I went to the cinema by myself to watch James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta film.It had a big impact on me, and it’s still one of my favorite movies — but it took me all this time (what, almost 10 years?) to finally pick up the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd.
One of the biggest differences I noticed between the novel and the movie is that in the novel, the character Evey Hammond is 16 years old and about to turn to prostitution when V finds her. She seems like a blank page — sort of a bland character until V molds her into someone with principles and passion. Meanwhile, in the film, Evey (Natalie Portman) is in her early 20’s and working at the news station. She has much more agency from the beginning of the story, and her personality is much stronger. Although I really prefer Evey being older and more confident (as in the film), I still came to appreciate Evey’s depiction in the graphic novel as she matured.
The only thing that didn’t grow on me in the graphic novel is the artwork. Lloyd’s art is a miss for me, personally. I’m not a fan of the color palette, and the overall look is very dated. That being said, there are some creative layouts I enjoyed, such as this one with themes presented along with a musical score:
And the story is as brilliant as ever. There are moments that make me cry, and it’s all because of how bittersweet and poignant and hopeful this story is. Moore’s writing is amazing.
Inspired by how much I enjoy Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us, I decided to give Bill Willingham’s Fables a try. And let me tell you, the comic books are way better than the games based on them. (I know, I’m the last one to the party on that.) I’ve enjoyed the stories, which are set in a world where fairy-tale characters live in a New York City community called Fabletown — or, for those who aren’t able to blend in as humans, a farm in upstate New York. The stories are fun reads with some interesting themes, and the art is lush if not always super crisp to me.
I love that the comic books are starting to sprawl more than the games. There are obviously so many characters with so many stories to tell, and I know I won’t make it through all of them any time soon. However, I love seeing familiar characters in brand new stories.
I finished the first two trade paperback volumes, Legends in Exile and AnimalFarm, and will continue reading the next few as I have time.
Captain America: Winter Soldier
Captain America is one of my favorite superheroes ever, so I need to be reading his comic books all the time like I do with Thor and Batman comics. I picked up the Winter Soldier collection in the hopes that it ties in with the Winter Soldier movie coming out next month (which I cannot wait for!).
I won’t go into details about the plot, because that seems secondary in a lot of ways. What I love about this story is that writer Ed Brubaker makes Cap a relatable guy suffering from misplaced memories of his life during World War II and grief over losing his best friend Bucky. He’s tired. He worries that he’s going crazy. At one point, he’s so distracted by what’s going on inside his head that he can barely fight back when attacked. I love reading Steve Rogers when he’s like this.
Plus, the art. I may not know a lot about what constitutes “good” comic book art, but Steve Epting’s work in these volumes just makes me hurt inside to see such beauty. That’s how dramatic I get about these pages. I just want to stare at them all day.
I’m going to continue reading the rest of Brubaker’s work on Captain America for the next month. Although I have to admit that I have a very long list of comics to get through this year… =)
As I am getting older, I will often take a moment to reflect on the rise of technology and media during my life thus far. I can distinctly remember a time when cell phones were a luxury, when there were only two big companies from which to buy video games, and when the internet was a sluggish behemoth limited to technophiles. Lately, I find myself waxing nostalgic on the days when manga didn’t take up a massive section in the local bookstore and anime was relegated to late night broadcasts on the Sci-Fi Channel.
It’s strange to think of how common Japanese animation and comics have become in our modern society when compared to the past. My friends and I used to save all of our allowance to buy import VHS tapes that we would trade back and forth amongst each other. Now we all have Crunchy Roll subscriptions and watch multiple series from start-to-finish at a low monthly rate (or free with commercials). Instead of the catalog ordered toys and clothing we used to covet at the back of magazines, modern otaku can buy piles of official merchandise from their local Target. I was an adolescent who used to scour dusty comic book shops for the rare chance to find an actual manga to buy. Now I am an adult who feels overwhelmed with the wealth of options at Barnes and Noble (and annoyed with stepping over those damn kids sprawled out in the aisle). In spite of all these modern conveniences, I will occasionally find a solid throwback at a used book store and the halcyon days of Ninja Scroll and Dragon Ball will come rushing back to me.
Originally serialized in 1994 as “Samurai Spirits: Scrolls of the Demonic Arts” in the Japanese publication Weekly Shonen Sunday, Samurai Shodown was brought to American consumers by Viz Media. The now massive media company released individual chapters starting in May 1996 through their short-lived gaming magazine, Game On! USA. The entire comic was later collected and published with a previously unreleased final chapter as a standalone graphic novel in August 1997.
Written by Kyoichi Nanatsuki and illustrated by Yuki Miyoshi, Samurai Shodown serves as a sort of prequel to the second entry in the fighting game series. Only a handful of the major fighters show up through the story, along with several original characters that mainly serve as motivators for the quest at hand. In this comic, fan favorites Haohmaru, Nakoruru, and Hanzo find their individual goals become intertwined as they work together to stop an evil sorcerer from releasing hordes of demons bent on invading the planet. On their journey, the trio encounters a variety of thugs and monsters, which provides plenty of battle scenes chock full of attacks from the fighting game. Despite catching up to the sorcerer and defeating many of his minions, the heroes are unsuccessful at preventing the resurrection of the dark wizard Amakusa (another familiar face from the games), who attacks the team and makes his escape in the confusion. The story concludes with a vision delivered to Nakoruru, who senses a future that is basically Samurai Shodown 2, ending with the melodramatic line, “TO BE CONTINUED ON YOUR NEO-GEO!” In spite of this ham-fisted ending, the entire story is the stuff of classic battle manga; plenty of dark rituals and swords clashing, ninja attacks and dramatic speeches which suit the source material quite well.
The art is conveyed in the classic black-and-white manga style, but reads from left-to-right as opposed to the traditional Japanese format that is maintained in most modern publications. Most of the characters are unchanged from their original designs, which feature reasonable full-body proportions and plenty of stylized armor and costumes. Minimal line work is used for facial expressions, relying heavily on shading and brow-furrowing to convey emotions. The battle scenes are where the manga really shines; full-page splashes of signature attacks and dynamic effects to create a sense of movement on the page. Overall, the artwork stands the test of time thanks to the care and detail that seems to have been lavished throughout the book.
As I take the time to glimpse back through my own history, I am not hit with the usual “good ole’ days” syndrome like so many of my peers. Honestly, this is an amazing time for fans of Japanese animation and comics. There is a huge variety of genres and series to choose from, most of which is readily available to eager consumers. I am glad that one of my favorite hobbies has seen such a boom, and I feel lucky to be tech-savvy enough to reap the benefits. So instead of wishing for days gone by, allow me to show my age by saying these damn kids don’t know how good they’ve got it.
As a developer takes the helm of an established game series, their unique perspective and tastes will influence the final product, for better or for worse. The same goes for adapting a video game to comic books. Artists and writers must take beloved characters and mold them to a different medium. They have to maintain a balance between their own style, the game’s tone, and the monster that is fan expectations. For certain series, this is a daunting task. Players want to read more about the characters and adventures they have already played a thousand and one times before. But there are some games that are more about archetypes and worlds than the specific people who inhabit these spaces. Sometimes it’s not about the only man or woman who can save their kingdom from a certain evil. Sometimes it’s simply about a prince, a princess, and a vizier.
Established in the Spring of 2004, First Second Books has published numerous award-winning comics in various genres which range from fiction and biographies to journalism and visual essays. In that inaugural year, Mark Siegel of First Second Books reached out to Jordan Mechner, creator of Prince of Persia, about adapting the video game classic to the paneled page. Along with artists LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland, and writer A.B. Sina, the team created Prince of Persia: The Graphic Novel.
Released in 2008, this comic does not simply re-tell a story from the Prince of Persia games or movie. The tale upon these pages concerns two similar situations which take place across hundreds of years. One begins in the 9th century, about three siblings who rule over the kingdom of Marv. The other story starts during the 13th century in the very same kingdom, within the luxurious home of a wealthy ruler, where his daughter has become curious about the secrets in her beloved city. Both tales feature princes and princesses, peacocks and prophesy, and nefarious plots to keep power in unjust hands. Using seamless transition between these times, Prince of Persia layers its stories much like the Arabian Nights tales from which it takes inspiration.
The artwork featured in this graphic novel suits the plot quite well. Full- and half-page panels of landscape and scenery help to immerse the reader in this desert world. Sharp strokes and heavy contrast are used when drawing characters, along with minimal lines and strong color schemes for specific situations. Facial expressions, particularly the eyes and framing of hair, are very effective at conveying emotion. There is also an interesting technique used to describe back stories. When any history of the siblings from the 9th century is being told, it is shown through story scrolls during the 13th century. These scrolls unfurl across the pages, looking like artwork from the time of the Arabian Nights.
After the conclusion of these intersecting tales, there is a piece written by Jordan Mechner titled “Who is the Prince?’ In this afterword, Mechner describes some of the history behind the original Prince of Persia video game, and the evolution of the series across the years. Along with the writing, there is plenty of concept art and related media from the Prince of Persia games, as well as the events that led to the graphic novel’s creation. This is an excellent addition to the book, and I wish more adaptations would provide similar material.
During the afterword, Mechner brings up the process of deciding a story for the graphic novel. In the Prince of Persia series, there are eight video games and a movie from which characters and plot details could be drawn. Across these media, the prince and his cohorts have changed to suit the market, the creator, and the players. There is no absolutely right way adapt video games to comic books, no matter which game or series is in question. It is up to the writers and artists to take the resources given to them and craft thoughtful tales for the readers. Just as Mechner says, “Which one is the true Prince of Persia? All of them. And none of them.”