Archive for the 'batman' Category

[Bat-Manga part 3] How Jiro Got Fingered, or, If This Is a Teapot, Call Me Helen Hunt

How cruel of Portland’s Wordstock Festival to have taken up my time last weekend, while the Bat-Manga thing suddenly became a slightly bigger deal! Slow news day, I guess. Luckily Chris Butcher already posted Kidd’s response, so the party continued without me.

Better beat a dead horse late than never, right?

As often, Dirk Deppey at Journalista! has a fine summary, and his editorial reaction mirrors my own. (John Jakala’s is also decent, but more on that later.)

Essentially, this has all been blown way out of proportion. Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan is an incoherently-conceptualized book, imperfectly presented, and accidentally thrown into an crowd which is sensitive about these things — an audience for which the book isn’t actually intended! But its core is awesome, the mangaka is pleased and compensated, and we can now read some great comics that we couldn’t read before.

Untangling this mess is kind of fascinating and kind of tedious. Some notes, for the hell of it:

  • The book’s existence is a good thing, the contents are fascinating, the photography and design are excellent, the fact that Kuwata is getting some money out of it is fantastic, and DC still owes Bill Finger an apology (at the least). Also, people who want the book should totally buy it, and nobody’s calling for a boycott (sheesh).
  • As I said last time, I don’t see any malice here. The full aphorism, of course, is “never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by stupidity.” I left off the second half because I think “stupidity” is too strong, but “accident” isn’t strong enough.
  • Kidd’s silly opening (“where were YOU”) has already been roundly dismissed, even by most of the folks defending him.
  • Chris Butcher’s 4:30am rant has some good points and a lot of swearing, but I’m not sure who he’s talking to (I guess this Hipster Dad guy?). For the record, I’m 23, I had never heard of Kuwata prior to Kidd’s heroic act of appropriation, and I’ve spent the last 15 months employed by a small-but-prominent publisher which, for all our shortcomings, is not in the habit of claiming copyrights. I’ve not only read Box Office Poison,* I’ve hand-sold it at a dozen conventions. I confess to a comic education partially from TCJ University. I have a thin-but-existent record of blogging on the topic of appropriation in comics, and yes, I think this cover is more outrageous than whatever happened with Bat-Manga.
  • I suggest I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! (Fantagraphics) and Walt and Skeezix (Drawn & Quarterly) as worthwhile examples of alternative ways to present author credit — even in extensively curated editions.
  • As Laura and Abhay and Dirk have pointed out, Kidd has offered a stirring defense of a book — just not the book he produced. Kidd: “Bat-Manga is not just about the work of Mr. Kuwata, although that of course makes up the bulk of the book. Rather, it is about chronicling the phenomenon—however short-lived—of Batman in Japan in 1966. To that end, the book itself as an act of pop-culture reconnaissance is entirely the product of Saul Ferris, Geoff Spear, and myself.” I confess I’ve only spent about two minutes with the thing in my hands, but it’s clear from all reports that this description is a stretch. There are 10 pages of Kuwata for every page of non-Kuwata. There are approximately 2.5 pages of text (two half-pages about the book, one page of Kuwata interview, half a page of production notes). If this is a “chronicle” of a “phenomenon,” it is not a very sophisticated one.
  • I’ll admit the possibility of bias in that judgment. Pro-text anti-image bias, to be precise. Coming from a world of lectures and dissertations rather than exhibitions — hailing from a college where even theater and art majors are required to write a lengthy analysis of their thesis show — I have a hard time considering a dozen scans of toy packaging to comprise a genuine study of anything. But, you know, the fine art world has made more of less.
  • John Jakala has a similar perspective, as do most bloggers (English majors) and hardcore nerds (detail freaks; vide Wikipedia). Jakala goes overboard in his suggestions, though — “what episodes of the Batman TV show were broadcast in Japan; who the voice actors were; what the ratings were; what toys were the best-selling”? Come on, dude. They do actually want to sell some copies of this thing.
  • A serious question for someone with a copy: is there actually “tons of information about the Japanese Batman phenomenon” (as Ishii says)? I don’t need to know where the toys were manufactured, but if there was a wave of Bat-mania in Japan, however brief, some numbers or timelines or personal anecdotes from aged fans would not be inappropriate…
  • The book’s editorial approach seems to be a consequence of its origins. Again, not to slander Chip Kidd by comparing him to a cartoon cat with a bong, but it’s definitely a “look at these craaazy eBay finds” kind of book — or at least started that way. I echo Dirk in suspecting that the project evolved into something more serious during the long hours Kidd spent photoshopping dialogue, but (A) it never fully crystallized into this other thing, and (B) Sales & Marketing may have been more excited about a kitschy art book than a comprehensive reprint project (which is totally understandable), which likely created some inertia around the superficial approach. For better or for worse, the ever-expanding Kuwata material seems to have crowded out all the other pages (that might have given us a more rounded look at Batman-in-Japan), resulting in a book too single-minded for its title but not single-minded enough for its ambitions. Kidd turned into a full-on Kuwata fan, but the book didn’t catch up with him.
  • The always awesome Anne Ishii didn’t get a front cover credit either, but (speaking as a fellow translator, sort of) I don’t think she needs one. She did give a thoughtful response to Laura’s post, and she remains awesome.
  • There may well be other (e.g. legal) reasons to leave Kuwata’s name off the cover, and if so, nobody is obligated to detail them. But “we were sadly unable to include Mr. Kuwata’s name for reasons which we cannot discuss” is not the explanation we got.
  • The blog chain reaction to all this is bizarre. It’s weirdly appropriate that a book described as “a very long, cross-cultural game of Telephone” should turn out this way. I think most people were using pretty restrained language (“this is weird,” “I’m surprised”) at first; Laura then went with “for shame, Pantheon” and Heidi said “that is more than a little lame, Pantheon and Chip Kidd.” In these somewhat mild rebukes, Kidd and friends saw themselves being attacked for a project they’d launched with the best of intentions and which had turned into a heroic rescue mission involving some sacrifice and philanthropy on their part. Kidd fired back with a fairly heated response curated by Chris, which put a few folks on the defensive, including this guy whose “I won’t make that mistake again with Kidd” led to Johanna’s headline of “Boycotting Chip Kidd?” (seriously, I think internet controversies would be cut in half if Johanna never used headlines on her blog). Graeme smelled blood in the water and hyperbolically announced “Bat-Manga Ignites Online War Of Words Between Fans And Author.” Newsarama posters responded with their usual sensitivity. People continued to weigh in to the “controversy” because suddenly we had one, and that’s what you do. Then Chris got online in the wee hours, responding with a cannon to a burst of machinegun fire that didn’t exist. Yay internet!
  • Let’s hope the cynicism and weariness created by this latest blogtroversy don’t make it more difficult to address creators’ rights in the future, in the way that hyperbole allowed feminist superhero fans to be dismissed as “those crazy man-hating feminists” so that their valid concerns never had to be addressed.
  • Here’s an angle that I haven’t seen explored much: Kidd & co were unconsciously playing with fire, at least in the comics blogosphere, for a few reasons:
    • Publishing an incomplete assortment of the Japanese Batman comics (even leaving some multi-part stories with an unresolved cliffhanger!) when the contemporary comics industry has very much moved to Complete and Unabridged and Omnibus collections. This is partially due to fandom’s nerdly tendency toward semi-autistic attention to detail and fetishization of continuity, which is one of those things I would write a book on someday if I wrote books.
    • I mean, this is the industry where Bob Greenberger got fired because five pages of Golden Age Hawkman Archives were printed out of order — or at least, that’s the rumor that stuck.
    • This is also an industry that’s extremely sensitive about creator rights and attribution, at least in many circles. Especially when Batman‘s involved.
    • This also taps into the resentment that many fans still harbor, suspicious of any treatment of comics as kitschy or trashy rather than Serious Business. This is actually why a lot of Serious Fans hate the Adam West Batman to begin with, so it’s interesting that it emerges in the defense of Kuwata’s adaptation of West-inspired Batmania.
    • Apparently a few people (mostly in comment sections) had an aesthetic axe to grind against Kidd already — for his “cookie-cutter” approach to design, whatever that means, or maybe backlash against his minimalist (not minimal) contribution to the covers of Final Crisis? Whatever.
  • All that said, the comics blogosphere is not the world, and the book isn’t really aimed at us anyway.

*a key subplot in this outstanding graphic novel features an aging superhero artist encouraged to seek compensation from the giant publishing company who have made millions from his creations. Alex Robinson’s complex treatment of this grumpy, admirable, and cowardly character is one of the many reasons that he is one of my favorite comic writers.

EDITED TO ADD: In the end, I think the best take on the book is the publisher’s official description:

The two hottest genres in comics gleefully collide head-on, as the most beloved American superhero gets the coolest Japanese manga makeover ever.

In 1966, during the height of the first Batman craze, a weekly Japanese manga anthology for boys, Shonen King, licensed the rights to commission its own Batman and Robin stories. A year later, the stories stopped. They were never collected in Japan, and never translated into English. Now, in this gorgeously produced book, hundreds of pages of Batman-manga comics more than four decades old are translated for the first time, appearing alongside stunning photographs of the world’s most comprehensive collection of vintage Japanese Batman toys.

This is The Dynamic Duo as you’ve never seen them: with a distinctly Japanese, atomic-age twist as they battle aliens, mutated dinosaurs, and villains who won’t stay dead. And as a bonus: Jiro Kuwata, the manga master who originally wrote and drew this material, has given an exclusive interview for our book.

More than just a dazzling novelty, Bat-Manga! is an invaluable, long-lost chapter in the history of one of the most beloved and timeless figures in comics.

But see, that’s not “chronicling the phenomenon” at all. It’s not “entirely the product of Saul Ferris, Geoff Spear, and [Kidd].” That clearly names “Jiro Kuwata, the manga master who originally wrote and drew this material.” Kuwata’s name should appear alongside the others.


[Bat-Manga part 2] Never attribute to malice…

Follow-up to my last post on Bat-Manga:

This interview with Kidd makes the whole project sound less malicious and more haphazard. It’s not even clear whether they contacted the Japanese publisher!

Bolton: So, DC gave you its blessing. Did you go back to Shonen King to access the archives Mazzucchelli told you about?

Kidd: We did not. There are several reasons for that. First of all, at that point we had enough for a book anyway, in our own possession.

Bolton: Just from eBay purchases?

Kidd: eBay purchases, contacts from Japan… By the way, this stuff is rare over there. On several business trips to Japan I would go to manga shops with color Xeroxes to show them and ask if they had any more, and they would look at me like I was nuts. “No, of course we don’t have that. Where’d you get that?” [Laughter] To be quite honest, first of all, if we were going to access the Shonen King archive, it’s like, do we go over there? You get these instant expenses. So, the photographer and I are gonna fly over to Japan to photograph this — that’s gonna add up real quick, in terms of money. And I couldn’t imagine in a million years that they would just send them over, willy-nilly, to us. … These are the sorts of considerations, because it’s a perfectly logical question, and as far as I know Shonen King did have everything in their archives.

I don’t want to be too hard on these guys since I don’t know the story, and we at Top Shelf are having our own adventures preparing to publish a book of manga… but Random House has approximately a billion times the budget of Top Shelf. Declining to visit the publisher because a plane ticket to Japan costs too much?! That makes no sense to me.


But then, I don’t think “hey, check out these craaaazy comics I found on eBay” is a good idea for a book — not when the artist and publisher are still around and accessible. When you think about the care and dignity with which Tomine and D&Q have treated Tatsumi… it’s not a flattering comparison.

[Bat-Manga part 1] Not a real post, but something that’s been bothering me

Am I the only one disappointed that Jiro Kuwata‘s name appears nowhere on the cover of Bat-Manga! The Secret History of Batman in Japan, in either paperback or hardcover edition?


Okay, fine, Kidd is sort of famous. But there’s room for photographer Geoff Spear and co-compiler Saul Ferris, and no room for the creator of the actual content? Kidd is the most acclaimed book designer in the world. I think he could have made it work.

I haven’t looked at the book closely, but Jog has:

Please don’t be misled by the “secret history” language in the title; save for a context-setting Introduction, four paragraphs of Production Notes and a one-page interview with the artist, there’s isn’t even any text in this thing beyond the occasional illustration caption. That is, no text beyond that of Kuwata’s comics…

Jog observes that Kidd & Co see this as a collection of artifacts rather than stories. It’s a reasonable perspective to take, considering that a lot of Kuwata’s material is apparently lost.

But you wouldn’t publish a book of “photographed” Chick tracts, include a one-page interview with Chick, call it Holy Panels! The Secret World of Tiny Disposable Evangelical Comics, and leave his name off the friggin’ cover.

what the world needs now is Dark Superman

I totally called this:

Like the recent Batman sequel — which has become the highest-grossing film of the year thus far — Mr. Robinov wants his next pack of superhero movies to be bathed in the same brooding tone as “The Dark Knight.” Creatively, he sees exploring the evil side to characters as the key to unlocking some of Warner Bros.’ DC properties. “We’re going to try to go dark to the extent that the characters allow it,” he says. That goes for the company’s Superman franchise as well.

If Dark Knight has already convinced the suits that “darker=better,” Watchmen is going to seal the deal.

Oh goody. Now, far be it from me to begrudge anyone his or her own personal “aha” moment:

Snyder remembers screening some Watchmen footage for an unnamed studio executive. Afterward, Snyder says, the exec turned to him and said, ”This makes Superman look stupid.”

To get grumpy about the mass audience discovering something that hip comic fans discovered years ago would just be elitism, and as tempting as it is, I recognize that it’s not fair.

What I’m honestly not looking forward to is the deluge of misguided imitations of the Dark Knight/Watchmen vibe, as the broader entertainment industry tries to digest this pill that the comics industry first swallowed 20 years ago and is finally, gradually, starting to metabolize. Sure, some of the influence will be good — we’re not likely to see Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze again — but as the AV Club put it, “the immediate impact of Watchmen was a wave of violent, ugly, and stupid superhero comics.” We’re about to see that unfold all over again, writ large.

Hopefully it won’t last too long and the next big Hollywood trend will arrive soon. Cowboy musicals or something.

in which Devin Grayson earns my respect forever

Hey Devin, tell us how you feel about Batman’s social skills:

I think we all love the idea of Batman as a loner, but for reasons that are honestly primarily based in commerce (the more characters in the Bat-universe, the more marketing opportunities), he has been increasingly surrounded with a seemingly ever-expanding cast of co-stars, and these have become well-developed, exciting characters in their own rights. There was no book at that time dedicated to exploring those relationships… I think in some ways we were sort of avoiding the issue, and I really wanted to walk right up to it: “look, they’re here to stay, we have to really integrate them into Batman’s existence and mission in a meaningful way.” … We wanted to be really honest about the weirdness of it – you’ve got this shadowy, mysterious vigilante who is essentially the personification of self-determination and autonomy, and yet he’s basically running a training program for teenage vigilantes. I told Denny I thought Batman probably was uncomfortable with it, but that was precisely what made it such great material for serialized exploration: why does he let all those people be there? Could he get rid of them at this point if he wanted to? How do they feel about him? What do they need from him? Can he give it? What does it mean to love someone like a father who’s convinced that familial love is a death warrant? We know what happens when he puts on the Bat-armor and goes out to fight. He’s Batman, he’s gonna win. But what happens when the armor’s off and there are these kids looking to him for approval and guidance? How does that add to – or even detract from – his mission? There’s a lot of material there.

What I believe – and I couldn’t say whether or not this is a wholly original idea – is that to be as spectacular and amazing as Batman is, to develop those areas so thoroughly, you would have to be missing something else. You can’t be more than human without in some ways having also let yourself become less than human.

My mother is a family therapist and my dad’s a sociologist and I tend to approach characters from those angles – it’s not that Batman is incapable of human intimacy on any organic level, it’s just that he hasn’t worked on that in any sustained way because his attention and energy has been elsewhere. Now, Ralph down the street hasn’t worked on intimacy either, and is equally incapable of it, and what he’s really good at is drinking beer and yelling at his dog. Most of us are underdeveloped in some pretty key ways and often don’t have much to show for it. That’s not what I’m saying about Batman. His internal makeup is a choice he made. I don’t mean to point out his deficiencies as marks against him, but rather as humanizing factors of sacrifice. He has given up so much to be able to do what he does, and in many ways there’s nothing more noble or laudable than that kind of self-sacrifice. I adore Batman, he’s my personal hero, he is 100 percent who I would want in my corner when things got bad. But I feel for him, too. And I feel for Dick, who is a very different kind of man who grew up in very different circumstances and now has his own burden to carry.

I suppose I’m not the first to say that Batman is not going to win any Mr. Congeniality awards anytime soon, but what I’m trying to say about that is that his limitations, as much as his competencies, are what makes him a hero on the deepest, most personal level. He is not a hero because of some great fortune he decided he’d share with others. His heroism was born from his darkest tragedy. He took the worst thing that ever happened to him and turned that into motivation to protect and fight for good. That is so much more interesting to me, and so much braver, than the hero legends we usually share. It’s someone doing Tonglen, to use a Buddhist meditation term, in a room full of people doing loving-kindness meditations. Tonglen is when you breathe in the darkness and pain and anger and despair of the world and breathe out the peace and love and compassion, both to prove to yourself that you can survive the negativity, and also as a way of gifting the world with the positive energy it needs. It’s warrior breathing. Everything else is about breathing the bad stuff out and the good stuff in. That is our basic inclination and survival strategy. You have to be so courageous to do it the other way around.

It’s kind of sad that it’s such a special occasion when a mainstream comics writer is able to talk intelligently about characterization. But, well, it is. Celebration is in order.

I read her run on Gotham Knights and enjoyed it, but I think I’m gonna have to go back through it. :)

Edited to add: Holy shit is that an incredible interview. Read the whole thing, all of you, now.

Forgive me. I’ve been reading nothing but comics blogs for about 48 hours.

Some of the conversation that resulted:

(01:02:53) me:
(01:09:24) james nye: ‘ The only side a comic falls on that really matter is good comics vs. bad comics. It doesn’t matter who publishes them.’
(01:09:31) james nye: but of course that isn’t true
(01:11:23) james nye: in the same way that, say, bands on major labels can still write great songs, and indie-rockers with devout followings can still write terrible songs, but for those who support one ethos over another, who’s writing the songs is still tantamount
(01:12:59) me: there’s the temptation, for me at least, to try to vote with my dollar
(01:13:13) me: and pick up something because it represents a trend i want to encourage
(01:13:24) me: rather than because it’s outstandingly good
(01:14:07) james nye: right
(01:14:28) james nye: of course, once you remember that indie music (and indie comics) are in no real danger of ‘dying’ per se, you’re no longer obligated to do so
(01:14:46) james nye: and can instead choose quality, rather than feeling you have to support the movement as a bloc
(01:14:48) me: right
(01:15:21) me: and i can buy much more for the MLLL than i’d consider getting for myself
(01:15:35) james nye: haha
(01:15:38) james nye: yeah, that must come in handy
(01:16:25) me: i got both volumes of Flight because I thought it was diverse enough that lots of people could find something to enjoy, then form an individual interest in those particular creators and follow them online, etc.
(01:16:56) me: plus its possible historical importance (made a little too explicit by Scott McCloud’s introduction)
(01:17:09) me: but I don’t think I’d get either one on my own
(01:17:36) james nye: well, that’s your prerogative as comics ambassador to reed college
(01:18:40) me: :)

(01:19:26) me:
(01:20:11) james nye: heh

(01:20:46) me:
(01:21:00) me: holy shit
(01:21:34) me: CARTÜNNEL
(01:21:51) james nye: !
(01:23:13) james nye: it’s like 5-Card Nancy, except you walk through it

(01:36:06) me:
(01:36:20) me: I remember the episode of Batman Beyond he mentions
(01:36:55) me: I hadn’t really thought about the depth of transformation that occurs in Bruce Wayne – hopefully the film will inspire similar thoughts
(01:37:19) me: but that episode of the show suggests that he even calls himself “Batman” in his head, not “Bruce”
(01:38:03) me: he was renamed that night. every single part of his mind and soul became directed to the mission.
(01:38:37) me: his creation of “Bruce Wayne” is almost the most disturbing thing of all
(01:39:10) me: because behind every single dopey smirk and wink is an absolutely soulless, calculating warrior
(01:39:46) james nye: yeah–in the movie, there are a couple scenes where we clearly see him doing a tone-deaf parody of how a billionaire playboy is supposed to act
(01:39:58) me: i imagine that he doesn’t sleep. he perfected some kind of Eastern meditation that fulfils the biological necessity in like two hours per day
(01:40:24) me: he strives for absolute efficiency in all aspects of his life
(01:40:36) me: and he gets incredibly close
(01:40:42) me: but he’s not a robot.
(01:40:52) me: he slips occasionally
(01:41:15) me: after all, behind all of this is a scared and incredibly pissed-off little boy that wants his parents back
(01:41:45) me: and that is the great tragedy.
(01:42:38) me: see, Superman really is Clark Kent. He is an alien, but every aspect of his life comes from being raised on a farm in Kansas by Ma and Pa Kent.
(01:43:22) me: Superman is an alien who was raised a human. Batman was a human who has transformed himself into an alien.
(01:43:50) james nye: but they both create personae with the intention of fitting in
(01:44:10) james nye: bruce wayne is a parody of gotham’s elite that did nothing to stop the crime wave that killed his parents: rich, ineffectual, aloof
(01:44:24) james nye: clark kent is a parody of humanity at large, the humanity that s-man is charged with protecting
(01:44:34) me: no. Superman’s is entirely genuine. he hides only insofar as he has to keep people from realizing his secret
(01:45:21) me: he might occasionally flirt with thinking that he’s better than all of us, but that’s not the core of who he is.
(01:45:37) james nye: now, hang on
(01:46:20) james nye: my understanding is that he knows that he’s better than all of us–in terms of moral goodness as well as physical ability–and what’s interesting about his character is that that knowledge never grinds him down and he never gives up
(01:47:00) me: no. he’s relentlessly idealistic in the face of mountains of evidence that humanity is shit and maybe doesn’t even deserve saving.
(01:47:08) me: because that’s just how you do it in Kansas.
(01:49:16) me: which is why it was so powerful to read Kingdom Come where his world crumbles, he can’t deal with the cognitive dissonance, and he retreats from the world to his holodeck – not a holo-representation of Krypton, but a Kansas farm where he spends years in isolation
(01:49:41) me: because it takes a lot to disillusion Superman
(01:51:03) me: then Wonder Woman comes and makes him realize that he’s just childishly trying to block it out, and it doesn’t take her five minutes to persuade him to go out and make things right
(01:52:03) me: but that all comes from Ma & Pa. that’s the source of everything. That’s where he retreats when he has nothing left in the world, and that’s what makes him get off his ass and rejoin humanity.

Leigh Walton talks comics and maybe other arts. (RSS)
He also works for the very excellent publisher Top Shelf Productions (which does not necessarily endorse the views and opinions, etc, herein).


Header by me. Contains an interpolation of the final panel from All-Star Superman #1 by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Speaking of which.