Sarah Horrocks

Chasing the Aspect: Ataru in Urusei Yatsura

ComicsSarah HorrocksComment

This article originally appeared on my patreon. If you like content like this, and would like to see more, you can subscribe via the link at the top of the page.

This image has haunted me since I first saw it in the Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer movie.  This is where my interest in Urusei Yatsura started and it is where this character of Ataru first began to break up my brain.  It depicts Ataru Morobushi in a crazed daze, holding this shaved ice flag over his shoulder, atop a post-apocalyptic landscape.

For me, Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer has a similar energy to Akira. Both have this kind of sneering punk nationalist thing threading itself through their blood. Which is something that is pretty relevant these days.  I think of the perpetual presence of the tank in the movie and the various military helmets and armbands worn throughout also speak to a kind of dialog with military fascism. The film identifies that marriage of surrealism and fascism that kind of fucked Dali up,  and uses that as a texture over which to overlay a circus of insomniac post-society madness. In this film, Ataru and the gang are trapped unknowingly in a giant dream by Mujaki, a kind of dream demon. They are doomed to keep repeating the same day over and over as more and more people within the city vanish.  Eventually they start to realize what is going on, which leads to even more surreal, dream-related, hijinks. It is a beautiful film and one of the early works of Mamoru Oshii that I think can be recommended to anyone without qualification.

So getting back to this opening image of Ataru Moroboshi--it has a power to it.  Even isolated in a screenshot, it is something that I think about pretty often; but I have been struggling to understand why exactly.  I’ve been trying to unpack this damn thing ever since I saw it. And more than that, I’ve been reading the manga put out by Viz media by the masterful Rumiko Takahashi which is the source material for the anime, and searching for another occurrence of this aspect.  Like if I could find its twin it would suddenly become clear to me, because I could play the two off each other and really correlate an understanding of what it was stirring in me.

(Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura (VIZ) trans: Nieh)

I think the manga is farther behind the anime, at least of the new Viz re-releases(which are how I’m reading the series) so Ataru in this earlier incarnation, has more of his faculties than he does in the second anime movie.  But the foundations are the same in both the movie and the manga, even from the beginning. The foundations are essentially: Ataru as lecherous unlucky degenerate, who is both single-minded in his pursuit of beautiful women who are not Lum(his alien wife), and also obfuscated from his real feelings for Lum, which are actually fairly sweet and innocent.  These feelings only ever rise to the surface when the prospect of Ataru losing Lum in a real tangible way arises. Which, because of her superpowers and her sincere obsession for him, is not very often. Both Lum and Ataru are at their root people who would actually do anything for the other if push came to shove, but more often than not it is Ataru who needs Lum’s help so we rarely see the side of Ataru that actually cares about Lum and would risk himself to save her as he does in the Urusei Yatsura movie.

Their relationship is actually a pretty complex dance of Ataru appearing to reject Lum for Shinobu over and over, only to come back to Lum either by electroshock-force or comedic misfortune.  And as for Lum, she is constantly evading the attention of other earth men(in particular Mendo, who is the love interest of Shinobu--completing the insane love circle) who are smitten with her, focused only on her own lust for her darling Ataru.  It is this pattern of Ataru running, Lum pursuing. Ataru fucking up. Lum saving him, but also electrocuting him. And everything returning back to the original order to start the episode that makes up the basis of Urusei Yatsura.

(Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura (VIZ) trans: Nieh)

What is interesting though about these cycles, is not per se their pattern--which is not really unique (think Pepé Le Pew cartoons)--but it is the sheer carnage and armageddon that these cycles wreck. Ataru is ostensibly a threat to the social order of not only Japan, not only the earth, but reality itself.  He is a degenerate. A complete maniac. But he is also a dangerous revolutionary.

It is complicated to address a character like Ataru in this day and age.  Ataru is a complete womanizer who lives to objectify and assault women. But dismissing him is not as simple as say in a Milo Manara comic where you just say “dirty old italian man” and wash your hands of him.  Urusei Yatsura is the creation of one of the all-time great women in comics: Rumiko Takahashi.  And as much as Ataru is the driving force of any of the plots in Urusei Yatsura; it is Lum who became the pop icon.  Shinobu is a fairly fleshed out character as well. The women in this comic are all pretty funny and are more dimensional in most respects to Ataru.  They are all also all much stronger than Ataru, either through super powers, or martial arts. Even Shinobu can overpower him when needed. It is definitely a world of superheroines, that revolves around Ataru’s harem narrative.  Added to that is that even though Ataru is doing these terrible things to women, if you were to characterize the work along those lines, you would mischaracterize it. Because all of this is pretty much played for laughs and anarchy.  Takahashi isn’t asking you to consider the ramifications long term of Ataru’s leachery--sure everyone condemns him and he is almost always punished for these acts, pretty brutally really--but this is not a book that is looking to lead a serious conversation on sexual assault, and I think would be a poor example for it.  But that is a complication that has rattled around in my head, especially as I try to reconcile my affections for Ataru (which I think you are supposed to feel a kind of affection for Ataru, I think the work is pretty explicit here--so if you aren’t, I think the book is not really working for you as intended).

It is actually that this side of the Ataru question exists that I think makes him so difficult to wrestle with in a modern sense. I think this complication is the root of obsession.  Because I think reading or watching Urusei Yatsura, you like Ataru.  So this is my central dilemma with Ataru and what has stopped me in my tracks comics criticism wise.  Like how do you explain to a modern critical audience affections or considerations for characters who are not role models?  Is it always necessary that our perspective in these matters should be like a parent guarding our theoretical children from abhorrent deviant behavior by fictional characters?  Can we acknowledge that these elements exist, without causing them to mar our ability to interact and explain the work? Is it morally wrong to enjoy a fictional character who does something that is wrong that you would never do and would hate in real life?  I don’t think that it is, but I am cognizant that this is a position which is quite controversial in modern western discourse. But then I also question the utility of--like if I want to talk about what it feels like to be harassed by men on the street as a woman, I don’t think that citing Urusei Yatsura is going to explain things very well at all, and in fact, my case might be made better and more clearer by just speaking directly about these scary experiences?  I would like to reserve my scorn for real life monsters, really. But still--this is a problem that I have thought about a lot with Ataru, and I think it is a dimension of why he has obsessed me as a character.  Well it is one track, at least. Because this type of character is not in and of itself novel in any medium, and is in fact well trodd. So I would say it is a fairly minimal part of what makes Ataru worth talking about, even if it is a complication which in contemporary discourse would be given the most weight.

(Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura (VIZ) trans: Nieh)

The second track is again, this image from the anime.  Ataru after armageddon has unraveled every level of society, and with his idiotic flag, has become a zombie for the new anarchy.  He is sort of a leader of this world, but only in a very loose sense. It is more like, people naturally like following him around than that he is commanding them in the way that say a character like Mendo, with his japanese sword, and elitist fascist ideologies would.  So I think you can call the new world that Ataru has created an anarchic one.

 I think that a character is functionally a complex idea form.  Their form is a language unto itself, their body’s movement through space is the syntax--they’re a word, they’re a letter, a sentence, a novel--they’re beyond all of that, they are the image in place of the frailties of all descriptors.  Ataru is not a paragraph explaining all of the things that Ataru stands for as an idea. He’s a placeholder form that through our time spent with him becomes filled with meaning by our experience watching him and what he does. He’s more than a word because in a comic or anime, he has a character that says “lines shaped like this are Ataru”.  He’s more like a letter or symbol in comic form. I say all of this to say, any particular frame or panel of Ataru represents a different aspect of this incarnation which exists within our relationship to the comic or anime itself. Each panel, each frame--these are different aspects of the idea of “Ataru” expressing themselves in our reality. I say this to say, that while generally it can be said that I like “Ataru” it is this particular aspect of “Ataru” --expressed in the screenshot from the anime-- that I am most obsessed with.  It is this aspect which informs all other interactions that I have with the “Ataru” symbol.

The knock-on affect of this affinity is a kind of skewed relationship between the manga and myself. I read the manga in relation to this particular aspect of Ataru.  It is a kind of triangulating search for a repeat expression of this aspect. I think this is a normal thing too. Think about someone like Spider-man--and how people might have a particular Spider-man that they think of when they talk about him.  The Spider-man of your youth maybe. Maybe Todd McFarlane’s Spider-man, maybe David Lafuente’s, maybe it is Toby Mcguire in the movie. But there is some image of the idea of a character that becomes embedded within us when we fall in love with a character. And then we may spend the rest of our lives trying to recreate or re-experience that manifestation of the character within our reality.  And truthfully, we really can’t. Even when I watch the exact same anime over again, it is slightly different from the first time. The image changes every time we go to look at it. It is kind of sad really. To be affected by beauty, which is what I am talking about here, and then to be so desperate to return to it, that you only find yourself falling farther and farther away from it.  

There’s this thing where they say the more you recall a memory the more it changes, the more it fades from the reality you have experienced.  Nostalgia becomes this poison which distances our minds from the visceral experiences we are fortunate enough to have spread over our miserable existences.  It is our desperation for these things which exist only once, and come from outside of life, which drag us into misery.

(Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura (VIZ) trans: Nieh)

But this is also life I think. Living is dragging our bodies across time until they can do it no more.  To live is to desperately read through a manga searching for the feeling which brought you there, and really what we can hope for is that in our searching we might encounter the surprise of a different aspect of beauty which will also move us.  The idea that this might happen is the only reason to have a functioning conscious mind I think.

I feel like for the last almost two decades I’ve been watching a slow motion car crash over and over again, and I’ve seen systems put in place that make resistance to this horror more and more difficult. I’ve seen massive war protests come to nothing.  I’ve seen wall street protests do nothing but put protesters in jail. I’ve watched two parties shuffle back and forth in a white supremacist race to see who can terrorize the most people of color throughout the world and profit the most from it. And in the background to all of that: the rise of fascism, the coming climate crisis-- and it’s a panic. It’s a slow burning 20-year plus panic.

(Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura (VIZ) trans: Nieh)

(Takahashi, Urusei Yatsura (VIZ) trans: Nieh)

For me, Ataru in this image is the manifestation of the wreckage of the failed systems of societal order.  Ataru has stopped the tanks finally. Leaving them sunk at the bottom of a pool. But the city has no mind left. His country is an insomniac within a dream within a dream on top of a giant tortoise held up absurdly by strange symbols to the old order whose meanings have escaped for all time.  His answers are debauchery, debasement, and then a rabid love that annihilates him in a storm of electroshocks(further eroding his mind, rinse, cycle repeat until hopefully one day there is nothing left). He is the romance of the fire. Ataru does not live in the mind, he lives in the body. It makes him indefatigable.  Maybe that is what I get from him. Maybe that’s what I like about him. I think it is what Lum likes about him. A spirit that burns long after the mind has been ravaged. I need that kind of inspiration. Even if it costs everything, and all that is left is a skeleton twitching through muscle memory waving some failed flag of protest--to survive life undefeated and unbowed until the maddening very end--I need that shit.

Things I Love About Comics: Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi

ComicsSarah Horrocks

This article originally appeared on my patreon. If you like content like this, and would like to see more, you can subscribe via the link at the top of the page.

Image: Rumiko Takahashi(VIZ)

So Viz just started putting out these huge chunks of Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura series.  It’s a series I really only vaguely knew about through the years just from seeing Lum around.  Recently they released the anime movie Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer  which is directed by Mamoru Oshii in one of his early works.  I watched that and pretty instantly fell in love.  

I think fundamentally what draws me to this world that Takahashi has created--well let’s back up.  So Urusei Yatsura is a harem comic about this boy Ataru who is extremely unlucky and ends up in a duel with this alien Invader Lum for the sovereignty of earth.  He wins the duel(a game of tag) but accidentally proposes marriage to Lum when he meant to propose to his high school crush Shinobu and for Lum it is love at first sight.  So Ataru ends up in all of these weird insane situations that usually end with him getting shocked by Lum or beaten up by Shinobu.  It is basically a slapstick comedy comic with this harem element, and it really is a delight to read.

Part of what really makes it work is just how deranged Ataru quickly becomes.  He is a womanizing philanderer who only has that one thing on his mind, and basically chases after whatever pretty girl he happens to see in that moment, while trying to escape from Lum.  Unfortunately he is an idiot, and incredibly unlucky which earns him the enmity of everyone in the world except weirdly Lum.  The degree to which he really isn’t so much a sympathetic character as a complete lunatic puts you in this interesting place of enjoying when he gets his comeuppance, but also sometimes you see how things always kind of fall apart for him where he comes off the worst looking out of everyone, and so you have a degree of comedic sympathy for him.

The main reason it works so well though is because Takahashi is such a master of body language and comedic acting.  Also her forms are really appealing to look at with their almost peanuts like heads, and sort of skinny but compact body shapes.

She also draws these great facial reactions.  This page I really laughed at because it shows how Ataru is almost this buddha of perv, and I love Princess Kurama’s face at the end.

Image: Rumiko Takahashi (VIZ)

Image: Rumiko Takahashi (VIZ)

Generally Takahashi has this compositional sense of push and pull between characters where everyone is almost on a string around each other.  You can kind of see that in this panel where Ataru is leaning in towards Kurama, who is upright at this diagonal that fits with the shock and horror of the background characters, coupled with the crow goblins flying around the page, it gives it this real cyclonic force.  But generally she constantly has this thing where if one character is leaning in, the character they are leaning into is leaning back.  It’s like watching a dance.  She just really has this pleasant sense of body weight and sense of space where you feel like characters are really moving into and out of personal space.

Also texturally she has a really great balance between blacks, tones, and white space.  Which is something I don’t think enough people really have an understanding of whether in black and white or color.  Just the way you visually balance the values of a page in a way that feeds dynamic composition.

Image: Rumiko Takahashi (VIZ)

And then also as I said, the way she draws figures has that kind of thing I really like from this era of cartoonists.  It’s appearing in the same way that a Franquin drawing might be, but I feel, slightly more malleable. It is the weight and the balance that you feel in the figures which is really insane.  This shit isn’t easy!  I read a review somewhere online that compared her early work on the series to Tezuka, but I think she has something stranger than Tezuka in her lines and forms.  She feels more youthful and slightly looser, bouncier.  Maybe a little more punk.  Her characters are addled in a way that is I think fairly unique to her, but also of this time too. Even though this comic isn’t cyberpunk, it has the same vibe as the biker gangs in Akira I think.  Series is good enough that I guess now I’m going to finally check out Ranma  ½ while I wait for the next book from Viz.  I ask forgiveness to the gods for sleeping so long on her work (same with Clamp).

For me, this is kind of something I would like to see more with modern western comics, who I think have gotten too mired in realist forms, or are too indebted to things like Steven Universe that they lose edge.  There’s an expressiveness with Takashi that also has this edge to it, that I really envy.  I mean look at this above image of Ataru sprawled on the ground.  It’s so beautiful the way his body pretzels over his large head.  He’s got those cool two stripes on his shirt to give him a bit of style, as well as the colored cuffs on his sweatshirt.  And that heavy but assured line weight on his figure contrasted against the textures for the ground and wall behind him--it’s such a pleasing mixture.  

I am actually really aware that Takahashi is super influential on a particular generation of Western cartoonists, and indeed she was recently recognized by the Eisners for her body of work— but an example of this is someone like Brandon Graham, who…I don’t think his work has ever had as much edge as Takahashi does(in fact quite the opposite, his work relies more on smooth sedate qualities), either graphically or narratively.  And he doesn’t really do the kind of manic insane characters that Takahashi can do, which for me is mainly what I vibe on with her work.  It’s not the smoothness that attracts me, it’s the bent-ness.  This is punk in a way that creators of her school have never really tried to capture.  She’s an anarchist as an artist, and I think this is a quality that distinguishes her.  To put it all in terms of Urusei Yatsura, I think everyone glommed on to Lum, but the essence of Urusei Yatsura’s appeal is actually Ataru. I love it.  I want more.  

Some last bits of credits: Urusei Yatsura is Published by Viz, written and drawn by Rumiko Takahashi, with translation and English Adaption handled by Camellia Nieh with lettering by Erika Terrriquez. It is probably available wherever fine comics are sold, or whatever.

Things I Love About Comics: X/1999 by Clamp

ComicsSarah Horrocks

This post originally appeared on my patreon, which you can subscribe to for as little as a dollar a month in the link above

I remember trying to read X/1999 by Clamp when I was a teen, drawn in by the occult apocalyptic nature of it, but I remember being really confused by what was happening, and just never really got into it much.  But thanks to the massive 3 in 1s that Viz put out which allow you to read this thing in huge chunks, I’m not only well on board, I fucking love the thing.

So if you don’t know, X/1999 is the story of this boy Kamui who returns to Japan after 6 years, and all of the prophecies that swirl around him involving the end of the world.  There are two groups involved in the end of the world, and they basically battle it out for control of Kamui and how the world will end.  It is a violent, apocalyptic, fashionable, melodramatic soup of shit, the scale of which is so grand that the first three volumes have gone by, and we are still introducing all of the major players of the story.  The ability of Clamp to carry off these introductions and make the whole thing really exciting has to do with their strong character design chops, and an ability to give you just enough on all of these characters where each one you are like “wait no, THEY are the coolest character” but one after another.

The comic making chops on display in this book are also pretty insane.  A lot of artists utilize the kind of stream of consciousness montage style of page layout, but few if any with the kind of clarity and speed of Clamp.  Usually these complex montage of panels and images overlayed and underlayed with each other, makes for a slow reading, but you really churn through the pages of X.  X is this marriage of high end aesthetic but very grounded in the story it is trying to tell. 

Also Clamp have truly legendary hair.  The hairstyles and how they are rendered are really incredible, and inspiration for days.  The styling in general of characters is so on point as to be daunting.  All of that and they can also whip out insane building wrecking magical fights with swooping and swirling magical effects.

So it’s really truly a great comic.  Though apparently the series was never ended on account of it being too violent for japanese sensibilities at the time.  But I think it’s still okay to get wrapped up in this world and just imagine how it might have ended.

But I wanted to loop back to how these opening books are these series of intros, and focus on one of them, there are a lot of intros in the book, but I thought it would be interesting to unpack one, and this is one of the shorter ones, which is the introduction of the character Satsuki Yatoji.  She is like a hacker witch, who rides this giant computer invention of hers called “The beast”.  

So the breakdown you see here basically works like Kanoe(the character we’ve just spent about 20 pages meeting for the first time, walks into a room at her HQ where this girl is completely enmeshed in this cybersexual thing.  They give us two spreads to soak in how wild this contraption looks, and then they go into a montage of the machine pulling off of Yatoji to reveal her face and her huge glasses as she is about to put them on.  Exchanging one face for another. 

It’s very flamboyant and extravagant and decadent.  It’s basically 5 pages of comics real estate just to show the unmasking of one of the underlings of the main villain and make her look completely scary and cool.  And then as she is decoupled from this cyberpunk thing, she’s coupled narratively into this wider occult concept of the Seven Angels which gives her a further hidden lore and importance for you as a reader to fill in.  Not ONLY is she this crazy computer witch, but she is ALSO one of the Seven Angels.  It’s drama, it’s world building, it’s fashion.  

You could compare X to a fashion show where each model one after another parades down the runway with amazing look after amazing look, ratcheting things up as they go.

And because this is something you are reading versus watching being put in motion before you, you are not only filling in the gaps between panels, but you have time to also attach narrative importance.  You can also just basically STOP and gasp at some of the things you see.

So yeah.  Good shit.  Between that aspect, and just the erotic drama and horror underpinning everything--it is very my kind of thing.  And a good reason to read comics.  Though the X movie I watched by Rintaro is also good, even if it is pretty incomprehensible.  As an orgy of successive images, it really works.  I also think it gives you some faith in what is going on in these early chapters of X, which makes them more riveting I think.  But that’s maybe more to how I read things sometimes.

Mech Wars: Notes From the Mechanized Front

ComicsSarah Horrocks

As the next comic I am going to do is a mech comic, and as I’ve been basically immersed in mech comics and anime for the last year and a half, I thought I would share some of my thoughts and opinions on what I’ve seen in a series of articles.  This article is mostly focused on mech combat. Some of these I really like, some less so. So without further ado (*note, since these are japanese comics, the pages read right to left not left to right*):


(Kazuhisa Kondo, Gundam Crossover Notebook 1)

I like how Kondo draws mechs.  He has that kinda wirey crudded up design sense that Makato Kobayashi has with his mech comics.  But I don’t really feel like the comic making aspect of these battles is that great. You can’t see it just from these two pages, but something he really overuses a lot is a shot of a mech getting torn apart from gunfire, and then the next panel is who is shooting.  He does that a lot, which is kind of monotonous. I do really like the top right panel on the left page in terms of showing a mech taking damage. And I like the top three panels showing the Gouf on the right page, moving quickly across teh battlefield. But there’s not really a climax to that movement.  The middle two panels on the left page are also really good for similar reasons. But the result of the movement and action is pretty cramped into the bottom quarter of the page, and you lose a lot of scale here which I think is a key component in making dynamic mech fights. You need to be able to know when to spin out and when to get in close, and when to cut away to the pilots for drama.  Notice there aren’t any cutaways on these pages. Those cutaways really remind you of the emotions and skill that come behind what you are seeing.


(Mamoru Nagano, The Five Star Stories #7)

Nagano’s Five Star Stories shows what I’m talking about here.  The middle panel on this page is rad, but it’s the top and bottom reaction panels that underscore it.  And it’s only three panels, so there’s plenty of space. My issue with Nagano sometimes is that I actually can’t comprehend sometimes the movements his mechs are making, which I think is a deliberate choice on his part, but not one that I favor.


(Yasuo Ohtagaki, Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt vol 3 )

For me Yasuo Ohtagaki is the master of mech combat at this point.  His action is clear, varied, and rooted in a core drama that enhances the action. I prefer a grimier mech in general than what he draws, but the nuts and bolts of his comic making are masterful.  And I think he surpasses even Yaz in making mech seem huge, powerful, but also fast. I love we get this page of Io’s frustration and not being able to take out Daryl, and he unleashes on a full page all of these missiles, and then we have this spread of a backpedaling Daryl shooting down each missile, with him crying for joy in the bottom left panels of the spread.  Almost every issue of Thunderbolt has something like this in it. If you want to learn the rhythm of how to make good mech fights, this would be the book I would recommend anyone reading.


Nihei is interesting, because his style is very much defined by scale, massive blasts, and the kind of minimalism that you would have always thought would work with a mech comic.  Unfortunately most of Knights of Sidonia takes place in space, and I think that somewhat hamstrings how great and varied the fights could be. I think an underrated aspect in Mech anime, especially gundam, and in their manga, is that there are always three environments at least that we move between--earth, space, space colony.  And each environment plays a role in the way things play out combat wise. Yaz is the master of that aspect. That said, nihei is no slouch, and his mech designs have a great balance of weird, grimey sharp edged brilliance. But note, how dramatic his scaleouts are. He’s not afraid to give a page over to them. He also does a pretty good job with pilot cutaways, as you see in both of these spreads.

(Tsutomu Nihei, Knights of Sidonia vol 5 and 6(read right to left))


(Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Neon Genesis Evangelion)

This was one of my favorite fights in the End of Evangelion anime.  It’s so emotional and violent and cool, it’s probably the best fight in the eva series, and I just don’t feel like Sadamoto really captures it.  While I do like his Evangelion comics, I don’t think his mech combat is especially notable. I think this suffers in a similar way to the Gundam Wing fights and the Kondo fights up above.  Everything is too crammed together, and there’s not enough contrast really, or space. I also am not sure if these angular panels really work that well over and over for a fight. Think how much more of an impact that page where the 03 is dumping blood on itself would be if it was just two panels, and you could get a real sense of place of that top left panel?  I don’t think the two small panels to the left of that do anything but rob the image of the space.


(Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin IV)

Notice with all of these Yaz pages(sorry for the bad quality--the pages are glossy so hard to capture without glare), there are pilot reactions somewhere on every page.  On top of that I think there are two areas where Yaz really hinges his strength as a master of the mech battle--the first is the humanity of his mechs. His mechs even though they are giant hunks of metal, the way they move mirrors the mindstate of their pilot.  Look at the top left page, with the Dom with its fingers outstretched as it is about to swing at Amuro’s RX-78 unit and then the way the RX ducks behind the shield and the way that mirrors Amuro’s face in the panel below and his keen focus--it’s insanely good stuff.  The other area that Yaz excels is placing his mechs in an enviroment. He really excels at landscapes, he just happens to have mechs that are in them. The best example on these pages is that panel in the top right where the doms are tearing down the side of that mountain with the trees and everything around them.  But there are a lot of better examples elsewhere in the series. But it is interesting that you can say that for Yaz’s Gundam, they are formed by the two things least Gundam like, nature, and the humans within that nature. His mechs are the border between the two, and they largely come into being to the extent that they do, based around his manipulation of those two forces.


(Katsuyuki Sumizawa and Tomofumi Ogasawara,  Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Endless Waltz: Glory of the Losers vol. 6)

(Katsuyuki Sumizawa and Tomofumi Ogasawara, Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Endless Waltz: Glory of the Losers vol. 6)

Lastly, from the Gundam Wing manga.  I’m not really a fan of the manga battles in this comic.  This is probably one of the better spreads, sadly. Again we see these angled panels and the struggle to fight the mechs within them.  There’s also no real scale here, no weight, and your sense that these machines are even in the same space as each other is pretty minimal.  It does have great dramatic dialog, which I think is also key for a good robot fight. People should be shouting their innermost turmoil in these kind of fights, to really make them sing and feel significant.  Mech battles are at the top end philosophical trials of concepts between rival schools of thought, more than they are just battles. What stays with you is when these things actually mean something. Have some kind of screaming importance.  

Anyways.  If you enjoyed this article, and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing to my patreon in the link above.


Best Comics of 2018

ComicsSarah Horrocks

Only one of these comics was made by an American, and it was the only book on this list that wasn’t published by an American publisher. All but one of these comics reprint material that came out earlier in other countries. Which I got some pushback to on twitter this week, but my approach is that these are the comics that were published in 2018 here where I live, in America; like I can look into the publication info on the book, and it says 2018, and within that framework they were the best ones that I read.

That last bit is always the biggest caveat. Especially as I mostly just read what I am interested in reading. Usually if I try to read books that others are hyping up, I just end up wasting hours of my life on books I lo-key hate. This is the best way I know how to do this sort of list, and it is the way that best represents 2018 for me in comics.

And, besides, for me, if you aren’t going to recognize a book in 2006 because it’s not been published legally in English, and then you aren’t going to talk about that book in 2018 because it’s a reprint--then you are really saying books that aren’t initially made in English, are never going to get talked about and never going to enter the canon. Including these books as they are legally published is the most correct and ethical approach to this problem. And if you say this invalidates this as a snapshot of 2018, I would disagree.

2018 to me was defined by these books. Like last year I think about Happiness, Goodnight Punpun, or the year before I think about Peplum by Blutch--it is a significant moment to get to read these books, in your hands, in a language you can understand, and if one wants to encourage more great works to arrive in one's native language, a good way I think is to recognize these books as they arrive for the importance they reside in.

2018 itself was the same old shit show within comics itself. A steady parade of men being shitty to kinda everyone, but especially women. So many of us get into this because we are excited about the medium, about reading comics, about making comics, about being a part of this--we get in with these pure intentions, and the landscape is just littered with all of these traps. These festering pustules of just human rottenness waiting for you to accidentally enter their orbit. 2018 was the year my trust in others in the industry broke. Which is an important moment in any young lady’s journey through comics.

But it was also a year where I had some really wonderful times. The BBQ that Bobsy of Mindless Ones threw after Thought Bubble was genuinely one of the most special moments I’ve had in comics. Good company, good food--a heady mixture of intelligence and kindness. Plus the food was perfect. It was one of those things were I was absolutely starving by the time we got there, and the food was perfect. When you are hungry and you get something tasty, it’s almost a spiritual experience. That I was able to spend a month in Europe surfing couches was entirely thanks to comics (shout out to Roque, MJ, Emma, Victoria, Ellen, Jung, Marcel, Alison and Kaveh!).

And through my own comics, I’ve been able to meet or hear from so many interesting people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to. I get some of the most interesting emails in my inbox about all manner of things. So there’s that kind of yin and yang of comics. It’s terrible, but also I need it, and it’s good too.

So with that in mind, these are the actual comics, well the 10 best--these are the comics that kept the fires going in 2018:


10. Haikyu! By Haruichi Furudate (Viz)


A huge chunk of Haikyu Comics by Haruichi Furudate came out this year.  If you watched the anime first, the chunk this year is the first part that is after where the Anime’s last season was.  Starting at Vol. 22 I think. While I think the Anime gets the sports action down better, and there are some times where it is a little confusing what is happening on the page, it’s worth it for the little characterizing details Furudate draws.  Like take the panel up there. You have the impact of Hinata’s spike mirroring his own hair, the “FWIF” sound of Tobio’s set, and then Tobio’s surprised eyes all saying to you “WHOA”--it’s good fun. And Furudate is great at balancing what at this point is a cast that must be getting close to 60 or 70.  Watching Hinata be the ball boy at a camp he crashed, and start evolving as a player was really riveting stuff, as was Tobio taking back his crown as king of the court, but in a way that the rest of Karasuno could understand and work with. If you’d like to dip your toes into a nice slice of life sports manga, that while not super heavy, still makes you care a lot for what is going on in the page, this is a wonderful series to track.


9. An Invitation from a Crab by Panpanya (Denpa)


This collection of stories from Panpanya have a quality that can best be described as elusive.  It’s like trying to grab at a wisp of smoke and as your hand begins to grip it, it flits from your grasp into nothingness.  Graphically it does that tried and true thing of putting cartoonish figures over heavily rendered backgrounds, which literally always works on me.  I love the way Panpanya creates these bendy warpy neighborhoods, and the pleasant nature of our large headed Avatar and her friends the kinda dog thing, the guy with the thing on his head, and the other woman.  The best story here involves this character missing her train stop and in alarm getting off the train without her body. She wanders around a strange slightly off dimension lost until someone tells her she is a ghost.  So they give her a stick and a bun and tell her to go to this one area where they can summon other ghosts and find out what the deal is. They then determine that she’s an astral projection from her body, so they take her back to the train station lost and found to find her body which is this creepy husk thing that she has to put on before going back on her way.  That’s the kind of story you get one after another in this collection. I would say it is a book about perception, objects, places and being mindful of all of these strange things to the point of abstraction. A book as fascinating narratively as it is virtuoso graphically.


8. Die Laughing by Andre Franquin (Fantagraphics)


Die Laughing is a collection of dark humored one pagers from comics master Andre Franquin.  It’s really stunny what he can do with hatching and shadow in this book, and I love his spindly limbed pear people.  It’s kind of sad how much of the concerns of this book, which contains work that is like...several decades old, are still relevant.  Franquin was screaming about the planet decades ago, and now we, living deeper in the fire, can read those screams in english, and really feel the idiocy of our present doom underscored.  Humanity has not improved much if at all since Franquin made these comics. At this point our laughter is a scream is laughter. We’re really screwed. Pretty comics though.


7. Happiness by Shuzo Oshimi (Kodansha Comics)

Happiness by Shuzo Oshimi was one of my books of last year, if not my book of the year last year.  It drops down my list this year because most of the year was a very slow section of the story based around a weird blood cult (which sounds more exciting than it is--really this is kind of a handbrake section of Happiness, similar to that chunk of Flowers of Evil where things time skip and then slow way down for a few books).  The most recent volume finally paid off on the Cult with the horrific imagery I get up every day for. Oshimi has with Happiness made himself into a truly stunning artist. Where before he was an artist who knew how to nail the climax artistically, now he’s doing this book where every page is pretty amazing. He’s on twitter as well, if you want to see lots of cool sketches.  As with any Oshimi work, you read his books faster than most. His work forces a kind of breathlessness while reading, you turn the pages so fast that sometimes you forget to breathe, and so while you blow through his books faster than normal comics, you feel the physical toll of them more than other books. But this and the number 1 comic on my list are the two comics that when I get them in the mail I get the most excited for.  I don’t know if I’d say Oshimi would be top five favorite artists for me, but his comics are probably my favorite, I feel like he has the juice right now and is just dropping amazing comic after amazing comic. And his art just keeps getting more and more compelling. Now if only we could get a better more mature translation of Flowers of Evil that doesn’t include the word “Shitbug”....


6. Inside Mari by Shuzo Oshimi (Denpa)

A second comic from Shuzo Oshimi started up this year: the print release of Inside Mari from Denpa comics.  This is actually an earlier comic of Oshimi’s than Happiness, and was at one point available digitally on crunchyroll.  But I’m a print snob(thus why this list doesn’t include Grappler Baki), so this is newwww to me.  Inside Mari is a gender/body swap comic about this guy ending up in the body of this high school girl he stalks and then trying to come to terms with all that entails.  It’s Shuzo Oshimi so you know it won’t be that straight forward. I’m really interested to see what Oshimi does with a story that is basically a good chunk of the kind of thing you would have read on Fictionmania back in the day.  I should do a gender swap/body swap comic someday. I mean Oshimi has this. Almodovar did a whole movie that was one. I need to get in there before the subgenre gets too legitimate. This will almost certainly end up on my end of the year list next year too.


5. Devilman by Go Nagai (Seven Seas Entertainment)


Seven Seas brought us two glorious volumes collecting the classic Devilman run from Go Nagai this year.  Apocalyptic, inky, and meme-worthy. The story lags a bit in parts, but the parts that work are of such high quality that it deserves its spot on the list, and the end has lost none of its potency.  A truly seminal work of apocalyptic literature reproduced and released for an era in which it has lost none of its relevance.


4. Soft X-Ray Mindhunters by A. Degen (Koyama)


Strange, sad, beautiful, of the summer.  The best time I had reading a comic this year was when I plopped A. Degen’s Soft X-Ray Mindhunters across my lap after getting back from TCAF.  The ideaspeed of the book is pretty insane, but I remember being struck by the elegiac tone. I know one of the reasons that people have been hyped on that Sabrina comic this year has to do with how “now” it is, but where I thought that book did a poor job of describing what is going on now, Soft X-Ray Mindhunters was more a book describing a painful opposition to now.  Truly an experience.


3. Mort Cinder by Hector Oesterheld and Alberto Breccia (Fantagraphics)


One of the truly momentous artists to be ignored by english audiences in recent times is Alberto Breccia.  Someone on par with the giants like Kirby or Tezuka. Fantagraphics sought to fix that this year, by bringing out Mort Cinder for its english language debut.  I wrote at length about this book here. This is also the second major work from Hector Oesterheld to make it into english in the last two years, there’s a wonderful write up on his contribution over at TCJ.  You can read my extended thoughts on the book here.  It’s a good one.


2. Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt by Yasuo Ohtagaki (Viz)


At times lurid, at times deeply nihilistic, and at times breath stealing--there’s not a book that I rip through every few months with more eagerness than Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt by Yasuo Ohtagaki.  Even if you never seen or read anything about Gundam before, this series still works and can stand toe to toe with Gundam the Origin by one of the true masters of comics Yoshikazu Yasuhiko.  Functionally it is an interrogation of the role of the ace within the context of the trauma of war.  It is about the ways humans find to express themselves within the medium of war, when everything else has been taken away and destroyed.  I think it is also the first series I’ve read where one of the main protagonists for a Gundam series is a quadruple amputee.

But even more than that, it has some of the best giant robot fights I’ve seen in comics.  Which is important too. And were it not for a collection of one of the great works of Nihei dropping in the final weeks of the year, it would have been my comic of the year.  Read more of my thoughts here.


1. Abara by Tsutomu Nihei (Viz)


I’m glad I held off until the last few weeks of 2018 to finish with my list, because this deluxe collection of Tsutomu Nihei’s masterpiece Abara dropped on my porch about as late as you can get.  This is the debut in english of work that was done in the early 2000s and it is all collected in an huge edition ala the Blame! Master editions. It also includes the Digimortal short. And while I think Blame! Is narratively heavier; with Abara, Nihei gives his version of a kind of Kaiju/Kaimen Raider kind of comic where human bodies explode into these skeletoned razor edged knights to fight giant blobs of bone and muscle called white guana.  It of course all comes within a glob of barely explained history that is at the end of its dusty excess--a world like many of Nihei’s that lives at a final nexus of occult, political, and post-human forces.  Q Hayashida was an assistant on this book, which you can feel her dirty textures coughing through the thing. For me, Abara represents the artistic highpoint of Nihei so far.  And seeing as he is one of my favorite artists, it is impossible not to have this as my best book of the year.  This is a major work beautifully presented. Though I would say Thunderbolt is more complex narratively, and Ohtagaki has more interesting characters who can interact with each other in believable ways--but then that’s not what you show up for a Nihei book for.  This is jagged edge fuck you comics in epic spread excellence. There’s no one who made it seem bigger on the page, no matter how big or small the page is.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt Review

Sarah Horrocks

There were a lot of good comics this year, but the one that I was most excited to read every few months when a new volume came out was Yasuo Ohtagaki’s Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt.  I was actually on a panel for best comics of the year at Thought Bubble in Leeds, and everyone around picked all of these respectable books from Short Box and Koyama, and I felt weird having to say it, but it’s true.  Mobile Suit Gundam: Thunderbolt is really one of the best comics of the year.

But the thing I’ve really struggled with is how exactly to explain that.  That’s why I haven’t written about the book until now.  To briefly summarize, Thunderbolt is a comic that takes place in the UC century universe of the Gundam giant robot series.  It takes place during the One Year War, and then right after it, and largely focuses on the rivalry of two men(as most Gundam series do), in this case Daryl Lorenz, a quadruple amputee newtype Zeon pilot and the Jazz loving Earth Federation jerk Io Fleming.  The two initially cross paths in the Thunderbolt sector, which is the ruins of a space colony zeon destroyed, and because of the strange electromagnetism in the area, there are the space thunderbolts--thus “Thunderbolt sector”--Lorenz is the top sniper of a unit of amputee Zeon soldiers who are part of an experiment to build the psycho system.  And Io is the ace of the Moore Brotherhood unit representing the Earth Federation.  The two fight it out there, and then again in the battle at A Baoa Qu, which was Zeon’s last stand in the One Year War.  Zeon lost, and the next we see is Lorenz and Io on earth.  With Zeon remnants still fighting against the Earth Federation, and the Feddies after the Nanyang alliance, which is a religious cult that is trying to rebuild the Psycho Zaku.  And that’s pretty much where we are at now without spoiling anything.

But this is far from the first Gundam manga.  There’s generally a manga for every anime series, and then a few besides that.  This one is somewhat notable in that the anime series is an adaption of IT and not the other way around.  But Yoshikazu Yasuhiko showed with his brilliant masterpiece Origin series that even gundam adaptations can be good.  But I bring it up just to say it’s not notable for being a comic that is about gundam.  That’s not what makes it great.

Yaz’s Origin series is interesting to bring up, because I think that is a comic that is executed on the highest level of the medium, a true master, hitting every mark.  And while I wouldn’t describe Thunderbolt as that, I would say that there’s more of Thunderbolt that leaves me awestruck.  Every panel isn’t great.  A lot of them aren’t really.  But there’s just enough to keep you hungry, and the payoff 9 volumes in, comes through everytime.

So I don’t think it’s original.  I don’t think it’s per se super intellectually challenging.  I don’t think every panel is a masterpiece to look at.  And’s so fucking good.

This is a segment of pages from one of the best volumes of the series so far, Vol. 6, which came out in February from Viz.  Vol. 6 is the perfect volume to bring to the table here, because it encapsulates everything that I’ve said.  It uses a time shift framing device for heightened suspense and to build how much you care about certain characters before their fates are decided--which is kind of cringe.  But the other side of the book which is a series of reversals of fortune between Federation and Zeon remnants is absolutely brilliant.  It starts with Zeon remnants destroying a Federation ball on patrol, which lures the Federation forces out into a trap underwater against a bunch of Z’Gok’s and Goggs, which are made for fighting underwater.  Bianca Carlyle is able to flip the tables and forces a the Zeon commander to the surface and out of his suit.  And just as she’s about to shoot him in the head.  A force of Zeon Gogg’s appear behind her. And then just as she’s about to be smashed, Io appears with the Atlas Gundam, takes out the Zeon forces, saving Carlyle, before then having to be saved by her in his encounter with a mobile armor.  That kind of shifty reversal of power is something that is all through Thunderbolt, and something Ohtagaki has down really well, and it always makes you power through these books.

But beyond that, his depiction of mobile suits is I think extremely notable.  It’s actually not that easy to make giant robot fights look consistently cool in comics.  There are kind of precious few truly great mecha comics out there.  And I would say this is something even Yaz struggled with in Origin.  Ohtagaki though, as you can see in the above images, cycles through how heavy his blacks are, and the type of rendering he does, for dramatic effect really well.  And his scale for the mobile suits is always very dramatic.  You get the sense of how large they are, but also how fast they can move.  Which is really hard in the comic medium.  And when he hits you with the texture shifts in dramatic moments, it really pops the action out on the page.

Compare the heavy blacks on the mobile suits in the above page, with the more detailed and precise lines of the Atlas Gundam here:


That gives you a sense of the kind of range he can shift in between, and I think it’s this versatility in depiction that is a very strong card in Ohtagaki’s deck.  It extends to his characters as well, who he also sometimes shifts between heavier and lighter lines.  It’s total spectacle.

I put a lot of stock in comics that I can turn the page and be like “whoa”--and that’s not just about being an excellent draftsman.  I think there are a lot of artists who can draw better than Ohtagaki, but very few have that honed sense of how to make the amazing look amazing.

I also think Ohtagaki has a weird vibe to his work.  And this extends to Moonlight Mile.  There’s something prurient at times, debauched--it’s not overt, but like the Moore Brotherhood captain’s drug addiction, and things like that, coupled with the almost manic eyes that Ohtagaki draws creates this atmosphere in Thunderbolt that is….hard to put your finger on.  But it’s there.  It’s there in the anime too, but I think it’s even stronger in the comic.  It’s not pervy.  But it’s nihilistic?  The characters are all empty or feel empty when you look at them, in a very specific way that makes you feel like everyone in thunderbolt is just insane, and that they are fighting not so much to win a battle or a war, but to hear themselves scream.  To actualize the pain they are carrying into a moment that it can possibly be exercised.

The metaphor Ohtagaki uses is music.  The conceit of Thunderbolt is that the mobile suit ace isn’t fighting a war, they are participating in their art form, this form of expression at its deadliest.  To some extent that’s always the case with the ace pilot.  Our conception of the Ace is that he is someone who is beyond human in a way that allows him to fight war beautifully, or in a way that causes us to notice him or her as the ace.  The cycle of a traditional gundam myth is a young pilot is forced into war, and they become the ace, in order to express their terror, their fear, and their rejection of war, of killing, and to try and instead connect with a wider evolution of human consciousness that could end all war(the newtype myth)--if we could only understand each other, then we wouldn’t kill each other, is the hope.  And it’s interesting because both Daryl and Io listen to music while they fight.  Different genres, but for both music is a huge part of their lives.  Which is kind of a double metaphor, as Io sees flying the gundam as music--so they are joined both by music, and their role as aces, who want to express themselves but so far haven’t.  So there’s stuff to unpack for sure with Thunderbolt.

So there are things to think about in Thunderbolt.  I think it’s also the first gundam myth to try and tackle a religious cult.   Gundam 00 tried, but I wouldn’t say to this extent.  As Celestial Being weren’t so much a religious cult, as a conspiracy of alien types.  Which is a tough thing to decide your going to wrestle with in Gundam, but I am interested to see where Ohtagaki goes with it.

I would say for a comic as enjoyable to read and action packed as Thunderbolt is, there aren’t many comics that also carry the weight and heavy atmosphere as well as Thunderbolt does.  It’s a unique experience every month it comes out, and a beautiful study for anyone who is interested in how to make dynamic giant robot fights in comics.  Which is also probably a huge part of why it’s such a big book for me personally, because it really is like getting taken to school on how to do this genre, particularly how to to the action, and I say that as someone who has read Origin and Five Star Stories and some of the other gundam manga--they don’t have a patch on the best battles in Thunderbolt.  It is truly stunning work.

Mort Cinder: What Remains Without Remaining

ComicsSarah Horrocks

Mort Cinder is one of the giant works of the comics medium, that for the longest time has been out of reach even as an import.  I’d only ever seen sections of it.  Obviously never in english.  But better late than never.  Alberto Breccia was an atomic bomb to the style of comics.  It actually says a lot that you can see his influence even in American comics without his work really ever being in English.  His students and the people he influenced though were big enough that even with that barrier, you can still say Breccia has touched american comics.  Even if it is more through artists like Jorge Zaffino and Jose Munoz.  But even saying that, there’s nothing like the real thing.  And a lot of what was lost in this translation via Munoz and Zaffino was the incredible texture Breccia works in.  He really does carve light with whatever is at his disposal.  And if Breccia is something of a mystery to the English speaking world, Hector Oesterheld, the writer for Mort Cinder is a complete unknown.  For me the revelation of Mort Cinder isn’t so much Breccia, because I have seen Breccia.  But Oesterheld, and what’s more seeing Breccia in conjunction with the words on the page.  That is what is new for me.  So that’s to say my interest here is the totality that is Mort Cinder.


Mort Cinder is a series of stories involving the titular character of Mort Cinder and his friend the antique collector Ezra Winston.  The two of them warp through time and genre to tell gothic stories that largely orbit around an explored relationship to Authority.  I think Derrida gives the perfect description of Mort Cinder as a character in his book Cinder where he describes the cinder as “what remains without remaining”.  Cinder is a man who cannot die, and whose life is a constant state of resurrection from his undeadness.  He lives in all of these different eras not as a king or anyone especially glorious.  He is always somehow outside of things.  Even as he is in them.  He is what remains without remaining.  He is death as witness through time, exhausted, coming home to his friend Ezra to tell the stories of his time.

All of these stories involve living with a kind of crushing authority.  Mort never lives the life of a king.  He’s always just below authority.  Just outside of it.  He is both always complicit and always subversive.  He subverts authority by surviving it.  Carrying with him this feeling of complicity.  This guilt.  In “Lead Eyes” our introduction to Mort, he is on the run from the Lead eyed men.  These people whose imagination and memories have been sucked away so a devious hyper mind professor can ride them as he chooses, Get Out style.  In Charlie’s Mother, he’s an infantry soldier blindly charging into battle.  In “the Tower of Babel” he’s a slave, who becomes a master, who then destroys the masters.  In “In the Penitentiary” he’s a prisoner, but he kills escaping prisoners once they become the guards.  In “The Slave Ship”, he’s forced to work on a slaver ship, but then he becomes complicit in the slave trade, then he helps slaves escape, only to again betray one of the slaves--through every story there is this shifting role of resistance, and complicity--there’s a guilt that comes through it all, because Mort Survives it all, and it just becomes more weight that he has to carry as this never dying witness.  He’s a haunted man and Breccia carves him as much out of shadow as he does light.

And while Mort Cinder is not quite as abstract as some other Breccia work like his awe inspiring HP Lovecraft adaptations, there’s a controlled fire here that is truly something to behold.  It’s as if every panel Breccia reinvents the rules of mark making.  His throws everything at the image, like there’s this palpable sense of straining against the limitations of ink itself.  Every image is the truth of itself.  And with that it is still completely coherent.  His mastery of white space or is it his mastery of shadow?  They ebb and flow back and forth between each other, is it the light that made this image or is it the darkness.


 There is so much being expressed here.  The strain of Mort Cinder’s face here.  The violence underscored by these tire marked hatchings that whip around him like a halo--these smears of ink, and yet the control in the execution of the faces and the muscles--who has ever tried to say so much in a single panel?  The quality of Mort Cinder against any other Breccia work I’ve seen, maybe Perramus is somewhat similar, but less expressive in this particular way,  is that will to be free. To be so in control that you could seem out of control.


Mort Cinder is like Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster in some ways.  He is this tall behemoth shamble of a man whose presence is so granite on the page that it is hard to believe Oesterheld and Breccia actually invented him, and that they didn’t actually just meet Mort Cinder someplace and decide to tell his story.  That’s the feeling I get from him. He’s somewhat terrifying, but also sad.  He’s a tragic figure.  And there’s something elegiac in his relationship with Ezra Winston.  Ezra is an elderly antique dealer, and in some ways he allows Cinder to express a kind of nostalgic sadness for all he’s seen and couldn’t prevent.  You feel like we are starting at the last chapters of a great man’s life.  Everything is looking back.  Nostalgia comes about because when we reach the end, we are too scared to look forward, to dream forward, the future terrifies us, so we turn our backs to it, and look to the past as the present crumbles down around us.  Cinder is a man who knows dying, but doesn’t know death.  He’s a man who is existentially nostalgic.  He’s neither the fire nor the ash.   

Fuck A Man Booker: My Review of Sabrina

ComicsSarah Horrocks

So I read the Man Booker prize listed comic, Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso.  When it was first announced that it had been listed for the Man Booker, my reaction was that it looked exactly like the sort of book that people who didn’t like comics would nominate for the first ever comic to get this kind of recognition.  Defenders of the book rushed to tell me that I was mistaken and that this was actually a great book.  So I tried it.  And...I was right. I’m sure for some people this is what they want out of comics, but for me it’s a lot of what I hate.

Sabrina is the story of this one dude whose girlfriend is abducted and murdered--so he goes to live with a high school buddy for awhile.  His buddy works for the military, and most of the book is his friend taking care of this first friend as the story unfurls through new videos of the killing(which we aren’t shown)--the guy whose girlfriend was killed and mutilated--he falls down a rabbit hole of infowars style talk radio conspiracy theory bullshit as he becomes increasingly isolated; while his friend, the military guy, is implicated in these conspiracies, and gets called a crisis actor yada yada--military guy deals with all that while trying to reconcile with the mother of his kid who lives in florida(he lives in Colorado).  Whole thing is kind of about the swirling excitement of atrocity and social media insanity that we live in now and how it inflicts itself on our still mundane offline lives.  The story is mostly carried out through a lot of gridded pages of blobs of white people standing under words which rarely are more than the placeholder for people talking.  It’s the texture of dialog. The tone of a murmur. But it’s just that. None of it is really important or clever enough that you couldn’t just skip it once you get the feel for what it is doing in the story as a whole. Intellectually I understand the import of all of this, and the basic gist of what is being said with the work.  And I get why literary types would read this and get excited because it’s about very much now.


But this is a comic book, and the execution of this stuff in the comic medium is pretty boring.  Every time I turned the page to see another wall of panels and words and talking heads, I cringed.  It was a miserable experience reading, and there was nothing in here to really see.  Zak Smith said on twitter that it was indicative of a literary establishment that was terrified of images.  And I think that is accurate.  There’s a whole scene of people around comics whose idea of a good time is an unchanging white blob across repeated across several panels to convey an imaged depth.  They’re afraid of anything that looks like a comic or a manga, so they sneer down at books that have actual craftsmanship in their images, and actually give you something to go home with on top of telling a good story.  None of them would ever read something like Children of the Sea unless the same story could be told via clip art on a risograph.  

And sure, people are allowed to like what they like, but it’s so fucking middlebrow it makes me crazy.  The worst thing about middlebrow shit is that it thinks it is the epitome of having good taste.  It’s the best picture at the Oscars shit.  They’ve seen every best picture nominee, but never heard of like...Tsai Ming Liang.  It’s so aggravating.  And I know it’s the same people who push neoliberal policies that ruin the rest of the world.  Who continually add fascists to their hashtag resistance as it suits the winds of todays headline. They have no continuity and are human stumbling blocks to meaningful progress for all. They perpetuate the status quo. They  who miss as clear a war criminal as we’ve had since Nixon, in Dubya just because he gave Michelle Obama some candy. Fucking Biden wants to pin a medal on that piece of shit.  These fucking people suffocate the world under the blanket of their milquetoast bullshit.

I can’t stand it.  I can’t stand this book.

I mean this fucking book.  It’s so now right?  But it deftly sidesteps the role white supremacy plays in all of the key elements of its plot.  White supremacy is why our military is in the middle east.  It’s the underlying thing beneath modern conspiracy theory talk radio.  It’s the thing that keeps us an overly armed populace(except for black people of course--where if they have even a toy gun, the police will execute their children without repercussion)--like sure is hard for us white people with the repression of all this social media shit--that when we walk away from it, we still have our white people shit to go back to.  Meanwhile this country is shuffling anyone latinx into detention camps, executing black men on the streets for just...being there, and treating every muslim like a terrorist in a country where to be accused of terrorism means you lose all of your rights and you disappear for forever. There was a fucking serial killer working for ICE kidnapping and killing latinx women across the southern border. But boo fucking hoo about the mostly off camera object of feigned white male tragedy.  

No here’s a comic that gives us the tragedy of another white girl lost.  I mean the impact is 90 percent focused on men with some lip service to the women she was actually related to. But only some.  But institutions like Man Booker reward such a safe and limited perspective?  Of course they do. It’s because this is the kind of fake deep shit that makes people feel good to understand.  There’s nothing about this that really challenges yours or my status quo.  There are no tough questions being asked here.  It’s just...a very narrow depiction of the way things are right now from a very limited perspective. A perspective that is happy just to say “oh wow, shit is fucked right now, right?” without any kind of deeper unsettling truths that could lead its reader to any kind of meaningful action or experience. Everything you get from this book, you can get from being a privileged white person with a social media account.


Was Prince of Cats up for a Man Booker for giving a beautiful multilayered comic about violence between young black men?  Nah.  Shit looks too good.  I bet the people who pick this shit have never even heard of it. Did they put Prismstalker up for a Man Booker? Even though it expresses deftly the experience of the colonized? Too genre? Too many colors in the palette?

And god forbid they ever pick up a comic from Japan.  Have you seen those eyes?  Too big to be taken seriously!  Nah if those kind of people are going to read any manga it has to be Gekiga type shit, and it can’t look that great.  Sorry Sanpei Shirato.  You draw too well, and your shit is about ninjas.  How could I, the serious literary person, ever consider something like that?  My shelves of books about English butlers would never forgive me!

So yeah. That’s my review of Sabrina. Man Booker should stay the fuck out of comics.

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