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I Wish I Wrote That!

Welcome to the second of my new, recurring Friday features, “I Wish I Wrote That!” (concept thanks to the awesome Deb Aoki) in which I highlight manga discussion and criticism so awesome I wish I’d written it myself.

Since this is my very first stab at this feature, I’m going to let myself talk about some pieces that aren’t necessarily new, and even one that has nothing to do with manga.

First off, wow, do I wish I’d taken part in the wonderful AXed Twitter roundtable. Besides being great conversation, it was a wonderfully creative use of the medium. Here are links to parts one and two, and a bit of an excerpt:

  MangaCur Let’s start with the stories, in order: “The Watcher,” by Osamu Kanno.

That piece felt very much like a “Chef may use peanuts in some recipes” kind of warning, if that makes sense. Not that every story is going to have kind of ugly art, dogs peeing into skull wounds, and creepy nudity, but some do, so… Or if not precisely set the tone, at least made sure nobody would be surprised that the collection would go weird places.

debaoki Yes, that’s true – like the first song in an soundtrack or concept album, “The Watcher” set a certain tone as the first story in AX. I didn’t really get what Osamu Kanno was going for with The Watcher, other than to make fun of selfish suburbanites

Toukochan Bleah. It seems Japan also has what I dislike about indie comics in its own manga. The art in The Watcher reminded me of Leo and Diane Dillon’s work for Dangerous Visions, for some reason.

factualopinion “The Watcher”: probably one of the best last panels of all the stories available. Little too long, i’d say.

The latest installment of the Manga Moveable Feast, this time hosted by Sean Gaffney, led Manga Curmudgeon David Welsh to repost his older review of Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare. After reading that review, I realized that I never need to move beyond my own first volume review. I’ll simply point people to David’s. An excerpt:

  In a lot of manga aimed at an adolescent audience, the characters’ objectives are sunny and straightforward. Do your best! Be true to yourself! Learn! Grow! Befriend! Love! You can dress those objectives up however you like and contextualize them in sports or sorcery or pop stardom, but the bottom line is basically the pursuit of happiness.

What makes a book like Setona Mizushiro’s After School Nightmare (Go! Comi) so alluring is that it’s about the aversion of unhappiness. The objectives here are just as straightforward, but they’re bleaker and probably more honest. Keep your secrets. Hide your flaws. Try not to hurt anyone more than you can avoid, but a teen’s got to do what a teen’s got to do.

Speaking of be-all and end-all reviews, I made the mistake of reading Kate Dacey’s wonderful review of Moto Hagio’s A Drunken Dream and Other Stories and it’s stymied me ever since. I can’t imagine being able to write about it so beautifully, and I certainly don’t have the background Kate provides at the beginning of the piece which informs her analysis throughout.

  Perhaps the best compliment I can pay Hagio is praising her ability to make the ineffable speak through pictures, whether she’s documenting the grief that a young woman feels after aborting her baby (“Angel Mimic”) or the intense longing a middle-aged man feels for the college friends who abandoned him (“Marie, Ten Years Later”). Nowhere is this more evident than in the final story, “The Willow Tree.” At first glance, the layout is simple; each page consists of just two large, rectangular panels in which a woman stands beneath a tree, watching a parade of people — a doleful man and a little boy, a group of rambunctious grade-schoolers, a teenager wooing a classmate — as they stroll on the embankment above her. A careful reading of the images, however, reveals a complex story spanning many years; Hagio uses subtle cues — light, weather, and the principal character’s body language — to suggest the woman’s relationship to the people who walk past the tree. The last ten panels are beautifully executed; though the woman never utters a word, her face suddenly registers all the pain, joy, and anxiety she experienced during her decades-long vigil.

Finally, because you know I like to cheat, I’ll throw in one piece of criticism that isn’t about manga at all, but that kept me thinking for days after I’d read it. That would be Shaenon Garrity’s piece on Cathy Guisewite’s Cathy, posted shortly after Guisewite announced her retirement from the strip. “I wish I wrote that” is a sentiment I can apply to nearly everything of Shaenon’s, but this is the section that really stuck with me:

  After decades of mainstream popularity, Cathy is still widely disliked by pop-cult elites like you and me. It whirls eternally between the Scylla and Charybdis of gender essentialism: men don’t like it because it’s about girly stuff, and feminist women don’t like it because it’s about girly stuff. Anti-feminists don’t have reason to like it either, what with the single-career-woman heroine who’s always been as open as newspaper syndication will allow about her casual sex life. That leaves just one demographic: women who are all for liberation and being your own woman and all that, but can’t quite figure out how to reconcile it with their actual lives. Women who never stopped feeling the pressure to cook like Betty Crocker and look like Donna Reed, and just added to it the pressure to change the world like Gloria Steinem. In other words, almost every woman of the Baby Boom generation.

When I think about some of the other, mostly-unflattering sentiments I read about Cathy around that time, like this horrifying essay from Tim Kreider at The Comics Journal (Kreider lets us know where he’s coming from with the title alone), it really highlights everything I’ve come to despise about the way so many men write about women’s comics. If they can’t relate to it, it must be crap, right? That’s the overwhelming message of Kreider’s essay and half the writing I see spewing from the keyboards of male comics critics online (kudos and gratitude to the other half, seriously, you have no idea). Thankfully there are women as brilliant and funny as Shaenon Garrity out there to create some balance.

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  1. One that comes to mind for me is Erica Friedman’s review of volume one of Maria Holic a seris I partially want to read out of morbid curiosty becuese of her rview and the fact that Erica is almost always blistringlly funny when she really “cans” a volume.

  2. Thanks so much for the links! You’re far too kind!

  3. Thanks for the link, Melinda! I hope you’ll reconsider your stance on the book and review it, though, because I think you’re much more perceptive than I am when it comes to discussing the emotional content of manga. Drunken Dream seems like a natural title for you to review!

  4. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    I remember as a small kid, my mom always kinda liked Cathy. I think she could relate. That woulda been in the 80s, and I’ve never heard her speak about her since—and I honestly completely get all the criticism. That said, I can’t help wondering if it’s really as hurtful a portrayal as some have claimed—I certainly know of comic strips I find more personally offensive or stereotypical… Shaenon wins bonus points for cleverly quoting Howard Ashman’s awesome Little Shop of Horrors lyrics ;)

    The Drunken Dream link is wonderful. I’ve been defending some of the stories in the volumes over at Noah Berlatsky’s Hooded Utilitarian blog ( I actually think it’s a worthy discussion, even the dismissal of half of the stories (and counting…) definitely holds a lot of interest, to me anyway. But Kate’s words, even just in the quote you have up there, speaks it all for me. I admit, reading Angel Mimic (the title that’s gone under the most unfair judgement IMHO), I teared up. If you “read” it primarily through the dialogue, or consider it a title that’s meant to have a “shocking” twist and you find that twist not so shocking or important (I won’t spoil it), you kinda miss the point. She tells her stories, as IMHO my fave shoujo manga-ka do, more through the pictures, the words are secondary though of course important to the overall effect. It’s easy to rip the piece apart—and that misses its power, IMHO. But, I suppose this is a situation where I just have to get on my own snobby high horse and say it’s their loss if they miss that.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deb Aoki, Melinda Beasi. Melinda Beasi said: New feature: I Wish I Wrote That! Watch me envy @MangaCur @manga_critic @shaenongarrity @debaoki @Toukochan & more! […]

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