Sunday, May 02, 2010

FCBD Traveling Caravan

Saturday was Free Comic Book Day. Rather than hitting the usual haunts here, I was invited to join some Twitter friends for a "comics caravan". So I took the Amtrak train at any ungodly hour down to Richmond, Virginia. The caravan was actually a nine-person van. This worked out well, since we didn't have to worry about following other cars or odd directions. The caravan was a near even split with three women, three men and one small boy. He was quite well behaved and seemed to enjoy himself.

The fun for me was seeing someone else's comic shops and how they're organized (or not). The comics caravan went to four in total, all with different approaches to the day.

The first one was a small badly organized maze with one person handling everything. All the "gold" level book covers were on the counter and you pointed to whichever ones you wanted. Everything else (including ones from previous years) was below the counter and you had to know about them to ask, which defeated the spirit of discovering something new and different. That store had the most bizarre selection of toys and statues. They also had stormtroopers helping with the line. I had a bad Disney moment when I saw a stormtrooper without his helmet; it was like seeing Mickey Mouse wandering around without its head!

The second store was larger and quieter. They had a nice selection of the pulp reprints, both Tollin's Shadow/Doc Savage/Avenger/Whisperer reprints and the Adventure House reprints. The comics geek in me is still amused by the Whisperer being Police Commissioner James "Wildcat" Gordon. Does Ted Grant know this? And what does Batman think of Gordon horning in on his act?

The third store was Velocity Comics in downtown Richmond. That store was the artiest of the four stores with heavy selection of independents and lesser known comics. Also the only one of the four with a decent manga shelf, but there's always the regular bookstores/Amazon. They also had a nice sale/discount which encouraged extra shopping.

The fourth store Richmond Comix had Tiny Titans' Franco and Jamie Cosley at the store. They were both doing sketches for the kids. Cosley did an adorable Aquaman complete with sea creatures. Franco sketched an Ace the Bat Hound and Flash while I watched.

What I liked about the last two stores was the large all ages/kids sections. Some stores tuck them away on some spinner rack somewhere. These were large sections with lots of back issues to wade through and find treasure. They felt very welcoming to my inner nine year old.

All but the second store seemed to be doing a booming business on the day. People seemed to be buying other stuff, along with snagging their freebies. I was heartened by the number of kids I saw. I do wish there had been some "girly" book to point to, though.

I enjoyed myself mightily. It was good to put names with faces with my twitter friends and also chat about comics in person, rather than limited to a lj/twitter post. I do wish there had been some more time for discussions. Hopefully there will be other opportunities in the future.

The FCBD books I acquired: Iron Man/Thor, Owly, IDW's Library of American Comics, Sixth Gun, Oni Press Free for All, DC Kids Mega Sampler (signed by Tiny Titans' Franco) and War of Supermen. I also snagged an old Justice League of America #0, which I loved for the Trinity moments. I definitely pushed myself outside the box on this Free Comic Book Day, rather than sticking with the tried and true.

I also wound up with Heroclix War Machine. At the last stop I actually saw the Heroclix game being played, so now I understand it in theory.

My regular online service, DCBS, allows us to preorder up to five of the books, so eventually I'll have Stuff of Legend, Love and Capes and the Green Hornet issues to add to my pile.

I bought a batch of other things: the Aquaman & Etrigan issue of Brave & the Bold, Black Widow & the Marvel Girls, Night Owls, and Pluto volume 8. The last one I was grateful for, because I hadn't been able to find it in any of my local stores. (So much for living in a major metropolitan area...) My friend Caroline also loaned me the first volume of Ooku and gave me the first issue of Hickman's SHIELD.

All in all, a long but fun day with lots of future reading material.

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Kimi ni Todoke v1-3

Relatability is a double-edged sword. Comics have to dance a very. On the one hand, publishers want to keep their characters young and fresh for new readers. On the other hand, they don't want to antagonize their current audience. It's a tricky business. What one person finds endearing, another might find overbearing and idiotic.

I nearly gave up on the manga "Kimi ni Todoke" after the first volume. Not because Sadako wasn't relatable as a character, but she was almost too relatable.

I first encountered "Kimi ni Todoke" in a Shojo Beat magazine preview. SB used that charming image from the second volume as its cover, highlighting the friendship amongst the girls. I was intrigued. But the first chapter focused instead on the stereotypical shojo romance between the socially awkward Sawako "Sadako" Kuronuma and the popular guy Shota Kazehaya. The first impression left me disappointed, especially seeing how her classmates treated Sadako. The romance didn't wow me all that much either, so I was discouraged from picking up the full volume. Other manga friends have encouraged me to keep trying. So when I came across the first three volumes at my local library, I decided to dive back in.

Being the outsider on the periphery of the popular crowd at school is a painfully familiar experience. In high school, I was the quiet girl in school. I didn't always make friends easily. But the ones I had were in the theater and music crowd – all more outgoing and talented. And yes I had my own Kazehaya -- that easy going guy everyone knew and had a crush on in school – one little smile or "hello" was all I needed to feel good about my day. I was also the subject to my share of teasing, too, so seeing Sawako treated as that weird girl for no apparent reason bothered me.

The portrayal of Sawako as the "weird girl" unfortunately hinges on POV and Shiina's artwork. We see her as her classmates see her initially with the long hairstyle in her face or soaking wet after a rainstorm. The results feel like a cheap parlor trick. By choosing to emphasize her resemblance to "The Ring" character, I'm almost expecting a different story.

The second volume is all about gossip and rumors and how they get out of control. It's also all about the meaning of friendship. To Karuho Shiina's credit, she does twist the clich├ęs a bit. Yoshida and Yano could simply accept everything at face value, including Sawako's involvement. But they're both plagued by doubts. My favorite moments in the series so far are the smaller ones, like seeing Yoshida and Yano discussing Sawako together. I loved seeing these girls trying to include Sawako in things. They honestly wanted her to be included, rather than it's just for class or something. Even the simple scene of them hanging out together in the third volume was nice, because you saw the friendships away from school.

I did find the writing a bit sloppy though. The entire second volume hinges on people not talking to each other. The rumors continue to build and swirl but no one does anything about it.

Tone is an important component of "Kimi of Todoke". The series feels light and fluffy and cheerful, but that confrontation in the girls' bathroom left me very uncomfortable, especially with all the recent attention given to bullying. In any other series, that scene with Sawako backed into a corner, could have been quite chilling.

I'm still not terribly interested in the Kazehaya and Sawako relationship. He's been set up as this impossibly super-special guy and I'm just not getting what the fuss is all about. The introduction of Kurumi adds the usual complication in the mix and yet it's a very off kilter sort of rivalry. I worry how trusting Sawako is. Sawako wouldn't see the danger until it was already on her.

This whole experience brought to mind a different discussion on twitter – on how necessary it was to review multiple volumes of a series. For a series to be successful, they should hit the ground running with the first volume. If anything the tendency I've noticed is to lead off with a strong first volume and then peter out as the series progresses. So "Kimi ni Todoke" was a new experience for me. I've never had a series change so radically with the second and third volumes. I still have some major reservations about the series, especially Sawako & Kazehaya, but the friendships and interactions fascinate me. I've swung back to intrigued.

Kimi ni Todoke, volumes 1, 2, and 3 with story and art by Karuho Shiina, published by Viz Comics, rated Teen.

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