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While this might be obvious to everyone, I only just realized that Last Gasp don’t have a logo. Or rather they do… they have hundreds of logos, practically one for each book, letter, and business cards… This was such an insane concept in amongst our uniform, mass-produced world that I had to take a moment to look at a few of the logos by old and new authors, and find out the thinking behind such an adventurous approach to branding.
Last Gasp is the one of the largest and oldest underground publishers and the most well-established company not to have a consistent logo. Founded in 1970 by Ron Turner to publish underground comix, the job of adding a Last Gasp logo was given to each individual who published a book with them, from Robert Crumb, to Bill Griffith, to Frank Kozik (see below for examples, click to enlarge). Authors are asked only to make sure that they “incorporate a skull or a skeleton reading a book or with a book. Ideally the skull should have eyeballs and a tongue.”
There’s a handful of “underground” manga in English, most of it fairly interesting. I’ve always hated the designation “underground manga” since it feels like a marketing term, but it’s a neat category for any book that doesn’t fit in with the genre and age group tropes you find in most manga. Yoshihiro Tatsumi is probably the most widely-read and has the largest body of work available in English. There’s also a handful of books by artists like Yusaku Hanakuma (Tokyo Zombie), Imiri Sakabashira (The Box Man), Seiichi Hayashi (Red-Colored Elegy), and Yuichi Yokoyama (Travel). Those artists all range from thematically and visually similar to Yoshihiro Tatsumi to… much more out there, to say the least. But one of the most infamous is Suehiro Maruo. He is first and foremost a fantastic illustrator. Favoring the time period from 1910-1930, his work usually has a modern antique feel to the settings, clothing, and characters. He has a very stiff, ornate drawing style that is clearly inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e work, but the period flourishes and accurate figure drawing make it feel very western. But most people walk away from his books remembering the outlandish but beautifully-rendered violence. Violence so intense, in fact, that I had trouble finding a good example for the header that wasn’t too gross to put above a cut. Because he is an illustrator first, his comics don’t flow that well, but his panels are frequently interrupted by bizarre, very shocking tableau.
Only three volumes of his work have been translated into English. I mention them all here, mainly because The Strange Tale of Panorama Island came out a couple weeks ago, and it’s worth reading. For the curious, there’s also a Maruo short story in the collection Comics Underground Japan called “Planet of the Jap,” a bleak and violent what-if story about Japan winning WWII that is not for the faint of heart.
Zombies aren’t quite in season, but it can be interesting to look at them anyway. Also uninteresting, as the theme is becoming a bit tired, but it’s a good idea that can be approached from many different directions. There’s a metric ton of manga that use zombies as a theme, from Is This a Zombie? to Zombie-Loan, High School of the Dead to Evil’s Return. Talking about three is only scratching the surface, but here are three that use the zombie in three different ways.
World War II is the topic up for discussion this week, and there are many fine manga on this culturally touchy subject. We have very few available in English, one of which I’ve already talked about (Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki). The three here take three completely different narrative approaches. One is set during the bombing of Hiroshima and deals with the direct aftermath, another is a slice-of-life story about the consequences of the bombing in everyday life set sometime after, and the third is an Inglorious Basterds-style action story, and one of my all-time favorites.
Here’s a big thick European comic. We all love those, right?
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Hey, look at that! I’m back in Arizona and I picked up almost two months’ worth of comics! Yeah, I’m not going to review them properly here – that would take waaaaaaaay too long. This is more of a “What I bought and the random thoughts I have about the issues and, why not, what I did in Pennsylvania for seven-and-a-half weeks.” Can you handle that??????
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