Peeps at foreign comics – comics from North Korea

 

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You may be surprised to hear that North Korea has an active comics “scene”. But when you hear that it’s all state-run, it’s not so surprising. North Korean kids are pumped with carefully-constructed propaganda from birth, and comics are considerably easier to make than edutainment iApps, especially for a heavily-sanctioned regime. If only our own government would “nationalise”, then print at-cost paperbacks of, our greatest, copyright-hell-stuck, comic heroes, eh?

But how do people from the capitalist west (and east, for that matter) get hold of comics from this secretive, insulated regime? Well, there’s three options. The hardest is going to North Korea itself. Visits are possible, though they’re heavily stage-managed, a “guide” takes you everywhere, and the secret police are always breathing down your neck. Tourism is one of their major sources of income, too, so everything is overpriced. Well, what you can buy is! Apparently there’s department stores full of fancy stuff, but it’s all for show, and the staff merely acting.

Anyway, the next option is “West Korea” aka Yanbian, in China. In the old days, this was a propaganda-filled enclave for North Koreans visiting the People’s Republic. Just to make sure they would keep worshipping the correct cult of personality! China is a lot more open these days, and “West Korea” is swarming with southerners, as well as Chinese, faintly amused at a living “theme park” version of their own country, a generation or two ago.

The easiest way to get these anti-Japanese-propaganda laced books, then, is to… get them in Japan! (That’s what true freedom of speech does for you – when will Britain see a true anti-censorship party?). Yes, Thanks to a “quirk of history”, Japan has a large community of people who align themselves with North Korea (though do not seem in a great hurry to go back – their children and grandchildren becoming naturalised Japanese citizens in ever greater numbers). Japan directly ruled Korea from 1910 until 1945, and many Koreans moved / were moved (depending on who you ask, and the historical period in question) to Japan. After World War 2, they found themselves in a sort of limbo, many either didn’t know where their ancestors came from in Korea, or else they’d come from the north, but now couldn’t go back from American Japan to Soviet Korea. When the country offically seperated into two, they became effectively stateless, in any case. They became known as Zaichini, and, a bit later, many became part of a community called Chongryon, which is aligned with North Korea. For a while, after the war, the political ideology was equally repressive in both the north and south, but the north had a better economy, thanks to Russia (and, to begin with, China) pumping in loads of money. Kind of like how the west made a showpiece of West Germany by funneling in money to “prove capitalism works”.

Anyway, the Chonggryon have continued to exist in Japan, running “North Korean” schools, teaching the language and producing propaganda (they run several of “North Korea’s” websites). As there’s no official relationship between Japan and North Korea, the Chongryon HQ is actually a de-facto “embassy”.

But, more to the point of this blog, the Chongryon also run a book shop, called コリアブックセンター, or “Korea Book Centre”. Students of Japanese will note that, for some weird reason, the name is neither Japanese or Korean, but “English”, written with Japanese letters! This is where you can buy the comics, there’s also various other books (including a load of heavy, brown leather-bound volumes on who-knows-what), CD’s, DVD’s and even some videos. All in Korean, though.

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Anyway, the shop is in central Tokyo (that is, inside the Yamanote line, tokyo doesn’t “work” like most other cities, so it’s actually in quite a quiet, deserted area). The nearest station is Hakusan, come out, bear round to the left, and go down a small pedestrianised street (with a number of comic-heavy Japanese bookshops. One has thousands upstairs! But they’re all run by the same 2-3 people, so aren’t always open). At the end, there’s an unnesescarily-huge zebra crossing. Cross that, and “double back”, a little to the right. Then discover the Korea Book Centre is closed, because it has bizarre opening times. It took me 3 visits to finally catch it! (Edit that is not an edit: I kept going in the morning, but have since found out it opens at 1 in the afternoon!).

EVEN BIGGER EDIT THAT IS NOT AN EDIT: Apparently the shop has closed down for good. Close Skyscanner now!

(“manually” shopping around airlines’ own websites, but on somebody else’s computer, is usually better, anyway).

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The shop is at the base of a big office / flat building, but is pretty small inside. When I went in a few regulars were popping in and out, all talking to the woman behind the counter in perfect, Tokyo-accented Japanese.

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There’s not much to distinguish the comics from various other thin propaganda books, and I nearly left disappointed (or grew a pair and attempted to ask where the “manga” was). But then I finally found them on the leftmost shelf, about halfway down the shop. Though that doesn’t mean there might not be others scattered around!

Anyway, the big handful I bought (altogether coming in at around the ¥5000 mark. I doubt a sen of that got back to the concentration campin’ regime, though. In fact, maintaining both their HQ, and this shop, in central Tokyo, probably costs them hundreds of thousands of yen a month.) includes a large number of what may be called the “old series”, and a couple of what may be called the “new series” of comics. Though the oldest one is still only from 2000. The old series encompasses the 2000’s:

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While the two new series ones are from the 2010’s. However the new series ones also have a Tokyo address in their copyright section. The older ones are pure Korean:

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The newer ones are on thick, glossy paper (which many non-me people would consider “better”). But they’re also drawn in a cod-“Japanese” style. In fact, they remind me of British small-press “manga”! Here’s a comparison:

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There’s actually some Brit ones that look even closer than this. But It’s the first one I grabbed from my box-o-small-press.

The old series ones are on thinner, matte paper, with lurid-looking covers and starkly black and white “Boys’ Own” type artwork in them (nb: except for some ones for young children, but I’ll get to that). If such an impoverished regime can still produce comics like that, why can’t we, eh? why can’t-

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Oh, alright then. To continue… I’m sure I read somewhere that North Korea “recently” (well, around 2010) bought some new printing machines, so it’s possible that the “new series” books are down to that. But then again, the Tokyo address, and Japanese-ish art style, makes me think they might even have been made in Japan by the Chongryon. I did briefly wonder if they were South Korean (they’re on historical themes, both sides of the border would teach their children about national mythology), but they have a 주체 (Juche) date, which is counted up from 1912, when Kim Il Sung was born (apparently on a mountain that borders China… but actually in Russia). The south wouldn’t put that on their books!

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I should state that several of the books (actually, the majority of the ones I have) are not true comics, but heavily-illustrated text stories. Some examples of both kinds have 그림책 (Geulimchaeg) written in the top right-hand corner of the cover. It means “Picture-Book”, and is Perhaps the North Korean word for comic. In South Korea, comics are called “Manhwa”, which is the Korean way of pronouncing the characters which say “Manga” in Japan. If the non-comic ones were aimed at very young children, I’d have called them “Picture books”, like the ones we have in Britain, but they seem to be aimed at an older / teen audience. Well, most of them.

They all appear to be one-off “graphic novels”, rather than ongoing publications, though one comic does appear to be part of a series. North Korea definitely has at least two regular story papers, though. Maybe some of these text-heavy stories originally appeared in one of those, as a serial, and is now available as a book. Or maybe they were all just written as books. We need a Korean-speaking comics enthusiast (with deep pockets – they overcharge tourists something rotten, I hear) to get over there and start asking their “guides” a few probing questions.

Oh, and as a quick warning: my Korean is about as good as my Welsh (oh, there’s another biiiig article incoming!), so I’ve just GUESSED what’s going on in all of these stories. Luckily, there’s plenty of pictures!

Anyway, let’s begin with the oldest book – dating all the way back to Juche (주체, the online translator says it’s “subject”, but it’s obviously “Self-Reliance”) 89, or 2000 to you and me. It’s one of the thickest ones too, weighing in at a “whopping” 124 pages (not including the covers).

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The title is 신기한 술법 (those scribbly covers are hard to read, fortunately the title is usually in clearer type on the “copyright” section), pronounced “Singihan Sulbeob”, and apparently meaning “Novelties Sulbeob”. There’s a few words that I couldn’t persuade Google to translate. North Korea uses a slightly different writing system to South Korea. The south uses Hangul, an indigenous Korean writing system, which is apparently the most logically-organised and easy to learn in the world. Mainly because it was actually created over just a few months, on the order of a liberalising ruler (does Korea have Kings or Emperors?), rather than evolving over centuries. Later rulers, either Korean monarchs, or the Japanese, realised that a literate populace could mean “dangerous” ideas being spread, and banned it in favour of Chinese-made-to-fit-Korean, or just Japanese. Modern South Korea uses mostly Hangul, with a FEW Chinese characters, though they are nowhere near as common as they are in Japan. North Korea uses pure Hangul, and the two countries also have a few different ways of spelling things (see the translation for Juche, above!). But, by and large, they can read each other’s writings without too much effort – though it’s illegal in both countries!

Anyway, this is possibly part of a series, being labelled “백두산녀장수절그림책 (5)” , which is apparently “Paektu lady longevity clause picture book 5”. I don’t think it translated properly. It’s published by “Literary Arts Publisher” (문학예술종합출판사). There seems to be several comic / childrens storybook publishing companies in North Korea, I’ve also seen “Venus Youth Publisher” and “Gold Star Children’s Press”. Though the identical art styles, paper, sizes and bindings hint at there really being only one publisher. The multiple names are just a blind, to give a faint illusion of a “free press”.

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To carry on with the review… this book contains multiple stories, some of them longer than others. One of them is even broken up into three chapters! Heres’s a quick translation of the contents page, though the names may not be particularly enlightening.

1 – 오산의 전설 = Miscalculation of the Legend

27 – 신기한 술법 = Novelties Sulbeop. In three chapters:

1) 류치장에 생게난 이야기 = Kenan (cainan) life on the type of story stucco (embellishment)

2) 공사장에서 구원된 칠성이 = Chilsung has been saved from the construction site

3) 상동마을의 “수호신” = “Guardian Deity” of the same village

63 – 사각장에 나타난 녀장수 = Ladies longevity appears in chapter square

87 – 마천령의 이상한 샘물 = Ma Chun-Ryung the court medic unusual spring water

107 – 다시 울린 종 = Bell Rang Again

I can’t tell anything at all about the first story. It appears to involve some sort of wise man, going around and talking about kings and things. There’s some nice scribbly-looking artwork of temples and houses. There’s also a turtle carrying a big slab on it’s back.

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He is possibly some sort of communist agitator. The story appears to be set in the past, maybe in 1917. As this was during the Japanese occupation, he’s probably talking about how great Korea used to be, and keeping their heritage alive.

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The next story is, erm, well…

Officially, North Korea has freedom of religion. Also officially, many people in North Korea willingly choose not to follow a religion, as they see it as a primitive superstition used to oppress the working class. Actually, the North Korean government have created their own religion, centered around worship of the “eternal president”, Kim Il Sung, who will one day return to life and lead the country to glory. Not that I’d object to a mass revival of Northern European Paganism in the UK, but with elements of Shinto ancestor worship bolted on, and even a deification of King Arthur. But anyway, when Christian missionaries first arrived in Korea, Pyongyang became a very Christian city, and this has not entirely gone away. The government of North Korea have neatly “snatched” Christian beliefs by, for instance, celebrating the birthday of Kim Il Sung’s mother on the 24th of December. As everybody will be “too busy” celebrating that, they’ll “forget all about” Christmas. Which is why you don’t see Christmas celebrations in the DPRK… it’s nothing to do with repression, honest!

Anyway. “Novelties Sulbeop” seems to borrow more than a little from the Book of Exodus, and parts of the Gospels, too! It starts off fairly ordinarily, though. A damn dirty jap is torturing an innocent Korean…

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“fairly ordinarily” for a North Korean comic, anyway…

He’s also seen intimidating people on the streets (apparently accusing an old man of being an arsonist, just because he happened to be carrying some matches). He then hears a voice ordering him to stand to attention, even though there’s nobody there. He doesn’t look too chuffed, but goes about his business of torture and intimidation regardless. Later he calls his officer to come and interrogate the old man, captured earlier. But when the opens the cell, it’s full of some sort of madness-inducing “gas”. Though that may just be representative of something that is invisible.

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The officer treats him in the usual manner of Japanese officers of the time. At least according to “more moderated” accounts of allied POW camps I’ve read.

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But the guy continues to go crazy, and wanders through the town, becoming a laughing stock.

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In the next chapter, a bunch of Korean prisoners are being forced to work on some big project (and you thought “construction site” was a mistranslation!). Their Japanese overseers stay in the huts, partying and drinking. One of the prisoners is looking up at the moon, when a magic bridge appears, leading over the fence, and to freedom! The prisoners all rush over it. The Japanese follow, but it vanishes when they’re halfway over.

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The escaped prisoners meet up with Kim-Il-Sung’s liberation army, having apparently been guided there by a myriad of sparkling stars. They see an apparently divine vision of a free, united Korea, covered in blooming flowers.

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They then meet a wise old man, who preaches to them under a tree. They are also given a lot of food – bread, and “something else”. They’re also next to a river at the time… hmm.

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After that, they go about carving messages (apparently also “divinely inspired”) on trees and rocks (people who have toured North Korea and Cuba have remarked on the natural scenery being blighted by carved slogans). These messages eventually being about the end of Japanese tyranny.

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There’s not much to the other three stories. “Ladies longevity appears in chapter square” is apparently about an oldish man standing around near some Japanese cavalry regiment. One of the horses escapes, and I think he volunteers to track it down, but doesn’t. Also one of the officers can’t sleep (or is maybe being haunted?). Apparently the horse running away inspired the guy to think of freedom. Or something.

 

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The next story is possibly an extension of the “biblical” one. The camping communist rebels have no water, but some “smoke” and sparkling “stars” lead a girl to a hidden well. She digs a little, then tells an old man about it. They go and dig further, finding a spring, so the rebels have their own, abundant, water supply.

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The last story is perhaps a ripoff of the American legend of the “liberty bell”, though not quite the same. It appears that a temple bell in a village must not be rung, the Japanese take a guy away for merely cleaning it. The man’s son and father are left there, but it rings on it’s own, for some reason, and everybody celebrates. Perhaps the spontaneous ringing was to symbolise the defeat of Japan?

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They appear to be ringing it with hammers, rather than a log on ropes, as in Japan. But maybe that’s the Korean way.

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This one is in a slightly smaller format to most of the others, and is called 살인자의 정체 (Sal-injuai Jeongche), or “The Identity of the Killer”. It’s published by “Literature and Arts Publisher” (문학예술출판사), a very similar name to the publisher of the previous book. The story is a thrilling, all-action tale of military… paperwork. It’s another of the “illustrated story” style books, and we catch all the action as our heroine bravely collates, files and, yes, indexes!

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Oh, and the illustrations are done with green ink

Well, okay, there’s a bit more to it than that. A one-eyed woman comes to the army / police, as she’s been attacked by somebody who looks like a ninja. He also kills another guy in a forest. It appears there’s been multiple murders, and we see some first rate pondering-over-ring-binders action.

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Our Lieutenant (an inconclusive Google image search shows that to apparently be her rank) wonders about the connection between various dead people (or at least, I assume that’s who they are). Then there’s a flashback to the Japanese occupation (oh yeah, this story is set in 1959). The one-eyed woman was then a servant to a cruel Korean couple, who were collaborating with the Japanese. Anyway, she didn’t serve them fast enough, so the husband poked out her eye with a big skewer (even the Japanese soldiers are shocked).

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The girl’s mum vows revenge, and it appears that the unseemly display scares the Japanese (and their money) off. The couple blame the mum and daughter, and they leave. It appears that the cruel wife is later beaten to death by other Japanese soldiers, or maybe the girl’s mother killed her, and the soldiers just found the body.

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Anyway, the girl grows up with one eye, and I think she falls in love with a guy, but the evil man has tracked them down, and pushes the guy off a cliff. Also a rioting mob attack his home, but somebody else gets him away in the bottom of a farm cart. I can’t even tell if this scene is set during the Japanese occupation, or the “present day”.

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The guy is still in hiding. The cop/soldier/both(?) returns to her office and selflessly goes through ledger after ledger. She also collaborates with a guy who specialises in box files, in the true spirit of socialist cooperation.

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I think I took too many pictures of this one

They somehow turn up a photo of the evil guy, and show the one-eyed woman. He is now running a collective farm, and pretending to be a good socialist leader, a mere advisor to his workers, with whom he is on equal terms, otherwise.

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Then… well, actually, he is rather undramatically arrested. The one-eyed woman finds a big knife, used by the “ninja” who attacked her before. Clearly the guy was trying to do away with all the witnesses to his previous collaboration. The cops also arrest some other guy (the one who helped him escape the mob?).

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The guy then tells his own tale, under interrogation. As I only have the pictures to go on, I can’t make this one out too well. I think he got another guy to help him with threats (the big knife is a bayonet off a Japanese army rifle), then hoarded loads of money, without the other guy knowing (but he found out, by spying though the not-quite-closed door).

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Then the glorious army of the DPRK, under the wise guidance of Kim Il Sung, single-handedly hurled the Japanese out and set up a socialist paradise, in which money has no purpose. The guy then started running a farm, and “doing in” everybody who knew about his past life. Beats me why he didn’t escape to the south during the Korean war, but I guess North Korea is so incredibly wonderful that he couldn’t drag himself away, even with multiple murder charges hanging over him.

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Yet more Japan-hate. I remind you which country I bought these in!

The next book is one of many that I have from “Venus Youth Publisher” (금성청년출펀사). It’s name is 성난 메아리섬, or “Angry Echo Isles”. It’s also the thickest one, at almost 200 pages! There’s actually two stories. “Angry Echo Isles” is “half and half” illustrated text and pictures (IE – Half of a page is text, and half is a picture). Part of it is printed in reddish-brown ink, and part in green ink. The change just occurs abruptly, in the middle of chapter 6 (though, as will be seen on my Things Japanese blog, North Korea isn’t the only country to do such things!). The other half of the book is taken up by a true comic strip, called 해돌소년, or “Haedol Boy”. They are possibly both about the same characters, though.

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Anyway, the text story appears to be set around 1598, when Japan briefly occupied Korea “on the way” to attack China. The king of Korea fled to China, and rallied an army, which counterattacked through Korea, all the way to Seoul, where the Japanese made a stand (Seoul is not far from the current border between North and South Korea, coincidentally). Then the Shogun of Japan died, and the council of five rulers, who temporarily replaced him, decided to give up.

But that’s got nothing to do with the story, which appears to be about Korean traitors collaborating with the Japanese, and a boy and girl going on adventures. The boy seems to be a young teen, and the girl is still little. They live in a village, and out hunting one day, meanwhile Japanese warriors apparently sack the village (or just kill the headman, who may be their dad).

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They also know Tae-Kwon-Do, and meet some guy who seems to be a high-ranking Korean (they had “cowboy” hats in those days, apparently). The boy is taught swordsmanship and, being hunters, they’re both handy with a bow. They then go on a long adventure, over hills, through swamps, and so on. Also they get a lift on a carriage, and later meet a “merchant”. The girl realises he’s the guy who attacked the village. They capture him, take him to another village and smear something sweet on his face, so wasps swarm around him and sting his face into a swollen mass.

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He is then beaten with poles by the villagers, and put in prison. The headman of the village (another guy with a “cowboy hat”, or maybe the same one) makes friends with the girl, but then is apparently turned, or maybe imprisoned, by some Korean traitors, or just Japanese guys in disguise. They let the prisoner out, and he becomes the new headman of the village. He’s also opened the village treasure chest, and is throwing the money in the air XD.

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But the girl has got away, takes a raft out to a ship, where the boy is fishing, and tells the crew. There may be a long-haired young guy, or another girl, on the crew. From this point, it’s kinda hard to tell how many Koreans are involved XD. Anyway, the village is occupied by samurai, but the crew start throwing rocks and arrows down on them, from a cliff. One of the boys / crew fights them with a sword, while the others sneak round behind, and stick them up with bows.

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Then the Jap-no, wait, it appears that, actually, it’s the village full of Koreans who get into boats and sail into the sunset. Dunno what’s going on there.

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The next story, Haedol Boy, may be about the same characters, though they are younger. Or it may be different, as the boy seems to be the same age as the girl. Anyway, they have an idyllic village existence, when the Japanese invade and kill most of the adult men. Some old woman also hates the boy, she might be Japanese, or maybe just a Korean collaborator. There’s also a man who is a collaborator.

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The boy swears to get revenge, and there’s some various scenes of adventure around the countryside, gathering men and weapons. Somebody else (his mother?) is caught in, or near, a Japanese guy’s house, and is attacked. Samurai chase her, and the only way to escape is to jump off a cliff. She is badly injured, and dies. He gets an axe from a nearby farm, planning to kill the Japanese official, but is talked out of it by a wise old man. He goes into some longwinded explanation (no doubt a propaganda-heavy overview of the occupation).

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Later, the boy and girl head into a seaside cave, and find a skeleton, scary daubings, and creepy echoes.

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They get out, and the boy, “through” the Korean collaborator, tricks the Japanese official, the collaborator, and some other people, into the cave. The scary daubings and echoes terrify them, the boy apparently keeps them talking about something, until the tide comes in, and they all drown. The Samurai outside spot the floating bodies, and run away.

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The sister is sad, but the old man gives her some speech, apparently about how this shows the Japanese can be “beaten” (even if somebody had to commit suicide to do it). Then there’s a montage of battle scenes, and a load of text over a peaceful countryside scene – no doubt showing how the sacrifice inspired the Koreans (with Chinese help… in real life, anyway) to fight back, and drive the Japanese out.

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This is one of the books which IS a young childrens’ picture book. But I may as well review all of the ones I have! It’s called 보약먹은 그림자 (boyagmeog-eun geulimja), which is apparently, erm, “Restorative Ate Shadow”. I think there’s probably words in there that are “supposed” to be Chinese characters, in South Korean! The book is part 5 of the far-more-clearly-translating “Korean Folk Tale Picture Book” (조선민화그림책) series, so these stories may also be available in South Korean versions. Bet the art isn’t as good, though. The illustrations in this book are a mixture of grey and red washes, and the text beneath is usually only 3-5 lines.

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It begins with some sort of introduction, dunno what that’s about. Then we have the nice-looking contents page. It contains four stories, of variable length, which are:

개구리바위 = Frog on a rock

보약먹은 그림자 = About eating shadow

은혜갚은 호랑이 = Grace Paid off Tiger

들쥐가 고른 사위 = Son-in-law Picked Vole

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Well it would be “nice looking” if I’d not cropped most of it, oops.

The first story, “Frog on a Rock”, is kind of hard to follow. It’s about a frog, who is a teacher, and a bird. The bird carries the frog around, while the frog pupils give advice to the bird (who appears to be trying to fish). The bird also gives the frogs a talking-to. The bird later carries the frog teacher up a mountain, where she can see a waterfall (perhaps the source of the river she lives in). Then she appears to sing / teach a ladybird, and, erm, the bird leaves her there.

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I think.

The next story is super short, only 7 pages (and a title). I think a man has lost something, and accuses a boy of stealing it. But actually the boy had found it, and was giving it back, so then man gives him money for food.

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The next story, “Grace Paid off Tiger” is about a boy who finds a man in the snow, when he’s out hunting. He carries the man to safety, and gets a coin as a reward. His mum is happy, and sends him out to buy something (I assume). On the way, a tiger leaps down in front of him, but it has a thorn in it’s paw. He takes it out, and the tiger runs away.

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Later, the boy becomes a rebel / soldier, and fights against some army (maybe Japan, or maybe some other war, between different kingdoms in Korea). He gets captured, and put in a cangue, a punishment which used to be used in the Far East. It’s similar to the Stocks, only a big wooden board is locked around somebody’s neck, and he has to carry it about / sit in a cell with it on. It makes laying down, or sitting against a wall, very uncomfortable. In China, people had to wear it out and about on the streets, often with their offence written on it. But in this story, the boy is locked up. He’s allowed to write letters, though!

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Anyway, it seems the leader of the bad guys intercepts his letter, and decides to execute him. He’s taken to the edge of a cliff, where it seems inept guards argue about who is going to prod him over. Then the tiger shows up and attacks them. The boy is set free, and spots the scar in the tiger’s foot, where the thorn used to be. The story ends with the boy once again going into battle… riding the tiger!

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The next story is also pretty short. It appears to be about a vole in love. He talks to other animals to gain confidence, then gets the girl. Erm, hooray.

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As this is book 5 in a series, the back cover contains something that is very daring for an official North Korean publication – advertising! Well, promoting other books in the series, anyway.

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Surely a reproduction of the cover of one the reader doesn’t have would be better?

Following on, a year later, another book in the same series, this time number 10. This one only has 64 internal pages, as opposed to 128, in book 5.  It’s also all one comic strip, printed with blue ink, rather than multiple text stories with wash illustrations. It’s called 해와달 (Haewadal), which is “The Sun and the Moon”.

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Anyway, this one’s about a sometimes-fighting, sometimes-friendly cat and dog, who are following a wandering trader around. A magical old man descends from the heavens (like ya do) and gives him a marble, which he puts in a jar. Later some guy steals the marble, and puts it in a jar at his house. The cat and dog steal it back, the dog tries to eat it, but spits it out, into a river. Presumably that was an accident, as they then start fighting.

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The magical old man later finds a boy, and lectures him on something. The boy, erm, goes for a long walk in the rain, and ends up very tired and muddy, then gets another lecture. Must be some sort of morality tale, probably with a heavily socialist tone about selfless work. The art style in this bit sometimes reminds me of early Tezuka!

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The third chapter, taking up half the book, is about an evil tiger menacing a family. He can also talk, and use tools. He’s looking for something, which they have presumably hidden. The boy and girl escape, and climb up a tree. The tiger spots them, and tries to climb up, but can’t do it. He pours something on the tree (oil?), and slips off even more easily. After a failed attempt at chopping the tree down, a rope appears. He tries to climb the rope, but it snaps, and he falls into sharp, chopped-down stumps.

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This book gives a subtle clue that all is not well in North Korea, the intensity of the ink varies through the pages, the middle pages are clear and dark, but those at each end are really faint – like they’re running the machine right down, before topping it up. You see that on some old British comics, too, but not quite as obvious (then again, most of the mass-printed ones were under 40 pages…. often well under), and not this side of 1960!

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Also from 2006 is one of the cooler-looking ones. It has a really “gritty” art style, which reminds me of one of the also-ran “Commando-like” war comics of the 1960’s (or, should that be “War Picture Story-like”?). It’s set in 1905, during the Russo-Japanese war, which was used as an excuse by Japan to further occupy Korea (at the time, coming more under Japanese, rather than Chinese, influence, though there was other foreign powers at play too, mainly Russia). While most land battles of the war were fought in Russia (several of the battlefields are now in China, it seems that the border was not entirely clear in those days, and the whole region was remote from both countries’ centres of government), the first one was at the Yalu River, the traditional border between China and Korea (today a terrifying moat, helping to imprison would-be defectors).

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The story is, again, about a boy and a girl, and, again, they’re Tae-Kwon-Do experts. At the start, they seem to be friendly with a Japanese naval officer, who takes them sailing, and talks about the war. The artist does not appear to have had much access to reference materials (which would probably have been published in Japan, so no wonder!). The naval officer’s uniform looks very ostentatious, with acres of gold braid – even Togo, admiral of the fleet, had a plainer one! Also, an image of the naval battles show a Japanese paddle steamer being hit. Paddle steamers were no doubt still in use, then, but every modern naval power would have long since dispensed with them as front-line vessels.

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I didn’t spread out my picture taking particularly well

Interestingly, the Japanese captain’s own yacht looks like a Junk, with the slatted sails, and the anchor at the rear. I don’t think Japan ever had ships like that – they always either bought, or copied, European designs. Anyway, the comic shows various scenes of Japanese atrocities, like executing injured soldiers, dressing as “anonymous thugs” and beating people up, or brutally suppressing peasant uprisings. The children meet an old Korean man, who witnesses one of these atrocities with them, and shames them into becoming Korean patriots. They go to pray at a temple, but hear a commotion behind them, after leaving. They go back, and find all the monks massacred. One of the victims tells them the Japanese did it, and there’s a huge fight. One of the Japanese guys is armed with a huge morning star, but the boy throws a big rock at it, and tangles the chain up.

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The boy and girl jump off a cliff, swim away, and intimidate somebody else, who spots them coming out of the water elsewhere. The scene then changes, apparently to several months later. Now the two are waging a successful guerrilla war against Japan, but the Japanese commanders have a description of them. They make and distribute “wanted” posters, and the story ends with two merchants in some town spotting the pair, and comparing them with the poster. Presumably it’s a to-be-continued… but I don’t have part 2!

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The next comic is another small one. I can’t make much sense out of it, but it appears to be a comedy. One blog I once read, about somebody’s trip in North Korea, said that you almost never hear laughter there, and comedy acts seem to be rare to nonexistent, even though they theatre, musicals and synchronised dancing. Well, here is some North Korean comedy… or, at least, people laugh in it an awful lot. It’s called 성천량반의 망신, or “Last Cheonryang Half Disgrace”, and is yet another one from Venus Youth Publisher.

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It has four chapters, or short stories… but I’ve been writing this post in bits and pieces for months now, so can’t be bothered to translate them (XD). Anyway, the chapters appear to be separate (and end with everybody laughing), but characters and locations carry over. The main character (who, I can’t help but think, looks like a Mexican bandit) appears to be some sort of wandering trader, going from place to place.

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You quickly learn the Korean sound for laughing

Having only the images to go on, I can’t be sure, but there seems to be a bunch of moral instructions in the stories, like “don’t gossip” and “don’t overload pack animals”. But they don’t seem to be dwelled upon.

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Towards the end, some other character shows up, but he has a bigger nose and more-slanted eyes. Three guesses as to his nationality. Anyway, he’s really arrogant, and eats loads of food… so they, erm, give him loads more, until he feels ill. Then laugh.

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I believe an old Vice article about a North Korean-sponsored theme park, in China, said it was “what only a nation of prisoners could confuse with fun”.

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Well, that’s the comedy over with. Time for more high adventure! This is yet another historical, called 명장의 장검 (myeongjang-ui jang-geom), or “Sword of the Masters”. Well, actually, Google translate called it “Sword of Scenes”, but 명장의, when on it’s own, becomes “The Masters”, and that seems like a far more likely title. Once again, it’s from Venus Youth Publisher, the blue box at the top of the cover says 조선력사인물이야기 그림책, which translates to “Korean history tale figures picture”. Perhaps about a real-life historical person? Unfortunately, I can’t see any obvious dates in the text, so I can’t go wiki-ing.

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The boy, the girl, the other boy (a smuggler?), the wise old man, and the evil king.

The book opens with the usual contents page, this time with pictures giving the names of the cast. The story opens with the boy and girl practicing with swords, under the guidance of a bearded master. They leave, but spot some sneaking figures, who turn out to be ninjas! In the following fight, somebody stabs the girl in the back. The boy vows revenge, but he doesn’t know the evil “king” (I think, anyway, same facial hair!) was the one who stabbed her.

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Anyway, the king/lord/whatever guy goes back to the palace, while the boy bothers the trainer (presumably for more training, so he can carry on fighting the Japanese). The trainer goes for a walk, and catches the king unloading treasure from a boat, with somebody else. Bribes from the Japanese, maybe? After some more mucking about, the trainer is injured at his day job (in a quarry), and laid up.

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The lord’s palace

While he is in bed, his wife hears something, so he goes out and confronts two ninjas, stealing from the village treasure house. He fights them, but also gets stabbed in the back. The boy comes along, and the dying trainer gives him some advice. The boy then apparently moves away to hide, but keeps training, to become a great warrior. Also, one day, he meets a woman and saves her from a tiger.

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Is there nothing Tae Kwon Do can’t solve?

The boy lives in some tiny village / farm, with an old lady, and some other guys, who seem to be archers. He’s later walking in the forest when he’s forced to fight another tiger. Some old hermit spots him, and takes him in, giving him even more training in the art of war.

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Which apparently involves massacring most of Korea’s wildlife

The boy later becomes a knight. He’s at a jousting contest one day, and impresses the “queen” who has organised it. The woman he saved before is the princess of this kingdom, and he later marries her. The other evil king is apparently oppressing his people, or else has risen against the overall rulers of Korea. The boy is now a prince, and a commander of the army sent to fight him. Some of their soldiers bathe in a deep lake, but all tread water, so it looks shallow. The enemy soldiers charge them, fall into the deep water, and get stuck. Then the rest of the prince’s army sweeps down from the nearby hills, and an epic battle scene ensues.

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This was North Korean culture’s Helm’s Deep.

 Anyway, after the villain is vanquished, the hero (who now looks very similar to his old trainer), is celebrated, and no doubt lived happily ever after.

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Onto the shiny-covered new series now. The previous one was from 2006, but this one is a jump ahead, to 2010. It’s also the first of the ones with a Tokyo address in the copyright section.

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Clinical computer colouring

The title is 성기, which apparently means “Genitalia”, though Google Translate also suggests “Consecrated Vessel” or “Wedding Day”. It also asks if I meant to say something else, with a very obscene translation! Anyway, none of the suggested translations seems to really correspond to what happens inside, so lets just carry on.

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It begins with a messy photoshop, and an introduction which suggests it takes place in 108-109 BC. The Roman Empire was still a big power in Europe then! Though, in the east, China was in control, and Europe was all but irrelevant. Anyway, it seems to be another boy-and-girl-in-a-war story, though with fewer notable incidents I can really pick out. The first part, going purely on the pictures, is just a bunch of talking and battles. Without being able to read the text, it’s hard to tell which character is which!

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Anyway, eventually some rhyme-and-reason emerges out of it. A bunch of soldiers are fighting bandits / another army in a forest, when they are saved by a hail of arrows fired by a load of “ninjas” (though they’re probably meant to be Korean; Japan-Korea rivalry was nonexistent in that remote era, and even North Korean propaganda can’t pretend it was!). The leader of the ninjas is a woman, and the main guy falls in love with her. There appears to be some recap, where she almost commits suicide, but he talks her out of it.

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After that, there’s something about rebels laying siege to a castle, and political intrigue on the inside ending with the assassination of the king. This may be a flashback to explain why the girl is an exiled outlaw. Or it might be that her and the guy are in a rebel movement against the current king. Also, another woman gets killed in a battle, and apparently has a baby.

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The siege

Anyway, the rebels apparently capture the castle, but the leaders of the government flee, and are defeated in a bunch of smaller battles. The queen, or princess, gets an arrow in the eye, but still tries to take on her spear-armed attackers with a knife. Another guy finds her body, and rallies the remaining soldiers in a last battle against the rebels. The rebels win, and the girl holds up her baby (or, maybe the baby of the other woman, who was killed earlier) to the sun, no doubt to symbolise the world of peace and hope he can grow up in.

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Before the final battles. Note the Chinese character in the background.

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Last one! This one is from 2012, and looks a little less “wannabe Japanese” than the previous one. The characters do all have big, shining eyes, though. Some of the background scenery – rocks, trees, grass etc, is very well drawn. It’s called 봉선화 (Bongseonhwa), which apparently means “Touch-me-not”. That name does kinda make sense, when you look at the story!

 

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Anyway, the actual story is a bit Snow White-ish, only with some differences. The main character is this girl, who is being treated as a slave by some people. Maybe her parents, or maybe she’s adopted. Anyway, they keep punishing her for not working hard enough. She goes to a secluded place near a waterfall, and dreams about comforting a crying angel. Then wakes up, and finds a shining comb in the lake. She takes it to various people nearby, but it doesn’t belong to any of them.

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Meanwhile, her-slave driving owners continue to beat her…

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“And there’s no such thing as magic!”

She goes back to the cove, and meets the angel from her dreams. The comb belongs to the angel, but she tells her about her harsh life, and the angel lets her keep it. She combs her hair with it, and becomes beautiful. She goes about her work with a smile, which makes her mistress suspicious. Somehow she works out the girl has something valuable, and steals the comb while she sleeps – replacing it with a different one.

The next day, the woman accuses her of theft, using the other comb as “evidence”, she’s badly beaten, right in front of everybody, and left crying against some big pots. The woman then tries to use the golden comb, but it makes her more ugly, instead.

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Later on, some guy is leading the girl away with a rope (to stand trial for theft, somewhere?). She decides to commit suicide instead, so breaks free, and jumps off a cliff. Another guy rescues her, but she dies from her injuries shortly afterwards. I also think her real mother finally discovers her, just as she’s dying.

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Anyway, the people who saw her die make a big burial mound, and plant a flower in it, which grows tall and blooms. Then later an old man is telling some children the story, next to the flower. The book ends with a “moral of the story” summing-up page.

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Profound.

And that brings us to the end of my North Korean comic collection. This entry took ages to do, I’d better bung out some shorter ones, just to keep the blog going! As the Korea Book Centre has closed down, I don’t know if I’ll ever get any more, but I’ll have a scout around when I’m next around Hakusan, or Tokyo in general. Chongryon people are bound to have sold their books to second-hand shops at some point, right? (I did, also, ask the guy from whose blog I learned about the Korea Book Centre if he’d “rescued” any comics, when it closed down. But never got a reply. Annoyingly, it closed down on the day I was supposed to arrive in Japan, but my flight was delayed, so I was actually in Rome that day. Not that I went there on my first day!)

Peeps at foreign comics 4: Frisette

Hands up who thought these were all going to be Japanese, then? *puts hand up*

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Frisette was a French story paper published in 1925 by J. Ferenczi et Fils. This was a company run by Joseph Ferenczi, who came to France from Hungary and published a lot of adventure, sci-fi and detective stories between the wars and into the 1950’s… at least according to an auto-translation from the French Wikipedia, anyway!

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A typical issue – not sympathetically trimmed!

Frisette, and perhaps his other publications, is in a series of ‘penny part’ style publications, which dominated British comics for much of the 19th century – primarily as horror-and-crime focused Penny Dreadfuls. These “penny” (or 30 centime) parts have an illustrated cover, and text inside. But unlike Story Papers, they only serialise one story, with no other articles, stories or adverts. This style of publication had probably long since vanished from British shops by the mid-twenties. I own Frisette as a book, containing all of the penny parts – presumably some readers bound their own, but this appears to be an official binding, with an artistic cover, name on the spine, and other volumes advertised on the back (all of which look more interesting than this one).

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Inscription I can’t read, from the inside front cover.

The subtitle for the series is “Aventures d’un petit filles”, which is “Adventures for little girls”. The story is about a girl called Frisette (and possibly her friends / sisters) who are apparently at either a boarding school (Lychee, as they were called in France), or possibly at some kindly old auntie’s house. They then go on a journey around the world, visiting various places and travelling by ship and car.

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China

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Don’t know where that is

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On a ship

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New York

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Milan

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“La Place Du Ferrari”, somewhere else in Italy?

There’s also a section involving  adventures in mountains, and German-speaking people. A journey to Switzerland or Austria? Interestingly, each issue has it’s illustrations crammed together in this comic-like spread on the middle two pages. The rest of the pages are just text. The back cover is apparently an advert for the next issue, and information on what the story is about.

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From early in the story

There’s also plenty of poems, or songs. I don’t know if they are ones that were well-known in France at the time (like our own Vitae Lampada), or if they were written for the story. I’ve just finished a 30’s school story for girls with one character who makes up poems about every event. Some of them are quite short, whilst others occupy almost as much page space as the story itself!

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Bound British story papers and penny parts, whether officially or privately bound, usually didn’t include the covers. I’m glad they were included in this volume though, they have great artwork and quality printing – by the standards of a mass-produced, working-class publication of the day, anyway. They also allow you to see the price, which was interestingly written as “0F30Cent”. It’d be like Union Jack saying it’s price is “£0,0s,2d” XD. The first issue of Frisette enticed new readers in with an “Exceptionnellement” price of 5 centimes:

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This was increased to 15 centimes for the second issue, and to 30 from the third onwards.

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Also with a look at the back cover information.

Wrongdoing in Spain and England

Purely by chance, I picked up a leaflet for an exhibition called “Wrongdoing in Spain and England in the Long Ninteenth Century” while waiting for a bus one day. It’s an exhibiton focused around sensationalised crime reporting in the 18th and 19th centuries, in Britain (there’s also one item from the USA) and Spain. The leaflet mentioned the magic word “chapbook”, which were small, cheap books that the penny dreadfuls eventually evolved out of. Indeed, one of the earliest “penny dreadfuls” was The Newgate Calendar, a series of magazines or pamphlets with lurid biographies of criminals who were being executed. Though it was “factual”, no doubt many of the details were heavily romanticised, if not simply invented. Of course, later Penny Dreadfuls featured real-life criminals such as Dick Turpin or Charles Peace, in almost entirely fictional stories. So, though this exhibiton is intended more as a look at the origins of today’s tabloids, it’s just as relevant to the origins of British comics!

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It was the first time I’d been to the university library, and it’s a pretty imposing building up close. But then again, some stupid by-law says that the library tower must always be the tallest building in Cambridge. That might have been alright when it was built, but in these days of a housing crisis it’s absolute madness. Just think, the great minds of Cambridge must have helped to build the empire, that vast endeavour to “civilise the barbarians”. Barbarians living in places like Hong Kong:

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Malaysia:

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and Singapore:

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Just look at the magnificent, forward-looking cities those “barbarians” now live in. Then look at the jumped-up mud hut we’re stuck with:

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It’s even got narrow windows for chucking spears out of.

 Perhaps the barbians need to come and civilise us!

Anyway, the exhibition itself is held in a small room off to one side of the entrance hall (you don’t need an ID card to get into that part). It’s arranged by theme, rather than by age – the themes including “moral guidance” (stories for children showing the consequences of a life of crime), “weapons” (one Spanish publication featuring giant scissors!), “monsters” and, of course “news reporting”.

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Photos are prohiobited inside, of course, so here’s the scanned leaflet instead XD

At the time, Spain was far less literate, so their moral guidance, and re-telling of famous crime stories, was in the form of a series of small illustrations with simple verses underneath. These were called Aleluya’s, though now that I look on Wikipedia, apparently the English translation is Auca, and they’re mainly a Catalan tradition(?). Anyway, their influence on later comic strips is clear (indeed, take away the narrative stories at the sides of Rupert strips, and you basically have Aleluya!). A lot of them were on large, single broadsheets and told two stories – one of virtue, which ends up with an old man being respected by all, and about to ascend to heaven, and one of vice, which end with a comparitively young man commiting suicide under a bridge, surrounded by empty bottles. There is also one US-made “Aleluya”, from Kansas, which is in colour! (albiet very bright, high-contrast colours).

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The British side of the exhibion is more varied, featuring Chapbooks for children (some of them are very small, smaller than A6 size, and only about 8-12 pages of thin newsprint, no wonder so few have survived!), handbills giving details of wanted criminals and upcoming hangings, and penny dreadfuls. The section for monsters includes a bound volume of Varney the Vampyre (incredibly rare – though you can buy the story as a modern paperback, it doesn’t feature the illustrations!). There’s also an Aldine Library from the 1880’s, and a 6d pocket book in a similar format to the Sexton Blake Library (though it’s cover design and 6d price implies it’s from the 30’s, hardly the ninteenth century!)

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If you can get there, this exhibition is well worth seeing. It’s quite small (you should be able to see it all inside an hour) but packs a lot in. It’s running until the 23rd of December. I was a bit annoyed to discover that there’s no book to accompany it. Apparently the Spanish material is it’s main focus, and it’s linked to a project being run by the Department of Spanish and Portugese. But maybe one day they will write up all their findings from both sets of stuff, and publish that. I beleive a book related to just the Spanish side of things has already come out… I may have to troll down the Cambridge University Press shop and get it!

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Peeps at foreign comics 3: Novel Lynx

Right then.

I mentioned Novel Lynx before, when I reviewed the first (and only, it turned out) issue of Pulp Detective. More recently, my sea-mailed package of goodies from Japan actually arrived, and a google search lead me to a big manga database site with a tiny bit of extra information on it (well, the name of the publisher and a tiny cover scan).

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No less messy than any other Japanese comic cover

Novel Lynx is a “Light Novel”, or “Raito Noberu”. This is a recently-invented Japanese term, used to describe what we would call a Story Paper. Though after the stories have appeared in weekly or monthly papers, they are then reprinted as complete books, which are also called Light Novels. Here we would just call them books XD.

Novel Lynx is a monthly story paper, with a few comic strips, of about 500 pages, and roughly A5 sized. It costs ¥760, which is pretty steep, actually (a ‘full size’ monthly called Boy’s Monthly Magazine is only ¥450, as is Nekopanchi). But then again Novel Lynx has quite an, ahem, “niche” interest.

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Presented by Hello Kitty

It’s a “Boy’s Love”, or BL, story paper. Boy’s Love is a genre of gay romance stories, generally with pretty boys, which are mainly read by teenage girls. It’s also known as Shonen-Ai, and the more pornographic end of the genre is called Yaoi. In English-speaking countries, the term “Yaoi” is a catch-all which can also be applied to purely romantic stories. There’s an American company called June Manga which publishes completely harmless romantic stories as “Yaoi”, which I found a bit disappointing XD. Still, at least it was safe to read them at work.

Though BL may be considered a niche genre, it’s an incredibly popular one. A lot of totally ordinary bookshops (like Japanese equivalents of Waterstones) have at least one whole row of shelves dedicated to BL novels and comics, as well as several of the monthlies on sale near the tills. In addition, one of the two Comic Toranoana shops in Akihabara (a pilgrimage there is the geek’s version of Hajj) is “for girls”, which these days means it’s crammed with BL comics. There’s also a mini-Akihabara in the Ikebukuro district, which has several 8-storey BL “superstores”.

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As usual, the first few pages are on glossier paper and in colour. The writing is still vertical, and in three “columns”, just like King was 70-odd years ago.  This is one of a few short, complete stories, with the colour used for a cute illustration. It reminds me a little of The People’s Friend… though I doubt they’d run stories on this theme XD.

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After that, the first of the main stories gets a big splashy full-colour introduction page. All of the (text) stories in this issue appear to be complete, though they may be in series, like the regulars in The Champion were back in the 40’s. The main stories are around 40-50 pages long

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Each of the other main stories is introduced with a full-page title illustration, with the main characters in romantic poses and credits for the writer and illustrator. These sorts of stories seem to nearly all follow the cliche of one character being unsure of his sexual orientation, and the other trying to attract him. Most of the stories in this issue seem to be divided up between real-world high school or business relationships, and fantasy worlds. There’s also numerous adverts for books from the same publisher (Gentosha). Presumably those stories once appeared in Novel Lynx themselves.

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Itsoshisa no …something

Most of the rest of the pages look like this, 3 blocks of text with a mini title illustration in the top corner (just like The Boys’ Friend in the mid 1900’s… ahem).

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The text story illustrations are all full pages, well it is A5 sized. Some are more explicit than others, I’ve stuck to the clean ones for a “family” blog XD. These pictures also show the changing ink colour. While Shonen Jump uses different coloured paper, and black ink, many other Japanese comics use white paper throughout, but different coloured ink. Here including slightly red and slightly brown tones. I Wonder if it’s to help readers find the page they were on more easily, or something…

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As well as the long, “main” stories, there’s a few short ones of roughly a page and a half. These ones all seem to have a fancy border.

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The three comic strips are in sections of around 20-30 pages. Unlike the text stories, at least one of the strips is a serial! Well, with Japanese comic techniques, 20-30 pages is about average for a “chapter”, not a whole story. As with the text stories, this one is set in a fantasy world, while another one is set in a modern school.

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Tadaaaaa

As I mentioned, many of the adverts are for other Gentosha books, probably reprints of stories that originally appeared in Novel Lynx (or at least, some of them are part of “The Lynx Collection”). Here’s a whole list of “back numbers” for sale.

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There’s not many feature pages in Novel Lynx, but towards the end there’s a short “Comments” section with text message style notes about the stories, illustrations or comics.

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There’s also a double-page advert for “Comic Magazine Lynx”. No doubt a similar publication dedicated to comic strips. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it on my next visit to Ikebukuro! Now that I look, it says it costs ¥680, cheaper than it’s text-based cousin! I can only assume it sells more copies. That or ¥680 is the pre-tax price, and you actually pay more.

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In keeping with Shonen Jump and Nekopanchi (and most other modern Japanese comics, it seems), the contents section is at the “back” of the issue. Though western readers might turn to that page first, as Japanese books are read “backwards” XD. As well as the contents, there’s credits for the cover illustration (presented without loads of clutter all over it) and a message from the editors.

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Mind you, I don’t see how that postage-stamp-sized black and white picture is a “pin up”

On the back cover, there’s an advert for something called BL Diary, which appears to be a book where BL fans can record and rate their favourite couples. No doubt it also gets used for rating the chances of straight guys who the owners think ought to be couples XD.

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And finally, here’s a look at one of the many (many, many…) Light Novels on sale. It’s also a BL one, which I bought just because it had a “funny” title that jumped off the shelf at me. Unfortunately I had to censor the title before posting it on here! As you can see, they’re slightly smaller than manga reprint volumes, and usually have a ‘loop’ of paper with adverts and blurbs wrapped around the covers (very common on Japanese books). The text inside is no longer in columns, and the images are still full-page. No doubt stories from this issue of Novel Lynx now exist in book form, with new coloured covers.

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Peeps at foreign comics 2: Nekopanchi

I was on a manga-related forum a while back, where there was this guy giving it the usual lip about how “western comics” were failing because they’re “all superheroes”, and how manga is “succeeding” because it “has variety”. He went on to astound us with the amazing news that in Japan, there’s “even NAVAL MANGA”.

Of course, we know that’s complete nonsense. In fact, here’s a completely non-Japanese NAVAL MANGA I bought only a few weeks ago:

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Which is actually a 25 year old reprint, but Commando can theoretically produce brand new NAVAL MANGA at any time.

Of course, the British comics industry (when somebody can be bothered to invest the millions it needs to make it worthy of such a name again) could do better. For instance, while we do have NAVAL MANGA, we don’t have a 400 page monthly anthology ABOUT CATS.

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Nekopanchi, issue 73, October 2012

Nekopanchi seems to literally mean “Cat Punch”. One of the first ‘modern’ Japanese humour magazines was Japan Punch, a Japanese(ish) version of the british Punch magazine which was produced by immigrants. For a while afterwards “western style” cartoon illustrations (as opposed to funny Ukyo-e pictures) were actually called “Ponchi-e”, cementing the magazine as a solid phase of Japanese cultural history. Which may be the inspiration for the name Nekopanchi.

The issue opens, as is customary, with a colour section. First of all with an unsullied, and signed, reproduction of the cover illustration (more comics ought to do this, if they’re going to bury their covers under a million neon-coloured blurbs. And that goes for Japan and the UK!).

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On the back is this, Either a slightly-blurred photo, or an AMAZING painting. I can’t quite tell. The background suggests it’s a photo, but the cats don’t look quite right to me.

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The strips themselves appear to be a mixture of short comedy strips and longer instalments of advenure serials. Except they’re all ABOUT CATS (did I mention that?).

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PATATATA…

The lead story in this issue (though the order probably cycles, as is typical in Japanese comics. Even Naruto isn’t always at the front of Shonen Jump!) is called Kizutora Neko no Koume-chan. No idea what “Kizutora” is, but “Neko” is Cat, and -chan implies the name of somebody young and/or female, so presumably it’s about a cat called Koume. The story itself appears to be a kind of light-hearted soap, featuring one family, and the cat’s experience of what is happening. I suspect all of the cat’s dialogue is along the lines of “FEED ME, INFERIOR BEINGS”. This is followed by a more cartoonish story about the same cat going into a forest and having a meeting with other cats. Presumably about how to make humans work harder.

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Our mouths are A’s

This story also features cats meeting in a forest, but appears to be a bit more ‘serious’ (and is brilliantly drawn). It appears to be set in a fantasy world based on the Edo period, where cats and humans can talk to each other, and some sort of giant goblins also exist. Oh and the cats appear to be led by a dematerialising giant monk. Or maybe he is Buddah himself.

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This spread shows a couple of short gag strips commonly known as “yon koma”. No doubt “the faithful” insist that these are an ancient Japanese tradition, steeped in the mysteries of the orient and passed down through the generations from father to son. In fact they are exactly the same as newspaper strips like Dilbert, just vertical. They were probably originally inspired by cartoons in… Japan Punch! Because foreigners care more about British comics than the British do. There’s also an apparently complete story about a couple who are seemingly being kept apart by a “ghost” linked to an evil dragon statue, but a cat is able to see and fight the ghost XD.

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GAHAA

This one is called Last Boss, and appears to be about a scarred cat who fights other cats for control of the neighbourhood. There’s also a small kitten who dares to stand up to those terrifying monsters called “swans”.

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This story appears to be about a police cat who helps a woman to solve crimes. Later on it even gets it’s own uniform! Of course, her superiors aren’t impressed to begin with, but then the cat appears to pick out a suspect who (I suppose) is shocked into confessing that he really did it.

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Some more gag strips, and a short story which appears to be about a very cute, small stray kitten that decides it wants to be adopted by some people, so just stands in their garden and refuses to leave. I’ve seen that before!

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cha cha cha cha

More gag strips, this time with very simple, big-eyed artwork.

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I beleive that gate is one leading to a temple near Tokyo Tower

Another story which is like a cat experiencing a soap opera. Except this time the ghost of an old artist is involved! The artwork is very good, though the people are drawn in an 80’s-looking style. Could it be a reprint from that time? It’s not out of the question for there to have been cat-related comics back then too! Japan’s comic industry is just the absolute best. Nobody in other countries should rest until their own is as good (though that does not, of course, mean mindlessly copying “the manga style” and complacently assuming it will fly off the shelves).

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This is also marks the 6th anniversary of Nekopanchi, so there is a short article with several drawings (perhaps sent in by readers) to celebrate. Could you imagine such a “focused” comic lasting 6 years here? It’s hardly guaranteed even The Phoenix will! Still, though Nekopanchi is monthly, it’s actually quite small (by Japanese standards). The pages are about the size of reprint books, and most monthlies have 6-700 pages, or more.

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Oh yeah, that book is about a dog detective XD

You may be wondering if there’s a similar comic about dogs (or ABOUT DOGS, even). Some people who know a little Japanese may even be thinking about looking out for an “Inupanchi” next time they go there. Well actually the dog-based equivalent is not called Inupanchi (or “Dog Punch”) but Wanpanchi (or “Woof Punch”).

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“You’re biting my ear”

I’ll keep my eyes open for that next time, perhaps. Not that I can really read any of this stuff, and my next visit to Japan is likely to be the last, so I might never actually be bothered to learn the language properly.

Anyway, by way of comparison, here’s a couple of looks at British stories which are also about animals.

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Nibbles, from the 1976 Beezer Book (which I actually bought when I was a kid in the 90’s, and read over and over! Far more entertaining than the annuals I had then) is a fantastically-drawn tale about a red squirrel who saves a boy after he falls down the stairs, by attracting the attention of the neighbours.

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Daring Adventures for Boys is a book from the 20’s or 30’s with a lot of stories that are told from an animal’s point of view. Most of these stories result in the animal being killed by human hunters. I did actually wonder if the book was more modern than it appeared, and had been written by some animal rights organisation, but another story is about a black boy coming to a boarding school and ‘daring’ to be a better boxer than the white champion.

Peeps at foreign comics 1: King

If I won the Euro Millions, I’d bring back British comics by brute force – by starting my own publishing company producing an Amalgamated Press-style range of weeklies, monthlies and annuals aimed at all age groups, and starting my own chain of newsagents / corner shops with the express purpose of selling them (for £1 an issue as I wouldn’t charge myself shelf rental fees!). As a mere side project I’d build a vast museum dedicated to the history of comics of all nations, from early experimental magazines for children right up to the gift shop selling the latest issues of titles from all around the world (even in languages very few visitors to the museum will be able to read, like Kyrgyz).

But as I haven’t won the Euro Millions, and maybe only buy one ticket a year, I’ll just have to relegate myself to collecting items for the museum one by one and displaying them here.

King – Volume 15 (Shōwa 14 / 1939), issue 3 (March).

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Rather unassuming cover. Horizontal Japanese was read right-to-left at the time, but is left-to-right (キング) today.

King was first published in Taishō 13 (1924) and was a monthly of about 520 pages. In common with British adventure comics of the same era, it was mostly illustrated text stories with a few comedy strips and articles. Judging from the illustrations, the text stories were mostly serious, but some were comedy. The illustrations themselves are in either line or wash, and are almost entirely black and white. A few of the comedy strips have light colour tones, and a photo article near the front has the photos reproduced in a strange blue/green tint. Unlike a lot of British comics of the era, it’s absolutely awash with adverts, and even has a couple of colour insert “postcards” with ads on them.

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Incidentally, here’s an older issue seen in the Tokyo-Edo museum in 2009.

Like several Japanese comics today, the issue opens with colour pages, however these are just illustrations and plates, rather than strips. There’s a large fold-out section at the front (with ads on the back of the flaps – cram ’em in!) with nice illustrations along the top, matching the theme of the cover. This appears to be the contents page, or at least the lines all end with numbers.

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If each vertical line is one story / article, it would appear there’s credits too!

Then there’s a wonderful full-colour plate, the title of which appears to be “parting from the breast”. The woman seems to be stopping her baby breastfeeding so that he can be given a Japanese flag, at a train station. Before I translated the title I assumed it was a picture of a welcoming ceremony for army medical officers coming home from the front. Anyway, in the 19th and early 20th centuries the Penny Dreadfuls, as well as papers like Chums and Chatterbox, would give away free full-colour plates occasionally. This one is actually printed on the pages themselves, I wonder if every issue included a painting?

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A 520 page wedge of 75 year old paper can’t be folded right back for decent photos, mind you.

Following this is “Celebrity Success Album”, which has pictures of men at home with their children or reading big scrolls. I think the big scrolls may be awards from the Emperor, or maybe university degrees. According to my dictionary the word used for “Success” in the title means “Success in life”, so perhaps it’s showing readers the comfortable home life they can have if they work hard.

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Had to hold the pages open with a torch. I normally use a really heavy weight, but didn’t want to damage this, it’s very possibly the only one in Europe!

Following this is another article, called something like “Situation Photo Sketch Report”. Basically news photos. The only news in Japan at that time was their battle to establish an area of influence in Manchuria, in northern China. They called this Manchuko, and it was unpopular with most of the Chinese people, and also with the other colonial powers who had already established their own areas of influence there. Guerrilla attacks on Japanese soldiers led to escalating reprisals on both sides, which resulted in what is euphemistically called “The Manchurian Incident” (because war was never formally declared).

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The air force parading over Tokyo, with Mount Fuji in the distance

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Northern China can be very cold! Though to us Commando readers we only really imagine imperial Japan fighting in steaming jungles.

After these articles we come to the first set of comic strips, of which there’s several ‘batches’, most of the strips are only single pages of 5 panels, often numbered (though that wasn’t unheard of in British comics at the time). From the artwork and overuse of a small katakana TSU, a ‘sound extender’ for making screams and shouts, at the end of each line, I gather they are all comedy. Most appear to revolve around family life and naughty children doing the unexpected.

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This one appears to be about a sumo wrestler?

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Mischevious kid doing… something.

Of course, most of the issue is filled with the text stories. These are in two or three “columns”, which are horizontal, as the writing is read vertically. Each story is introduced with a large picture accompanying the title, and has other illustrations throughout. Some, on their first full page of text, have a large amount of writing in a box. This is presumably a “story so far” section for serials. Others don’t have this, so the comic must have had a mixture of both complete stories and serials, just like British contemporaries such as Detective Weekly and Thriller.

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This one is called “Love and Hate’s Writing”. Less literally, it’s probably “Love and Hate Letters”

There appears to be two basic kinds of stories, those set in the Edo period, when Japan was all samurai and ninja and isolated from the world, and those set in modern times. Romantic stories appear to be set in both periods, while other modern stories look like they’re about detectives, comedy or war. The stories set in the past look like they’re all quests to satisfy ones honour, fighting loyally for your lord and so on.

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The would-be suitor gets advice from his friend? Those boxed out bits are probably adverts, they’re on almost every text story page!

The most obvious detective story is Hiyauban Tantei Jitsu Wa Shifu, two of the characters (Jitsu and Shifu) appear to be obsolete in modern Japanese (the Wa is “speak” or “story”, and may be in a compound with either or both). Hiyauban Tantei means “Reputation Detective Work”. The story seems to revolve around a house burning down and the masked detective investigating, finding a glove near the crime scene. Later on a submarine is involved!

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This is a clue in any language

There’s also a war story, from the illustrations it appears to be about base camp life / wounded soldiers in hospital, rather than battle. Or maybe the illustrators just didn’t draw a battle scene. It’s actually pretty short, and is called Two Soldiers. Now that I look it actually appears to be a bedtime story told to a kid!

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He’s not a ghost, it was the flash!

A more general adventure story is called Chikahi No Hayashi. Hayashi is “Forest”, but it’s spelt with wierd kanji (Chinese characters with both a sound and a meaning) here. Chikahi is “Vow”, so the story may be called Vow in the Forest. Either way it appears to involve a man and woman walking about in a forest and witnessing at least one murder.

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All she seems to do is watch people get killed and cry. At least it’s a memorable holiday!

As well as grim and grimy stories like that, there appears to be more light hearted, comedy ones. You can usually tell by the illustrations. In the Edwardian period Union Jack would often use a certain artist when they did a comedy story, for instance in Butler and Page Boy from 1905/6.

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Moving on to the historical stories, which all appear to be set in the Edo / Tokugawa Shogunate period. This was a span of around 250 years in which Japan was isolated from the world, any foreigners (with the exception of, apparently, some “Mexicans” from the very early history of “Mexico”, which was actually just a Spanish colony at the time) who went there would be killed, and it was also punishable by death to try and build an ocean-going ship. During this period the Emperor lived in the capital, Kyoto, but was powerless while the Shogun, the real ruler (though technically the Emperor was still called the ruler) lived in Edo, or Tokyo. At the time Japan was at peace with itself, and most people worked as farmers, merchants or artists. But it was still a highly-stratified, class-based society with the samurai as protectors of their feudal lords, and upholders of the law. Of course, the Shōwa Nationalist period was awash with stories harking back to this day of a “Japanese Japan” with a strict code of honour and everybody knowing their place.

…even though “Bushido” as we know it today was actually invented in the 19th century, and was heavily inspired by the honour code of British Victorian gentlemen.

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This story is called Gokunan, or “country difficulty”. Presumably it’s about a rebellion.

Another historical story, with fantastic illustrations, is Wori Zuru Hi Henge. I can’t make head nor tail of the title, one of the kanji is fantastically complicated and has probably been taken out of use. Words I can work out are “Crane” (as in the bird) and “Transform / Become”. Mind you it’s possible part of the title is somebody’s name.

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A wandering warrior with a baby, just like Lone Wolf & Cub (or Shogun Assasin). With less flying body parts.

There’s also historical comedy stories. Or at least this is the universal image for “toothache”, “you made those rock cakes out of real rocks” or “I’ve found the sixpence in the Christmas pudding!”.

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Don’t think a Japanese story would have that last one, though.

 Oh, and also apparently revolvers and guys able to quickly draw and shoot them were not unknown in the Edo period. News to me.

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The sundial struck noon

King also contains plenty of articles, with a greater or lesser degree of illustration. This one appears to be “moral lessons” of some kind. The first image (top right) is probably about showing reverence to the Emperor. On the next page there’s a guy giving up his train seat for a wounded soldier, and a crowd seeing the marching soldiers off from a temple.

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Bit o colour again

There’s also an article which appears to be about religious observances, which at the time was “State Shinto”, a nationalised version of the indigenous Japanese religion. At the time they’d even banned Buddhism as “foreign”, even though it had been in Japan well over 1000 years by then!

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Kids lined up with traditionally-shaved heads

There’s also what appears to be profiles of historical figures, with ukiyo-e style pictures or paintings.

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With one old photo

There’s also, inevitably, articles about the army, with pictures (and probably profiles) of soldiers, as well as photos of actions and equipment.

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Some mortars being fired at the bottom… are those white helmets?

There’s also some profiles of more modern figures. Most of them Japanese, but there’s also a picture of a future ally…

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At the time quite a celebrated leader, actually. He reined in the mafia and Studebaker named a car the Dictator after him.

I make a policy of not going on about the adverts in old comics, mainly because people who have apparently never heard of inflation constantly waffle on about how Corgi cars used to “only” cost 2¾p, and other such nonsense. But I’ll make an exception here, mainly because a lot of the ads have really good artwork.

This one appears to be about becoming a railwayman or sailor. They’re the same style, no doubt the railways were nationalised at the time. Both ads have a box saying “Nippon Daiichi”, which is either “Japan’s best” or “Japan is best”.

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Puff puff puff

The well-known Japanese love of photography is evident, that camera looks years ahead of ones I see advertised in British comics of the same time. There’s also a nice quack remedy – a magnetic headband?

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Look at that thing! Other countries were still using wooden accordions.

This appears to be an advert for an upcoming story, or perhaps a seperately-published book. The big characters roughly translate as “Flame of Battle”.

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Also used as the title of a Commando, many years later

And here’s one of the coloured postcards, advertising face cream. Another one advertises Club “dentrifice”, which appears to be the name they used for powdered toothpaste at the time.

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Actually that’s called Club Cream

The back cover has an advert with a baby – just like the Pears Soap ads which graced the back of The Boys Friend Library for many years. It also has a small English section with the US copyright notice, date and issue number.

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Oh and it’s orange.

Aand finally, here’s an image of King next to some more modern Japanese comics – Boys’ Monthly Magazine, and the weeklies Morning and Shonen Jump. It’s page size is a bit smaller, but then again it was mostly text. A much better comparison would, of course, be to the text story paper Lynx Library. But that’s still in a box on a ship somewhere!

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EDIT: When I originally wrote this post I thought King was basically “The Shonen Jump of the 30’s” (though, of course, mostly text stories). But later learned that it was actually aimed at an adult audience (adults of the time though, so it’s not full of t*ts and innards). It’s probably closer in style to British magazines of the 1900’s – WW1, such as The Penny Pictorial (which I have the first volume of, and will one day review!)

Curtis Hoffman, who lives in Japan and who runs a great blog about mangæ, has made a series of 3 posts about King. It was the first Japanese magazine to sell a million copies, and was the subject of a museum exhibition in late 2009:

http://threestepsoverjapan.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/birth-of-million-seller-part-1.html

http://threestepsoverjapan.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/birth-of-million-seller-part-2.html

http://threestepsoverjapan.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/birth-of-million-seller-part-3.html

MCM Winter Expo 2012

(Why yes, I am referring to them in the same manner as the Japanese refer to Comiket, though those are a couple of months later, entirely dedicated to comics, and four times bigger XD)

Last weekend I went to the MCM Expo, which is held twice a year in London’s Excel Centre. Also known for hosting various Olympic events. I actually got myself organised this time, and caught the same train as my friend from King’s Lynn, so we went together. I also finally gave her a Nendoroid (small, chubby figures of characters from nerdy things… where’s the Doctor Who ones?) I’d bought in Japan. She was with various friends in costumes, who said “We’re a bunch of freaks”. Except on the way down the train I’d walked past a loligoth zombie with her face all in stitches, so yeah. I’d intended to dress up as a 30’s American gangster, to “promote” Pulp Detective. In the event, I forgot to even take the first issue of Pulp Detective and shove it in people’s faces. The small WH Smith in the King’s Cross Underground didn’t have it either. Why yes, I would have bought a second £3.25 copy just to shove in people’s faces.

Anyway, on arrival we promptly lost most of the people from the train, who had spent the journey playing Mario Kart and screaming. The journey to the venue was uneventful… apart from when a few Japanese girls accosted my friend (dressed as computer-generated singer Hatsune Miku) and wanted pictures taken with her. Then they asked us where “the Harry Potter place” was. We also met a cowboy on the underground, but he was on a pub crawl, not going to the con XD. Also my friend’s friend, dressed as the second doctor (though with the hair of the fourth XD) decided to spend the rest of the day in character, which was amusing (he saw many of his future selves). We waited for somebody else, who was cosplaying a “Pyramid Head” from… some game. We had to wait for him to change, which appears to have involved taking most of his clothes off, which somehow took ages. His costume was very good, so loads of people wanted pictures taken, he also insisted on walking to the queue “in character”, dragging his huge sword. We decided to leave him to it.

The queue was as fun as ever, with many hi-fives and fist bumps. There was also a few “mexican wave cheers”, but as big as the MCM queue is, it was a bit too small for those to work properly. You really need 110,000 people, stretched across a gigantic field, with AC/DC at one end. Later on we tried to start a mass singalong, but unfortunately nobody else knew the words to any Spitting Image songs (or 19th century German propaganda anthems). Oh we also got everybody clapping at one point XD. After the qeue was finished I lost the other two by stopping to have Thai curry AND sushi… well you didn’t get very much of either. The sushi was the nicest pre-packaged kind I have had in this country, which isn’t saying much.

Once that was over and done with, it was on to the main hall! I’ve always said they should expand the convention into two halls, instead they appear to have taken out the partition between two and turned them into one huge one. It was far less crowded than it was in May, and even the small press “comic village” had a decent amount of space between tables. It was also the first place I headed for, of course! There was plenty else going on along the way, mind you. KITT was parked in the middle of the hall, and there was a Yu-gi-oh / Magic card tournament nearby. Also costume competitions, talks and that. All of which I sailed serenely and ignorantly past, I had comics to buy!

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The complete haul

Japanofail issue 6 (of 5) is a collection of very funny gag strips, I’ve lost track of how many of them I have, mind you. Better have a dig in the small press drawer.

I also got a couple of Victorian-set stories, though both involving elements of “Steampunk” and magic. Widdershins is pretty funny, and remarkably for a “vaguely manga”-type modern story, doesn’t depict Victorian Britain as “just the same as it is now but with a few gas lamps”.

Twisted Dark is great big 200 page wedge of horror for only £5, and Tortured Life is a new full-colour comic from the same creators. This one about a man who is able to see how people and animals will die when he looks at them, so becomes a hermit, then finds somebody who is apparently not going to die!

Allsorts is from Sweatdrop Studios (in-depth post really is going to be made one day, honest! …or just look them up yourself) and is an all-ages comic. There’s actually a few Sweatdrop comics that would be great for children, but which have swear words added for no reason. It puts me in mind of “daringly” watching 12-rated films when you are 10, or spotting one swear word in a translated manga. Completely pointless! Anyway, Allsorts is A4 sized and very thin, a format just like a traditional British weekly. Mind you it’s also £5 because it has a small print run and many people worked on it. It even has a text story! Though knowing the Sweatdrop lot, this was no doubt inspired by seeing text stories in The Phoenix, rather than a knowledge of the history of British (or real history of Japanese) comics. Also from Sweatdrop is Reluctant Soldier Princess Nami – a parody of Shoujo Battle anime from the late 80’s, which makes no sense to me, probably because I haven’t watched what it is parodying!

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Oops, some airfix paints fell conveniently into place

But the best buy of the con was this Doctor Who book. IDW in the US are producing their own Doctor Who comics (including a crossover with Star Trek) independently of the strips in Doctor Who Magazine or Doctor Who Adventures. The cover was signed by artist Al Davison! I’m keeping that one in an old Phoenix envelope. The story itself is about the tenth Doctor in the world of Hollywood during the roaring 20’s. I seem to remember a brief reference to that in one of his last TV episodes – making the book a neat ‘gap filler’.

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Posters n postcards

The most interesting thing I got was Sound, a compilation of Vietnamese comics(!). The theme of the collection is Sound, though there’s also plenty of stories with a ghostly horror element. One story, perhaps inevitably, mentions the war and another gives an insight into Vietnamese culture – they have a “Civil Defense” who are like Britain’s PCSO’s, only organised along military lines. The artwork is mostly Japanese style and the production of the book is in line with UK small press anthologies. I suppose Vietnam’s comic industry is tiny, under-funded and anaemic, with a very blurred line between the “small press” and “professionals”. Just like Britain’s comic industry, in fact!

After a lot of wandering about looking for my friends and appreciating cool costumes, I spent the last of my money on some Japanese porn comics and came home, going through several flurries of freezing cold rain. Winter is truly here now, so stay indoors with your favourite picture-books. My next convention will probably be the Spring MCM or Camcon II… depending on dates! There is a convention in Leeds next weekend, which The Phoenix will have a stand at, but that’s a bit far to go for a day trip, from here.

Pulp Detective

I spent the past couple of weeks in Japan, and while I was there I swept up great armfuls of comics ancient (well, 30’s) and modern. Japan probably has the biggest comics industry in the world, in terms of the output of actual comics (the US industry makes most of it’s money from films, videogames and pyjamas). Among the many publications I picked up was this one:

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Which is a ¥760 monthly (this is a second hand copy, which is why it has a ¥100 sticker) called Lynx Novel. I was quite surprised to discover that it actually only contains a minority of comic strips – most of it is three column illustrated text stories! No doubt British fans of Japanese comics would call it a “Light novel serialization anthology”*, or some such guff. Of course we all know the correct term – it’s a STORY PAPER!

Anyway, I planned to do an article on this comic, angrily asking why we can’t have such things here. Unfortunately I can’t do that article yet, because I was buying far too much stuff and had to ship some of it home by surface mail, this among it. Of course, there’s no rush to create such an article is there? I mean, what’s going to happen? It’s not like somebody’s going to launch a new story paper in Britain while my back is turned, is it?

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…shut up.

Yes, that is precisely what has happened! And it’s a themed story paper too. Lynx Novel is about gay romance, but Pulp Detective is about prohibition-era gangsters. I know which one I prefer to read… in text form, anyway. On first impressions some things about Pulp Detective look a bit off, namely the illustrations look far too colourful and cartoony for the hard-boiled action they depict. Also all of the stories are set in the same time and place, when I was hoping for trips to Victorian London or modern America. But these things will grow on you, honestly!

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A map of Bay City, where the stories all take place.

With the stories all set in the same place, there’s plenty of potential for crossovers and characters meeting each other, or one story being pushed along by events in another. I don’t see anything like that in the first issue (and rightly so – it’s got to find it’s feet first!), but the possibility is there, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t happen.

 

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Typical spread

It’s a good thick publication too, with about 130 pages (Lynx Novel has 4-500, but that’s Japanese comics for you) that will take a decent amount of time to read. A perfect train station / airport buy for those long trips, I’d have thought. As you can see above, the illustrations look almost like Franco-Belgian comics, and for some reason they have speech and thought bubbles (something the Starscape Storypaper also did, which I found a bit weird). A lot of them are decently atmospheric, for all that, and the exaggerated, cartoony features do at least allow characters to stand out clearly. The style of the illustrations appears to be the first thing a lot of people coming to this comic notice – but don’t let them put you off, really!

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Different illustrators are used for each story

The first story features the main character, police detective John Munro, in the first part of what promises to be a long-running serial (each part of the serial is very long, though, a mini-novel in itself) as he takes down the mob piece by piece. The second story is told in the first person, by private detective Henry Reed. While the first story moves around the city, the second really focuses on one man’s experience of it. There’s plenty of fairly authentic 30’s American slang too, though a mini-glossary is provided.

 

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Taken pictures with the camera again, it’s not too good XD

The third story in this issue follows another private detective (and has illustrations that are much better suited to this sort of tale… also the cars in it look a lot more like they’re from the early 30’s rather than the mid 40’s!). This story is complete, and in each issue the complete story will follow a different character, showing yet more aspects of both the high and low life in Bay City.

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Comparisons of the cars

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Most of the third story’s illustrations are like this.

Pulp Detective issue 1 is on sale now from most branches of Smith’s (even, amazingly, Ely – who don’t always bother with 2000AD or Commando). It’s also apparently being sold in several smaller newsagents, though I have seen at least two reports of them saying they sent it back to the distributors saying it “wouldn’t sell”, or even that it “wasn’t selling”, only 2 days after they’d received issue 1!

YOU TRAITORS!

Have an ask around your the newsagents in your own area (or at least those that, according to the official website’s store finder, are supposed to be selling it), and refuse to do business with any that say the same, eh?

Issue 1 costs £3.25, which is cheap compared to ¥760! I really hope this comic is here to stay, it’s easily overtaken The Phoenix (“yet another magical fantasy” is getting old… I say, as Zara’s Crown is getting underway) and is up there among Commando and Spaceship Away as my favourite British comic.

Also, knowing what side their bread is buttered on, the publishers don’t want to have this comic running in “isolation”, like DC Thomson’s output, and are advertising the MCM Expo on the back cover!

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I hope they will have a table there too. My promotion of it will be vocal!

In fact, I may even cosplay as a 30’s gangster…

Visit the Pulp Detective website here: www.pulpdetective.com

 

* – American spellings and all

MCM Expo, May 2012

I’ve gone to several of the MCM Expo’s now, always the ones in London (though they are also in Birmingham, Manchester and, er, Telford). The London ones are twice a year, in May and October, and go on for three days! But I only ever go on the Saturdays. One of these days I’ll book a hotel and get the full experience. Plus I’ll make some costumes!

Anyway, On the past occasions I kept forgetting my camera, but this time I remembered. I’d been looking forward to it for a year, as last October I went to an Anglo-Japanese society Karaoke night that “got out of hand” the day before. Ahem.

I woke up at the normal work time, and first went into Ely to take some ridiculous photographs. Here is the Ely funfair:

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At 7-ish in the morning, so nothing was going on

You’ll notice it is taking up half of one of Ely’s central car parks. Now while the city does have a “park and ride” it’s really not big enough to justify having one. Plus most of the shops in the centre are girly clothes shops anyway. If you have a car, going into Ely is only suitable for quickly buying some small things, otherwise you’d go to Cambridge. So really the council wants to make as much central parking available as possible, otherwise they will just kill the town off.

Of course the funfair was once held here:

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But that’s near this:

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And so people complained that having the funfair there was “disrespectful”. And once again “rethpect for peopleth sincewy hewd beweifs” was allowed to stand in the way of progress and efficiency. Sometimes I wish we were more Chinese, I really do. Mind you the government will no doubt adopt the worst parts of China, like a national firewall, in time.

Anyway, with that lot out of the way I set off for the actual event! It’s in the Excel Centre in Docklands, which is so big you probably really can see it from space! It’s even got it’s own DLR station, and as you get nearer on MCM day the trains start to fill up with people in crazy costumes, talking about anime. Oh and about which station they are going to change at – any of the three after Bank Underground station is fine, honestly!

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A friend did an ‘interesting’ photoshoot around here. You can see this building in the background XD

Having changed trains you then stay on and are taken right to the convention’s front door! Apparently via Fukushima…

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Should we be this close?

After that there’s a “bit” of a qeue. I arrived earlier than I normally do this time (11-ish as opposed to 1-ish), so the qeue was shorter. It also seemed to be moving a lot more quickly. In previous years there’d always be people stopping to take photos of each other’s costumes, but I didn’t see as much this time around. Maybe there was some crackdown on it announced on the official website.

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Spot you!

I didn’t see any queue-jumping either, in spite of the formidable, impassable barriers that had been set up:

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Some of them were even raised off the ground!

Maybe it’s not that we don’t have no friends, we just choose them better! And meet up with all 60,000 of them twice a year…

Anyway, after queueing for about half an hour – 45 minutes, and a great many hi-fives, I finally got the “Adult Entry” wristband. For some weird reason you then ‘queue’ again to have somebody put it on you.

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Ooh, aint ‘e bold

And with that, I was finally in the convention! After walking past a vast area of empty hall. Like I said, the Excel Centre is giant. I bet you could fit all of Camcon in the room that the qeue is in. Strangely, though, they rent these two rooms but the convention itself is only held in one. The other is half-filled with the queue and then is half empty. Surely it would be better to put  some stands in there as well? Leave the main hall for the “big attractions” (Marvel, Viz Media, new games etc) and have the artists and small press in the other half of the queue hall?

As it stands, the room that the convention proper is held in can get worryingly overcrowded at times. They’ve also tinkered with the layout this year. There’s a popular (and controversial) stall that sells Yaoi, which used to be in one corner, but this time was right inside the entrance. There was also a ‘walkway’ between large merchandise stalls running at 90 degrees across the people coming in. The comics area was also strangely laid-out, with the small pressers in ‘lines’, but then with Marvel against the wall, right in the middle of the far end of the lines – resulting in major blockages. Still, it was easy to get to the small press tables!

Sweatdrop Studios, who are ‘technically’ small press, but are so well-known that they could better be described as ‘medium press’ these days, were out on their own with a large stand. If I remember rightly Emma Vieceli used to be one of the main organisers of MCM, mind you XD

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I’ve been meaning to take a pic like this for ages, in-depth post coming soon!

Saturday was incredibly hot, though the main convention hall was well ventilated and/or air conditoned, so it wasn’t as bad as you might imagine. I had to keep ‘topping up’ with deodorant mind you! I bought a few odds and ends including Bakuman book 11, which I promptly left behind at the stall selling a British comic called Formera. I went back and amazingly it was still there, I also bought the two volumes of Formera currently available. It “looks like One Piece”, as I said at the time. But I’ve never read One piece (and at approaching 700 chapters I’m not about to start!).

After that It was time for lunch. There’s a giant hallway running through the Excel Centre, which on this occasion was completely open (on a previous occasion half the centre was closed off for a medical conference – the look on their faces as they came through “our” bit as priceless!). There’s loads of little fast food outlets all the way along with a greater or lesser degree of seating. They’re quite “reasonably” priced too – considering they have a large captive audience in central London, anyway!

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This is just over halfway along (with the shorter part behind me, mind you!)

After that I decided to venture outside. On previous occasions I’ve never actually realised that anything was going on outside the building (mind you some of those previous occasions have been really cold). But actually there’s a big plaza and riverside area with a grass embankment to sit on, a stage set up on a lawn with live(ish) music, and a ‘dance’ area where people do silly dances like Caramelldansen. I only discovered all of this a few weeks ago when I looked at Youtube videos of past expo’s. BUT this year they moved the stage to just outside the main entrance, so you could hardly miss it!

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A girl that was doing Jpop dances

Most of the performances I saw were basically girls who have memorised the dances to manufactured pop music performing them. Except of course this is manufactured pop from JAPAN and so ,no doubt, has an ancient and noble samurai tradition behind it. I wonder if these sorts of events in Japan feature girls doing the dance moves to “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls, or something?

The reason the stage had been moved to just outside the main entrance was because there was another event going on further down, promoting the benefits of swimming. At least it had attracted additional ice cream vans and also a load of portaloo’s, so the qeues were smaller!

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Once upon a time this was all disreputable boarding houses filled with disguised detectives.

Oh and just another picture to give you an idea of the scale of the thing. The stage area is up those stairs, between them and the building!

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Desertified

I had a couple more wanders around the convention hall, bumped into a few people I know (including the organiser of Camcon!)  and bought some more bits and pieces. Including a couple of books from June Manga, who label them “yaoi”, though I understand yaoi is a term for pornographic comics. June’s comics are actually romantic stories with varied settings. One I got before was a police procedural, and this one has two stories, both dealing with love-hate relationships turning into, erm, love-love ones. Mind you the stories could do with more action, what about a tale of romance between two strangely-long-haired Desert Rats during El-Alamein?

I also got a book called One Cell from a company called Lomsofd Manga (which I kept misreading as “Lowestoft Manga”). It’s “backwards”, despite having been originally written in English. Plus the art style looks more like an exaggerated stereotype of manga, I think somebody’s having a larf! Also on the shopping list was a couple of books from Ushio, who does some very funny material in his “Japanofail” books. Oh, and another title from Sweatdrop Studios – the second part of Strangers & Friends, which is about mysterious murders in Wooton Basset.

The best thing I got, though, was a huge reprint book of Hokusai Manga, which was the first thing to be called “Manga”. One literal translation of manga means “random sketches”, and that’s what Hokusai Manga was! You’d have a couple of pages of insects, followed by Noh masks, followed by people doing everyday jobs. There would sometimes be ‘literal’ illustrations of famous proverbs and things too. Hokusai Manga was originally planned to be just one book (published in 1814 – during the Edo Period, when Japan was closed off from the world and basically a Medaeval society), but ended up running to 15 volumes published over 64 years (though the last one was discovered and published 30 years after Hokusai’s death). The books were supposed to be a kind of guide to drawing, but ended up being bought in their thousands by a whole range of people who just liked looking at the pictures. I can see why, there’s something enchanting about them. Many copies even found their way out of Japan and influenced and inspired artists in other countries.

After a bit more wandering It was time to go home. I deliberately aimed for the new part of King’s Cross station. I remember major building work going on there when I was going to Plymouth with my granny for the eclipse… in 1999! It’s kind of hard to believe I won’t ever be squeezing through a narrow tunnel of wooden hoardings next time I go.

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Don’t I have another blog for non comics pictures?

In all, a fun convention, though I didn’t buy as much as I expected to (still spent the expected, large, amount of money mind you!). Perhaps in October I’ll do the full three days!

A comparison

…of Japan’s best weekly adventure comic and Britain’s best (only!) weekly adventure comic.*

It’s no secret that I hold Japan up as an example of how the comic industries of all countries ought to function. Thick, cheap weekly anthologies with exciting serials, which are then collected into better-printed book form for fans to collect. I’m not suggesting that Britain ought to start copying the Japanese art style or stories, though. And our comics don’t need to be as thick either, if we’re going to stick with detailed Commando-type artwork. But they do need to exist!

With sales dropping or barely holding across the board (mind you The Beano did recently gain just over 1000, which is a step in the right direction.) some drastic gambles may have to be taken. And of course comic fans all need to do their bit to promote the art form to non-readers in everyday life.

But enough of that, on with the comparison!

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The Phoenix issue 8 and Shonen Jump issue 12 (for 2012)

Here are the covers, and I think The Phoenix easily wins out,  with a big bold image and minimal text, as opposed to the “bit of everything” Japanese clutter. Some otaku hold that Japanese writing** is “more artistic” and so cluttered covers work better in that language. Well actually in Japan it’s considered “artistic” to scatter odd English around designs (usually it makes no sense). Cluttered covers are just ugly whatever language they are in!

Of course, the ideal is to have a strip on the cover. But we just aren’t getting that these days.

But enough of the fronts, lets look at the sides…

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That’s about the size of it.

Yes, Shonen Jump is still a weekly! It can be such a huge size partly because of the style of manga art, with many panels featuring only talking characters with basic backgrounds. Also manga usually uses screen tone to add shading, rather than time-consuming cross hatching. Oh and of course (at least if Bakuman is anything to go on) artists and writers only work on one story at a time, for which they are paid a decent wage and also receive royalties from sales of the collected books. This means they can concentrate on “their” story entirely. Most if not all of them also have assistants doing the donkey-work of, say, drawing the windows on distant skyscrapers. It is in effect the famous “studio system” used on Dan Dare raised to a state of perfection.

This particular issue contains 21 stories in about 500 pages (most of them aren’t numbered). The Phoenix contains 11 stories in a mere 32 pages. Though of course the length, style and pacing of them is so completely different a direct comparison is meaningless. Also the Phoenix’s editorial content is a ‘story’ in itself!

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Like so

Starting off, we have the latest information on “Phoenix land”, with the ongoing case of the missing feathers. One of the fictional editors of the comic has been arrested on suspicion of stealing them, which has not gone down well with the rest of the team. And then we’re into the first story. The stories in The Phoenix are all full-colour and the paper quality certainly beats Shonen Jump hands down. Mind you I’m wrong in the head so I actually prefer thin newsprint, but I’m not going to start claiming it’s better!

The first story is Pirates of Pangaea, which is actually pretty close to the “sort of thing” you’d see in manga! A fantasy world of dinosaurs and crazy pirates. Mind you though Pirates of Pangaea doesn’t feature a mysterious child with an ancient power locked within him, or elaborate, wordy mind-games. No it features shooting at rampaging raptors with flintlocks and then running like mad!

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A blonde guy teamed up with a “dumb animal” that’s more intelligent than him, shades of Tintin eh?

The other ‘serious’ adventure story in The Phoenix is The Lost Boy. This one is actually drawn in a kind of combined British / Japanese style. And it also features a seafaring adventurer on a mysterious island!

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Sweet sugar lumps!

The other “flagship” adventure story is the more comedic Long Gone Don, created by The Etherington Brothers. This pair are for my money not just the most talented writer and artist working in British comics at the moment, but are among the best in the world! The complex and detailed art is a joy to behold, the dialogue is fantastic and the stories rattle along at a good pace. The one criticism I can perhaps offer is with art that deep and detailed they ought to go about including some “where’s wally?”-style mini visual gags. That’d make their work just about perfect, and would encourage people to stare at it for longer, too!

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Crazy invention time!

The Phoenix also contains some purely comedy stories, such as this one by Jamie Smart. To put it diplomatically Jamie is a “marmite” artist. A little like a modern version of Eric Parker, in fact, in that he sure can turn ’em out. He’s almost made The Dandy his own of late – which has bought about some highly polarised opinions. I’d better reserve my own judgement on the matter, lest accusations of jealousy start flying around.

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What would the Rev’d Marcus Morris have made of this?

One of my favourite parts of The Phoenix is the educational Corpse Talk. The basic premise is that the skeletal, rotted remains of famous historical figures are dug up and interviewed about their lives. Like ya do. This week it’s the Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, and previous bodies in the chair have been Marie Curie and Genghis Khan. I should think more than one kid has got better marks on their history homework as a result of this! Plus just look at how many panels have been crammed in, it’s like 1950’s Jonah!

The feature content of The Phoenix includes the usual “letters and pictures from readers” section that has long been a staple of British comics (though of course the best letters sections appeared before 1930). I can’t see anything that looks similar in Shonen Jump. The Pheonix also contains a series of articles about creating your own comics, and encourages children to have a go themselves.

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 Mind you this one is about sound effects, which are overused, over dramatic and over here!

To my mind this is the most important part of the comic. It will hopefully instill in the readers not only the desire to try it for themselves (all kids draw, but if my own experience is anything to go on very few of them attempt to make comic strips. Though to my own young mind it seemed the logical thing to do.) but also an appreciation of the art form of comics and of the effort that goes into making decent ones. If The Phoenix can be sustained (apparently it’s secure for two years… are you doing your bit to make it run beyond?) and if those kids can inspire others at their schools to draw comics too we might see the long-wished-for comics “revolution” in Britain within the next 15 years!

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More Etheringtonism

The Phoenix also contains puzzles, including the ongoing series The Dangerous Adventures of Von Doogan. Some of these are harder than others and really require you to get yer brain in gear. This issue’s are a bit easy though. Readers are invited to “help” the adventurer by sending in the solutions to the puzzles, and if “chosen” by him receive prizes.

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Yep!

Finally one thing Shonen Jump definitely does not have is text stories! Text-filled story papers were the predecessors of British adventure comics, and even once the adventure strips started to appear in the late 30’s there was a long crossover period of mixed text and strip content. By contrast I’m not sure Japan ever had what could be considered an equivalent to story papers. But then most histories of manga begin in the late 1940’s and ignore everything that went before as being “too nationalistic”. Mind you certain ivory-tower preachers are attempting to act like British comics only began in 1976 and nothing that came before is worthy of note.

Possible candidates for Japanese story papers include books called ‘Yellow Covers’ that first started to appear in 1775 (the first British story paper was possibly The Young Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1777, but very little information is available on it). After these there was a genre of serialised stories called ‘Books for reading’. I’ve also seen an issue of a 1920’s “comic” (as described by my girlfriend of the time) called Boys’ Club. But I can’t find any information on it, and it was locked in a cabinet at a museum with all of the other information about it in Japanese.

Anyway, the Phoenix text stories are often extracts from children’s books, which means I don’t bother reading them as I won’t be buying the books. Occasionally however they run complete stories or mini-serials (including an adaption of The Minotaur). More of those, please!

The Phoenix is completely free of advertising, because it is funded by “anonymous backers” (why anonymous though, surely not ‘shame’ at being involved with ‘mere comics’? Stand up and be counted, true patriots!). By contrast Shonen Jump has quite a lot of adverts, even in the form of fold-out “colour plates”!

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 FURUKOOOOOOOOOOSU!

These adverts are generally for action figures, videogames or anime DVD’s. Almost all of which are based on the stories that have appeared in Shonen Jump! And yet in this country when a British comic character is adapted into another form (rather than a TV show being made into a ‘comic’ with hardly any comic) it’s generally either ignored or is met with a disgraceful shower of hate from hack journalists who have suddenly ‘discovered’ that the comics they read as a kid 30 years ago have changed since then. And this from supposedly ‘patriotic’ newspapers.

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Hand!

By contrast to The Pheonix, Shonen Jump contains only 3 pages of comic in colour. They are the first three pages of Haikyuu!!, a school and volleyball strip. It’s apparently a new strip, so this could be the very first part and the colour pages serve to introduce it. Of course in issues where a new story is not beginning it’s probable that a popular one is randomly chosen for the colour pages.

The Phoenix does not have any sport stories, but they were once a genre that ebbed and flowed through British comics. The Boys’ Realm became a sport-themed paper towards the end of it’s life, and even launched a smaller spinoff called The Boys’ Realm Sports Library, which I recently bought 6 months of. This issue of Shonen Jump has two, Hakyuu!! and Kuroko no Basuke (Kuroko’s Basketball).

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 Is a small tsu in Katakana also a ‘sound extender’ like a line is?

Of course the staples of shonen manga (boys’ comics) are the adventure stories. There’s some comedic ones such as Toriko, which is about a “gourmet hunter” who tours the world looking for ingredients to create “the ultimate meal”. If British TV companies want to save a few bob they could always combine I’m A Nonentity Get Me Back On Telly (are you sure that’s right? -ed) and Masterchef into one show in this way.

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Also it has Mexican wrestlers

Another comedy adventure tale is the famous One Piece, which is about a crew of pirates captained by “Luffy”, who has some sort of superpower. In this issue we have the 657th (O_O) chapter…

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 With some English

…and you thought Varney The Vampyre ran for a long time! Like the early-mid 19th century Penny Dreadfuls, a successful manga will be extended and extended to make more money rather than allowed to end at the point the writers probably hoped it would. This of course usually leads to people beginning to describe long-running stories as “annoying” or “crazy” as the writers just stick in whatever they think up first, probably having long since given up caring.

Of course in Britain from about the 1860’s – 70’s onwards stories had a set length and finished when they finished. It didn’t do our industry any harm for the next hundred years! And of course a story ending doesn’t mean that the same characters can’t come back in a new tale later, but it does free up the creators to think of something totally different if they want.

The main stock in trade of the shonen story is, of course, giant monsters, giant lasers or, er, both.

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Oroboros? It always makes me think of Red Dwarf!

Some stories actually have quite a lot of detail despite still being 20-30 pages a chapter. There must be quite a crew of assistants working on Nurarihyon no Mago.

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Fields of swords!

And of course there’s the epic battles with magic energy beams. I wonder how people don’t get tired of this stuff… but then again somebody who can’t read English would probably consider every Commando comic to have the same story XD.

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 DOGOOOOOO. Mind you if the Treens were watching this they’d know not to mess.

Shonen Jump also contains a few examples of other genres, including one which was once very popular in Britain… up to World War 1 anyway, the “work” story. The Boys’ Friend used to be crammed with tales about boys who worked in mines, factories or shipyards. And the immortal Sexton Blake used to regularly go undercover in all sorts of industries. In today’s Shonen Jump we have Bakuman, a story of kids working their way into the manga industry. The old work stories in Britain were usually detective stories at their heart, with the hero overhearing some villainous plot and working to foil it.

Bakuman is instead basically a romantic story at it’s heart (well there’s not much scope for villainy in the manga industry, a serial pencil thief is not that threatening). Moritaka Mashiro dreams of being a manga artist, he loves Miho Azuki who wants to be a voice actress. They promise that when Moritaka has made a successful manga that is animated, Miho will play the woman in it, and then they can be married. But apart from that it also contains many other amusing characters and offers many insights into how the manga industry in Japan works (which is how I’m even able to write posts like this!). The Japanese books are currently up to 16, the English have just reached 9. This chapter will probably be part of book 17.

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“Everybody Listen!”

Other styles of stories include the purely humorous story, as we’d see in The Beano. Just longer, black and white and probably serialised to a degree (and later made into an animation without mouth-foaming, traitorous ravings in the papers).

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Teacups for heads? It’s PC gone mad!

One of the longest running comedy comics in Shonen Jump is called, and breathe in here: This is the police station in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika Ward. It’s been running continuously since 1976, and in fact the artwork still looks more like 70’s manga than the modern kind.

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“I’m gonna try and do 3 rotations!” “Aagh stop rotating!” …or something like that .

The story is probably more like Only Fools and Horses (or maybe Stop The Pigeon) as the characters try to use the latest fads or wierd inventions to either get rich quick, or catch criminals more easily. Of course these always go wrong. Also like the stories of Billy Bunter or Sexton Blake the main characters never age even though the world is changing around them. But actually in this story a few characters do age. A baby born in an early story is now a teenager, but his parents are still the same age.

This particular story appears to involve a pushy journalist constantly interfering with police work by trying to interview everybody. However he then helps them arrest an armed robber by popping up at the resturant he is holed up in and trying to interview him. While he is still wondering what’s going on he gets arrested!

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Myootsukee.

There’s also a school story apparently told from the perspective of the teacher. The only British example of that I can think of (except for maybe “Singled out: Teacher” Bash Street Kids episodes in The Beano from the 2000’s) was in The Captain in 1899!

You will probably have noticed that most of the print quality in Shonen Jump is not fantastic. That’s because these weekly anthologies are seen as ‘throwaway’, in fact the trains and stations in Tokyo usually have discarded copies laying on the seats. Of course in Britain for most of history comics were also seen as “throwaway” and were used to, say, light the fire once the kids were done with them. This has found it’s ultimate expression in the replacement of the printed US Shonen Jump (which was monthly and had half the page count… somehow) with “Shonen Jump Alpha”, which is at least weekly but ‘expires’ and deletes itself. Of course any comic that goes purely digital from print ceases to exist as far as I’m concerned. But having them ‘expire’ really is a step too far. I haven’t bought a videogame since 2009 because of the Orwellian excesses of that industry. It cannot be allowed to creep into comics too!

Of course, it’s okay to dispose of the weekly anthology copies in Japan because the stories that the readers like will come out in better-printed book form. Virtually every story will be printed in this way, whether they sell or not! It is of course these collected books that we get in foreign countries.

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But a little bigger

Of course this can help with Japanese study… an aspect of comics that must also be promoted by fans to the unbelievers, and a reason why it is essential that more countries begin to produce a wide range of varied stories in the manner of Japan, and export them!

Imagine the proliferation of enthusiasm for learning other languages and the cultures that go with them if all nations produced interesting-looking picture stories that people wanted to understand. Comics have advantages over plain books in that the pictures help to explain what’s going on, and the dialogue and descriptions are “broken apart” clearly.

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The English words actually seem to fit some of those bubbles better!

Of course book form reprints of stories from British comics are starting to proliferate now. But only haphazardly and occasionally in “best of” type books rather than full reprints. They’re also usually hardbacks with thick glossy art paper… even if the original artwork has been lost and the reproduction would have been just as good in lower-quality paperback. Of course this drive for quality of printing and binding drives the prices up to prohibitive levels, especially in a recession, and people stay away. Then series are left incomplete because of “poor sales”. Still if everybody reading this made up their mind to buy just one of the British comic reprint books this week…

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Serving suggestion

Of course it’s far more important that the risk is taken and that ‘vanished’ stories are once again reproduced thousands of times and distributed to the ends of the country, so that they may survive into future decades in an easily accessible form. But as usual those who “know the cost of everything and the value of nothing” win the day. Mind you unsympathetic shopkeepers don’t help. Classics From The Comics was just really getting into it’s stride, switching from purely reprinting 1/2 page humour strips to a little bit of everything from DC Thomson’s extensive back catalogue, even reaching back into the twenties! But bad distribution killed it off in it’s prime. It was probably the closest thing we have had to Shonen Jump, actually. Though only 100 pages and entirely reprints.

One other book Britain has had which was a bit like Shonen Jump was this one from 1989

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Intended as an annual, mind you.

It was a paperback reprint of a random selection of IPC / Amalgamated Press adventure comics from the 50’s and 60’s. It even had Jump-like print ‘quality’!

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A highwayman story probably originally from The Thriller Library

Even in 1989 this apparently didn’t sell well enough to be reprinted. But really it ought to point the way forwards, if the quality of the reprints is not going to be very good because of missing/deteriorated original artwork, cheapen the paper to match and knock it out for as low a price as possible! And of course all of us will then have to let other people know it’s out there!

It’s one thing to wish that we had regular big wedges of comic like Shonen Jump (not that thinner wedges of full colour like The Phoenix are a bad thing, we ought to be able to do both, really). But if we want it, all comic fans and creators have to stand together and do their bit!

*- Actually Doctor Who adventures is also weekly, and Doctor Who is an “acceptable” licensed character. But it only has 4-5 actual pages of comic strip per issue, the rest is dumbed-down articles with big pictures and “ooh scary!” captions.

** – The ‘fancier’ characters are actually almost all Chinese, though!