Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mai oh My - Manga

Okay...here's something a little bit different for today.

Most of you know all about my passion for comic books. I have over 30,000 of them, from super-heroes, anthropomorphic ducks and mice, teenagers and other jugheads, love, mystery, and the ones I put out once a year.

As you know, the Japanese are well-know for their comic book work, called manga. Personally, I don't like manga... they tend to make the eyes far too large... too Western-looking. It's almost like every Japanese comic book character has to look Westernized because it seems as though the Japanese are ashamed of their own eyes.

I said "seems".

I'm sure it has something to do with creating a cute character. But, when more serious manga were created, they simply continued the tradition.... much like how cartoon characters (aka anime) all have four fingers (that's including the thumb) on each hand, or how they have the middle name "J" or "the". Heck... look at the Simpsons... four fingers per, and Homer's middle name is "Jay".

In manga, however, not all comic book series are created equal. There are some that stand out for me... perhaps it is because they shunned the whole large-eyed look. One is the classic Lone Wolf & Cub (which you can read about HERE). And the other for me is: Mai The Psychic Girl. Okay... the title sounded kind of stupid when I first saw the book, an American version first released by Eclipse International back in 1988, but the artwork was stunning. For someone who had grown up with the block figures and square-jawed heroes of the 1960s and 70s, it was a breath of fresh air.

Oh sure... I was spoiled by many great comic book artists while growing up like Carl Barks (the good Duck artist), Neal Adams (Green Lantern and Batman books are the measuring stick for the character some 35 + 40 years later), John Tottleben & Stephen Bissette (Swamp Thing... see below for a lovely drawing I had done for myself by Tottleben), Wally Wood (EC stories in the 1950s), Hal Foster (Prince Valiant in the 1930s), Jim Starlin (Captain Marvel and Warlock), Bill Sienkiewicz (Moon Knight), John Byrne (X-Men), Barry Windsor-Smith (Conan), Dave Sim (Cerebus the Aardvark) and so, so, so many more, but it always seemed so far and few between.

Despite being a writer, when I picked up a comic book, I needed to be grabbed visually immediately. Those people above and many more did it for me. But manga... I always hated Japanimation (anime), as it looked too cutey, so I guess I was always predisposed to also dislike manga.

But I'm always up for trying new things.

Three years before the idea of going to Japan ever entered my lead... thank you Stefanie Lovie!... I found Lone Wolf & Cub, and Mai The Psychic Girl.

Mai () is written by Kudō Kazuya and drawn by Ikegami Ryoichi (surnames first!). Originally printed in 1985-86 in the Weekly Shonen Sunday comic (it's half the size of a phone book! And weekly! And full of 10+ other comics series! And it's NOT published on Sunday - it's Wednesday!), it's published by  Shogakukan Productions Co., Ltd..

Kuju Mai (surname first) is a 14-year-old Japanese girl with very strong psychic skills, and is being chased after by an organization called the Wisdom Alliance, who not surprisingly think they are best suited to rule the world.

Sounds hokey, right? But it works. Comic books are fantasy... you are meant to suspend your so-called sciences and realities. It is escapism.

The Wisdom Alliance has four other psychic kids and wants Mai badly enough that it hires the Kaieda Intelligence Agency.... and the chase goes on.

Now Mai must leave her normal junior high school life behind and go on therun, using her psychic powers that doesn't have full control of, in order to stay out of the clutches of the Wisdom Alliance.
While very popular in Japan, there were other books perhaps better known there... so why bring it to the West as one of the first examples of mange available to the mainstream comic book buying public?

For the reasons I mentioned above. It was chosen because it was neither too Japanese or too American. Foreign enough but still considered familiar, and familiar enough to not be considered foreign.  

Mai The Psychic Girl was one of the chief reasons why manga helped win the West. Perhaps she used some of her gnarly powers on us.

Should you wish to give it a read, try THIS site I found. Personally, I prefer the tactile feel of paper in my hands over the Internet any day... but if I can get at least one of you interested in trying out a comic book, I'm helping out my hobby.

Somewhere reading a comic book with my mind,
Andrew Joseph
PS: The scan above is one of the comic from my collection.
PPS: And, if you see Mai in the cover above... yes, that is what Japanese school girls (Junior & High School) wear. Sailor Moon (ugh!) wears a sailor suit, and so does Mai.
PPPS: Swamp Thing & Abby (DC Comics) drawn by John Tottleben when he visited Toronto back in the 1980s for the author, Andrew Joseph. It's too darn big for my scanner... but at least you can see a bit of where I put this blog together.

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