Saturday, February 06, 2010

Out of the Vault- Mega Comics

Manga started making inroads into the American market in a big way in the mid-80's, with the collaboration between Viz Communications and Eclipse Comics. Viz later decided to publish their own comics, while Eclipse continued publishing manga with new partner Studio Proteus. I'll eventually get around to digging some of the old VIZ/Eclipse books out of the Vault and cover them, but for the moment, suffice it to say that the experiment succeeded. Meanwhile, other companies began exploring the American market as well, not always successfully.

Take Mega Comics from the summer of 1991. It was a slick package, 120 pages bound as a trade paperback.It was published by a company called General Products in Japan. I found it in a Japanese store in Little Tokyo in San Francisco.

The front cover looks pretty good, and it should. The illustration is from Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, an anime series from Gainax that was current at the time. It was a little pricey at $17.00, but that wasn't what ultimately killed it.

Have a look at the back cover to get an idea of why the venture failed (and why I actually shelled out 12 bucks to own a copy). As with any image on this blog, you can click it to see a larger version, but I love the copy so much, I must type it with my own fingers.

If you want to read Japanese Comic,
Or want to enjoy Graphic Novel,
Also wondering the entire picture of Japanese Illustration
And even want precious informations of Japanimation.
Read this MEGA COMICS!
This is the book you desired earnestly!
It contains the thing you want to know,
And would brought you a great impressions!

That's poetry.

The comics themselves were lackluster at best. There's a story called "Night Search," by Akihiro Ito, about a cop who encounters the ghost of his unborn daughter(shades of Big Numbers) in a subway station and catches her murderer. The story is hard to follow and the art is awkward.

That's followed by a story titled "The Passenger: Act.1 Shinjuku," by Mamoru Ikeuchi. On the one hand, it shows the breadth of styles employed by Japanese artists, because it doesn't look Japanese at all. It has a very European feel that would appear right at home in Heavy Metal. The only overtly Japanese thing about it is the dialogue and captions, which (like the previous story) are in both Japanese and English. Or something approximating English, anyway.

"We'll both get our monkey's worth." I can't tell if that's a typo or a pun (the thing she ends up buying is a fetus in a jar, and I can't tell if it's supposed to be a human fetus or not). Oh, and by the way, the narration shifts back and forth between past and present tense a couple of times.

There are some other features here and there--a round-up of illustrations by up-and-coming artists, a feature story and illustrations about Nadia--before the third and final story makes its appearance.

"Attesa" is symptomatic of the entire magazine's incoherence and lack of organization. The story runs backwards from the back cover to halfway through the book, like a real Japanese comic, while the rest of the features run forward from the front cover like an American magazine. "Attesa" starts with some nice color illustrations accompanied by an author's message from Ikuto Yamashita describing the background of the story and how it relates to his other works. This, unfortunately, is completely unreadable because the colored typeface used doesn't contrast enough with half of the illustration.

Then comes the actual story in black-and-white, and while the art occasionally looks nice (if sketchy), the story is absolutely impossible to follow. Here's a sample to show you what I mean.

The plot is convoluted, which is exacerbated by the bad translations, which is made even worse by the fact that the word balloons are all numbered with the matching translations at the bottom of the page! And not all the translations are on the same page! What a mess!

I don't think Mega Comics ever put out a second volume. I bought my copy sometime in 1993 and found this on a clearance rack. There were some catalog pages in the middle where you could order T-shirts and join a fan club and stuff; someone had gone through with a hand stamp and stamped "VOID" on those pages.

It seems strange now, looking at the racks of racks of manga available in Barnes and Noble or wherever that Japanese media had real trouble establishing itself in America for decades. The road to that rack of manga is littered with the corpses of failed ventures like this, though.

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