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Ongoing comics I read

I’m chronically in need of more bookshelf space. The shelves creak with their burden of books, and boxes quickly fill up and accumulate. Strangely enough, though, the number of comics I read which are actively updated and published is actually on the small side. It also helps that several of them are or have become web comics.

Update (19 April 2010): I’ve moved Fruits Basket to the comics archive page, as the series finished in 2009 (well, in English). I have also removed Yuri Monogatari, as I’ve stopped reading it for the time being. Reason: I fell behind in reading due to major house remodeling, so needed to shorten my reading list to catch up. I also note that Dokebi Bride appears to be on hiatus (sniff), and that A Distant Soil is being republished as a free webcomic (yay! Heent: If you enjoy a free webcomic, buy the hardcopies if you are able to; a book is a joy a to hold, and creators try to make a living like anyone else).

Update (25 February 2009): I’ve decided to get rid of the Western vs. Asian division. Whether they are originally written in English, or not (such as manga from Japan or manhwa from Korea), they remain the same medium I cherish, comics.

(*) Added recently since this entry had been originally published. Yay! I love discovering great reads!

So here’s a summary list of the web comics…

  • Digger
  • A Distant Soil
  • Finder
  • Galaxion
  • Girl Genius
  • Xeno’s Arrow

…As well as a summary list of comics I read in dead tree format.

  • (*) Black Jack
  • Castle Waiting
  • Dokebi Bride: On hiatus since 2008ish
  • Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service
  • Love and Rockets
  • Usagi Yogimbo
  • (*) xxxHolic

The number of comics would be maddeningly long if I included the various other graphic novels, completed series, and comic strips I’ve enjoyed! In addition, there are incomplete stories, sadly on hiatus. But I’ll cover previously read and incomplete comics in separate articles.

Black Jack, by Osamu Tezuka. This is the ultimate renegade doctor story, where the brilliant surgeon Black Jack wrings every last yen or dollar out of his patients. Or does he? The illustration wonderfully and graphically anatomical, a reminder of Tezuka’s medical background. I also enjoy the blunt confrontations with racism, societal conventions (especially Japanese stereotypes, of course, but also Western ones), and unsurprisingly, greed. Vertical is publishing the English translation of Tezuka’s longest series in 17 books.

Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley. The story seems like something from several Brothers’ Grimm fairy tales. But only on the surface of this exquisitely illustrated, intricately woven narrative. Talking animals going about their lives like normal folk. A Castle that has an infestation of sprites, gremlins, kobolds. The protagonists range from Lady Jain (escaping a nasty family) to Sister Peace (a highly eccentric nun). Medley had put this comic on hold due to financial and publisher issues, but has thankfully returned to a somewhat regular publication from Fantagraphics. The creator’s site seems erratically available, down as of this writing. Update: Hm, I haven’t seen a new issue since Summer 2009. Wonder if this comic is on hiatus again…

Castle Waiting book cover

Digger, by Ursula Vernon (her artist site is at Red Wombat Studio). What do you get when you combine an atheist wombat trying to get home, an ostracized hyena without a home and an orphaned demon (who doesn’t know what “home” is, methinks)? A fun, weird story. In addition, Vernon’s illustration technique evokes a dark moodiness, reminding me of drawings derived from rubbing or scraping away ink. While Digger is a free webcomic, the creator has published four books collecting the series.

Digger tag

A Distant Soil, by Colleen Doran. An epic involving alien societies (such as the arrogant Ovanon), beings from Arthurian and Faerie realms, and, at the center of it all, Ovanan-human hybrids. Nearly three decades in production, this comic has been a pleasure to read: from watching how Doran’s style has matured (reminding me of John R. Neill’s art from Baum’s Oz books), to watching the story progress. The series is available in four books: The Gathering, The Ascendant, The Aria and Coda. Doran is currently working on both the final arc, Requiem, as well as a prequel, Seasons of Spring. Update: The blog link referring to Requiem and Seasons of Spring no longer works, but the comic’s About page states eight more issues remaining in the series, and the latter is mentioned here. In addition, I’m happy to see the earlier issues go up live for all the Internet to observe her skill in story and drawing.

Dokebi Bride, by Marley. As an example of my late-adopter status, this is the first manhwa I’ve read. The artwork, especially the covers, is stunning. Sunbi comes from a line of female shamans who either deal with dangerous spirits, or go mad. Her grandmother (the former) raised her because her mother died from the latter. As I read how Sunbi struggles to find out more about her family, I see how strong-willed and antagonistic she is. Yet I appreciate how she learns from her mistakes and slowly matures. A significant misstep is how she becomes “married” to a dokebi, an ogre-like spirit —who reflects her own obstreperous personality. Update: The latest collection I got was in 2008. On hiatus?

Dokebi Bride Volume 1

Finder, by Carla Speed McNeil. A complex set of stories, involving complex societies. McNeil has said “Finder blends fantasy, science fiction, and human drama… Jaeger, the main character, is a different sort of detective, being both a tracker and a survivalist. Finder follows him on his travels, revealing both his life and the unfolding world he lives in.” My favorites include Talisman, which focuses on Marcie, a bookish young friend of Jaeger’s, and King of the Cats, which beautifully shows the harsh contrast between indigent and wealthy peoples. McNeil posts the most recent arc on the website, and the latest one, “Torch” is a page-turner!

Finder: Talisman cover

Galaxion, by Tara Tallan (creator’s blog). Well-drawn and fun space opera. Imagine blasting across the galaxy, and appearing near something that’s eerily like, but not like Earth. Tallan was the first Western creator I saw who employed a manga-flavored style —indeed, predating by over a decade the current manga-styled comics craze! When I had read first 6 issues, the story took a rather annoyingly conventional turn, where a young male crewmember, Zandarin, suddenly behaved in a Nancy Drew Mary Sue fashion. However, since she moved her comic online, Tallan is now in the process of polishing and readjusting the characters and plot. Indeed, Zandarin’s character now feels more believable (and interesting!). Although I now discover that I don’t like one of the main protagonists as much as I used to: Fusella. There’s something about nosey personalities that just set me on edge, what can I say? She does seem caring (unlike a few nosey busybodies in real life who did more harm than good), and this is good fiction, so I’m giving her more of a chance. I am still reading Galaxion, after all. 😉

Galaxion banner

Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE! The saga of how Agatha Heterodyne, budding mad scientist, finds her place in the world. A wonderful steampunk fantasy, full of world-building, world-crashing character development and thrilling plots. And some of the best coloring I’ve seen in comics, too.

Girl Genius: Adventure, Romance, MAD SCIENCE!

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, written by Eiji Otsuka and illustrated by Housui Yamazaki. Five students at a Buddhist university find that they’ve got very dim employment prospects. So they form a company that helps the dead find resolution. They barely manage to hang together: a dowser who finds bodies (not water), a psychic who speaks with the dead, an embalmer doomed in a nation that focuses on cremation (but great for forensics), a hacker-social engineer (an unusual but effective leader), and a nerdy nobody whose sock puppet channels a foul-mouthed alien. Yes. Alien sock puppet. The illustration is gorgeous, but also VERY graphic —the mature rating is definitely to be taken seriously. But this manga succeeds because of the wacky, discordant personalities, as well as a balance of humor and humanity in the face of horror.

Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service Volume 2

Love and Rockets, by Gilbert, Jaime and Mario Hernandez. This comic is one of my all-time favorites. I cherish the sci-fi escapades of earlier issues, but continue to admire the more real-life themes of later (and current) stories. There’s the richness of las Locas (notably Maggie, Hopey and Izzy) in Los Angeles. There are the compelling lives Palomar folk in Mexico. Both venues contain a dash of magical realism, and a wealth of history. Having Generation-X characters definitely resonates strongly for me. Jaime has the rare ability to draw women with Real Bodies, yet I also enjoy Gilbert’s nods towards famous artists like Frida Kahlo (e.g., an illustrated biography of her life) and Osamu Tezuka (e.g., Errata Stigmata).

Locas book

Usagi Yojimbo, by Stan Sakai. Its title literally means “rabbit bodyguard,” referring to the comic’s central figure. The stories take place in feudal Japan with the anthropomorphic characters acting out military and political intrigues of the time (both fictional and legendary). The artwork clearly conveys emotions ranging from silliness and joy to rage and stoicism, yet doesn’t strike me as deriving from manga styles. (Not that that’s bad, of course, considering my enjoyment of Galaxion, Steady Beat and Tea Club.) It’s simply Sakai’s own fine workmanship!

johansson1sm.jpgArtwork © Mattias Johansson / Muertosan and Stan Sakai.

Xeno’s Arrow, by Greg Beettam and Stephen Geigen-Miller (Geigen-Miller’s blog). I discovered this at APE VI, and when I had asked one of the creators what it was about he replied, “Fascism from a child’s perspective.” It’s also about escape (literally) from oppression, which has made it one of the few swashbuckling adventures I enjoy. It has an interesting mix of characters, including naïve, blue-skinned Xeno, a child of an unknown sentient species living in a “Zoo,” and the rat-like Clemens, an ever-hungry, amusing troublemaker.

Xeno's Arrow cover

xxxHolic, by CLAMP. At Andrea E.’s recommendation, I checked out the xxxHolic animé. The thin, stretched style of illustration was deceptive — I thought I was going to get a simple, straightforward story. I’m so glad I was wrong! (Stop judging comics by the first impression of the style!) It’s about a teenaged boy, Watanuki, who has a simple wish: How can he get rid of all those spirits who hound him endlessly? His payment: to be the cook for Youko, the fortune-teller who grants his wish. Eventually. Maybe. In the meantime, she has a bottomless appetite for food, drink and pushing him into adventure. This is a fun, modern day epic combining supernatural and slice of life moments. In any case, the manga like many manga-to-animé series holds more details, and is a thrill to read. At times hilarious, at others tear-jerking. It’s an emotional roller-coaster worth riding.

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