Friday, September 10, 2010


I was surprised the other day to discover that the English weekly rag in Tokyo, the Metropolis, actually had a feature article on something manga related. Now that Galbraith is gone, the Pop Life section went from being bi-weekly to non-existent. The Met never really did seem to like covering anime or manga, and a number of readers complained when Galbraith made Pop Life bi-weekly at the beginning, saying that they couldn't care less.

But now, the cover story is on the release of an English edition anthology of Ax magazine stories. If you know Garo magazine (and if you've visited this blog before, I'd like to hope that you at least know the name) then you know that it was the big "alternative" manga outlet in the 60's and 70's. It triggered the publication of COM, Osamu Tezuka's competing magazine, and ultimately led to the start of Ax. Garo and COM are now long gone, but Ax is still running. It doesn't have much of a print run, and I've never been able to find a place that carries it (not even Mandarake has back issues).

At best, the images reprinted in the Met article compare to the bottom of the barrel of what had been in Garo from the period that I've covered so far, and the review of the anthology fails to move me to buy a copy. There is an aesthetic to "manga" that non-Japanese just can not replicate, and that untrained Japanese artists miss more often than they hit. It's great that a publication like Ax exists, to give an outlet to artists that can't appear in the mainstream monthlies. But there's a reason why Ax's print run is so low.

What's really needed is an editor of Katsuichi Nagai's sensibilities, who can guide new artists into a vein that would resemble Garo Mark II. In the meantime, I'd just settle for D&Q releasing some Garo anthologies.


Xavier Guilbert said...

I'm surprised you are having that much trouble finding places that store Ax issues. Last time I was in Japan, I got the latest one from the underground Book 1st in Shibuya. I think I have seen a few back issues in the Mandarake in Shibuya too.

And I think you're a bit harsh on Ax's content -- there are more than a few diamonds in there (the Nishioka Kyodai coming to mind, among others). And the low print run is to be expected from something which is, after all, alternative manga. Even ShĂ´gakukan's IKKI has an abysmal print run, around 40,000 copies or so the last time I checked, which is just ridiculous for a Japanese manga periodical. Alternative doesn't sell much -- its worth lies elsewhere.

ridiculus said...

I think that AX print run is far lower than IKKI's, so the 40 000 copies is not bad for an alternative magazine.

'Alternative' does not have the same meaning in Japan and in the West. For example, Taiyo Matsumoto is not an 'alternative' artist at all in terms of exposure and sales (well, maybe only a couple of his works are in that category). The best example of that can be found in the interview with Kotobuki Shiriagari, which you conducted, Mr. Guilbert. Almost anyone would want for their works to be published in the 'mainstream' magazine, if given a chance.

ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ryan said...

You can get copies of AX pretty easily in Nakano--- at the Mandarake shop there, and at TACO CHE (where they also have most back issues on sale too)

A number of shops on the Chuo-sen actually carry it, including a bunch in Koenji and Kichijoji :)


TSOTE said...

Xavier - Thanks for the comments. I don't get to Shibuya much, as it's a ways out of my way (Nakano's out of the way for me as well, but there's enough stuff to do in Broadway when I get there that I don't mind as much). If the Ax back issues were in with Garo, then there's nothing there now. The Shibuya Mandarake has virtually nothing for old Garo now. I may have been a little harsh, but it's a knee jerk reaction against the reviewers in Metropolis. If I ever can find a copy of Ax, I'll review it here.

ridiculous - Thanks for the comments. Any additional info you want to give here would be appreciated.

ryan - I combed the Broadway Mandarake and found nothing there for Ax. Which floor and shop? I don't know TACO CHE. Do you have a location for it, or a URL? Thanks. Koenji and Kichioji are also not on my route. I'd need directions to a specific store.

ridiculus said...

Thank you, Tsote, but I do not live in Japan. My only sources of information are the Internet and the books I buy. But, if I find out something important, I will post it here.

But I know for sure that, in Japan, "alternativity" is not associated with visual style. If you want an example, you should look no further than Chibi Maruko-chan. So the key to the meaning of the word must be somewhere else.

By the way, this blog is one of the best English-language resources for the history of manga, especially in the '60-ies, so expect to see me more often in the future. :)

TSOTE said...

ridiculus, well, glad to have you dropping by.

Technically, I'd argue that "alternative" refers to something that you can't find in other markets. Garo originally started up as an outlet for manga artists who wanted to create manga that they themselves wanted to read (i.e. - adult stories with adult themes at a time when the main publishers only targeted younger readers). In that sense, Garo may have been "alternative", but as more publishers realized that there was a market for adult stories, what was considered "alternative" eventually turned mainstream. One reason Garo lost its appeal is that adult stories weren't "new and exciting" any more.

"Alternative" was never really about visual appearance, I think. If you look at Mizuki Shigeru, he was running in several magazines at the same time, and his style was the same in each. Talking about Chibi Maruko-chan, look at anything by Yuu Takita, Maki Sasaki or Yodogawa Sampo - the artwork there is much cruder, but it's right beside the elegant lines of Seiichi Hayashi and Sampei Shirato.

I'd argue that originally "alternative" referred to the stories and subject matter that weren't appearing in the mainstream magazines like Shonen Sunday and Shonen Magazine. Rather than constantly recycle old ideas, the Garo artists were encouraged to explore new concepts, which in turn meant that visual style mattered less, so yes, some of the stuff could be very crudely-drawn and executed, but it was the subject matter that set "alternative" apart. But with the increase in numbers of available magazines, the restrictions on what could see print mostly faded away. As I look at Franken Fran, Deadman Wonderland, Liar's Game and Doubt, I have to wonder if there is a worthwhile subject that the mainstream publishers still won't print. That is, is there really such a thing as "an alternative" artist anymore.

In Garo, we were seeing commentary on the U.S. involvement in Vietnam and Japan's use as a staging area for the war. There was a growing awareness of imbalances between social classes; conflicts between students, workers and the government; and the importance of the individual versus society. Plus the (not so) occasional potty joke. Sexual freedoms didn't show up as much as they did in western alternative comix of the day, but Seiichi played with it a bit. The question then is whether Ax is filling a modern-day need for similar subjects, such as commentary on the SDF's role in Iraq and Afghanistan, climate change, the U.S. bases in Okinawa, and Japan's inability to remain competitive globally. Since I have yet to find a copy, I can't answer that question.