Art by Torajiro Kishi, from Devil #1
Isn’t it always? To your left is a panel from issue #1 of a mostly unheralded experiment in cultural interplay: Devil, a four-part, Dark Horse-published comic book miniseries created for the North American market by mangaka Torajiro Kishi and anime fandom favorite Madhouse Studios. Both entities are credited on writing and art, with Madhouse acting collectively, like in that one segment of the Batman: Gotham Knight dvd where everyone apparently had their names removed. Issue #2 is due this week, and from the looks of it I’m expecting more of the same prolix exposition and stilted dialogue — interestingly, nobody is credited with an English translation or adaptation — married to a distinctly flat visual style.
That latter aspect is what’s most interesting to me, and possibly to the creators. Kishi is best known (if at all) in North America for his full-color lesbian sex comic Maka-Maka, which picked up some good notices from Dirk Deppey (scanlated form) and Chris Mautner (2008-09 Media Blasters publication, two volumes). And while it’s tempting to observe that Kishi’s arrival on the American scene has transformed ladies kissing into smoking badasses and blazing guns and MUTANTS and VIRUSES and sperm! that makes! people! explode!, the artist himself has described the American comic book approach as “uniqueness in shadow and flattered colors,” in contrast to manga’s “detailing the lines.” Also:
I feel myself more as a creator than an artist. As a creator, I try to keep my focus on the message, and I change/adapt the style, depending the type of the story and the message… I believe that it is more important for the creator to have flexibility in his visual style in order to interpret and deliver the main theme and story of the project, rather than stick in one single style, or to try to protect some kind of ‘visual signature.’ Otherwise, I am afraid that the story itself may end up confined by my personality and patterns.
It’s worth going through the whole interview; I was especially piqued by Kishi’s decision to ensure that every issue has some conclusion to it, given that the ‘decompression’ often discussed a few years ago in collection-focused comic books seemed of a piece with action manga serialized in magazines. In necessitating rising and falling action as serving the story, in adapting his style to a ‘comic book’ approach, Kishi appears to associate broadly Western pop comics style with density, even going so far as to state that American comics are made for readers “who really want to get into the story,” which, from the tenor of the rest of his comments (and frankly the comic itself), relates visual compression with absorption – shadows and colors causing the eye to hang on the page, forcing consideration of the ‘text’ by non-writerly means.
Devil is still a pretty airy, fast-paced comic, though, and a very predictable story (so far) about a cigarette-smoking dude who doesn’t play by the rules in battling a terrible infestation turning people to monsters. As much as I appreciate Kishi’s perspective as looking in on American genre comics from probably a more visually-intensive scene overall, the experiential association I make is with the second credited author, Madhouse, which occupies a special historical place in appealing to a certain generation of anime viewers through accessible, violent works like Ninja Scroll and Wicked City, Yoshiaki Kawajiri pictures that still form the aesthetic basis for U.S.-Japan animated collaborations today — always lots of action, fantasy, even as anime in Japan becomes more and more of an ultra-specialized niche — and reflected a lot of the manga available in English translation at the time, sci-fi and shooting, often published by… Dark Horse.
In this way, the project is both up-to-the-minute and very old-fashioned, in both form and content, an every-issue-an-experience comic book comic that poses like the old anime that wagged the dog of manga. What nostalgia! What a letdown! You know who’s the target audience for this? People like me, exactly my generation of catholic nerds! I wonder if any of the Madhouse old-school are involved on that end? Like, maybe it’s Rintaro working in full script and the plot’s a huge allegory for the production of Yona Yona Penguin.
Hmm, I don’t think a lot of those last words made sense, particularly together. How about some other selections?