Sunday, February 1, 2009

February is Lone Wolf and Cub Month!
Volume 1: The Assassin's Road

[NOTE: Please do not overlook the Doodle Penance post from today, "my wife is always mad when I leave town", which may be found directly following this bonus post. Thank you. --MW]

In August 2000, Dark Horse Comics began the complete reprinting of the classic manga series Lone Wolf and Cub
by writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima. The series, with flipped artwork and English translations by Dana Lewis, ran to twenty-eight volumes of about 300 pages each, for several thousand pages' worth of gripping narrative and gorgeous cartooning. This series is the only really long-form manga series I own in its entirety--my other favorite manga series, Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, is a mere thousand pages long--and I couldn't help noticing that the twenty-eight volumes match up nicely with the twenty-eight days of February...

So I would like to try to put up a few choice images and a few words about various volumes of LW&C over the next four weeks. I do not promise to get a post up about each volume or to manage one post a day. But I will do my best to provide glimpses of what made me so excited to get my monthly fix of this series as it came out like clockwork for two-and-a-third years.

I'd like to start by just praising artist Kojima for some of the touches I almost never see in Western comics, least of all the superhero comics that are probably one of the closest analogues to this tale of a ronin assassin. Take this landscape, for example:

Kojima's got his eye on classical landscape painting for that one; I've seen scenes like that on Japanese painted screens from centuries ago. (In Western comics, I've seen visual citations of that sort of art in one of Kevin Huizenga's early Supermonster minis, but one of the differences is that where Huizenga is being referential and poetic by juxtaposing such landscape scenes with text borrowed from adoption papers, Kojima is presenting a scene within a narrative, one viewed by the characters who are passing through that space.)

Kojima's also not afraid to really reveal his tools by swiping a big smear of brushy ink on the page to block out the shape of a horse's hoof:

(That's a sort of effect I first really admired in some pages by the French artist Blutch, as printed in one of the Drawn & Quarterly anthologies from a few years back. Closer to home, Craig Thompson sometimes shows off the strokes of his brush in a similarly overt yet satisfying way.)

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that this series has a heavy body count with buckets of blood, human and animal, getting spilled all kinds of ways. That can make for pretty stunning panels, however:

As seen here, Kojima's really great at lines of action within panels and across pages. Yet he can also achieve beautifully subdued effects, particularly when he's establishing a location with some choice mute panels. Check out this page from the second episode of the first volume (and note the moon, which is only about three-quarters full; what Western superhero artist would have drawn a waxing gibbous instead of a full moon or a crescent?):

In a note on page 301 of this first Dark Horse volume, Dan Harris mentions "the peaceful moments that lend a strong contrast to the extreme violence that the series indulges." Indeed, I doubt that I would enjoy this series nearly as much if it weren't so careful in the way it paces itself and modulates its tone, visually as well as narratively. That's surely owing at least in part to the outrageous premise of an assassin who travels seventeenth-century Japan in the company of a child who grows from infancy to about three years old over the course of the series. But it also owes a great deal to Kojima's range and taste as an artist.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

Well, this blogging project is a bit of a surprise—but I'm really interested to see what you'll have to say.

Since (as you know) I still haven't got around to reading past the second or third volume of Lone Wolf and Cub, and I really do want to read it some day, I hope you will make spoiler alerts if they really matter.