Manga Friday: Look! A Mammoth!
I’ve long harbored a suspicion about the “Mammoth Books” – you’re familiar with them, right? Big fat reprint anthologies, on a wide range of subjects (fiction and nonfiction, photographic and comics) published by Constable and Robinson in the UK and imported to this side of the pond by the now-defunct Carroll & Graf? – were put together somewhat on the cheap. (This was based on my encounters with their historical reprints, which I kept thinking should be called things like The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories That Are Out of Copyright.)
But this book, I hasten to say, is made up of new material, as far as I can tell. All of the works are copyrighted 2007, though the book doesn’t say where, if anywhere, any of this appeared before. Come to think of it, that’s a bit of a problem – if this is the Best New Manga, surely that’s in comparison with other manga, and implies that this stuff was previously published?
These are the kind of problems I always have with the Mammoth Books — they’re generally nice anthologies, but aren’t quite what it says they are on the tin.
OK, so here’s what I think this book is: a collection of all-new stories, in a mostly manga manner, by creators primarily from the UK. It doesn’t actually say that – the introduction, by one-named editor “Ilya,” spends most of its time burbling about how cool manga is and how wonderful the world will be once we can all manage to sell more and more copies of more manga books – but it’s the most likely scenario. (If this really is an anthology of previously published works, and those works are “manga,” then the fact that they’re nearly all British and that none of them are, oh, Japanese, becomes much more puzzling.)
As I said about the Mammoth Books – good anthologies, a nice value for the money, but don’t think about their titles too much or it will make your head hurt.
So what we have here are generally three- to twenty-page stories (though there’s one hundred-pager taking up a fifth of the book), by what all seem to be very young, often pseudonymous creators either British, resident in Britain, or having a British connection. There’s a whole lot of enthusiastic use of off-the-shelf ideas – the hundred-page story, for example, Chi-Tan’s “King of a Miniature Garden,” is a yaoi story about an amnesiac teenager and the dying girl he has to impregnate, set in an odd facility on a remote island – but not much comes together strongly.
The highlights of the book are Laura Howell’s “The Bizarre Adventures of Gilbert & Sullivan,” in which chibi versions of the Victorian opera-ka engage in much anachronistic frivolity with giant robots and so on. It’s just as second-hand and derivative as the other works in Best New Manga 2, but the stories are light-hearted, short, and they know that they’re silly little second-hand stories. (I suspect Ilya knows this, since he salts the book with three of them, at beginning, middle and end.) The supposedly serious ninja/samurai/thriller comics don’t come off as well, and the fact that some of them are from people being credited as “Rainbow Buddy” or “Stanasov” just gives the whole thing that much more of the air of a minor Internet bulletin board somewhere.
So, to sum up: these stories are decent but clearly not the best manga stories of the year. (By many definitions, they wouldn’t count as manga at all, being created in the English language mostly by Westerners and reading left-to-right.) But it is big and cheap, and folks with a higher tolerance for middle-rank adventure stories (or hundred-page yaoi yearnings in both English and Japanese) will enjoy it even more than I did.
The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga 2
Edited by Ilya
Carroll & Graf, 2007, $15.95
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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