Japan Ai: A Tall Girl's Adventures In Japan [Go! Comi; $16.99] is Aimee Major Steinberger's absolutely charming travelogue of her vacation in Japan. A professional animator and layout artist who's worked on The Simpsons, movies, and even a ride at Disney's Epcot, the author is a devotee of anime, comics, cosplay, and the lovely ball-jointed dolls made by the Volks company in Japan. She writes about the Volks dolls for Haute Doll Magazine; it's her desire to visit the Volks company that drives her and two friends to go to Japan on a "fangirl vacation."
"Ai" means "love" in Japanese and Steinberger expresses that in her delightful drawings and descriptions. Her and her friends go to shrines, theme restaurants, photo studios where customers are made up as geishas, hot springs, Japanese plays, incredible stores filled with wondrous items, and the Volks company where, thanks to Steinberger's writings, they are welcomed into the inner workings of the organization. The number and variety of things they did on their vacation is breathtaking.
Steinberger delivers plenty of laughs with her travel reports. At six feet tall, she doesn't pass through Japan without notice and her height makes for some funny episodes within her graphic novel. There's also a bit of culture clash when she and her friends go to a hot springs resort. One of her friends has a large tattoo. In Japan, such body art is pretty much an affectation of gangsters and many public baths will not allow them.
Japan Ai is entertaining, fascinating, and informative. I was utterly won over by Steinberger's cute characters and sure-handed storytelling. The book's glossary added to my knowledge of Japan and the helpful appendix directed me to dozens of websites where I learned more. It's a keeper; after reading the copy I got from my local library, I ordered one for my own library.
Posy Simmonds' Tamara Drewe [Mariner Books; $16.95] is a Brit soap opera set in/around a bucolic writers' retreat. Sort of a modern reworking of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Maddening Crowd, it originally ran as a weekly serial in The Guardian. Simmonds is a newspaper cartoonist and author/artist of children's book. This is her second graphic novel.
The title heroine is a newspaper columnist who returns to her family home after the death of her mother. Her various affairs and flirtations are a destabilizing catalyst in the lives of the tale's other characters. These include the owners of the writer's retreat - one a philandering best selling author of mystery novels and the other his enabling wife - an American professor struggling with his novel, a handyman utterly taken with Tamara, a former rock star who becomes her lover, and two teenage girls caught up in the "glamour" and intrigue going on around them.
Simmonds uses both introspective prose and traditional comic-strip-style panels to examine her characters, their concerns, and, in some cases, their downfalls. The prose is compelling and allows Simmonds to add impressive detail to her story without ever slowing it down. The story starts strong and ends in a satisfying manner. That last sealed the deal for me.
Tamara Drewe is one of the finest graphic novels of the year. It earns the full five out of five Tonys.
If you'd like the Tony Polls to return, you must make that known by casting your votes at:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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