Last year in Angouleme, on IMHO‘s booth, I was lucky enough to chat a little with misses Tezuka Noriko, a short and motherly Japanese lady, who was attending because of the invitation of both Nakano Shizuka (for Le Piqueur d’étoile) and Shiriagari Kotobuki, who was prominently featured with (among other things) an exhibit at the Hôtel Saint-Simon. Even if our discussion was polite and friendly, I must confess I have some regrets today about having spent so little time with a person who, thanks to her carrier, has without doubt an unique view on Japanese alternative comics.
Joining Seirindô (publisher of the famous Garo magazine) in 1979, she joins the administrative board in 1995, but in 1997 leaves the then-declining magazine with many authors following in her wake, to found publisher Seirinkogeisha and launch Ax, a bi-monthly magazine with represents today a rather unique creation space in the Japanese comics landscape.
With Ax come 350 dense pages, published every other month in a thick little format. Included are between twenty to thirty comics contribution, completed with some in-depth articles, of course printed in a size 6 font — like this very detailed “post-war erotic manga history” which has already ( !) reached its 42nd part, or this music column with the incredible name : “the musical anus of the little poodle”, and in French please. And to conclude, the reader will find the “Ax Files Dx” in the last part of the volume, an all-around chronicle of books, concerts, manga or movies, as long as they are more or less related to alternative culture.
To each reader will incomb the task of finding things of interest, of trying this or that author — a discovery process encouraged by the important renewal of the cast from one issue to the next, with about ten newcomers completing the fifteen or so recurring stories. With this rich and varied offering, one can easily pass without remorse over the less engaging pages — in my case, Shimata Toranosuke’s Toroimerai, an author already present in the second version of Garo, but while I like his drawing style reminiscent of wood engravings, his surnatural tales progress at a snail’s pace ; Saitô Yûnosuke’s stories fascinated by huge bodies in general and their nether regions in particular, showing Lilliputians faced with a well-endowed Gulliver, of which I just don’t see the point ; or Mitsumoto Yoshiharu, whose drawing style remains an obstacle for me, more “heta” than “uma” and this, despite its status of Garo veteran and his 1992 Chiba Tetsuya award. And I’m still puzzled about why each Ax volume concludes with the absurd, ugly and/or lewd “Kappa Bros.” double-page…
So indeed, Ax is an offering for all tastes and genres, and rather than diving into an exhaustive catalogue of the featured author, let me, reader my friend, reader my love, make a quick roundup of my discoveries and surprises over the issues 50 to 52, in all subjectivity.
We kick off with Hidenosuke’s Home Drama Sugarawake (recurring, already in its 8th episode) — a slightly trembling line which reminds me of Matsumoto Taiyô, but with a fascination for a kind of “ordinary monstruosity” that evokes the work of Charles Burns or some sequences of Daniel Clowes’. Acerb and frightening.
A complete change of mood and style with Minami Shinbô’s Robo & Pyu-ta, who distills little scenes with two robots (the characters of the title), father and son, for a discovery of the world through a kid’s eyes. It’s both simple and touching, a small treat with a minimalist style not very far from John Porcellino.
In a similarly poetic vein, Fujimiya Fuhito chooses the very raw and tactile aspect of scratchboard for his Yoru wo Yuku. Short stories with an oniric touch to them, following the footsteps of a humanoid cat who enjoys strolling in the city streets during moonless nights. A beautiful invitation to dreaming and promenade.
Finally, Kizu-guchi is another short story from Urodom Todome — as usual mostly silent, featuring his ugly-doll style recurring character, with thick hair, jeans and t-shirt. And, in the exploration of a recurring theme, the questionning of the real nature of this character, with in the background, a reflexion on identity.
Ax issue number 52 also sees the return of the Nishioka Kyôdai with Kyûsai no Hi, another story revolving around birth and paternity. As in their previous works (such as Kokoro no Kanashimi), the drawing style is carefully crafted to the point it becomes abstract and distant, displaying characters frightened by what their human nature requires of themselves.
Also of note, the sensual and violent story by Agarie (The Faceless Man Ningyô no Ie), or the “ero-guro” universe of Hagiwara Toshio (Keisetsu), whose line is reminiscent of Egon Schiele for the emaciated bodies, and Stéphane Blanquet for the bulging stares.
- Founded in 1964, Garo had seen its circulation soar to 80,000 copies in 1966 — but the conclusion of Shirato Sanpei’s Kamui-den in 1971 (the emblematic series for which the magazine had been launched in the first place) sounded the beginning of the end. During the 80s, Garo‘s circulation was down to 3,000 copies, and the acquisition of Seirindô by computer-focused publisher Zeit in 1990 didn’t help much. After an aborted Internet project, Garo suspended its publication for a first time with its 8th 1997 issue, before a short-lived revival between 2000 and 2002.
- “Heta-uma” : “clumsy-skilled”.
- The name retranscriptions are given here as indications, as some readings are often less than obvious. The exact Japanese “spelling” can be found on Ax‘ official site, which lists the complete author roster for all issues.