Japanese Valentine

Even though I told N not to get me anything for Valentine’s day (I’m counting the kitchen update as my own Valentine’s day/anniversary/birthday present), he surprised me with a set of the English translations of Oishinbo!

I know, what a sweetie, right? I received the first volume of Oishinbo for my birthday last year and ever since then I’ve been wanting to read more.

Oishinbo is a popular, long-running Japanese cooking manga with over 100 million volumes in print. The story follows a young journalist and gourmand who has been assigned the task of creating the “Ultimate Menu,” a meal which will encompass the very essence of Japanese cuisine.

But our young hero’s father which whom he is estranged is working on creating a competing menu and they have all sorts of impassioned arguments over different aspects of Japanese cuisine.

I really enjoyed the first volume and I can’t wait to read the others. These English translations are compilations organized around a specific theme so sometimes the plot jumps around a little bit but VIZ has done a good job overall of editing the content together into an entertaining story.

They’re fun to read and when you’re finished you’ve actually learned something. If you’re interested in Japanese food at all I think you’ll like Oishinbo.

I Heart Art (& Comics): James Kochalka

I’ve enjoyed the work of James Kochalka ever since N’s brother Ken loaned us American Elf years and years ago. Back in 1998, Kochalka decided to keep a daily journal by drawing a comic a day. It seems like a project destined to peter our after a few months, but Kochalka kept at it and is still at it today.

American Elf: Volume One collects the first five years of daily comics. (Regarding the title, Kochalka draws himself as a somewhat balding, buck-toothed elf.) The comics range all over the place: some capture funny exchanges between him and his long-suffering wife Amy, some highlight a moment of beauty or wonder that stands out from the mundane, some celebrate the mundane, and some just defy description. As you would expect from the daily format, there are a few throwaway strips, but as a whole Kochalka’s work is solid and enjoyable. Kocahlka doesn’t pull many punches and so following the lives of him and his family (sons Eli and Oliver are born during the course of the project) is engrossing and charming.

Kochalka is still drawing daily comics. In addition to the first collection, volumes two and three are in print. I would recommend reading the collections; they make for quick, fun reads. But if you have time to kill at the office you can also read all of the strips online.

“But what does this have to do with art?” you might ask. Well, a couple of months ago I saw that Giant Robot was having another Post-it show. And I saw that James Kochalka was participating and that his Post-it was still available. The drawing was of his cat Spandy (frequently featured in American Elf) and was just $20 so I snapped that baby up.

I had it framed and now it hangs in our bathroom. I look at it as I’m getting ready in the morning and it makes me smile.

Reading: Scott Pilgrim Volumes 1-4

I received a lot of fun books, CDs, and DVDs for Christmas this year. I’ll try and post about things as I finish them. N. gave me volumes 1-4 of Brian Lee O’Malley’s comic series Scott Pilgrim. I just finished reading them and enjoyed them a lot. They’re a really fun read. Basically, it’s an action/romance: Scott meets his dream girl and has to fight her evil exes to win the privilege of dating her. It’s drawn in the style of Japanese manga. The narration incorporates some post-modern touches such as characters’ awareness that they’re in a comic and video game conventions (during fights characters level up and gain extra lives), etc… that work well with the story. Over all, the books are fun and sweet without being too precious.

One person who did NOT like Scott Pilgrim was N.’s grandpa. Grandpa was in town last week and stayed with us for a couple of days. I had left volume 2 on the kitchen table and one morning Grandpa started reading it over his breakfast of FiberOne.

Grandpa didn’t think that the story made a lot of sense (perhaps due to his beginning with volume 2), and he was scandalized by the book’s only love scene. I believe his exact words were “she was in her panties and he was patting her nudie bottom!”

I think it was this page he stopped at.

So, Grandpa=not a Scott Pilgrim fan. Stay tuned next week for his take on Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut!