14 May, 2014


Or "How I Got My Shit Together and Finally Started Reading Akira"

I started reading Akira.

More specifically, I finally started reading Akira. I might have been inspired by iFanboy's series on the show or I maybe Spex mentioned it to me one time to many. Or maybe my collective ignorance finally made me feel guilty enough to finally check the damn thing out. Maybe I just broke. You happy now?

I think the first time I ever saw this book on display was at the Virgin Records in Burbank. If you're looking to help date this: Virgin Records no longer exists. I'm fairly certain Burbank has been taken by the mole people, as well.

It wouldn't have been too long after seeing that I began my short foray into the world of anime. It's not a time I'm super proud of, but it wasn't nearly as dark as it could be. One of the reasons for this is that Akira was being re-released in theaters with a new voice acting (I didn't let the fact that Tetsou sounded exactly like one of the Digimon kids distract me. . . Mostly because I really like Digimon).

I might have seen Princess Mononoke at that point (on a VHS tape at my friend's house along with The Big Lebowski and Rushmore and, for whatever reason, Heavy Metal 2000), I was certainly aware of the medium-- but seeing Akira play out was like hearing Led Zeppelin* for the first time. It was the kind of seminal moments that you get when a work of art completely expands your horizons. It was what the medium was supposed to be. Looking at the comic book, even with it being nearly thirty years old, I realize that it still is everything the medium should be.

Akira is the first comic in a long time where I've though "Can you even do that?"

Katsuhiro Otomo does things in the comic that should be impossible to do in the medium. You see a lot of this in bad comics. You see people trying to fit too many words onto a page. You see people used to working in one medium (almost always film or prose and almost always as failed movie pitches) failing to work in the other. You see all kinds of mistakes based on a basic misunderstanding of how comic book grammar works.

As an amateur, I've caught myself doing this when I write. Most of my mistakes involve a character doing too much in a panel (like, you know, moving) or it involves a sound effect (Note: You cannot cut on a sound in a comic). It's a terrible habit and it's something easy to do if you aren't completely versed in what a comic book can and cannot do.

With Otomo what you see is a man who knows the rules and who breaks these rules whenever he feels like it, and who then gets away with it.He inverts panels, he turns them on their head, he stacks them up and cuts up their borders. He chops things up, he shifts back and forth. He hides things from the reader. This comic has dissolves-- dissolves, for God's sake! That's not a thing you can do in comics! But he is and he's getting away with it!

What's impressive, beyond the strength of the actual artwork, is how seamless it all looks when you're reading it. It doesn't read as a man showing off what he can do, it just reads as good comics. It's the kind of good that seems so simple and so obvious that I wonder why more people don't straight rip it off. At least I know why I haven't ripped this book off.

In all those decades I can't think of anybody that has done what Otomo has done. I can only think of imitators and I can only think of imitators that fall short. And, really, that's all there is. There is Akira and then there's everything else that came after Akira. It isn't only that Otomo is a master draftsman, there is something magical going on inside this book that I can't quite put my finger on.

Again, it makes me feel like an idiot for having waited this long. Don't be like me, go out and read it right now. You won't be sorry for long.

I'm two volumes into the book. I only stopped because, for whatever reason, I'm missing volume three (which means I need to drive over to Long Beach and steal that copy from my friend Alex or just break down and actually buy the damn thing). I can't wait to blaze through the rest of this book. And to finally pick up Domu, which has sat in the back of my mind for nearly two decades with the rest of my hazy memories of Dark Horse's ads. That is if I can find a copy of Domu. After that I'm going to watch the movie again. And then I'll check out Steamboy one more time. And then. . .

James Kislingbury writes comics and podcasts. You can follow him on twitter.

Actually, you should all go and see Memories. I think I wrote about it once. . . Anyways, one of the shorts in the film is directed by Otomo and you should check that out, because nobody directs rusty industrial design quite like Otomo.

*I now realize that Zeppelin is one of the most profoundly over-rated and over-played bands in all of time and space, but we were all fourteen at one point and, thankfully, we were only fourteen once.