Thursday 26 November 2009

Living In Oklahoma

Censorship is a parasite.

It eats away at all forms of free expression, regardless of the medium used as a conduit.

Supporters of censorship, often governments and organizations, like religious and parent groups, who volunteer as unofficial "morality police," want power and control. They may not admit it (and may not even realize it), but that's what they want.

To those people, opposing views and opinions are seen as threats. Those types of thoughts, if expressed, may evoke others to think critically. As such, the influence and power of those groups become unstable.

In the case of governments, the issue is quite "cut 'n dry" when considering places like North Korea and China, but censorship can be seen in places like Canada, too.

What the Canadian Human Rights Commission does and investigates can be seen as poster boy examples. Based on their track record, the government organization appears to be firmly opposed to freedom of expression.

In the case of religious organizations, parent groups, or other types of self-declared morality police, many examples could be mentioned. The international easy targets to bring up are certainly Islamic extremist groups, like the Taliban, but other religious groups support censorship, too.

A good example in recent years was the Danish Mohammed comic strip panel controversy. It managed to generate riots and death threats aimed at publications that printed it.

It would appear that some people couldn't take a joke.

On a more local level, remember a few months back when Marilyn Manson performed in Moncton, New Brunswick?

The public opinion pages of the local English language newspaper were loaded with letters telling readers that the singer's performance would send everyone, attending or not, to Hell.

Some people, because they popped-out children, believe that they must indirectly censor things to protect their offspring. They may not have the power to censor but are loud enough to influence politicians (or others) to do their bidding.

That's why video games have ratings preventing 16-year-olds from buying some of them.

Perhaps, the problem lies with some parents that don't know the difference between reality and fantasy?

By now, I'm sure many readers are wondering why I'm writing about such concepts and issues.

This week's book, The Complete Iron Devil, by legendary writer and illustrator Frank Thorne, contains material that was at the center of an obscenity case brought on by prosecutors with nothing better to do.

I'm not going to hide it: it's a science fiction/fantasy porn comic filled with magical and technological things - and plenty of T&A (and penises), too!

It reprints the 1990s series The Iron Devil #1 and 2, the only issues of the series. Originally, it was supposed to be a six-issue miniseries. Since the owners of an Oklahoma City comic book store were prosecuted for selling them to adults(!), Thorne released Devil's Angel#1, also reprinted, to ridicule the police department. Thorne included not only his characters but also many of the ones he worked on over the years. As an example, Red Sonja's owners granted him permission to the character at a time when Marvel was publishing her adventures.

In brief, The Complete Iron Devil is a humorous adult fantasy book with great art. However, it wouldn't be nearly as good if it weren't for the excellent Devil's Angel story, which points out the craziness of "morality police."

Final thought: It's a good thing we don't live in Oklahoma.

The Complete Iron Devil: 7/10

Publisher: Eros Comix, Inc.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2009

Tuesday 24 November 2009

For The Sake of Sake

It's an accepted fact that comic books and strips can be about anything. Food and drinks going hand-in-hand throughout the world is also an accepted fact.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that there's a comic series centered on eating and drinking.

Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, is such a comic series.

Printed almost uninterrupted in Japan as a regular feature within Big Comic Spirits since 1983, Oishinbo has had a duel function of entertaining readers while educating and informing them about food preparation.

The series' success managed to ring up sales of over 100 million copies for its numerous reprint book collections. It also spawned an animated television series and TV movies in the 1980s and 1990s.

As with most foreign comic series printed in a language other than English, Oishinbo was only available in North America as an import until earlier this year when Viz began reprinting various stories from the series.

Instead of reprinting the whole thing in a linear chronological fashion, Viz decided to group stories together based on the types of food discussed within them. As a result, many segments of the series revolving around sake have been collected in Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake.

Before continuing with an uplifting subject like sake, let's look at the main premise and characters that hold the whole series together.

Fundamental elements of the series:

The Tõzai News, one of Japan's leading newspapers, has decided to launch a regular feature celebrating national cuisine titled Ultimate Menu.

To make Ultimate Menu a reality, the newspaper hires a young journalist named Yamaoka Shirõ. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Yamaoka's father, Kaibara Yuzan, is a big shot food snob who operates a member's only restaurant named The Gourmet Club.

Having such a father has obviously helped Yamaoka with knowledge, but the two men do not get along. To make matters worse, Kaibara has been hired by Tõzai's rival Teito Times to write a series of articles under the name Supreme Menu, as direct competition against Ultimate Menu!

Sake's Plots:

Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake has six stories: The Versatility of Sake, Kusu, Love of The New, A Champagne Tragedy, A New Start and the six-part The Power of Sake. Not only do all of them have something to do with sake but they also educate the readers in traditional preparation and manufacturing practices involved in the beverage's creation. To increase realism, real brands of alcohol are used within the panels.

Although the stories are generally good, A New Start is most certainly the winner among those presented in the book. It's about an alcoholic painter who depends on his wife for financial support. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to embarrass her at work.

The Bottom Line:

As the series' second entry for Viz, Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake is as good, if not better than the first one, Japanese Cuisine.

Each volume follows a similar overall design, which features a large amount of bonus material. That content consists of notes on the text, a commentary by Tetsu Kariya, and, most importantly, a few recipes of dishes consumed by characters in the book. Those recipes in Sake are Sanshõ Kombu and Beef Short Ribs in Miso. Colour photographs accompany the recipes.

It's a perfect book for comic fans who also have an interest in food and, more importantly, Japanese culture.

Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake: 8/10

Publisher: Viz Media, LLC

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2009