Review of Non Non Biyori: Volume 1

I was really exited when Seven Seas Manga announced that they had licensed Non Non Biyori for an English release. I am a big fan of the show (thoroughly enjoying the currently running season 2) and had written about it in two separate blog posts (here and here).


A note on the artwork

Atto’s art style is very detailed and cutesy (or moe-ish). When compared to the anime, where background of every frame is immaculate, the character designs of the manga are more detailed. Atto has put a lot of effort in drawing the hairs. Not simplifying them in the anime adaptation would have surely shot the budget northward.

What is even more amazing is the amount of cross-hatching and screentone that has gone into most of the panels.

Look at the amount of screentone work that has gone into this full page spread.
The amount of screentone work that has gone into this full page spread is ridiculous.

Lost in translation?

While reading through the English translation, I had this feeling that the translator had a hard time choosing replacements for for the Japanese speech balloons. The translator, Jocelyn Allen, has chosen to replace certain phrases that would have been better if left as in the original. One of those phrases is Nyanpassu, which has been translated as Meowning. I guess this was taken from the Crunchyroll translation of the anime which uses Meowning as the subtitle whenever Ren-chon says Nyanpassu.

I remember that Seven Seas had made three chapters of the translated manga available online sometime in early 2014. That particular translation dropped all the honorifics. So in effect Ren-chon was reduced to just Ren. It felt truly awkward. Thankfully, in the paperback, they have decided to retain the nicknames just as is in the Japanese. In some cases, the honorifics are explained in the margins.

In my opinion, there are two particular translations that diminished the impact of the original.

The first one is the naming of Ren-chon’s pet tanuki. In the original she names it ‘Gu’, to which Natsun replies ‘What a psychedelic name!’ This is translated to the following:

Pom Poko isn't as psychedelic as 'Gu'.
Pom Poko isn’t as psychedelic as ‘Gu’!

The second one is one of Ren-chon’s songs where she sings,
Rabbit pen, rabbit pen
Let’s take care of the chickens
Let’s take care of the rabbits
Let’s groom them nice and pretty
Then put it all together and… Dynamite!
(or watch this for the excellent voice actress, Kotori Koiwai.) This has been translated to the following abomination:

No Dynamite! Really, No Dynamite!
No Dynamite! Really, No Dynamite!

We all know that Ren-chon is eccentric in her thoughts. The translator has tried hard to tone down Ren-chon’s eccentricities which I personally did not like. Everyone would agree that ‘Dynamite’ blows ‘Super Bunny’, both literally and figuratively. Luckily, a crab, whom she names Salt, retains the literal translated name in this translation.

Few final words about the volume

For most part, the manga is an enjoyable read, just like the anime. If you are a fan of the anime, you would like this manga. Barring a few cringeworthy choices during translation, it is a charming title that will surely appeal to the grown ups.

The tankobon also features a few pages of Yonkoma (four panel strips) called “Dream of a Dream”, followed by a few words (and drawings) from Atto.

This was my first Seven Seas purchase. I noticed that they have a smaller trim size and a tad bit higher price point than their competitors.

Searching for Tintin in Vietnam

Recently, I travelled through Vietnam. While I was in Hue, the cultural capital of Vietnam, a weird thought raced through my mind, “Can I get Tintin in Vietnamese?”

Before coming to Hue, I was in Ha Noi and stayed in the Old Quarters. I explored the entire place on foot but did not come across any bookshops. Also, I wasn’t actively looking for one. Instead, I was busy soaking in the amazing nightlife of Old Quarters on a weekend.

Locating a Tintin book

In Hue, right beside the Perfume River, en route to the Forbidden City, I came across a big store that belonged to PNC, a large book and stationary chain in Vietnam. I explored the aisles and found a lot of translated manga titles, most notably – Dragon Ball, Detective Conan and Doraemon. There were a few native Vietnamese titles, too.

The PNC store in Hue. A lot of popular titles like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Steig Larsson’s millennium trilogy, Rick Riordan’s Olympians saga were available as translations.
An entire aisle was dedicated to Dragon Ball. I bought the first volume in Vietnamese.
Detective Conan – Or what the English speakers would know as Case Closed.
Doraemon – It’s as famous in Vietnam as in Japan and in India! I am surprised that no Hindi publisher has taken pains to translate Doraemon mangas into Hindi.

Unable to locate any Tintin titles (the signs in Vietnamese did not help), I searched for a picture of Tintin and showed it to an employee. He instantly recognised the image and asked, “Tintin?”

I nodded my head and added, “Vietnamese.”

He disappeared and did not return for 15 minutes. I sat down to have some coffee instead (They have a nice coffee shop and a reading area). When he returned he had two books with him, The Broken Ear and The Valley of the Cobras. The latter is not a Tintin album. Yet, the publisher had put a Tintin and Snowy logo on the top left corner. I picked up the former and bought it for 17k VND – that’s less than 1 USD and less than 50 INR!

I placed the book on the floor and took a snap.

The Broken Ear / Bức Tượng Tai Vỡ

The album is published by Nhà Xuất Bản Thanh Niên which roughly translates to Youth Publishing house. The album uses a saddle stitch binding rather than the perfect binding with four signatures found in Egmont editions.

The cost cutting is most evident in the quality of paper chosen. Considering the fact that this book was published in 1996, I must compare it to a Methuen edition or its Magnet / Mammoth imprints. Although I don’t have one readily available with me, I am certain that the pages used by Methuen, even with their paperbacks were thicker than this Vietnamese edition. In fact, the pages are so thin that a line or text on page 5 is revealed through whitespace in page 3 and 4.

The thin paper with whitespace on both sides shows the content of the next to next page.
The thin paper with whitespace on both sides shows the content of the next to next page.

The editions are definitely taken from any of the earlier Hyslop English editions. The text panels have been meticulously replaced with Vietnamese text using a much more traditional method of spatula knife cuts. In speech balloons with text and sound effects, the original prints of the sound effects have been retained.

Check the circular panel. The sound effects (musical notation) of the speech balloon are retained from the original Hyslop edition.
Check the circular panel. The sound effects (musical notation) of the speech balloon are retained from the original Hyslop edition.

There are pages where offset plate misalignment for CMYK plates are visible. This wasn’t the case with the Methuen books I had read back in 1996. However, the initial run of prints from Ananda Publishers in Bengali suffered from this issue. In 1996, Ananda Publishers used a thicker paper for their print but they used the dreaded glue binding.

The misalignment of CMYK plates are most evident on this page. It is also evident that the source was not the original CMYK plates as the black lines are composed of the four colours and do not have a dedicated K plate.
The misalignment of CMYK plates are most evident on this page. It is also evident that the source was not the original CMYK plates as the black lines are composed of the four colours and do not have a dedicated K plate.

The back cover lists all the titles that were published by then. I doubt if it is easy to get them nowadays.

The catalogue of Tintin albums available at the time of its publication.
The catalogue of Tintin albums available at the time of its publication.

I was more surprised to find only one album from each of the three double albums on the list. There is Destination Moon but no Explorers on the Moon, Prisoners of the Sun but no Seven Crystal Balls and Secret of the Unicorn but no Red Rackham’s Treasure. However, a quick search at revealed that Vietnamese editions of these missing albums were indeed published.

Tintin au Vietnam

I had later visited a lot of Souvenir shops and have always come across canvas hangings, embroideries or photo prints with images like this

Even if Herge had not sent him to Vietnam, the Vietnamese people have brought him to their land.

Review of Batman Black and White: Volume 1


About the collection

“The title is simple. The talent is spectacular.” – that’s what the blurb on the volume’s back cover says. Someone couldn’t have come up with a more apt description of the book.

Batman Black & White (now retrofitted with a ‘Volume 1’ tag along its spine) is an anthology. It contains many short stories that are 6-10 pages long. In the foreword of the collected edition, Mark Chiarello, one of the editors of the series, recollects how apprehensive he was about pitching an anthology in Black & White. Luckily he got Scott Peterson on board and approached the project with a singular mindset – to get the best writers and artists. As a reviewer, who got hold of this book 20 years after it was originally published, I can only take the information Chiarello has presented in the book. The anthology collects the original four single issues.

The only colour image is on the back cover.
The only colour image is on the back cover.

The myth of Batman

Through the 20 short stories, we are not only exposed to the myth of Batman but also a writer or an artist’s interpretation of the myth. Not all of the writers belong to the fraternity of superhero comics. Some of them are indie comic book artists; and one is a famous mangaka.

There are interesting takes of Batman. In the opening story, Perpetual Mourning, the narration is replaced by Batman’s thought process, while he is busy doing the job of a detective in a morgue. This is a very traditional take on Batman – something that has been abandoned in favour of action and psychological profiling of the hero in the more recent stories. Joe Cubert does the same with his story, The Hunt. In this short, Batman plays the role of a traditional detective, trying to hunt down a serial killer.

There are a few stories where Batman or his shadow features only in a panel or two – thereby reinforcing the mythical nature of this superhero. One of the most memorable shorts utilising this mythical nature is The Devil’s Trumpet by Archie Goodwin.

Archie Goodwin sets up the myth of the devil...
Archie Goodwin sets up the myth of the devil…
...and executes it. This is the only panel in the entire story to feature Batman.
…and executes it. This is the only panel in the entire story to feature Batman.

The most interesting take was the story, A Black and White World, by Neil Gaiman. He sets up the narration as if Batman and Joker are practicing for their appearance in a comic book spread, just like a theatrical rehearsal. After the panels are laid out, they have an idle banter about how the artist had depicted them as characters. It was very meta.

Neil Gaiman uses a clever meta framing. Here we see Batman getting an awesome panel.
Neil Gaiman uses a clever meta framing. Here we see Batman getting an awesome panel.
It is followed by this banal discussion between Batman and Joker. Joker complains that the artists never give him such panels.
It is followed by this banal discussion between Batman and Joker. Joker complains that the artists never give him such panels.


The artwork is worth the price of admission alone. There are stalwarts like Bruce Timm, Klaus Janson, Brian Bolland and Brian Stelfreeze, whose art styles are so unique that I could have recognised them from afar. I was surprised to see Katsuhiro Otomo getting featured. Those who have read Akira will immediately recognise his detailed backgrounds and ruins.

I am not a big fan of dirty, sketchy lines, which is why I did not like the shorts by Kent Williams, Teddy Kristiansen or Bill Sienkiewicz.

There are artists, about whom I had never heard of before. To put it more correctly, I had never come across their works earlier. Ted McKeever is one of them. Matt Wagner is another. In the absence of colour, they use techniques like negative painting and half-tones to create unique visuals.

Matt Wagner uses halftone to create an unique effect
Matt Wagner uses halftone to create an unique effect
Ted McKeever paints the white areas on black canvas / sheet to give that jagged feel to the edges.
Ted McKeever paints the white areas on black canvas / sheet to give that jagged feel to the edges.

Should I get a copy?

If you are new to American comics, you should wait until you have read some substantial indie stuff. If you are just getting into Batman, you should wait; unless you have read a lot of indie and experimental works. In the latter case, this collection would be a perfect entry point to the mainstream story arcs. If you are a big Batman fan, chances are you already have it in your collection. Many reviewers mark this anthology as a “must own” for any Batman fan. I disagree. It has its own novelty but in no way is this collection any representative of the great Batman story arcs. It’s a good collection but not one that belongs with the other Batman collections.

Reading through Jeff Smith’s Bone: Volumes 1 & 2

Bone promises to be an epic fantasy comic in the veins of Lord of the Rings. So does the blurb say. Whether the comparison holds or not, I can only justify when I have gone through all the nine volumes.

I will be commenting on the first two volumes in this post. The rest shall be procured and commented upon in due time.

Plot covered in the first two volumes


The first book, known as Out From the Boneville, starts off in media res. The protagonist, Fone Bone, is stranded in a barren space with his two cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone. They do not have a map of the territory and do not know where go from there. We get a glimpse of Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone’s character. The former is some sort of a con guy while the latter is an idiot. Not much about the protagonist is revealed though.

Jeff Smith, the author, throws them into a dangerous scenario right at the beginning. They find a tattered map and are attacked by a swarm of locusts, which causes them to lose track of each other. Post this point, the author focuses on the individual’s journey for most part of the first book.

The author introduces many important characters. Namely, Thorn, a village lass on whom Fone Bone develops a crush; her grandmother, Rose Ben, who is a strong but old farm lady; Lucius, who is Ben’s old friend and runs a watering hole in a place called Barrelhaven, a friendly Dragon that seemed like a hallucinatory apparition; Ted, a leaf insect, who knows many things; rat creatures, who are enemies of human beings and are led by a giant rat creature called, Kingdok. I cannot comment on the degree of their importance, but by the looks of it, they seemed pretty important. Jeff Smith also introduces a hooded antagonist, who commands Kingdok. Again, I am not sure what level of boss is this hooded guy. Somewhere about halfway it is revealed that he is after one with a star on his chest, which turns out to be Phoney Bone. It is not yet clear why does he want to capture Phoney Bone.

Towards the end of the book all these characters come together at Barrelhaven, which is teeming with excitement in the anticipation of an upcoming cow race.


The second volume, The Great Cow Race, jumps right into the action. What a ridiculous action it is!

Phoney Bone, driven by his sense of greed, opens up a betting shop. His trump card is none other than Smiley Bone, who dresses up like a cow and poses as the mad, unidentified competitor that would definitely win that season. Or at least that’s what he wants the poor villagers to believe. He prompts the villagers to bet on the mad cow. That way if Smiley Bone loses, he makes a lot of money. He sets the whole thing up but his tables are overturned when Lucius places a huge bet on grandma Ben’s cows. Now, the only way to earn a profit is to let Smiley Bone, the disguised cow, win the race.

Things do not go as planned. En route, Smiley and Phoney Bone fall off the race and are chased by rat creatures, who in turn ruin the entire race.

Jeff Smith makes most of the chase sequences fun. This is one extreme end of it.
Jeff Smith makes most of the chase sequences fun. This is one extreme end of it.

There are two things that Jeff Smith intertwines in this crazy narrative. The first is Bone’s growing affection for Thorn. He even ends up writing love poems when he is not busy reading Moby Dick or helping out grandma Ben and Thorn with their chores. This feeling is not yet reciprocated by Thorn. The second thing is merely hinted at – the importance of dreams. There is one segment where Thorn has a weird dream about taking shelter in a cave full Dragons. She concludes that the events must have been from her childhood and the tattered map that the Bones had found was drawn by her. It was a map of the Dragon’s Den.

The books do well to incite questions in the reader’s mind

Both the books serve as the foundation of something epic. Even if there are no epic battles or elaborate plots, the lack of backstories of any of these characters makes it even more interesting. I was constantly forced to think – “Who are these guys? What do they want?”

While the first volume introduces many characters, they aren’t properly explained even till the end of volume two. As a reader, I had hardly known anything about anybody. I had a fair idea about the kind of people the Bone cousins were. The same is not true for any of the other characters. Jeff Smith kept the story together and, at the very least, kept the introduction of new characters in a well paced, linear fashion.

I had a faint sensation that both grandma Ben and Lucius know more than most people. What is this knowledge, why is it hidden – these are the kind of answers I would expect from the subsequent volumes.

Artwork and Presentation

The artwork is not consistent in the first volume. Taking into consideration that Jeff Smith wrote the series in a span of 14 years, the level of consistency he brought to the books was well beyond my expectation. The depiction of the characters becomes more structured and matured as the series progresses into volume 2. Also, the lines are more articulated and thinner.

Bone-1-end The quality of illustration improves as we move from beginning towards the end of volume 1.

Allow me to also comment on the brilliant panelling and pacing of the story. I know it is too early to judge from the first two volumes. Yet, there are sections involving chase sequences and visual gags that was depicted masterfully.

Visual gags like this are scattered throughout the books. They ease the otherwise heavy plot.

The original release was in Black and White. The volumes I own are colour editions published by Scholastic. The colouring was done by Steve Hamaker. I haven’t seen the B&W edition but as of today, it is competitively priced if you want to get it in India. The production of this B&W edition, published by Cartoon Books, suffer from ink bleed through thin pages, as evident from the image below as well as the reviews on Amazon.

I would have to disagree with Seth T. Hahne of GoodOkBad regarding the colour edition. I liked the colour edition a lot. I am not challenging his opinion either. I know that B&W artwork can have a different level of impact altogether. It all boils down to which version you have read first. The first impression of a work creates a positive bias towards itself.

A page from the Black & White edition of Bone.
A page from the Black & White edition of Bone.
Same page in the coloured edition.
Same page in the coloured edition.

I loved the fact that the lettering was done by hand – possibly by Jeff Smith himself. The variation of line thickness and font allowed me to reenact the vocalisations in my head pretty easily.

I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of the series.

My impressions on Attack on Titan manga (from Volume 1)

How I ended up buying the volume

The cover of volume 1. The tapes are part of a transparent dust jacket that I always put on my comic books.
The cover of volume 1. The tapes are part of a transparent dust jacket that I always put on my comic books.

I had watched the show, when it aired in 2013. The anime was amazing. Great cinematography, great music, good story and unlike anything that was being aired during that time. I knew that the anime was pretty faithful to the manga. Last week, I accidentally came across a copy of the first volume online that was available with the seller and was offered at a huge discount. I must point it out that most Kodansha titles are not distributed in India. A few titles, like Akira, are distributed by Random House but most current serialisations have to be imported (a lot of sellers do that).

A bit more cinematic non-linear approach than the anime

The manga volume contains the first four chapters of the series. It uses two backwards jumps in narrative timeline to expose backstories. I don’t exactly remember how the anime had tackled the flashbacks and backstories. However, in the manga, the opening itself starts off with a backstory – about the day the human race was attacked by titans – and then goes for a flashback exposing the scenario in which the titans broke the outer wall and devoured human beings. The other flashback is triggered when the wall is breached for the second time within a span of five years. It is set during the time where our protagonists are receiving military training regarding the usage of the vertical manoeuvring device. This is essentially to let the readers know how the military use these ingenious devices to counter the titans.

The story itself is pretty interesting – especially for a shonen manga. Titans, or giants, who look somewhat like disproportionate humans, attack the only settlement of humans. The humans have built three, concentric, 50m tall walls to protect themselves. The military has trained personnel who are taught to protect the humans and fight the titans if ever there was a breach of security. The worst nightmare comes true – after 107 years of peace, one colossal titan manages to break the wall. That day humanity learns a lesson – that they are merely caged animals.

Hajime Isayama's full page spreads are very impressive.
Hajime Isayama’s full page spreads are very impressive.

If it was aimed at matured audiences, the story would have been pretty run-off-the-mill dystopian fantasy. Since it is a shonen title, it has plenty of action sequences to keep the kids happy. There is a severe lack of humour. Maybe, it is good that the author has kept it dry. However, it is a tad bit too dry for my taste.

The artwork leaves a lot to be desired

The anime visuals were top notch. It is not true for the manga. The artwork is sketchy and non-cartoonishly disproportionate. If it was not for the compelling storyline, I would have not read it beyond the first chapter. At times, it is difficult to understand what the characters’ expressions are. This sketchy artwork works wonders for depicting the titans but fails miserably when it comes to the depiction of human beings. There were panels where the ick-o-meter in my head was about to explode.

The human figures are distorted and disproportionate, much like the titans.
The human figures are distorted and disproportionate, much like the titans.
Eren has the same expression for nearly 80% of the panels he gets featured in.
Eren has the same expression for nearly 80% of the panels he gets featured in.
The action sequences might be hard to follow but the artwork style is apt for such sequences.
The action sequences might be hard to follow but the artwork style is apt for such sequences.

A quick run-through of reviews on Goodreads revealed that I wasn’t the only one who had issues with the art style.

Not the same as the Japanese tankobon

The Japanese tankobon has the name (manga storyboard) of the pilot episode as an extra. The English volume has an interview with Hajime Isayama and a few pages of preview of volume 2. Kodansha has translated and published the pilot name but you will have to buy the official guidebook released by the publisher.

In conclusion

It is not like I did not like the manga. I have a slight bias towards the print medium. However, the artwork had constantly put me off during my reads and re-reads. The volume ends in a nice cliffhanger. This may compel many to go out and buy the next volume. I am not sure if I will buy the next volume. This is one rare case where I feel that the anime has surpassed the manga. I don’t collect anime DVDs or Blu-Rays. If you are a collector on a budget, I would suggest that you invest in the anime rather than the manga.

The anime does a lot to clear up the scratchiness of the artwork of manga. Also, the backgrounds have got more attention from the animators than the mangaka.
The anime does a lot to clear up the scratchiness of the artwork of manga. Also, the backgrounds have got more attention from the animators than the mangaka.

Land of Black Gold: A Tintin book that was not meant to be

A sketchy album

Of all the albums of Tintin, Land of Black Gold remains the sketchiest book in my opinion. When I was a kid, I read this in Bengali and never got my head around many things that were happening in the story. I enjoyed the parts where the Thompsons were lost in the desert and the most of the second half where Tintin invades Dr. Muller’s stronghold and confronts the gang. It was not until my early 20s that I found out why the story is so scratchy in the first place.


It turns out that there are four versions of this album. The first one, published in Le Petit Vingtième from 1939, was in black and white. This serialisation began immediately after the serialisation of King Ottokar’s Sceptre.

Le Petit Vingtieme full page spreads.

After the folding of Le Vingtième Siècle due to Germans invading Belgium, the serialisation of this album ceased. Seialisation was later resumed in other magazines in France, including Tintin et Milou. The title was also changed to Tintin and Snowy in the Land of Liquid Gold.

Some of these cartridges are still available in the market. One might have to pay a lot to get a hold of these.
Some of these cartridges are still available in the market. One might have to pay a lot to get a hold of these.

The second version appeared about ten years later in Tintin Magazine. The official publication year of the album is quoted as 1950. This corresponds to its appearance in Tintin Magazine. By this time, a lot had changed in Tintin’s own world. New characters like Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus had become an integral part of Tintin. Tintin himself had become more of an explorer rather than a political reporter. Hergé made quite a few changes in the opening panels. One notable running gag is the failed explanation of the absence of Captain Haddock. The captain himself is unable to explain the scenario as he gets interrupted by various silly situations.

The upgrade didn’t detach Tintin from political background completely. The story was set in Palestine and the troops depicted were British. A section where Tintin is kidnapped by Irgun was completely omitted. Most of the Arabic and Hebrew scripts in this edition did not make sense.

Comparison of 1950 ans 1971 edition. In the 1950 edition, the troops depicted are British while in 1971 edition, the country is a fictional one with its own police force. There is a depiction of a Jewish merchant in 1950 edition, as well.
Comparison of 1950 ans 1971 edition. In the 1950 edition, the troops depicted are British while in 1971 edition, the country is a fictional one with its own police force. There is a depiction of Irgun in 1950 edition, as well.

The third version is an edited version of the second and was published as a book. This version can still be procured. Casterman had released a facsimile edition of this version in 2004. I doubt if this facsimile edition has been translated to English.

The fourth version, or the one that can be easily bought, came to be during the translation of this album to English. Many political arrangements that did not make sense in 1950, like the British Palestine, were replaced with fictional stuff – for example, the fictional state of Khemed. Many errors in foreign scripts were also corrected. A catalogue of these panels can be found here.

The hiccups of a patched story

The story revolves around Tintin investigating adulterated petrol. The usage of this petrol causes explosion in the device that consumes the petrol. The petrol doesn’t even spare simpler devices like lighters. Tintin’s quest for the truth lands him up on a ship called Speedol Star. This vessel transports their brand of petrol, Speedol Spirit, from Khemed. To his ill luck, he is captured a prisoner by the Khemed police and then by Bab El Ehr.

Khemed is like a war zone. A petroleum company, Skoil, wants the oil concessions in Khemedite Arabia and drive the established company, Arabex, out of market. To do so, Skoil joins hands with Bab El Ehr, the nemesis of amir of Khemed, Mohammad Ben Kalish Ezab. Bab El Ehr wants power, while Skoil wants the concession.

Tintin is captured and taken to Khemed because of documents that were planted in his room that showed his involvement with Bab El Ehr. Bab El Ehr rescues him, assuming him to be his ally. When he finds out Tintin to be no one’s ally, he takes him as his prisoner. Tintin is released and left for dead when he passes out of exhaustion and dehydration. He witness an attack on the oil lines and discovers the mastermind and the owner of Skoil. He is none other than Professor Muller from The Black Island.

In the album, the first half is densely packed with events – a hallmark of earlier Tintin albums. There are also quite a few panels devoted to the Thompsons and their antics. I found their misadventures in the desert quite funny. They end up rescuing Tintin from the desert.

Wow! A tank of petrol? In the desert? This is divine luck.
Wow! A tank of petrol? In the desert? This is divine luck.

The second half is more action oriented. Muller kidnaps amir’s son, Abdullah, and threatens him. Tintin, with the help of Oliviera de Figuera, invades Muller’s stronghold to rescue Abdullah. The pacing and the narrative is more reminiscent of Hergé’s later albums, like Prisoners of the Sun.

Captain Haddock finally manages to show up on page 52.
Captain Haddock finally manages to show up on page 54.

A tale of two storytellers

Indeed, the time-skip between the authoring of the first half and second half contributes a lot to issues like inconsistency of flow, Tintin’s conflicts and the sense of humour present in first half of the book is different than those in the second half.

What starts out as a political conspiracy, ends in a very personal fight between Tintin and the antagonist, Prof. Mueller. It is well known that Hergé created Tintin with a different moral and ethical compass after the war. It shows. The cause may not be immediately apparent to a kid reading Tintin for the first time like it was with me when I laid my hands on the Bengali edition of this book.

Over the years Hergé had become more tolerant and considerate towards other ethnic groups and cultures. As such Land of Black Gold remains a tad bit offensive in nature – mostly because of the contribution of the prejudiced Hergé of the 1940s.

This entire page might be offensive to Muslims. Even the updated 70s version couldn't get rid of many such offensive panels present in the first half of the story.
This entire page might be offensive to Muslims. Even the updated 70s version couldn’t get rid of many such offensive panels present in the first half of the story.

A final word about this book

Land of Black Gold remains a strange album in the Tintin catalogue. To a person who is getting into Tintin, this might still remain an enjoyable album. To a person who has already read its chronological neighbours – the Inca saga and the moon saga, it would be hard to get a grip on the narrative. To a hardcore Tintinologist, this is a book that sparks debate.

The book has a very enjoyable second half. Abdullah, as a colourful character, injects a lot of humour in an otherwise dry story. Also, most jokes in the latter half are at the expense of the main characters rather than through the depiction of an ethnic group.

Reading through Amruta Patil’s cynical Kari

Last weekend, I came across a used copy of Kari. I had bought her later work, Adi Parva, about an year ago. When I saw the book for dirt cheap price, I couldn’t help myself from buying it.

2015-02-25 18.57.24

The story

Kari is a narrative set in the same visceral Mumbai that played the backdrop to one of my recent favourites – Mumbai Confidential. There is a difference though. Unlike Mumbai Confidential, Kari is very introspective in nature and the backdrop forms a minor part of the narrative, albeit an important one.

The story follows the coming to terms with the realities of heartbreak by our protagonist, Kari, a lesbian who is in love with another woman, Ruth. Following a failed attempt at double suicide, where both of them were saved – Kari by sewer and Ruth by a building net, they part ways. What follows is Kari’s attempt at healing herself and accepting who she is.

2015-02-25 18.44.29
Ruth and Kari.


I wasn’t too sure about this but it appeared to me that Kari is uncomfortable in accepting her own sexual orientation as much as the people around her.

Kari compares herself to a boatman, someone who learns to row clean through the darkest water. The narrative itself covers a few facets of her life where she manages to come clean in her own terms. The narrative is broken down into short fragments of introspective, cynical monologue and two major events that occur in her life. The first being her trials and tribulations while working on an advertisement campaign and the other being her growing affection towards an even more cynical, dying girl, Angel. The story ends with Angel leaving this world in a neat and predictable fashion and Kari winning an award for her advertisement campaign. By the end of the book, we see a different Kari – one with shorter hair, a bit more confident and not interested in jumping off a building.

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A proper lesbian?


The images

Amruta Patil uses a lot of mixed media to get her points across. There are at least three distinct paneling styles – collage + acrylic, bold outlines with pastel like shading (and its variant in grayscale) and scribbling using a thin pen. I am unsure as to what each of them represent. Most of the scenes that give some closure have been drawn using the last medium.

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Stylistically, the illustrations belong to the modern era of Western European comics, in particular Franco-Belgian comics.
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Different mediums are used for panels on the same page. I am unsure of their significance.
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These collages have become trademark of Amruta Patil’s work; but this is where it all began.


There are one off panels that have a tad bit different vibe as compared to the aforementioned three types. I am unsure of their significance – or for that matter, if they even have one.

To be continued?

This was the biggest curve ball of the book. The final page says “To be continued”. In my opinion, the narrative was self contained and ends in an optimistic note. I am not sure if that phrase refers to Kari’s life or implies some sort of a sequel. I hope it is the former. I would hate to read a sequel.

In conclusion, Kari is a good read. It is one of the experiments that modern reader of graphic novels have been exposed to in recent times. The lack of traditional paneling and intertwining of prose with images has become Amruta Patil’s forte. This is evident in her later work, Adi Parva. However, this is where the experiment had started.

CN Remix: A good intent ruined by (possibly) the worst presentation

So far, PepperScript has released two books in their CN Remix lineup, each containing three stories, based on the “Cartoon Cartoons” shows. I was a kid in the 90s and thoroughly enjoyed these shows. As an avid comics / manga collector, it felt good that some Indian publisher was licensing the comic strips. Hoping a nice nostalgia tour, I ordered these remixes.

When I opened the books, visually, it was a nightmare for me. Let me clarify. These are not reprints of the official comic strips published by DC (and the occasional one-shots by IDW). Instead, these are screengrabs of TV episodes with word balloons and onomatopoeia inserted.

The covers are pristine and hide the horrors well. This is a high-res scan, click on it to see the details.
The covers are pristine and hide the horrors well. This is a high-res scan, click on it to see the details.

The episodes that have been presented in comics format are:
Volume 1:
Dexter’s Laboratory: The Big Sister (from the pilot)
The Powerpuff Girls: Monkey See, Doggie Do (season 1, episode 1)
Johnny Bravo: Over the Hump! (season 1, episode 5)
Volume 2:
Courage the Cowardly Dog: The Demon in the Mattress (season 1, episode 4)
Ed, Edd & Eddy: A Pinch to Grow an Ed (season 1, episode 3)
The Powerpuff Girls: Mommy Fearest (season 1, episode 1)

The sources are questionable. They have definitely not been screengrabbed from official DVD releases. The sources were of poor resolution and were heavily compressed. JPEG artifacts ruin the entire presentation. I can’t stress this enough. It is not subtle. A horribly poor attempt has been made to upscale the images and use standard de-noise and sharpen filters found in an image editing software. I am certain that the Ed, Edd & Eddy segment was taken from some TVRip found online. In some wider shots, one can clearly make out that the CN logo of Cartoon Network was removed using clone and blur tools.

Almost all panels have a disturbing criss-cross hatch. In my opinion, it is to mask the JPEG artifacts.
Almost all panels have a disturbing criss-cross hatch. In my opinion, it is to mask the JPEG artifacts. This is a high-res scan, click on it to see the details.

Also, segments of the original episodes are trimmed. I can understand the necessity to fit a story within the allotted pages. However, at times the outcome of an action is not as clear as it should be and causes minor continuity issues. Then again, this will be the least of readers’ problems. I believe any reader will be busy pondering why the images are that bad.

The colours are distorted and the lines aren’t sharp. This is a high-res scan, click on it to see the details.
A 600dpi, unscaled section of the above image. The problems with the source material are clearly visible.

I don’t get the point of releasing something like this unless it is presented in a format that would appeal a collector. Kids today are more attracted to what is being fed to them on the TV and would not want “Cartoon Cartoons” stuff (which I think is way superior to what airs on TV these days). On the other hand, the people who will be inclined to buy this product are in their 30s and would prefer a better product even if the price point is a tad bit higher.

After all the harshness, I have to put a good word here.

The guys at PepperScript are doing a commendable job in at least attempting to bring comics in some form to the modern Indian audience [read here]. I wish them all the success. They have a long way to go, though, and it isn’t that easy.

Tintin in America: The black and white facsimile edition

Just like the two volumes of Tintin in Orient, there is a B&W facsimile edition of Tintin in America. Last month I managed to get my hands on one of the copies.

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Chronologically, Tintin in America came much earlier than Cigars of the Pharaoh or The Blue Lotus. This was the time when Tintin as a character was still going through many changes. Hergé himself had not established the character.

As a story, Tintin in America more or less follows the blueprint of its predecessor, Tintin in the Land of Soviets. Hergé mercilessly throws Tintin into the weirdest of situations and acts as Deus ex Machina to rescue him few panels or pages later. The prohibition era America is caricatured in this album, when drug mafia ruled Chicago, the Red Indians were forced away from their habitat, the poor labours weren’t happy with the wealthy and the wealthy themselves went around snatching any oil wells discovered. Each scenario possessed a new threat to Tintin. In fact, real life figures like Al Capone makes a cameo. For the general unification of these disjoint scenes, Hergé introduced a meta-villain, Bobby Smiles, shrewd enough to manipulate the mafia, the Red Indians and the  wealthy.

Panels of Tintin in America are hardly altered

Cigars of the Pharaoh was slightly altered in the colour upgrade in order to match the tone of the later albums. The Blue Lotus did not need such an upgrade since Hergé’s storytelling had already evolved. In comparison, Tintin in America had almost no upgrade, albeit for a different reason than its successor, The Blue Lotus. Upgrading it would have required a complete overhaul of the story. I guess, Herge did not even attempt a colour version of Soviets for this exact reason. The colour version is nearly exact panel to panel transformation of the black and white version. There are a few design changes and some alterations in the names. Other than that, there aren’t any remarkable changes.


Racial censorship forced Hergé to alter a lot of panels in his upgraded colour albums. Tintin in America is no exception. The number of such altered panels in this story is surprisingly very less.


Like the other volumes in the series, this book is set in Comic Sans. Personally, I detest that font. It is one of the worst kerned fonts that exist in the popular pool of fonts. This was published by Casterman and they could have easily used the digital font based on Herge’s handwriting as used by Egmont.

Full panel spreads


The original four-colour, full-page spreads are kept intact. The style of these panels are close to the panels that would become a staple of books emerging out of Studio Herge. Sadly, barring a few full page panels in The Crab with Golden Claws and one blueprint in Destination Moon, the later books completely omitted this full page cinematic experience.

My childhood with Tintin kickstarted here

The Bengali translation of the coloured edition was my first Tintin book. Even though as an adult, the story doesn’t make sense, this book holds a lot of nostalgic memories. As a kid, I enjoyed the coloured edition and I guess, a kid today would be able to enjoy it as well.

The black and white edition, on the other hand, is strictly for the collectors.

Naruto comes to an end. (Thank you Kishimoto sensei)

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My history with the manga (and anime)

The first mainstream manga that I had ever picked up was Naruto. Back then there were no foreign book distributors in India. I got the first four volumes and I really liked the vibe of the manga. The volumes were expensive (they still are), so I resorted to reading scanlations. Still, I saved up for buying anywhere between 3-5 volumes at a time. The shipping cost was usually wavered in that case. Viz did an incredible job of printing crisp blacks and gray-scale screen tones and the feel of a printed volume was far superior to reading badly translated chapters[1]. Viz had also preserved the right to left orientation of the original. Now-a-days this is the norm, but back then most English manga publishers were mirroring the artwork to “suit” the western taste[2].

It was only a matter of time that I drifted to the anime. The production was incredibly good. If you want to feel the adrenalin and emotions, look no beyond the Chunin arc. To top it off, the soundtrack of original Naruto series was amazing. Somewhere at about 120th episode, the canon fodder was over and we had these fillers that I absolutely hated. The aftertaste of the fillers were so bad that I have not watched any filler (barring Chikara mini-movie) from Naruto: Shippudden.

Battles for kids and adults

There were shonen battles that a kid could enjoy, and then there were those moments of raw emotion and unobtrusive clarity that would resonate with a grown up viewer like me. I am quite sure that Naruto printed manga in English is bought majorly by people who are way past their 20s.

As time progressed, the grown ups were invited into the real world. One that functions beyond the physical battle. Here are some of my favorite moments –

  • Shikamaru’s battles  – Temari during Chunin Exams, Tayuya during Sasuke’s retrival and his revenge with Kakuzu and Hidan.
  • Naruto vs Sasuke. The first fight at the waterfall is amazingly portrayed. The last fight was very well executed. There was something very cinematic about the way the fight ends.
  • All Itachi moments, especially the ones involving Sasuske. In my opinion, he was the best character of the entire series.
  • The Pain Arc in its entirety. It had some of the best character development and the best talk no jutsu. Also, Jiraya was killed, leading to a major twist in the plot.
  • Naruto reunion with his father and mother. We all speculated that he was the son of The Fourth but the way Minato makes an entry, I literally clapped while reading that part. Later, during the Pain arc, when Naruto meets his mother, it was one of the most emotional moments in the entire saga.

For the last 15 years, Kishimoto sensei has worked hard to give us the best evolution of a naughty kid since Dragonball[3].

Epilogue: NaruHina is canon

I have rooted for this pair for a long time. Simply because a loudmouth and a sophisticated+silent types make a better combo[4]. During the Chunin Exams arc, Hinata stole the panels that she was in. She was one of my favourite supporting character. Kishimoto sensei gave it away on the cover of volume 64 [Watch this link: This rant was speculative back then].


We know what Boruto and Himawari are like from the final chapter.

SasuSaku is also canon

This is a pairing that I have an “ick” about. I hope The Last movie puts some good effort in building this relationship. In the final pairings, I really liked Shikamaru and Temari’s one. Their kid looks exactly like Shikamaru and I am quite sure that he possesses great intellect (and he has inherited his father’s laziness). The rest, I did not care about much. I was saddened to see Temari’s dwindling business though.

Asuma and Kurenai’s kid had the best character amongst the newer generation. She seems so sensible and grown up.

There is cannon fodder left


Officially, The Last movie is a part of the canon. It fills up the gap between the penultimate and the final chapter. Kishimoto sensei has mentioned that it is a love story at its core. I can’t wait for it to be released. Sadly, I will have to watch it on some kaizoku channel as there are no distributors of anime in India. And unlike the printed manga, anime DVDs and BRs are not region free.


  1. That was before Mangastream. They are one of the best scanlating groups. Their notes are meticulous. Even for the last two chapters, I waited for their scanlations although Mangapanda had already upped their scanlations.
  2. Even today, some of the reprints like Akira and Lone Wolf and Cub have flipped English versions.
  3. One Piece doesn’t count. Luffy is already 17 when he begins the adventure. He is technically a grown up with a kid’s brain. On another note, Oda sensei and Kishimoto sensei are rivals and friends. The opening page of Chapter 766 of One Piece (the one released with Naruto finale) is a Naruto tribute (Heck, there is Naruto eating Luffy’s meat and Luffy eating Naruto’s ramen).
  4. NaruSasu would have fitted the bill as well but we all knew that Kishimoto sensei wouldn’t go that way.

Thank you Masashi Kishimoto sensei for the last 15 years.


This is a shout-out from one of your eternal fans. I still have 32 more volumes to buy.