Monday, March 14, 2011

Garo in retrospect

Now that I'm wrapping up my reviews of Garo, I'd like to take the chance to comment on my current opinions. When I first started thinking about buying Garo, my thoughts were that it was an over-hyped art magazine that people revered instead of read (kind of like with all "great" literature along the lines of the Great Gatsby and War and Peace). Every time someone in the English newspapers in Japan reviewed something translated by Drawn and Quarterly (Like Red-Colored Elegy) they'd mention Garo in reverent tones. The problem was that I'd be looking at the cover artwork and maybe a few sample pages of the title being reviewed and thinking "what a great big waste of ink". Didn't do much for giving me incentive to read Garo at all.

Naturally, as I started reading Garo on a regular basis, my opinions changed. Then we had the exhibit for the first ten years of Garo at The Center for Book Arts in New York, and this thrust the opinions of an assistant art professor (Ryan Holmberg) in front of my face. The interview on Garo with Ryan gets all artsy, and I don't agree with most of the assessments being made about the magazine during this period. Then again, I only looked at the period from July, 1966 to July, 1971, and I can't comment on anything outside this period that I didn't read.

My thoughts: Garo doesn't really have specific beginning and ending points that you can wave at and say "this is when the anti-Vietnam War era started, this is when Seiichi became anti-woman, etc.". There are waves, when other artists try to imitate the surreal works of Maki Sasaki, or the horror of Mizuki, but they overlap each other. In terms of what appealed to me most, I think I liked best the period between 1966 and 1968, specifically when Mizuki was running the Kitaro serial. During this time we had Shirato creating a balance of power in "Kamui-den", where the peasants were experiencing various successes; we had "Kitaro"; we had Kuniko Tsurita playing around in a light-hearted way trying to find her voice as a writer; and we had Yoshiharu Tsuge doing different kinds of stories. Somewhere between 1969 and 1970, Mizuki takes a break from Garo, Kamui-den turns dark and ugly, and Yoshiharo gets replaced by his brother Tadao. More artists experiment with surreal stories, and any continuity there had been from one issue to the next disappears. Shouhei stops doing Edo-era stories and goes more modern, while Ryuuichi Ikegami tries his hand at horror with limited success.

I did like it when Yuu Takita dropped his short gag strips and switched to the Terajima series, but then he too started to become less frequent and started playing around with the surreal format. By the end, between 1969 and July, 1971, Garo starts feeling like any other manga magazine at the time. I think that the gekiga concept was becoming more mainstream, and the artists that started out at Garo were finally finding other outlets to publish through. In any event, the sense of "wow, there's nothing else like this on the shelves" was strongest for me between 1966 and 1969. This is one reason why I want to set Garo aside now and move on to something else - the stories showing up from 1970 onward don't excite me anymore.

I liked:
Early Kamui-den, before the old magistrate died.
All of the Hakaba Kitaro stories.
Anything by Kuniko Tsurita.
The Terajima stories by Yuu Takita.
The first 10 stories by Shouhei Kusunoki, up to Red Water.
What little came from Manabu Ohyama.
Everything from Tamehiro Tashiro.
And most of what came from Yoshiharu Tsuge.


Would I recommend Garo? Of course. I think that anyone interested in manga history should read the first 6-7 years of the magazine. I'm not so sure I'd recommend the titles that have been commercially translated in the U.S., that originally ran in Garo, though. The people that I like the best aren't the ones getting published. I still think that titles like "Red-Colored Elegy" and "Red Snow" are over-hyped. The problem, though, is that it's getting much harder to find used issues of Garo, and unless you're living in Japan, you're pretty much going to be out of luck. If you do live here, a number of the titles have been published in collected volumes, like Kamui-den, Kitaro, and Neji-Shiki, that are still available in Japanese used from Mandarake.

As a side note, one of my favorite artists is Tori Miki, and he had several stories published through Garo in the 1980's. I picked up three more issues during this time period, and I will do two more posts containing just his stories. But, it's like the entire magazine went shojo somehow. And even the Tori Miki stories aren't that good. On the other hand, the issues from the 1980's are about 300 yen each ($4 USD). I'm not completely giving up on Garo, but I'm moving on to stuff that I like more, now.

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