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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jim Hanley's LGBT Pride in Pix and Panels.

NEW YORK, June 27 – Jim Hanley's Universe (4 West 33rd Street) hosted a long afternoon of events celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transsexual (LGBT) in the comic book industry. It was scheduled to coincide with the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. Erica Friedman, the President of Yuricon and ALC Publishing, moderated the panels.

Panelist included: Tony Arena, Amy Colburn, Foxy Andy, Rica Takashima, Abby Denson, Jennifer Camper, Steve MacIsaac, JD Glass, Allan Neuwirth, Ivan Velez, José Villarubia and others.

The panel covered many important issues challenging comic book creators and publishers.

Selling Out

One of the most interesting topics addressed is artistic freedom versus commercialism. Some of the panelists talked about their experiences with working for either Marvel or DC Comics. They addressed the corporate mind set and the commercial aspects that require hard time lines, high quality product output, and editorial controls.

Some audience members tried to frame the discussion as a big corporation versus the struggling artist argument (“creative freedom versus editorial decisions”). Some of the panelists tried to stem the argument. They put the issue into the greater context of market realities and the costs of production (printing, marketing, and employees). They further tried to dispel any notions that “business” is inherently evil. Villarubia insists that business a tool or vehicle to help sell and distribute comics to a wider audience regardless of the publishing type.

Independent Publishing and LGBT

Many of the panelists have vast amounts of experience in self-published comics and independent comics. They emphasized the guerilla tactic of “picking your battles”. Attending several smaller comic book conventions might be a better strategy than going to a few larger ones. They also pushed the idea of self-promotion and marketing as one of the key pillars to small run publishing.

The panel also addressed the difficulties of LGBT titles and books in the mainstream comic book market. They humorously discussed the “running away” phenomenon at conventions. Many straight people are attracted to tables with LGBT books because of the art or the title of the book. When they discover the book is a LGBT work, they usually drop the book and run away. Friedman witnessed the same “running away” behavior at Comiket (コミケット) in Japan and the New York Comic Book Convention (NYCC).

Rica Takashima

Overall, the panel encouraged engaging debate and discussion. Erica Friedman’s knowledgeable input and frank manner helped to guide the panel and the audience through a vast array of topics concerning LGBT comic book creators and independent publishing.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

NYAFF09: A Bloody Samurai Zombie Mistake

NEW YORK, June 26 – I was completely stoked about going to see Vampire Girl Versus Frankenstein Girl (吸血少女対少女フランケン) with some friends. I bought tickets online, but there was a bit of a mix-up at the IFC Center Box Office (323 Sixth Avenue). Apparently, if you purchase a “10-PACK” online for the New York Asian Film Festival, you have visit the box office and declare that you want tickets for a particular movie. Now under the online purchase page for Vampire Girl Versus Frankenstein Girl, you see these options:

There are no notes or warnings about requiring the customer to declare a ticket preference. I assumed that they were all for Vampire Girl Versus Frankenstein Girl. I checked the day prior to the screening about getting my tickets early, and the IFC Center employee said to wait until the day of the screening. I show up to the day of the screening, and I can’t get my tickets. They're sold out.

The employee behind the glass pointed at a black-and-white piece of paper that was taped to the glass. It states the fine print which requires 10-PACK customer to declare the particular movie and number of tickets desired.

Now, my receipt said “Vampire Girl Versus Frankenstein Girl” followed by the description “10-PACK”. The manager eventually offered a refund, and I was thoroughly pissed. I asked my friends Tim, Frank, and Jerette if they wanted to see the next movie, Yoroi: Samurai Zombie (鎧 サムライゾンビ). They agreed, and we decide to watch the next film.

Yoroi: Samurai Zombie is freakish Japanese horror film which is one part Benny Hill and one part Friday the 13th. Ghoulish looking monsters wearing samurai armor are chasing a couple of criminals and a family through a deserted village. Excessive gore, pools of blood, and slapstick comedy are the main ingredient to this film. It kinda reminds me of Takashi Miike’s (三池 崇史) films. It was bizarre and uncomfortably comedic.

Tak Sakaguchi (坂口拓), the director and stuntman, introduced the movie. He talked about his involvement and the use of his talented stunt team. He especially emphasized his unusual fondness for running people over with cars.

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NYAFF09: Crushing and Blushing with Kong Hyo-Jin

NEW YORK, June 25 – This is the first in a series of blog posts covering the New York Asian Film Festival. The film, Crush and Blush (미쓰 홍당무), was screened at the IFC Center (323 Sixth Avenue).

Crush and Blush is a Korean romantic comedy about a bizarre love pentagon between teachers at a Korean middle school / high school. Kong Hyo-Jin (공효진) plays Yang Mi-sook, a homely school teacher with an obsessive crush on Lee Jong-hyeok (이종혁). The movie is a hilarious comedy of errors with a heart warming story.

Kong Hyo-Jin, the lead actress, introduced the film and provided a short commentary. She spoke briefly about the qualities that attracted her to the role of Mi-sook. She talked about her desire to play the underdog and her efforts to make her character a more sympathetic and lovable figure.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Vertical Vednesday: Yanki (ヤンキー)

NEW YORK, June 24 – This is the second event in a series of discussions hosted by Ed Chavez, Marketing Director for Vertical, Inc. The discussions are centered on specific manga-related topics. This particular manga discussion was about the Western influenced Japanese fashion trend known as Yanki (ヤンキー).

Originally the venue for this event was Kinokuniya (1073 Avenue of the Americas). However, the host decided to move the event across the street to Pax Wholesome Foods (80 West 40th Street). As I entered Kinokuniya, I ran into Erin from the Ninja Consultants Podcast. She pointed me in the right direction. This lead to some confusion but everyone moved safety to the new venue without much trouble. I also saw Carl from Ogiue Maniax blog at the event.

Yanki is a term that originated in Osaka. It is best known for its projection of the "bad boy" or delinquent image. It's famous for borrowing fashion cues from American and western media and cues from movies like Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One. Unlike the more business suit clad Yakuza; Yanki was more about urban fashion and street gangs.

In the 70s, Yanki trends followed American rock-a-billy fashion and hair styles. Yanki trends changed over time with the corresponding changes in western fashion. The late 70s and 80s Yanki sported the Neo-Yanki heavy metal look. And more recently Hiroshi Takahashi, mangaka of Crows (クローズ) and Worst (ワースト), introduced the hip hop (ヒップホップ) and American urban fashions to the Yanki trend.

Chavez discussed the influence of Yanki subculture and fashion in manga. The emergence of manga magazines such as Young Magazine (ヤングマガジン) and Young King Magazine (ヤングキング) helped to promote the Yanki image. They were anthology magazines catering to the Yanki audience.

According to Chavez, the Yanki subculture was not just a fashion trend. It was a state of mind. Yanki teens are supposed to have a thuggish mental toughness and attitude towards other people and their own life. Over the years, Yanki manga would incorporate the Yanki attitude into a wide variety of stories. Some include bizarre plots such as fishing, kerosene delivery, and horror.

The Yanki subculture can be seen in more popular manga titles such as Cromartie High School (魁!!クロマティ高校) and Great Teacher Onizuka (グレート・ティーチャー・オニズカ).

Ed Chavez hosts Vertical Vednesdays biweekly. If you want to attend a Vertical Vednesday discussion, check the Vertical, Inc Website for dates and times.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Giant Robot Magazine Headquarters: Pilgrimage or Loitering?

LOS ANGELES, June 21 — After returning from a year long deployment to the Middle East, I returned home for a short stop. A couple of days later I was on a flight to Los Angeles. I went to visit family, attend family functions, and loiter around the Giant Robot Home Office (GRHQ). Before the deployment, I made yearly pilgrimages to Los Angeles. It was rudely interrupted by a war. Now, I was eager to restart that sacred tradition.

Martin Wong, my good friend and co-editor of Giant Robot Magazine, picked me up at the airport.

We had lunch at GR/Eats, a restaurant tied to the Giant Robot brand. They serve delicious and creative Asian fusion dishes at great prices. He ordered me a drink called Green Tea Lemonade. It was simply a green tea mixed with lemonade. It tasted pretty refreshing. New favorite drink (non-alcoholic).

Neko Kika-ider

Most of my days in Los Angeles were spent loitering at GRHQ. On one particular day, I spent all day playing with Eric Nakamura's (co-editor of GR) kitten named Kika. The kitten was named after Kikaider (人造人間キカイダ) because of the calico pattern of the fur on its face. I had a lot of fun playing with the little kitty.

I hatched a daring plot to kidnap Kika from GRHQ. I had the cover of night as a distinct tactical advantage, but I was foiled by a reluctant wheelman (codename: The Culinary Teacher).

I almost forgot how much fun I have just hanging out in Los Angeles. Thanks to everyone at Giant Robot for letting me chill at their office!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Part III: Otaku War Journal: Hadji Versus Hajji

Location Bravo, Somewhere in the Arabian Desert – I was airdropped by military helicopter into my permanent station.

After a few days of getting settled into my tent, I started to scope out the camp. The place is laid out kind of haphazardly. I got lost a few times. I decided to survey the entire camp and draw a map on a piece of 6” X 10” note paper from my appointment book. The map really helped me navigate this bizarre desert camp.

At the end of my third week, I started to get comfortable at the camp. I explored the small stores around the area. There were many “hajji shops” or local Arab vendors. We call all the local Arab vendors and store keeps “hajji’s”. Therefore, their stores were called “hajji shops”. I guess it’s supposed to be a derogatory ethnic slur for the local Arabs like the term “gook” during the Vietnam War.

I originally thought “hajji” came from the Jonny Quest cartoon series. Jonny’s adopted Indian brother was named “Hadji”. Therefore, my otaku brain thought the ethnic slur originated from the cartoon. According to Wikipedia, hajji is, “an honorific title given to a Muslim person who has successfully completed the Hajj to Mecca.” I guess I was wrong…


The hajji shops had all sorts of bootleg DVDs. They even had bootleg anime DVDs. I didn’t want to buy bootleg copies of Anime, so I just browsed their selection. They have all the popular titles like Full Metal Panic (フルメタル·パニック!), Blood Plus (ブラッドプラス), Yu-Gi-Oh (遊☆戯☆王), Dragon Ball Z (ドラゴンボール), Appleseed OVA (アップルシ-ド), and Gotham Knight (バットマン: ゴッサムナイト).

The local PX (Post Exchange) was pretty small. It was more like a gas station store. It had only the bare essentials, and its DVD selection was almost non-existent. On rare occasions, they stocked some Shonen Jump Magazine issues. Overall, it was pretty weak.

The internet here also sucked. In order to get a private connection on your laptop, the hajji stores would charge $85 per month for a weak ass Wi-Fi signal. It was so frustrating. The wireless router would drop the signal every five minutes. I would try to read some e-mails or download a podcast, and my connection would suddenly drop out. I had to suffer and wait until the signal would reconnect my laptop to the router. I had very little free time, and I would waste the most of it waiting for the wireless signal to connect. Damn, what a rip off.

I’m glad I brought two CD wallets filled with DVDs from my personal collection. It would have been a difficult deployment without any entertainment. I would be completely bored with the lack of a good DVD stores and a decent internet connection.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Part II: Otaku War Journal: We Have Wormsign the Likes of Which Even God Has Never Seen.

Location Alpha, Somewhere in the Arabian Desert – I’ve finally reached the Arabian Desert. The summer temperatures here averaged over 130 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. I used to think Florida was friggin’ hot. They’ve got it easy.

On particularly hot days, I swear I could feel my boot starting to slowly melt and stick to the ground.

Oh… sunglasses are a must in this desert. Most of the indigenous people have cataracts and are partially blind because of heavy sun exposure. Yet, they still are allowed to drive cars into military check points.

One late afternoon, I was walking to my tent, and a really bad sandstorm blew through the camp. It was my first full force sandstorm. I’ve been through some harsh wind and sand, but this was different. The blast of sand was so thick that the evening twilight sun was blacked out. Everything suddenly went dark, and grains of sand pelted my whole body. I could only see the first few inches in front of me. I stumbled from tent to tent. My vision was worthless. I tried to remember how far my tent was from my position current position.

I was lucky enough to bump into my friend from the Public Affairs Office (PAO). We were staying in the same tent, and he was standing just outside of the entrance. The crazy bastard was trying to take photographs in the sandstorm. I told him that it was useless, but my warning was an epic failure. As I opened my mouth to yell at him, sand quickly began to fly into my mouth and fill it. I gave up and fought my way into the tent. I finally removed my sand covered sunglasses and found my body covered in sand from head to toe. Sand filled every crack and crevice in my clothing. I began a rapid fire barrage of spitting to get all the sand out of my mouth. I removed my clothes to shake off all the sand trapped in them. The PAO officer finally gave up his pursuit of a sandstorm picture and returned to the tent. I spent the rest of the night in the tent.

Regarding the Manga and Anime availability, it was pretty bad. The PX (Post Exchange) is even smaller than the one near Roswell. They had only two manga titles. One was Death Note (デスノート), and the other one was Vagabond (バガボンド). I couldn’t find much anime here. However, I did find a single issue of Otaku USA. The shrink wrap was already opened, and it looked like someone already flipped through it. I bought it anyway. Slim Pickens. Hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Part I: Otaku War Journal: Did you find any Xilians today?

Somewhere Near ROSWELL – After much consideration, I’ve decided to blog about my military deployment abroad. However, I am only going to write about my experiences in relation to my geeky otaku lifestyle (see disclaimer at the end of post).

With the ground rules set, let’s begin…

Regarding the Manga and Anime availability, it was okay. The PX (Post Exchange) is the military’s version of Wal-mart. It’s a department store that sells all types of products for inexpensive prices. I perused the magazine and book section for any manga. The selection is small. They had several anime and manga related magazines like Anime Insider and Shonen Jump. The PX also carried some of the more popular manga titles like Death Note (デスノート), Naruto (ナルト), and Vagabond (バガボンド). The video section carried more interesting stuff like Serial Experiments Lain (シリアルエクスペリメンツレイン) and Gunslinger Girl (ガンスリンガー•ガール). I’ve seen most of that stuff already, and the other stuff didn’t interest me.

Although we did not train with them, the Japanese Ground Self-defense Force (JGSDF) lived down the road from me. You know the army that tries to repel Godzilla in every kaiju movie since the beginning of time. I always ran into them at the DFAC (military lingo for cafeteria), and I had the opportunity to meet some of them. They were really cool cats. I later realized that we were not too far from Area 51. I wanted to ask them if they were looking for the Xilians, but my Japanese is horrible. Damn it, I missed so many good opportunities because of my weak ass Japanese. By the way, how does one say, “Did you find any Xilians today?” in Japanese?


For the Gov-Spooks: This blog is mostly about Asian pop culture. It does NOT contain anything regarding operations or intelligence. It does NOT have specific locations, units, names, or times. It does NOT have any sensitive photographs from any government installation. All posts are published well after the conclusion of their happening in order to mask actual dates and reduce the risk to operational security.