The road to the end of the world is shorter than we think. Just when we’ve adjusted our rear and sideview mirrors and selected a soundtrack, the end stands before us, eyes hining in our halogen lights, ready to total our engine block. The only question now is: zombies or robots?
Am I just picking my zombie fatigue like a scab or are zombies really that inevitable? I guess it’s true—zombies shamble forth innumerably from all media so that even if I do hole up with canned goods and an ax handle, I can’t stick my fingers in my ears and pretend it’s not happening. This time it’s my own fault. I read that Last Gasp was publishing Yusaku Hanakuma’s 1999 Tokyo Zombie, translated by Ryan Sands and lettered/re-touched by Evan Hayden. I was curious after seeing the screen version starring Takashi Miike regulars Tadanobu Asano and Sho Aikawa as Hanakuma’s iconic characters Fujio/Afro and Mitsuo/Hage or “Baldy.”
The manga’s simpler, more gag-oriented and maybe crazier than the movie–with pig surfing and a little dog instead of the movie’s monosyllabic (“Baka!”) love interest. In both versions, Black Fuji, a mountain of trash high above Tokyo, is zombie ground zero.
Driven from their jiu-jitsu dojo warehouse, Fujio and Mitsuo escape in a truck. They plan a road trip to Russia to continue Fujio’s mixed martial arts training, but never make it past Tokyo. Tokyo becomes a walled dystopia powered by slaves while the rich are entertained by pro wrestling style zombie fights.
Hanakuma’s art is unusual for a manga. Writing about Golgo 13, Joe
McCulloch asks “What do we know about manga?” and answers
[T]here’s a lot of big eyes. There’s a lot of closed stories with a definite beginning and ending. There’s the unmistakable mark of a single vision, at least writing-wise…. There’s batches of digest
collections. For the popular ones there’s often some anime tie-in, or maybe several. There might be cute toys and plush merchandise. There’s characters and arcs and real changes.
While this is Hanakuma’s longest work, there’s a movie tie-in, some merchandise and real changes. Tokyo Zombie also bears the unmistakable mark of a singular vision. Being manga, Hanakuma’s style has a name, heta uma or “bad, but good.” His style’s simple, kind of cramped and almost Outsider manga (without really being outside). Hanakuma draws as if he were making up the story as he goes. It reminds me of how I drew stories as a kid, illustrating my most awesome thoughts—only much better.
Jeffrey Brown’s Transformers homage/parody, The Incredible Change-bots (Top Shelf, 2007), has a similar feel to Tokyo Zombie. Brown is famous for his black and white autobiographical relationship comics but his simple, almost vulnerable lines remind me of Hanakuma’s lines. Change-bots manages to capture the joy of coloring while still presenting the 1980s merchandizing-driven Transformers cartoon’s naïve partisan destructiveness and making as many social and political points as you care to notice. The Change-bots’ beloved
planet Electronocybercircuitron is devastated by civil war between the Awesomebots and the Fantasticons after the Fantasticons rig an election. They come to earth, but they turf everything, because, as the trailer proclaims, “They brought their war with them!” But who cares when their lasers go, “BDEW!” and “RAZOW!” (Hanakuma and Brown both probably made sound effects while drawing).
After flirting with zombies and Amazons, Ashley Wood has settled on robots for now. In his World War Robot: Illustrated History Number One (IDW Publishing, 2008) humans drive rebels to Mars, then invade. Martian colonists invade earth in turn. Lurking in his moonbase, scientist Rothchild sells robots to both sides. The word ends with a bang and a clank.
T.P. Louise (Popbot) provides some text but the book is mostly Wood’s big Expressionist paintings of robot and human soldiers, all very WWII—or pre-Gulf War—in their gear. Every page is as gorgeous as the covers of his zombies vs. robots books. Wood’s like Roy Lichtenstein in reverse. Where Lichtenstein brought comics to fine art, Wood’s bringing Expressionist painting to comics. He’s bringing the fine art collectible toy, too, since most of Wood’s WWR is action figures. World War Robot reminds me of the days when Masters of the Universe started the toys before shows format, but in a painterly way with fine art robots.
InTokyo Zombie, Yusaku Hanakuma writes,
I made sure to give the fans what they wanted…. I crammed in zombies, trucks, pro wrestling, martial arts, factories, Mt. Fuji, pigs, intense battles, wealthy people, slaves, porno, gym teachers, a little dog, Calpis, tonkatsu, a prince, a professor, and so on, to try and create a comic that was a sort of fin de siecle celebration of manliness (157).
Jeffrey Brown and Ashley Wood are doing the same. And if zombies and robots
are on the road to mundo fine instead of global economic collapse or nuclear proliferation, we might as well hit the accelerator on our way to the fin de siecle celebration for seinen of all ages and sexes.
Carol Borden owes film maker Coleman Francis for his song, “Night Train to Mundo Fine.” She figures she’ll hear John Carradine singing it at the end of the road.