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Kickstarted: SP7 and The Manga-Influenced Generation

I like Kickstarter a lot. It’s an efficient way to directly connect with artists while also making sure that a project that interests you gets funded. There are still a few hitches that need to be worked out, but my experience with Kickstarter has been largely positive. I’ve backed eleven projects across a variety of genres, and the results have been solid, for the most part. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to take a close look at some of them, examining the positive and negative aspects of each campaign. Today, I’m looking at Box Brown’s SP7: Alt. Comics Tribute to GARO Manga project, featuring some of alternative comics’ best and brightest. It’s an homage in spirit to a seminal Japanese manga anthology, and that’s right up my alley.

Why this Project?

My interest in SP7 takes a circuitous route. I know a bunch of people in comics — readers and creators both — who didn’t come up on Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Curt Swan, Steve Ditko, or any of those dudes. They came up on Rumiko Takahashi, Masamune Shirow, Kenichi Sonoda, Naoko Takeuchi, Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira Toriyama, and plenty of other cartoonists from Europe, America, and Japan. The subsection of Japanese manga-influenced cartoonists working in the American comics industry is really fascinating to me, in part because I feel like I’m part of the same generation. I know Shirow better than I know Byrne, and I’ll read and reread Otomo all day before I look to Curt Swan. It’s a product of my age and interests rather than snobbery. I grew up with artists who were “mine,” and these folks did, too. I want to see how these cartoonists process and synthesize their interests, what they absorb and what they reject from the things that they’re into.

An easy comparison is Frank Miller. You can see Neal Adams, Will Eisner, José Muñoz, and a few others in his art, but his style is all his own. There’s only one Frank Miller, even though he was influenced by the same people who influenced plenty of others. What happens if, instead of growing up on Adams, Eisner, and Muñoz, you grew up on Shirow, Otomo, and Takeuchi? What would those comics look like?

SP7 is one answer. It’s a tribute book, of sorts, to Garo, a long-running comic anthology focused around alternative manga. I don’t know much about Garo itself, but I’m pretty fond of Top Shelf’s AX and I like the idea of the magazine. SP7 aims to carry on in its spirit by, from what I can tell, providing a space for the artists to do whatever comes to mind.

I’m more or less familiar with a few of the artists in the SP7 anthology — Angie Wang is always great, Ryan Cecil Smith does great minicomics, Mare Odomo is great on Twitter — but I haven’t really had a chance to do a deep dive into their work. So, sure: I’ll entertain my curiosity and hopefully discover my next favorite artist at the same time.

The Campaign

The campaign was run by Box Brown, one of the cartoonists represented in SP7. He asked for $5,000, a relatively modest sum considering most comics kickstarters, and received $8,475. The extra $3,475 went to paying the artists involved in the project, which is very cool.

Brown ran one of the quietest, but most effective, campaigns I’ve been a part of. There’s just ten updates. Most projects I’ve backed weigh in around 25-30 updates, with the Kickstarter for Dave Sim’s Cerebus being an outlier at 120+ and counting. This isn’t to say that Brown was inattentive or anything. In fact, the campaign was pretty efficient. The updates spotlighted the artists on the project, delivered previews, and answered FAQs. Pow! That’s it. I like this method, in part because it’s crystal clear. “Here’s what you’re getting and here’s how we’re going to get it to you.”

The rewards were similarly clear. Got ten bucks? You get a PDF. (That’s what I went for.) Got 20? You get a PDF and a printed book. Work at a comic shop? Forty bucks gets you five printed copies. Got 150 bucks? You get a bunch of books, including Rub the Blood (a Rob Liefeld-inspired anthology title), and a co-publisher credit.

Easy-peasy. Brown didn’t run a flashy campaign, but he got nice previews placed on comics news sites and made sure that people knew exactly what they were in for. That, plus the low barrier for entry, seems to have worked out well for the project.

The Final Product

The finished product is as low-key and effective as the Kickstarter campaign. SP7 is… everything and nothing like I expected it to be. I wanted to be surprised, but not so surprised I was left adrift. Sometimes you just don’t get a comic, especially when it comes to anthologies, but SP7 works out pretty well. It’s idiosyncratic as heck, obviously, but I enjoy it more as a new (from my POV) talent showcase as opposed to a tribute to Garo.

There are a couple choices I’m not too keen on. I think the right-to-left reading order is a little goofy, personally. There’s something to be said for working in that mode, but I feel like it’s not so much a hallmark of manga as just the way things are, like how paper tends to be white and text tends to be black. That’s a minor hurdle, but it may strike other people as more of a problem than it did me. A few of the stories feel more difficult than they should be, as if opacity is a virtue in and of itself.

For the most part, though, SP7 was the surprise that I wanted. Ryan Andrews’s “Tanaka Ojisan and the Way, Way, Way Too Hot Day” is a killer story told via 20 panel grid. The grid caught my eye first (I’m big on Frank Miller), but Andrews’s draftsmanship is pretty great, and super gross when it counts. Box Brown’s “Piss-Knife: The Death of Rikidozan” is another highlight. Rikidozan was a Korean Japanese professional wrestler, one of the most important figures in the sport, who died in one of the most incredible and sad ways anyone has ever died, I feel like. Angie Wang’s “The Teacup Tree” is another good’un, full of whimsy and melancholy both.

I don’t think I’ve ever read an anthology where I dug every story, and SP7 is no different. But that isn’t a complaint. It’s more a testament to the diversity of stories in SP7. It feels like the type of anthology where everyone can at least find one or two things to dig into, and it’s great for introducing you to new creators. That makes SP7 a success, at least in my book. Now I have a few more names on my shopping list and the fun of discovering and trying to decode new art styles. That’s all I need. If that’s what you need, buy it here.

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