‘Big in Japan!’ is a book that I picked up from my local library’s bookstore as a stocking stuffer for a good friend of mine. The impetus was the artwork more so than the content, because he’s not much of a superhero comic type. But he loves seeing original artwork, being a gifted cartoonist himself.
I read it first, being intrigued by the mix of styles, being a Marvel comic book blended with a non-traditional cartoon quality that is goofier than one’s standard superhero comic. Truth be told, I was tempted to keep it for myself, but decided that I should just pick it up again someday – that I should stick to my original plan.
What I liked about ‘Big in Japan!’ is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It made several nods to the extremes of japanese pop culture, it was self-referential, and it poked fun at its characters along the way. I enjoyed that its creators were clearly just having fun with the whole concept, and didn’t balk at taking a few liberties for laughs.
Wells’ writing is quite sharp. The story that he put together culls Marvel’s glories of yore by bringing their old monsters back to the page for one huge kaiju battle with the superheroes. You couldn’t ask for a more tongue-in-cheek and yet appropriate blend than this. He also knows his pop-culture; all the small references that he makes along the way are superb, if not laugh-out-loud funny.
Similarly, Fisher’s artwork is so chock full of amusing details that you can’t help but grin as you peruse the book’s pages. It requires more time and attention than the usual book, however, because there’s so much layered into each panel. But you can tell that he had a blast putting together and that enjoyment is totally infectious.
Some might say that his stylistic touches are the book’s strength. It’s even been suggested that the writing takes a backseat to the artwork. He’s that good. Admittedly Fisher’s a versatile artist, even if the details are sometimes a bit off. If there’s anything that might be off-putting to some, though, is that all his characters look like rubber figurines – the ones with wire frames in them for posing. But that’s a minor thing, I think.
The tale becomes a bit too abstract by the end, unfortunately, and I remember being put off by it slightly the first time that I read this paperback. But it didn’t bother me as much this time around. Still, in their efforts to be trippy and/or clever, the authors have taken a step uncomfortably close to the edge, taking us from loopy fun to sheer madness. It’s still enjoyable, but it could be a challenge for some.
Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it: ‘Big in Japan!’ is not a book for everyone. It’s a mish-mash of styles that may not appeal to all superhero comic book readers and/or to manga fans. But it’s such a unique piece of work that I would recommend it nonetheless, if only to give it a try. Who knows, it might actually please and turn one on to the mad genius of Zeb Wells and Seth Fisher – both outstandingly creative artists in their own right.