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Oni Press

I have a confession. Iíve been lax in my manga watching duties this week. Distraction came in the form of theSmall Press Expo in Bethesda, Md., on Friday and Saturday. Now, slightly dazed, Iím sitting amidst stacks of mini-comics, graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and pamphlets, wondering where to start.

While many elements of the show made me think of manga, one did more forcefully than others: the Oni Press table.

Itís not so much that Oniís catalog of titles has a cosmetic resemblance to manga, though some of its creators have clearly been strongly influenced by stylistic elements, and lots of its titles come in digest size. The real resemblance comes in the range and accessibility of material offered by a relatively small comics publisher.

Those of you who confine your reading to Japanese comics in translation or titles published by Viz, Tokyopop, and Del Rey might not be familiar with Oni. It distributes primarily through Direct Market comic shops, though it seems to be making headway on breaking into bookstores. (Bryan Lee OíMalleyís deliriously entertaining romantic comedy Scott Pilgrim has started showing up on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.)

Thatís unfortunate, because the breadth of subject matter in Oniís output would be a natural fit for many manga readers whoíve never set foot in a comics specialty shop. I keep flogging the Osamu Tezuka philosophy about comics across the lifespan, stories for people of every age and station, but it applies to OniísìReal Mainstreamî philosophy.

Look at Oniís current roster of titles. Beyond the rock-and-roll rom-com of the aforementioned Scott Pilgrim (its third volume is due in December), thereís the charming, all-ages comedy of Banana Sunday (written by Root Nibot, illustrated by Colleen Coover). In it, mysterious talking primates enroll in high school with their human handler, and hilarity ensues.

Capote in Kansas (written by Andre Parks, drawn by Chris Samnee) is a meditative look at the time Truman Capote spent writing his masterpiece, In Cold Blood. Corey Lewisís Sharknife is kinetic as any video game, so enthusiastically hyperactive it could cause seizures. Scott Chantlerís Northwest Passage is a rip-roaring look at intrigue and danger at a Canadian trading post in the mid-1700s. (Itís Chantlerís writing debut. Heís illustrated two works for Oni with writer J. Torres. Days Like This told the story of a 1960s all-girl pop group. Scandaloustraveled to 1950s Hollywood to examine celebrity gossip and anti-Community paranoia.)

Andi Watson demonstrates his considerable skills in slice-of-life storytelling in Little Star, the story of a middle-class, full-time father. (He does fanciful equally well, as in Love Fights, a highly meta but very entertaining look at love among the spandex set.) In Love as a Foreign Language, writer J. Torres and illustrator Eric Kim tell the story of a maladjusted Canadian finding unexpected romantic possibilities during a teaching stint Korea.

Greg Ruckaís Queen and Country and its various spin-offs follow a gritty group of British intelligence officers through morally murky and grippingly realistic missions. (Rucka made his big splash as a comics writer with his twoWhiteout books, drawn by Steve Lieber. Theyíre crime dramas set in an outpost in Antarctica.)

Coming up is Polly and the Pirates, all-ages adventure on the high seas by Ted Nafieh of Courtney Crumrin Fame.Peng offers more game-logic madness (this time about kickball) from Corey Lewis. And Brian Wood follows up his highly regarded Demo (AiT-PlanetLar) with Local, drawn by Ryan Kelly.

Rockers, monkeys, writers, bus boys, frontiersmen, parents, spies, pirates, and more, in comedies, dramas, adventures, romances, and mysteries aimed at audiences young and old. How many times has a similar summary been used to praise manga, its diversity, and its knack for generating material for a range of readers? Thereís no limiting house style at Oni, just an ambitious line of creator-driven comics telling a wide range of stories.

Of course, diversity isnít necessarily a compliment if the comics arenít any good. Fortunately, Oni has an excellent track record with me as a reader. Iím crazy about a lot of their books. Even the ones that donít work for me make sense in the context of Oni as a whole. And the stories are almost always accessible, no matter what their genre, tone, or approach.

So if youíre betwixt and between, waiting for the next volume of a manga favorite but needing a comics fix, you might take a look at what Oni has to offer. I think youíll feel right at home.

I would be remiss if I didnít join the chorus of voices mourning Pataís decision to put his indispensable manga weblog , Irresponsible Pictures, on hiatus. (It damned well better be just a hiatus.) For the last year, Pata has tirelessly brought all the manga news thatís fit to blog and done it with considerable intelligence, wit, and a distinctly entertaining perspective. His regular contributions will be sorely missed.

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