05 February, 2009

Review: Buddha, Volume 1: Kapilavastu

The publishers offer a glimpse of genius, but no more.

When Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha offers so many points of interest, it may see a shame to talk about how the book is published, but it matters quite a bit. The format of a book determines, to a great extent, its audience. And while publisher Vertical Comics has produced eight handsome volumes, at €100-odd euros for the set it is unlikely to reach a wider audience than its appeal might suggest.

The case with Buddha illustrates the two opposite directions in which the comics publishing industry is moving away from traditional monthly books. On the one hand the industry favours digest-format books - in an interview in
Draw last year, Jay Stephens spoke about the difficulty of selling a larger formatted comic to publishers - and on the other hand it pushes the lavish absolute editions.

Coffee-table collections for the bookshop market are great for 20-somethings with disposable income, but further alienate the traditional comics readership, from which future comics creators tend to come. The distance comics publishing has come from its pulp origins reflects both changes in technology and in the cultural position of comics.

Buddha is a wonderful work, fully demonstrating Tezuka’s skills as an illustrator, designer and storyteller. Everyone interested in comics should read it. Unfortunately, Vertical has failed to understand the visual idiom of manga - the more space-intensive design of its page layouts - and has merely published one story in eight, expensive sections.