Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #202 by Drew Barth

Print Preservation

Like when VHS was being fazed out in favor of DVDs, some comics and graphic novels have fallen through the digitization crack. Stories that have gained either a cult status or were just forgotten about will find themselves confined to their original printed form until they’re long out of print and are dug up years later for someone to discover. But, due to their out-of-print nature, it’s difficult to share them with the rest of the world—without an easy way for someone to read a story, how can anyone else know about it? Just such a thing happened to Kei Toume’s underrated classic series, Kurogane.

At its heart, Kurogane is a series about revenge and redemption. A young samurai, Jintetsu, is known all over Japan as a master assassin since the death of his father. But even his skill couldn’t prepare him for a pack of dogs that tore him to shreds. Our first real meeting with Jintetsu as readers is essentially as a corpse. It isn’t until an outcast samurai and inventor, Genkichi, resurrects Jintetsu with a blend of technology and luck. The boy is no longer completely human and is no longer able to speak. But his body is metal and inside his new limbs hide knives, swords, and accouterments to aid in his plan to avenge his murdered father. And, despite the first volume introducing us to Jintetsu, his story and reasons for revenge, and his resurrection, we’re already given the conclusion to his revenge plot. From here, we see him as a wanderer in the end of the samurai’s era, stuck between human and inhuman and between life and robot.

As a series, Toume gives herself time and space to explore themes of existence and the nature of revenge through various vignettes. But, as of right now, we’re not able to see much of those themes. And it has nothing to do with the manga itself but rather the lack of access to it. The only reason I can read this series is due to being lucky enough that my local library system carries it. Kurgane isn’t available digitally and, since it’s been out of print for so long, many volumes of it are prohibitively expensive on the resale market. And yet this is the kind of series that needs a revival—thematically and aesthetically it’s the kind of series that would resonate well with its audience now. And yet.

Preservation of these materials is the kind of thing that only comes up occasionally and when an archive of out-of-print works comes under threat, but it’s another reason why it needs to be brought up more and more often. Like with translations keeping some material out of some audiences’ hands or unknown pieces of history being illuminated by a good graphic novel, it’s these comics that fall through the digital cracks that need to be remembered and brought back more than ever. It’s only so long now until we won’t have them at all. 

Get excited. Get preserved.

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Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.