For a lot of manga readers, the attempts at creating manga-style comics here in the U.S. have only very occasionally been successful (Chynna Clugston being one woman who’s pulled it off.) All too often, creators adopt the style without understanding it, almost as if they say to themselves, “Ok, big eyes, simplified heads, and the occasional blush, and boom! Manga.” Of course, that misses an enormous amount of what makes manga appealing and unique. So, when Tokyopop launched its new line of manga from U.S. creators, many manga readers were and are dubious. Happily, I can report that the folks they’ve got creating these titles know what they’re doing – they’re obviously fans and take their time both paying homage to the original Japanese traditions as well as really making them their own.
Off*beat is a great example. While the presentation has all of the trademarks of a shojo manga with BL tendencies, it also feels very American. Most notable is the setting – the background is pure U.S. city, specifically Brooklyn, and all of the incidents of traveling really drive the point home that we’re not in Tokyo. At the same time, the story really does mirror some classic shojo set ups. Tory, a smart but relatively lonely teenager, becomes more than a little intrigued by his silent, private new neighbor Colin. In the way that curiosity can become a minor obsession, Tory notices that no one ever seems to be home next door, that Colin is frequently ill but never seems to suffer consequences for it. In place of a family he is watched by a mysterious, middle-aged guardian. Colin himself is silent to the point of being a ghost and seems very resistant to forming any friendships with anyone, let alone Tory. At first Tory’s behavior borders on stalking, but as he keeps researching he starts to realize that it’s really not all in his head. There is definitely something going on next door, and maybe he shouldn’t poke his nose in where it doesn’t belong. Then again, like any good researcher, he can’t let it go until he finds the truth. It’s unclear just what Tory feels for Colin, and in fine Japanese tradition, he doesn’t yet know how to articulate it himself nor is it likely to be resolved any time soon. That kind of tension has been fodder for many a successful shojo title, and I for one am very curious to see how the series will play out. Jen Lee Quick’s art certainly borrows from manga’s conventions but is also very much her own, and the combination works.