Wayward, vol. 1: String Theory contains the first five issues of this ongoing, popular series penned by Canadian Jim Zub and American Steve Cummings about a Japanese-Irish girl in Tokyo, Japan. The story begins with Rori Lane’s arrival in Japan from Ireland to live with her Japanese mother and quickly evolves to a strong tale of evocative characters, some human, others not so much. What fascinated me from the beginning was the respect paid to Japanese folklore within the tale and by Zack Davisson, a translator and scholar of Japanese folklore, ghosts, and manga. I must admit it was his essays in the individual issues, unfortunately not included in the compilation, that drew me to the title in the first place. It was Zub’s writing and Cummings’ art that has kept me returning to the series for four years. According to the blurb in April’s Previews, however, the final arc of the series is to begin June 20, 2018 with Issue 26. Reviews consistently mention the validity, realism, research, and attention to detail between the covers of this title.

From the onset the confused high school student not only has to face her own identity and outsider questions but Japan’s cornucopia of yokai (paranormal beings) and kami (Shinto deities) who are drawn to her own newly discovered supernatural abilities. Front and centre is the careful research that is the foundation of this series. The yokai are immediately identifiable to those who have a passing familiarity with the myths and legends of Japanese paranormal tales. There were numerous discreet treasures for me while reading this series. When encountering the kappa for the first time, for example, Rori proclaims, “I liked them better when they were cute and had li’l bowls on their heads. Now they’re bad turtles.” Those familiar with the lineage of kappas and their recent development from seriously harmful creatures to popular cultural kitsch in Japan could recognize and, perhaps, sympathize with her observations.

Rori, always susceptible to seeing patterns, can now follow interwoven red line patterns (strings), visible only to her, that lead her to mysterious and wondrous companions as well as fearsome and unearthly antagonists as the story arc races at a quick pace. Not a lot of time for introspection for Rori, she and the reader are thrown right into the mix without warning. Rori and her friends are captivating and sympathetic. They are, also, young, impressively reflecting the angst and struggles of other protagonists in coming-of-age stories and while not fully developed in this first volume, promise to be more fully rounded in the subsequent volumes.

Davisson, in his foreword, elucidates on the realism of the Japan as portrayed in the series; it is not the exotic romanticized version that frequently appears in Western novels and films. Rori’s reaction to the cultural shock of this real Japan with the different social mores of school life, the challenges to her rudimentary understanding of the language, and the strange behavior of her mother are complex elements of her abrupt and chaotic learning curve. The writing is strong and eloquent, the illustrations realistic and striking, and the use of colour is particularly effective. A feast for all the senses. Davisson points out that the Kanji signs in the illustrations are authentic and contain hidden clues for the reader of Japanese. This attention to detail is also evident in the architectural and cultural details of contemporary Tokyo.

Volume one also contains the cover art from the individual issues, first in full colour and then as a negative, an etched splash page emphasizing the terror and horror of the supernatural elements of the story. Pages of character designs and background notes of some of the characters fill out the volume. While not as fulfilling as the essays included in the individual issues, these notes sufficiently offer historical and folkloric background about the kappa, kitsune, and others that play a large role in the story line.

Wayward, vol. 1: String Theory
by Jim Zub
Art by Steve Cummings
ISBN: 9781632151735
image, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: M

  • Gail

    | She/Her Professor, Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

    Reviewer

    In addition to teaching at the School of Library and Information Studies (University of Alberta) where she is an adjunct professor, Gail tells stories and conducts workshops on a wide variety of topics across Canada and the United States. Each year she teaches the following courses for the University of Alberta. All of her courses are delivered online: Storytelling, Comic Books and Graphic Novels in School and Public Libraries, Canadian Children’s Literature for School and Public Libraries and Young Adult Literature. She also teaches a course on Indigenous Literature for the ATEP program (Aboriginal Teacher Education Program) at the University of Alberta. Gail is the award-winning author of nine books on storytelling and folklore in popular culture.

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