Goth girl Raven has finally found happiness with her vampire boyfriend Alexander when a group of mysterious teens shows up in town. Lead by Alexander’s cousin, Claude, the gang wants something Alexander is guarding and they’ll stop at nothing, not even daylight, to get it.
Set in a town called Dullsville and featuring a completely gentle, non-threatening vampire love interest, the popular Vampire Kisses novel series isn’t trying for a dark, foreboding tone. Instead Schneider calls on her past as a comedienne and keeps things light, with just enough touches of horror to make readers long for a dark-eyed, undead boyfriend of their own. This manga volume is not an adaptation of any of the novels in the series, but rather a separate story in and of itself. It stands fairly well on its own and readers who have not picked up the novels will be able to follow the plot easily.
Rem’s art perfectly fits the story. Raven is cute, rather than pretty, and her Goth-girl-next-door looks make her more approachable than a girl dating a vampire might normally seem. All of the characters are fairly stereotypical—Raven the good bad girl, her clueless, All-American best friend Becky, and Alexander, whose brooding good looks give rise to the idea that he might have not only read Byron, but actually given the man tips on fashion—but that seems to be more from Schreiber’s descriptions of them rather than Rem’s input. The panels are mostly simple, with plain or no backgrounds, depending on the foreground action. This adds to the fast read feel of the comic. A few nice touches, such as dramatic use of shadow or small moments between Raven and Alexander, help flesh out the story and make the characters come to life.
Blood Relatives‘ main downfall is that it is too short. At only 128 pages, including 13 pages of character designs and a 9 page preview from the novel Vampire Kisses 4: Dance with a Vampire, readers barely have a chance to get into the story before it ends. The cliff-hanger ending of this sweet, slightly silly, horror-ish title will have them begging for the sequel.
Vampire Kisses, vol. 1: Blood Relatives Story by Ellen Schreiber, Art by Rem ISBN: 978-0-06-134081-9 TokyoPop/HarperCollins, 2007
What’s this book about? Well, there’s a guy who keeps dreaming he’s a faery… No, wait, actually, it’s about the Queen of Faerie who’s been kicked out of office… Or maybe it’s about a girl named Goat who’s a Faerie Princess in Training… And then there’s the crazy narrator who knows everything about what’s going on, but isn’t sharing…
Strait’s book isn’t the right choice if you’re looking for a linear storyline, but if you want a wacky, acid-trip of a read, then this is the book for you. The tales of each of the characters tumble on top of and over each other in a tangle of story, with little obvious break between them, but somehow Strait makes them all work and, by the end of the book, they’ve begun to weave together in a recognizable pattern. Humorous asides, references to comic and literary conventions, nods to Shakespeare and folklore—all of these help keep the story moving along. Wackiness can get annoying quickly, but Strait avoids that by making his characters sympathetic and distinct. Jimmy Tucker, the put-upon office worker who dreams he’s a faery, is appropriately spineless. Goat is perky and her friendship with a talking mushroom is sweet in its neediness. The regal Queen, the ineffective King Oberon, the usurpers Vogue and Cosmo—all are interesting and fleshed out enough for their roles in this strange tale to be clear, even when what is happening isn’t.
The art is another strong point. Strait is a former writer and artist for the comic Elfquest and that background occasionally shows, especially in the feminine beauty of all his characters, even the men. Little details hide on every page—the narrator’s Mad Hatter hat, the baby faery with ears like fish heads, a tank with faery wings. All these little bits go into creating a world, or several in this case, that is fantastic, yet realistic.
There are a few elements that libraries might want to be aware of. The characters, especially the faeries are often scantily clad, when they aren’t actually naked, but the nudity isn’t obvious or gratuitous. There’s some cussing and some violence, but mostly there’s just a whole bunch of nuttiness. An excellent choice for readers looking for humor comics.
We Shadows, vol. 1 Sonny Strait ISBN: 978-1-4278-0104-3 TokyoPop, 2007
Damon’s the new kid on the block, or moon in this case. His family has moved to the Earthlight Lunar Colony so that his father could take over as Chief Administrator and his mother could become the teacher at the new Earthlight Academy. So he might as well tape a kick me sign to his spacesuit now. As he struggles to fit in, Damon becomes involved in the lives of the teens around him and in their rigid lives, but a danger from the outside world of adults may change the lives of these teens forever.
There are too few really good science fiction graphic novels and, unfortunately, this addition to the genre is not going to improve those statistics. Moore tries to shove too many details into his short volume, dealing with dating abuse, poverty, cliques, emotionally distant parents, terrorism, family responsibilities, etc., etc., etc. The result is that none of the issues are dealt with fully and resolutions seem rushed or forced. The clichéd surprise ending comes with no foreshadowing and doesn’t fit the character involved. Schons’ art is one highlight. The world of the Lunar Colony feels cramped and pressed for space. High tech equipment vies with the everyday bits of real life, like tissue boxes and students’ backpacks. All the characters are pretty, even the supposedly geeky ones, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are unique and easy to tell apart and believably multicultural.
Earthlight has a decent premise, but ultimately doesn’t live up to its potential. For a title that deals with similarly weighty issues, but in a more successful manner, look for Paul Sizer’s Moped Army.
Earthlight, vol. 1 Story: Stuart Moore; Art: Christopher Schons ISBN: 1-59816-705-7 TokyoPop, 2006
Kouhei Midou wants to be a mainstream photojournalist, but no matter how much he tries, he can’t help taking pictures of ghosts. When he’s hired to take pictures of a haunted castle in Germany, part of an effort to eradicate the ghosts so the castle can be turned into a hotel, he meets a mysterious young girl who says she wants to kiss him. The only problem is that her version of kissing means biting him on the neck! What does this strange vampire girl want with Kouhei and why is he resistant to her attempts to make him her servant?
I’m a sucker (pun intended) for a good vampire story, so I had high hopes for the first volume of this series. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed. While the artwork has an interesting comic strip quality which I enjoyed a lot, the story itself was choppy and awkward. The flow across the panels wasn’t consistent and was often overwhelmed by untranslated sound effects, forcing me to keep going back over sections in an attempt to figure out what was going on. Hazuki the vampire girl is not only annoying with no redeeming qualities, but she’s portrayed as extremely young, around 10 years old, so the inevitable romance between her and teenage/young adult Kouhei, which begins to be set up in this volume, takes on a shota-like creepiness, especially when she’s shown bathing. The humor has a forced slapstick quality which never quite develops fully. Overall I found this volume a poor start to a series. Libraries should note that the reviewed volume was marked “T” for teen (13+), but Tokyopop’s website lists the series as “OT” for older teen (16+).
With their big, round heads and eyes, the characters in Strawberry Marshmallow look like sweet little cherubs. In fact, they’re the girls you grew up with in your neighborhood–siblings, friends, people you hung out with, borrowed money from, and supported or teased depending on the day. Strawberry Marshmallow chronicles the sweet/tart adventures of a loose-knit group of neighborhood girls. 16-year-old big sister Nobue, illicit cigarettes in hand, leads the pack, which consists of 12-year-old Chika, Chika’s best friend Miu, and 11-year-old Matsuri. Like Azumanga Daioh, the manga is a funny, meandering look at ordinary life; the girls go to the beach, they play their own peculiar version of baseball, Nobue attempts to quit smoking, and Miu does a school project observing her friends movements 24-7 (a text message from Matsuri: HELP – night endless – miu hs tken over merciless hope 4 slp abandoned ).
It’s hard to describe what makes Strawberry Marshmallow’s random humor so hilarious (like when Nobue forces the girls to cut school and they end up spending the day at the squirrel park), but manga fans will get it. So what’s not to love? The grown-up in me takes issue with the smoking (and in one story, drinking), especially because Nobue does look like an 8-year-old, but it’s not necessarily unbelievable. As a manga fan, I can also get over the occasional panty-related prank. Some other reviews of Strawberry Marshmallow (which is also an anime series) have dismissed it as cloyingly cute shojo or held it up as a great all-ages title. In fact, this manga was created by a man for male readers. Should that bother teen guys or girls who appreciate its humor and style? I’m not sure. If you ignore the implications of its intended Japanese audience, Strawberry Marshmallow offers a zany girl’s-eye view of the world. If you don’t, the parade of cute little girls seems less innocent. American fans will have to decide for themselves.
Strawberry Marshmallow, vol. 1 By Barasui ISBN: 9781598164947 Tokyopop, 2006
A collection of stories set in the original series complete with Captain Kirk, Bones, Spock, Scotty and the rest of the gang. Fans of the original series will especially enjoy this title with its great emulation of the wooden acting, stilted dialogue, and less than exciting artwork. The myriad of stories, each written and drawn by different individuals, are sadly sub par with plots we’ve seen hundreds of times before in the franchise. One story describes the Enterprise transporting an extinct creature to another planet as a peace offering. Another tale highlights an ancient gender war moving onto the vessel. Batting .400 there are two noteworthy stories. The first provides a back story to a famous alien race and the second details Kirk’s message of non-violence to a ragtag group of mercenaries. Artist EJ Su brought gigantic robot looking ships to life in the same vein as Macross in “Orphans.” It’s a shame that not all the other artists were as evocative. This title will find its niche with trekkies and sci-fi enthusiasts. If it is an attempt to emulate classic Trek it succeeded admirably. Unfortunately, I think that wasn’t the intent. All things considered it is merely adequate.
Star Trek: The Manga, vol. 1 By Chris Dows, Joshua Ortega, Jim Alexander, Mike W. Barr, Rob Tokar, Makoto Nakatsuka, Gregory Giovanni Johnson, Michael Shelfer, Jeong Mo Yang, EJ Su ISBN: 9781598167443 Tokyopop, 2006
The dreaded Warmongers are burning their way across the galaxy and nothing is going to stand in their way. Their latest creation, the Ghost of Destruction, is a weapon of such terrifying power that whole planets crumble when it is unleashed. One lone world called Hub has managed to survive, mainly because it is located out on the remote backwater end of the galaxy, far from any other planets. The inhabitants are a mismatched jumble of pirates, loners, gangsters, and thieves the perfect place for a scarred refugee named Snow. He’s come to Hub to hide, but when he finds himself mixed up with Katarina, a Robin Hood-style thief, and her gang, the Crows, Snow must decide if he is going to fight to save the group which has taken him in and the world on which they live.
I had high hopes for Luthi’s first book. The cover is terrific and there is far too little really good comic science fiction. Unfortunately after I finished reading Snow, I realized that there is still far too little good comic science fiction. It’s not that Snow is bad, but it just isn’t enough and it is too much all at the same time. Luthi falls into the trap which seems common to a lot of original English-language manga: he tells too much too soon. So much is revealed in book one that I have no reason to hanker for book two. If Luthi had teased us with elements of what he reveals, if he had allowed us to see parts of his characters, but never the whole, then we would be eager to know more and ready to read the next book. But because too much is revealed too soon, little time is taken for character development. By the end of the book I didn’t feel I knew Snow or Katarina any better than I did when I started reading, even though I knew more about them.
On top of that, Luthi’s cartoonish style of art is jarring in connection with his more serious story. I could never decide if the tale was meant to be funny, ironic, or adventurous. In the end, I’m not sure if the problem lies with a new, inexperienced manga-ka or if the problem lies with Tokyopop’s widely spaced release schedule for OEL manga. With a year or more between volumes, maybe Luthi was just worried that a second volume might never come, so he felt he needed to tell all the important elements of his story in volume one. An optional purchase for libraries where OEL manga circulates well.
Snow, vol. 1 By Morgan Luthi ISBN: 9781598167436 Tokyopop, 2006
You know how every hardboiled cop you’ve ever seen on television “doesn’t need no partner,” and “works alone”? Well, imagine how Officer Kyoji Kido feels when he finds out that not only does he have to take on a new partner, but that new partner happens to be a junior high student. But Kasumi Asakura isn’t your ordinary teen; she’s a former member of ALICE, a neo-terrorist group of super assassins known by the distinctive rose tattoo each member has somewhere on his or her body. Kasumi’s link to ALICE leaves Kyoji wondering just how far he can trust her. His desire to stop ALICE supersedes his worry over Kasumi, though. You see, ALICE killed Kyoji’s little sister and he’ll stop at nothing to bring the group to justice.
If you love shoot-’em-up action movies, police dramas, or even the flying-fists of Jackie Chan, Rose Hip Zero is for you. Tohru Fujisawa, creator of GTO, starts this new series off with a bang: thugs, bikers, cops, car crashes, bombs, even a bit of fan service, and that’s just in the first chapter. There is something for everyone in this book and the whole thing is fun. The characters are developed quickly and the action unfolds just as fast, as the dynamic art moves the reader from one scene to the next. There is some strong language used and the level of violence and number of panty shots make this a better choice for older teens. Definitely recommended.
Rose Hip Zero, vol. 1 By Tohru Fujisawa ISBN: 1427800251 Tokyopop, 2006
So, you wanna be a manga artist? Well, so do many, many artists just starting out so check out these titles to see what your competition may be, and to gather advice on how to make it (or at least create the best work you can) in the world of manga-style comics.
However you define manga, there’s no question Japanese comics have had a huge influence on comic art today, and will continue to do so as all the dedicated manga fans put pen to paper and write and draw manga-style comics of their own.
Tokyopop’s annual Rising Stars of Manga competition is one of the best ways to get your feet wet if you’re serious about giving manga a try. The judges give honest criticism, which each volume gives in a prologue to each story, and even if creators don’t make the final cut, they encourage aspiring artists to submit again once they’ve honed their skills. The nicest thing about these manga collections is that they are a window into what’s to come while at the same time giving a window into how the judges (the editors and staff at Tokyopop) consider each title, commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of each entry.
For the latest volume 6, there’s everything from a surprise lesson in searching the trash to a villain’s check list for successful crimes to a violin that cries. These artists take to heart the example and lessons that manga teaches, but they use those tools to create work entirely their own.
Mangaka America is a lush book, full of many pages of everything from sketches to final art from the leading manga-style creators already working professionally. The title highlights some of, in my humble opinion, the best artists working in manga-style comics today, from Svetlana Chmakova (Dramacon) to Christy Lijewski (Re:Play) to M. Alice LeGrow (Bizenghast). There are profiles and chatty interviews of each artists, showing off how each creator works from imagining a story to the nitty gritty of what tools they use.
Now, there are fans who quibble about what manga is, and I see a lot of those points as valid (Japanese manga is unique in its perspective, and I don’t quite buy that manga made elsewhere is automatically the same.) However, in the end, comics are comics, and good stories are good stories. These artists are those who are not just imitating manga’s rules and visuals but are also making fresh stories and inventing new looks that meld styles together and it’s just plain fun to guess where it’s all going. I just look forward to the stories that are coming from these examples, there’s already a lot in the works, and there’s always room for more.
Rising Stars of Manga, vol. 6 by Various Authors ISBN: 9781595328168 Tokyopop, 2006
Mangaka America by Various Authors ISBN: 9780061137693 Harper Collins, 2006
Transylvanian Rose, an angel who descends to Earth to cleanse souls so that they can enter heaven, is bored. Every day is the same and has been for all eternity. When she sees a cute guy kill himself she decides to keep him for a pet by giving him one of her wings, even though “those who take their own lives forsake heaven.” The Undertaker, as she nicknames him, doesn’t much want to be a pet and constantly tries to get away from Rose by trying to kill himself, impossible for an angel, until the two of them discover that he can purify the souls of suicides, something no other angel has ever been able to do. Will his newfound power lead to the mystery of why he killed himself and to a way for him to set his soul free at last?
Mihara’s books are known for both her Goth Lolita style and for her storylines which deal with weighty issues in an unusual fashion. Here she tackles both suicide and religion with humor, sensitivity, and love. Though some readers might balk at God being portrayed as a handsome, longhaired young man acting as father to a bickering group of hip young angels, you can’t help but be swayed by the Undertaker’s deep sadness. It is that sadness which forms the core of his powers, that and an understanding of why people kill themselves. Those reasons may seem trivial to outsiders, but Mihara uses her gentle angel to remind us that people who are depressed often see no other way out and to remind us that God loves us anyway. An excellent choice for fans of Mihara or Ai Yazawa or for manga/goth fans who want their religion thoughtful and thought provoking.
R.I.P.: Requiem in Phonybrian By Mitsukazu Mihara ISBN: 9781598165050 Tokyopop, 2006