Cowboy Joe's Two-Gun Manga Round-Up, Volume 2
In my last rootin' tootin' cow-punchin' installment, I adressed a few of the things that led to my disenchantment with manga, but I left out one of the key factors.
Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that a good ten percent of them are lovely people. But comics fans in general tend to fall on the elitist, and working in a comic book store, I've seen more than my share of folks wander in applying Japanese pronunciations to English words and referring to things as "kawaii." Could just be that I'm a bitter and petty young man, but it pushes my "I want to stab you" button pretty hard.
But then again, my hatred of goths led me to resist reading Sandman for years, so I should probably just let go of the little chunks of anger that make up most of my soul.
But every cloud does have its silver linin', pardner, and in this case, the broad fanbase of manga has allowed for more new creators to break in with their own work,and sometimes it's pretty darn good. And sometimes... sometimes, they're Ladies.
Such is the case with tonight's subjects, Steady Beat by Rivkah, and Svetlana Chmakova's DramaCon.
Steady Beat tells the story of Leah, a high school girl in Texas who finds a love letter to her perfect sister--valedictorian and captain of the varsity soccer team--from another girl. Complicating matters are Leah's conservative state senator mother, a series of phone calls that lead to Leah getting hit by a car, and hunky love interest Elijah, who has two fathers, one of which appears to be based on Dana Carvey's "Lyle, the Effeminate Heterosexual" character from SNL.
There's a lot of emotions involved and a severe lack of the martial arts, but seeing as it has both lesbians and gunplay (it is Texas), that pretty much makes up for the girly bits.
Seriously, though, Rivkah does a fine job with it. The characters are well-established and interesting from the start, and her art is great, especially when it comes to storytelling. My favorite art element comes in the form of an elephant that shows up around Leah whenever she's avoiding confronting her sister about the letter. It's a great little device that works well in the story as the weird kind of symbolism that tends to only work in manga, and her page layouts are wonderful.
It's especially impressive since--according to her bio on the inside front cover--Rivkah's only been drawing manga since 2003, and Steady Beat is her first full-length series. She's also apparently "been a professional in the print industry for over seven years," despite being only a year older than me, which is a little depressing. But then again, I've probably written way more about Chuck Norris than her, so that's something.
Best to be moving on to Svetlana Chmakova. With DramaCon, also from TokyoPop, Chmakova creates a manga about a girl who creates a manga and then goes to her first anime convention to promote it. It's a quick read--I knocked out the 172 pages in less than half an hour--and along the way you'll get every single manga cliché you've ever seen.
There's Christie, our protagonist, who is so sweet and innocent that she's managed to to make it all the way to an anime convention with a self-published manga under her belt without knowing what hentai is. Me, I found out within picoseconds of my anime fandom, but, well, that could just be me. We've also got Christie's Friend the Slut™ (dressed as a catgirl), her Evil Boyfriend™, and a love triangle completed by the aloof Matt, who a) wears a trenchcoat and fingerless leather gloves with no hint of irony, b) has a Dark and Mysterious Past™, and c) has a deformity that somehow only makes him more attractive. Add in a series of wacky and heart-wrenching hi-jinks, and all of your standard manga elements are present and accounted for. I'm really hoping that Volume 2 is going to open with Christie running down the street at super-speed in a sailor uniform with a piece of toast hanging out of her mouth after her mother tells her she's overslept again and now she's late for school!
But don't get me wrong--that doesn't make DramaCon bad. In fact, it ends up being pretty awesome, thanks largely to those elements. At its core, it's a manga about manga, and by reveling in the clichés of the genre, Chmakova is able to create a fun and compelling story that's as much a love letter to the tricks of the manga style as it is a love story between the characters.
Trust me on this one: Chmakova lives in Canada, and the girls up there love that stuff.