Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: Mangaman

There's a pretty clever premise to this original graphic novel from prose writer Barry Lyga (Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, other stuff) and cartoonist Colleen Doran (A DIstant Soil, other stuff, one that is rather immediately apparent from a quick flip-through, even if the rather generic cover and more generic still title work to obscure it from a casual browser: Teenager Ryoko Kiyama stumbles out of an interdimensional rift and winds up in the real world; his home universe is a manga, making him a manga character trying to get buy in a Western comic book, as Lyga and Doran are telling their story as a graphic novel.

The story is a bit thin, but it is mostly a set-up on which to riff gags off of, and, later, some all-the-world's-a-comic book observations about the true nature of reality and its relationship to the comics medium, along the lines Grant Morrison started exploring in his late-eighties Animal Man and he and other writers (notably Alan Moore in his Promethea) have often dealt with.

The gags are funny. Ryoko generally horrifies the other teenagers in the story, as he still acts as if he were in a manga. Not only is he drawn in a different style which would make him rather horrifying to behold—hie eyes alone are ten times bigger than those of a normal person's—but if he's surprised or performing some sort of action, he'll summon a cloud of speed lines, which, when the moment has passed, then crash to the ground. He similarly summons sound effects and imagery of what's going on in his head, and he will seemingly transform at random into a horrifying chibi homunculus, or get hearts for eyes and so on.Doran draws him rather shojo-esque, but references are made to several types and styles of manga and anime throughout. She is a perfect artist for the project, given the versatility of her style, and how well she draws realistic and representational human beings, more greatly contrasting the gulf between Ryoko and the others.

As for that thin story, Ryoko is kept in a military facility with an army major who serves as his guardian while also trying to build a big, crazily complicated machine to send him back home. Ryoko begins attending a local high school, where he falls for former homecoming queen-turned-fancy dress enthusiast Marissa and runs afoul of Marissa's jock ex. Ryoko and Marissa immediately fall in love with one another, forcing Ryoko to have to choose between life as a freak in the real world with a real girl he loves, or returning home and never seeing Marissa again.Oddly enough, Marissa seems the stranger of the two lead characters and, as a reader, I had a harder time believing in her than I would that a real, live manga character could enter our universe through an portal to an alternate dimension. When we first meet her, she's dressed like Indiana Jones and looking at herself in the mirror, trying to find the perfect outfit to attend a party in. Almost every time we see her, she's in a costume, which is...well, it's pretty weird.

I mean, that's the point. It's supposed to be a weird habit. But it's so weird that it always come across as a trait a writer might think to assign a character to signify weirdness, rather than the sort of weird that a real person might organically evolve on their own. In addition to the above examples, for exmaple, Marissa attends school dressed like Julie Newmar's Catwoman, Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra and a Lord of the Rings elf, fake ears and all.

In addition to my concerns about the presentation—the title, the cover design—maybe not serving the story as well as they could, I'm not sure the black and white art works as well as color would. Because the bulk of manga is presented in black and white, to embed the manga character Ryoko in a comics world that is also black and white seems like it's missing a pretty ideal and fundamental opportunity to further, more drastically contrast him with his setting, the one type of comic from the other (the vast majority of Western comics beings in color).

Concerns aside, there's some funny bits in here, and while Lyga's discussions of comic book as reality or reality as comic book aren't that radically revolutionary to anyone who's been reading the damn things for too long, I imagine they could certainly go a long way to blowing some of the younger minds who are the most-likely audience for this teen-friendly book.

Also, there's a pretty good dick joke about 3/4 of the way through.

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