Manga Man meets Comic Girl
“Manga Man” is about 1/3 of a great comic. The first half of the book is a frustrating gimmick comic with a single idea goes on too long. Then, out of nowhere, page #68 transforms “Manga Man” into an innovative and enjoyable comic. It makes me wonder where the writer was hiding his talent.
First off is the gimmick. The hook. The set-up. A scientist named Dr. Louis Capeletti created a machine that allowed him to penetrate multiple dimension space. When he turns the machine on, out pops Ryoko Kiyama, a high-school boy from a world of Japanese manga comics. You seriously suspend disbelief at this point; Instead of keeping Ryoko hidden in a military installation for experiments and study, the government and Dr. Capeletti do the obvious thing and send him unmonitored to high school. Hijinks ensue.
Ryoko is not just “from the world of manga,” he actually operates under a different set of physics. He is completely unable to hide his emotions, as all of these manga tropes; speed lines, sweat drops, heart-shaped eyes; manifest physically. He also has this problem with knowing the future, because as he says, he lives his life right-to-left, not left-to-right. The kids at high school aren’t too happy about their new freak, especially when he starts up a romance with Marissa, a once-popular girl who ditched her football-playing boyfriend to recreate herself in fancy costumes and wild interests.
The whole “manga man in normal world” gets old fast. It was clever for about five pages, but then the slapstick about Ryoko glowing, or changing size, or selling his left-over speed lines on ebay, just aren’t funny anymore. And the story is clichéd. Marissa’s ex is a typical dumb jock who thinks he can punch his way back into Marissa’s affections. There is a homecoming party. Meh.
Then we hit page #68, and boom!, “Manga Man” switches gears. Marissa discovers that she is also a character in a comic, just a different kind of comic than Ryoko. “Manga Man” becomes a brilliant exploration of the nature of living in a comic book, and on the differences between impressionistic Japanese comics vs. realistic American comics. (Author Barry Lyga even throws in a hilarious meta-joke on Article 175 and “mosaic,” that I don’t want to ruin for you. But it’s really funny). Marissa and Ryoko go on a sort of dance between the panels that is beautiful to watch, and there is some harsh reality as Ryoko discovers humans are quite so resilient in Marissa’s comic book land.
One thing that stays consistently good through “Manga Man” is Colleen Doran’s art. It’s perfect. Her realistic style is a perfect juxtaposition with the flat manga-style of Ryoko. I can’t think of any artist who could have done the series better. It is too bad Lyga didn’t give her more to work with story-wise. When page #68 hits, and Doran is able to strut her stuff – wow. Gorgeous.
I said at the start that “Manga Man” was only 1/3 of a good comic. As much as I enjoyed the middle, the ending was a disappointment as well. Maybe it is because I am in a mixed-race, cross-culture marriage myself, but the way the story ended didn’t sit well with me — Imagine a love story between a white guy and a black girl, dealing with prejudice and differences, then the story ending with the black girl magically turning white at the end to solve all their problems. Lame.