Sometimes there is a concept so strange, so out there, it really only can work well in comics. Sich is the case of MangaMan.
Ryoko, a manga character from a manga world, falls through the Rip into the “real” world — the Western world — and tries to survive as the ultimate outsider at a typical American high school.
When Ryoko falls in love with Marissa Montaigne, the most beautiful girl in the school, his eyes turn to hearts and the comic tension tightens as his way of expressing himself clashes with this different Western world where he is stuck. “Panel-holed” for being different, Ryoko has to figure out how to get back to his manga world, back through the Rip . . . all while he has hearts for eyes for a girl from the wrong kind of comic book.
Talk about a foreign exchange gone awry!
Mangaman is the cartoon equivalent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit; using every visual gag and stereotype to show the difference between cartoons and the “real” world. Where Mangaman makes its mark and separates itself from other attempts at this is the depth to which Mangaman takes the concept. Mangaman is able to transcend the visual gags and mixed metaphors and explores a deeper understanding of the concept of perception, life, and a person’s destiny. Heavy stuff for something that is “just a funny book”.
Barry Lyga varies the pacing to meet the demands of the story. Some times it is sped up rapidly, compressing time to move things along quickly. Other times he stretches a single action out over several panels (or even pages) to truly capture every moment of the action. It is a fantastic trick as it demonstrates one of the major differences between western style comic book writing, and Manga comics. But it is not heavy handed, and feels natural, a nice treat.
Where Mangaman truly shines is in the art. Colleen Doran was the perfect artist for this book. She has studied both western and Japanese comics extensively, thus allowing her to effortlessly use the styles and standards of both. The art is primarily in a 1980′s style indie or even newspaper style (like Apartment 3G or Rex Morgan, Md.). Forthe first 11 pages this is all we see. However, with the appearance of Ryoko on page 12, Doran introduces a manga style for Ryoko that is in stark contrast to the “normal” word she has carefully constructed.
In every pane, Ryoko seems to stand out. Everything from the way he looks to the way his hair and clothes react to his movement are larger and more exciting than anything else in the “world”. Like the story pacing, it is a constant reminder that manga is more than just “big eyes” and “big robots”.
My only complaint about the book is that it ended rather abruptly. It was almost as if Lyga and Doran were told that the book could only have 126 pages and they had about 136 pages of story to tell. that isn’t to say that the ending isn’t satisfactory…it is just compressed and abrupt. But, then again, I have read enough manga to know that sometimes decisions that a western comic character would agonize over for pages (or issues) is often decided in manga in the space between the panels. Maybe this was just a shift in the pacing of the comic.
Mangaman was a title I was looking forward to reading, and it did not disappoint. It was fresh, different, and full of the kind of visuals that cannot be replicated in any other medium. Mangman is a true winner!
Check out a sample of the book here.