Tuesday, December 6, 2011

GN Review -- Manga Man / Barry Lyga and Colleen Doran

On its surface, Manga Man has a clever and promising concept: a character from a manga universe becomes trapped in a more realistic, Western-style comic book world. His expressions, actions, and emotions are all reflected in conventions normal for manga--he takes a chibi form and gets hearts for eyes when he sees the girl of his dreams, for instance--and that's what people in the "real" world literally see him doing. It seems like this would be a perfect opportunity to blend humor, metafiction, and drama-adventure into memorable storytelling.

And for a while, it is. It's entertaining to watch Ryoko attempt to find acceptance in a world where his sound effects and speed lines literally appear out of thin air... and then fall to the ground, leaving a mess for others to clean up. It's intriguing when he explains "empty space" and panel perception to his love interest, Marissa, touching upon the literary device embodied by gutters in comics.

But the novelty simply doesn't last the intended length of the narrative. The love story, while cute in places, doesn't seem particularly inspired or interesting; in some places it feels formulaic and inserted out of a sense of grudging placation. The arc involving Ryoko's attempts to get to his home dimension with the help of military scientist Dr. Louis Capeletti and a portal he's created feels incomplete, overly simplified, and lacking in anything more than surface information. The metafictive humor and situations lose their shine by the story's mid-point, and I'm left with a narrative that felt like a struggle to finish.

I'm a big fan of Barry Lyga's written works, particularly The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, as well as his Wolverine book, Wolverine: Worst Day Ever (both comic-related, so keep your eyes out for eventual reviews of them as well). So I was very excited to get my hands on Manga Man for that reason alone. Unfortunately, this work didn't feel like it was up to his usual standards, writing-wise. Not a big deal--we all have our off-days--but I do seriously doubt this particular work will go down as one of his better efforts.

Colleen Doran's artwork does its job well enough in differentiating convincingly between the two comic styles--and I know that can't be easy. It does feel like the linework is a little too thick in places, and the complete lack of any shading is off-putting to me, but it does effectively highlight the fact that this is a comic about the differences between two separate comic types, not a manga and the real world. The Western style in her work is very photographic despite its apparent simplicity, and leaves you staring at some of the portraits, wondering how someone achieves such realism with so relatively few lines.

Overall, I'm ambivalent about this work. While the concept is creative and original, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The artwork is pretty good, and definitely relevant to the story, but the writing feels rushed and incomplete. It's fun in places, but felt like a trudge by the time I finished the story. Manga Man therefore gets a reserved recommendation for those who want to explore metafiction in comics, and a suggested pass for most other comics enthusiasts.


  1. I loved this one, but perhaps it was more the metafiction aspect of it than anything else that really amused me.

  2. I liked the metafiction aspect a lot, it just seemed to wear thin after a while. Lyga is at his best when he's giving a genuine voice to teens, which he does really well in his other works I've read. Not so much in Manga Man, which after all doesn't seem really designed for it.