Graphic Novel Friday: Man or Mangaman?
It’s February and love is in the air—but in the town of Castleton, there’s a different kind of energy crackling. At the opening of Mangaman, written by Barry Lyga and illustrated by Colleen Doran, there is a tear in the fabric of Castleton’s reality and from it drops a strange creature. He’s lithe and two-dimensional, with oversized eyes and a waist as small as his tiny mouth. Essentially, he’s a typical manga dreamboat (perfectly named “Ryoko”), except he’s misplaced here in a Western comic.
This is no ordinary fish out of water. Instead, like a graphic novel Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Lyga and Doran use the Western perceptions of manga to play with the medium. Ryoko enrolls in a typical American high school, where he is ridiculed by the school’s jocks for his unusual looks and actions that would otherwise be normal in manga. Lyga sets up Doran with plenty of opportunities for visual in-jokes. While at recess, Ryoko leaps for a volleyball, all speed lines and exclamation points—again, completely typical in an Eastern comic. Yet in this American high school, the kids freak out: “Hey! Watch your speed lines!” When Ryoko eats a hamburger in the cafeteria, he morphs into a muppet, his mouth opens too wide into an exaggerated grin that pushes his cheeks so far up his face that his eyes become thin lines. It’s a stereotypical manga expression of glee, but the Castleton residents steer clear of him. The janitor grumbles, “Like I don’t have anything better to do all day…” as he sweeps up the drawn lines that trail Ryoko's bombastic movements (in manga they simply disappear, but here they fall and collect on the floor).
Mangaman would be nowhere near as successful without Colleen Doran. She perfectly captures the otherworldliness of Ryoko, while seamlessly dropping him into Western comic panels (Doran shapes the American teens with expert detail and depth—everything Ryoko’s visuals lack). My favorite of Doran’s subtle notes is the look of the American teenagers. Like a John Hughes film from the 1980s, the high-schoolers all look about ten years too old. It’s a fun touch to what does feel like a lost classic, because pretty soon Ryoko falls for an out-of-his-league girl: Marissa Montaigne, the knock-out blonde who refuses to give in to the bullies' bigotries.
As their relationship builds, so too does Mangaman’s metafiction. Ryoko and Marissa realize they aren’t only constrained by the town’s small prejudices; they are also trapped within comic conventions. As they attempt to escape Castleton, they exploit the actual panels that surround them. It’s a love story within a comic book within a graphic novel, and Mangaman’s heart is as big as its hyperbolic hero's eyes—a Valentine’s Day gift for the romantic who's well-versed in any form of the comic medium.
Click below to watch a trailer for the graphic novel: