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).