written by Barry Lyga
illustrated by Colleen Doran
While manga makes me cranky and restless, meta-fictive comics are some of my favorite things to read. Grant Morrison’s “Animal Man,” in which Buddy Baker becomes very aware that he’s living in a comic book, has some of my favorite comic moments of all time, and the Fantastic Four meeting Jack Kirby remains a memorable moment. So, the combination of these two elements produces something wholly unexpected and compelling.
Mangaman is the story of a teenage boy named Ryoko who comes from a universe with very manga-like properties. He stumbles into the “real” world of sex-and-booze-obsessed teenagers, precipitating a whole new spin on the new-kid-at-school story. Ryoko, who may or may not be an alien, leaves speed lines when he walks, turns into a chibi (small and cute) version of himself when he’s excited, and has eyes that turn into giant hearts when he feels love. Of course, this is a fairly alarming concept to the very human teenagers at his new, “real world” school. He falls in love, boyfriends are battled, and Ryoko struggles to adjust to this world as the world also struggles to adjust to him.
Barry Lyga writes a story in which characters are forced into awareness about the nature of their own reality, which is a heavy story to tell in 125 pages, but it all fits together very nicely. Heavily experimental in both concept and execution, and very conscious of the differences between manga and American comics, it manages to embrace both audiences. In fact, its use of self-consciousness is almost instructional: I find myself with a better understanding and appreciation of manga than when I started out. While the story’s conclusion might not be wholly satisfying for some readers, it’s an interesting journey.
Colleen Doran also does a great job fluctuating between many different art styles, as the situation requires. Her humans are appropriately and consistently realistic, and as the story shifts between different kinds of manga (shonen and shojo, with moments of kodomo and well-censored hentai), so does the visual interpretation of Ryoko. All of this is merged with this “realistic” style, within the same panel, so keeping visual clarity is very important, and handled excellently. The reader is able to appreciate the fact that this world of humans is trying to adjust to a creature that is perpetually changing appearance—something that manga readers already have in their lexicon.
Mangaman is a book designed for teens. Suggestive language, violence, and a near-sex scene (pixellated out, as in censored manga) are definitely for an older audience, but it’s nothing that the teen library shelf doesn’t already have in one form or another. As an exploration into the many different forms of comics available, it’s both an excellent story and resource.
-- Collin David