I am not a big fan of manga, or as they are apparently known in the English-speaking world, graphic novels. That's not to say that I hate them by any means, there are some I have enjoyed such as the classic Black Jack, GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, and the One Piece series I am currently reading. I've even read Buffy's Season 8 and enjoyed it. But most of what I read in manga form is either dreck or I can't get rid of the niggling sensation that the paperback I'm fondling in a ramen shop would be oh so much better as a novel, without images, so I could imagine things rather than have them in my face.
But what I am not is a manga fan; i.e. fanatic. I seem to meet those a lot- people who think that everything would be better as a manga. I know a junior high teacher who believes all texts should be in manga form. I, emphatically, do not buy that.
One of my biggest issues with manga in Japan is that women rarely come off well in them. Many manga feature exaggerated bodies, with gigantic eyes and bosoms which I don't find aesthetically pleasing and I find morally disturbing in children's books. Most of the popular series aimed at teen girls that I have seen feature love stories between boys. Not that this is a bad thing by any means, but if decent girl characters don't (or rarely) exist in that field, where are they?
This isn't meant to be an attack on manga, I just want you to know where I am coming from. For me to consider a manga to be good, there are hurdles it probably wouldn't have if it were a novel. For me to consider a graphic novel great, well, it would have to be Emiko Superstar.
Emiko Superstar (CDN, JP, USA) is a graphic novel in the Minx line, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Steve Rolston. I was originally drawn to this Cybil Award winner because of the name. Emi is one of my favourite names ever, and my daughter was a single kanji stroke away from this name. The girl on the cover, a freckled Asian, sealed the deal. I thought that even if I hate it, my kids will see a book with a cover featuring someone who looks like them.
Turns out there is no way to hate this book. Emiko is not just relatable, she is emminently likable. In no way a Pollyanna, she tries hard but sometimes does some bad things, like anyone. She's not too good at her crappy fast food job, but needs something to fill up her summer since her friends are away. I've been there and I bet most of you have too! She starts with babysitting but is looking for more. She needs something to help her let her inner freak flag fly free. A chance encounter with Poppy, the headliner at a Warholesque freak show gives her a peek into a world she wants to be part of. But she lacks the confidence to get involved, so she borrows some of her grandmother's style and some drama from her babysitting charge's mother. She makes some friends, has some good and some scary times, and becomes a short-lived superstar in a way only a child of the 2000s can.
Remember how I told you how many reservations I have about graphic novels? This book stomped on those reservations. Good story? Check. Likeable female character? Check. Realistic bodies and eyes that do not take up half a character's face? Check. Illustrations that add to the story? Check.
I liked this so much I read it twice in two days. Then I went out to search for Skim, another Mariko Tamaki-authored graphic novel, others illustrated by Steve Rolston, and more in the Minx line. The only bad thing about this graphic novel is the damage done to my credit card afterward.
This was my 13th book for the 5th Canadian Book Challenge