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Friday, September 13, 2013

Graphic Novel Review: Off*Beat GN 1

Off*Beat volume 1
Author: Jen Lee Quick
Chromatic Press Inc.
173 pages
Christopher "Tory" Blake is a little too smart for his own good. His flights of fancy can whisk him away to odd places, but none so odd as those involving his mysterious new neighbor, Colin Stephens. Quiet and unassuming, it's obvious that Colin is up to something - but what? And when it turns out Tory's instincts may actually be on to something, he discovers he's got just as much to figure out about himself as he does about his new "friend." Is Colin just a curiosity or something more...? (Source: Chromatic Press)
Once upon a time, Tokyopop performed a great experiment in which prodigious manga-ka of American origin were courted for their manga-inspired works, an attempt to become the publisher of OEL (Original English Language) manga in North America. Much like the company itself, it eventually failed, but several stellar titles ended up rising from the group, redeeming OEL manga from the role of "lesser manga".
One of these titles, all thanks to the crowd sourced power of Kickstarter, is enjoying a reprint renaissance thanks to a brand new comic press - and that is Jen Lee Quick's Off*Beat, one of the best OEL manga you're not reading. And now you can, again!

I once read a little bit of Off*Beat back when it was a Tokyopop title. Man, did it deserve better. Off*Beat is just like it says: deliciously offbeat, a mixture of sci-fi/thriller mystery, high school drama, and topsy-turvy romance. Our main protagonist, Tory, is an introverted genius obsessed with his new neighbor, Colin. Colin, who is even more introverted than Tory, is a quiet boy struggling in class and hiding some amazing secrets - if Tory can only figure out what they are. Or is that the real reason why Tory keeps trying to figure out Colin and the truth behind the other boy's odd life?
Then we have Tory's mother, who is honestly flummoxed by her son's behavior and only wants to make sure her son is healthy and not becoming one of those typical sullen teenagers. Above Tory, in their handsome apartment building, lives Paul, the college student who often mooches off Tory and his mother and ends up being drawn into the Tory/Colin drama. Our last major player is Tory and Colin's classmate Mandy, the 'genki girl' who apparently has a thing for shy geek boys.
While reading Off*Beat, I was reminded a lot of Yun Kouga's manga, Loveless. Both deal with secrets and obsession, both have two male main characters whose lives seem to circle around each other (although by coincidence or by fate, it is not known), both have 'genki type' girls as the MC's friend (Loveless' girl being Yuiko), and both have very striking art styles. I would go so far as to recommend Off*Beat to any fan of Loveless, although Off*Beat lacks Yun Kouga's love for violence and love and kemonomimi.
There's also something about Jen Lee Quick's art style that keeps me drawn to the page. First off, it's pretty obvious that she did her research on the setting of New York City, something she explains in the afterward (with photos of locations, squee!). Is it weird that I love how she draws trees? Also, her facial expressions, especially for dour Colin and oddly cheerful-when-blushing Tory, are pretty spot on. I really adore the way she uses negative space and thick/thin lines to make scenes more dramatic or pop on the page. Quick has a way with paneling that make beginner manga-ka want to weep into their nibs, y'all.
The main draw behind Off*Beat is the relationship with Colin and Tory that puts it into boys' love territory, in the same way Loveless is: no explicit BL scenes or themes, but damn, it's pretty close. Although given the way Tory blushes around Colin, we may go into more BL-like scenes in the future. Tory is undeniably drawn to Colin as a person and as a mystery that needs solving. In turn, Colin finds himself being drawn to Tory mostly because of circumstance (and Tory's tendency to stalk the poor kid) and the very idea that someone could be so concerned with his well-being.
There are so many questions left unanswered at the end of volume one. What is the secret behind Colin? What is his father doing? Why can't Paul buy his own food? And why does Tory persist on pursuing Colin when even he doesn't know what the reason is, beyond raw curiosity? I'm left wanting to know so much more, thanks to an excellent cliffhanger by Jen Lee Quick on the very last page. Thank goodness the Kickstarter gave me both of the first two volumes!

You can check out more information about the Off*Beat series at the Chromatic Press website: www.chromaticpress.com