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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Graphic Novel Review: Off*Beat GN 2

Off*Beat volume 2
Author: Jen Lee Quick
Chromatic Press Inc.
176 pages
Christopher "Tory" Blake finally feels like he's gaining ground in his quest to learn more about the introverted Colin Stephens. But can he really discover what makes his new neighbor so fascinating through study dates and a few shared lunches? And when Tory's flatmate almost loses his computer to a virus protecting the secrets of something called "The Gaia Project," Tory gets a glimpse of just how deep Colin's mysteries go. What is the Gaia Project, and more importantly, is it what's causing Tory's heart to race whenever he sees Colin...? (Source: Chromatic Press)
Oh, Tory, baby. You have so much to learn about the human heart. Oh, and not stalking the boys you have secret crushes (that are so secret even you don't know it's there) on. In this volume of Off*Beat, the closer Tory gets to Colin in order to learn more about the Gaia Project, the more Tory gets to realizing that it's more about Colin that anything else. He also starts realizing that his actions have consequences - and those consequences hurt. It's yet another wonderful volume of Off*Beat that has me eagerly awaiting the publication of the third.

In this volume, the mystery of the Gaia Project is set aside partly for the mystery of Tory's attraction to Colin. This is not to say that the Project is chucked aside. Actually, Jen Lee Quick does a good job hinting at the overall mystery of the Project, teasing with such scenes as Tory's dream sequence and the loss of Paul's computer to a mystery virus, all connected to GP. We also see a little more of Colin at home, where apparently the project is entering a new phase, one that involves Colin. Oh, and Colin has a ton of cats. And that's awesome.
As for Tory, he's been kind of a jerk lately. He's been using Paul to learn more about Gaia Project, using Mandy to get close to Colin, and getting closer to Colin for a variety of reasons. Luckily, this is the volume in which he gets called out on his rather callous, detached way of quietly manipulating his surroundings. And it is Paul who gets to do it, because he rather deserves it, don't you think?
This is not to say that Tory has a sudden change of heart, goes "Wow, I really was being a jerk!" and starts being terribly nice to everyone. That would be terrible storytelling. But by volume's end, we see that Paul's words have struck a deeper nerve that first thought, and it reflects in how he responds to events. Although his newfound sense of respect for his peers does not help him in the last chapter...
We also see more of Tory's own past. We see his father, who is an obvious deadbeat and unreliable to the max. It's clear that Tory's trust issues stem from this man who is no longer around and wasn't much around even when he was. Will Colin leave Tory to eventually open up? Or will Colin's own quiet exterior keep Tory at bay? So many issues, so little time.
I also enjoyed seeing the dynamics between Tory and his mother explored further in this volume. I feel bad for Tory's mom and hope that Tory can understand his own mother's reasoning in the near future. Tory is not an easy kid to handle on one's own! Especially with his obsession over his new neighbor. Yowza.
The artwork in this volume was top-notch as always. I especially enjoyed the dream sequences, in which Jen Lee Quick went all out with the fantastical imagery and usage of anime/manga tropes to put Tory and Colin in dream scenarios that reflect their real life unconscious complications. It feels like if its a humorous scene or a dream sequence, that's when the art is at the top of its game.
The real draw of this volume, however, is the Tory/Colin relationship. Jen Lee Quick has crafted this deep, interesting connection between these two boys and I'm interested to see how things will play out in the third volume, considering how this one ends. Yes, it's a relationship that is based on one pretty much stalking the other. I'm not saying it's healthy, just that it is interesting. And interesting makes for better reading.

I thought nothing could top book one of Off*Beat. And then book two came out. This delicious mystery/romance/drama/humor/sci-fi story is one of the best OEL manga out there, a title that didn't get due justice from Tokyopop during its first run and is now finding its true audience with Chromatic Press. All I want to do is read more and hope Tory and Colin, those oddball boys, make it out okay. Darn you, Off*Beat, for making me care!
You can read more Off*Beat via Sparkler Monthly at Chromatic Press' website: chromaticpress.com