Alternate Cover: comics for manga fans

James continues his attempt to prove that comics and manga are the same by recommending some comicbooks for manga fans

Scott Pilgrim

Last week, I highlighted a few manga series that comic fans might find accessible. This time, it’s the flip side of things we’re looking at, as I try and find a few comic series manga fans might not run screaming at the thought of reading.

The most obvious suggestion for this list is Scott Pilgrim. Not only is it released in the Manga format, it actually bases a lot of its story pacing and convention on shonen manga, meaning that it’ll be packed with references for manga fans and seem immediately familiar. Almost no other comic on the shelves bridges the gap quite so effortlessly and perfectly. The plot concerns the titular Scott Pilgrim, forced to fight the 7 evil exes of his new girlfriend. Along the way, he also has to deal with his life as a young Canadian in a band, and a supporting cast of scenesters and geeks.

Of course, what makes Scott Pilgrim a work of genius is the sheer density of jokes and the brilliantly constructed world the characters live in, which closely resembles our own – except occasionally, ninjas will attack the cast, or they’ll launch into a Bollywood-style (or even Haruhi-style) dance number. When Scott beats an enemy, he might collect some coins, or power up. Being a vegan gives you telekinetic powers. Beneath the fantastic dialogue and pop-culture references, it’s a brilliant example of Video game and manga logic applied to the real world, and it’s nothing short of a must-read. There are currently 4 volumes released, and an Edgar Wright-directed movie on the way.

If you’re after something a bit more fantastical, you can’t go wrong with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – though please do your best to disassociate yourself from the memory of the awful film version of a few years back. Written by Alan Moore, the League comic takes characters from several centuries’ worth of fiction, and incorporates them all into one alternate world. A place where the Invisible Man and Sherlock Holmes both exist alongside Toad of Toad Hall. A place where Rupert the Bear is a savage, mutant experiment gone horribly wrong.

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Fans of manga and anime will no doubt appreciate the steampunk trappings of the story, which is largely set in a futurist Victorian era not entirely dissimilar from shows like Fullmetal Alchemist. Likewise, the epic plot spread over several volumes, sees a group of freaks and adventurers pulled into a battle for the survival of the planet itself, and is certainly familiar fare tone to fans of Japanese storytelling, which is never afraid to put everything at stake.

The final western series I’m going to suggest that manga fans would enjoy is Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s Demo. Cloonan’s frequently manga-inspired visuals will place readers on immediately familiar ground, and even when she’s altering her style to fit whatever tone writer Brian Wood has cooked up, there’s a strong sense of Eastern-inspired design about the whole thing. Each of the 12 issues has a specific short story about a teenager discovering that they have unique and special supernatural abilities, and suggests exactly what might happen with them.

Of particular interest to manga-readers are issues #2 and #6. The former is titled “Emmy” and showcases Cloonan’s manga artwork at its absolute best, telling the story of a young girl with a voice so dangerous and powerful that she dare not use it. The latter is called “What You Wish For” and features a protagonist with the ability to raise and command his dead hound in a shocking and almost certainly Japanese-inspired horror story. Both are simple, short stories that look and read like some of the best manga despite consisting of a single chapter.

And, with that, we’ve brought this little 2-week experiment to an end. If you’re a manga or comics fan who makes the jump after reading this, I’ll certainly be interested to hear how your experience went. My points, which I’m going to repeat from last week, is to try and make it clear that manga and comics are the same medium. Any difference between the two is purely in the head of the reader, and there’s no need for those on either side to get snobby about it.

Comics or manga, the most important thing is that you get an enjoyable read out of them, and that’s only ever going to happen if you approach each formats with an open mind, and a willing disposition.

James will be back with another Alternate Cover next week; read his recommendations for manga for comics fans here.

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