by Svetlana Chmakova
published by Tokyopop; $9.99 US
As promised at the end of the first book, it’s a year later, and Christie’s back at the anime convention.
She’s still writing her comic, but her new artist, Bethany, is a lot easier to get along with. (The former artist and boyfriend has been dumped.) This year it’s Bethany’s first time at the show, and Christie’s a lot more comfortable with the atmosphere.
Christie’s also seeing more realistically. The professional creator who encouraged her so much last year is back, but her appearance suggests that convention-going and comic-creating isn’t all positive. As Christie gains experience, her worldview becomes more nuanced. Svetlana’s writing is introducing growth and complexity to both the audience and the characters.
Matt has also returned this year… but he’s brought his girlfriend. And right there, that’s the complicating incident that makes the premise so promising and keeps the reader’s attention for 200 pages. Christie had such hopes for seeing him again after the amazing-but-brief time they had together last year. And the reader had such hopes for seeing the two get together, because they’re so obviously meant for each other.
The art is amazing, so easy-to-read that you can zoom through the book (because of course, you want to know what happens next!) without noticing the skill that makes it flow so well. The characters have all the personality and visual expression a soap opera needs. The early section where Matt and Christie see each other again for the first time is a triumph, mixing slices of closeups with shaded memories of the key events from last year. It’s a beautiful way to sum up a lot of emotional history.
Svetlana’s using subtle approaches to catching the reader up on background. Curious tablemates means that Bethany’s conflict (a pushy mother who demands good grades and a career other than artist) will be naturally revealed during friendly conversation. Costumes and hairstyles are varied and appropriate, showing more about characters through their choices.
Some of the conversational debates — such as what it means to be “real” manga or how to attract fans to purchase original material or some of the stupid things thoughtless people say or do — are clearly heartfelt, and the situations will be familiar to many of the readers. (I especially liked the injokes about feeling old; Matt is drawn with a little arrow in him, for example, when the staff calls him “sir”.) They’re so well-presented, though, making points through entertaining encounters and realistic, three-dimensional characters.
The aspiring artist story allows for smart lessons about attempting to break into the business. The characters make realistic choices that still seem optimistic. This is the rare sequel that keeps all the good parts of the original, maintaining the appeal, but improves on them to create something even better.