story by Jason Thompson; art by Victor Hao
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.99 US
Much is being made of writer Jason Thompson’s manga knowledge in the publicity for King of RPGs Book 1. He wrote Manga: The Complete Guide, after all, and he mentions being inspired for this story by such shonen manga as Dragon Ball. But while reading this, I was reminded more of such comics as Penny Arcade — gamer humor that works best if you’re already part of that audience, speaking the language and getting the in-jokes.
I should say up front that I am not a gamer. If I was, perhaps I would have found the characters familiar and insightful instead of thinking them flat and stereotypical. Shesh became addicted to an online “World of Warfare” game, so now that he’s going away to college, his friend Mike is trying to keep him in recovery, away from gaming. However, they visit a role-playing game club meeting, where they begin playing tabletop RPGs. Shesh falls off the wagon hard, losing his personality and becoming game characters to win games. (If insanity equals skill, then no wonder so many people look askance at RPGers.)
I would have been more interested in reading the addiction story, which serves as a three-page prologue. How did no one notice over three months what was happening to Shesh? Why didn’t anyone help? (And why name your character something that I kept misreading as “sheesh”, an exclamation of disbelief?) Instead, I got exaggerated drawn battles to represent games, and I didn’t care.
There are some interesting scenes that don’t go much of anywhere, such as the orientation diversity training exercise or when a new friend appears at a Renaissance fair. They showed me that Thompson could come up with entertaining elements, but how he strung them together, the plot structure, didn’t work for me. Especially once the game illustrations started. Generic fantasy comics are bad enough, in my opinion, let alone comics of characters playing a fantasy RPG. I think it was here that I recognized that I was looking for a different comic than this. I wanted to see more of the gamer personality revealed, while Thompson wanted to write exaggerated parody scenes with no relation to reality.
The DM, the anti-gamer police officer, and the dealer who exploits his customers are ridiculously loony, and not in a funny way. This is meant to be “zany adventure”, but if everything keeps escalating, the rules are pointless, and the reader becomes numb when anything could happen. It just all seemed loud to me, as though pushing the material further would magically make it more humorous. I didn’t find the characters’ mental problems making them commit crimes entertaining.
The art is cluttered. Too much shading flattens the panels so any sense of 3-d perspective is lost. Especially when it came to faces, the toning was overdone so that people looked fuzzy. I often had trouble picking out objects or characters from the background. One of the key manga characteristics is easy reading flow, with art arranged in many cases to allow the eye to easily grasp what is shown and move on quickly. That’s not the case here. Plus, establishing shots don’t match the close-ups shown afterwards. For example, figures are arranged at a table one way, but the following panels have them in different places relative to each other.
I wondered why, aside from Thompson’s name recognition, this is being sold as manga. It’s a graphic novel, and it might reach a more appropriate audience without the “original English language manga” tag. Alternately, maybe the manga audience will be more receptive to the “exaggeration is funny” approach.
King of RPGs Book 1 is due out January 19. Find out more and see samples at the official website. The publisher provided this review copy.