by Satoko Kiyuduki
published by Yen Press; $12.99 US
Normally, starting a manga title with the fifth book in the series would be a recipe for disaster, but this series is easy to jump into, since it’s a collection of four-panel (4-koma) strips. It’s also very approachable, with a cast consisting of art school students. Although I had no idea who the individual girls were, the situations and gags were still funny and touching.
The jokes resolve around two main subjects: making art and summer. At the start, the girls are trying to remember how to color a panda, mixing up the black and white sections. They go on to draw animal caricatures before attending a baseball game together. The animal pattern returns as one student borrows a cat from another in order to do sketches of the moving pet. Seeing cat drawings in a manga is always a pleasure, because the felines are so cute.
There are several color pages, each introducing a new season and listing words associated with it. For example, spring is pastel pink and “fresh, fragrant, soft”. Later on, we get those classic samples of summer, festivals and fireworks. GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class is a breezy read, one well-suited to the season, and great for pick-up-and-put-down reading. The illustrations are good, too, blending cute girl exaggeration, cartoony art samples, and realistic backgrounds. The mix of styles makes for plenty to look at.
Reading a comic about making art allows for meditation on the creative process, both through what the students are told and by what we’re seeing as we read. It’s fun skipping amongst the levels. Yet some of the most enjoyable sequences don’t have anything to do with making art, as when the kids battle across the playground to determine who gets the extra sherbet. There’s a lot of creativity and imagination on display throughout the book.
Fans of Azumanga Daioh will find a lot to like here. Another of author Satoko Kiyuduki’s works, Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro, was previously released in the U.S., but the lighter mood here is more approachable, in my opinion. There are four pages of translation notes at the back, which help in understanding the cultural references. (The publisher provided a review copy.)