Buzz! shows how comics can make any competition exciting, including a spelling bee.

Webster is off to his first day of high school when he stumbles into a back-alley spell-off. The Outlaw King, who’s been kicked out of the official spelling circuit, and the Black Queen are only two of the extreme personalities involved in the field. Webster gets manipulated into competing in the regionals in order to take down the Spelluminati, those trying to control the show.

The visuals are particularly distinctive. The book is done in monochrome, black, white, grey, and bright yellow. As a highlight, that color is eye-catching. It’s a unique look, something I haven’t seen before. More surprisingly, when the contestants spell, the words fill the panel, letters growing in size and twirling around the competitors, until finally, they attack. The words themselves are symbolic, also, with Webster asked to spell “advent” and “fledgling” in his first time out.


The spiky figures are laden with attitude, carrying a sense of menace and rebel appeal. Cleverly, the words when announced are illustrated as their phonetic forms, in order to keep the spellings suspenseful, and some of them are quite obscure. (I learned things!) Panels rarely are rectangular, instead angled and scattered to convey energy and uncertainty.

Buzz! panels

In short, the unusual subject matter is portrayed in a way that utilizes the full appeal of the comic format. This is an amazing book, one that plays with words through visuals. Manga readers might get a real kick out of Buzz!, as it takes the energy and flow of that format into an American graphic novel.

Writer Ananth Panagariya is best known for his webcomic with Yuko Ota, Johnny Wander (which is currently serializing Lucky Penny, an upcoming graphic novel from Oni), while artist Tessa Stone has a Tumblr.

Like A Boy and a Girl, this story was supposed to have been serialized at the Oni website starting in January, but that never happened. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)

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