Colorist: Vanyda and David Bolvin
Lettering: Calix Ltd.
Translator: Montana Kane
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 96
Original Publication: 2012
La Nouvelle Manga
When you ponder what the future of comics might be, one of the things that seems obvious is the way the manga/anime styles of the 2000s will influence a whole new generation of cartoonist. The manga boom at Borders and the other bookstores in the 2000s was largely ignored or pushed aside in the Direct Market, who lost access to a large number of potential future customers. So those readers sat in the aisles of the bookstores, reading those little books, often right to left.
While the manga boom is over, you cannot ignore their influence on that generation. Look at the current crops of artists in animation and comics schools. See who’s graduating from Ringling or SCAD or the Center for Cartoon Studies.
Look at how Raina Telgemeier sells more comics than just about everyone at Marvel and DC combined. (That might be a bit of an overstatement, but not as big a one as you might guess, given all the books she has in her backlist now.)
In France, the results of this Japanese influence on their comics culture is a movement they call La Nouvelle Manga. Literally, “The New Manga.”
Some of those effects can be seen in the art styles of a few artists whose work I’ve reviewed here before, but none is so obviously a product of this generation more than Vanyda.
Her six volume series, “Valentine,” is the most La Nouvelle Manga-ish thing I’ve ever read.
What’s It All About?
Vanuda did not made for me. It feels slow and uneven. It has its moments.
But if I were a teenaged girl? I’d probably be going nuts over this the way 16 year olds in 2005 went nuts over Rumiko Takahashi’s work. (Or maybe that was 1995’s teenagers? I remember reading some Takahashi in the late 90s pre-manga boom.)
“Valentine” a school-based soap opera with a gaggle of girl friends who pine over boys, smoke at the fence in the playground, belittle the awkward ugly girl in class, cheat on exams, and do all those mean girl things that don’t necessarily make them bad people — just teenagers. Seriously, this isn’t “Mean Girls.” They get picked on and then they in turn pick on others, though not always with great zeal.
Valentine is the lead in the series. She’s an ex-gymnast with a crush on a boy who makes her so tongue-tied and awkward that she can barely even look at him, let alone say hello. She spends a lot of the book trapped in her own head. She’s a blank slate, not sharing too much with even her closest friends, while watching them live their lives.
Her group of fans is a mixed set, from young and excitable to the smarter one with stricter parents to the slightly rebellious one. It’s a good mix of characters to set up enough conflicts to keep the story going, though there are two, in particular, I always mix up. They look too similar.
This is not a horror/sci-fi/fantasy series. There are no tropes of those genres in this book. The is a straight up teenager school drama. (This is also part of La Nouvelle Manga: Less genre, more slice of life.)
That includes the hairdo montage:
This is the first volume of a six part series. There’s not a simple straightforward storyline in this book. This volume is all about setting up the characters, creating a couple of conflicts to play out over the span of the series, and sprinkled with some memorable events and character-defining moments to get readers interested.
Don’t go looking for a done-in-one satisfying chunk of a story here. This is not that format.
This is an on-going soap opera meant to spread out over more than 500 pages.
Art from the East
Vanyda’s art is done entirely in outlines. The only solid blacks on the page are for hair and black turtleneck Valentine wears near the end. The coloring is used to add depth and modeling, Even the ink lines are the same thickness over the entire book. It follows a very anime coloring style where the colors cut in, with simple almost geometrical shadows.
Her storytelling includes plenty of quiet beats to set scenes or to show average moments in Valentine’s life. Is there a dramatic reason to take a whole page to show Valentine pouring herself a bowl of cereal?) They’re momentary pauses in the story and just meant to be slice of life moments. In-between those are scenes that aren’t over-written, so I can’t complain about the way stuff needs to be crammed in. Vanyda does a good job in balancing the pages. Even the talkiest pages flow well.
These moments come straight from the influence of manga, and I bet it’s their verisimilitude that makes it so great for fans of the work.
I really like the choice of camera angles Vanyda uses throughout the book. She mixes it up very well with worm’s eye views and bird’s eye views constantly. Most artists don’t want to draw the extreme angles like that and avoid them. Vanyda not only uses them, but she throws them in during scenes where they’re not necessary, but they are effective. It’s like rather than establishing a scene with a wide angle and then going in for some two shots, then a middle distance shot, and a final wide shot, Vanyda goes wide to start and then shows the scene from up and down angles, as well as eye level. She’s creating a three dimensional world by showing things this way.
Here’s an example from the opening sequence in the book, where Valentine is making her way across town by taking the bus. Look at the three shots on this page. It’s part of Vanyda’s rhythm: upshot, eye-level shot, down shot. It’s her camera slowly panning up while tilting down across the three panels.
Textures appears on items like sofa covers and building faces. She uses a lot of DuoTone-like patterns to various effects throughout the book. Usually, it’s to shade something that’s not the centerpiece of the panel. This helps the non-dotted part of the panel — where the reader’s focus should be — contrast nicely and stand out.
Lettering from the East
The lettering shows some signs of a manga influence. There area lot of word balloons, particular in vertical panels, that are taller than they are wide. That works in manga because Japanese is written in columns. The western world reads in rows left to right, so the balloons more closely resemble a football shape, wider than they are tall.
You even get some lines of dialogue that float without a balloon. Those are black letterforms surrounded in a white outline that makes them slightly glow. Perhaps because I’m used to only reading balloons, but my eye tended to skip over those an awful lot. Again, this might be a middle-aged veteran comics reader’s problem.
On the bright side, I like the way the balloons connect and butt up against panel borders and knock them out. That never fails to make me happy to see. I blame John Workman completely.
I don’t like the balloon tails, though. They always seen to go concave where I expect convex, and vice versa.
If you’re a sixteen year old girl, absolutely. This is a great comic book soap opera, with girls that you’ll likely find relatable. You’ll pick favorites, you’ll worship some romantic pairing, and you’ll analyze the fashion choices.
If you’re a man in his 40s, you’ll find it a bit slow, enjoy some the drama in the same way you did “Dawson’s Creek” in your early 20s, and then appreciate some of the artistic choices Vanyda made in her storytelling. Maybe you buy it on sale some day, but it’s not worth it at full price.
— 2018.001 —
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