Colorist: Vanyda and David Bolvin
Lettering: Calix Ltd.
Translator: Montana Kane
Published by: Dargaud/Europe Comics
Number of Pages: 96
Original Publication: 2012
Rise of the Valentine
There are definite signs of improvement in the series with this second volume of six.
The storytelling in this volume is a lot tighter. The page-long silent sequences are pretty much gone. (There are a couple of mostly silent pages, but they feel more productive.) Every page advances a story, and there are plenty of them there to follow. Who’s dating who, who’s breaking up with who, who’s going to which class next year. There’s a long section dedicated to what I guess would be the school’s Field Day equivalent, where the kids are playing what I think is handball, class versus class, boys versus girls.
It’s teenaged melodrama at its finest.
With the characters established in the first volume, this book has all the advantages of being able to jump right into the story. Thankfully, Vadyna keeps everyone’s name in dialogue balloons often enough that I can keep them straight. Everyone gets a chance to be important, too. They all do something.
I’m not familiar with how the French school system works, so I had to just roll with some of the moments in the issue that seemed… foreign to me. Seeing the final scenes in the book where the kids eagerly await their class rep telling them if they passed the grade or not seemed really strange. But the end results bring the book to a strong ending that makes me want to read the next right away. It’s not really a specific cliffhanger, though it does excite the imagination for what’s going to happen next.
What’s Going On?
The book opens with the girls cutting class to meet up with some boys in the town square. That doesn’t end terribly well, and Valentine gets a hard time from her friends from it. At the beginning quarter of this book, she’s downright depressed. Things haven’t gone anywhere with her pretend boyfriend, Felix, who still doesn’t seem to know she exists.
Her friends are mad at her. Her mother is disappointed in her. Her father — he exists! — looks to be disappointing her via a letter. Schoolwork is boring.
She’s quickly falling into the sullen teenager trap. Vanyda has carefully laid out the case for why she might be feeling that way, though, so it is earned. It’s not just a character being annoyingly mopey.
OK, it is a little bit mopey, but I say that as someone who is not a teenager anymore.
And then: some things happen after the halfway point of the book and things start to look up. Remarkably, that turnaround feels relatively smooth and natural. Things aren’t immediately perfect, but specific events help to turn things around, and one thing leads to another…
More Manga Stylings
The line work of Vanyda includes more manga influence than I had space to talk about in my review of the first volume.
Many of the faces feel ripped out of a shop that draws for Shonen Jump all the time. This isn’t that stereotypical big eye or chibi looking style, though.
Vanyda’s faces are often near-noseless at a distance. (Alight shadows define their tips closer up.) Mouths are afterthoughts that are placed minimally on the lower half of the front of the face. A lot of the tics of manga are also present, like the disappearing nose and the blushed cheeks that spread across the middle of the face, and the gaping void for a mouth. Noses are relatively simple, anyway, as are most bodies.
Like I mentioned in my review of the first book, Vanyda is basically drawing the outlines of shapes here and the details of the clothing. She fills the rest in at the color stage, to replace solid blacks and any variety in line weight.
I’m not saying that’s wrong — that’s her style. It’s possible this series won’t work for you because of that style. I see it another way, though.
I don’t look at the book and see a bunch of stiff awkward people looking past each other and reciting lines. Vanyda is great about changing up her posing, having the kids act out as teenagers do, and giving everyone a variety of looks.
The art never looks like she’s just trying to get through it for the sake of a dialogue page to do an exposition dump. These panels are earned, as simple as they may seem at first.
Natural Acting: Manga and French Influences
Comics are generally created to be super visual, for obvious reasons. That often pushes the artist to creating drawings that are hyperbolic. Nobody should ever just be standing around. They should be doing something, and the louder that something is, the better.
This is the kind of virtual extolled by “How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way,” for example. The Avengers should never be standing there talking about something. They should be talking about something as they leap into action, jumping off the page at the reader.
You can look at some of my favorite comics from the Marcinelle School where the characters gesticulate like they’re theater actors reaching the back rows. It’s great and they’re designed to handle that motion. The larger hands and gangly limbs help accentuate it.
“Valentine” is the polar opposite. It goes for naturalism and realism over all else. Characters act and they do things, but they’re never drawn to an extreme. The camera angle never zooms all the way in for the super dramatic moment, unlike manga.
Just as Vanyda includes plenty of moments of Valentine just doing random small things like lying on the bed or fixing herself breakfast, or walking across the street, her art works with that. When a character is running towards the camera, something seems off. Something feels forced. When two girls are helping another clean up in the bathroom after drinking too much, it feels like a real scene, with real people acting natural. There is drama to the scene from the setting and knowing that the one girl’s mother will be there shortly to pick her up.
That drama doesn’t come from someone jumping off the page, breaking a panel border, or moving a limb out towards the reader in dramatic three dimensional fashion. This is just more like an episode of some MTV reality show, like “16 and Pregnant” or “My Sweet 16.” (Sorry for my ten year old references, but it’s been a while since I flipped over to MTV…)
Vanyda is a documentarian for these characters, letting them do their thing while she watches.
On the fashion front, though this book was originally published in 2011, I couldn’t help in reading it think that it felt a few years older than that.
The girls’ fashion choices with the cargo pants, super low cut jeans, and the boot cut jeans all precede the era we have today where everything is skin tight. There’s one moment in this book where the girls make fun of someone else for trying to be fashionable with her skinny jeans. These days, that girl would be the only fashionable one…
The other interesting thing is that Valentine has a certain wardrobe and repeats outfits throughout these two books. She doesn’t have one specific costume, like a Scooby Doo character, but she does have a specific style she tends to stick with.
You’ll see those two or three skirts repeatedly, often with tights and some changes in tops. She has one or two jackets that she relies on, too. They’re very specific things, but Vanyda keeps them straight.
I’m softening up on this series now. With some of the uneven pacing of the first volume disappearing now in favor of more things happening, I’m starting to get into the groover of Vanyda’s storytelling.
It’s still not going to be for everyone. If you don’t like Disney Channel movies, you won’t like this one, though it does contain more frank talk about sex, drugs, and booze. There’s even language in here. This is a book for teenagers. I think it works on those grounds…
— 2018.002 —
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