Never has there been a more heated debate than the subject of the original English language manga (often called OEL manga for short) – can a manga still be called such even though its written and drawn by someone not of Japanese origin? Does drawing a book in a style “influenced by the Japanese manga art style” qualify it to be called manga?
When this matter first came up, one of the key books quoted and cited as evidence for and against ELO manga (and the first volume of which will be the subject of this review) was one of the then first of TOKYOPOP'S new ELO manga line – Dramacon.
The first volume of this series (which was written by newcomer Svetlana Chmakova, and which to date is up to its third volume) follows the adventures of Christie, a first time manga writer and long suffering girlfriend of manga artist, co-creator of their comic and wandering lothario Derek, who, when left to her own devices at her first ever anime convention finds friendship (and possibly romance) in the form of Dramacon's very own Mr Darcy – Matt.
The one good aspect of this first volume was the fact that much of the events that happen both to her and in the background of the convention are easy to relate to the average western anime convention attendee – from crowded elevators to the archetypal pocky salesman to even the ubiquitous catgirls – observations that also informed popular series' Comic Party and Genshiken.
Another good aspect of this volume was the artwork - Svetlana has resisted the temptation to totally ape Japanese manga style with her noticeable use of scale and knowing when to detail her backgrounds and when to focus entirely upon her characters without making it obvious help the reader to focus on what’s important on each page.
Now however we have to go into the downsides of this “manga”.
After making such an effort to create a believable story and a compelling plot line I can’t help but find that Svetlana seems to have done so at the expense of developing her main and supporting characters – the background story got reduced to a quarter of one page, within which four mini pictures were used to explain how and why Christie and Derek came to the convention to sell their comic.
Also, although Matt (fairly) has to be left relatively vague to allow gradual expansion in later volumes I still felt that his personality was more like that of an angst ridden generic anti-hero rather than a believable person you could meet at a convention.
Additionally there were two characters – a couple / chaperone's of Christie and Derek who to be honest were wasted as characters – whose appearances it seemed were for no other reason than to either advance plot or to act as shocked bystanders – these characters could have easily been removed and their lack of presence would not have affected the plot.
In summary I have to say from this volume alone that Dramacon, despite having an interesting premise with definite potential, fell short of the mark.
Now where’s my Pocky?