Funnybook Babylon

April 13, 2007

Funnybooks lovers of teenage drama and angst would love! Part One: Teen Drama. Neat.

Filed under: Articles — Gabe Mariani @ 7:01 pm

No TV show or book or genre adequately conveys the kind of thing I am going for this week, so you get an extra long (but appropriately descriptive) title. Teen drama is often done in an extremely annoying or clunky manner, so it’s not one of my favorite things to read about. These books get it right – it’s not just entertaining, but it feels real. Part two of this column (Teen Drama: With a Twist) will be along in about a month or so in the interest of variety.

The Mary Jane series of books by Sean McKeever and Takeshi Miyazawa
Mary JaneMary Jane

I know this book features Mary Jane, the girlfriend/wife of Spider-Man/Peter Parker, but look, it’s not like that. Ok? Really, it isn’t. It’s just a convenient setting with well-known characters. And we do see Peter Parker and Spider-Man every now and then.

But it isn’t like that.

The Mary Jane funnybooks are centered around the life of MJ and her friends at school. I’m sure you’ve heard of them – Harry Osborne, Flash Thompson, Liz… something. The blonde. Flash and Liz are dating, and as everyone knows, in high school that’s not as straight forward as it seems. You’ve got public fights, secret crushes, suspicions – all the stuff you’ve grown out of, but it’s fun to read about other people going through. I think that’s the whole appeal of this genre, and one of this series’ strengths. MJ and Harry… well, that’s complicated. You should read to find out more about those two.

This series is terminally cute. Miyazawa’s art is a big help there, but the writing really shines. MJ is one of the sweetest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure read. She’s loved by everyone, and you’ll love her too, even when she’s not being particularly loveable. The series focuses mainly on high school drama and the trials of staying awake in class. Spidey gets involved later on, but it doesn’t become Spider-Man Lite; it actually gets better!

If there’s any complaints I have about this series, it’s that MJ is almost too perfect. It’s off-putting to find everyone falling all over themselves to praise her. But situations like that are few and far between. Bendis is the king of Spider-Man teenage dialogue, so if you read Ultimate Spider-Man, this series will fall short by that measure, too, but McKeever does a good job in his own right. And it’s pretty unfair to compare almost anyone to Bendis.

The PLAIN Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
PLAIN Janes 1PLAIN Janes 2
As of this writing, I’m not sure if The PLAIN Janes is available for purchase yet, but I decided to include it anyway so you folks will be on the lookout for it. I got a copy at the New York Comic Con, where the DC booth and panels were giving away copies by the truckload to hype up the series. Looks like it worked! …At least on our small corner of the internet.

The PLAIN Janes is a story about our main character – Jane – and how a terrorist attack changes her life. Her parents – but her mother in particular – become incredibly overprotective, so they move away from the city into suburbia. The Main Jane (sorry) is a likeable and complex character. We see this world from her perspective as she tries to deal with the attack she lived through – and the fact that other people didn’t survive.

She transforms herself into a new person and begins exploring new interests, which is what eventually leads her to her new friends at Buzz Aldrin high school. You get the impression that an outcast group consisting of an actress, a math nerd, and a jock who is terrible at sports. There’s problems with friends, with the popular kids, and with adults – this book’s got it all!

Cecil Castellucci really knows her subject material, having been a teenage girl herself at some point. She conveys a lot of information at some points with very little dialogue or narration. Jim Rugg – one of my favorite artists – really steps up, and the art is freakin’ amazing. There are some interesting little bits woven into the narrative structure that I’ve left out, but I’ll just say there’s a boy, a coma patient, a gay guy, and many acts of vandalism involved. Jane writes in her diary just like any red-blooded teenage girl who is the main character of a book should. It’s a bit too short for me because I was very engrossed with the story and characters and didn’t want it to end, but it’s very fun and enjoyable.

At 10$, it’s a steal – make sure to pick this one up. I say this as a 21 year old male who is at least 3 years and a chromosome out of their target demographic.

Blue Monday by Chynna Clugston-Major
Blue Monday 1Blue Monday 2
Blue Monday is a black and white comic about a group of teens in high school. Surprise! I admit, it’s a bit hard to find a funnybook that fits under the theme of “teen drama” that doesn’t involve high school in some way, but just you wait till Part II of this column. Anyway, getting back to the series I’m supposed to be reviewing here, Blue Monday is very competently drawn. It’s not got the best art I’ve seen, and probably the worst on this list here, but it fits the book very well. The writing more than makes up for the deficiencies in the art department (which I’ve seen pointed out by Chynna herself in some places).

With Blue Monday you’ll get a lot of the same themes and situations that you got with the Mary Jane series, but since it’s not published by Marvel for 12 year olds, I think it’s a much more realistic depiction of the subject. Not that McKeever mishandles anything, but in high school, kids curse. And they’re not all at the top of their class, or supremely popular, or captain of the football team. This is a much more abrasive and, dare I say, cynical treatment of the teenage experience. It treats each subject with respect while highlighting some of the silly traits of teenagers.

Chynna creates a cast of people that are thoroughly enjoyable despite their personalities and actions – especially Clover. There’s a lot of clique-y type drama in the stories I’ve read, both internal and external. There’s a lot of natural comedy in places, and I was reminded a bit of Scrubs by the structure of certain issues. The characters speak and act like real people do, which is always hard to pull off when writing teens when you are no longer a teen.

Blue Monday comes with a suggested soundtrack that switches up throughout the book. I’m not in love with it, but the songs are appropriate and do help set the mood. It’s an interesting little tidbit that I haven’t seen used elsewhere, at least. While not groundbreaking, it is a damn enjoyable read. Chynna Clugston-Major is a good artist and very good writer, so I am telling you to buy this book.

And now, I shall attempt to perform the sudden ending of this column without the aid of a cleverly written segue!

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