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Location: Anaheim, California, United States

Regular contributor ("Carson City Limits" and other content) for Random Lengths (circulation 56,000) in San Pedro, CA, 2001-present. Manga reviewer: LA Alternative (circulation 150,000), 2005-2006. Some manga reviews also ran in NY Press around this time. Entertainment reporting: Music Connection (circulation 75,000), 1983-1906. Travel writing: Oakland Tribune (1998) and Life After 50 (2006). Other bylines: Goldmine, Star Hits, Los Angeles Reader, Los Angeles Times, Long Beach Press Telegram, Blade, BAM, Daily Breeze, LA Weekly. Specializations include community news reporting, writing reviews (book, theater, concert, film, music), copywriting, resumes, editing, travel writing, publicity, screenwriting, lecturing, and content development. Education: B. A. Theater Arts, UCLA. Post-grad work, Education, Chapman University.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Manga Reviews: "Off Beat" and "Steady Beat"

This review is updated and revised from one originally published in LA Alternative, Dec. 30, 2005.

Working in the manga style allows American artists a wider range of subject matter than traditional comics. Gay-themed plot lines, for example, are still rare in the US. Doonesbury occasionally broaches the subject--but that's Doonesbury. There are comics by and for the American GLBT community--but those are for a specific community. Marvel and DC Comics have brought forth a few GLBT characters in superhero comics--but those are superhero comics.

TokyoPop jumped to the forefront of the American manga trend with two fairly realistic stories of everyday teens encountering turbulent same-sex relationships and other mysteries in Off-Beat by Jen Lee Quick and Steady Beat by Rivkah. Both series met sad fates, as they were planned as three-volume stories and TokyoPop allowed both to lapse after two volumes. There has been talk of both series continuing as Web-only comics, but the creators have yet to see such talk become action.

In Quick's Off-Beat, schoolboy genius Tory Blake is obsessed with a new boy in his New York neighborhood for reasons he can't explain. Convinced that some deep mystery that only he can unravel is afoot, Tory becomes an Internet-surfing detective in sneakers. He even persuades his mother to enroll him in the new kid's elite school--purely for the superior academic opportunity, of course.

Finally he wrangles an assignment to tutor the other boy, and even invites him home. Now he's got a chance--but what exactly is that chance he so wants? What's even more fustrating about seeing this manga lost in a publishing limbo is how vol. 2 ended on a cliffhanger, a newfound friendship perhaps destroyed by something inexplainable.

Steady Beat concerns Leah, the teenage daughter of a conservative Texas politician, who finds a romantic-sounding letter written to her older sister and signed, "Jessica." Attempting to unravel the mystery behind the letter, she encounters a teenage boy being raised by his gay father. Vol. 2 burned down a few closet doors and found Leah struggling to accept people soley for the quality of their character. Vol. 3 was met to be told from the older sister's point of view.

The series' artists took different paths to developing their subjects. Quick found some inspiration in Sanami Matoh's Fake, but wanted to tell a more realistic and authentic New York story, while at the same time making a departure from her usual fantasy creations. TokyoPop described the result as "not your average boy-meets-boy story." Rivkah won another publisher's "Create Your Own Manga" contest, catching the attention of TokyoPop. She has expressed a preference for working in girls' comics.

A source inside the manga industry tells me TokyoPop has yet to release the licenses they hold so other publishers may pick up on former TokyoPop titles. Why isn't clear, unless the company plans to revive its publishing venture some day, some way. Whether Off-Beat and Steady Beat are included in this stew of languishing properties is unclear. If no comics publisher wants them, perhaps a GLBT publisher will be kind enough to express interest in finishing Tory's and Leah's stories.

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