It’s not often that I review stuff in the print world. Part of this has to do with the fact that I don’t read much in print comics these days. I collect a couple of comics occasionally, sneer at the rest as trite and unimaginative, and focus much of my attention to the web.
Still, there is something fundamentally satisfying about having a comic in hand, compared to one on the web. There is a physicality there, a solidness of the printed page, that is lacking with materials that are posted online. And that is a significant reason why many webcomics are looking to publish their materials in the print world.
A couple days ago I came across a story I’m quite familiar with and fond of, perched in the midst of the manga selection in Borders: Red String, by Gina Biggs. RS isn’t the first print run of an online comic I’ve come across in bookstores; I purchased two others partly to help support artists I consider excellent storytellers who deserve success in both the print and online worlds: Inverloch by Sarah Ellerton, and Earthsong by Lady Yates; I’ve intended on reviewing those works for some time now, but with the other works I’m planning on reviewing and with work and all that, those reviews kind of got put on the back burner.
This is a shame. I’ll state for the record both are professional-quality printings by cartoonists who are easily among the best found both on the internet and in the print world. If you come across these works, definitely buy them. Earthsong and Inverloch are published by Seven Seas Entertainment, and are glossy full-color works. Conversely, Red String is more akin to the paperback mangas that you can find in many bookstores these days, and is put out by Dark Horse Manga. The book fits nicely in the palm of my hand (5 1/8″ x 7 1/4″), and the paper isn’t the glossy full-color text of a graphic novel but rather the thick ordinary paper found with most American printings of manga.
Despite the smaller size than what you get on your computer monitor, you don’t lose any detail, and the text is quite legible. It’s odd, but the printed word can be far smaller in font size on paper and still be read than on the computer monitor (and indeed, I felt that the text bubbles (and font size) could have been redone in Lady Yate’s printing of Earthsong, showing more of her beautiful artwork).
Biggs did a good job with pacing as well. The story builds with the initial tale of Miharu Ogawa learning from her parents that she’s going to be married to someone she’s never met before, and running off and finding a kindred soul whom she later realizes she wants to be with despite her parents wishes. Naturally the laws of comedic irony strike, and she ends up doing what her parents want while still chasing after her own dreams.
The world expands beyond arranged marriages and the like, however, and looks into Miharu’s world in school and with her friends. Indeed, her friends grow from Fuuko and Reika to include the taciturn “lone wolf” Eiji Hayashihara, and tensions grow between Miharu and her cousin Karen. The story ends on an excellent note with Hayashihara telling Miharu to trust her feelings concerning her cousin, stating that while other people might tell her “don’t cause a scene” or “be logical,” that he thinks that she should trust those feelings.
Literarily it’s a perfect stopping point for the manga, and while the webcomic goes on long past that point (revealing why Karen is becoming antagonistic toward Miharu), fans who read just the manga without going online are at a good stopping point. In many ways I consider it a better ending than a cliffhanger would have been; fans have an inkling of what’s going on (if not why), and yet aren’t at a stop in the action, but rather a natural pause in storytelling.
Red String Volume 1 prints the first seven chapters of the webcomic. While there are no additional stories included, a cast page is included with full-page drawings of the characters along with their names, birthdates, height (in centimeters), and blood-type (something which is fairly popular for “matching” people in Japan). More importantly though is the ability to bring the comic with you to places where internet and computers are scarce. And as I said above, there’s something comforting with holding the print run in your hands and nosing through at your leisure, without worrying about the vagaries of the internet.