Gatesmith, Volume 1

Gatesmith, Volume 1Creator: Jen Lee Quick
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9781987988079
Released: July 2016
Original run: 2014-2015

My introduction to the work of Jen Lee Quick was through her comic Off*Beat. The first two volumes of the series were originally published by Tokyopop after which the comic sadly languished unresolved until it was rescued by Chromatic Press, becoming one of the publisher’s flagship titles. After completing Off*Beat with Chromatic Press, Quick began working on a second comic series with the publisher called Gatesmith. The origins of Gatesmith actually date back to Quick’s Tokyopop days as well, but the ideas for comic have significantly changed since then. At least one thing has remained the same though–Gatesmith is a dark fantasy Western drastically different from Off*Beat. Gatesmith began serialization in Chromatic Press’ digital magazine Sparkler Monthly in 2014. The first volume concluded in 2015 and the serialized content was subsequently collected as an ebook along with an exclusive epilogue comic and the short prequel comic “Hungry.” A small print run of Gatesmith, Volume 1 was released in 2016. As a fan of Quick’s work, I was very happy to snag a copy.

Edgeward is a western frontier town undergoing a transformation as its residents slowly build it into a successful mining city. But Edgeward is also the home to numerous strange happenings, phenomena which some people attribute to the area’s large deposits of mythrilite, a promising but potentially dangerous new energy source which hasn’t yet been thoroughly studied. Modernization can carry along with it tremendous risks, but there seems to be something even more primal, ancient, and bizarre at work in Edgeward. On the outskirts of town, strange lights can be seen in the middle of the desert. Peculiar trees spontaneously emerge where no tree has any right growing. Rumors circulate about monsters and creatures of legend roaming about. Ranchers are losing livestock and are uncertain whether or not to blame humans or something much more diabolical. Whatever it is that is going on in Edgeward may very well have a greater meaning and far-reaching impact than anyone realizes.

Gatesmith, Volume 1, page 72The setting of Gatesmith, while beautiful, is also a harsh and frequently brutal one. Survival is certainly not guaranteed in such an unforgiving environment. The comic opens with an attack on a covered wagon that leaves everyone directly involved in the incident dead and the violence in the story doesn’t end there. At this point virtually everything is unknown in Gatesmith, and the unknown is very apt to get someone killed. Gatesmith, Volume 1 offers very few answers as Quick layers mystery upon mystery. In the series, myth, folklore, and the supernatural are closely intertwined with scientific, social, and technological progress. The anxieties surrounding the changing times are very real and sometimes manifest in unexpected ways. When humans are attempting to deal with things that they don’t completely comprehend or understand trouble naturally follows, but it’s not always the inhuman that people have to worry about–unintentionally or not, civilization can be just as destructive and isn’t necessarily always a positive force. Tremendous resilience and adaptability will be required of any of the characters who hope to reach the end of Gatesmith alive.

Gatesmith is off to an incredibly intriguing start with its first volume; I am intensely curious to see how the comic continues to develop from here. However, part of what makes Gatesmith so appealing and engrossing is also what makes the comic somewhat frustrating. Quick is working with several storylines and a marvelously diverse cast of characters, but this early on in the series the connections between them all are not immediately clear. With the many strange occurrences and often stranger characters involved in Gatesmith, the ultimate direction and drive of the story is somewhat obscured at the moment and the worldbuilding hasn’t yet been established in its entirety. What has been revealed so far is enticing and tantalizing, though. Gatesmith is an interesting blend of genres. Quick draws on traditions of Westerns, folklore, horror, and other speculative fiction without relying heavily on preexisting elements or well-worn tropes, combining them together in striking ways. Currently Gatesmith is on a break as Quick concentrates on a few other creative projects, but I hope to see more of the weirdly wonderful and wonderfully weird Western soon.

Off*Beat, Volume 3

Off*Beat, Volume 3Creator: Jen Lee Quick
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9780991946648
Released: August 2014
Original run: 2013-2014

Nearly a decade after the series first began it’s finally here—the third and final volume in Jen Lee Quick’s Off*Beat. The first two graphic novels in the series were published by Tokyopop in 2005 and 2006, but the planned third volume never materialized and the first two volumes went out of print. For years fans were left languishing with one heck of a cliffhanger and with little hope of ever seeing the ending of Off*Beat. But then along comes a brand new publisher, Chromatic Press, to save the series, reprinting new editions of the first two volumes in 2013 and serializing the third in its digital multimedia magazine Sparkler Monthly. Off*Beat, Volume 3 made its debut in the first issue of Sparkler Monthly in 2013, reaching its conclusion in the ninth issue in 2014. The collected print edition of Off*Beat, Volume 3, which includes additional material not serialized online, was published later in 2014. As a long time fan of Off*Beat, I am absolutely thrilled to finally have the completed series.

With the next stage of the Gaia Project about to begin, Colin must make a decision. He knows that Tory has been spying on him—he even has one of Tory’s many notebooks recording his activities as proof—and despite Colin being drawn to the other young man, Tory seems to be lacking the attunement that Colin is hoping to find in another person. Though somewhat reluctant, Colin is preparing himself to end his strange relationship with Tory. As for Tory, what started out as a dubious obsession with his neighbor has grown into genuine affection. Although he is still intensely curious about the top-secret Gaia Project, he has begun to care less and less about it and more and more about Colin. He can’t seem to help himself. And so when Colin disappears without a word, Tory momentarily finds himself at a loss before applying all of his investigative skills into searching for him. He has very few clues to work with, but if nothing else Tory is meticulous and determined.

I really love the slow, natural development of Tory and Colin’s awkward relationship over the course of Off*Beat. It takes them all three volumes to recognize and come to terms with their complicated feelings for each other and matters are made even more difficult by Colin’s peculiar circumstances. They both have to figure out what to do about Colin’s devotion to the Gaia Project and how that will impact their budding relationship. One of the things that is never called into question in Off*Beat is the legitimacy of Colin and Tory’s liking each other—something about the series that makes me extraordinarily happy. If the two young men can somehow find a way to make their relationship work despite the strangeness of their situation, they have the ready support of family, friends, and classmates. That they would even be interested in another person romantically is what the drama stems from; a big deal is never made over the fact that they both happen to be guys. Their close relationships with the other characters in the series are another very important part of Off*Beat as well.

Off*Beat reaches a very satisfying conclusion with the third volume and yet at the same time it is open-ended enough that readers are left imagining all of the possibilities presented by the last few pages. Quick’s ending, like real life, is messy and complicated, but most of the plot threads are tied up in some fashion. Which is not to say that all of the questions have been answered—more has been revealed about the Gaia Project, but there is still plenty about it and about Colin himself that remains hidden and unknown even by the series’ end. The needed speculation may frustrate some readers, but I found it to be a believable and engaging aspect of the story. Despite all of the curious mysteries and top-secret projects, the characters’ relationships and feelings are both realistic and authentic. They all have their quirks, flaws, and strengths. It’s this beautifully strong human element in Off*Beat that really makes the series work. With the final volume of Off*Beat I find that I love the series more than ever. I am so incredibly happy to have finally been able to see the completion of such a wonderful story.

Off*Beat, Volume 2

Off*Beat, Volume 2Creator: Jen Lee Quick
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9780991946617
Released: May 2013
Original release: 2006

The first two volumes of Jen Lee Quick’s graphic novel series Off*Beat were originally published by Tokyopop as part of its line of original English-language manga. A third volume was planned but never released by Tokyopop and Off*Beat sadly went out of print. I enjoyed the series and so was trilled when Chromatic Press brought Off*Beat back in a new edition with additional bonus content that previously hadn’t been released. The long-awaited third volume began serialization in Chromatic Press’ Sparkler Monthly as well. Off*Beat, Volume 2 was first released in 2006 while the Chromatic Press edition was released in 2013. By this point I have read the first two volumes of Off*Beat several times. My fondness for the series seems to only grow with each re-reading. I love the characters in all of their delightful awkwardness and I enjoy Quick’s sense of humor and the series’ drama a great deal. Off*Beat is a series that makes me happy to read and I’m even happier that it’s back in print so that more people can have a chance to enjoy it.

Tory has developed a bit of an obsession with his new next door neighbor Colin who moved in under strange circumstances. Intensely curious about the mysterious young man, Tory even managed to convince his mother to allow him to transfer to Colin’s high school so that he could learn more about him. (Of course, that wasn’t the reason that he gave her.) Colin is fairly introverted and isn’t really out to make friends but Tory did find a way to get closer to him by offering his services as a physics tutor. The extra attention that Colin receives from Tory hasn’t gone unnoticed. Although Colin has started to open up to Tory, he questions the other young man’s motives. Tory tries to pass off his always being around as a mere coincidence and says that he’s simply interested in becoming friends. But he is also interested in uncovering more information about “The Gaia Project,” a top-secret program that Colin has some sort of connection to. Unfortunately, Tory’s prying is about to get him into some trouble, just as he was beginning to figure out his relationship with Colin.

Most of Off*Beat, Volume 2 follows Tory’s perspective of events, but portions are also seen from Colin’s point of view as well as from those of Tory’s mother, their friend and neighbor Paul, and Tory’s classmate Mandy. Although I like all of the characters and enjoy the realism of their connections, one of my favorite parts of Off*Beat is the slow, natural development of Tory and Colin’s relationship. Tory’s interest may have begun out of mere curiosity, but Colin has become very important to him. Tory hasn’t quite realized it himself yet, but his friends and family (and the readers) can tell he has a crush. And it’s absolutely adorable. Quick captures perfectly the teenage awkwardness of a potential romance. Tory is almost constantly flustered and even Colin has begun to wonder confusedly why they seem to be drawn to each other. However, their relationship began under dubious circumstances at best. In addition to navigating the normal challenges of a budding romance, they will also have to deal with the fact that it all started because Tory was spying on Colin.

In part because of that, Tory is understandably under a fair amount of stress, something that exhibits itself through his dreams and his propensity for flights of fantasy. This is just one example of some of the excellent characterization in Off*Beat. Tory and Colin and all of the others have their good points and their bad, making them well-rounded characters with believable relationships. There is a fair amount of humor in their interactions and sarcasm is a common way that they communicate, which amuses me tremendously. Off*Beat also has an air of mystery about it. Both Colin an Tory have secrets that they’re keeping from each other and the enigma of Gaia Project is looming ever larger over the series. Quick has been slowly revealing more and more about the project, and about Colin, but there are still plenty of questions left to be answered. On top of that, Off*Beat, Volume 2 ends on one heck of a cliffhanger. I’m so glad that now, almost a decade after the series first began, that the conclusion will finally be revealed. I can’t wait to see how everything is resolved in the final volume. I truly love Off*Beat.

Off*Beat, Volume 1

Creator: Jen Lee Quick
Publisher: Chromatic Press
ISBN: 9780991946600
Released: May 2013
Original release: 2005

Off*Beat had its start as a script written by Jen Lee Quick in 2002. She would later begin developing the story into a three-volume graphic novel series for Tokyopop in 2004 as part of its line of original English-language manga. Unfortunately, only the first two volumes of the series were ever released (the first in 2005 and the second in 2006) and Off*Beat subsequently went out of print. I loved Off*Beat and was disappointed that I and other fans would never get the chance to read the series’ ending. But then along comes Chromatic Press in 2013, re-releasing the first two volumes of Off*Beat with additional bonus content and with plans to publish the long-awaited third volume. I was absolutely thrilled at the news. Along with Tokyo Demons, one of my more recent literary obsessions, Off*Beat is one of Chromatic Press’ flagship titles. I couldn’t be happier that it is now back in print.

Saturday, September 25, 2004. In the middle of the night, Colin Stephens moves into the duplex across the street from Tory Blake. Nearly a year later, Tory has somehow convinced his mother to allow him to enroll in St. Peter’s High School under the guise of needing more intellectual stimulation than his public school is able to provide. Which is true, but more importantly St. Peter’s is the same school that Colin attends. Tory is so curious and bored that his interest in his mysterious new neighbor has become an obsession. Up until now, he has only been able to observe Colin from a distance; attending St. Peter’s will allow him to get to know Colin better in person. At least that was the plan. It turns out Colin isn’t very easy to make friends with and he doesn’t seem to want to have anything to do with anyone. Tory, however, is determined to satisfy his curiosity and isn’t about to give up.

It’s more by chance than anything else that Tory hasn’t yet managed to get into any serious trouble by spying on his neighbors. He doesn’t mean any harm, but his actions certainly aren’t something to be condoned. But even considering his dubious hobby, I do like Tory quite a bit. He’s clever and delightfully flippant. (Actually, in general the dialogue in Off*Beat is great; Quick has a marvelous sense of humor that comes through in the work.) Granted, Tory may be a little too smart for his own good, and prone to letting his imagination run away with him, and his common sense trails far behind his book learning, but I happen to find those characteristics to be particularly endearing in him. I can also empathize with Tory because of them, having been similarly awkward and socially inept in high school myself.

The first volume of Off*Beat proceeds at a leisurely pace. The mystery surrounding Colin slowly builds as Tory conducts his investigation. At first it seems that everything is in Tory’s head, but then he actually does come across evidence that Colin is involved in some sort of secret project. At this point in Off*Beat very little is known about Colin—readers’ knowledge is limited to whatever Tory has so far been able to discover. Tory’s intense curiosity is also contagious; it’s easy to be drawn to Colin and want to learn more about him. In the beginning Colin is very prickly and withdrawn, but by the end of Off*Beat, Volume 1 he has started to open up a little to Tory. It’s an intriguing and slightly awkward relationship and one of my favorite things about Off*Beat. I’m incredibly glad that the comic is back in print; I’m looking forward to reading its conclusion.

My Week in Manga: September 27-October 3, 2010

My News and Reviews

Congratulations again to PB, winner of my first ever manga giveaway, Crazy Karate Contest!

Other than that, this past week has been pretty slow for me news-wise. The only other post was the September 2010 Bookshelf Overload, which probably really isn’t that interesting to anyone other than myself. However, I’m currently working on a post about manga related podcasts and will be adding a podcast section to the Resources page. If you know of any podcasts, please let me know. I’ve also been collecting more links to add, but I haven’t actually gotten around to it yet.

Quick Takes

Neko Ramen, Volume 1: Hey! Order Up! by Kenji Sonishi. I kept hearing good things about this manga and so even though I was hesitant to pick it up, I finally read the first volume. And yeah, it’s pretty good. I haven’t read many four panel manga but I did enjoy Neko Ramen—it’s silly and it made me laugh out loud a number of times. I found the funniest bits to be the gags that remind the reader that Taishō is indeed a cat, albeit one that loves to make ramen. I don’t know if I’ll buy the next volume, but I just might.

Off*Beat!, Volumes 1-2 by Jen Lee Quick. This series is supposed to be at least three volumes long, but only two volumes have been published so far and the third one probably won’t be. This is really too bad since the Off*Beat! is an excellent original English manga, and I want the rest of the story! Tory’s obsession in his mysterious neighbor Colin is swiftly turning into a crush whether he’s aware of it or not. (Plus, he’s really cute when he blushes.) Colin finds himself strangely interested in Tory as well. Just as they start to work out their friendship the series prematurely ends, but it’s still worth the read. I really liked this one a lot.

Suppli, Volumes 1-5 by Mari Okazaki. I think there are ten volumes plus one volume of extras in this series. So far, five volumes have been released in English and I hope that the rest are as well. I’ve only read a few josei manga so I don’t have much to compare it to, but I liked Suppli. Okazaki has some beautiful page layouts and water imagery in her artwork. Fujii was dumped by her boyfriend of seven years and now she only has her work to keep her going. She loves her job, but it’s pretty depressing and stressful at times. And finding love in the workplace only complicates matters further. I’d really like to see her end up with Ishida, the only decent guy at the office who’s genuinely interested in her.

Yotsuba&!, Volume 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma. Okay, this manga is seriously cute. Jumbo is probably my favorite character so far, but really they’re all pretty great. I was worried that Yotsuba would annoy me—I am easily irritated by little kids and forced cuteness—but I ended up finding her to be quite adorable. Her interactions with the neighbors, Jumbo, and her adoptive father bring out the delight in living each day to it’s fullest. Yotsuba’s a strange child, much to the befuddlement of others; she brings out the kid in those around her. I liked this manga, it made me smile, and I’ll be picking up more of the volumes to read.

Kurau: Phantom Memory, Episodes 17-24. It’s been about a month since I’ve had the opportunity to watch Kurau, but I finally got around to finishing the series. I fell back into the anime easily and I still love the characters. Although the ending it more or less a happy one, it still felt very melancholy to me. Kurau, even with all of the science fiction and alien elements, speaks very much about human loneliness. It’s a wonderful anime series that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to those who like character driven science fiction. I am very glad that I picked it up.