The intrigue in the graphic novel Mangaman (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $19.99, 9780547423159), written by Barry Lyga and illustrated by Colleen Doran, begins even before the story starts. Lyga's cryptic dedication reads: "To Kuo-Yu Liang, who inspired it without knowing."
(In our review last week, we called Mangaman "a combination of manga and comics that converges in a wholly original YA graphic novel starring engaging characters from different realities.")
A decade ago, Lyga and Liang, then colleagues at Diamond Book Distributors, were discussing Japanese manga versus Western-style comics, the different audiences for each and why comic book stores weren't selling manga at the time even though it was doing well in bookstores. "I said that in my experience people who were raised on Western comics really have this visceral anti-reaction to manga, and vice versa," Lyga recalled.
The discussion "got the wheels turning" for Lyga. "I thought it would be cool if someday someone did a comic that brought those groups together; something that both kinds of fans could enjoy." His initial thought was to have a character from a manga universe turn up in a Western comic. "I started riffing on all the humorous things you could do with that. It wasn't a story at that point. It was just an idea."
Years went by, during which Lyga went on to publish several YA novels, including his debut, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. When his editor asked if he would consider writing a graphic novel, he recalled his long-ago exchange with Liang (who is v-p of sales and marketing at Diamond). "That's why I dedicated it to him," Lyga said. "If not for that conversation, I never would have thought of the idea on my own. It's not something that would have popped into my head."
In Mangaman, sci-fi adventure meets love story when manga character Ryoko falls through a Rip into the "real" world--and straight into the role of the ultimate outsider at an American high school, where he deals with the unfamiliar culture, clashes with other kids and falls for popular, quirky Marissa Montaigne. Especially appealing to Lyga about combining Eastern and Western comic book styles was the notion of having these "two radically different things co-existing and seeing how they play off of each other."
Another blast from Lyga's past happened when teaming up with an artist for Mangaman. His first choice to illustrate the story was Colleen Doran, who has worked on iconic comic book characters like Superman, Spider-Man and Wonder Woman, but he didn't think the popular artist would have time to take on the project. She did sign on and, what's more, even remembered Lyga from a comic book fanzine they had both belonged to more than two decades ago.
Mangaman is Lyga's first foray into graphic novels. (He did pen some "really terrible" single issue comic books in the 1990s and encourages people "not to seek them out.") The biggest challenge he encountered between writing prose and graphic novels was the need for a change in mindset. "It's a whole different way of thinking," he said. The common advice for writers to "show, don't tell" doesn't apply when writing a graphic novel. "You have to think in terms of tell, don't show because it's not your job to show. It's the artist's job to show. You're telling one story to the artist so the artist can tell a story to the reader."
For example, some early readers of Mangaman thought Ryoko's love interest, Marissa, wasn't distinct enough and didn't convey enough personality. "All of the ways I wanted to fix that involved more story, which is fine when you're writing a novel because nobody cares how many paragraphs there are in a novel," explained Lyga. "But in a graphic novel you only have a certain number of pages and a certain number of panels on each one. I had to think visually instead." Now, Marissa's proclivity for unusual outfits wordlessly conveys that she "feels like an outsider."
Lyga took up writing full-time after leaving Diamond in 2005. "I really don't recommend people quit their jobs before they've sold their first book," he said. "That was a very stupid thing to do on my part. I got lucky." A couple of months later he landed a book deal and has since published seven novels, with two more coming soon: The Mad Mask, the second installment in the Archvillain series, in January and I Hunt Killers in April.
Luckily for the prolific Lyga, he relishes being a writer. "It's a combination of the thing I love, the thing I do for a living, and my hobby," he said. "Other people waste their time being well-rounded individuals. I don't bother with that." --Shannon McKenna Schmidt