The Problem with Minx

(Also known as reviews of Emiko Superstar, Janes in Love and The New York Four.)

I read Emiko Superstar and Janes in Love back-to-back on the train returning home from MoCCA (which tells you how long I’ve had them — they were giving them out for free). I more recently read The New York Four.

Emiko Superstar

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Emiko Superstar, written by Mariko Tamaki with art by Steve Rolston, follows Emi, a slightly overweight and awkward half-Asian teenager in Canada as she finds herself drawn into an underground group of performance artists. I like Emi – I liked her geekier tendencies and her introspective nature. I didn’t exactly buy the whole performance artist scene – I didn’t believe that a guy who looked a lot like The Dude from The Big Lebowski would truly be able to get a group of young people to perform in a warehouse space, nor did I find Emi’s object of admiration, Poppy Galore, to really have that much going on. Her tentative, possible romance with Henry has a sweetness about it.

I did like the way everything unraveled, though, and how Emi realized everyone has secrets and can be surprising, including herself. Rolston’s art has a curvy softness about it that compliments the cuteness of the story well. But ultimately, I found Emiko Superstar to be fairly forgettable.

Janes In Love

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Janes in Love picks up where The Plain Janes left off, with the same creative team of novelists Cecil Castellucci and artist Jim Rugg. I think it’s basically pointless to read this if you haven’t read The Plain Janes first. To me, it was more of the same. The Janes are now dealing with the fallout after the bust-up of P.L.A.I.N. and find themselves drifting apart as boys enter the scene. The main Jane seeks a way to continue making public art while dealing with her mom’s reluctance to leave the house after a friend dies from an anthrax attack. I noticed a very subtle shift in Rugg’s art, emphasizing the various Janes’ ethnicities (I did a side-by-side comparison and the style isn’t that different, but it’s there). This one fell a little flat and felt a little unnecessary to me (I’ve read there will be a third one). Whereas the first book was about the girls’ self-discovery, they didn’t have enough to do in this one. The conclusion and reunification of the Janes came across as a little too neat for me.

And after I finished this one, I realized something about Minx: all the books have the same sorts of rhythm. They all emphasize some Big Important Life Lesson. They all share the same sort of pacing and the characters all have the same sort of epiphanies and self-discoveries. They all seem to learn that in the end, it’s best to be true to yourself.

I do think that’s an important message and one that teenage girls don’t hear enough, but the more I read of the Minx books, the more preachy they feel. Instead of being art or even entertainment first, they seem to be lessons in self-esteem. They seem to be more the sorts of books well-meaning adults and comic book bloggers (myself included) think teenagers should be reading. (I did a quick bit of research on some message boards where teenage girls hang out – I didn’t spend too long because I didn’t want to be creepy – and I didn’t find any mentions of any of the Minx books. I’m not sure if teenage girls are actually reading these.)

But I still keep picking them up. I keep giving them a chance.

The New York Four

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I was surprised to see that The New York Four comes closest to what I think Minx can be capable of. Coming from Vertigo veterans Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, the story follows reclusive Riley as she reunites with her sister and tries to make friends during her first year of NYU. The New York setting feels like the real New York (I like Wood’s little asides in his NYC 101 lessons) and not just some “exotic” tacked on locale. This is the New York where people actually live. Riley is an interesting heroine and as it’s delightfulas she breaks out of her shell. The rest of the “New York Four” – Merissa, Lona and Ren – feel a little undeveloped but I get the feeling Wood and Kelly plan to continue this story. While I think Kelly draws the girls a little too sexy, with over-emphasized lips and prominent bustlines, his art has an attractive grittiness to it.

But while Riley has her share of disappointments and Big Life Lessons – and, of course, discovers it’s best to be herself – this book felt different. There was drama. There was anger and love. There was uncomfortable situations. There was, in other words, the sorts of things teenage girls encounter every day.

I know that Karen Berger said that Minx is “real stories about real girls in the real world,” but I can’t help but want it to be more like the manga series Nana. Granted, in its own way, Nana is about as far from reality as you can get, despite not being fantasy, but underneath its rock-star melodrama, it feels real. It’s heartfelt while still being escapist. I want to feel the same way after I’ve read a Minx title.

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