There are going to be certain expectations attached to a manga-style comic book featuring vampires that is created by a young woman — and mostly, these expectations aren’t good. It’s something that in incompetent hands can be disappointing amateur, too much of a self-indulgent fantasy for the goth girl behind it.
I’m glad to say that Vampire Free Style defied those expectations. In the hands of London-based creator Jenika Ioffreda (who was kind enough to send these copies for me to review all the way from England), this series is a surprising delight.
Young boy witch-in-training Padroncino is mourning his missing girlfriend when he finds a black cat he dubs Micia. Micia also grabs the attention of the mysterious Edward, who sees a mysterious young woman any time Micia is around. There’s also an ancient curse, a necklace and a creepy hooded figure known as the Master. These are all typically delightful stock characters from any dark shoujo manga you can find.
Self-published and obviously a labor of love, Vampire Free Style does start off a bit shakily — it does feel like it takes Ioffreda a little while to find her voice — but even from the first issue, she has a good eye for detail (Padroncino’s room is wonderfully messy, with an unmade bed and posters taped to the wall). As the series progresses, so does Ioffreda’s art — it was lovely from the beginning, but it becomes stronger and more expressive with each subsequent issue.
Ioffreda doesn’t seem afraid to let her influences shine — she says she’s a fan of Death: The High Cost of Living and Nana and echoes of those titles can be felt here from the cute artwork to the wonderful attention paid to the clothes.
Ioffreda seems like she is still growing as both an artist and a writer, though. The goofy bits with Auntie Margherita, who likes to dress Micia in various cute outfits, feel like unnecessary comic relief. And by the end of the fourth issue, it felt like the story was really just getting started — too much time was spent on establishing the characters before the plot kicked in.
But these are relatively minor complaints — Ioffreda is a talent to watch, and there’s a playfulness to her work. Her love for what she’s doing shines through and left me with a great affection for her work. I was surprised at how engrossed I became in the story and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.
Image from Vampire Free Style #4 by Jenika Ioffreda