Tag Archive for comixology

Three quick reviews of Harlequin manga titles

So about 10 years ago, Harlequin, in partnership with Dark Horse, did a line of comics called Harlequin Ginger Blossom — manga-style romance comics written by Harlequin writers and drawn by Japanese artists. There were 14 titles published and then they disappeared. I figured the whole thing managed to not catch on and it disappeared

The other day, I was browsing through Comixology, and I came across the Harlequin/SB Creative page (I believe most are also available on the Kindle, though, and possibly elsewhere — this is just where I found them). Not only had the whole Harlequin manga thing not disappeared, there are nearly 450 titles. (Most seem to be both be written and drawn by women.)

A quick crowdsourced query offered some suggestions of ones to read. So of course I bought some and did just that.

lucDomesticating Lucwritten by Sandra Paul, art by Mayu Takayama

This was probably the most straightforward and the sweetest of the three I read. It’s about a playboy, Luc, who is trying to train his late grandmother’s dog so he can put it up for adoption. His dog trainer, Julie, ends up staying with him to do just that (like you do).

It’s fun and silly (the dog, an Italian mastiff named Puppy, even has some asides). I didn’t find Luc to be particularly attractive — little too stiff and square-jawed for me — but Takayama’s Julie is bright-eyed and adorable. It’s the least sexually-explicit of the three I read — while Julie and Luc clearly has sex, it’s all hazy and dreamy with no nudity.

I didn’t quite buy the romance between them — it’s all pretty obvious and tame — but it was cute.

passionate-sinnerThe Passionate Sinner, written by Violet Winspear, art by Yoko Hanabusa

This is when things start to go off the deep end, which I am guessing is the ultimate appeal of these. I mean that in a good way. A surgeon named Paul Von Setan is blinded and the nurse who took the blame, Merlin, pretends to be an old woman to become Paul’s secretary as he works on a book on a tropical island.

Following all of that? Of course, Merlin is found out and Paul suspects she was the nurse who intentionally blinded him. There’s a bunch of gothic silliness here in the classic sense (think … Jane Eyre, but maybe in reverse and maybe with a loss of a limb).

The relationship seems primarily passionate and physical at first, and Paul definitely has a weird, controlling streak. There is a bit more nudity here and the sex scenes — while still hazy — definitely feel more physical and present. Hanabusa’s art has a pleasing retro quality to it, which I enjoyed. Her panel layouts are also dynamic and appealing.

This kind of falls into the “I don’t know if I’d call it good” category for me, but it was fun and I enjoyed I had no idea where it was going next (even if it ended up in an expected place).

Thesheik Sheik and the Virgin Secretary, written by Susan Mallery and art Kakuko Shinozaki

When I asked for recommendations, someone said “anything with Sheik in the title” and OK, let’s ignore the ethnic implications and just go with that. I picked this one because that title made it seem like it was going to be ridiculous.

I was kind of right. It wasn’t as over-the-top as I expected, but I think that made it better.

The virgin secretary of the title, Kiley, asks her boss, Rafiq (you guessed it! The sheik of the title. He’s from a fictional country in the Middle East so that fixes everything!) if she can be his mistress. You see, Kiley
just caught her fiancé cheating on her and clearly this is a logical solution to that. They agree to do this for three months.

I admire how quickly the plot just jumps to this (this arrangement happens in the first three pages). However, after Kiley admits to Rafiq she’s a virgin, he says he’s going to take it slowly — in a good way, of course. Yes, they fall in love because of course they do, but their relationship seems to have a natural progression. While there is conflict and family drama, it’s all pretty quickly resolved. I liked that.

Of the three I read, this definitely had the most sex — lots of undressing, fondling early on and it quickly progresses to more as the book continues. There’s quite a bit of nudity as well (all female, though). The sex scenes are pretty extended and while they still leave enough to the imagination, I was surprised at what they didn’t.

Shinozaki’s art is loose and modern and I thought it suited this story well. Kiley isn’t presented as a great beauty, but that’s definitely one of the points of the story. Rafiq is playfully handsome. Her page layouts have a breeziness to them that makes this story fun. For all the expected beats, the art really carries the story.

I have to admit I was surprised by the overall quality of these — I definitely went into this with some curiosity but not overly high expectations. The writing, while it adheres to pretty standard romance novel tropes and beats, is strong and effective. The manga artists are a good match for each title. These feel like they weren’t treated as a throwaway — the quality is much, much better than it needs to be. I love that.

While I could see how easily these could be addicting — they’re certainly entertaining and fun — at about $6 per title, they’re a little pricey for things I’m unlikely to ever read again. However, I like to know they’re there and whenever I need some silly comfort, I can imagine myself buying a couple more every now and then. I have a couple more recommendations to read but I’ll gladly take more.

Review: Bandette Volume 1: Presto!

BandetteI imagine you’ve seen Roman Holiday (probably more than once). Now imagine if Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Ann ditches that whole royalty thing and decides instead to don a red wig and a face mask and begin a life of crime.

You would read that comic, wouldn’t you? Luckily for you, it exists and it’s called Bandette.

Bandette is a digital-first comic from Monkeybrain Comics and available through Comixology. But for those of us who still like our comics on paper (and, more importantly, don’t have one of those fancy devices you can read digital comics on), Bandette Volume 1: Presto! (Dark Horse, 2013) collects the first five issues in a beautiful hardcover book, complete with side stories and a few glimpses behind the scenes.

While Bandette by Paul Tobin (writer) and Colleen Coover (artist) does take place in modern times — there’s the Internet, there are cell phones — the overall feel recalls an earlier, more innocent time. Bandette scampers across rooftops and sneaks in and out of houses, all in pursuit of priceless objects. Despite the fact she’s a thief, we are always firmly on her side, as are her crew of “urchins” (a group of friends and helpers). True to her independent spirit, Bandette is on the right side of the law as often as she’s on the wrong side. Mostly, she’s just doing things her way and not taking too much seriously.

In Tobin and Coover’s hands, Bandette is impossibly adorable — always flirty and smart. She charms fellow thief Monsieur, has a teasing battle with rival Matadori, and works to stay one step ahead of the evil Absinthe.

Tobin’s writing keeps the tone light and fun, and while some violence and subtle innuendo pushes the title toward older audiences, it all still feels playful rather than “adult.” Coover’s art is bright and spirited with strong outlines and a vibrant, watercolor-like palette. There is such an inherent sweetness to everything here that softens any darker edges the story might have.

While most of Bandette Volume 1: Presto! is just laying the groundwork for the story that lies ahead, it left me wanting more of Bandette’s adventures and those of her friends and enemies. Few other comics are full of such charm and joy. Bandette shows how much fun comics can be.

Now if I just had one of those tablets so I could keep up between physical volumes …