“Its hip to be square” – Katherine checks out trans-continental manga
Written and illustrated by Judith Park,
Published by Yen Press
If Japanese comics are called “manga”, and Korean comics are called “manwha”, and comics drawn in a manga-like style but written in English are called “OEL (original English language) manga”, then YSquare must be the first example I’ve come across of “OGL manwha” – creator Judith Park is German-born and raised, of Korean background, drawing in a style that’s somewhere between manga and manwha, and writing in German (…which is, after all, her first language). Oh, and YSquare was first published in Germany, it reads right-to left, it’s set in South Korea, and two of the main characters are Japanese.
If you find this confusing, don’t worry: none of it matters once you actually start reading. In fact, the first thing you’re likely to notice about YSquare is the gorgeous art – my goodness, Judith Park can draw.
Once you’ve stopped gaping at the pretty, pretty art (check out her DeviantArt page for further proof) you’ll notice something else: she’s got a gift for humour, especially the kind of situational humour that comes from character interaction. The main character, high school student Yoshitaka, has never wanted anything more than to have a girlfriend, but despite his swaggering macho exterior, he’s basically rather shy and not very confident around girls. So when he sees his classmate Yagate surrounded by a gaggle of adoring girls, he demands to know what Yagate’s secret is, and the good-natured Yagate agrees to help Yoshitaka out – which, naturally, turns out to be easier said than done. For one thing, Yagate doesn’t really know why girls like him. For another, getting Yoshitaka to relax around girls is almost impossible – not to mention the fact that the girls at their school have agendas of their own.
(a page from the lovely colour intro to YSquare from the Yen Press, (c) Judith Park)
The high-school romantic comedy has been done to death in manga, and it takes a deft hand and a light touch to bring something fresh to this kind of story – which Judith Park does, in spades, but not by adding a fancy gimmick to an otherwise standard plot; rather, she populates her story with believable and sympathetic characters and lets their desires drive the action. It’s all very natural, and even the slapstick elements arise organically out of the way the characters react to each other. And it’s nice to see a non-shounen-ai series with a gay character – I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like shounen-ai as much as the next squealing fangirl, but there’s something a bit depressing about the way gay characters seem to get shunted into that genre and ignored in every other, as if gay guys only exist when they’re the main characters of romances. YSquare has a gay character who just is, and that’s very refreshing.
Judith Park is huge in Germany, and it’s easy to see why: the combination of lush, attractive art and funny, human characters makes YSquare a very enjoyable read. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that Park is only 24 years old (and according to her bio she also plays piano and violin, that’s just too much talent for one person! – Joe)! I certainly hope she has a long and productive career ahead of her: if she’s this good now, she’ll be knocking everyone’s socks off in a few years’ time.
Katherine Farmar writes regularly on comics and culture, you can read more on her comics blog Whereof One Can Speak.