Vampire Free Style is an absolutely delightful book, with much to offer to a wide range of comic and non-comic readers. There’s a lightness and playfulness throughout the book but the cuteness coexists happily with a sense of loss and sadness that, if Jenika handles it right in forthcoming issues, will make this book far more than the cute Manga Goth book it superficially resembles. It’s a modern little fairy story, mixing gothic romance with a great sense of fun in both writing and art.
In these first three issues we’re introduced to a young trainee witch boy with a habit of jumping off roofs trying to fly his broomstick. Our young witch boy meets an interesting cat on his latest aborted flying lesson. But this black cat, Micia, is no ordinary cat and she seems to be linked not only to Padroncino (the witch boy), but also with Edward, leader of a group of Goths who can only see a beautiful Death like Goth girl whenever he looks at Micia. Obviously there is more to this cat than meets the eye.
(A cat of many talents. Micia from Vampire Free Style issue 1, art and story by Jenika Ioffreda.)
Indeed there appears to be much more to so many of the cast of characters. Padroncino is desperately searching for the girlfriend who mysteriously disappeared; there are witches and witchcraft everywhere, and more questions than answers so far. The interweaving of their stories is seen, by the start of issue three, to last through the centuries. Lost necklaces, secret masters living in the darkness, and of course, at some point we find out why it’s called Vampire Free Style. Although, with so many Goths around, it was no surprise to find out that someone with a thirst for blood would be showing up.
Jenika’s writing is fun and packed with spirit and raw energy and very occasionally small slips in the dialogue (Jenika’s Italian by birth and arrived here just 5 years ago), but the fun and the energy more than make up for this every time. Her artwork is a curious mix of styles; the obvious reference point for me is Neil Gaiman’s Death series, as one of the lead characters in Vampire Free Style is a stereotypical Goth girl with a penchant for top hats. But there’s also a very westernised Manga look to it complete with bighead moments galore, shifting artistic styles and androgynous boys and girls. And I can also see elements of Charles Vess and P Craig Russell in there as well – a style Jenika handles incredibly well on this beautiful page:
(A spot of Sandman, a pinch of Charles Vess and P Craig Russell. But all Jenika Ioffreda. Page from Vampire Free Style # 1.)
Finally a word on the physical comic itself. If you have an image of small press comics as some dodgy little black and white photocopy you’re in the wrong place. Vampire Free Style, like many of the current crop of great UK comics, is very professionally produced with gorgeous colour covers and crisp stark black and white interior pages in a handy A5 size. The production values of the whole thing match Jenika’s skill and artistry. Each cover is a lovely, simple image that invites you into the delightful, wistful and romantic comic inside.
Order it from the British Small Press section on the FPI website, pick it up from Jenika herself at her various appearances at conventions or online at www.neptunefactory.com and if you’re very lucky you may even be able to find it in your local comic shop.
Richard Bruton is a lifelong comics fan and former Comic Book Store Guy; you can read more of his thoughts on comics and life on his blog Fictions.
Here at FPI we’re quite rightly proud of the enormous talent pool in comics in this country. And with reviews like this one we hope to raise the profile of the comics we think deserve greater exposure.
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