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#63 [Nov. 6th, 2008|03:36 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

(Del Rey)

“Did it just get dark suddenly?”

Tomoko Hayakawa takes exaggeration and makes it into an artform. The Wallflower is a teenage soap opera where the usual cartoon short-hand of manga, like the nosebleeds that for some reason indicate sexual attraction, become distorted, stretched by appalling gravities and blown out of all proportion. Each discrete blood drop becomes a spraying geyser of gore, the thunderclouds that appear over the heads of angry people terrify those around them and eating the perfect meal washes the entire dining room away and replaces it with a calm ocean sunset so blissful it has the diners moaning for their mothers. Hayakawa’s artwork is every bit as exaggerated as these short-hand storytelling devices. The characters switch between detailed extreme closueps, rounded caricatures and outlines so basic they look like the ghosts from Pac-Man – sometimes all three within the same panel.

The typically ludicrous setup has it that the four cutest boys in school live together in a boarding house where they are promised free rent if they can transform the landlord’s niece from a wallflower into the perfect ideal of Japanese ladyhood. The wallflower in question is Sunako, the school outcast and a goth of the uncool kind who mutters crazily to herself, refuses basic hygiene and is obsessed with splatter movies to the point of demanding she be buried in a plot between Freddy and Jason. Flowers shrivel and die in her presence, lights flicker and dim when she walks into rooms and at one point her desire to escape back to her beloved darkness and away from being forced into having a social life is strong enough to summon an actual black hole.

Hayakawa knows what’s important in this kind of storytelling and it’s not naturalistic dialogue and original plotting – every volume essentially tells the same story in a slightly different way, so there’s no real point reading them all – what matters are entrances so dramatic they’re literal tsunamis and people screaming at each other so loud the book should come packaged with earplugs.