Svetlana Chmakova’s been a rising star in the manga industry ever since her smash OEL hit, Dramacon. Now, her new series, Nightschool, is being serialized in Yen Plus, Yen Press’ anthology, and she’s working on an animated TV series called My Life Me.. Today, I have for you a review and comparison of the first volumes of both of Chmakova’s series in print.
Dramacon Vol. 1
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Age Rating: 13+
When amateur writer Christie settles in the artist alley of her first ever anime convention, she sees it as an opportunity to promote the manga she had started with her artist boyfriend. But when she unexpectedly falls for a mysterious cosplayer, things become complicated. What do you do when you love someone who is going to be miles away from you in just a couple of days?! Web-comic vet Svetlana Chmakova gives us a funny, romantic, behind-the-scenes look at an anime convention—where sometimes even two is a crowd!
Nightschool Vol. 1
Age Rating: 13+
Schools may lock up for the night, but class is in session for an entirely different class of students. In the Nightschool, vampires, werewolves, and weirns (a particular breed of witches) learn the fundamentals of everything from calculus to spell casting. Alex is a young weirn whose education has always been handled through homeschooling. But circumstances seem to be drawing her closer to the Nightschool. Will Alex manage to weather the dark forces gathering?
Dramacon is one of those series that I can read over and over again. I love the supporting cast (the heroine, not so much, but she’s bearable), and every time I flip through the pages, I notice something new. For example, the protagonist’s name is Christine Leroux. I just now realized that Chmakova combined Christine, the name of the girl from Phantom of the Opera with the last name of the author, Gaston Leroux. Which is fitting, because Matt, a stoic cosplayer whom Christine slowly falls in love with, wears sunglasses all the time to cover up a mysterious deformity. The entire series is littered with references to manga, anime, music, and pop culture. However, it never gets bogged down, and the plot flows smoothly despite the screentone overload.
Nightschool, on the other hand…I have to admit, I read this volume all in one sitting, and a lot of it flew right over my head. The characters were a bit hard to keep track of, and I was unsure of who had fought who, who was on whose side, etc. Truth be told though, the infamous screentone problem that I always rant about has been majorly improved upon, and it provides a welcome departure from the manic art style Chmakova has used in the past. Now, we get to see more of the artist’s work, unobscured by a bevy of digitalized tones.
Speaking of screentones…Dramacon, Dramacon, Dramacon. I’m a bit OCD about art style, and I have a bit of a problem reading most OEL (original English language manga), because there’s usually an abundance of computerized toning. I prefer straight up line art. However…in Dramacon, the screentones actually add to the manic pace of the plot, and don’t obfuscate the reading experience. In addition, the character designs are well thought-out, and the physical humor that has become a characteristic of Chmakova’s work is spot-on.
I’m withholding judgment on the plot until volume 2 of Nightschool is released. There were more questions asked than answered by the end of volume 1, and while it does pique my interest, I’m getting confused by the constant barrage of information. There are so many groups introduced in this volume, including the Keepers and school staff (including Lars, a bloodthirsty vamp, and Roi, an aloof professor of questionable origin), the weirns, the vampires, the demon-hunters, the popular crowd, and, of course, Alex, the young weirn who absolutely refuses to go to school. Finally, after all the introductions, we get our first spurt of plot—Sarah, the new Keeper at Nightschool and Alex’s guardian, disappears without a trace. The only person who can even remember that she existed is Alex. These plot twists are a total divergence from Dramacon, which revolved on an axis of comedy, romance, and soap opera-style drama. While I’m not saying this is bad (myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire trilogy), there’s just a huge difference. Chmakova has matured both as a writer and as an artist, and Nightschool is a great example of how her work has become better.
The OEL manga industry has boomed thanks to the work of companies like Tokyopop and Yen Press, and Svetlana Chmakova has been there since the very beginning. Her work personifies the American take on manga, and she has come a long way since her early comics. Dramacon and Nightschool are both great works, and if you can deal with the flaws, they provide hours of enjoyment.