I’ve never read the book that this manga is adapted from, and I’m not entirely sure that I would have given it a chance in prose form. Written by Rainbow Rowell and published in 2013, the young adult novel would have surely slipped under my radar. I didn’t really read much young adult literature back then. With this manga adaptation though, I think the story has found a medium by which it has really attracted my attention. I think I find myself enjoying young adult stories and themes more when they are in comic form than in prose, maybe because I’m so used to reading shoujo manga. In a way, this comic reminds me a bit of the series Giant Days but mostly because of the college themes of dealing with a new place as a freshman just starting out. But it’s not as wacky as that series, focusing more on the romance and drama than the weird meshing of personalities in certain friend groups.
Fangirl, if you haven’t read the novel, is about a young girl named Cath who is experiencing her first year at college away from home. Things have been challenging for her; her twin sister has refused to bunk with her, she’s having a hard time making friends, and she’s worried her dad isn’t taking good care of himself while they’re away. The only thing that gives her comfort is her favorite YA fantasy series and the fanfiction she’s writing about it. But the academic world doesn’t appreciate fanfiction and she finds herself struggling to fit into literary academia and college life. The novel was translated to a comic form by Sam Maggs and illustrated by Gabi Nam and will be released on October 13th.
I think this comic will be very relatable to a lot of people considering the subject matter. Most of us, I feel, have been through those confusing times of early college or the first time away from home for an extended period of time. It was a hard time for me, and it’s an especially hard time for our Cath here. Having a twin sister who is trying to figure out who she is away from their relationship just makes things harder as her safety blanket is taken away from her. College rules and customs can be hard to figure out as most of them are unspoken, as evidenced by Cathy’s inability to figure out how to traverse the dining hall. Instead of trying to figure it out, she decides to subsist on protein bars until her roommate physically forces her to come eat with her. College can be a new universe in and of itself, something that takes a lot of adjusting to make it through and finally find your place.
College can be tough for a lot of reasons, one of which is just the culture of academia. Cath is trying to major in English and Creative Writing, a field that doesn’t take kindly to fanfiction in general. It seems as though the only writing Cath has done before this point is her fanfiction and it still acts as a nice comfort for her to get lost in as times get stressful and confusing. The comfort of fanfiction is in the stability of the characters and the feelings of comfort and nostalgia they produce as you get lost in a world you’re familiar with.
The comic tries to set up the English professor’s dislike of fanfiction as a surprise, but really I wasn’t at all surprised. Copyright is something that is highly controversial among the literary world. There are many sides to the issue, and as someone who professionally works in the field of copyright right now, I can tell you the answers are not always that easy. Fair use, transformative works, parody, the state of orphan works, and the length of time something stays in copyright are all contentious issues. I don’t have the space to get into here, but I’m interested to see how the comic addresses it in volume two in relation to Cath’s fanfiction.
Gabi Nam’s art is really strong in this series. I’m really enjoying how the characters are designed, the art in general, and the expressiveness of the characters. Fangirls is her English debut but you can tell she has a long history of art and comics by how polished the comic looks. I’m also wondering if Sam Maggs did the layout of the pages or if Nam contributed to that as well. Either way I love how the pages feel light and give the story and characters room to breathe. The first flashback at the beginning of the volume is a great example of this as it manages to convey the anger and betrayal between Cath and her sister when she finds out they won’t be rooming together. The panels are nicely set up to highlight the tense and emotional mood of the scene, drawing our attention to certain important expressions or parts by simply featuring them in their own panel.
I also love the cutaways to the Sam and Baz fanfiction moments that break up the main action. Putting weight to the fanfiction Cath is writing creates a larger feeling of importance for this story she is creating. It also draws the reader into the world of Sam and Baz to get them feeling something for these characters in preparation for whatever happens later. I’m really looking forward to seeing where the plot around the fanfiction goes and more art around these characters. It definitely creates a nice frame narrative within the comic that manages to break up the action and emotional moments, allowing the story and characters to breathe and sink in a bit more.
If you’ve read the original novel or are interested in stories around the awkward college years of nerds, I’d highly suggest checking this out. I think the medium of manga/comics is great for this story and will connect a lot more with manga and comic fans than the prose version. I’d you’ve read the original novel, let me know what you think about the adaptation in relation to the original. This manga is set to release on October 13, so set your calendars! And thanks again to Viz Media for sending me an advanced copy.
~~Thanks for Reading!~~
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