May 10, 2010

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Blue Monday Volume 2

Written by Chynna Clugston-Major
Illustrated by Chynna Clugston-Major
Oni Press

What can go wrong at a somewhat lame costume party? An awful lot if you're Bleu Finnegan, who hangs around an outrageous group of fellow teenagers who will stop at nothing to get under each other's skins. In this case, skin is the operative word, as Bleu gets taped in the tub, leading to a series of escalating attacks between herself and the boys with the video evidence. Watch as they do everything from an unruly soccer match to...a date?

Teenage love-hate relationships abound and alliances shift about like trends on Twitter, but the comedy almost never stops in this second volume of Blue Monday. Created in a style that shows a manga influence but doesn't try to slavishly recreate it, Clugston-Major writes her own brand of high school story that doesn't play by any of the rules we normally see in that setting.

The premise for this set of stories, for one, is something only a modern writer could conceive of. We've seen the idea of sneaking peeks of the girls any number of times, but Clugston-Major updates the way it happens to fit the reality of today's technology. Updates like that are a pattern in Blue Monday, a series that uses familiar ideas but gives them a fresh spin by leaving gender stereotypes in the dust.

The idea of videotaping people against their wishes is a serious--and pretty recent--subject, and it's only by carefully making sure the reader understands that we're not supposed to endorse the boy's actions can Clugston-Major begin to let the comedy flow. The boys will pay the penalty in a physical battle that leaves them hurting for their efforts. It's refreshing to see the girls get back at the guys in a way you wouldn't expect.

Despite staying away from gender tropes, there are plenty of concepts in the series that don't change even if the attitudes and actions of the characters do. Bleu and Clover start to have their first issues over boys, and Erin seems set on causing problems for her female "friends" for reasons only she seems to know. Alan wants to see all that he can see of any girl available (recall the girl mags arc of the prior volume), but he's also got a real thing for Bleu and wants to start going out with her. Victor, meanwhile, can't see what's going on in front of him any better than Bleu does. I also like that her modern protagonists don't try to get away from having fights about relationships. You can be liberated and cool and still be jealous if someone gets all the flirtatious looks, after all!

These are real feelings that go on every day for people of all ages, and it's nice to see Clugston-Major mix them into the farce without allowing them to drag down the silliness, since that's what we're primarily here for. I mean, who wants to get too bogged down into the details of relationships when Bleu dreams(?) up a spirit animal that's a dirty-minded otter?

The back of the book refers to this series as a "teenage sex comedy" and to some degree that's true, and it does have a few pitfalls as a result. The concepts I outlined above to show that there is character behind the comedy aren't exactly original. Neither is the idea of breaking up a date and letting the reader/viewer watch as the players react to the hijinks. Though I love the way in which Clugston-Major uses these tropes to tell a funny story with a few touching moments, it's definitely not so much original as it is updated for a new generation. If you are looking for original plots, you won't find them here. What you do get are amazing executions of those ideas, and I'm far more interested in character than setting.

Though the art is stylistically closest to manga, with marginal characters breaking the 4th wall and shrunken characters taking the place of their angular-chinned counterparts, the story itself feels even more western this time than it did in the first volume. At times, this feels like Archie with an attitude (and a touch of Laverne and Shirley), which is perfectly fine by me. If you are looking for an OEL manga, however, I think you'll be disappointed. Clugston-Major has definitely read and practiced drawing her share of shojo, but her writing style definitely doesn't match up with what comes out of her pens.

If you come into this book looking for a funny take on the tropes we see in just about every high school story, you'll love Blue Monday. I enjoy her over-the-top characterizations and good use of familiar themes given an update for the modern age. Though I know the situations like the back of my hand, I don't know how we're going to see Bleu, Clover, and the rest react to them, and that's the best part of any story--how the characters relate to their premise. I really like Blue Monday, and if you enjoy reading stories about teenagers trying to figure out how to grow up without growing old, I think you will, too.