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Includes Issues: Original Graphic Novel
(Manga Digest Style)
Issue Dates: July 3, 2006
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This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

I’m not a fan of manga. I read a few when I was a kid. Like many in my generation, I was sucked into anime fandom for a bit.

Since then, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to flip through old ‘classics’ and none of it has held me. I’ve a healthy respect for true gods of the field but I mean the top selling titles that somehow are still counting upwards on the spine. They just don’t do it for me.

Naturally, I don’t have many TokyoPop titles in my collection.

However, Riding Shotgun is one of those American creator titles and happens to be written and drawn by a couple Savannah College of Art and Design grads. Despite the ten year gap in our attendance, I’m always excited to check out work by fellow SCAD kids (plus I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Nate Bowden through my day job and he’s a real nice guy.)

I figure my dueling biases (Natural inclination against TokyoPop and Manga and for enjoying work made by nice guys) will balance out a bit and result in a relatively fair review.

This book, like the average translated import is a black and white digest of fair length, just under 200 pages. It’s grayscale with tones instead of hatching.

There’s the odd manga style background effect and the action has a dynamically distorted nature I’ve seen most often in manga-influenced work.

Most of the manga resemblance ends there.

It reads left to right and is actually separated into chapters that almost makes it feel like a collection of issues (except without any redundant recap pages).

The writing style is definitely American and while the art is obviously created in a post-manga invasion world, it’s clearly a western style.

It felt more cartoon influenced than anything – maybe Tracy Yardley grew up watching the same Batman: The Animated Series that I did. I can’t quite place an exact comparison or next-nearest but this style of art isn’t my area of expertise.

In any case, I found it quite enjoyable.

The back of the book has an icon of a bomb with the word “action” under it and I can only assume this is an indication of genre. It’s appropriate.

The set up is this:

We’re in a world where assassination has been legalized and a pair of small timers with attitudes are hoping to get into the big leagues by joining the foremost union in their field.

Of course, that plot alone would be a little too straightforward and things take a couple twists resulting in as much gunplay and weapon related ridiculousness as possible.

The surprises aren’t particularly staggering but I still didn’t see them coming.

I found myself caught off guard by the ending, even thought I was expecting something similar, the actual tone and scripting of the events was not what I could have predicted.

In a book with over the top violence at every turn, some subtly in the interest of humor can be just as surprising as a bit of gory action at the right moment.

There were times where I felt like the book wasn’t really made with my audience in mind – the other icon on the back suggests 16+, and I feel like while some parents might not want this book in front of their younger teenagers, I could see it being very appealing to that age group. One of the things that was a turn off for me – almost every girl being a huge breasted semi-skank, in dress at least, is something sure to gain some audience.

In fact, based on the characters’ actual actions, I found it annoying in the same way that hot girl in your algebra class was annoying – while perhaps not coldly calculated, the characters are at least aware of their objectification and seem to be exploiting it.

In other words, it’s more of a character trait than just an artist’s inclination. And the slight annoyance is tinged with appreciation.

The rest of the character designs are pretty amusing.

Except for when intentional, no two people look alike, and half of the plot just seems to be an excellent excuse to draw a huge variety of armed to the teeth assassins, each with visually obvious preferences when it comes to modes of killing.

Reading this book reminded me why less “detailed” drawing styles can be so great.

Yardley’s expressions are often distilled to the bare minimum, instantly setting the right feeling for Bowden’s script.

And as for the dialogue, it’s no Proust but I’m pretty sure that’s not the point.

It flows, it’s easy, and I could nitpick a comma or excess “Man,” or two, but besides that everything is in the right place to keep things going.

The rhythm of the book’s almost constant humor, sometimes worth a smirk and laugh out loud funny at least twice for this jaded reviewer, rolled things forward at a brisk pace.

I was almost surprised when the story wrapped up.

A couple intriguing plot threads were planted for next time, though, so I’m looking forward to Volume 2.

4 out of 5. Some good clean, well, lightly dirty action with a dose of humor and just the tiniest bit of intrigue.

It may not be poetry but not every comic has to win a Pulitzer. Fun.

I read it in a sitting and forgot I was on the toilet.

Essential Continuity:
I’m pretty sure that you’re going to have to read this book before the next one.

Read first:
None, this series starts here.

Read next:
The next book in the series is Riding Shotgun Vol. 2, which I’m going to have to get my hands on. Shouldn’t be too hard since both these books are available on Amazon for a couple bucks each (used) or their 4-for-3 promotion new.

I’ll try and see if I can get a couple signed copies to give away through the site.

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6 Comments Post New »

  1. Beth wrote on at December 5, 2010 10:18 pm:

    What will the dude’s shirt say next? I’m hooked.


  2. -b. wrote on at December 10, 2010 10:16 am:

    By the way folks, speaking of Manga, there’s a great Manga sale going on right now over at HeavyInk. I don’t want to sound like an advert, but if you are into this stuff, you should at least check out the list that is on sale right now. The sale goes for another day or so. (Today being Dec 10th.)

    Here’s the link to the list…





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