One of the gifts my daughter got this Christmas was a box set of manga (essentially Japanese comic books) called .hack//Legend of the Twilight from my mother-in-law. I'm pretty sure my mother-in-law had no idea what she was buying and, if she'd opened the books up, would have been horrified at some of the almost naked ladies that were featured in the book. Regardless, I sat down to read through the books to make sure, almost naked ladies aside, that they'd be okay for Catherine to read.
I was also looking forward to reading them myself. I'm a comic book fan from way back and in fact still have several boxes of bagged comic books in the linen closet that I or the kids take out and read. It's mostly Marvel - lots of X-Men related titles as well as Namor, Alpha Flight, Avengers and so on. I am not a comic book newbie. I know Marie Severin designed the classic Spiderwoman costume, understand who influenced John Byrne's art and who he influenced and can annoy the hell out of my husband by explaining all the references in comic book movies.
This my first real read of manga but hey, aside from the big dopey eyes and weird expressions, it's still a comic book, right? I know how to read a comic book.
First thing I noticed was that they were bound wrong. The cover was on the back! Maybe my MIL picked them up in a discount bin? Regardless, I opened the book at what I knew was the start, flipped past the first couple of pages and started reading. I have to tell you, I had no real worries about Catherine reading this because I couldn't make head nor tales of the story and I doubted she would. Comments seemed random, the art was disconnected. Nothing made sense. I put the book down and went to check online reviews. I'd heard good things about manga, maybe this was just a dud?
Nope. The review were pretty good. People enjoyed this series. Maybe I just wasn't getting it? Maybe the way it told stories was beyond me and fans of manga just picked up on stuff that left me confused?
I picked up another book in the series, flipped to the beginning and started again. It was still incomprehensible. I went to put the book down but as I did I noticed in huge letters on the very first pages of the book the word STOP.
The proper way to read manga that page went on to say, was from the back forward. The exact opposite way one would read a western book. The book wasn't bound wrong. The cover really DID belong on the "back".
Feeling like an idiot I grabbed the first book and started again. This time from the proper place. But the story didn't get much better. Things seemed to have a bit more of a flow but the story still eluded me. I went back to the instruction page and took a closer look at the instructions. Read the panels backwards too it said. Not only that but read the word balloons in reverse order as well. D'oh.
The book made sense after that. And it was a good read. I never put the books down until just a little while ago and now Catherine is also reading them. It makes a difference when instead of blundering in, thinking you know it all, you actually take a minute to learn about what you're doing.
I honestly feel like an old fart now because all I was thinking as I got frustrated with the seemingly incomprehensible story was, "These kids today and their stupid manga. When I was a kid they knew how to write and draw a proper comic book!"