Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, February 04, 2005
      ( 2/04/2005 03:31:00 PM ) Bill S.  

SIXTY MINUTE MANGA – (This week's episode: Scratch 'n' sniff – and a menacing hand.)

As part of a ferret house – with three of the li'l weasels currently living under our roof – it was inevitable that I'd be drawn to Lindsay Cibos & Jared Hodges' Peach Fuzz, the new Tokyopop "All Ages" manga series about a girl and her fer't. The work of American artists who first test-drove the material in Tokyopop's "Rising Stars of Manga" competition, Fuzz tells the story of nine-year-old Amanda Keller, sole child in a single parent household who has just gotten her first pet: a strong-willed ferret named Peach. Told from the PoV of both Amanda and Peach (who sees herself as a kidnapped princess stolen away from her kingdom), the book examines the relationship between child owner and pet in a way that's designed to illuminate both its pleasures and pitfalls. Reading the book, I found myself thinking of children's book author Maurice Sendak's dog training classic, Some Swell Pup, in the way both works whimsically strive to instruct first time pet owners. If Cibos & Hodges come up short matching Sendak's assurance and pronounced sense of play, I suspect we can put that down to their comparative inexperience. On its own amiable terms, Peach Fuzz does a fine job showing readers the Ferret Experience.

The cover to Volume One features big-eyed Amanda as she brandishes her big-headed pet ferret to the reader: at the bottom right of the cover is the scratch 'n' sniff image of a peach ("Come closer! I smell like peaches!" it tells the reader, but, I've gotta tell ya, it smelled more like book to me!), a fun gimmick that I sincerely hope other manga series don't copy. (Battle Royale: "Come closer! I smell like gunpowder!" or GTO: "Come closer! I smell like girls' underpants!") But, I'll ya: anyone who tries to convince you that a de-scented ferret "smells like peaches" is definitely not to be trusted.

The books opens with Amanda and her mother, work-stressed Megan, as they're visiting the Super!Pets store in search of the perfect companion animal. After rejecting all the standard house pets as being "too boring," the girl gloms on the ferret cage, even though it has a cartoon sign warning customers that "We bite!" First time she sticks her hand in the cage, one of the inhabitants chomps on her finger. "Are you all like that?" she asks, but when she spies a small girl ferret sleeping, she decides it is the right pet for her. She doesn't realized that the ferret she'll name Peach is too sleepy to be scared – or that once they bring the pet home, they'll be making a commitment to it.

One of the smart themes of Peach Fuzz is the way that pets, any pets, can eat away at your budget. The inexperienced pet owners buy the wrong housing for Peach – and later wind up spending even more to get a decent cage for the ferret – while a trip to the vet proves even more costly. (Neither Peach's owners nor the unsavvy vet realize that ferrets sleep up to twenty hours a day and can be deucedly difficult to rouse.) And then there's that biting bizness: visualizing Amanda's hand as a multi-headed monster that torments her (the "Handra"), Peach nips at it every chance she gets. Because Amanda's mother has threatened to take the ferret back to the shop if it does start biting, the girl attempts to hide it. Of course, Ma Keller isn't so easily deceived.

Cibos & Hodges include some standard ferret training tips (having lived with a former nipper, I can attest to the effectiveness of the approach), but they also have fun showing Amanda pointedly mishandle Peaches at every turn. From the ferret's perspective, much of what Amanda does is simply designed to torment her: when the girl inadvertently gives her snacks that are tainted with anti-bite liquid, Peaches is convinced the "Handra" is trying to poison her. "I'll never be able to entirely trust it," the ferret decides at the end of volume one, and you know this'll be an issue in volumes to come. (At this writing, the Tokyopop site is promising at least two more books in the series.)

When the two manga artists keep the focus of their book on girl + ferret, Peach Fuzz moves along swimmingly, though a subplot involving Amanda's status as a new girl in school and the young boy who teases her in class is less smoothly folded into the storyline. The art utilizes manga conventions – decorative backgrounds that pop up regardless of the actual setting (in this case, paw prints), characters that can suddenly become more cartoonish to reflect their mood, an unabashed reliance on sound effects (only in manga can "Glance!" be a sound effect) – effectively and simply, befitting its younger audience. The book is not, incidentally, laid out in the "100% manga" style of right-to-left, which makes sense considering the creators are American, though, somehow, I still expected to be reading it back-to-front. When I gave the book to my wife and fellow ferret fiend Becky to read, her first response was, "I thought that manga were supposed to be backwards!"

So maybe Peach Fuzz isn't "100%." But as manga continues to build its fan base in this country – along with a generation of artists who are more influenced by it than they are mainstream American comics – we'll be seeing more works like this. If only a fraction of 'em are done as amusingly and sweetly as this children's comic, then who cares if they're "pure" manga or not? Not me.

NOTE: The Friday photo to the right is of our own household nipper – though, for the record, it should be stated that Piglet hasn't latched onto a finger in at least six months. . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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