Maximum Ride

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I swear, I didn’t know Maximum Ride ended last week. So this is the best/worst time to finally do this review. I bought the Maximum Ride manga in 2011, and I loved it then just as much as I don’t now. Gorgeous art, wasted visuals. Strong characters, come on too strong.

The manga/manwha/American adaptation was drawn by Narae Lee. To her credit, she’s a divine artist and didn’t write the series. That dubious honor belongs to James Patterson. I hear he’s a great writer, so why the bomb? I have a theory…

At this point I was planning on showing a clip from American Dad!, but YouTube is strict on that and blocked it worldwide. Hmm. It was gonna be funny. Patterson kidnapped the mother to write him a book, since he can’t make his writing banal enough for the teen market. I coulda made gifs, but I’m not in the mood. “Manhattan Magical Murder Mystery Tour.” Most recent season.

I don’t have a suitable comparison of other Pattersons, but there is a preview of one of the books at the end, and MAN it looks dumb. A talking flying dog? Keep in mind, you’d be reading this right after Max is confronted by her missing father figure, very serious compared to the dog.

Fine, the plot. Bird people

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live in solitude in a flock, making do with what they have. They’re attacked by wolf people or dog men, and the li’l one is captured. Max, the leader, takes two of the remaining five to find their sister, while the other two protect the base. Will they find Angel? Will Nudge find her mother? Why was Angel captured?

Rundown of the cast, with Max at the end.

-Fang: “Ninja, brooding, hmph. Main love interest, although we all act like siblings, so it’s weird, hmph. Silent, HMPH!”

-Nudge: “I’M THE ONE THAT TALKS TOO MUCH! THIS ISN’T EXPRESSED VERY WELL, SINCE IT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE ANYONE TALKS ENOUGH! I’M LOOKING FOR MY REAL MOTHER! I FOUND A SNORT!”

-Iggy: “I’m blind. Did you know I’m blind? That’s my only defining trait. I could help if I wasn’t blind, but I am, so I can’t! Woe is my blindness!”

-Gazzy: “I’m rash, and I fart.”

-Angel: “I’m the adorable one! I’m oh-so-cute and the next Mary Sue after my favoritist sister, Max! I’m literally psychic, so that’s not overkill!”

-Maximum Ride: “Okay, stop mucking about, everyone! We’re under attack! Oh, me? I’m the leader, at least, I assume I am since Jeb left us. Let me tell you about the others, since they couldn’t do it right, I bet. Fang is so dreamy. I could fly with him in silence forever, even when Angel is being kidnapped. But then Nudge interrupts our silence with mouth noise, asking about detouring to see her mom! No way! That chatterbox has some dumb ideas! It’s way better to take a detour to save some random girl, stay for 24 hours, then meet back up with the others! Then I find out Nudge tried to find her anyway? Oh, and there’s Iggy and Gazzy! I told them to stay behind because they’d be in the way, and safe at home! Then they get caught by the dog guys? Why didn’t they hold down the base? Oh, it got attacked, right. Still, it’s their faults! Angel’s gone and she’s my favorite! What I have to put up with!”

As you can see, Maximum Ride is unpleasant, probably due to her attitude, scot-free nature, hypocrisy, playing favorites, bluntness, and the level of annoyingness I probably over-exaggerated, but it’s essentially accurate.

Again, the art is gorgeous.

These bird people don’t act like people. Take this scenario:

-Angel is kidnapped. The wolves couldn’t do better than one child, the smallest? Keep in mind, the oldest age range in the group is 14, and birds are not known for fighting.

-Max decides on the plan, which involves leaving the two weak links of the flock at home, claiming there’s the off-chance Angel could find her way home. Heck of an off-chance, since she’s only capable of flight and mind-taking.

-Iggy, blind boy he is, complains that Max is lying and wants the truth. Of course she’s lying; she just sucks at it. It doesn’t seem odd that you and the boy aren’t fully-developed?

-Max admits that yes, she’s afraid they’ll be in the way. They don’t, in fact, end up in the way. The whole flock gets caught because they’re clumped together in a restaurant.

-Iggy is indignant, surprised that was Max’s intention. Why? He outright called her out on it. What did he expect? “No, your blindness isn’t a factor”?

-Gazzy and Iggy are attacked. Here’s the biggest problem. You have the two weakest members guarding the base. Of course the wolves would come back to the place the birds were last. Of course they couldn’t fight back without bombs. If you use the pretense of “holding down the fort,” make good on it and drop a member for the base or supply them with weapons.

-Iggy and Gazzy meet up with the others, and Max chews them out for abandoning the base and using bombs, which could catch civilian attention. Then there’s this. Max is foolhardy, blaming others before herself. Yeah, maybe I found the tracking device in my arm, but it’s not like the knowledge actually helps me, since I can’t remove it. Better wildly blame the others to cover my tracks.

-During all this, Angel is tortured in a science facility, being forced to run around and be referred to as “it.” When the flock is caught, she doesn’t call Max out or anything. I mean, I guess she’d be glad to see Max more than anything, but still.

Lovely art.

Maximum Ride was an amazing bomb. There were high hopes for the series, but the second book and on (the fourth book and on, really) turned out disappointing. The manga has produced eight volumes with two more at the time of this writing to be, while the books… well, it ran from 2005 to last week. Ten years. Again.

There was to be a movie, but it’s been in development so long, although Patterson claims it’s this year. I doubt it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d welcome a female lead, but not Max. Never Max.

How To Draw Manga – How Not To Draw Anything

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I’ve learned to draw. It took me 22 years, but after a summer course, I developed my artistic range.

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I understand it’s not the Sixteenth Chappelle or nothin’, but it’s mine. Here, have a computer-drawn comparison as well.

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You see, right? Regardless, I owe it to my professor, who was physically there to give me structure and feedback. But I don’t owe it to my “How to Draw” books. When I was younger, I wanted to learn how to draw, specifically in manga style. So my folks picked me up some books on the matter. And the books were worthless.

My biggest complaint with “How to Draw” books is the limited range. You don’t learn how to draw, you learn how to copy someone else’s style. There’s only one good book on how to draw, but we’ll look at that one last as a way of saying “They’re not all bad” and “This was the right way to do it.” Emotional cloying.

First, the first “How to Draw Manga” book I’ve read, “Manga Mania” by Christopher Hart. He supplies some surprisingly helpful tips, at least for intermediary drawing. he provides examples of good and bad angles, shading placement, and balancing how often to use “comic special effects”.

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Less impressive is his comparison between “Western” and “Manga”. His generic hero character looks like he’d fit in DC or Shonen Jump, regardless of minor tweaks. Then he tries to show how manga characters express more emotion with less dialogue.

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1) The Western counterparts are saying extremely generic dialogue, so of course speech would seem superfluous.
2) Most manga characters cannot shut up. Especially with the onset of brooding hero comics, the comparison is woefully archaic.
3) Speech isn’t necessarily bad, just like silence isn’t always a good thing. I’m a huge subscriber of “show, don’t tell,” but silence is also cliched and speech woefully underrated.

Chris Hart also can’t draw manga. He’s actually drawing in anime style, the style most manga fans deplore. It shows ignorance and misunderstanding of the medium. Manga designs tend to be less exaggerated than their anime counterparts, even with the same series. So the big sparkly eyes come across as dopey. I will admit, although most of his drawings don’t feel like they belong in manga, some of Hart’s black-and-white sketches do look great.

The “don’t belong in manga” drawings. I’ve read very few manga series with elves. Those Who Hunt Elves, a scarce few “alternate reality” manga, and that’s it. Mechas too. They tend to belong to anime. Bokurano Ours, Cannon God Exaxxion, those I’ve read. Thing is, why read a mecha manga? Action series tend to work best when more action is visible, and while comics are better than books for this, animation makes the most sense.

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He also compares the physical difference between protagonists and antagonists. I’ve no recollection of villainesses with piercings of hair streaks in manga, but it seems to makes sense in Western media.

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Hart, not one to leave a topic unexplored it seems, followed up Manga Mania with a number of other Manga Mania books, including Manga Mania: Villains. Spoiler: It’s wrong.

I want to elaborate the issue with books like this one. Notice how I’ve been saying Hart’s examples of stock characters and genres is wrong, incorrect, not real manga? Don’t listen to that. Don’t be elitist. Don’t be these books.

There is no “real manga style” out there. The greats of the early days drew in a Western style, usually the Sunday Funnies. Astro Boy, Gegege No Kitaro, these are not manga with long-legged characters with pointed chins. They told great stories with minimal art. Please, draw how you want. Break barriers, change lives. But don’t draw for someone’s expectation.

All of Hart’s bad gals are busty and built, but his bad boys are varied: Old, short, drooping and not just muscly. But while the gals are sex dreams, they at least have differing roles: Monster, punk, warrior and rich girl. The guys are brute, rebel, scientist and “king of cool.” Basically, you’re a jock or nerd.

Hart draws another “good versus evil” segment, but this time it’s the emotional spectrum instead of generic wardrobe. Better, but the characters are still generic and the emotional reactions feel unfitting in some examples. The female baddie is spot on, however.

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One bit of advice I’ve retained from this book is that if a villain acts too “ugly,” it’ll alienate the audience. And it makes sense, but then Wile E. Coyote overshadows Roadrunner, so you don’t exactly want that either. Speaking of ugly, somehow Hart’s art is even worse in this book than Manga Mania. Even the sketches look rancid. So it’s like learning to fly from a rooster.

He draws “monsters,” but I’d be hard-pressed to find a generic devil, crustacean creature, or hippo-lion as manga creatures. Even if you wanted to, what’s the point? I really don’t think he knows the genre well, as most of the material is mildly expanded from Manga Mania. Frankly, I think these monsters would fit best in an American Tokyopop manga, not a Western comic or any other kind of manga.

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If you didn’t get enough of Hart, we have one more Hart to round him off, “Draw Manga Monsters,” a book under the “XTREME ART” brand. Well let me tell you, there’s nothing “XTREME” about poor grammar, young man.

It’s intended for young kids. The first few pages give VERY basic tips, then nothing but “Draw Hart’s Doodle in Four Steps.” This is no help, and actually stifles creativity. Hart writes that it’s important for hands and feet to look like they’re from the same creature. So… no birds with tentacles and hooves, kids. Awful, awful advice.

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None of the designs stand out, although the last two have humans in them, with the very last one putting more emphasis on the female human than the two bland pentagon creatures. Why? Is she a monster?

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Since that manga monster book was madness, let’s look at David Okum’s Manga Monster Madness. Say what you want about those Chris Hart books, but at least his covers popped. This one has too many visible gums and not enough noses. The griffon really worries me. But the worst one is the pink ball. It’s like a cross between three Digimon.

Inside, Okum proves himself competent, if only briefly. He goes through the basics briskly but not haphazardly. The best tip he gives is “The Wonderful World of Color,” where he discusses color combinations with a corresponding color wheel and a dragon to represent what the resulting appearance would be. Tetrad is my favorite.

After the tips, it’s a shocking departure. He has page after page of “How to draw a Triceratops,””Giant Ape,” “Cosmic Pirate,” “Angel,” and more. They’re rarely shaded and, even if they are, barely shaded. For some reason, Okum uses either computer coloration or colored pencils. Why don’t they understand, color rarely appears in manga? Which is ironic, because Okum DOES say it! Yeah! And he still uses color! Frankly, I think the only defining attribute of manga is the seldom use of color.

Okum is also a little more on the rigid path of manga, as he has very particular designs, like how his angel has wings everywhere and carries a pistol.

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You know what would be a good “How to Draw Manga” book? Draw a character or creature in more than one style. Give the reader an understanding of the multiple templates. Also, one where the author has read more than ten manga series. Hart recommends some manga in Manga Mania, but it’s all so basic and probably easier than finding a series less-known.

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Want to read more about how to draw manga? Well, maybe you should look into Katy Coope’s “How To Draw More Manga.” Apparently this one is a sequel, but I’m not sure what the topics are. Coope, at least, encourages individuality and creativity, but the book has bigger issues.

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GAH! Those eyes! Coope draws her eyes abnormally big, so when she tries to illustrates a character with “moe” eyes, we get…

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YARK! Okay, I’m just a tad freaked out. Those eyes aren’t cute, just astonishing. To be fair, she doesn’t draw them that large throughout the book, but they do go pretty large. Imagine getting contacts. Size of hubcaps.

Coope, sadly, colors what she draws. Everything is penciled in, and it feels a bit… weak, maybe? She’s no slouch, but it feels sluggish. OH! The problem! Okay, so while Coope discusses faces, bodies, clothes, and action, she never goes into emotions. Huge issue there. Most of the time, the characters have 😀 or :|, not 😦 or 😡 or ❤ or any emotion outside of happiness. It’s even worse because, while it’s a great idea to have two characters “helping” through the book, their blank faces are increasingly noticeable.

PopManga

So now that leaves Pop Manga by Camilla d’Errico (and Stephen W. Martin, it says), and this is the best of the manga books. Let’s list this off.

1) The characters are drawn in black and white, excluding her own characters and single-page illustrations.
2) There’s models for old women. Not one of the other books does this, and there are way more old ladies in manga than triceratops.
3) d’Errico encourages action, such as examining your own body, rather than going off of a model.
4) The art is stunning. The most warranted for “How to Draw Manga” books. A+.
5) Tinkerbell cameos. Also, Fluffy Fluffy Cinnamoroll.

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The one thing that may turn some away is that she doesn’t introduce anything new, but everything old is great and frankly, it’s better than tips from those who don’t really follow the genre. I do wonder if d’Errico’s style might turn away some youngsters, discouraged by her fantastic art, shuffling off slowly and saying “I could never live up to that…” But then I realized, no, that’s dumb, most would only feel encouragement that “I can draw like her some day!” fist rising upwards and Christmas gift decided on.

Ah, but don’t fall into that trap, youngins. Don’t be someone else’s style. Our final book, the best book on drawing manga.

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“BUT THAT’S A WESTERN-STYLE ART BOOK!,” cried me of the past. “DAD, I ONLY WANT A MANGA BOOK!” Past me was rude to my father, but since then I’ve seen the book’s merit and thanked him. “The Creative Cartoonist” by Dick Gautier advises not to follow a certain artist’s style, following your own for the sake of creativity. That’s what it’s all about, being your own. And Gautier has multiple styles. Silly, serious, the in-betweens. He shows that shapes can make heads or bodies. Different techniques give different tones. And if you want to draw in a manga style, draw using this book and develop techniques. Then apply the manga style from there.

Jyu-Oh-Sei

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The first volume of Jyu-Oh-Sei by Natsumi Itsuki is about the same width as 2.25 volumes. I bought it for three dollars. Mint. Not actually indicative of the manga’s quality, but definitely an odd supply/demand world we live in.

Artistically, many first-time readers will be put off. The design and form is considerably archaic, closer in resemblance to the art of 1993, the publication of the first volume, than the norm of 2008, fifteen years later and released in the States. On that note, this series ran in Japan for five volumes from 1993 until 2003. May I remind you that one month later, Higuchi Tachibana would begin her 31-volume series “Gakuen Alice” from 2003 until 2013.

Even so, the atmosphere makes up for the shortcomings of the art. The world Itsuki leads the reader through invokes a sense of challenge for the characters, not unlike The Wizard of Oz might have incorporated, albeit only the deadliest traits. Throughout, there are many ruins, swamps, and jungles to prevent the characters from their goal.

Rarely are these locations utilized, as the real conflict derives from misplaced focus on drama. Two boys are kidnapped and sent to Kimaera, a prison planet. The day and night both last 181 days, and the weather is unstable during certain “hours.” Furthermore, there have been factions imposed between races and gender, amplifying conflict.

Of course, brothers Thor and Rai, after discovering the death of their parents, arrive on the planet due to an evil business associate. Frankly, I could go on, but none of it really matters. Thor, the primary focus, only briefly registers drama, phasing it in and out of his mind until he has a worse conflict to address. While the drama is top notch, it never develops enough to utilize the end of the conflict. In short, the writing stops dead flat before it could properly live.

The arbitrariness is the biggest fault in my eyes. In establishing a planet for prisoners, the end result is countless tax dollars thrown into what could have been a cheap yet durable set of iron bars. On top of that, the planet doesn’t really reform prisoners, only “scare straight,” as there are no reinforcements to maintain order. This also allows breeding between inmates, as it is necessary given the low population of women on Kimaera. To summarize, the government spent the budget on finding a planet wretched enough for prisoners, let them roam free, breed, start gang fights, grow stronger, and eventually escape the planet.

I really do recommend the melodrama. Some of the action sequences play out very well, and occasionally it’s something other than dangling off a cliff. Fundamentally, if you can pick up a copy for what I paid, you’re getting a bargain out of it.