Van Von Hunter, vol. 1
by Mike Schwark & Ron Kaulfersch
Peach Fuzz, vol. 1
by Lindsay Cibos & Jared Hodges
TokyoPop has recently been making a push with OEL (Original English Language) manga (oftentime derisively called Amerimanga). They've used their "Rising Stars of Manga" contest to identify domestic talent, signing creators to do original GN series in the same format in which they publish their imported manga (though reading left-to-right like a western comic should--Seven Seas take note!)
Two of the first titles to appear are Van Von Hunter by Mike Schwark & Ron Kaulfersch; and Peach Fuzz by Lindsay Cibos & Jared Hodges. Both comics are worthy first efforts, but each is not without its problems.
Van Von Hunter (which began life as a Webcomic back in 2002) is a humorous fantasy, the likes of which abound in Japanese manga. The setting is the Kingdom of Dikay, where a few years ago all evil was defeated, but whatever the solution was also managed to wipe clean the memory of everyone in the kingdom. But now the Dark Forces have returned, but no one is quite sure how they were defeated the last time. Enter into the picture the legendary Van Von Hunter, Hunter of Evil... Stuff!, and his loyal but forgetful sidekick, what's-her-name. The comic has a somewhat interesting and offbeat premise and is perfectly servicable in art and story, but never quite seems to take off. It is ocasionally funny, but far too often the humor seems forced. If Van Von Hunter has a central fault, it is that it tries too hard for a laugh, rather than setting up situations where the humor comes natually. As has been noted many times, comedy is hard.
Peach Fuzz was a title that I was greatly looking forward to. I really enjoyed the original short story that appeared in Rising Stars of Manga, vol. 2 (done solo by Cibos), in which Amanda, a nine-year-old girl, gets a ferret as a pet. It was a charming little tale, but something seems lost in the translation to a full-length manga volume. The biggest problem may be that none of the characters are very likable: Amanda is oblivious to the needs of her new pet, often to the point of cruelty; this may be an acurate depiction of a young girl's attitude towards a pet, but it's not exactly charming. The ferret, Peach, sees herself as a little princess of the ferret kingdom; separated from her normal world, her spoiled attitude has a hard time adjusting, though at least Peach goes through something of a character arc as she adjusts to her new life. Amanda's mom is pretty much one-note, constantly disaproving of her daughter's handling of the pet and always threatening to get rid of it (okay, two notes: she's always also complaining about the costs of pet care. But despite the problems with the characters, Peach Fuzz does manage to be charming on occasion, and Cibos shows promise as an up-and-coming artist.
Despite their faults, both Van Von Hunter and Peach Fuzz are pretty good, especially for efforts by young talent. In fact, if these were simply first issues of regular old independent comics, they would make for good first comics by their respective creators. But by publishing them in larger collected editions--the same basic format as the rest of their offerings--TokyoPop has set expectations high. If these comics don't quite meet those expectations, it's not the fault of the creators involved; I would expect that as the series continue, the creators will get more comfortable with working in the medium and produce some fine stories, if not with these titles then certainly with their next efforts.
Rating (for both): 2.5 (of 5)