Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 308 (12/8) -- Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle by Marunas & Craddock

There's a kind of comic -- exclusively published by people who have little experience in the form, though usually they know a lot about other kinds of publishing -- where the credits inevitably run "by so-and-so" (the writer) and then a secondary credit of "artwork" or "illustrated" by a second name. Of course, a finished graphic story is no more "by" its scripter than a finished movie is, but regular publishing fetishizes the prose-slinger, so we have to make allowances.

Manga Claus: The Blade of Kringle has credits like that: it's "by" Nathaniel Marunas, a book editor (at the time of publication, with B&N's original publication arm and currently at Sterling, a publisher owned by B&N), and has "artwork by" Erik Craddock, a cartoonist, storyboard artist, and animation director. If one suspects that Craddock probably did more to influence the final look of the book, given his experience, one should just shake one's head ruefully at the vagaries of life and publishing, and then reflect that one might well be wrong.

This is a silly little book, and it would do no one any good to take it too seriously. It was meant to be an entertaining trifle for tweens, and it's certainly that. And it's very appropriate this season, which is one of the reasons -- the other is just how deeply silly it looks -- that I picked it up recently.

In the cold opening -- Manga Claus aspires to be a slightly edgy animated TV special, the kind of thing that Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network would air -- old Saint Nick parts from his sensei in Japan at the end of the Edo period, and returns to the North Pole. The rest of the story takes place in the modern day, in Santa's compound, during the busy last days before The Big Night. One elf, Fritz, feels unappreciated (in a very theatrical manner) and contrives a situation which he can then fix and show how useful he is. It doesn't work out that way, of course. And so a relentless army of evil -- cute, fuzzy, little evil, but evil nonetheless -- sweeps over the North Pole, until only Santa and Fritz are left free. Can Fritz get Santa's two swords to his boss in time to save the day? Well, what do you think?

There are very few books with armies of ninja teddy bears in them, so Manga Claus has that in its favor. And artist Craddock has a crisp, animation-derived style that almost makes us believe we're watching this at 8 PM on some Thursday this month. And it is remarkably straight-faced, given how silly the idea is. It's not particularly noteworthy or exciting, but it's a decent non-lachrymose Christmas Special in print form, which has some appeal.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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