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Steady Beat

Two volumes in a series of manga-sized volumes, Tokyopop, 2005-.

Category: coming-out, lesbian, slice-of-life.

Author(s): Rivkah.
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Sarai and Leah (volume 1)

One of the more interesting recent initiatives among large comics publishers has been manga publisher Tokyopop's launch of a number of manga-influenced (either in themes, in mood or in art) series created by American artists, with this Steady Beat series among them. Writer/artist Rivkah has created a compelling story, with solid art and engaging characters, focusing on a familiar theme yet with an interesting twist not often seen in comics: teenaged Leah finds a love letter written to her older sister Sarai, a letter signed by a "Jessica"... Is her sister a Lesbian? How would their Conservative politician mother react if that's the case?

Rivkah, who's also a Lesbian, draws in a style very influenced by manga, be it in the storytelling, in the art itself, or in the visual tricks she uses here and there (namely, cartoony stylisation of characters at key emotional moments). While I can't say all tricks work for me (probably because my visual culture is steeped in American and European comics, but not in that kind of manga), her mastery of her style is evident, all the more in the second volume published recently. She blends realistic backgrounds with stylised characters (something which, coming from another tradition, we also see in some French bandes dessinées, by the way), who are well-written, and builds on her premise in a somewhat predictable but engaging way.

Rivkah's heart is in all the right places: tolerance and open-mindedness are the main themes of this story, mixed with some classic romance elements. The problem is that some of the "revelations" of the plot are not that surprising. For example, in the first volume, Paul, a rather effeminate man, helps Leah, and she meets Elijah, seemingly his son, who quickly takes a shine to the girl. It's obvious for the reader from the first appearance of Paul that he's gay, but Leah, who's a bit naive, learns that only far later in the story. On the other hand, Rivkah gives Leah the surprise of meeting two gay men who live with the teenage son of one of them. I suppose the idea is to put the reader in Leah's place, which shows that, not being a teenage straight girl, I'm the wrong kind of audience. But I did enjoy reading those first two volumes, especially since the author manages to touch on a lot of contemporary problems in her fictional way, like an outing in the second volume.

I'll definitely be back for the next volumes of Steady Beat. Rivkah's story is a welcome addition to the coming-out/queer teenage character library, and the human warmth she gives to her creation easily grabs the reader.

Leah and her friend (volume 2)
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