Emiko Superstar

Written by Mariko Tamaki
Art by Steve Rolston
176 pages, black and white
Published by Minx/DC Comics

Sometimes I can’t help but feel like fate is trying to tell me something. I’ve been meaning to read Mariko Tamaki’s graphic novel Skim for several months now, but keep getting distracted by other things. Then, at a recent convention, I ended up with an advance copy of Emiko Superstar, Tamaki’s new graphic novel for Minx/DC Comics with artist Steve Rolston. I’ve loved Rolston’s art ever since Queen & Country, and Emiko Superstar was just the right size for me to slip into my bag and take on the subway. Well, I almost missed my stop because of Emiko Superstar, but it was absolutely worth the sudden scramble if it meant I got absorbed by Tamaki and Rolston’s story of a geeky girl who tries to find herself on the stage of a freak show.

Emi is a bit of a geek, but up until now she’s never minded. She has her group of friends, and they all hang out together as they go to high school. This summer, though, they’re all off to a young executives retreat, and instead she’s at home trying to find a job. What Emi certainly didn’t expect was that the combination of babysitting for a young couple down the street, and a flyer picked up at a trip to the mall could end up plunging Emi into a world of performance art, self-proclaimed freaks, and maybe even a little romance. Just another typical summer.

Like so many stories for young adults, there are parts of Emiko Superstar that a seasoned reader will find a little predictable. What I think really matters with a book like this is not wondering how the book will end, but rather the exact route that it gets there. And it’s there that Tamaki does a stellar job. She’s able to write Emi as not only someone who’s smart, but who is also still just a teenager and capable of making mistakes. So sometimes she succeeds admirably, sometimes she makes reasonable mistakes, and every once in a while you’ll slap your forehead at something she does because it seems so incredibly stupid—perhaps because you can see yourself having done the exact same thing as a teenager.

I will admit that I was a little uncertain at first about both of the plots in Emiko Superstar; the Freak Show performances at the factor, and the secret lives of the family that Emi is babysitting for. But in both places, Tamaki made them feel real and interesting enough that they pulled me in despite my initial doubts. And to me, that’s the best thing about Emiko Superstar, Tamaki’s ability to make the unfamiliar into something that is believable and understandable. I think it’s due to in no small part her usage of Emi as the narrator of the book. It’s a strange series of situations for her, and heading her thought processes and reactions to each new twist and turn helps guide the reader along the same path. Emi’s a great character, and it’s a real pleasure reading about her.

Rolston’s art is unsurprisingly good as always. Each character has their own distinct look with Rolston, but it’s not only their physical attributes but also how they carry themselves across the page. Emi has her freckles and petit stature, but more importantly she’s often looking down towards the ground, pulling into her own shell. Henry’s sideburns and glasses make him stand out in the crowd at the Freak Show, but even more so is his quiet confidence that his character exudes, forever analyzing and observing everything around him. Poppy’s thick dreadlocks are forever in motion with the rest of her body, radiating energy and almost exploding across the page. John and Susan look like the all-American couple, even as John pushes forward his fake bravado everywhere he walks, while Susan looks withdrawn and isolated on the page. Tamaki’s script comes to life with Rolston’s art, with his soft ink lines providing equal care to the characters in the forefront and their gentle features, as well as the backgrounds that are full of detail from graffiti to advertisements plastered on park benches. It’s a handsome book, and one that Rolston should be proud of.

Emiko Superstar is a really fun book; you can see the end coming a mile away, certainly, but I had a thoroughly good time getting there. Tamaki and Rolston have produced a fun, exciting book that made me want to read it over and over again. I hope the two of them will collaborate in the future, because if the end result is half as good as Emiko Superstar I’d be really happy. This is a solid, well-crafted addition to the Minx line. Emiko Superstar is due to hit stores on October 1st.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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