Written by Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go
Art by Laurianne Uy
192 pages, black and white
Published by Mumo Press
Laurianne Uy and Nathan Go’s Polterguys Volume 1 was one of those books that randomly showed up in my mailbox one day. I’m always a sucker for a book that won a Xeric Grant, and with the foundation having handed out its final publishing grants, getting hold of one of those books was a pleasant surprise. What I found was a book that clearly gets its main inspiration from certain manga tropes, but also adds enough of its own twist to keep it from being too predictable.
When Polterguys opens, Uy and Go introduce us to Bree, a nerdy college freshman who’s looking forward to starting over now that she’s away from the high school that ignored her. When a roommate that drives her crazy pushes Bree into finding off-campus housing, she ends up in a house haunted by five young men, and before long Bree’s trying to solve the mystery of their deaths that not even they can remember.
At its core, Polterguys is similar to the popular "harem" genre of manga, where usually it’s a single man in a situation where he’s living with a large group of women. (Negima! is an example of one such series that gained a strong following in North America.) In this case, though, it’s a reverse harem where Bree’s the sole woman with a cluster of boys around her. And while that sounds like a small change, adding in the lack (for now) of any sort of amorous relationship between Bree and the five ghosts and I must admit that I found myself intrigued by this inversion of a trope that normally has me running screaming from a series.
The story itself is a little familiar in spots but all in all it’s not bad. Bree seems remarkably sheltered and naive in spots, but she’s thankfully not stupid. When she gets herself into a bad situation or two along the way, it’s much to Uy and Go’s credit that Bree quickly regroups and tries to figure out the smart thing to do next. She gets a little wound up at times, but in the end it’s her drive to figure things out and ultimately adjust to the things thrown at her that makes Polterguys work. The ending feels a little rushed, but it felt in part like of Uy and Go’s desire to have a major plot point wrapped up at the end of the book. That’s a smart thing, since it gives the reader enough of a sense of gratification (without wrapping up all of the ghosts’ stories) that they’ll be interested in reading more rather than everything being dragged out. So while that part of the ending does indeed tumble into place a little too easily, with future volumes Uy and Go should have more room (with all of the set-up now out of the way) to tackle the remaining ghosts’ stories. And while the moment on the final pages is telegraphed fairly early on for readers paying attention, it’s staged in such a manner that I felt that Uy and Go handled the situation well and once again kept it from being dragged out.
Uy’s art is nice; it’s heavily influenced by the sort of style that you see a lot in manga these days. Very expressive faces and actions, and at times an over-reaction to try and drive a point home. It’s staged well enough, and I think that Uy’s biggest strength is a good sense of pacing. I feel that she understand the basic beats and timing of comics well, so that the progression builds well not only for each chapter but also each individual page. It’s not just a collection of panels that happen to be grouped together here, and I like the end result. It’s not often that you see a young artist get that right off the bat, and it bodes well for Polterguys as a whole.
All in all, Polterguys Vol. 1 is a pleasant read. It’s a bit of pop entertainment; you’ll read it, you’ll like it, you’ll probably want to see the next volume whenever that happens. (There’s even a low-priced Kindle edition for those who are intrigued but need to save shelf space.) Uy and Go have taken one of the normally sketchy sub-genres of manga and twisted it around into something that drops all of the slightly unsettling pieces and keeps all of the good ones, and for that alone I’d have been impressed. The fact that it’s a nice read works even more to its favor. Polterguys is light fun, but it’s fun none the less.