So Tokyopop posted the ... gawdalmighty ... twenty-four finalists in this year's Rising Stars of Manga competition for votes for the Reader's Favorite (by March 12 - get your vote in soon!). I've read all 24 now, and here's my take on them. Plus a bonus list of Things You Mangaka Need To Think About When Drawing Your RSOM Entry.
1) FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PEOPLE, don't submit work to a competition with spelling mistakes and bad grammar! They make you look careless and leave a bad impression. The author Patricia Wrede said it best when she told a young wannabe writer to learn spelling and grammar and he said that he didn't need to because publishers had people to do that. She replied, "Yes. They're called writers."
2) Backgrounds. Learn to draw them. If you can't draw them, find someone who can draw them but can't draw people and team up with them. If you can't do that, go take photographs and trace them. You don't need to put one in every panel, but you'd better have them somewhere
3) Hands. Learn to draw them. You can't fake them, and your characters can't keep their hands in their pockets the entire time.
4) The very first page of your manga ought to be stunning. Figure out what you're best at drawing and use that. If you can do awesome backgrounds, make sure you've got a big one there. If you can nail a character's face, have one on there.
5) Learn to spot your blacks. That means adding areas of black to the page - it makes things come alive.
6) Learn to vary your line weight - it gives a dynamic flow to them and makes the figures and objects you draw convincing. It also hides the bits where your line goes wibbly, to an extent.
7) Graphic design is not something that happens to other people. Find a good class or a book on composition and design and study it well. Your work doesn't have to be as obviously designed as CLAMP's Clover is, but you still need to know how to balance out a page.
8) Characterization. You have a really short time to make us want to read about the characters in your story. Don't blow it. Your first few pages should answer the question "Why should I care about this person?" Because they're young and in love? Big deal. That happens to everyone. What's different about this person or their situation? You don't have to answer that fully - you can just drop hints - but you have to address it somehow.
9) Artists: Take a good hard look at your writing. I know that many of you say that you can't imagine drawing anyone else's stories, and I understand that, but if you're going to write your own stories, you're going to have to pay just as much attention to learning to write as you do to learning to draw - maybe more, if it's not a strength of yours. If you can't do that, suck it up and get a writer. You can write your own stories later, when you've learned how.
10) Research what you're writing about. Because if you don't and you mess it up, any reader who knows more than you about it is going to be thrown out of the story, hard. You have the Internet and the library at your hands to help you find out the answers - don't go by TV. If you can't find the answer online, go to the library and ask the reference librarian - it's their job to answer weird questions like that. (And speaking as someone who occasionally does reference duty myself ... trust me, your question isn't going to be any weirder than anybody else's.)
11) You know what I'd like to see more of? Non-generic-American elements. There's a bit of Native American, some Korean, but otherwise, everything seems generically American to me, or if fantasy, Generic Manga Fantasyland. What happened to the rest of the world? India, Australia, Oceania, Eastern Europe, South and Central America, far Northern Europe? Let's get some really interesting cultural elements in there next time, ok?
Ares Maier - Art wonderful. Guy can draw, and draw action scenes, no doubt about it. However the entire first half is one long action scene that loses my interest before it gets to the twist, and the first page isn't intriguing enough to make me care to read longer - if I weren't reviewing these, I'd have given up a few pages in.
Argosy - Art good, but it's got the grey quality that makes me think it could do with a good application of far more blacks. Also, didn't get a sense of who the characters were or why I should care.
B is for Bishie - Good on the spotted blacks and the linework; made me laugh. The characterization is sketchy, but that works in a comic story like this one.
Bloomfield Memory - For some reason, the drawing on the young girl herself seems noticeably less confident than the rest. Not to say it's bad, but compared to the rest, which is striking, it stands out. The weakest part of the whole thing is the font and text. It distracts from the page, rather than adding to it, there's grammar and punctuation problems, and the dialogue and narration could have been tightened up a lot more. The story is OK, not outstanding - Story and art are the most traditionally shoujo manga so far (admittedly, I'm reading these in alphabetical order, so it's not like I've seen a lot of shoujo yet. XD)
BlueBlood - Art is nice. Biggest problem is: this is the first chapter of a larger story. That can be handled well as a short story, but only if there's some sort of resolution of tensions brought up during the story, and this doesn't have that.
Bullet-Forged Samurai - The first page is, to me, the weakest page of the piece. The character designs of the heads of the three protagonists are way more simplistic than any of the backgrounds or the other characters. I have two thoughts about that. The first is: if these three look significantly different from the rest of the people for a reason, that reason needs to be explained, and secondly: they need to be rendered more strongly. Their heads come across as amateur anime fanart, especially in comparison to the rest of the art. Characterization and story: generic. I'd have liked to see a detailed background featured on the first page, since that is some of the strongest work in it. And what does the title have to do with the story?
Dawn of the Undead Bunnies - Good art, if a bit confusing in spots, but had the air of a joke that went on for too long.
Fortune Finders! - Art's fine and fits the humorous adventure thing in the vein of One Piece. The story ... jumps around and gets a bit confusing. Also reads as the first chapter of a longer work.
Gagaku Berceuse - So ... is it possible to have a harem comedy with only three characters? Art's fine, story's OK, didn't grab me.
Ignorance - Art and layout are a bit stiff and missing something, but I'm not sure what. (Mostly because it's what's missing in my own art, methinks.) Maybe more of a solid grounding. I think the toning doesn't quite match the art - it's rough and loose and would work well with a more stylized, simpler, graphic drawing style, I think. The more I come to think of it, I think the drawing style is right in between - it ought to be more refined and complex, or simpler and more graphic - and at the moment it's not quite one thing or the other. Er. Like mine. :D Anyway, the story's interesting although it didn't quite grab me - I think the characterization needs a bit more work.
I'll Be Waiting - Taken from an old legend that appears in a number of cultures, which made me peg the ending a few pages from it, but only because I happened to be reading a translation of a 4th century Chinese collection of stories and superstitions the other day and it was in there. :D Characterization could have been a *little* deeper - we don't know why the antagonist acted as he did, for one. The art ... is almost there. Liu is developing the sort of manhwa-inspired linework and toning style I love, and also has a good graphic-design sensibility, but they're not quite nailed yet. In a year or two, Liu's going to produce some really stunning work, I predict. (P.S. Some of the spreads are excellent - pp 6-7 and 16-17 really stand out to me. Backgrounds need more work in other places, and tone doesn't always work as a stand-in for a background.)
Kung Fu Couple - I can't decide whether the text is supposed to be reminiscent of bad HK dubs or just needed a serious edit. It should be pushed one way or the other. Art: variable. When it's good, it's good (I especially like the last panel), but when it's bad, it's obvious that the artist is losing control of the proportions of the human figure (usually by drawing the forearms and hands too small), and is drawing the figures too stiffly. Flat grey tones as backgrounds and fills rarely work: textures would work so much better. And a few more backgrounds would have made it more solid. Story: it's a simple joke which works well. It would work much better if the art were more solid.
Melody - Needs more detail. Linework isn't dynamic enough - needs a bit more variation. The backgrounds need detail, adding dark shadows would help as well as adding little bits of texture with the pen when inking. A good edit with an eye for spelling and grammar is needed, however. Story OK, although it didn't grab me. I'm not sure that hiding the protagonist's reason for beign unable to play the piano until 2/3 of the way through the story was the right choice, though. It would have made him more sympathetic to have revealed that near the beginning, IMO.
Melody Intrinsical - Overly grey - not enough sptted blacks or varied line weights. The Gothic look tends to work best when lines are precise and confident, and if there aren't many in a panel, the lack of confidence and control shows. The panels in this story that really stand out are the ones with heavy darks and blacks in them (example: panel 1, page 8), or very detailed lines (ex: page 7, although it would benefit from more spotted blacks). The others look unfinished. Story: confusing, not helped by the tendency of the text in lower-case to be too small to read on my screen.
Minion - The strongest one so far! (I'm still reading in alphabetical order, though...) I love this - the pages are confusing, the story is somewhat confusing also, but ... it's supposed to be. It's dreamlike and off-center and never takes itself too seriously. The artwork is dynamic and balanced well between lights and darks. It works well at this length. I think it would exhaust me to read a 150-page story with this art at one sitting, but I'd probably give it a try. XD
Motoroma - Is there a reason it's spelled Motoroma and not Motorama? Anyway ... I wanted to like it, it was competent in the artwork and story, but I can't help but get the feeling that I read this before, when it was titled FLCL. No, this isn't copied, but there are enough vaguely similar elements - strange girl appearing out of nowhere seeking someone, motorcycle/Vespa, hapless, harried, darkhaired guy - that I kept being reminded of it, and since this doesn't have the peaks of sheer manic energy in either the writing or the artwork that FLCL had, it suffers by comparison. Sorry.
Rain - There's a lot of good energy in the artwork, although the figures are at times too stiff and a bit unconvincing. The effect through the glasses, though? Love that. :) The story is generic, and the characters are stock characters until page 18. I think it would be more effective if the opening text were less "This is what happened and this is what I'm going to do," and more like the stuff on page 18. Trust the reader and let us figure out what's going on, and make the characters alive to us from the start.
Romantrophy - I love the linework and the spotted blacks. Pages 2 & 3 are wonderful. Then on pages 4 and 5, the backgrounds lose that quality - the perspective is off, and their lines don't flow and are less confident than earlier. And then the backgrounds are wonderful on page 7 ... and 14. I think some of them were rushed, or maybe there's just less confidence in designing interiors. 4 & 5 just stand out. Otherwise, the art's strong and flowing. The story is good - the plot's been done before (not that that should stop anyone as long as they put their own spin on it), but maybe a bit more of the characters revealing themselves would make the ending stronger and make it stand out. What does the title have to do with it? And there's a misspelling twice on the first page, which jumps out.
Scratched - It almost seems as though everybody's starting with their characters in bed this year. Anyway, like "Ignorance", the art isn't quite there yet. A year or two of working on perspective and proportions and movement will probably get it there. The story's OK, nothing outstanding, but I know enough about police procedure to be not convinced by all the breaks in it, unfortunately.
Slight of Hand - My very first impression of this story, from the title alone, without looking at the first page, is that the misspelling in the title (Slight/Sleight)better be intentional. In a published anthology, I'd assume it was, but from years of looking at RSOM online, I am no longer confident this is the case. OK, now to go read the story. Second impressions: First page - backgrounds great, Moo is adorable, dialogue is intriguing and definitely pulls me in and makes me want to turn the page. XD (Third impression ... is "Slyph" misspelled? *reads on* Ah. Yes.) .... OK, now I'm done. This works for me actually, despite the minor problems, and I'm still not quite sure if the title misspelling was intentional. The artwork is good, and I like the way it played with going from strong and confident to thin and sketchy during conflict. And Moo is still frickin' adorable.
The Cacti Boys - Art is variable, although it's good more often than not. Perspective and proportion needs to be worked on a bit - the figures are good most of the time, but other objects aren't as convincing. I can see a bit of Amy Hadley influence in the girl's character design. XD It works, though, especially as an homage, since she wants to be a fashion designer. :) The story's pretty good, too - paced well, but the problem is that it reads more as the first chapter of a longer story. There's a climax at the end of the story, as there would be at the end of a chapter, but no real resolution. (And Los Angeles is misspelled.) I would, however, like everyone to take a look at how the first page sets up a bit of weirdness, with the cacti sitting in heaps of clothing, and then goes on with the story, with the explanation coming a bit later. This is how you get people intrigued in a story - if the cacti explanation had been held off until the middle or end, it would have been a story about four bishounen driving through the desert and, frankly, I'd have gone back to Saiyuki if that was what I wanted. :D But, it was done right in here.
Up and Down - Competent shounen sports manga. :) None of the characters are any different than you'd expect in a story like this - the geek, the jocks, the
Utopia - Another one where the art quality is up and down. I like a lot of the elements, but they're not quite jelling. I think a lot of it has to do with perspective, and with not giving the objects quite the same care as the figures when sketching and inking. The flat grey fills weren't working in this particular one, either - flat grey works best when the sketching and inking is simple, flat, and graphic, or when the inking is so dynamic that it carries the picture alone and the grey fill just enhances it slightly. The story was a bit confusing, and I never got a real sense of the primary character - the focus was too often on his friends and not him, I think.
Utopia 13 - Nice backgrounds on the first few pages. Good, dynamic inking, especially on the figures. Unfortunately the simplistic hair really stands out - it's Naruto hair in an almost BLAME! world, and they don't mesh. The story ... eh. The protagonist is a generic fighting cipher, and were this a book-length story, I'd give him a few more pages to start becoming interesting, but in a short story he needs to gain some sort of personality in addition to stoic much more quickly.
So. The one I'm voting for? "Minion." It takes the page and stretches it to its limit, and plays with the visuals while at the same time keeping the story, and my interest, going. I think "Slight of Hand" is my second-place choice, and loses only because of the sheer insanity that is the artwork in "Minion."