Comics / Manga

Strawberry Vampire – Malaysian Comics for Women

By Hervé St-Louis
May 15, 2012 - 12:33

This is the fourth book reviewed by ComicBookBin in our continuing series on Malaysian comic books. Lucian a farmer that lives near the Blue Valley discovers an intruder at night that has broken into his green house to steal strawberries. As he puts bandages around her scrapped ankle he discovers that the naive girl heals quickly. Lucian quickly deduces that she is a vampire, but can he trust her or not? Strawberry Vampire is the marquee story in a short anthology by manga-ka Kaoru with several stories written primarily for a female audience.

Here’s a good news. Not all comic books in Malaysia are destined for male audiences. When I was compiling a list of books to bring back with me to Canada, the bookstore clerk gave me a dirty look as I was insisting on getting some of the Malaysian graphic novels for female readers. He kept saying that it was for girls and that I wouldn’t be interested in them. That’s the whole point of this series of articles on Malaysian comics. There is a whole sub genre of comics created for women in Malaysia with vivid colours and of course romantic stories and idealized characters. It helps that many of these books are written by female cartoonists working directly for their targeted audience. Sure, this book was never meant to be read by a 30 something Canadian male, but it doesn’t matter. Just like in North America and Europe, everywhere one can find a vibrant comic book scene for women, one can find a healthy industry.

Strawberry Vampire is one of those comics created just for women with beautiful elongated characters with flowing locks of hair barely hinting at anything even remotely sexual or romantic. This is not Harlequin material. There are no kisses and no situations where you will find the  heroine dreaming about winning the heart of the male protagonist. Nope. This is cleaner than an Archie comic book. And that tells us a lot about Malaysian society which is mainly influenced by Islam. Malaysia is a multicultural country with a large part of the population that is not Malay and not Muslim. How do you write something that might interest a female audience in a country where anything sexual is frown upon? You create a comic book like Strawberry Vampire.

Unlike traditional manga, Strawberry Vampire has quick pacing and moves from shot to shot faster than an American comic book. With the language barrier, I did get slightly confused about how the plot unravelled so fast in just a few pages. I didn’t like that. I’m used to decompressed storytelling and when I see something that moves so fast, I feel like I’m missing something. But then again, I will not blame the creator for this. If she had to pad the story, she would have to spend pages drawing a daydreaming vampire girl lusting over a farmer boy. Her comic book would be suitable for the audience it was meant to entertain.

So only hints and brief passages illustrate what this story is about. There is barely a taste of blood and even then it’s cleaned and substituted by the heroine’s passion for strawberries. Visually, of course, this is solid work. Although the storytelling would have been much better if Kaoru did not rely so much on close-ups. There was a lack of establishing shots in the story to give it the proper context. That’s something she did away with in her quest to tell the story as quickly as possible. Kaoru’s artwork in the other stories felt less refined and but had far more taste and texture. She has a good line with just enough grit. I understand that Strawberry Vampire as the main story of this collection of short stories had to be the most stylized and reliant on lettraset. But while that made it look like a typical manga from Japan, it hid the real talent Kaoru has and her unique signature.

Can this book work in North America and Europe? Of course. In an age where vampire stories for girls are all the rage and all of the gore extracted out, Strawberry Vampire is as safe as a comic book can get for younger readers. It’s safer than an Archie comic book. That’s telling a lot.

Last Updated: January 24, 2022 - 11:00

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