Dinah is a teenage girl who lost her parents in an automobile accident. She had to move in with her aunt into a huge and scary house in the town of Bizenghast. Her aunt is very watchful of her niece because Dinah is mostly out of touch with reality, existing on the brink of madness, and this allows her to see the many ghosts that haunt both Bizenghast and her aunt’s gloomy home.
Dinah isn’t alone, as she likes to believe. There is a young fellow named Vincent who not only admirers Dinah, but also considers himself to be her champion. Together, they learn that Bizenghast, the ghostly New England hamlet they call home has a dark secret. It’s full of ghosts who are yearning to break free of their earthly prisons and move onto the next world.
Dinah finds herself stuck in a deadly contract with a supernatural forces, personified by a ghastly creature named Bali Lali – a contract that dictates she free these spirits. She must help these imprisoned ghosts find relief or, as Bali Lali screams at her, she will die. Vincent, however, won’t leave the task solely in Dinah’s hands, and he doggedly shares her burden. The tasks are difficult. Dinah and Vincent must solve the riddle of each spirit’s death in order to set it free, and that isn’t easy. Reality blurs, and Vincent and Dinah travel through time to relive the time near the death of each ghost. And those times are fraught with mortal danger.
BIZENGHAST is the three-part OEL (Original English Language – the phrase used to describe TOKYOPOP’s American version of manga – Japanese comics) from M. Alice LeGrow, also known as Marty LeGrow, who was a runner-up winner in TOKYOPOP’s second Rising Stars of Manga contest. This new book belongs to a fantasy sub-genre sometimes referred to as “pop Gothic.” Fifteen years ago, Bizenghast would have had Tim Burton film written all over it. Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder would be the leads, and I could almost hear the strains of a Danny Elfman score in the background while I read this.
It also plays heavily on “cosplay,” which means dressing up in costume (usually, but not limited to, dressing like anime or manga characters). The cosplay emphasis here is on “Gothic Lolita,” a fashion style popular with Japanese teens (especially young women) that emphasizes Victorian style clothing, especially when it makes the wearer look like a Victorian porcelain doll.
Bizenghast is certainly about the looks. As characters, Dinah and Vincent serve the setting, the atmosphere, and the look, so this really isn’t a character driven tale. Dinah and Vincent are engaging, but they seem to be more character types than characters – the best thing about them being that they dress well. Dinah is scared, crazy, and unsure of herself; Vincent is brave, determined, and madly in love with her. We’ve seen this before – been there; done that.
Ms. LeGrow is still (forgive me) a growing artist. She’s surprisingly excellent with structures, costumes, and plant life, but a bit wobbly on anatomy. She is also, even more surprisingly, a solid storyteller in the comics medium considering that she is still, for all practical purposes, a novice. She clearly understands the rhythm and pace of using panels to tell stories. However, it is her ability to draw stylish costumes, sumptuous interiors, and detailed backgrounds that will make her a star and should make her book a hit.
While the writing is nowhere in the league of Neil Gaiman, Bizenghast may very well appeal to some of the audience that adored Gaiman’s Sandman. Ms. LeGrow has truly presented something that is mostly new to comics – the mixture of fantasy and Gothic-lite, but without any hint of a superhero. This is the kind of book that brings in new readers, and this old reader certainly wants to read more.
Mr. Charlie #76 reminds you to support your local comic book shop if you decide to buy Bizenghast. You can also buy the book from your local bookshop (Books-a-Million is big on TOKYOPOP), online, or visit the publisher at TOKYOPOP.com for purchasing info.
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