Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order: By Gene Yang, 100 pages

      I set out to create a comic strip last year. I bought the best art supplies I could afford, wrote scripts, made sketches, and even drew one complete strip that had me guffawing at my drawing table. Then I did the inking. Then, I realized that the character’s squat and turned up nose in one panel needed more exaggeration. I noticed he was right-handed, though the person who inspired the strip is a lefty. I saw that a can of chili in the third panel was overpriced. In short, I realized I’d have to re-do it. Five months later, I still haven’t. You know why? Because art is slave labor. The details inherent in drawing comics are so demanding that I’m now taking art and screenwriting courses so that I can return to my strip with the skill and attention it deserves.

      So I sympathize with writer-artist Gene Yang, who in the “Afterword” in his soul-searching manga-style comic book Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order writes, “Even with a sparse (or as some would call it, lazy) style like my own, pencilling and inking a single page still take hours. A day’s worth of drawing leaves my hand cramped and my neck stiff. I’m not sure how comic book artists who draw more detail than I do… deal with it…. The writing is even more agonizing….”

      However, it’s all in the details, and details are what Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order lacks. The ambitious, surreal story attempts to discern the difference between weakness and strength, deliverance and Armageddon. It pits high school sophomore Loyola Chin against her food-induced manifestations as she struggles with her weakened spiritual faith, an occasional manga theme. It’s an engaging premise, and the surreal world Yang creates includes alien life forms and DNA-probing “eyeball robots.” It also features a pre-Columbian mentor/love interest named Saint Danger who runs a secret society and has a penchant for sticking cables into young girl’s noses. That’s where the problems begin.

      Saint Danger, reminiscent of the Watcher in the old Silver Surfer comics, theorizes that humankind’s conquest of its environment has spelled the end of evolution, leaving it vulnerable to alien attack. After a much-too-long speech, Saint Danger reveals his easy solution—a simple answer from a simplistic, if well-intentioned, nemesis, which is symptomatic of a story with two-dimensional characters. We learn that Saint Danger no longer believes in God, but don’t know why. Nor do we learn about his origins, which is the reason the climax fails to thrill. We don’t know the Saint or feel threatened by him, so we don’t care what happens to him—especially since the underdeveloped love story is unconvincing. Add to that a kid who uses food as a hallucinogenic, her obtuse friend, a stereotypically chubby klutz, and an otherwise challenging tale loses its fizz.

      In all, Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order is a talky comic—low on action, character reaction and backgrounds, with a sensitive voice but hollow characters. Because Yang often treats us to ingenious angles—offering bird’s eye views, a swooping time travel sequence, and imaginative dream scenes—it’s evident that he is capable of much more, and I look forward to seeing it. –Karla Pérez-Villalta (SLG Publishing, PO Box 26427, San Jose, CA, www.slavelabor.com)