Off*Beat, Volume 1

~by Jen Lee Quick

Off*Beat had its start as a script written by Jen Lee Quick in 2002. She would later begin developing the story into a three-volume graphic novel series for Tokyopop in 2004 as part of its line of original English-language manga. Unfortunately, only the first two volumes of the series were ever released (the first in 2005 and the second in 2006) and Off*Beat subsequently went out of print. I loved Off*Beat and was disappointed that I and other fans would never get the chance to read the series' ending. But then along comes Chromatic Press in 2013, re-releasing the first two volumes of Off*Beat with additional bonus content and with plans to publish the long-awaited third volume. I was absolutely thrilled at the news. Along with Tokyo Demons, one of my more recent literary obsessions, Off*Beat is one of Chromatic Press' flagship titles. I couldn't be happier that it is now back in print.

Saturday, September 25, 2004. In the middle of the night, Colin Stephens moves into the duplex across the street from Tory Blake. Nearly a year later, Tory has somehow convinced his mother to allow him to enroll in St. Peter's High School under the guise of needing more intellectual stimulation than his public school is able to provide. Which is true, but more importantly St. Peter's is the same school that Colin attends. Tory is so curious and bored that his interest in his mysterious new neighbor has become an obsession. Up until now, he has only been able to observe Colin from a distance; attending St. Peter's will allow him to get to know Colin better in person. At least that was the plan. It turns out Colin isn't very easy to make friends with and he doesn't seem to want to have anything to do with anyone. Tory, however, is determined to satisfy his curiosity and isn't about to give up.

It's more by chance than anything else that Tory hasn't yet managed to get into any serious trouble by spying on his neighbors. He doesn't mean any harm, but his actions certainly aren't something to be condoned. But even considering his dubious hobby, I do like Tory quite a bit. He's clever and delightfully flippant. (Actually, in general the dialogue in Off*Beat is great; Quick has a marvelous sense of humor that comes through in the work.) Granted, Tory may be a little too smart for his own good, and prone to letting his imagination run away with him, and his common sense trails far behind his book learning, but I happen to find those characteristics to be particularly endearing in him. I can also empathize with Tory because of them, having been similarly awkward and socially inept in high school myself.

The first volume of Off*Beat proceeds at a leisurely pace. The mystery surrounding Colin slowly builds as Tory conducts his investigation. At first it seems that everything is in Tory's head, but then he actually does come across evidence that Colin is involved in some sort of secret project. At this point in Off*Beat very little is known about Colin--readers' knowledge is limited to whatever Tory has so far been able to discover. Tory's intense curiosity is also contagious; it's easy to be drawn to Colin and want to learn more about him. In the beginning Colin is very prickly and withdrawn, but by the end of Off*Beat, Volume 1 he has started to open up a little to Tory. It's an intriguing and slightly awkward relationship and one of my favorite things about Off*Beat. I'm incredibly glad that the comic is back in print; I'm looking forward to reading its conclusion.

May not be available in a library...

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