Off*Beat, Vols. 1 & 2 | By Jen Lee Quick | Published by Tokyopop
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Christopher “Tory” Blake is a genius teenager in Queens, unchallenged in school, damaged by his absent father’s failures, and living with his well-meaning mom who worries that she gives her son too much freedom for his own good. After his parents’ break-up, Tory began keeping meticulous diaries of every detail in his life, minute-to-minute, including everyone and everything around him, which he keeps in file boxes in his closet.
As Tory’s attention becomes fixed on Colin, he goes as far as getting his mom to let him transfer to Colin’s school in order to record as much information on him as possible, and while he does discover evidence that Colin and his guardian are involved in a top-secret scientific project, more importantly, it is clear that he is falling in love. Tory eventually manipulates a teacher at school into setting it up so that he can tutor Colin in physics and the two begin to form a friendship, but Tory’s secret is soon discovered, dooming their relationship before it can even get started.
I was inspired to pick up OEL manga Off*Beat by Isaac Hale’s post at Manga Recon, Please Save Off*Beat, and now that I’ve read it I’m ready to join his campaign. The story is both fascinating and sweet, the characters likewise, and coming to the end of the second volume to face the reality that there may very well be no more is like a dagger to the heart.
Tory is a fantastic character, so vulnerable under all his genius, and just on the brink of coming to terms with his sexuality and the real reason he has become so obsessed with Colin. His meticulous record-keeping is honestly heartbreaking when put together with the reasons behind it, and his loneliness is palpable. Despite his keen powers of observation, there are truths about himself that everyone can see but him. He’s poignant, likable, and easily earns the title of Cutest Stalker Ever.
Much less transparent, Colin is equally as intriguing as Tory and far more self-aware. With the series stalled where it is, it’s hard to know what his true feelings are, and his choices and actions are often unexpected. There is so much to this kid and just like Tory, we’re so close to discovering it. He says to Tory late in volume two, “I guess I was just disappointed in how little you really found out.” That goes double for us!
There are other great characters in this comic as well, including Tory’s neighbor, Paul, who hangs around their apartment mooching meals and reluctantly helping Tory on his quest for information about Colin; Tory’s mom, who tries so hard and realizes that her son’s brilliance doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a kid; and classmate Mandy who finds she enjoys the company of two nerdy boys despite her friends’ disapproval and who notices more about them than they do about themselves.
The story’s art is nicely original, obviously influenced by manga but with a strong sense of the artist’s own sensibility as well which really works for its setting. Off*Beat‘s Queens really feels like Queens, down to the small neighborhood details and Tory’s awkward commute to school. The characters feel nicely in-place as well, and the artist captures her emotionally guarded teens and their layered expression perfectly.
Everything about this comic is a winner–the intriguing plot line, the wonderfully rich characters, the unique, expressive artwork, the subtle treatment of a gay teen’s sexual awakening that is refreshingly not played up or made “sexy” to please its female audience–and the fact that it languishes in cancellation limbo is honestly heartbreaking. This is a comic I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. It truly deserves to be read.