Since its debut in Bessatsu Shōjo Comic (now Betsucomi), Moto Hagio’s The Poe Clan has proven almost as enduring as its vampire protagonists, living on in the form of radio plays, CD dramas, a television series, a Takarazuka production, and a sequel that appeared in Flowers forty years after the series finished its initial run. The Poe Clan’s success is even more remarkable considering that Hagio was in the formative stages of her career, having made her professional debut just three years earlier with the short story “Lulu to Mimi.” Yet it’s easy to see why this work captivated female readers in 1972, as Hagio’s fluid layouts, beautiful characters, and feverish pace brought something new to shojo manga: a story that luxuriated in the characters’ interior lives, using a rich mixture of symbolism and facial close-ups to convey their ineffable sorrow.
Edgar and Marybelle Portsnell–The Poe Clan‘s principal characters–have a fairy-tale origin story: born to the mistress of a powerful nobleman, the two children are abandoned in the woods to prevent them from learning who their father is. Both are rescued by Hannah Poe, a seemingly benevolent old woman who plans to induct them into her clan when they come of age. The local villagers’ discovery that the Poes are, in fact, vampirnellas (Hagio’s term for vampires) irrevocably alters Hannah’s plans, however, setting in motion a chain of events that lead to Edgar and Marybelle’s premature transformation into vampirnellas–and an eternal state of adolescence.
Though my plot summary implies a chronological narrative, The Poe Clan is more Moebius strip than straight line, beginning midway through Edgar and Marybelle’s saga, then shuttling back and forth in time to reveal their father’s true identity and introduce a third important character: Alan Twilight, the scion of a wealthy industrialist whose confidence and beauty beguile the Portsnell siblings. Hagio’s time-shifting serves a vital purpose, helping the reader appreciate just how meaningless time is for The Poe Clan’s immortal characters; they cannot age or bear children, nor can they remain in any school or village for more than a few months since their unchanging appearance might arouse suspicion. In less capable hands, Hagio’s narrative structure might feel self-consciously literary, but the story’s fervid tone and dreamy imagery are better served by a non-linear approach that allows the reader to immerse themselves in Edgar’s memories, experiencing them as he does: a torrent of feelings.
Hagio’s artwork further reinforces the dreamlike atmosphere through inventive use of panel shapes and placement, with characters bursting out of frames and tumbling across the page, freeing them from the sequential logic of the grid. In this scene, for example, Hagio uses these techniques to depict an act of impulsive violence–Alan pushes his uncle down a flight of stairs–as well as the reaction of the servants and relatives who bear witness to it:
While the influence of manga pioneers like Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori is evident in the dynamism of this layout, what Hagio achieves on this page is something arguably more radical: she uses this approach not simply to suggest the speed or force of bodies in motion, or the simultaneous reactions of the bystanders, but to convey the intensity of her characters’ feelings, a point reinforced by the facial closeups and word balloons that frame the uncle’s crumpled body.
Her method for representing memories is likewise artful. Through layering seemingly arbitrarily chosen images, she creates a powerful analogue for how we remember events–not as a complete, chronological sequence but a vivid collage of individual moments and details. In this particular sequence, Hagio reveals why one of Edgar’s schoolmates has confessed to a theft he didn’t commit:
The final frame of this passage reveals the source of Killian’s pain: he witnessed another boy’s suicide. But Killian isn’t remembering how the event unfolded, but the things that caught his eye–birds and branches, feet dangling from a window–and his own feelings of helplessness as he realized what his classmate was about to do.
As ravishing as the artwork is, what stayed with me after reading The Poe Clan is how effectively it taps into a particular adolescent mindset–that moment when you stand on the cusp of puberty, poised between childhood and adulthood. Hagio’s characters feel and say things with the utmost intensity, forging brief but passionate connections as they try to make sense of the adult world. That certainly maps onto my own experience of middle school as a time of rapidly shifting social allegiances, all-consuming crushes, and anxiety about how quickly–or slowly–I was transforming into an adult. By making her protagonists vampires, Hagio validates the realness of those tweenage emotions at a degree of remove that allows readers to engage with the story as they see fit: as a tragic romance, a Gothic horror story, or an extended metaphor for the existential awfulness of being thirteen.
One final note: Fantagraphics deserves special praise for their elegant presentation of this shojo classic. Rachel Thorn’s graceful translation is a perfect match for the imagery, conveying the characters’ fervor in all its adolescent intensity, while the large trim size and substantial paper stock are an ideal canvas for Hagio’s detailed, vivid artwork. Recommended.
This post was updated on August 23rd with more accurate information about the current status of The Poe Family‘s serialization in Flowers. Special thanks to Eric Henwood-Greer for the correction!
THE POE CLAN, VOL. 1 • ART AND STORY BY MOTO HAGIO • TRANSLATED BY RACHEL THORN • FANTAGRAPHICS • 512 pp. • NO RATING