Oh! I got a pretty good one from back when I was working on After Lily!
It's SUPER LONG!!!
I blindly got my copy of After Lily Book 1 at YuleCon 2009. I figured, it was cheap enough, and I was supporting a smalltime, independent artist. Now I wish my support had went elsewhere, because to be frank, this manga sucks.
Let's start with the book itself. While the cover is glossy and sharp, and the pages within are of expected quality, the print quality inside looks like the output of a dot matrix printer I had in the early 90s. The inside pages are blurry, and even bold text has a fuzziness to it. Looking closer, you can see distinct ringing around bold lines and text - that's right, these pages were submitted to the publisher as overly-compressed JPEGs and then printed. It looks ugly, and greatly cheapens the presentation of this book as a physical product. I could almost overlook this if the book was printed with a higher ink density, but the cheap print quality amplifies the effect. The compressed images and poor print quality combine to produce an overall blurry image. Perhaps if this were produced as a regular-sized manga and not a "fullsize" picture book, these faults would be less noticeable, but I believe that anyone expects this manga's print quality to make the large pages worthwhile will be disappointed.
To discuss the print further, Ms. Scott could have made use of a good proofreader. I've encountered several mistakes that degrade this book's quality. First of all, there's a multitude of missing commas. While I at first thought it was a style element (the summary on the back page lacks punctuation, save for a period), reading the manga itself shows that she just plain forgot them in many places. It looks sloppy, and creates distracting run-on sentences. If you try to read along with the characters' voices imagined in your head, half of what they say will end up sounding similar to Ron Burgundy's stray question mark from the movie "Anchorman." There's several other missing and misused punctuation marks too. The way she uses hyphens for non-interjectory sentences is rather jarring; she instead uses them to show that a sentence continues from one speech bubble to another, and it looks amateurish and unskilled. There are several missing end punctuation marks as well, and that's just plain sloppy. Additionally, a lot of the text isn't centered properly in speech/thought bubbles, which looks very lazy, and makes the book feel like a cheap and unskilled product. Finally, the worst part is that there are many misspelled words that reflect the amateur quality of this work. "Boreing", "catterpillars", "compleatly", "untill", "righ", and the like are scattered throughout the entire book. A few of these are even on the same page where the word was spelled correctly, showing that Ms. Scott didn't even reread her work (or at least enough to notice a word spelled differently throughout a page).
With the objective nature of the book covered, let's get subjective. A good manga should have cool characters, good artwork, funny dialogue, interesting ideas, maybe some kickass action scenes... traditionally, comic books give authors a fast-paced way to tell a story, and involve the reader with the characters on a personal level. But, we can't all be Stan Lee.
The characters presented in this story are cookie-cutter, and lack depth. We start off with Kai, the angry janitor of the afterlife. He's definitely not happy with his job, thinks the afterlife itself is "miserable", and isn't afraid to run his mouth and take on a peeved expression. Welcome to Emoville, population Kai. There's really not much else to say about him; he gets roped into becoming Lily's assistant, and just stands around bewildered at the events that unfold. We could perhaps have a more bit of insight into why Kai is so peeved, other than that his job is too easy... maybe he has unfinished business in the living world, or had a traumatic experience with a mop as a young child (he REALLY hates washing these floors)? Nope, he's just a big ball of misery that has a problem with everything. Next we are introduced to Lily. She's happy with being dead, and a bit of an airhead, much to Kai's annoyance. Turns out she has a mysterious job of collecting dead souls from the living world, and gets so into her job that she talks very seriously and monotonously, and gets empty eyes. I guess Lily's supposed to have some sort of deep side to her, but this just ends up looking cliche. How many times have we seen an anime or manga character get possessed or experience a temporary change in personality, and talk differently with empty eyes? Well, here's one more. Other than our two main characters, we have the lost soul, some unnamed young lady, haunted by an unpleasant past, who tried to take solace in the concept of growing wings ala butterflies. In a confusing and abrupt sequence, she winds up dead, with some actual butterfly-woman encouraging her to pursue her dreams of becoming a butterfly.
Now let's get to the nitty-gritty of the story. We meet the two characters in Chapter 1, and man oh man is Kai pissed. Lily can't even seem to remember to take off her shoes! Wait, what's this... this little airhead is actually in some crazy position of importance that sort of breaks the rules of the dead? Anyway, Chapter 2 is spent (more like wasted) on the exposition of this one-off(?) butterfly woman. This part's hard to follow. For whatever reason, lost soul lady decides she wants to be a butterfly, some lady makes fun of her (We later (indirectly) find out it's her mom), she dies, she remembers her past of people being mean to her (we're never told why, maybe we could empathize if we knew the reason...), and the actual butterfly-woman I mentioned before beckons her to eat butterflies. In the final chapter of this book, Chapter 3 returns to Lily. As a collector of lost souls, Lily's current task is to correct this no-good soul's misdeed of eating a live cocoon, and take her to the afterlife. Lily stabs butterfly-soul-lady, thereby freeing the butterfly's soul (at least, I think that's what happens... Lily "kills the butterfly" to stop "their souls from merging" which would be "bad"), she stops being so emo, and she agrees to follow Lily and Kai to the afterlife.
There's really very little else to the above. There's only a few lines of dialogue on each page, leaving little room for anything more than short explanations of the scene at hand. This doesn't do the comic much good; as I said above, I got confused during several parts where either the reasoning behind characters' actions, or the actual actions of an event, aren't explained. This could be excusable during a later volume of the book, but for the first few opening chapters, we need our hands held for a bit, especially since it deals with a world not of our own, with its own rules to follow and the like.
Not only does the progression of the story itself leave a lot to be desired, the story itself has very little to like. It's going for a dark-quirky atmosphere, by treating death as familiar, and having an ill-suited young woman handling very dark tasks, but the story is amateurish, and honestly not very imaginative. Every conflict is quickly (and linearly) resolved, and Lily seems to know her way around the rules of death so well that nothing could ever get in the way of her job. Where's the fun in that? The dialogue is barebones and unentertaining, and gives little insight into the characters speaking said dialogue. There's no humor or wit, and despite having a mismatched duo of characters, they seem to have little dynamic between them
Finally, the art style. Could this be this manga's saving grace? Hell naw! From the first page of Chapter 1, we're presented with unlikeable and unskilled art. Here we see Kai standing in front of a pixelly brick wall, making a lopsided, wide-eyed face at his seemingly-2D mop. This does a good job of setting the tone for the rest of the manga. Throughout the rest of the comic, we see many errors in perspective, inconsistent use of shading, unexplained variations in line width, jagged lines, pixellation, and bad anatomy. Most of the scenes convey little energy or movement, and looks like lifeless cutouts. Even the aforementioned stabbing isn't actually shown, but the cliched shortcut of "closeup of a character's face beforehand, aftershot of the damage" is used instead. Whether this is a style element or trying to mask a lack of skill in conveying skillful movement is unknown..
Use the "search inside this book" feature to glimpse at a few pages and you'll see just how amateurish this is. To me, there's way worse pages that represent Ms. Scott's lack of skill (and perhaps even patience), but even looking at those few pages, would you be happy having a large manga showing such bad artwork, among your other manga with great imagery? Well, I'm not happy.
Seriously.. that has got to be... almost an entire page.
It's not like I got mad or offended or anything because a) Alot of the criticism was valid. and b) they bought a book, so they have a right to complain about not getting their moneys worth. But still.... it's just so long! The sheer size of it is almost baffling, really