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Strawberry Marshmallow Volumes 1-2

Written and illustrated by Barasui
Tokyopop
176-184 pages, $9.99 each
Vol. 1 ISBN: 1598164945
Vol. 2 ISBN: 1598164953

 

Read excerpt from right to left. Nobue, the gruff-but-loveable older sister, needs cigarette money. Sequence from Strawberry Marshmallow Volume 1, ©2007 Barasui.

 

A lifetime of television sitcoms has left me with a marked aversion to nearly any form of entertainment involving cute children. I can't help it. A work of art with copious other qualities and only happening to feature a lovable, precocious youngster or two will get a pass, but if said youngster's lovability and precocity is integral to a given work's appeal, I can't get near it without squirming. What can I say? It's a reflex, brought on by Diff'rent Strokes and Full House.

Strawberry Marshmallow, therefore, is exactly the sort of series that ought to send me fleeing in the other direction. First of all, it's a family sitcom in paperback form, starring four elementary-school children and their day-to-day hijinks, with supporting appearances by one girl's gruff-but-lovable sixteen-year-old sister. Adding insult to injury, the first volume is somewhat unevenly drawn, with characters drawn somewhat differently from chapter to chapter in its first half — in the first book's omake, Barasui explains that he had no idea that this would turn into an ongoing series when he drew the first story, and from the looks of it, he waited a while before actually drawing model sheets for his main characters.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. Meet Miu, the obnoxious trouble magnet. Sequence from Strawberry Marshmallow Volume 2, ©2007 Barasui.

 

Despite all that, however, I liked these first two books a great deal, and look forward to seeing more. It's partly because Barasui serves his kids' humor with a healthy dose of malice: The four girls' personalities clash nicely, with one girl, Miu, playing the Dennis the Menace role better than Dennis the Menace himself has performed in years. It's not that she's bad, exactly — okay, sometimes she's just bad, but mostly Miu's just selfish, rambunctious and unconcerned with other people's feelings. Consequently, a good portion of these stories alternate between Miu annoying the rest of the cast, and Miu abusing the rest of the cast, all for the pure pleasure of seeing it done.

What really makes it all work, however, is Barasui's awesome talent for quiet slapstick and character-based comedy. These two books are genuinely funny; I laughed out loud any number of times when reading them, and I never laugh out loud at books or films these days. Barasui sets up his comic situations with little if any extraneous padding and plays out the resulting gags with the skill and grace of a master craftsman. The writing and pacing are both top notch, even if the drawing takes a couple of dozen pages to catch up. And by keeping the tone down and the humor low-key whenever possible, Strawberry Marshmallow avoids giving the impression that its creator is straining to sustain the level of comedy — the humor is often so organic that you get the feeling it could go on forever. After a while, you'll find yourself hoping that it does, too.

 

Read excerpt from right to left. A quick burst of gentle surrealist humor. Sequence from Strawberry Marshmallow Volume 2, ©2007 Barasui.

 

Don't be fooled by Strawberry Marshmallow's 13+ age rating. So near as I can tell, it's there solely because the older sister smokes, an addiction played for laughs as much as everything else in this series. These are all-ages books in the best sense of the term — not only are they appropriate for children, but they're entertaining for adults as well. Barasui's lovable, precocious and thankfully annoyance-free youngsters are the perfect antidote for anyone convinced that family sitcoms are the devil's tool. They are, of course, but in the hands of the right devil, they can still be fun.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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