Cartoonist: Jane Mai
Publisher: PEOW Studio
There are two ways embarrassing stories can go; either it’s a painfully uncomfortable cringe-inducing disaster or it’s a hilarious retelling of a relatable anecdote in which you were the butt of the joke. I was really glad to see that Jane Mai’s PEOW – Painfully Embarrassing Otaku Weekend (hereafter PEOW) is one of the latter. There is a universality to Jane Mai’s stories that makes them instantly engaging and relatable. Part of it stems from the honesty she uses to tell her various tales. Whether it’s explaining her frustrations about having to share a room with a loud snorer during a trip abroad. Or the way she’s describing how she over-eagerly felt like a millionaire, abusing the free perks of a first-class flight that lasted only 15 minutes. There’s a real sense truthfulness and light-heartedness that permeates the book. My colleague John Seven pointed out something similar in his review of Mai’s See You Next Tuesday. She seems happy to come across exactly the way she is and that is a wonderful thing to see.
PEOW is the story of Jane Mai and of stories or anecdotes that happened to her over a few years while working and attending comics festival with her publisher Peow Studio. Most stories varies in length, usually ranging from a few panels to page or two. She uses a recurring cast of characters, including her own editor and friend Patrick Crotty (also the founder of Peow Studio). The first part is a sequel to one her early work Pond Smelt. It’s a two-page gag that works as a set-up for the rest of the book. Rather than doing a sequel to Pond Smelt, Jane Mai just kind of, did anything but. The second part is comprised of vignettes and the third part is a longer story about Mai’s depression and a meeting with Inio Asano.
What struck me upon reading PEOW is how Mai’s loose style matches her story perfectly. I want to call her style “Mai-nimalism”, an alternative manga told with loose panel structure in a minimalist anime style. Jane Mai’s lines are flowing and malleable, adapting as needed for each vignette. The way she renders facial details, with two single dot for the eyes, one for the nose and small lines for eyebrows and mouth, are extremely simple throughout, but she manages to use it in thousands of different ways to get her characters to display a multitude of subtle emotions. Minimalism is hard to do, if you don’t place your limited features just right, it will look awfully off. Mai illustrates each characters expertly and it really helps bring out their multitude of emotions perfectly.
This “Mai-nimalistic” style is what is used for the first two parts of the story. The final part is much more visually complex. Rendered in a more contemporary anime style, Jane Mai recounts in a longer story (rather than the short strips used in the first two parts) how she tried to get over a depression by embarrassing herself beyond reason. It focuses almost entirely on the circumstances relating to meeting Inio Asano. It retains that honest quality and adds a silly fantastical element for good measures. These three parts work seamlessly together, the first two gives the reader a chance to discover Jane and her personality while the final part provides a closer look at some genuinely embarrassing anecdotes.
Jane Mai has written other comics before and while the setting of PEOW might seem insular (the alternative comics convention trail), the honesty with which Mai depicts her antics is instantly compelling no matter who you are. It has been a while since I laughed when reading a comic, but PEOW made me genuinely laugh out loud. It’s an excursion into Jane Mai’s most hilarious and embarrassing moments and you’ll be smiling the whole way through.
You can follow Jane Mai’s ongoing funny and embarrassing adventures on Twitter.
Wow! I'm hanging out with Junji Ito! pic.twitter.com/lydTFITGr5
— tiny tim (@janemai_) May 11, 2019