Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Buzz! by Ananth Panagariya and Tessa Stone Review

Set in a world which revolves around spelling bees, awkward teen Webster gets drawn into the world of illegal one-on-one street spelling bees. He’s befriended by a pair of spelling outlaws after they see the potential in him and decide to enter him in the biggest spelling competition in the land. Can Webster defeat the most dangerous speller of them all and bring down the Spelluminati?

Published by Oni Press and drawn in Tessa Stone’s Manga-influenced art style, Buzz! bears more than a passing resemblance to Oni’s biggest success, Scott Pilgrim. Ananth Panagariya and Stone take the dull concept of spelling bees and jazz them up by making the letters that spell the words become actual weapons to attack opponents with so you get the Scott Pilgrim-ish lavish fight sequences. As you would expect in a comic with such a heavy emphasis on spelling bees ruling the world, the book is quite comedic and knowingly silly, a tone that’s a lot like Scott Pilgrim’s. 

Stone’s art style manages to make two people spelling obscure words seem extremely dramatic which is a helluva feat by itself. The opponents Webster go up against are also similarly outrĂ© from an immortal who has seen every language develop since man first appeared to a sorceress who magics up words.

I found the story to be a bit one-dimensional – we don’t spend much time outside the tournament to learn more about the characters’ wider world so that it restricts the reader from being fully drawn into the book. Given the huge cultural significance of spelling bees in this culture, I’d have liked to have seen it reflected in the architecture, or fashion, or dialogue rather than have the outside world be unaffected by it, besides cheering on spellers in a stadium. Also the characters are somewhat archetypical – not one of them seeming original, and the dialogue is a bit dull.

I do like the direction of this book and would like to see more comics like this that take an ordinary concept and play around with it to create something different and clever, rather than see even more superhero analogue stories or fantasy/sci-fi mash-ups. Buzz! is an entertaining enough book that fans of manga (think Dragon Ball’s tournaments but with a much larger vocabulary) and Scott Pilgrim will enjoy the most.


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