So hands up if you like insane fight-tournament manga — everything from Dragonball to Yakitate!! Japan¹, where the plucky [young/orphan or semiorphan] hero survives against all odds and the individual fights consist of endless posing and mystic mumbo-jumbo, for hundreds and hundreds of pages (or entire seasons of the tie-in TV series).
Yeah, Last Man ain’t like that.
It’s taken from the model of the insane fight-tournament manga, but the creators are French; the visual designs are halfway between manga and ligne claire, and our POV character isn’t the plucky kid, it’s the ne’er do well from out of town that shows up and grabs the plucky kid for the tournament because the rules say he needs a partner and there’s nobody else around.
That’s Richard; he doesn’t know squat about the town he’s landed in, the nature of the tournament, or the local fighting style; he just heard there’s a tournament and he wants in for his own reasons. He appears to be a man out of time, referencing modern (technological) items that fly over the heads of the pseudo-middle ages locals. And the first time he sees an opponent start to marshal his mystic energies with endless posing, Richard calmly decks him to the shock and consternation of all present. It’s just Not Done!
Furthermore, the story moves fast; in Book One (The Stranger), Richard shows up, partners with young Adrian, puts the moves on Adrian’s mom, and makes it all the way to the quarterfinals. Book Two (The Royal Cup, out tomorrow) continues where the first left off and ends on a cliffhanger indicating that the tournament was not the important part of the story — and that Adrian’s mom is more worldly than she ever let on. Books Three and later will presumably alter the insane fight-tournament manga model further, as that little town and the all-important tournament recede in the rear-view mirrors of a pair of motorcycles² heading out to a world that Richard knows better but which is as mysterious to Adrian … and us. It’s a great read.
Thanks to Gina Gagliano at :01 Books, we were able to send some questions to the creators of Last Man — Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville, and Balak — and are happy to bring their answers to you now.
Fleen: What was the motivation to do a manga-style tournament story in a European-style visual approach?
We wanted to make a big, epic adventure with action, humor and drama. The three of us love the manga format and storytelling, and it’s the most appropriate one to do that kind of story. You can take the time to focus on the characters, say close to them, while creating a big universe. And about the European art syle, well, being European certainly has something to do with it, but … our art is naturally at the crossroad of many influences, Japanese, French, American, etc., since we love artists and comics from different origins. Actually, we often sum up Last Man up as the exact kind of comic book that made us want to pick up a pencil and start to draw when we were kids.
Fleen: Richard is a fish out of water — the locals don’t know about bikes or cigarettes, he doesn’t know about their system of magic or the rules of the tournament. Is he from a far place, a far time, or a far reality?
Last Men: We wouldn’t spoil too much here, but yes, he’s not from the neighborhood. You won’t have to wait very long to find out more about Richard’s past. [Editor’s note: the previews of Book Three, due out in the fall, indicate we’ll learn quite a bit; like I said, this is moving at lightspeed compared to equivalent manga.]
Fleen: [Local tournament impressario] Lord Cudna hints at the tournament having a larger purpose — does it have a place in the magical system of the realm, or does he just take things too seriously?
Last Men: Kind of both. The tournament is really important in King’s Valley, and in later books we will learn more about where the schools and the tournament come from. It’s all fun and games for now, but things are gonna get a little bit ugly….
Fleen: [Adrian’s mom] Marianne recognizes Richard as foreign, but she isn’t shocked by his ways like the other townspeople; is she (or perhaps the missing Mr Velba) from somewhere similar to Richard, or is she just very adaptable?
Last Men: Haha, yes! Marianne is a woman full of surprises! Let’s say that she knows way more things than Richard, or even her own son think she knows.
Fleen: Following up: the little kingdom appears to be static, with little changing from year to year, and even the people staying the same: Gregorio is a jerk, Elorna is a caretaker, Master Jansen’s full of himself, Vlad is sickly, the same champions vie in the tournament every year, which itself is based more on ritual than anything else. But the Velbas change before our eyes — how much of this is because of who they are (where she’s from, how she’s raised Adrian), and how much because Richard is a catalyst for them?
Last Men: Richard is certainly the game changer here. All of his actions are gonna leave marks on Marianne and Adrian, but on every other person in King’s Valley and beyond as well. Elorna, Gregoria, Jansen and everybody who’s gonna cross Richard’s path … they won’t be the same, for better or for worse.
Our thanks to Gina Gagliano at :01, to Balak, Sanlaville, and Vives, and to everybody that helped bring Last Man to these shores. You can read more about the series (and Book Two, go get it) at the other entries of Last Man Blog Tour, which continues tomorrow at Graphic Policy.
¹ Or even sports manga; if you haven’t read Cross Game you really should, but a single baseball half-inning can take dozens of pages. Then again, other games slip by between panels.
² In a pseudo-middle ages setting, whaaaa?