Wayward (Volume 1): String Theory by Jim Zub (writer) and Steve Cummings (art)

WAYWARD V1 comic, fantasy, science fiction book reviewsWayward: String Theory is the first collection of yet another great new Image title. Jim Zub tells the coming-of-age story of a teenaged girl, Rori Lane, travelling to Japan for the first time to stay with her Japanese mother, now divorced from Rori’s Irish father. The story behind the divorce is not explained in this volume, but evidently Rori’s had a rough time: Her psychological struggles manifest in physical self-harm; however, so far, this problem is touched on only lightly. In fact, other than a few brief encounters with Rori’s mysterious mother, Rori’s personal life is hardly developed.

The focus of this story is on yokai, a word used to describe the wide variety of spirits and monsters that make up the rich spiritual folklore of Japan. In fact, though this comic is drawn in the western style, in terms of content, it is in the Japanese tradition of yokai manga, a genre of manga created by the writer, manga artist, former soldier, and cultural anthropologist Shigeru Mizuki (see below). Because so many western comics borrow the superficial look of manga without employing their themes, content, or artistic story-telling techniques beyond mere surface appearance, it’s refreshing to see an American comic avoid these superficial imitations and instead reveal substantial influence in terms of genre. So, if you want to read a western comic that is truly influenced by manga, Wayward is the one to read.

wayward v1 1Still, I was a little wary of an American comic taking place in Japan; if I want to read manga, I generally prefer to read manga written in Japan and not read a Japanese-influenced western comic. Western Comics with a Japanese background usually bother me because they are trying to borrow a little mystique without having any real thematic reason for doing so.

My fears were allayed in two ways. First, they were anticipated and addressed in the introduction to the collection written by Zack Davisson, an authority I’m willing to listen to since he is the translator of one of the best manga works of all time: Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa: A History of Japan, a monumental work that’s over 2,000 pages long. Given that Mizuki created the yokai manga genre and is a specialist in spirit folklore throughout the world, I am happy to find out that a translator familiar with Mizuki was pleased by Wayward. Davisson writes that Wayward “got Japan right,” even using correctly kanji in all the background panels, added visual details that were possible since artist Steve Cummings lives in Yokohama, Japan (apparently the kanji add some Easter eggs for those who can read kanji!)

My fears also were allayed by the story itself: The story is about real yokai one might learn about growing up in Japan. Jim Zub did not just invent a bunch of monsters and spirits and call them yokai. He has done his research and employed a wide variety of yokai that a western reader will encounter in other yokai manga. A highlight of this comic is that Jim Zub asked Zack Davisson to write short essays on many of the yokai that are included in Wayward. All of these essays are included in this first volume collecting the first five issues of the series (and selling for a reasonable price of $9.99).

wayward v1 4I’ve managed to avoid talking about the plot because there’s not much to say that won’t spoil it. I’ll give the briefest of hints: Rori Lane, upon arriving in Japan, discovers she has a few strange magical abilities, one of which is to draw to her others with magical abilities. So very quickly in the story, Rori collects around her a group of three more teenagers, each of whom has mystical powers. And they, in following Rori, are drawn to the yokai, most of which seem extremely dangerous. All these encounters between magic-wielding teenagers and angry yokai are fast-paced and visually exciting.

The visual story-telling is the real highlight of this book, and I give that part of the comic a full five stars. The story itself seems a bit rushed with characters underdeveloped so far, perhaps another influence of some types of manga written for teens. We are thrown into the action fast, and it doesn’t really slow down. If it does slow down in future issues, I think wayward v1 3I’d be willing to give the story higher marks. I want to get to know a little more about Rori, or any of the characters. This first volume mainly is filled with action and builds mysteries and suspense without revealing any answers.

Even though I want a little more from this story, Wayward is such a unique western comic that I recommend it more than I might otherwise based solely on the dialogue and plot. Wayward uses the best artistic storytelling of American comics combined with manga-influenced content. This combination is refreshing after seeing too many manga-looking American comics with American content. So, if you want to read a unique, beautiful comic that takes place in Japan, Wayward is the title for you. If, in addition, you love beautiful art and coming-of-age stories with magic-wielding teeangers, then I don’t see how you can pass this title up.


  • Brad Hawley

    BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

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