This is one of my old ‘Webcomic Mole Investigates…’ columns for the now defunct (as far as I know) website, IndieReview.co.uk. But never fear! I have checked it over and updated it to include the new print volume of Rainbow Carousel as well as the webcomic – the print version is available from the Sweatdrop Studios online shop and the webcomic is still available to read for free over on DrunkDuck.
Teenager Bubblegum Soda has a whole heap of problems. He’s been forced to change schools and leave the person he loves behind, and is getting stick from his teacher for being in a bad mood about it. On top of that, some unwanted attention from a new girl has brought out the local bullies too. But just when life seems at its darkest, an enchanting group of people enter his life, not least of these is a mysterious elf called Sundae.
Mysterious elves and characters with foodie names? It could only be Rainbow Carousel by Chloe Citrine! The comic has the feel of a light, sparkly slice-of-life story, but on top of this it also tackles some real issues that teenagers can face. Romance amongst classmates is covered, as is bullying, and some of the issues facing gay high school students. There are shonen-ai themes within the comic, but the story doesn’t get bogged down in following only the gay characters like some other series in the genre.
Just in case ‘shonen-ai’ is new to anyone out there, it’s a sub-genre of girls manga which covers romance between boys (another name of it is ‘Boys Love’). Most shonen-ai stories are based on romantic relationships, however they do not usually include any adult content. What could be seen as a problem with a lot of ‘traditional’ Japanese shonen-ai manga is that the characters don’t often act like actual gay men, rather they are overly romanticised idealised figures, and they seem less ‘real’ because of it. What’s great about Rainbow Carousel is that the gay characters are a lot more believable. For example, Bubblegum has to face having a long-distance relationship with a boyfriend who wants to keep their relationship under wraps, leaving him unable to mention his boyfriend’s name to anyone else he meets.
Rainbow Carousel is both written and drawn by Chloe Citrine (aka. Wyldflowa). It was begun as a webcomic in 2006 and is still running presently. It used to update regularly but updates have unfortunately slowed down over the last year or so. However, although that is a shame, if you are new to the comic there are already three long chapters weighing in at well over 150 pages for potential fans to get their teeth into before relying on updates. Plus, if you’d rather read your comics on paper than on a screen, volume one of Rainbow Carousel is now available to buy (a link to the shop is at the top of this post). As you can see from the photo below, its a nice chunky size with a very good print quality (note – the inside pages are in black and white, manga-style).
Extras in the print volume include 3 pages of standalone artwork by Chloe, 4 pages crammed full of readers’ fanart, an author’s note and 3 pages filled with funny 4-koma (4-panel) comic strips also created by Chloe. In fact, the volume is peppered with extra 4-koma strips throughout which make for cute little funny interludes in the plot.
You might think that with so much attention paid to the print volume the web version of the comic would be a more barebones affair, but in fact Rainbow Carousel is a comic that had really embraced its web status long before it was printed. Its host, the free site DrunkDuck (link at the top of this post), allows comments to be made by readers on each page – therefore if a reader has anything to say about the story or the characters (or simply wishes to cheekily poke the artist for more updates) they can do it directly. Complimenting this audience participation is a separate fanart gallery that features readers’ art, each piece receiving a comment from the comics’ author. Additionally to the readers’ art, there is a large gallery of sketches, desktops and icons as well as full-colour standalone images completed by the creator. To help any new (or more curious) readers, there is also a character profile page that holds a portrait and description of each of the comic’s main characters. At the end of chapters one and two, the author has uploaded a tutorial on how she produces the comic. She also comments on each page as she uploads it, giving little asides about the characters, the plot or simply her day-to-day life. These kinds of extras would be much more difficult to provide in a printed edition, especially as the majority of the gallery work is in full-colour.
You might be thinking that this is all very well, but having fantastic extras doesn’t necessarily make it a good comic. Well luckily Rainbow Carousel is also a very enjoyable read (even for a crusty old twenty-something like me who’s not so into high school shonen-ai). Some people might be turned off by the thought that most of the main cast are teenagers and a lot of the comic is set around their school, however the characters themselves really bring the comic to life. The past history, personality and motivations of each character have obviously been carefully considered by the author before she committed her drawing pen to paper. Because she knows what each of her characters is like, they each have their own way of reacting to different situations. For example the main character, Bubblegum, is a pretty sullen and whiny young guy (at least at the start of the comic) so he doesn’t show much emotion on his face unless he’s about to cry. Conversely the character who bullies him in chapter one, Turpentine, is hot-headed and emotional, so his feelings show much more on his face. One of the only trip-ups with the art is that the characters’ faces sometimes seem a bit elongated, especially in profile, however this does seem to improve as the story progresses.
Adding to the actions and emotions of the characters is the use of effects and panel layouts. Some imaginative effects are used throughout the comic (a good example being ‘Sherbert Vision’ on page four). The panels throughout show a good balance of open space to full detail. A lot of different panel layouts are used, but they are never confusing to read. Some layouts show the artist being more experimental (such as the more minimal layout on page 17 for example) which is great to see . On the web, the pages are presented in monochrome, however each chapter is coloured slightly differently – this reflects the ‘Rainbow’ in the title and suits the slightly otherworldly fantasy theme very well.
So to finish, if imaginative, emotional characters, slice-of-life drama, fantastical twists, shonen-ai elements, unique art or beautifully varied panel layouts appeal to you, then try this comic on for size in whichever format suits you best!