Ex tenebris

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
– Carl Gustav Jung

Ex tenebris

A review of the first volume of Deaddie Du Dead, a manga created by Arūnas Murnikovas

Not too long ago, as a contribution to the KUŠ! online magazine, I’ve covered the topic of firsts in comics, referring to either first-time events, first comics published, etc. Among other things, there was the issue of „the first Serbian manga“. To sum the whole issue up, one of the three candidates to take up that illustrious position was the graphic novel Predodređeni (lit. „The Predestined“), scripted by Predrag Đurić, with art by an individual whose pseudonym is Uyou Shibuya. Information about the author’s gender is ambiguous; depending on the interview which Đurić himself had conducted with Shibuya, as well as some of the remnant comments left on the popular online art-oriented website DeviantArt directly related to the artist in question, we can assume that Shibuya is a man. However, in the official promotional material for the Novi Sad Comics Weekend, more specifically its 9th iteration, Shibuya was announced and presented as a woman.

In other words, Shibuya is an individual whose real name and gender is unknown to us (though there’s roughly 80% chance that it’s a guy), nor do we know where they are now and what they’re doing. We know for a fact that they are born in 1992 in Vilnius, Lithuania, and that they graduated from the Academy of Arts in that same city, plus we know that they’ve won a handful of awards from a couple of manga-related festivals. In other words, the person who had contributed to the culture of manga in Serbia, in the early 2010s no less, is Lithuanian by origin.

Almost a decade ago now, I wrote about the Predodređeni graphic novel and, driven by nostalgia, wanted to check upon Shibuya and see what they’re up to now. But instead of finding this person, who seems to have vanished without a trace, I’ve spent some time on the informational super-highway and found myself on the official website of Saturday AM, an online manga magazine (as well as a few of its other imprints and subsidiaries), and it was here that a different Lithuanian mangaka caught my eye. Post-digging, I’ve managed to find other relevant online hubs from this person realizing that he had just recently published the first printed volume of his currently ongoing online project. One order and a month or so of waiting later, that same volume, that stunning little Lithuanian manga, was in my hands.

Deaddie Du Dead, the first volume of the prolific Arūnas Murnikovas, is a fun mix of fantasy, crime drama, horror and multiple other subgenres. The series began its life online and if you’re interested, you can read it online legally and completely free of charge. Its plot is succinctly summarized on the back cover of the volume, therefore I’ll quote the summary directly:

In the dismal world where humans live together with hybrids everything becomes more distorted day by day. Yvas is a teenager who happens to work as an assassin for an agency established by the government. However, after an incident between them and his friend, Yvas and his partner Alissa swear to destroy the agency and become free from it.

Everything becomes even more complicated when Yvas dies and comes back to life with a strange power called „awakening“. Due to circumstances Yvas becomes a target of multiple underground groups.

Read also: Milestone

Yvas, with his apathetic face and a lack of motivation, is the perfect main character for the settings carefully crafted by Murnikovas; his metropolis is equally as chaotic as the beings inhabiting it. Namely, the buildings both materialize and dematerialize at random, which makes the already less than ideal living conditions of the people living there all the harder. And among these citizens we see both normal-looking people, such as Yvas and Alissa, and hybrids such as their colleagues Herry, Lou, Frank, and Kuma. In the universe of Deaddie Du Dead, the hybrids are humans with animal characteristics, so we have half-goats, half-fish, half-foxes, half-dogs, etc. (yes, yes, feel free to make all the furry fandom jokes here, folks). The fact that these hybrids are so organically integrated into the society adds a sense of realism to the reader, additionally emphasizing the bizarre nature of this metropolis; though there are obvious fantastical elements, it still feels like a lived-in, vibrant community – you have roughly the same level of world building as you do in George Lucas’ Star Wars. It also helps that Murnikovas graduated architecture, thus gaining priceless knowledge on urban planning, perspective, and deconstructing buildings and other dwellings. Naturally, he is far from being the only architect that has completely devoted himself to comics (one ought to point out the Serbian author Zoran Tucić and the Romanian author Mirel Dragan), and here’s hoping we get more architects joining the comic book ranks in the future.

Still, in his short bio, Murnikovas states that it’s his passion to capture, aside from cinematographic backgrounds, both the action and the emotions of his characters in his art. There are many examples of all those elements in Deaddie Du Dead. The chemistry between Yvas, Alissa and Lou, for instance, is superb and you really get the sense that they share a history spanning several years. Furthermore, even side characters, like the main villains (I’m not revealing who they are on purpose; read the manga and find out) or even Herry, have traits that makes them convincing and an absolute delight to read.

Of course, the comic itself is not without its flaws, though they are mostly technical in nature. For instance, I don’t know who did the English translation and proofreading of Deaddie Du Dead, but you can clearly spot certain errors, both in spelling and in sentence structure. It’s a common occurrence with indie authors to perform, during either the scripting itself or the English translation, the so-called negative transfer, wherein ideas and concepts are translated literally from their original language to the target one, thus losing the original meaning behind the translated construction. Furthermore, if I were to nitpick, I would also discuss a few of the battle scenes. The biggest number of action elements looks remarkable, and regarding certain fights, the author actually utilized some of the most creative solutions I have ever seen. That would be, I think, the most powerful aspect of Murnikovas’ visual storytelling (apart from the spectacular exterior wide shots of the city skyline). However, in a few places, for instance during Yvas’ battle with the main female villain of the volume, the course of action is not always the clearest, and can therefore seem out of place and a bit confusing.

All in all, the final verdict on Deaddie Du Dead is beyond positive. If I had to compare it with certain other works of European manga, I’d definitely point out  Radiant by Tony Valente and Senchiro’s Sweet Konkrete, and regarding the Serbian readers that piece would definitely be Last Hope by Srđan Vranješ. It’s always important to support independent manga authors, especially from comparatively small markets like Lithuania, where the buying power is still fairly small when compared to major markets like the US, France and Belgium, Japan, Germany, the UK, or South Korea (a slight, but topical digression: the first volume of Deaddie Du Dead has a print run of only 500 copies, not too different from print runs of graphic novels in Serbia and the Balkans in general).  All in all, I highly recommend both buying and reading Deaddie Du Dead, and I sincerely hope that by December next year we will get to see Volume 2 published, just in time to learn what Yvas has waiting for him and whether we will get answers to some of the questions that are only now being raised.

Ivan Veljković, December 17th 2023 

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