Recently I ran a comics camp for boys and girls ages nine to twelve. For one week, these kids dove into comics like you wouldn’t believe. They drew and drew and drew, and drew some more. We talked about character, plot, action, but also visual elements like panels, word balloons, speed or emotive lines, and how to draw eyes and mouths to show what your character is thinking.
Now, I’ve taught comics to kids off and on for fifteen years. Whenever I start, the first thing I ask is “What’s comics?” At first, I always got “Spiderman!” or “Batman!” or the like. About a decade ago, I also got some “Dragonball!” answers, maybe a “Sailor Moon!” or two. This time, it was only at the very end that I got the superheroes. Their initial answers were newspaper comic strips and Manga.
A big part of comics camp is reading. I pull out dozens and dozens of graphic novels, comics, manga, and collections of comics published over the last seventy-five years. And the kids are voracious readers—I had to bring in extra material midway through the week just to keep ahead of their reading. Which brings us to this review. What follows is a review by one of the campers. Auguste came last year to my comics camp, but I honestly didn’t know he liked it so much. This year, he was eager to draw, eager to read, and eager to talk about the books he read. So I handed him the first volume of Iron Wok Jan. This is what he had to say:
“I read the manga book Iron Wok Jan and it was great. It is about two cooks named Jan and Kiriko. They try to compete to see who is the better cook. In the end Jan makes his first mistake and he’s mad but then he fixes his mistake. I think this book also teaches that if you make a mistake, try to fix it. This book takes place in the best Japanese restaurant called Gobanchi. There are many other characters but they don’t appear as much as Jan and Kiriko. I highly recommend this book and give it 9 stars out of ten. I think this book is better for older kids or adults because it is a little hard to understand but you may prove me wrong. I also advise you that there are a few curse words but other than that it is a good book.”
Later I asked him what the bad words were, I felt bad and was worried what I may have “exposed” him to. They were minor ones, a “crap” and “damn” here and there. Language aside, I completely agree with Auguste. Iron Wok Jan is a riot of fun and action, probably the most “balls-out” cooking manga ever. It’s pretty much an over-the-top rager of a battle manga, using the coolest, grossest, wackiest food ideas ever. I bought the first fifteen volumes when Dr. Master was running a sale several years ago, and I read them back to back to back over a few days. From about volume thirteen, the stories get a little repetitive and the print quality lags a bit (the inks are muddy and the paper is crappier), but in later volumes that’s all fixed. I love this series, it’s got the perfect combination of anti-hero, great characters, crazy action, humor—it’s got it all.