Dramacon was one of those foundational comics for me and it’s been years since I read it, so I decided to get the 15th anniversary collector’s edition, as my original copies have long since vanished. Then I decided to get the two Nightschool collector’s editions since I’d never read them. Dramacon held up and I’ll be keeping it, but Nightschool didn’t connect with me and I found it to be the weaker of the works. I know this is in large part because Dramacon so perfectly captures the mid-2000s experience of being at an anime convention and all the feelings that went with it (although I always went with my mom and never had the level of dramatic events the comic does!), and re-reading it immediately transports me back to being 15 and cosplaying at Otakon. Whereas I never read Nightschool during that period so it doesn’t have a personal connection for me. I honestly think that since Dramacon is clearly a very personal and semi-autobiographical work, it has more authenticity and depth than Nightschool, which feels more like a beginning webcomic in that it is overly complicated and ambitious while not having a lot of depth. Also, the art is weirdly worse even though she wrote it after? But maybe she was being forced to work faster or something.
Dramacon follows Christie, who we meet at her first anime convention with her terrible boyfriend Derek. They self-publish a manga together, with Christie writing and Derek illustrating. When he starts flirting with everyone in front of her, she storms off and meets Matt, a mysterious handsome man who comforts her and who she finds immediately attractive. The rest of the series follows Christie and Matt’s relationship and all the drama that ensues as a result. The only issues I have with this series is that the trope of a bad/jerk-y boy who is reformed by a sweet girl is in full effect here, as Matt also has a lot of personal issues and a prickly persona that only Christie can get through, and I often found their arguing to be just as toxic as her relationship with Derek had been. My other main issue is that Derek gets this weird redemption scene after he had tried to sexually assault her in the past, which comes of out of nowhere. But besides those two points, I find this to be such a pitch-perfect cultural artifact that it’s a keeper for me, and the angst will keep me re-reading it well into the future.
Nightschool is ok, but the plot is all over the place — I think Chmakova had an interesting world in her mind but had trouble getting the complexity onto the page. The author’s note at the end of the second volume says that she was planning to do more books, so the whole thing also feels kind of unfinished. I think this was a classic case of second book syndrome, where the author throws everything into it whole not being as strictly edited as the first book, which results in just too much going on due to over-excitement. I didn’t hate it but I did kind of regret buying them at full price. And the art felt rushed as well. Overall just not her best work.
Chmakova followed these with her middle-grade series (Awkward, Brave, and Crush), which I absolutely love. I enjoyed reading the above books to get a sense of her career arc and her work as a whole, and I recommend Dramacon to anyone who’s been involved in con culture or is interested in what it was like to be at a con in the early 2000s. What a time!
(4 stars for Dramacon, 2 stars for Nightschool — average feeling of 3 stars)