Corey Lewis’s ‘Sun Bakery’ Delivers On Its Promise Of A One-Man ‘Shonen Jump’
When Sun Bakery was announced a few weeks ago, it was described as a "one-man Shonen Jump" --- an anthology title inspired by the manga that brought the world Dragon Ball and One Piece. That is, to say the least, a pretty tall order, but in a medium that has always thrived on big ideas and bold execution, it's one that's welcome. So really, when Corey Lewis says that he's going to write and draw a bimonthly anthology series featuring three all-new stories in every issue, you sort of have to just sit back and watch that happen, and hope that it all works out for the best.
The first issue won't be hitting shelves until next month, but thanks to a review copy provided by Press Gang, we don't have to just hope any more. While the Shonen Jump comparison might be shooting a little high, Sun Bakery delivers on its promise with three of the most energetic, entertaining, action-packed and unexpected stories of the year.
One of the most interesting things about Sun Bakery is how distinct each of its three stories feels. Don't get me wrong, they are unmistakably the work of the same creator. In fact, they're unmistakably the work of Corey Lewis, specifically, with his signature brand of high-energy, manga-inspired action and ideas that feel like they're being formed as --- or maybe even slightly after --- they're put on the page. This isn't necessarily an exercise in an artist showing his range. It is, however, an artist showing how he can apply that same style, loaded up with video game references and ideas that feel like they're coming too fast to be finished, to three very different ideas.
Four, in fact, if you count the bonus strip on the inside back cover about a grape going on a quest for a magic sword. Really.
What I'm getting at with all of this is that if you like Corey Lewis already, there's a good chance that you're going to love what you get in this comic. If you don't like him --- or if you don't like comics that are heavy on the video game references --- then there's a good chance that it won't be for you, especially considering that even the title page and table of contents is riffing on Guilty Gear's signature "Heaven or Hell? Let's Rock!" pre-fight screen.
If you're completely unfamiliar with him, then I can't imagine a better introduction than this.
The first story is Arem, and, well, it's Metroid. It's just straight up Corey Lewis doing Metroid, to the point where it's almost something that you'd expect to see in a zine rather than launching a brand new anthology title. But then, that's its charm, too. Sun Bakery seems like nothing as much as a clearing house for Lewis's ideas, and if he feels like doing a fifteen-page parody of / tribute to Samus Aran's interplanetary adventures, then that's what you're going to get.
There is, however, a pretty great twist. Rather than loading up on ice beams and missiles, Lewis's take on Aran --- excuse me, Arem --- is journeying through the stars in search of likes for her Nextigram feed, snapping pictures of exotic wildlife. It gives the whole thing a sense of comedy that plays against the seriousness of its set-up, opening the book with a monochromatic diagram of Arem's armor and its giant cannon, and dropping into a relatively moody scene that doesn't even get its first bit of dialogue until page 12.
Sun Bakery's third story, Bat Rider, is unfortunately the weakest, despite having the surefire premise of being about a heartbroken protagonist busting out rad skateboard tricks while fighting with a baseball bat:
According to Lewis's notes on the first issue's letters page, Bat Rider was originally created as a smartphone comic, and it shows in the printed version. Each panel is pretty much exactly the shape of an iPhone screen, with four panels per page, and for some reason, it's a layout that doesn't really work here. It's that rare case of something that would actually work better with something like Comixology's Guided View, where you could just swipe from one panel to the next without the four-panel layout changing the way that it's presented.
The good news is that Bat Rider is still an interesting story. If Arem was faux-moody in order to set up the joke of Arem farming an exotic alien planet for Instagram likes, Bat Rider is the real deal, all black-and-white with sparse dialogue and hints at tragedy creeping in around the edges. It's still very much Lewis's energetic style, but applied to something a little darker, and that aspect of it works even if the format doesn't.
In the middle, though, we have the best part of the comic, and unquestionably one of my favorite new stories of the year: Dream Skills.
Every line in Dream Skills is the best line in Dream Skills.
This is a comic that reads like what would happen if you took a poorly translated shonen manga, threw it in a blender with the Cannon Films library, and then poured the resulting liquid into a Sega Dreamcast that was somehow hooked up to a large format printer, and I mean that in the best way possible. It takes place in a world where protective "Aura Circles" have rendered guns useless, leaving people to settle pretty much every argument they have with katana battles --- but only if they agree to fight on the same level, an RPG-style mechanic that suddenly becomes real and prevents the comic from becoming 20 pages of bloody Hiroaki Samura-style decapitations.
It's the single most bonkers example of someone applying video game rules to a comic book story, but I love it. I've always been drawn to the idea of a world where one thing is so popular and important that everything else in the entire world is built to orbit around it, whether it's cooking or basketball or T-180 auto racing, and applying that kind of approach to swordfights and "gaining levels" and mysterious urban katana masters who are rumored to have bird bones is just flat-out great.
It's exactly what makes Lewis such a fun creator to read, this assault of rapid-fire ideas that are built around visuals and described in terms that are never really explained, but make a perfect sort of sense when they're presented as part of the story. Just look at how much is crammed into the cutaway diagram of Xasha's katana:
The line about using your blade for good and productivity "and you too will have dream skills" is the strangest inspirational quote I've ever read. I want to write it on my mirror so that I see it every time I brush my teeth.
Sun Bakery is definitely a book to pick up --- more than anything else that's been announced over the past few months, it's probably my most anticipated title of the year, and this issue shows exactly what it can accomplish. Remember it in December too, because If Lewis can keep up the pace (and the bimonthly schedule), then it's an easy candidate for the best new book of the year.