Mark Crilley is the creator of the manga-influenced Akiko kids comics and the popular Akiko prose book series, but his new graphic novel series, Miki Falls, is a step beyond global manga. The four-volume series is a love story set in Japan that features a supernatural twist. The series unfolds more like a movie than a manga, and the art is soft and tonal. Readers don’t find it confusing, though, and librarians have responded positively, pointing out that its complex plotting and expressive artwork raise it above a typical teen romance. The first two volumes have been nominated for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and Sweet 16 magazine recommended the series as a summer read.

HarperCollins is publishing the series under its Harper Teen imprint. Each volume is keyed to one of the seasons; Miki Falls: Spring was released in May and Miki Falls: Summer in July. The autumn volume is due in late September. Initial print runs are 75,000 copies. Promotional plans include targeted mailings to key genre tastemakers and appearances and signings by Crilley. The author also maintains a MySpace Web page and has posted on YouTube a drawing-lesson video showing him creating pages for Miki Falls.

Susan Rich, executive editor of HarperCollins Children’s Books, told PWCW that Miki Falls is Harper’s first original manga series and the first series launched since the enormously popular Lemony Snicket books. She said she believes passionately in the project. “I was impressed with the initial few pages,” Rich said, “but Mark has taken the story further.” Rich said the series falls in the “sweet spot” of the growing market of manga aimed at teen girls. While she hopes Miki Falls will attract Crilley’s Akiko fans, she also believes the series will draw a new audience for Crilley, and Rich anticipates a long relationship with the author: “I want to work with Mark for the rest of our lives.”

In the first volume, Miki, an independent-minded high school girl, falls in love with her classmate Hiro, who initially rejects her advances. Turns out Hiro is a “Deliverer,” whose job is to monitor couples who are about to break up so he can snatch away their love before it dies and pass it along to a new couple. The catch: Deliverers are not allowed to fall in love themselves. Miki uncovers Hiro’s secret, but refuses to play by the Deliverers’ rules and follows her own instincts instead.

“In a lot of stories, there are explosions and laser beams,” Crilley said. “In this book it’s the decisions that become the big climactic thing. Those are the explosive moments in our lives, even if they don’t look that way.”

The idea for the Deliverers, Crilley explained, came while he was thinking about Death. “There are all these literary conventions—the Grim Reaper coming to your door and saying, ‘The hour has arrived,’ ” he said. “I drilled down to the basic concept: what if some aspect of human life was controlled and not spontaneous?” Crilley said he chose love instead of death, and the Deliverers were born.

Miki Falls is full of references to Japan, but Crilley, who has lived in Japan, prefers traditional Japanese culture and the beauty of the countryside to the urban pop culture of most manga. “I set out during trips to Japan with my sketchbook and went out in the winding streets and made drawings of these little shrines and such with the express purpose of getting them into Miki Falls,” he said. And the Japanese love for the changing of the seasons also inspired the series four-seasons structure.

Despite the Japanese influences, the style of the book is Crilley’s own. He draws only with pencils, using a black Prismacolor pencil to get darker lines without using ink. His storytelling style is cinematic, with closeups, reaction shots and frequent cuts back and forth between scenes.

Still, if there’s a manga feel to the books, it’s not an accident. “I went into my local bookstore, and there were two shelves for the entire history of American comics and 12 shelves for manga,” Crilley said. “Whenever kids come up to me and say, ‘Look at this drawing I made,’ nine times out of 10 it is in the manga style. For this generation, comics are manga. This is the language of this generation, and I’d better learn how to speak this language or I’ll never reach them.”

Additional reporting by Kate Culkin