by Jade Sarson
In webcomic form Cafe Suada was merely another thing online that looked great that I simply hadn’t time to look at. But in print form I found myself taken in by this wonderfully quirky surprise of a comic, so charming and warm, fun and enjoyable that any of the faults are rather easily ignored. Power of the print version yet again.
Cafe Suada is the tale of Geraldine Grey, whose life revolves around her love of tea. She runs the “quaint little teahouse” Piyo Piyo and seems to have had a perfectly wonderful life doing what she loves, providing her customers with all manner of teas.
We’re very, very welcome….
(Quick note, that’s perhaps the most full colour in the book/online we see, everything else presented on here is far more representative, but it’s a great review intro piece of art so I was using it dammit.)
Right, back to Geraldine, running her lovely little tea-shop, happy in her lot….
Except that’s before the comic starts, and we join her right at the start of Cafe Suada in absolute turmoil; a new coffee house, the trendy Dark Moon coffee house and bar has opened up next door, and she is hating it, hating what it stands for, hating the “filthy tastless mud” it serves, and especially hating the owner; tall, dark, and frankly annoyingly gorgeous Ewan.
Although I do have to admit a fondness for the filthy, tasteless mud of which Geraldine speaks, so ideologically I’m in team Dark Moon. Sorry.
Across these two books, and the start of the third online we see the two owners clash, spark, plot, plan and conspire to destroy the others business. Although actually, even more annoyingly to Geraldine, it’s her who seems to be doing most of the plotting and conspiring.
We get to see the ridiculous lengths both owners eventually go to, filling their respective establishments with loli-style waitresses and waiters – can you even have loli-men’s fashions? Whatever, after stalemating each other with the casual help it’s down to Geraldine to pull something really special, yet actually very classical to finally get one over of Ewan. Well, one over for now, as it all seems to take off into all sorts of interesting directions in the only online as yet part 3.
The questions are obvious even at this stage.. what role will Geraldine’s Aunt Pam play? why is one of Geraldine’s best cutomers her pet koala? who the hell has a pet koala? and why doesn’t the koala think he’s a koala anyway? what exactly does Sarson mean by Cafe Suada? or Piyo-Piyo? I quickly looked up Suada – a Greek name implying meaning charming, persuasive speech, seduction may or may not come into play at some point I suppose.
But those questions are merely for the tone, and a couple of the sub-plots. The real biggie is just who on Earth is the ridiculously named Cream, who turns out to be the mega-rich owner of both Piyo-Piyo and Dark Moon, seemingly setting this whole thing up as some sort of big game…. why?
And then of course, there’s the final, all important question with anything such as this….. when and how will Geraldine and Ewan get together?
Because at its heart this is one of those most wonderful of things; a lovely and well constructed quirky rom-com.
I’m not talking the tripe they throw at us on the cinema screen all too regularly. No, if this were a black and white film it would have Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant playing opposite each other. And I would spend winter evenings in my dotage re-watching it. That’s the sort of quality pedigree feel Cafe Suada has.
Comics have always short-changed us on the rom-com, yet it’s continually surprised me. It’s such a mainstream (real mainstream that is) thing, and Cafe Suada, although it has its faults, is a prime example of the sort of thing that non-comics readers would so enjoy.
There’s problems of course, as Sarson’s relatively new at this sort of thing. It may be a stylistic choice, may well be something to revisit later on, but I felt like I’d been dropped into the story somewhere around chapter two or three. Straight away there’s a feeling of jumping too quickly into the conflict between the opposing houses of tea and coffee, missing out perhaps on some establishing work. I’d liked to have discovered more of Geraldine and her love of her Piyo Piyo, the whys the wherefores, the customers, the routine etc etc rather than having her fall straight into rivalry with next door.
There’s a little too much of everything at times, the individual elements need to be pulled back just a touch in favour of clarity of story, and there’s an overuse of some visual elements such as the multiple lettering styles. The dark tea-stained effect pages work really well, but would benefit sometimes from a little more open storytelling. However, Sarson herself identifies both the positive aspects of all of this work on the page and acknowledges the risk of overcooking it all. It’s thankfully only occasionally, and encouragingly less so as the books go on that it’s used to excess.
But even though I noticed all of these, none of them did enough to yank me out of reading the story, enjoying the story, and that’s always a great, great sign. Yes, there are faults, but they’re less noticeable as we go on, and the spirit is undoubtably strong. Last time I had this feel about something like this was with the quite extraordinary Hemlock by British Comic Award winner Josceline Fenton. Granted, this isn’t quite up to those high standards, but it’s aiming for them, and has the potential to be right up there.
Definitely one for you to go and seek out…. books 1 and 2 are available from the Tea Hermit Big Cartel store. Both volumes are still online (but be fair, but the books) and the story continues with as yet unfinished and uncollected book 3, published online at Cafe Suada.