May Favorites

As I’m writing this, I’m gearing to move out of my apartment and into a new, slightly bigger one (the better to accommodate my ever-increasing manga collection, right?), and I’m surrounded by boxes and boxes of my stuff. There’s nothing that makes you want to consider a life of asceticism quite like moving. May has been very much a transitional month for me, in more ways than just a change of address.
I already wrote a little bit about my adventures at TCAF. That sojourn sparked a lot of excitement and motivation within me, so hopefully I’ll be stepping up on my manga writing even more in the aftermath — gotta ride that wave of inspiration for as long as possible!
And something I haven’t mentioned yet is that I have contributed a short piece on manga basics to the upcoming CBLDF Presents Selling Comics: The Guide to Retailing and Best Practices in the Greatest Modern Art Form. I am so, so excited to have been asked to do this; about six years ago, CBLDF and Dark Horse collaborated on a similar book all about manga that featured writing from many intelligent, excellent writers whom I greatly admire. And since I have a lot of strong feelings about comics retail and selling manga in particular, this felt like an excellent first foray into comics print publication for me.
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In between all the travel and writing, I did get a chance to read some really excellent books of all stripes. As usual, it’s time for me to highlight my favorite comics for the month!
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A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, by Mady G & J.R. Zuckerberg — published by Limerence Press
Last year, Oni Press’s Limerence imprint published A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, which I thought was absolutely excellent, and I was gratified that we sold a ton of copies at Comicopia. With its friendly, non-judgmental tone and low price point, it was a really nice, gentle introduction to the topic of non-binary genders for people of all backgrounds. And so, I was very excited when Queer & Trans Identities was announced. It’s slightly less auto-biographical, but equally kind in its delivery with the added bonus of covering a lot of ground succinctly. There are two “stories” going on at the same time: A snail is teaching other snails all about different human identities and expressions, and a fantasy world populated by “sproutlings” shows the identity progression of one of its citizens. The artwork is adorable, bright, and fun, and the back matter encourages readers to create their own “sprout-sona” and design matching friendship jackets. I think what I enjoyed most about this guide was its dedication to inclusivity, and its patient guidance through myriad identities and sexualities — and a wonderful chapter on forging healthy, caring relationships that everyone, regardless of gender or sexuality, could use. I think this is a wonderful addendum to any coming-of-age talk that a parent or teacher might have with a young person, and it provides resources for further research as well. Growing up, I had to figure out my own ideas of gender and sexuality without the guidance of any adult queer person, and even though I have no real regrets or concerns about my own path, I think this is an endlessly valuable guide that I and my peers could have really benefited from.
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Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos, by Lucy Knisley — published by FirstSecond
It is a really, really scary time to be a person with a uterus in the United States right now. Abortion rights are being overturned state by state, causing people like me — even those of us who want to get pregnant and have children! — to worry about our autonomy and our value in the eyes of the law. So it was a really interesting time to decide to read Lucy Knisley’s autobiographical account of her very high-risk pregnancy — a book I had been patiently waiting to read since it came out, but scores of people already had on hold at my local library. This was actually the first of Knisley’s books I’ve ever read, though I do follow her avidly on Instagram, and it was worth the wait.
From the time most girls are born, there is an emphasis on them becoming mothers, whether intentionally or by accident. There is a lot of burden placed on girls and women to have babies and also to prevent them, lest they be marked “fast” or “easy.” But what I think doesn’t get talked about quite enough is how complicated and often dangerous pregnancy is — or how little control a pregnant person has over what happens to their body and their baby, in the grand scheme of things. So I appreciated Knisley’s openness about her two miscarriages, her extraordinary battle with constant morning sickness, and her concerns about pre-eclampsia that went unaddressed by her doctor. All these deeply personal and evocative anecdotes are peppered with chapters on the history of pregnancy and gynecological medicine, which is a personal interest of mine anyway (I love the Sawbones podcast!). And though she struggled so fiercely through her pregnancy, it is so clear how much she loves her son, how grateful she is for his presence in her life. This is an excellent read for our times, a good reminder that pregnancy and motherhood should never be forced upon a person, that it is a great risk and a great responsibility.
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Saint Young Men, Volume 1, by Hikaru Nakamura — published by Kodansha (digital only)
I feel as though I’ve been waiting for this manga all my life. It’s commonly known that mangaka Hikaru Nakamura has been hesitant for Saint Young Men to have an English-language release, for fear that it might stir up some religious controversy. But as a proudly lapsed Catholic, I am ecstatic that it has finally made it Stateside. I am a huge fan of religious comedies; my favorite novel is Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, and Dogma is pretty high up on my list of favorite films. So the premise of Jesus Christ and Siddhartha Gautama kicking it in a tiny apartment in Japan just for fun is exactly in my wheelhouse. I appreciate anything that humanizes the figures that people worship, that allows common people to identify with these holy beings. I think that at the root of spirituality is the understanding that at our most basic, we are all connected to one another. And somehow, I think that comedy often conveys this idea better than any fire and brimstone sermon, catching us with our hearts and minds more open than they would be when we’re expecting to be lectured. Nakamura has a knack for finding the little things that elicit the big laughs — like how Jesus is so enamored of the fact that teenage girls think he looks like Johnny Depp, or how Buddha loves Osamu Tezuka (and especially Tezuka’s biography of Buddha himself). She’s also extremely adept at illustrating extreme expressions and inserting funny little tidbits, like the text on the T-shirts that Buddha screen-prints for the two of them. I really hope that this volume sees a lot of success so that maybe a print version will follow along soon!
It looks like I covered some heavy territory this month — gender identity, pregnancy and parenthood, and religion. But I was left with feelings of immense peace and gratitude after reading all these books, and I was able to reflect on my own ideas and beliefs without feeling judged or confused. It’s a rare thing, in our world today, to come away from hot-button issues feeling refreshed rather than completely exhausted and demoralized — and trust me, I’ve spent plenty of time there lately, as well. I always appreciate when reading can both be informative and act as a refuge, as a tool of empowerment to be wielded in my day-to-day life. We are very lucky to see these kinds of works being published, and I can’t wait to see what else we can look forward to in the future.

TCAF Recap!

This past week has been an absolute whirlwind. Last Wednesday, I got on a plane to Toronto to start my volunteering adventure with the Toronto Comics Art Festival. I always love seeing the behind the scenes stuff at events, love learning how each team organizes their time and resources differently. And absolutely everyone on the TCAF team is absolutely lovely — so very kind and accepting and helpful.
I decided to volunteer for TCAF after leaving Comicopia, out of a desire to remain close to the comics community in a more tangible, physical way than just sitting at my desk at home and writing about manga. (I’ve also volunteered to help organize the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo this year, for the same reason.) And for me, that’s really what comics is all about: a sense of community.
There were so many incredible events going on and comics work to see, but by and large the best thing about this show was the people I met and interacted with. Some of those were people I had met before and got to know better, and some of those were people whom I have been following and admiring for years and whom I was lucky to finally meet in person. And through it all, everyone was so kind and so supportive. I received so many words of encouragement and definitive, actionable advice from people with more experience and a better understanding of what the industry needs from an authoritative voice in manga.
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And honestly — I just had a lot of fun. I got to work all the Junji Ito events, which was a really exhausting experience in many ways because everyone was SO EAGER to meet and listen to him. But that also means that got to listen to him, even got to chat with him briefly. Hearing stories about his journey as an artist and what motivates and inspires him has rekindled an interest in writing about him — so look out for that soon, hopefully! He’s one of my absolute favorite mangaka of all time, and up until now I felt that he didn’t necessarily need my help getting any kind of recognition (whereas I strive to write about women a lot because I want to boost their readership). But sometimes…I just have to write things that are meaningful to me, and I would get a lot of satisfaction out of exploring the reasons I find his work so evocative and resonant in my life.
Because I was working events, I didn’t get a ton of time to peruse the show floor, but all the work I saw was truly incredible. Artists from all over were arranged on three full floors in the Toronto Reference Library selling their comics, bonding with readers, working on commissions. Attendance was enormous, and I heard from a lot of artists that they were amazed at how much they sold. This support for the arts, and for independent artists, is so admirable. It was so gratifying to be in such a positive, upbeat space. Even though I was working hard and not sleeping as much or as well as normal, the general good mood was palpable and infectious.
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I was relieved to come home to my own bed, but also very satisfied in my decision to go to TCAF for the first time as a volunteer. It was a truly remarkable experience, and I hope that I can go back again next year — as a volunteer or otherwise — and experience the jubilant atmosphere and incredible conversations once again. I know that I’ve started relationships this past week that will last for many, many years to come. I’ve come away from this festival feeling rejuvenated, motivated, inspired, and so very, very grateful.