My Mother’s Love is My Comics Origin Story

I get asked a lot, especially as a guest on podcasts or in interviews, about how my interest in comics started. And I tell the truth: My father collected comics, and when he heard about a new show called Sailor Moon, he thought I’d like it and he helped me tape it off of TV, later giving me the first volume of the manga and thus starting my own collection. That is, however, a hugely simplified version of the story, and it causes people to heap praise on my father that he maybe doesn’t completely deserve. My father is not a bad man, but he did leave when my sister and I were both still very young. So while he sparked the interest in anime and manga that would follow me into adulthood and into my professional life, he was one cog in a very large animanga machine that was making its way to North America regardless of his efforts.

The person I don’t get a chance to talk about much is my mother, because she doesn’t personally have an interest in comics. But if anyone has encouraged my interests and bolstered my abilities, it is her. My mother was happy to buy me whatever books I wanted growing up, never demanding to know why or what for. When I began to experiment with drawing, she was the first person to give me sketchbooks and markers, gladly and graciously. She never involved herself in my hobbies, but she always knew what I was into and who my favorite characters were. She was always ready to help me put together an amateur cosplay, always ready to add her sewing and crafting advice to the pages of online tutorials I had printed out to aid in my endeavors.

And perhaps most importantly, my mother never tried to pull me away from a hobby that her ex-husband had partaken in, sometimes to the detriment of our household. She didn’t see my interest as an extension of him — or if she did, she never mentioned it at all. She saw me as myself, a creative person with hobbies that helped feed that creativity. And that is the greatest gift anyone has ever given me, just the chance to pursue the things that make me happy for the sake of it.

So yeah, when I talk to my dad now, we can chat about how great The Sandman is, or I can tell him that no, really, he should check out Junji Ito. But the fact remains that he wasn’t there when I was frantically putting another coat of paint on my cardboard cosplay bass guitar; he doesn’t know the names of all the friends I’ve made through comics. He did something great in helping me find a series that has remained important to me throughout my whole life, and I have always been very appreciative of that.When I worked at Comicopia, I used to see dads trying to get their daughters into their hobby to varying degrees of success, and it made me smile to know that they want to share that aspect of themselves with their children.

But even more than that, I would always love to see the moms who would sheepishly admit that they don’t know anything about comics, but they’re still out there helping their kid figure out which volume of Fairy Tail they left off at. They’re asking their kid if their friend borrowed that one book, or if they returned that other one to the library yet. They’re doing the oft-unthanked work of motherhood: keeping track of responsibilities and friends, helping their child grow in their interests, and caring enough to provide advice and feedback.

It’s not glamorous, really, being a mother. It’s a lot of toil, a lot of worrying, a lot of second-guessing your choices — especially if you’re a single mother, like mine was for a long time. But even with the anime zeitgeist and the manga boom of my adolescence, I’m not sure I’d be doing what I’m doing today without the constant support of my mother. To this day, she remains always ready to support me without trying to control my choices, offering what advice she can and helping me through my uncertainty.

And maybe that’s part of the reason that now I crave comics about women like my mother. I crave comics where women are working through all the typically-unseen work of partnership, or motherhood, or even just the pressure of society to excel at their jobs when the odds are stacked against them. Because there were so many odds stacked against my mother, trying to find her way, single with two little girls and no college degree. And despite that, she raised my sister and me into two very different women on our own paths who will always know that no matter what, we have our mother’s care to lift us when we need it.

So let the record show that at the core of my interest in comics — and my interest in history, and my love of tea, my desire to write, and just about everything else in my life — is my mother frantically working to make sure I can pursue whatever weirdness tickles my fancy. I am so incredibly grateful for her constant, steady, powerful love.

mommyandme

The Maven in 2019

Happy New Year, everyone!  A little belated, but I had some things to tie up before I was able to share this post.  I want to talk about what’s ahead for me and this little website in the coming year. But first, a little retrospective.

I started mangamaven.com in April of 2018, just after Anime Boston and my 28th birthday.  It’s not even a year old yet, but I am proud of all the work I’ve been able to put into it.  Through this site, I’ve been able to reach a larger audience than just my small social media groups.  I’ve been asked to be on a couple podcasts: Manga Machinations and Manga Mavericks. (And I had a great time of it, too; podcasting is fun!)  I’ve been able to promote my newsletter, which I also launched in 2018. It was quite the year!

A lot of things have changed and developed in my personal life, as well, and because of this I’ve had to make the very hard decision to leave Comicopia.  It’s been a really transformative three and a half years, and I will still be involved with the store, shopping there, organizing and working conventions, et cetera.  I will also still be maintaining my monthly newsletter, so no need to fret about that. I don’t have any plans to leave the comics world, I’m just going to be stepping out of retail for a while as new and exciting things start to fall into place!

And what are some of these new and exciting things?  Firstly, a lot more writing! I’d like to really focus on building my writing portfolio, and I want to keep talking about manga.  With the manga publishing industry looking more healthy and diverse than ever, and as Viz Media’s new Shonen Jump subscription service begins to grow and evolve, I foresee that I will have plenty of opportunities to do just that.  And I promise to keep everyone updated on other new and exciting developments as they arise.

It’s looking like 2019 is going to be a year of a lot of big changes for me, but I really think it will be a positive growing experience.  Thank you all for reading and coming along on this adventure with me — may we all find joy and new opportunities aplenty in 2019!

posiroji

 

LadiesCon 2018, Women in Comics, and Community Engagement

This past weekend, I tabled for the store at LadiesCon, an annual event organized by the Ladies of Comicazi.  As can probably be surmised from the name, this community event (free and open to the public!) focuses on the many non-cisgender-men who work in comics in some capacity.  The featured guests this year were Marjorie Liu, Erica Henderson, Ming Doyle, and Kristen Gudsnuk.  I even got to be on two panels!  “Women In Comics Retail,” which I’ve been on a couple times before, and “Manga and the Women Who Make It,” which I debuted there with my good friend Juliet Kahn.

Here in the Boston area, we’re really spoiled when it comes to the comics community.  We have many excellent comic shops, all of whom staff women.  And not only do we have the incredible, and incredibly important, LadiesCon, but we also play host the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE), which is also family-friendly, free, and open to the public (and which this year is featuring, among others, the young reader powerhouse creators Vera Brosgol and Tillie Walden).

One of my favorite aspects of these shows is that they always remind me of the Artist’s Alley at an anime convention: full of passionate people of all genders, colors, and creeds who have come together to share their work with like-minded fans.  Anime cons have always been some of the queerest, most diverse spaces I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of, and it’s very gratifying to see that kind of representation making itself known to the general, curious public.

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about the community aspect of comics lately.  To the outside observer, it can seem quite divisive — and it certainly can be!  I know how lucky I am and have been to encounter mostly kind, open-minded individuals in this space who trust my judgment and who believe in uplifting instead of shooting down.  I can’t overstate how important it has been for me to have friends within the comics community who have been able to share in my joys and commiserate when I encounter those aspects of comics that aren’t as pleasant.

In somewhat related news, for those of you who don’t follow my various social media maneuverings, I finally sent the first Manga Maven Monthly email, which you can find here.  The response to this project has been very positive, even when I was just making super-long Facebook posts in various retailer groups.  It’s very validating to have people you really respect, who have been working in comics retail a long time, sincerely thank you for your suggestions and talk about how they have positively influenced their businesses.  It’s been really great to feel that, if nothing else, here is at least one thing I know I’m doing well.  So thank you to everyone who has signed up!  I hope to keep giving you fruitful suggestions for a long time!

“I’m Just A Gun-Totin’ Weather Girl”

[HEADS UP: There are some very minor spoilers for the Cowboy Bebop series in this piece, so if that sort of thing bothers you I don’t recommend reading this!]

Cowboy Bebop is one of those series that literally every dude between the ages of 25-35 tries to recommend to every casual nerd. It has the distinction of being one of the best examples of anime, and of dubbed anime, from a very specific point in time, so people latch on to it as a classic and insist on acting completely scandalized when someone hasn’t seen it or doesn’t like it.

It’s that kind of behavior that I’ve mentioned before that I completely hate. And yet…I love Bebop. In fact, I recently convinced my coworker to watch the whole series — not because I told him he had to! But because he’s been enjoying noir comics lately, and I thought some of the themes would scratch a similar itch for him. He’s enjoying it thus far, I’m happy to report.

In general, I’m content to leave my discussions about Bebop in the past, or among like-minded friends. But on Thursday I had the incredible experience of being able to see the movie in theatres, and I can’t stop reflecting on how much I enjoyed it. I’ve seen the movie before, of course, but when it first hit US shores, it wasn’t in any theatres near me. At age 13, living in the middle of Connecticut, there was no option for me to see it that didn’t involve a multi-hour trip to either New York or Boston. I was heartbroken.

But I was finally able to live out my dream. I bought my ticket nearly a month in advance, I got to the theatre early, I bought way too much popcorn for way too much money, and I had an excellent time of it.

Before the movie, instead of endless previews or ads for other events, there was a short Q&A session with the dub voice actors. It lasted maybe ten or fiifteen minutes, but it was a nice little reintroduction to the characters and the movie specifically. It was amazing to hear how the VAs didn’t really alter their voices overmuch for their dub performances, so that these incredibly recognizable voices were coming out of the mouths of people I’ve seen before, but less frequently than their animated counterparts. Getting the little bit of background, and learning about the excitement of the actors to have worked on this project, definitely helped set the mood for the feature presentation.

Cowboy Bebop‘s opening sequence and song, “Tank!” are iconic at this point; for me, so too is the opening credit roll of the film, with its black and white panorama of Martian city life (that always struck me as looking a lot like New York City life). Whole books have been written about Yoko Kanno’s scoring prowess, and the entire Bebop OST is a musical masterpiece; but I do especially love the movie soundtrack and the film’s sanguine opener, “Ask DNA.” This series is one that is based firmly around music and mood — as themes, not just as enhancements to the story. The film is no different.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the plot, Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door takes place before the end of the series, but after we have already been introduced to all the core cast. The crew of the Bebop is on Mars, following small-fry bounties and trying to keep themselves from starving. Spike and Jet go after some small-time convenience store robbers, while Faye ropes Ed into tracking down info on a hacker. Everything goes sideways when Faye witnesses a terrorist bombing and Mars is suddenly beseiged by a completely inexplicable viral warfare.

As our intrepid heroes dive further and further into this case, they have to untie the threads of military experimentation, memory loss, doomed romance, global terrorism, and a crooked pharmaceutical company. It seems like a lot, but it all comes together in a seamless tapestry, peppered with the usual humor and a lot of really adorable jack-o-lanterns.

There was a practice, when I was young, of hating female characters in anime because their presence either got in the way of your gay ships, or got in the way of your two-dimensional love interests. Faye Valentine is a ripe subject for this, an easy target in her tiny yellow outfit, with her gambling vice and her vanity. But something always prevented me from hating her outright, and it wasn’t until the last decade or so that I realized I actually really love her. In the film, she’s the first person to witness Vincent Volaju’s terrorist attack; she’s the one who takes the initiative to go after the bounty; and she’s the one who remains defiant in an otherwise hopeless situation. It is poignant, we later realize, that she should be the one to have a conversation with Vincent about lost memories — a touch that I’m not sure I had noticed until this most recent viewing. She is a stark contrast to Spike’s Julia, the perfect, mild-mannered (though disloyal) woman who also happens to look good in a catsuit.

The movie reminds me, also, that the things I like best about Cowboy Bebop are all the things that don’t directly involve Spike’s eyeroll-worthy hang-up about his girlfriend and his best friend having a shag. I love the adventure, the puzzle-solving, the use of music, the references to old film, the late-90s vision of a terraformed future, the comedy, the comraderie…the things that set Cowboy Bebop apart are the ways in which it defies the conventions of science-fiction while placing it self firmly within that boundary. There is a sort of self-aware pseudo-philosophical thread running through everything, including the movie, that feels more like a nod to the spaghetti westerns of a bygone era than an actual moral the audience is expected to believe. But it’s such a loving and respectful nod that it makes the heroism of those once-worshipped cowboys seem worthy of consideration.

I don’t really expect every anime fan to lose their minds about Cowboy Bebop these days, not when there’s such a wealth of animated media at everyone’s fingertips, and new and incredible works are being made all the time. But I’m glad, once again, to have watched it when it was still so fresh and new, and to be able to feel so strongly about it even to this day. No matter what I say, I can’t deny that I’m completely taken in every time I hear those first audacious horns blasting, that deep base thrumming over the James Bond-esque opening sequence. I’m completely taken in by the warmth of the cel animation, the absurd theatricality of film references and seamless blending of old film genres. And damn it if I’m not a sucker for every episode’s distinct musical theme.

Also, Cowboy Bebop is like…the one anime my mom would occasionally catch snippets of an genuinely enjoy, so that’s gotta be good for something, right?

Remembering Akira

I don’t remember if it was spring or fall, but I remember that I was nine years old. Sara and I got off the bus as usual. She was staying over my house that afternoon, and she had brought a tape she had borrowed from her older brother, which she had seen at least some of already. She wanted me to see it, needed her best friend to have the same experience.

Up until that point, we had a passing understanding of anime. We watched Pokemon, and I had been a fan of Sailor Moon for years already. But as we sat there on the floor in the basement of my grandmother’s house, the coarse brown carpet biting into our hands as we leaned in, we knew that what we were watching was the same and yet…it was different.

We were probably too young to watch Akira. I think we knew that, too, because we kept worrying that every sound we heard was my grandmother about to descend the stairs as something truly horrific happened on screen. I didn’t have a concept of body horror, didn’t understand the affects of drug use, didn’t have any background in Japanese post-war anxieties or political climes. But even though it frightened and confused me, I loved Akira.

Time will elapse, and I will carry with me the knowledge that it’s a movie I love, but forget the particulars. And when I go to watch it again, I will be floored all over again. The swell of the gamelan soundtrack, the warmth of the animation, the gorgeous taillight trail…it makes me emotional for reasons I can’t always comprehend, though I suppose I am, at my core, a very emotional person, given to sentimentality.

And so the Akira film celebrates its very sentimental 30th anniversary. From all corners of the internet, all manner of film and animation fans are calling up their memories, lauding their favorite aspects of a film that could only be made in that time, in that place, and with those very specific people. For me, it’s the same: I can’t imagine having not seen Akira, and I don’t regret having seen it early in my life. Quite the contrary, I feel lucky to be able to experience it over and over again, as I age and mature, and as I come to learn new things about myself and about society.

…and I still have yet to finish the manga, so I guess I have a goal before the year is out!

Anime On the Big Screen

I have mentioned in the past that I am astounded by how available anime is now, compared to when I was a young teen and becoming really invested in it as a medium. One of the more shocking aspects of that availability is seeing anime films in movie theatres.

Last Wednesday, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Pom Poko at a cinema around the corner from work. It’s a film I had seen before, and one of my favorite non-Miyazaki-directed Ghibli films. What could be better than a hopeless meditation on the dangers of overpopulation and humanity’s fraught relationship with nature, punctuated by adorable tanuki antics and a spooky yokai parade? It’s truly lovely — but also, I would think that it would have a remarkably narrow fanbase in North America, being both very culturally Japanese and also rather old at this point. I’m pleased to report that the theatre was very full, and on a Wednesday night, no less!

Pom Poko is only the most recent anime film I’ve seen in theatres, though the others have been more recent releases: A Silent Voice and your name come to mind first…oh, and Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dark Side of Dimensions, but I actually had to leave the city to find a theatre playing that one! And though I don’t get out to the movies often, I have been making a conscious effort to make sure I do go see these, because I want the companies that show them to know that there is a very willing paying audience out there to support these efforts.

With the exception of monumental properties like Pokemon, I never thought anime movies were deemed viable for theatrical releases in North America. And truly, at one time they weren’t. I remember so desperately wanting to see the Cowboy Bebop film, Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, when it came out only to discover that there was no way any theatres around me would be showing an R-rated cartoon to the general masses. (And even if they had, I was probably too young to go see it…though I suspect my mother would have come along. She always did rather like Spike….) Certainly there have always been small local art house theatres playing all manner of foreign films, anime included. But I just saw Pom Poko at a Regal Cinemas! I saw A Silent Voice at an AMC!

Perhaps this is the era that Spirited Away‘s success has ushered in; perhaps it is merely that those of us who grew up with anime are making business decisions now. Whatever it is, I’m surely grateful that I can go to a movie theatre and see masterpieces from the last 30 or so years, as well as modern hits. And you can bet I’m going to be looking to get tickets for Sailor Moon The Movie S in the next couple months!

Romancing the Nerd; or, Wotakoi Is Actually As Good As Everyone Says

I had a good manga week this week! I’ve been doing a lot of reading in general (I’ve been devouring novels at an alarming rate lately), and I was glad that I have had such a high rate of success with the quality of my choices. I started going through the Ranma 1/2 manga finally, and the new Captain Harlock Classic Collection came out, as well. I’m very pleased.

But you’re all here to read about my thoughts on Wotakoi, which are basically: I love it.

I have a conflicted relationship with hype. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon who doesn’t engage with things because they’re talked about a lot, but I also find that a lot of what is most popular is completely uninteresting to me. And as I’ve said before, I’m not fond of being told to engage with something because I “should,” as opposed to because the person recommending it is taking my tastes into account.

But I had seen many people whose opinions I trust mention how much they’re enjoying both the anime and the manga, and since volume two had just hit the stands this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I’m glad to admit that I’ve boarded the hype train completely!

I’m constantly craving more josei manga, ones that can acknowledge that the core group of North American manga nerds from the late 90s into the aughts are now adults who may still enjoy their shonen romps every now and then, but would really like something that reflects their own experiences a little bit. Shojo romances are all well and good, but I’ve been out of high school for over a decade now, and frankly I don’t want to relive my teenage years, thanks.

Along comes Wotakoi. Our main character, Narumi, is your typical office worker with a dark secret: she’s an otaku! Honestly, she’s the only one who thinks it’s a dark secret, and her core group of work buddies are all also immersed in their own nerdy ventures: video games, manga, cosplay, etc. Her childhood friend, Hirotaka, offf-handedly asks her if she’d like to date him since she wouldn’t have to hide her otaku lifestyle from him. And thus our office romance begins!

I love romantic comedies. I think really good ones are hard to come by, but when you get a story that’s got all the right beats of both comedy and romance…man, that’s the stuff. I also love manga that are self-aware. I have thus far enjoyed Kiss Him, Not Me for this reason; it’s a kind of unflattering glimpse into fujoshi life, written by a fujoshi, for fujoshi. Wotakoi hits those similar marks, but ultimately is more sophisticated in its delivery.

The comedy is heavy in the manga, which makes the touching romantic moments stand out all the more. And the mangaka, Fujita, isn’t overly precious about those moments. Narumi is pretty clueless about both her own feelings and those of Hirotaka, but in a way that feels genuine as opposed to frustratingly ditzy. She and Hirotaka have been friends forever, so their relationship is already rock-solid, their trust already established. She relies on him to keep her grounded, and enjoys his company regardless of their new dating status. I’ve always been a firm believer in friendship being the cornerstone of any romantic relationship, so I love the way theirs develops.

I don’t want to give too much away, but from the first two volumes alone, it appears that I’ll be getting my fill of wacky antics, nerdy in-jokes, heart-rending backstories, and genuinely moving romantic gestures. I’m grateful for a series that recognizes the growth in my tastes, but also the state of my concerns as an adult woman. With the anime streaming right now, I hope that the manga becomes the success it deserves to become and thus ushers in a new wave of licenses for the modern otaku lady and her modern lady concerns!