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!

Pride and the Manga Market

Happy Pride! I spent yesterday dolled up as Loki, marching with various other Avengers as a part of Boston’s Pride Parade. It’s something we’ve been doing at Comicopia for the last decade now, though this is only my second time going, personally.

Marching in Pride is pretty tiring, but being there reminds me of why this kind of visibility is important for the queer community — of Boston, and of the world as a whole. I marched and screamed and smiled while hoisting the bisexual pride flag high, and I locked eyes with a small child wrapped in their very own bi pride flag. Another little one ran right out and gave me a hug, and countless people cheered as they saw me: visible and queer and there to celebrate myself and them.

But queerness isn’t visible everywhere, or at all times. It’s not allowed to be part of so much of mainstream culture, even now in 2018. In the comics world, however, it’s steadily on the rise. I have kind of accidentally read a lot of gay material this year; and while the content and quality vary greatly, that’s not something I could have said a scant five years ago.

I feel as though I can hardly scroll through my Twitter feed without someone bringing up My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, and I’m glad of it! It’s sequel recently came out, the first part of My Solo Exchange Diary. And Seven Seas has also released The Bride Was A Boy, which I have already covered; soon, they will also have released Riyoko Ikeda’s Claudine, about a transman living in 19th century France.

The yuri market seems to be expanding as well, and though Seven Seas has often taken the lead in that genre, we’re seeing Viz Media throwing their hat in the ring with titles like After Hours and Sweet Blue Flowers. And they’re going to be publishing some BL too (or perhaps the term shonen ai would be more appropriate in this context), under their normal Viz moniker, not their SuBLime imprint: That Blue Sky Feeling, coming out in August.

Volume one of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband came out last year, and we’re expecting its sequel in the early fall. Fantagraphics recently reprinted the Massive bara anthology, which is excellent for us because…honestly, we sell a ton of Tagame and bara in general! I know that’s probably not typical, I can’t completely fathom why we’re able to move it the way that we do.

I haven’t even gotten to talking about non-manga comics, with publishers like Boom Studios and Oni Press taking the lead in queer material, especially queer material for young audiences. And a lot of those gay young people books? It’s clear that they’ve been influenced by anime and manga.

So. What does this all mean? I would surmise that someone somewhere has realized that queer content is marketable. For a long time, that market seemed to be fujoshi scrambling for yaoi, but the tides are turning a little bit. A lot of those fujoshi have explored their own sexuality or identity and found themselves identifying as something other than straight or cisgender. They’ve been joined by fudanshi, perhaps. Or maybe the strange nature of animanga has made readers flexible to ideas outside of their norm.

I can’t say, of course, that that’s how things have progressed. But I can say that for me, the animanga community has always been very…well, gay. I had a conversation with someone about the local Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (MICE) recently, and when I said I loved it because it felt like one big artist’s alley, he responded that it seemed much queerer than any artist’s alley at any con he had ever been to. And that’s when it hit me — the comic book conventions cater to a completely different crowd than the anime conventions. I mean, obviously, right? But not just in content; in age and economic standing and social status…in every way imaginable.

We’ve graduated from the yaoi paddles of my adolescence, thank God, but I can’t spit at Anime Boston without hitting a kid wearing a YAOI-emblazoned snapback. I sell out of My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and I Hear the Sunspot on a regular basis at the store, and still sell them with lightning speed at shows. I see pronoun pins on shoppers almost as often as I see character goods.

And some enterprising person (or people), perhaps queer themselves, has discovered that there is a whole group of people out there whose media is under-serving them on a daily basis. And so they’re filling that niche. That sounds cynical, and clinical, I guess, but it’s really a wonderful thing.

The first Pride march was a riot; the current Pride parades have corporate sponsorship. The nature of achieving progress in our society, as it currently stands, seems to necessitate becoming a “commercial success,” so to speak. I don’t love the coupling of business and marketing with identity; I hate the fact that my Pride marshal badge both this year and last proudly proclaimed the name of a bank sponsor. I don’t trust corporations to do better just because they choose to align themselves with a hot topic like feminism or gay rights or whatever.

But…I feel differently about the world of publishing. It’s naiive, perhaps, and maybe it’s because I know people who work in publishing that I’m able to hold on to this hope. Comics as an industry is a mess, but I want to see myself and my queer siblings as the heroes of our own stories. I want to trust that these license agreements are coming not solely from a sales point of view, but from a desire to help bolster visibility.

And while the queer stories themselves are a boon, I want to see a growing trend of stories by queer creators. I think that’s the most important way to show support — to give a voice to those who for so long have been voiceless. To allow those creators to feel safe, and listened to, and proud.

25 Otaku Facts About Me — From The Manga Hoarder!

One of the bloggers I follow, known as The Manga Hoarder, did a cute little list of 25 otaku facts about herself, which you can find here. Since she invited others to take a crack at it, I thought I’d give it a go. This blog is still fairly new, so I hope this helps to give readers some insight as to who is behind the keyboard.

Without further ado, the list:

1. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but both my first anime series and my first manga were Sailor Moon.

2. I’m pretty flexible about what genres I read, but my favorites are shonen action from the 90s, horror, BL that isn’t burdened by harmful tropes, and women writing about women’s problems.

3. I…really don’t care at all about Evangelion. I’m sorry. I can recognize its importance, but it does pretty much nothing for me.

4. Yu Yu Hakusho is my favorite series — both anime and manga. You might have been able to tell from my blog’s banner image!

5. It’s only in recent years that I’ve been interested in reading vintage manga, stuff like Hino Horror, etc. I think I was biased as a younger reading toward manga with pretty boys and protagonists that were my age. Now…I want all the weird old stuff.

6. I first watched Akira at the tender age of 9, when my best friend brought over her older brother’s VHS copy. We watched it in my basement and prayed that my grandmother wouldn’t interrupt us and demand to know what we were doing!

7. I attended my first convention — the very first Connecticon! — for a friend’s birthday in middle school. Unbeknownst to me, my current boss was also there, selling things! And now I go every year to my home con to sell manga to the next group of nerdlings — I’ve come full circle!

8. I have had several false starts at learning Japanese, but it remains a goal of mine. I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely fluent, but it would be nice to be able to hold a conversation and read some simple things.

9. The yaoi/BL/slash community and the media surrounding/that’s part of it can definitely be…tumultuous? But I’m glad it was available to me at a critical point in my life, because I think it allowed me to think flexibly about sexuality — both my own and other people’s. That’s why, while I’d still like to see better, less harmful BL books coming out, I can’t every really dunk on the genre completely.

10. I like manga better than anime, and consume it far more readily and rapidly.

11. In the last few years I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to increase my manga collection. I know it’s a drop in the bucket compared to some, but I’m hovering somewhere around 500 manga in my collection so far!

12. I desperately want the From Eroica With Love license to get rescused, and for the series to be completed in English!

13. I successfully turned someon into a manga reader by recommending A Silent Voice. She went from knowing nothing about the medium to starting her own collection and attending cons within a few months. When she told me, I was inordinately proud of myself. 😛

14. I didn’t really read any manga during college (which I hear is a common occurrence). When I got back into it, I suddenly felt like I had been missing a part of myself all along. (I felt similarly when I got back to novels after a long time away — I am one of Nature’s bookworms.)

15. I am constantly perplexed by otaku who are really into anime but have no interest in other aspects of Japanese culture. Media isn’t created in a vaccuum, so I always felt the need to delve a little deeper into the backgrounds of the stuff I was consuming.

16. I can’t hear cicadas buzzing without thinking of anime.

17. I really like reading about the manga industry, both in Japan and elsewhere. I have a huge stack of non-fiction books on the subject that I need to read!

18. I have a huge weakenss for artbooks and own a good handful, both Japanese ones and English-language ones. I have exactly zero resistance to any Yoshitaka Amano book.

19. I am also, conceptually at least, fond of boxsets, though I have fewer of those. I did splurge on the Akira manga boxset and have no regrets about that — it’s beautiful.

20. I don’t have very many anime figures, and I know what a deep hole that cam become…but I really want some more.

21. I love Vampire Hunter D, but I haven’t read any of the novels yet! I have the first one, I’ve just gotta start.

22. For Christmas a few years ago, my husband got me the Kitaro one-cup sake set. I love the concept of making collector’s items out of otherwise mundane products. Since I’ve drunk the sake (I honestly have no taste for sake), I’ve been thinking of sealing the labels so I can use the cups as little vases or juice glasses.

23. I really love Yu-Gi-Oh!, but I’m a pretty mediocre duelist. I enjoy playing, but I’m much more invested in the story, especially the ancient Egyptian plotline. I wanted to be an archaeologist for a very long time growing up, so this series was like catnip for me.

24. I don’t own a lot of physical anime. I think this is partially because when I was growing up, it was pretty expensive to collect. It’s also very easy to stream things now, so the urgency to own isn’t as great. Plus, I live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and the books are taking over all the space already! A good handful of the things I do own are on VHS, and I’ll likely never be able to update them as their license has lapsed or the company has since gone out of business.

25. I’m not always super receptive to people giving me recommendations (on anything, not just animanga) if they don’t consider who I am and what I like. But my job is essentially to give folks manga recommendations, and I enjoy doing it! Learning what other series people like and trying to connect the dots to their next favorite series is like a fun puzzle for me…so basically, don’t be afraid to ask me for recs!

And that about wraps it up! It took me a couple days to come up with all these facts. Despite the fact that I’m a pretty open person, it can sometimes be hard for me to write about myself in this way. This was an interesting challenge!

I encourage you all, once again, to go check out The Manga Hoarder; she’s often got really great reviews up, and she’s currently running a readathon and some giveaways!