Eisner Follow-Up & Podcast Announcement

As I’m sure amny of you remember, when voting for the Eisner Awards opened up, I had some complaints about the manga nominees — not because they weren’t worthy, but because I didn’t think they really reflected what manga readers cared most about. I stand by everything I said in that post; I think a lot of improvements need to be made in regards to manga’s position in the Western comics world. However, on the whole I have to say that I’m very pleased with the results of the award ceremony.

Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband won the “Best Adaptation of International Material – Asia” category…and while all the nominees were outstanding in their own ways, I think this is the book I most wanted to win. (I didn’t vote for it; I wrote in Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, but I knew that winning would have been a long shot.) It’s not necessarily my favorite manga in the nominee lineup (I’m an enormous Junji Ito fan, so Shiver would probably claim that role), but I do think it is the most important, and the most indicative of a shift in the comics-reading demographic. Which is to say, queer folks have always been reading and making comics, and it’s nice to see that acknowledged.

In fact, many queer folks, women, and creators of color were acknowledged at this year’s award ceremony. I won”t go too deep into the non-manga awards here, but I was extremely pleased to see a lot of my favorite creators and books given the acknowledgement I never dreamed the comics industry would provide. I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.

The Akira boxset won two awards, as well! Readers will probably note from my last post that I have a boxset of my very own, and I can’t possibly overstate how incredibly beautiful its presentation is. I don’t always agree with Kodansha’s printing choices (about half of their titles are oversize right now, which makes them hell to shelve), but this is one notable time where they did no wrong. I’m glad to see that it’s been in high enough demand that it’s gone to second print!

I think, though, that the highlight for me was to see Rumiko Takahashi, the most successful and one of the most influential women in comics, finally inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. As Deb Aoki, comics critic extraordinaire (@debaoki on Twitter!), mentioned: having some random American award probably isn’t that big a deal to Takahashi, a woman already festooned with awards, accolades, and a great deal of ongoing market value. But it is an important step for the often very Euro-centric or otherwise cloistered Western comics community to honor a mangaka — and a woman mangaka, at that. That she was a write-in winner warms my heart immensely. It’s exciting to note that Viz Media just announced they’ll be reprinting Urusei Yatsura, as well, so now a new generaton of fans can be similarly inspired by some of Takahashi’s early work!

Eisner stuff aside, I also wanted to mention that later today I’ll be recording content for the 200th episode of the Manga Machinations podcast! They approached me a couple months ago asking if I’d be willing to join them, and it’s been a lot of fun chatting back and forth and listening to some of their past work. They have had the opportunity to host translator Jocelyne Allen twice, and I highly recommend listening to those episodes if you haven’t already. You can find Manga Machinations on Twitter (@MangaMacPodcast) and on Tumblr (mangamachinations.tumblr.com). The 200th episode goes up tomorrow, Monday, July 23rd. I hope you’ll give it a listen; you’ll get a little bit of background about me, my job, and my feelings about josei and LGBTQ+ manga!

On Recommending Comics

When the Preacher television series came out, I had customer after customer provide me with the fandom theatre of being shocked that I had never read it, and then immediately insisting I amend that as soon as possible. Putting aside the fact that I was a literal baby when Preacher was first running in single issues, it seemed so unfathomable to everyone that despite the fact that I was sitting behind a counter selling them their comics every week, I might not have taken part in this very specific rite of comics passage.

Preacher is not necessarily something I wouldn’t read; indeed, I think the Morgana I was in high school would be very interested in the violence and the symbolism of it (I say, having still not read it). But out of curiosity, I flipped through the first volume after getting enough pushback from folks, just to see what the fuss was about. In no short order, I saw amidst the pages someone getting their face peeled off.

Knowing nothing about me, scores of men (they were all men) told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to read this comic. Scores of men have told me to read Berserk, and not a single one of them have ever mentioned that their are depictions of sexual violence — I just found that out recently through a thread on Twitter. When these people have given me their “recommendations,” it has been more about them pushing their interests on me, than about considering what I might enjoy, or trying to convince me of their value while also alerting me to things I might not like about them. Who recommends graphic violence porn to a stranger! Jesus Christ, guys, get it together.

I have had customers who have confessed that their “friends” belittled them for not having engaged in certain media. Forcing, shaming, belittling…these are really, really ineffective ways to convince someone that what you’re recommending to them is worthwhile. How can they be expected to start, if they keep associating the title with guilt and pressure, and on their inherent “unworthiness” as a fan?

Coming up against my distaste for being told what to consume, I find myself in the position of getting paid to tell other people what to consume. Giving good recommendations isn’t easy. My initial desire is the same as everyone’s: to recommend the things that I love. I don’t think this is a bad gut instinct — something is enjoyable, and you want more people to experience that, and you want to support the creators and the publisher. That’s great! But what works for me isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone else. There’s a comic for everyone, but not every comic is for everyone.

This means I have to know how to talk about even the books I didn’t like, or that I haven’t read. I have to not use negative language about books I found boring or bad, because the person I’m helping might be looking for exactly that kind of thing. I have to try to figure out what a customer wants through asking endless questions, and there is nothing more frustrating than someone saying “oh, I’ll read anything!” (Especially when I then recommend ten different things and they turn every single one down!)

It is hard to know what people enjoy, even if youre familiar with their tastes. There are books that I thought I’d love that I just didn’t, so even for myself I can’t always pick ’em right! But I really, really think it’s important to be able to let go of the fact that not everyone is going to like the things you like, and that doesn’t make them a less good consumer of media. And when you’re really dead-set on giving a recommendation, it’s important to be able to give some insight into why it’s worth the time and effort, and maybe a caveat if there are some, uh, upsetting facets of it.

Basically, I want people to read comics, so I feel that it’s always best to be kind and cautious. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but I’d love it if we were all a little more generous with our thoughts, and less concerned with checking off the boxes of cultural currency that allegedly make someone a “real fan.”

Tokyo Tarareba Girls & the Fear of Feeling Unwanted

Just a couple weeks ago, I talked about how much I had been enjoying the Wotakoi manga, and how I yearned for more josei manga that centered around the relatable struggles of women’s everyday lives. I had forgotten that the print edition of Akiko Higashimura’s Tokyo Tarareba Girls would be coming out so soon, and it is another shining example of exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I want to preface the meat of my review by saying that I am very different from the story’s protagonist, Rinko. I am 28 years old, happily married, and while I’m still trying to figure out my career, I am at least heading in a direction that feels fruitful. And even if all that weren’t the case, I very strongly do not ascribe to societal ideas about appropriate ages to marry, have children, etc. But a lot of women do, and that external pressure can be suffocating.

Rinko, at 33, is an established screenwriter for various webseries dramas. She is not only unmarried, but has also not really been dating for quite some time. Our story starts with her 33rd birthday and the announcement that Tokyo will be hosting the 2020 Olympics. Suddenly, she feels that she doesn’t want to remain unwed once the Olympics start, so she’s given herself a deadline to find a husband.

The only problem is, she’s not working particularly hard to meet anyone new! She hopes that a man she works with who had shown interest in her ten years previously might be interested again, but he has moved on to her much younger, pink-haired coworker, leaving Rinko feeling old and unwanted. At the pub she and her friends frequent, they encounter a rude young man who tells them plainly that they’re wasting time getting drunk, and that their activities are less like a “girls’ night,” and more like an “old maids’ gossip circle.” He is the one who first calls them “”what-if” women, and while he’s extraordinarily rude, something about his words rings true for Rinko. When he shows up to audition for one of her dramas and complains about the script, she loses her position on that series and begins to truly feel that she is unwanted.

And this, for me, is what Tokyo Tarereba Girls is about: the fear of being unwanted once you are no longer young, pretty, and willing to please. There is an insidious idea that women are no longer interesting once they become — pardon my language — unfuckable. In fact, Rinko loses her position to a younger woman who she discovers is sleeping with the producer, causing Rinko to spiral into a deep depression. At the close of the first volume, the rude young model/actor, Key, offers her a way to get ahead.

Tokyo Tarereba Girls has been available in English digitally through Kodansha for some time now, so I’ve seen a fair amount of single panels or discussions of its message and meaning (without completely spoiling myself, of course). It is my feeling that the story will go on to redefine Rinko’s position that she needs to be married to one where she learns to focus on herself and her goals, without buckling to outside pressure. At least, that’s what I hope!

In many ways, Tokyo Tarereba Girls isn’t a happy story. So many women (and I’m sure folks of other genders, as well) feel adrift in a sea of societal expectation. There are so many thinkpieces out there on millennials “choosing” not to buy houses or have children; even if you have no interest in bending to the whims of society, it’s hard to avoid acknowledging that you don’t tick off certain boxes. And yet, Higashimura delivers this anxiety wrapped in the sense of humor that set Princess Jellyfish apart before; there is no attempt to show Rinko and her friends as beautiful paragons of virtue who are underserving of their fate. They are all normal women, with normal lives and normal stresses. They are crass and selfish, women who we might not want to be, but who we recognize in ourselves and in our friends and family.

It is tempting to claim that women like Rinko, who obsess over age, desirability, and the perceived expectations of others, are silly and shallow. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see this kind of criticism even coming from other women. So it was rather refreshing to see, at the back of this first volume, Higashimura’s own beliefs about marriage — essentially, that she fell into it by accident and that she doesn’t put too much weight on its merits. She has pushed back against her friends for their own fears, encouraging them to eschew their anxieties and just live their lives…but then she has also crafted this story highlighting those very real anxieties. She cannot relate to her friends in real life, but she can understand the concerns they have enough to show readers their value.

Since manga began legal English-language circulation, there have always been stories centered around adult men and their struggles and fantasies. It is gratifying to know that the girls and women who facilitated the huge manga boom of the late 90s and early aughts now have manga that have grown up with them, with protagonists their age who also may feel adrift, alone, and unwanted as they age and change. I believe that the manga market is ready for more josei and has been for a while now.

Because I’m terrible at keeping up with digital releases, I’m looking very forward to continuing Tokyo Tarareba Girls as it comes out in print. I know that she’s been acknowledged extensively in Japan, but I really hope to see Akiko Higashimura recognized for her genius in the North American market. To that end, I encourage everyone to try her work, whether it be this or Princess Jellyfish. She captures the struggle of being a woman from so many different perspectives and with such sensitivity, without sacrificing either wit or drama. She truly is a spectacular creator.

Eisner Blues

A few days ago, the Eisner nominees were announced. Manga has its own category (kind of), which is “Best U.S. Edition of International Material — Asia.” Of course, in the past we’ve seen that this isn’t limited strictly to manga, but typically that’s where it all gets put. To be honest, I kind of hate that there’s a separate section for manga, in much the same way/for the same reasons I hate there’s a “Best Foreign Film” category at the Oscars; instead of being pitted against series in its own genre or of its own type, a manga gets pitted against other manga it may or may not have anything in common with. (Though to be fair, all of the categories in the Eisners are multi-genre.)

This year, as with most years, I would say the nominees are certainly of a type, and that type is “appealing to people who can’t figure out manga.” The books themselves are all very deserving, I won’t argue that point. But they are all, with the exception maybe of Golden Kamuy, pretty high-brow or else packaged as prestige books, many from publishers that don’t deal exclusively with manga.

The nominees are, by the way: Furari, by Jiro Taniguchi, translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian; Golden Kamuy by Satoru Noda, translated by Eiji Yasuda; My Brother’s Husband volume 1, by Gengoroh Tagame, translated by Anne Ishii; Otherworld Barbara volume 2, by Moto Hagio, translated by Matt Thorn; and Shiver: Junji Ito Selected Stories, by Junji Ito, translated by Jocelyne Allen. Kodansha’s Akira box set was also nominated a couple times, under “Best Archival Collection/Project — Comic Books” and “Best Publication Design;” and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories, adapted by Gou Tanabe and translated by Zack Davisson, was nominated for “Best Adaptation from Another Medium.” (I own the Akira boxset, by the way. It’s gorgeous, and it absolutely, 100% deserves an award.)

As I said, I have no words against any of the manga nominated. Shiver is actually one of my favorite books to come out in the last year, though I might question whether it’s the Ito book that is most deserving of an Eisner. No, my quarrel is that the Eisner committee continually ignores what the manga-reading community cares most about, and it tries to frame the more “worthy” manga as being literary, or by a creator who is so far removed from what the majority of readers are enjoying. Jiro Taniguchi is great, but he’s dead now, and his work is almost impossible for me to sell to the kids coming in for the latest volume of My Hero Academia. There is an implication here that manga is only worthwhile if it meets certain criteria; it’s much the same attitude that people who insist on a difference between “comics” and “graphic novels” have. It’s pretension.

Beyond that, there are never enough women nominated. And once again, Moto Hagio is great, but I’ve had the same volumes of Otherworld Barbara sitting on the shelf since they came out. I just had to put aside the store’s copy of The Heart of Thomas for myself, since we haven’t been able to sell it for over a year. No one is reading her material. That’s scandalous in and of itself, but it’s the truth. What I really, really don’t understand is how on earth Nagata Kabi’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (also translated by Jocelyne Allen) managed to not get nominated. Maybe it’s just in the social media circles I’m part of, but it got talked about a TON, and has had multiple printings. And it’s one manga that I’ve been able to sell to non-manga readers, often without prompting! To say nothing, of course, of the subject matter, which is deeply moving and needed now more than ever.

It’s not just the nominations committee that’s responsible for who wins, of course. Comics creators, journalists, shop owners and managers — all these people get to vote (yes, including me). I know lots and lots of wonderful retailers and comics journalists! I also know that the majority of them know very, very little about manga. This is not solely their fault, and part of my goals within the retail sphere has been to really push manga into other shops, to give retailers the tools to navigate a medium they didn’t grow up with and therefore have no frame of reference for. But that lack of knowledge has meant that many deserving series or titles don’t get recognition.

I know that awards shows/ceremonies are all the same, that it’s a huge popularity contest that doesn’t immediately devalue works that aren’t nominated or that don’t win. But it’s frustrating to see so much quality work go unnoticed because manga is still perceived as too foreign, or as immature, or as…whatever it is that people who refuse to read manga feel that it is. I wish there wasn’t a separate category for manga — but if there wasn’t, I wonder if any manga would get nominated?

One good thing that has come out of the Eisner nominee announcements is that I discovered an utterly beautiful web/digital comic called The Carpet Merchant of Konstaniniyya, by Reimena Yee, which can be found here. I highly, highly recommend it, especially if you like historical romances, vampires, gorgeous patterns and colors, and a story that is likely to make you cry. I’m still so very, very impressed with it, and I can’t believe it had slipped past my radar until now!

If it were up to me, by the way, I would nominate the following, based both on my personal judgments and on what I see selling well in my particular store:

  • My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, by Nagata Kabi (Seven Seas Entertainment)
  • My Hero Academia, by Kohei Horikoshi (VIZ Media)
  • I Hear the Sunspot, by Yuki Fumino (One Peace Books)
  • Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, by Haruko Kumota (Kodansha USA)
  • The Girl From the Other Side, by Nagabe (Seven Seas Entertainment)