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.

April Favorites

Every month, I get the itch to write this segment about halfway through, thus defeating the point of having a monthly round-up! I get too excited to talk about what I’ve just read, and I read a lot of good stuff in April.

Actually, a lot of stuff in general happened in April. I turned 29 on the 4th, so here’s to the last year of my 20s! My husband and I are in the midst of apartment hunting, which is always chaotic, especially here in the Boston area. And Anime Boston was last weekend! Even though I don’t technically work at Comicopia anymore, I helped with the ordering and was there on the floor from set up on Thursday to break down on Sunday. It was a really great show, and I’m glad I was able to be a part of it. Selling at conventions is my favorite kind of retail, because everyone is just so excited to be there and see what you’ve got and talk to you about it. And all the con-goers are so creative — I saw so many excellent costumes! Oh, and my very first post for Anime Feminist went up this week, as well: a spotlight on amazing artist and mangaka Junko Mizuno.

As May approaches, I’m getting ready to head over to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) for the first time, and I’m super excited. Between that and moving, May is going to be intense — but we’re not there yet. For now, I want to reflect on all the good stuff I read in April! And it’s actually all relatively new stuff this month, a sure change for me.

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Maiden Railways, by Asumiko Nakamura — published by Denpa

This is the first of Denpa’s offerings that I’ve gotten a chance to read, and it’s the one I was most looking forward to. I love Asumiko Nakamura. Her art is so strange, both adorable and almost uncomfortable with all its sharp angles and long limbs. This volume is an anthology of railway-themed romances. It is simple and straightforward in many ways, but as with all of Nakamura’s work, it sets a very distinct tone, in this case of hope and longing and compassion. It’s a really lovely little collection with some lesbian themes neatly tucked into it with no fuss. Between this and Seven Seas’s upcoming print version of Classmates coming out soon, I am thrilled that more readers have access to Nakamura’s work.

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Bloom, by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau — published by FirstSecond

I had to wait for this book from the library for months, and I absolutely understand why — it’s absurdly charming. Ari’s dream is to move to the city with his band, but he can’t seem to escape his responsibilities at his family’s bakery. Hector, a culinary school student, has come to town to pack up his deceased grandmother’s home. Ari hires Hector to help in the bakery, in the hopes that by replacing himself, he will leave his parents no room to argue about his leaving home. But over the course of the summer, Ari and Hector grow close, and they have to make some big decisions about where their lives are headed, and whether those lives include each other. This book was so unbearably sweet, and so beautifully illustrated. Savanna Ganucheau does an excellent job of showing everyday examples of sexiness — nothing exploitative, but the little kinds of things that a person appreciates in their partner, like how they look when they’re focused, or how they move when they’re excited. With a cast diverse in both ethnic background and body type, and a strong, happy queer narrative, this is an incredibly delightful read for teens and up.

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Smashed, by Junji Ito — published by VIZ Media

It’s no secret that I’m a HUGE Junji Ito fan. (That’s part of the reason I’m so excited about TCAF!) I never know what to expect with each new anthology: Will I be scared? Will I laugh? Will I feel like I just watched a particularly poignant episode of The Twilight Zone? For me, this collection had a lot of humor in it, and that is perhaps one of my favorite things about Ito’s work. There is a very fine line between comedy and horror, and no one loves to hop back and forth across that line as much as Ito. I think my favorites in this collection were “Bloodsucking Darkness” (because I love bats), “Soichi’s Beloved Pet” (because I love cats), and “Library Vision” (because I love books). The linked Soichi stories never fail to be silly fun, and as usual Ito’s artwork throughout the whole anthology is gorgeous and detailed. Truly, he is a master of horror, and all other kinds of base human emotions.

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Kitaro’s Yokai Battles, by Shigeru Mizuki — published by Drawn & Quarterly

It’s been so long since there was another installment of Kitaro, and I was thrilled when I was alerted to this making its way into my pull at Comicopia. Who on this earth doesn’t love adorable, weird, childish monsters with potty humor? Only boring people, that’s who! In this collection, I was particularly fond of the “Oboro Guruma” chapter, in which Shigeru Mizuki has inserted himself as a major character, plagued by yokai who are taking over his home as their base of operations. As usual, Mizuki’s cartoony characters sit atop his lush and gorgeous backgrounds seamlessly, and the oft-times odd solutions to yokai-related problems harken back to simpler times and simpler story-telling mechanics. With each volume comes another installment of translator Zack Davisson’s “History of Kitaro,” which really appeals to my interest in both general world history and manga history specifically. A fun read suitable for just about anyone who appreciates a little dark whimsy in their life.

That’s going to do it for this month! I made the conscious decision not to include the sixth volume of Tokyo Tarareba Girls this time around, even though it’s one of my absolute favorite series, because I’ve already written about it in the past, and I anticipate I will talk at great length about it in many forms in the future. I thought I’d spare you all, haha.

I already have a huge pile of comics waiting to be read (don’t I always?), so hopefully I’ll have a nice round-up for May, as well. Happy reading!

March Favorites

It’s finally starting to feel like spring, and I couldn’t be more grateful. It’s so much easier to motivate myself to work when the sun is shining, especially after months and months of frigid winds and gray skies. March is always an odd month, sitting right at the edge of winter and spring, and it often makes me feel unsettled.

After over a month since my sweet kitty Mia’s passing, my husband and I decided we would start the process of looking for new feline companions, specifically hoping to adopt a bonded pair. We absolutely did not expect to adopt on the day we went to the local MSPCA shelter, but of course…the cats had other plans. On March 17th (Saint Gertrude’s Day, the patron saint of cats!), we brought home Zelda and Hilda, a mother-daughter pair of little black cats. They are charming in the extreme, so expect me to gush about them even more as time passes.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’m going to be having my wisdom teeth removed this coming Friday. It’s long overdue, and I’ll be glad once it’s done, but I’m definitely dreading what I’ve heard is a rather painful healing process. But who knows, maybe it’ll afford me more time to read….

Which brings me to the point of this post! Last month I did a round up of my favorite comics reads, and I’m going to go for it again. If I do it twice, it’s a monthly column, right? I actually didn’t read a ton of comics this month, instead favoring some truly indulgent murder mystery audiobooks. But of what I did read, there are a few certain gems that I want to share.

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Star Light Woman, by Rie Kanou — available through Crunchyroll

At the start of the month, I decided to sift through the various reading-oriented apps on my tablet to find something new, and I came upon Star Light Woman on Crunchyroll. I was drawn by the image of protagonist Hoshi, rendered in what I think of as an 80s manga style, all puffy hair and cut-off shorts. I’m not sure what I was expecting — maybe a silly, slightly sexy sci-fi romp? And that’s more or less what it is, but somehow I really, really loved it. Hoshi just wants to lead a normal life, but she is the product of an experiment by an alien race to create the perfect weapon to save them from their enemies. She continually has to thwart these aliens while encountering other humans who have undergone similar transformations at their hands. It’s a short little series without much depth, but it’s truly funny and the artwork is stunning. I’m usually very critical of “sexy lady protagonist whose clothes don’t fit properly,” but Hoshi even gets my blood pumping, and I think that her strong, solid frame coupled with her highly moral principles lends a lot to her appeal. She’s like an embodiment of righteous female anger — a subject I’m always eager to see in my fiction!

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Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen, by Moyoco Anno — available through Crunchyroll

I love Moyoco Anno’s work, though I have to admit that this was only the second thing of hers I had ever read. Sakuran was a gorgeous and deeply provocative manga, so when I was scrolling through options on Crunchyroll’s manga app after finishing Star Light Woman, I remembered that I had been meaning to read Memoirs of Amorous Gentlemen for quite some time. I was not at all disappointed, and in fact I read Buffalo 5 Gals immediately afterward, just to get more of Anno’s sassy sex working heroines. But Amorous Gentlemen is special, probably my favorite of Anno’s works thus far. She is incredibly sensitive with sex work while also not over-glamorizing it; Colette and all her co-workers go about their day-to-day business like at any other job, and in many cases care very deeply about their clients. But they also are in close quarters, so they fight and disagree, and sometimes they are all too aware of how they are doomed to this life. The sex scenes are sometimes clinical and sometimes genuinely sexy, and I think that knowing when to evoke which mood in a reader is an incredible skill on Anno’s part. I’m also always going to be a sucker for her very stylized artwork, all angles and frills and fashion.

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Candy Color Paradox, Volume 1, by Isaku Natsume — published by VIZ Media

The only manga on this month’s list that’s actually new this month, and the only one that has male protagonists! I was able to snag a galley copy of this right before it came out, and I honestly didn’t think it would be anything special. I’ll usually try to read new BL when it comes out, but I’ve been burned so many times with cliched plots or harmful tropes that it’s more a desire to keep up-to-date than an expectation that I’ll find something great. But VIZ’s SuBLime imprint has been knocking it out of the park lately, and I really liked this first volume. Protagonist Satoshi Onoe is a reporter who is proud of his body of work, but one day he is thrown onto a stakeout team with Motoharu Kaburagi, a photographer with a bad attitude whom Onoe believes stole his girlfriend away. The two start off on rough terms, but soon find that they work well together — and they begin to “catch feelings.” You know, that old gem. Honestly, it was cute and fluffy, and I feel like it’s been a long time since I read some straightforward “loathe to like to love” BL manga. The artwork is clean and appealing, with good sense of movement.

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Nana, by Ai Yazawa — published by VIZ Media

This month, I decided to embark on a reread of Nana, and I’ve gotten up through volume 7 so far. I honestly don’t remember how much if it I’ve read in the past, so I wanted to make sure I got the full experience. I had watched the anime with my husband many years ago, and it wrecked us both, so coming back to it now, as a woman approaching my thirties instead of a woman barely out of her early 20s, is kind of a weird sensation. I’m farther away from any chance of making rash young adult decisions, but also in a place where I can envy the energy and passion that the characters portray as they lead a dramatic, punk-poverty-chic lifestyle. The series is old now, at least in the timeline of manga, so I don’t feel the need to summarize it, though I may one day write a whole piece about its meaningfulness to me, personally. I remember it didn’t sell great at Comicopia, but it was one of those series that I was adamant about keeping around. Yazawa’s artwork is so strange, with leggy, large-eyed Blythe-doll-esque characters and gorgeous renderings of haute couture of the 2000s, and I’m always enthralled by it. And I genuinely wish there was more work like Nana, work that explored the fraught relationships between female friends who love each other so passionately but don’t have the outlet to express it — an experience that will surely be familiar to many who squashed down their feelings throughout their teenage years for fear of judgment, or just because they didn’t have the tools to recognize those feelings. Society fucks women over, and Yazawa does an incredible job of balancing that message with a lot of genuine sensitivity for two very different women who are desperately reaching for an unobtainable happiness.

So, fluffy BL aside, it seems like I’ve read a bunch of manga about women who are dealing with too many external pressures getting in the way of their desires. That sounds like an appropriate way to have spent Women’s History Month! Honestly, though, my favorite works are often those by women representing the trials of womanhood — not because womanhood is terrible! But because it is cathartic to see your own worries magnified and projected in media sometimes, to see those fears getting played out somewhere safe, allowing you to recognize their validity but also release them in order to achieve your own goals, always knowing that you’re not alone.

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The Beautiful & the Damned; Where Violence Meets Aesthetics in Pet Shop of Horrors

Among the extensive list of things I shamelessly love are: the occult detective genre, beautiful men, the monster-of-the-week format, and morality plays. Matsuri Akino’s Pet Shop of Horrors very neatly contains all of these things, and indeed might be the reason I’m so fond of some of them.

For those unfamiliar with this late-90s shojo series, the premise is that in LA’s Chinatown there is a mysterious pet shop whose proprietor, Count D, sells exotic “animals” to anyone who can pay the price. Each animal comes with a specific set of rules, and when those rules aren’t followed to the letter, tragedy inevitably occurs. LAPD officer Leon Orcot is assigned to investigate D and the weird phenomena linked to his shop, but in the process he is drawn into a series of Twilight Zone-esque situations that he cannot explain, let alone report to his superiors.

Right now, I can look at this premise and think to myself, “Yep, this is totally my kind of bullshit.” But when I first picked it up as a young teen, it was because I was drawn to its beautiful cover, where the androgynous D is holding a mermaid, whose back is turned to the viewer. D’s eyes are piercing and almost sad, his fingers long and delicate. I was in love with this man who moved in multiple worlds: the masculine and the feminine, reality and fantasy, beauty and horror.

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And when I bought and read this first volume, I was shocked. It wasn’t outright scary, necessarily, but it certainly was gory. In the first chapter already was there a horrific scene of evisceration, in and amongst all the trappings of a classic 90s shojo style, preoccupied with luxury and beauty. It was jarring, and it was effective. I discovered then that I didn’t dislike horror like I had previously thought, I just wanted it to be beautiful.

To this day, I find myself critical of scary or violent media that doesn’t also have a keen sense of aesthetics. I don’t necessarily enjoy being frightened; I am a naturally anxious person with vivid and violent dreams who does not react well to heightened suspense in media. I do like dark themes, though, and in recent years I have made it a point to expose myself to films especially that I know I would like if I could just get over my own hang-ups. And by being discerning, I’ve been rewarded with some of the most gorgeous horror and gore I’ve ever seen.

I think beauty and romance are natural companions to horror. All these themes pivot on an axis of drama, of amplified emotions. They all invoke visceral reactions, not logical ones. All my life I’ve surrounded myself with artwork depicting scenes and themes of witchcraft, hauntings, murders, martyrs, and mortality. It seems natural to me that scary things can pull at the same emotions I feel when I recognize something as beautiful.

And all this because way back in 2003, Tokyopop decided to take a chance on something that wasn’t very common in the comics world at the time: horror for girls. There’s plenty of it to be found in the manga world, and now there is more acknowledgement of girls and women reading outside of the romance genre. But it was new for me then, and even now Pet Shop of Horrors remains one of my favorite series, because it presented to me something I hadn’t known I was seeking out. It understood my tastes uniquely; it was able to marry my desire with my rage and prove them to be not disparate but intertwined and equally valid.

In truth, it is a somewhat silly series. It is certainly more fun than profound, but that in and of itself is not a criticism. It is pure, indulgent entertainment, and for me it is certainly laced with a nostalgic love that I will never be able to shake. How many times have I reread and referenced that first volume, gazing awestruck at the lovingly rendered intestines spilling out of a beautiful man’s body? How many times have I giggled at the flirtatious relationship between D and Orcot? How many times have I wished that modern depictions of mermaids were even half as scary as the one Akino has created?

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The series is unfortunately long out of print, and later volumes are hard to find. I imagine that it wasn’t a huge seller for Tokyopop, though I am forever grateful that they took a chance on it to begin with. The anime is available to stream on HiDive, brief as it is, if you’d like to get a glimpse into Count D’s enigmatic Chinatown pet shop.