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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February Favorites

Time for something new! I’m going to start trying to round up some of my favorite comic reads at the end of each month. These won’t necessarily be things that came out the month in question (though I do try to keep up when I can), but anything I’ve managed to get my hands on that I feel is worth a mention. I read a lot, so I’m going to have to figure out how to limit my choices, but hopefully with time will come clarity!

I will say, first off, that this has been an…interesting month. I still feel so new to the freelance writing world, but I do think that things are coming together nicely, and I’m getting to a point where I can start challenging myself with how much work I take on. I also lost my cat, Mia, on February 12th. She was quite old, and her decline was very rapid. While she was sick, I spent a good deal of my time attending to her; after her death, there was a lot of time where I was just too miserable to feel like I wanted to do much of anything, let alone read. Still, a visit to Comicopia did help lift my spirits considerably, and while I have to be a little bit more judicious in my purchases right now, I was able to bring home some good new material.

I am also about to spend five days with my family while James is away on business, which is why I’m getting this out before the true end of the month. I suspect I will be too busy doing things with my mom and trying to keep up with my writing work to read too many more comics. But I wanted to give this segment a try, anyway, so I’ve decided to work with what I’ve got.

So without further ado, my picks for the month!

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Magical Beatdown
, Volume 1, by Jenn Woodall — published by Silver Sprocket

This slim little issue does one of my favorite things: It combines a love of the ultra-femme concept of the magical girl and mixes it generously with a hyper-violence that is both gross and cathartic at the same time. I think there’s a lot to be said about women enjoying and creating violent content, and some day I hope to talk about it more in-depth. But for now, I want to recommend the excellent pastel gore-fest revenge fantasy that is Magical Beatdown, because sometimes you just wanna go to the arcade without having to deal with losers! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second installment.

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House of Penance
, by Peter J. Tomasi, Ian Bertram, and Dave Stewart — published by Dark Horse Comics

Speaking of gore-fests, this standalone graphic novel is not for the faint of heart or stomach. The Winchester mansion in San Jose, California, is famous for it’s staircases that lead to nowhere, its doors that open onto nothing but air, and the nagging suspicion that it is not entirely empty. House of Penance is an exploration of Sarah Winchester’s mental state as she commissions the building of this strange domicile while grappling with the grief of losing her daughter and her husband, and the guilt of inheriting the wealth from a company whose business is murder. I’m always down for a strong anti-gun message, personally, and there is no holding back here as Sarah is confronted relentlessly by the victims of her in-laws’ firearm empire. Ian Bertram’s art is eerie and textured, Sarah especially portrayed with bug-like eyes that can see more than the men working around her. Dave Stewart’s incredible colors compliment Bertram’s lines beautifully, and his use of bright, vibrant blood red is very effective.

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Shion: Blade of the
 Minstrel, by Yu Kinutani — published by VIZ Media (out of print)

I came upon this volume completely by accident, while I was still working at Comicopia. It was hidden away in storage, in a long box full of old single issue comics, many of which were single issue manga, from way back when everything was flipped and companies tried selling manga like Western single-issue comics. I was drawn to its striking cover and detailed artwork, so I brought it home. That had to have been nearly two years ago, as I had put it into a comic box and promptly forgotten it. I dug it out recently while I was doing some organizing, and I resolved to finally read it.

And honestly, I was stunned. This little volume is so extraordinarily different from any manga that is being licensed and published today. It wouldn’t be seen as marketable, probably, but I’m so glad that VIZ took a chance on it back in 1991, because it was a pleasure to read. The book is split into two stories that follow a mysterious minstrel who must first take his revenge on a monster who wronged him and his family, and then must take up a legendary sword to fulfill his destiny. That one sentence seems like straightforward fantasy, and in many ways that’s what Shion is; as an essay at the back of the volume explains, it is a classic hero arc seen in many fairy tales and epics. But it’s so gorgeously textured in its artwork, and for me it invoked the same feelings as Vampire Hunter D and classic Jim Henson works, especially The Dark Crystal. It’s creative and beautiful, and I’d love to see what Kinutani did after this work. Worth hunting down if you are able!

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My Solo Exchange Diary
, Volume 2, by Nagata Kabi — published by Seven Seas Entertainment

In many ways, there’s not much I can say that I haven’t said before, in various spaces, about Nagata Kabi’s autobiographical work. Of the three volumes she has out from Seven Seas right now, I think this one was my favorite, even though much of it was spent talking about her time in the hospital. I appreciate, more than ever, her honesty, especially as she realizes how her mental state had prevented her from understanding how much her family actually loves her and wants what’s best for her. She continues to struggle throughout the volume, but it is evident that she’s repairing her relationships and learning, slowly, how to better communicate her pain so that she’s not suffering alone. I know that many people have been critical of her constant self-destruction, but to that end I just have to say…it is evident those people have never struggled with serious mental illness, or really known anyone who has. What Kabi is going through is not logical, it is not easily navigated, and her honesty and willingness to expose herself like she this has surely had a positive effect on others who have felt similarly isolated, self-destructive, and hurt. I continue to send her only the kindest, gentlest, most positive thoughts as she works on overcoming her pain. It’s a hard road, and she’s been working at it for a long, long time. I hope she’s able to find some peace soon.

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All My Darling Daughters
, by Fumi Yoshinaga — published by VIZ Media

Fumi Yoshinaga is one of those creators whose work I always know I’ll enjoy, but who also manages to completely exceed my expectations every single time. So was the case with All My Darling Daughters, a standalone volume that explores various relationships between people in a friend group, with special emphasis on the one between Yukiko and her mother, Mari, who has married a much younger man. Yoshinaga has such a sensitive touch with her characters that I find myself sympathizing even with those who in a different author’s hands, I would absolutely hate. It is an incredible skill to express the nuances of humanity, and Yoshinaga is extraordinarily good at it. I felt especially drawn to the last story in the collection, which dives into Mari’s antagonistic relationship with her own mother (Yukiko’s grandmother). Mari hates her mother for having been unnecessarily cruel about her appearance while she was growing up, not realizing that her mother was trying, in her own imperfect way, to protect her daughter from becoming reliant on her good looks. I was so strongly reminded of the dynamics between the women in my own family, the dynamics between my mother and my grandmother, and the increased awareness I have lately of how heavy motherhood can be. “A mother is an imperfect woman,” Yukiko realizes, and it is a perfect underscore to a book full of imperfect people who are just trying to do the right thing.

Looking back, it seems I’ve read a lot of very different books this month, but there are certain themes that run throughout. A lot of introspection, explorations of mental health (both real and fictional), and a little bit of violence and some adventure to balance things out. I like the micro-review format because I can fit several recommendations into a post at once, and I am not liable to give too much away. I hope this proves useful, and I look forward to following up again next month with some more excellent reads!

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.

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