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.

The Bride Was A Boy, and Empathy Through Comics

I want to start off this post by acknowledging that this week has been a deeply ambivalent one in the comics world. The two-thirds of my Twitter feed that aren’t dedicated to anime memes and cute animals were split with coverage of recent Comicsg*te abuses and coverage of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival — namely, the worst and the best that the comics world has to offer, respectively.

I don’t want to dedicate too much time to discussion of the former issue for various reasons, but not least of all because in light of efforts to push certain people out of comics, I find my desire to uplift the voices of those people becomes stronger. And so, I’m going to have a go at my first official review here, of The Bride Was A Boy, by a woman who goes simply by the name of “Chii.”

When Seven Seas Entertainment published My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, they struck gold; I’ve discussed before in various venues the great pull of that book, among manga readers and non-manga readers alike. There was a great need for this — an autobiographical manga about queerness and depression that allowed readers to either relate, or to empathize and find common ground. It was very smart, then, for Seven Seas to pick up The Bride Was A Boy, because I feel that autobiographical trans narratives are even more necessary in many ways.

Though the manga is billed as being about preparation for Chii’s wedding, in reality it is the discussion of Chii’s journey through womanhood, from her discovery of being trans to her decision to go through with sex reassignment surgery and becoming legally “female.” Throughout this journey, she has a great deal of support from her family and her soon-to-be-husband (whom she alternately refers to as “Boyfriend-kun” and “Husband-kun”). Between chapters, Chii takes the time to break down some terms and laws that people outside of the LGBT+ community might not be familiar with. They are simple explanations, but they are a good basic primer for anyone who is just starting their journey into trans issues.

I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d like this manga — not because of the subject matter, but because of its presentation. It’s laid out in 4-koma style, which doesn’t typically appeal to me, and the artwork is simple, adorable chibi-style characters. It hardly seems like it has the same underground, confessional feeling of MLEWL. Though I was excited that a trans story was being published, I worried that it was Seven Seas scrambling to ride the high of MLEWL‘s success without regard for the subject matter itself. I found, however, that I truly loved it.

There has allegedly been some criticism that The Bride Was A Boy is too positive; again, Chii is very lucky to have a very supportive and loving family and partner, which may seem like a distant reality to many trans folks. But I think that a positive, autobiographical trans narrative is very important. It is not the job of trans people to constantly struggle for the benefit (and entertainment) of others. Presenting trans womanhood in this way offers it very simply as just another kind of lived reality. It is my fondest wish that cisgender people will pick up this book and maybe come to learn new things about trans people, or come to understand the feelings of trans people better. And I also hope that readers then continue to demand more trans stories, both fictional and non-fictional, that are earnest, entertaining, and which ultimately help to cultivate a culture of empathy. (For this reason, I’m particularly fond of the intermittent breakdowns of terminology and law, and want to acknowledge Beni Axia Conrad for the extra work they must have done to translate these pieces to reflect both Japanese society and relate them to what English-speaking readers might expect in their own societies.)

I’m idealistic, I know. The comics community has more excellent content from queer creators, creators of color, and women creators than ever before, yet we’re seeing an incredible amount of backlash from the unhappy few who continue to do harm, verbally or otherwise, to those already marginalized. I spent much of this week feeling helpless in light of that reality. But reading The Bride Was A Boy reminded me that it has always been my philosophy to use my relative privilege, and my position as someone who reads and recommends comics professionally, to keep people engaged with good work from deserving creators. There will always be people who stand obstinately in the path of progress and understanding, who want their position on the top of the heap to remain unchallenged. But the fact remains that, for many, comics have always been about challenging the status quo, about saying things that the privileged don’t want to hear. It is my hope that comics continue to shake things up and push that status quo even further into oblivion.

With all that said, I happily recommend The Bride Was A Boy to people of all genders as a warm, joyous, informative story about one woman’s journey to manifesting her best life. I would like to see it getting just as much lip service as My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness. May these manga pave the way for the translation of more excellent queer stories!