TCAF Recap!

This past week has been an absolute whirlwind. Last Wednesday, I got on a plane to Toronto to start my volunteering adventure with the Toronto Comics Art Festival. I always love seeing the behind the scenes stuff at events, love learning how each team organizes their time and resources differently. And absolutely everyone on the TCAF team is absolutely lovely — so very kind and accepting and helpful.

I decided to volunteer for TCAF after leaving Comicopia, out of a desire to remain close to the comics community in a more tangible, physical way than just sitting at my desk at home and writing about manga. (I’ve also volunteered to help organize the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo this year, for the same reason.) And for me, that’s really what comics is all about: a sense of community.

There were so many incredible events going on and comics work to see, but by and large the best thing about this show was the people I met and interacted with. Some of those were people I had met before and got to know better, and some of those were people whom I have been following and admiring for years and whom I was lucky to finally meet in person. And through it all, everyone was so kind and so supportive. I received so many words of encouragement and definitive, actionable advice from people with more experience and a better understanding of what the industry needs from an authoritative voice in manga.

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And honestly — I just had a lot of fun. I got to work all the Junji Ito events, which was a really exhausting experience in many ways because everyone was SO EAGER to meet and listen to him. But that also means that got to listen to him, even got to chat with him briefly. Hearing stories about his journey as an artist and what motivates and inspires him has rekindled an interest in writing about him — so look out for that soon, hopefully! He’s one of my absolute favorite mangaka of all time, and up until now I felt that he didn’t necessarily need my help getting any kind of recognition (whereas I strive to write about women a lot because I want to boost their readership). But sometimes…I just have to write things that are meaningful to me, and I would get a lot of satisfaction out of exploring the reasons I find his work so evocative and resonant in my life.

Because I was working events, I didn’t get a ton of time to peruse the show floor, but all the work I saw was truly incredible. Artists from all over were arranged on three full floors in the Toronto Reference Library selling their comics, bonding with readers, working on commissions. Attendance was enormous, and I heard from a lot of artists that they were amazed at how much they sold. This support for the arts, and for independent artists, is so admirable. It was so gratifying to be in such a positive, upbeat space. Even though I was working hard and not sleeping as much or as well as normal, the general good mood was palpable and infectious.

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I was relieved to come home to my own bed, but also very satisfied in my decision to go to TCAF for the first time as a volunteer. It was a truly remarkable experience, and I hope that I can go back again next year — as a volunteer or otherwise — and experience the jubilant atmosphere and incredible conversations once again. I know that I’ve started relationships this past week that will last for many, many years to come. I’ve come away from this festival feeling rejuvenated, motivated, inspired, and so very, very grateful.

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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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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The First Week

My last day at Comicopia was a week ago now. I wrote a bit about it and posted it to Twitter, but now that some time has passed I guess I have some more thoughts.

Not getting up to go to work every day has been a weird adjustment. I do still wake up naturally around the same time, give or take half an hour. I may decide to continue setting an alarm for myself, just to provide a sense of structure to my day. And structuring my day has been the hardest part of this transition. I left my job without a new full-time job lined up, but I’m not “unemployed.” I have paid work that I need to get done, but not having much outside structure other than a deadline means that I need to figure out what a “work day” looks like for me now.

I’m trying not to get too angsty about the fact that I don’t have it all figured out yet. I trust that as I take on more paid writing work, I will get better about streamlining the process of getting things done in a timely manner. A day goes by far more quickly than you think when you’re not looking at the clock! Maybe that’s why a more traditional work day seems so long sometimes.

Other than writing, I’ve been doing some much-needed decluttering of my home, specifically of my work space. My desk is an old drafting table that my husband found waiting to be thrown away, and it has no drawers of its own. As such, I have two sets of plastic drawers and a bookcase around the desk that all needed to be thoroughly searched and cleared of excess nonsense — you know, anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” ;3

I did do a good chunk of writing in the library this week, which I’ve always enjoyed doing. Our branch of the BPL here is a super tiny Art Deco building whose furnishings and floors are probably all part of a 1950s or 60s remodel. It’s quiet and warm, and about a ten minute walk from my apartment, so a very ideal place to get some work done. Besides, if I’m around other people I feel more of an impetus to actually work since I don’t want anyone to catch me slacking off!

I stopped in to Comicopia on Wednesday, actually, to pick up February’s Previews catalog. It didn’t feel weird to be there, though it did feel odd to just kind of pop in and pop out again after I was done, lest I run out of time on my parking meter. It still doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything more than taking a vacation, so I wonder if the realization that I’ll never be the manager again will even sink in!

All in all, it’s been a good week, though I do regret that in my flailing attempts to arrange my schedule, I haven’t had a ton of time to do any reading that wasn’t pertinent to something I was working on. There is a different work/life balancing act that goes on when what you do for pleasure is so very linked with what you do for money. I’m curious to see how I’ll navigate that going forward. I’m learning a lot about myself and how I work, what it takes to motivate me. I think that’s a very valuable lesson, regardless of whether this writing full-time thing pans out or not.

I want to quickly thank everyone who has given me well-wishes as I start this new phase of my career, such as it is. I know a lot of people are a bit sad that I’m no longer in the shop, but as I’ve said time and time again, I have absolutely no intentions of leaving the world of comics. As I get older, I’m able to more clearly see where  my priorities are heading, and retail was no longer able to provide me the space to pursue a lot of things, including writing. It’s really, really nice to know that I will be missed, though! Y’all know how to make a lady feel special, for sure.

Anyway, I promise to start writing about manga and stuff that y’all actually care about soon. I just wanted to give a little bit of a life update since my last post so you can all see that I haven’t abandoned this space. I’m going to learn how to incorporate it into my routine somehow, and I’ve already started planning some work that I hope you will all look forward to! ❤

The Maven in 2019

Happy New Year, everyone!  A little belated, but I had some things to tie up before I was able to share this post.  I want to talk about what’s ahead for me and this little website in the coming year. But first, a little retrospective.

I started mangamaven.com in April of 2018, just after Anime Boston and my 28th birthday.  It’s not even a year old yet, but I am proud of all the work I’ve been able to put into it.  Through this site, I’ve been able to reach a larger audience than just my small social media groups.  I’ve been asked to be on a couple podcasts: Manga Machinations and Manga Mavericks. (And I had a great time of it, too; podcasting is fun!)  I’ve been able to promote my newsletter, which I also launched in 2018. It was quite the year!

A lot of things have changed and developed in my personal life, as well, and because of this I’ve had to make the very hard decision to leave Comicopia.  It’s been a really transformative three and a half years, and I will still be involved with the store, shopping there, organizing and working conventions, et cetera.  I will also still be maintaining my monthly newsletter, so no need to fret about that. I don’t have any plans to leave the comics world, I’m just going to be stepping out of retail for a while as new and exciting things start to fall into place!

And what are some of these new and exciting things?  Firstly, a lot more writing! I’d like to really focus on building my writing portfolio, and I want to keep talking about manga.  With the manga publishing industry looking more healthy and diverse than ever, and as Viz Media’s new Shonen Jump subscription service begins to grow and evolve, I foresee that I will have plenty of opportunities to do just that.  And I promise to keep everyone updated on other new and exciting developments as they arise.

It’s looking like 2019 is going to be a year of a lot of big changes for me, but I really think it will be a positive growing experience.  Thank you all for reading and coming along on this adventure with me — may we all find joy and new opportunities aplenty in 2019!

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Some Brief Thoughts On Writing

Hello, everyone! SO sorry that I haven’t written for a while. I was away visiting family last weekend, and then I became very busy with both my day job and the review work that I do on the side. As such, I haven’t had much time to read any manga! My husband and I have made our way through most of the Wotakoi anime, though, and it’s so good…definitely going to be disappointed when we finish.

I had a great time on the Manga Machinations podcast a couple weeks back. If you haven’t had a chance to check that out, I’d urge you again to find the episode at mangamachinations.tumblr.com. I’ve been on panels at conventions several times in the past, so doing a podcast was a bit similar…but it was definitely novel to be the center of attention!

Despite not updating here, I have been doing a great deal of writing, both personal and professional, and thinking a lot about how much I enjoy it. I’ve always liked writing, and my parents and teachers and peers always made a point of telling me I was good at it. But for a long time, I fretted over whether or not I was good enough. These days, I worry less about that and more about getting thoughts down onto paper (or computer screen), and I do feel that I’m able to convey what I mean to say more often than not.

I mentioned that I do paid review work; it’s uncredited, so I don’t have the ability to claim it as my own. But this kind of very structured writing, while I initially thought of it as a chore, has actually been very good for me. It allows me to separate out writing as a tool and writing as an art. I like being creative and writing creative reviews here, but it’s also important to be able to practice brevity and clarity that my personal writing might eschew for more whimsy or flair.

Basically, I love writing and I’d like to do more of it. My life being what it is right now, I don’t know how likely that is; but if I could find more paid writing work (which also gives me a byline…), I would find a way to make it work.

I’m happier when I’m writing. It took me a long time to remember that fact — that I used to write not to be good at it, but because I enjoyed it. In any practice, it’s hard to remember that we often start with joy, and then get bogged down by the need to excel. (I draw, as well, and this is a major problem for me in that arena.) There is no one person who is the best at anything. It’s hard to not compare yourself to others, but its important to only mark your progress against yourself. Doing otherwise will only result in angst…and it prevented me from writing for many years.

Anyway, soon my schedule should go more or less back to normal and I’ll be able to talk about manga again, instead of waxing poetic about my feelings. 😛

Happy Monday, and I hope you all have a great week ahead of you!