Regarding “Open Source Literature”

Kristina Stipetic, author/artist of the webcomic 14 Nights, engaged me in a conversation on tumblr about the effects of author accessibility and fan interaction in webcomics.  This was her message:

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the internet and social media have changed the way writers and readers interact with each other.  (…) What I want to ask you is, has being so close to your audience changed the way you tell the story? Do you think the story would be different if you went with the traditional publishing route of finding an agent, an editor, and a publishing house? And since you also have a fan perspective that I lack, how does creating fanart influence the way you feel about the original content?

My response got a little too big for tumblr, so I decided to move it here.

Regarding Storytelling

wordpressoso1For some webcomic creators, being close to the audience directly effects their stories.  Consider Drowtales interactives and the early MSPaint Adventures, where the audience actually voted or suggested where the story would go next, and it would go there — the content was directly audience driven.  This sort of interaction would not be possible (certainly not in a timely way) with traditional print comics.

But I think unless audience-driven plots are your exact intention, one shouldn’t let audience interaction interfere with your storytelling.  That can be hard when you get lots of immediate feedback, including people misinterpreting, not understanding, or not liking your writing.  It can lead to an author wondering if she should be dumbing down her content or explaining or clarifying things. E.K.Weaver has been seen struggling through this recently- how do you separate legitimate storytelling criticism from lazy reading or incidental misinterpretation due to language or background?  This is something you wouldn’t have to struggle with in print/industry comics, because you wouldn’t have a choice.  Mass feedback would come after the fact, and after you could do anything about it.  If you determined any of those criticisms to be legitimate and helpful, the only thing you could do is apply it to your next story.

That’s how I conduct my story.  Does fan interaction change the way I tell a story?  No.  My story is the same whether I get fan art and instant feedback or not.  My writing is critiqued by my editors who see the story before it’s published, and they’re the ones who highly influence how I change my story. My readers follow my story because they trust in the story I want to tell, not the one they would have told.

Though, to be fair,  I can’t avoid internally gauging the success of my storytelling based on audience reactions.  Whether I intend to steer the story based on audience reaction or not, I’m surrounded by it and engaged with it, so it of course has some sort of influence.  Just often not one I can quantify.  (I have consciously made more side art of secondary characters based on their surprisingly emphatic reception, though.)

I’m highly invested in webcomics as a medium because of that insane level of accessibility, especially to young people, because they’re free and they’re on the internet, where more and more people spend more and more of their time.  I get to see people connecting with my stories and characters, and becoming invested in the mission and values that my comic represents.  I establish relationships with some of them.  I can inspire them and they can inspire me.  So they effect my confidence and motivation, too.  I’m humbled (and really really giddy) every time someone draws a picture of my characters.

But I don’t know that it’s fair to compare webcomics to the traditional industry comic track, because you could still interact with and be accessible by fans no matter how your comic is distributed.  A webcomic like yours or mine does not have the same reach or profit an industry comic has; in terms of print, we are more like indie zines or comix. Compare Homestuck to a comic like Batgirl if you want- both Andrew Hussie and Gail Simone communicate on twitter, but you can’t expect a response from them directly like a fan would from you or I.  It’s the level of success/size of brand that severs accessibility, not whether it’s print or web published.

Regarding Fanworks

wordpressoso2I wouldn’t say making fanart influences the way I feel about a series.  It’s more that if a series really touches me and has room for engagement, I will make fanart for it.

Fanworks often fill in the needs or desires of fans that aren’t congruent with what the original content delivered.  Romance that was never consummated,  sex that never happened, alternative endings and universes that might have provided less anguish, for example.  It doesn’t mean it was missing something or needs a better conclusion (ie; it doesn’t mean it was bad so it needs to be fixed with fanwork,) just that there are spaces that people want to fill with the content they desire.  That’s how I engaged in fanworks too.

It certainly is exciting to know that the creator of the content you’re making fanwork for can see what you make- makes you feel like part of the family, part of the process.  Naoko Takeuchi will never see my Sailor Moon fanart, but E.K.Weaver sees my TJ and Amal fanart — and often reacts!  Young Adult author John Green has been known to contact fanartists and actually put their work in his webstore for shared profit.  Andrew Hussie hires fanartists to do illustrations for his Homestuck merchandise regularly.  So the connectivity of the internet is changing the author/audience relationship in a lot of ways that we are just starting to explore — for collaboration, for community, and for profit.

Image 01: Commissioned art by Mickey (author of Best Friends Forever) of my characters.

Image 02: Fanart by me of Mickey’s characters from Best Friends Forever.

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Gay Webcomic Reviews Master Post

Hi!  Are you looking for a comprehensive set of reviews of gay/queer/yaoi webcomics?  I’ve restructured my reviews  by type, so please check them out!  Last Updated 2/20/13*

  • Gay/Queer Webcomics
    • includes: The Young Protectors*,  Prince of Cats*, Ignition Zero , 14 Nights, Artifice, The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, Tripping Over You, Always Raining Here, Mahou Shounen Fight!, Doki Doki Checkmate!, The Element of Surprise, Honeydew Syndrome
  • Slashable/Ambiguously Gay Webcomics
    • includes: Indigents*, 5th and Main*, Best Friends Forever, This is Not Fiction!, Demon of the Underground,  Fishbones,  Hannah is Not a Boy’s Name
  • Yaoi/BL/PWP Webcomics
    • includes: SpaceJinx, That Which Wills, Ship Jumper, Ten, Teahouse, Starfighter

On deck for review:
Sfeer Theory, Starseed, Ross Boston, Knights Errant, Lex Daemonica, Two Keys, PostScript, Young Protectors, Khaos Komix, Laws of the Game, Paradox, Devoto, Fruitloop and Mr.Downbeat, Transfusions, Cans of Beans, Purpurea Noxa, Weaponry, Longitudes and Latitudes, Demented. (Suggest more in comments!)

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Reviews: Gay/Queer Webcomics

Gay Webcomic Reviews; Category: Gay/Queer

These comics are thoughtful or meaningful contributions to queer webcomics, whether they tried to be or not.  Last *updated* 2/20/13.

*new!*The Young Protectors

  • status: actively updating
  • rating: 18+

Summary: A young gay man with fire superpowers is confronted by a sexy older villain- are his come-ons genuine or sinister?

Review: As we’ve seen with Artifice and other yaoi911 projects, we can expect good things from this story, along with a high and consistant level of artwork.  Despite the imprint, I’ve always felt that Yaoi911 titles were very little like yaoi and a lot more like gay-colored industry comics, which I think is fantastic because it comes with a lot less baggage.

*new!* Prince of Cats

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  • status: actively updating
  • rating: 16+

Summary: Two teenage boys try to repair their broken relationship after coming out to one another and while preparing for life after highschool.  One of the boys has the power to talk to cats, but why and how?

Review:  Yes, this is MY comic.  I wouldn’t have put it here except for the fact that I keep getting suggestions to read it!  So here it is.  I think it’s good.  You’ll probably think it’s good if you so far find my taste in webcomics to be good.

Ignition Zero 

  • Status: actively updating
  • Rating: PG

Summary: Two asexual teens, Robbie and Orson, met on the internet, like many teens do in the 2000s.  Robbie attends a university in Orson’s hometown, and discovers that the town is a hotbed of fairies and monsters and all kinds of magic and mystery that he is immediately swept up in.

Review: Painted in watercolor, IgZ is a treat for the eyes, and doubles unapologetically as an encyclopedia of sex and gender others wrapped in a modern-day fantasy story.  Totally beautiful and creative, it focuses more on the fantasy adventures than the romance, but don’t let that discourage you: Robbie and Orson are adorable, and even more adorable together.

14 Nights

  • Status: Actively updating
  • Rating: NC-17

Summary: An emotionally curt amputee and a divorcee afraid of sex fall in love.  Together, they attempt to work through the issues keeping the latter from enjoying sex.

Review: 14N can be hard to access for those used to shiny, pretty yaoi- it’s dark and heavy and is not full of beautiful people- it is full of real people.  That said, it’s a gorgeous break from the usual world of the gay webcomics and has become one of my favorites.  The art is developing and experimental, but solid.  The characters are sympathetic and amazing.

Artifice

  • Status: Complete
  • Rating: 18+

Summary:  An advanced android’s experience with a homosexual prisoner, as told from his doctor’s psych chair.

Review:  Gorgeous artwork at home with a fascinating story.  It has a million red flags of cliché, but in the end, subverts them all.  It is wholly unique, a fabulously built universe, and features an absorbing main character- even if he is artificial.

The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: 18+

Summary: Amal’s got the car and TJ’s got the gas money.  The two strangers set out across the country, and get to know one another quite well.

Review:  This pencil drawn comic is beautiful.  The characterization and writing is real and whimsical and absolutely delicious.  The story is immediately absorbing, even if not much is actually happening (but that’s clear in the title, then, isn’t it?)  A fun ride, with some fabulously sexy scenes later on. Some absolutely expertly creative pages litter throughout. One of my favorites.

Tripping Over You

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: PG-13

Summary: Boarding school adventures with the not-yet-a-couple oddcouple.

Review:  An adorable story with highly lovable characters- not just the alpha couple, but the secondary characters as well (Archie is quite adorable!)  The artwork is improving rapidly, but starts out a little shaky.  Very engaging.  The awkwardness and tension is written very well, and the alliances are very much like high school always felt.

Always Raining Here

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: Teen and Up

Summary: A very forward gay highschooler searches for sex, finds love.

Review: This is a fun and relaxed story with a fun and relaxed style of art and writing.  The main character is a refreshingly straightforward kind of guy– completely oblivious to the fact that he is performing his own personality.   You’ll fall in love with these kids and their banter instantly. Set in the mysterious land of Canada!

Mahou Shounen Fight!

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: PG

Summary: Boy acquires magic powers, transformation, and elemental mascot.  Joins a band of other elementally magic teenagers to save the earth or something…

Review:  A premise that was bound to happen sooner or later, this is the story of a magical boy.  The artwork is polished but still young, and the writing is a bit weak, but it may just be a parody of the maho shoujo standard (unfortunately, it’s hard to tell the intention.)  But a secondary character in the clan is a very sweet gay boy that you root for absolutely immediately.  I want more of him.

Doki Doki Checkmate

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: PG

Summary: A mercenary prince is sent on a mission to kill the beloved prince of another kingdom.  Unfortunately for him, the happy prince has been expecting him, and totally wants to make out.  Maybe it’s fortunately after all?

Review: No idea how this comic eluded me for so long, as it is absolutely precious.  Cute, fun art and a sweet and silly story, this is gay fun for everyone.  The characters are precious and the story, for all it’s lightness, is engaging.  Did I mention it’s incapacitatingly adorable?

The Element of Surprise

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: 18+

Summary: Working man comes to new town, rescues a reporter, falls in love.

Review:  Somewhat weak in both art and writing, this comic is entertaining none-the-less, and features Conversations of Denial With Penis, one of my favorite gags.  The world is not deeply built, but the falling-in-love part is nice and solid and satisfying.  Good for a fix.

Honeydew Syndrome

  • Status: Complete
  • Rating: Teen and up

Summary:  Boys falling in love with boys they didn’t think they’d ever fall in love with?

Review: I had a difficult time following this comic.  The art sometimes leaves you wondering which character you’re actually looking at, and the story is a little flailing. The first arc is cute but predictable (the characters almost fully formed, but not quite), and after that, it descends into time jumping and beta-couple developing that is hard to understand.  But it has quite a following, and is often recommended (so maybe it’s just not to my taste?)

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Not finding what you’re looking for?  Check the Master Post of Gay Webomic Reviews, or jump right to Slashable Webomic Reviews or Yaoi Webcomic Reviews.

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Slashable/Ambiguously Gay Wecomics

Gay Webcomic Reviews; Category: Slashable and Ambiguously Gay

These comics may not have any outright gay characters (or maybe not yet,) but it’s easy to envision the “bro-mance” escalating to “go-mance” if you’re inclined to read comics with that kind of eye.  Last *updated* 2/20/13.

*new!* Indigents

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • rating: 18+

Summary: In Indigents, apocalypse comes not from your usual zombies, slow and brain-yearning, but by people afflicted by a disease inspiring in them uncontrollable murderous rage.  Two young men find each other in the aftermath.  What will become of them, what is their story?

Review: Oh my god, look at this art.  This comic is gorgeous, dripping with raw detail, amazing color and lighting, and beautiful everything.  It’s rich and terrifying. Not much has happened beyond exposition and the meeting of our heroes, but both have been written excellently, so I expect the rest of this comic is going to be amazing!

*new!* 5th and Main

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • rating: 18+

Summary: A young bum begrudgingly befriends a transvestite prostitute.  Takes place in a destitute area of crime and drug deals.

Review: A young comic in which not a lot has happened, so I don’t know what the story is about yet, but we’ve met some colorful characters with strong personalities. The art is stunning, very slick and cool.  This story has a very gritty setting with some highly unlikable characters… a perfect setup for some beautifully raw storytelling.

Best Friends Forever

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: PG

Summary: Vincent is the poor but popular jock, Teddy the rich little nerd.  They are best friends, and the scope of their friendship is tested as they navigate the usual social strata of high school.

Review: BFF is one of my favorite webcomics, and I’m following the drama with bated breath. Excellent characterization and style; the design, color and everything is solid and gorgeous.

This is Not Fiction!

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: PG

Summary: Julian (aka. Julie, Jules) is a squat little fanboy in love with the mysterious romance novelist Sydney Morgan. He employs his best friends, straight-man Isaiah and overbearingly queer Landon to help him find out her identity and possibly marry her (or is it him?)

Review: TINF is a delightful romp with an equally delightful cast of characters.  It seems as though not much “happens” in the narrative, but the dynamic of the main trio makes it wildly interesting and funny.  Drawn in a fun, loose style that is stylistically solid and full of energy.

Demon of the Underground

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: PG-13

Summary: A sassy, mysterious brat named Pogo falls several stories and wakes up in dangerous underground territory.  How will he survive and what are his secrets?

Review: Gorgeous art, engaging story, and fascinating universe.  Pogo is a fantastic character, full of snark and sympathy, and it hard not to fall head over heels for his adventure.  Love it.  On the darker side.

 Fishbones

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: 16+ for violence

Summary: A geeky teen grows up with a best friend in a mafia family.  They become companions and allies in a world otherwise rather lonely for them.

Review:  This is not a gay comic at all, but the fabulous friendship between the boys in this story is intense and beautiful.  It is well written (it was a novel first) and very cleanly rendered.  You will be sure to love every character.  Includes some mob and bully violence.

 Hannah is Not a Boy’s Name

  • Status: Permanent Hiatus
  • Rating: 13+

Summary: Unfortunately named Hannah joins forces with an undead detective and they have adventures with a cast of incredibly colorful characters, including vampires, ghosts, and werewolves.

Review:  The design of this comic is phenomenal- each page is a work of absolutely brilliant art-and-typography design.  And the characters are rich and exciting and flawed.  This is a gem of a comic, but it unfortunately hasn’t updated in years and is likely permanently abandoned.  This comic has a huge slash fanbase, though none of the characters appear gay (though something might be said for the hipster vampire.)  Hannah and his unnamed undead partner make a great team with an immediately touching connection.

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Not finding what you’re looking for?  Check the Master Post of Gay Webomic Reviews, or jump right to Gay/Queer Webcomic Reviews or Yaoi Webcomic Reviews.

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Yaoi/BL/PWP Webcomics

Gay Webcomic Reviews; Category: Yaoi or “Plot? What Plot?”

These comics identify as yaoi, follow standard BL styles/tropes, or exist for the depiction of idealized or exploitative gay sex (but that doesn’t mean I’m calling the things on this list bad.) Some do contain what I consider to be harmful themes and they will be marked with *warnings*.

SpaceJinx

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: 18+

Summary: Benedict orders a jetbike but ends up receiving a horny android named Florian.  Sexytimes ensue, sometimes in the form of a competitive threesome.

Review: A lighthearted romp of sexy spacetimes, lots of fun and very silly and sexy.  The yaoi throwbacks (ironic [?] sparkles and flowers) are a nice touch.  The art is great and the comic is just straight-up (ha ha) fun!

  • Status: Complete
  • Rating: NC-17

Summary: A beautiful dark wizard attends a party out of obligation.  He finds something more interesting than mingling to do with his time there.

Review: A short fantasy story that is perfect, gorgeous, and sexy.  Good for a quick little thrill.

Ship Jumper

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: NC-17
  • *Warnings: Contains non-consensual sex*

Summary: Horny and capable Piper gets shipwrecked with the rival he’s been lusting after for ages.  Things get predictably sexy.

Review: The writing jumps around a little, and the art is still heavily developing, but it’s sexy and fun, and at times dark and meaningful.  Horny-drug plants aside.

Ten

  • Status: Online portion complete (continues in print)
  • Rating: PG-13

Summary: An amnesiac BAMF stumbles across a vagrant who reminds him of someone from a past he can’t remember.  Unresolved sexual tension abounds as they grow closer.

Review: Apparently not a No.6 AU doujinshi (the characters just look very similar at first glance,) Ten is a standard BL style comic with pretty characters and lots of UST.  Exciting and tense but not yet particularly original.

Teahouse

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: NC-17
  • *Warnings: Fetishizes sexual slavery*
  • *Warnings: Depicts abusive relationships*

Summary:  Follows the goings-on of a brothel, and the sex and love-drama therein.

Review:  This is a well-known yaoi-style comic.  The art is very smooth and the writing is decent- the characters have a lot of personality and gorgeous costumes.  Everything is highly explicit.

Starfighter

  • Status: Actively Updating
  • Rating: NC-17
  • *Warnings: Contains non-consensual sex*
  • *Warnings: Depicts abusive relationships*

Summary:  Follows the life of a “navigator” of a military space ship.  He is paired with a fighter, who promptly forcefully beds him.  Everyone’s motivations are suspect.

Review: Also well-known, Starfighter’s story is a little more complicated.  The universe design (spaceships, etc) are fantastic and beautiful, and the plot is heady and full of mystery.  The characters are slow to reveal their full personalities, but are fully-formed.  Lots of very sexy, rough, sex.

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Not finding what you’re looking for?  Check the Master Post of Gay Webomic Reviews, or jump right to Slashable Webomic Reviews or Gay/Queer Webcomic Reviews.

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Four BL Manga I Can Recommend in Good Conscience

It’s well known and repeatedly reinforced to fangirls that BL/yaoi does not represent actual homosexual Japanese “lifestyles.”  Characters in BL are fantasy figures created for a female reader’s escape.  But where once there was a narrow spectrum of BL to consume, there is now a broader assortment of representations, many closer to reality then others.

I’ve consumed as much manga labeled “yaoi” as the next guy, but let me tell you about four pieces of BL manga that have stood out to me, and that I would be happy to recommend to fans of the genre, and sometimes, even those outside of it.

The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese & The Carp on the Chopping Block Flops Twice (Nezu/Koi)

In this series of two manga novels by Setona Mizushiro, we follow the self-appointed victim of the world, Kyouichi, as high-school friend Imagase coerces him into a sexual relationship.  Neither Kyouichi nor Imagase are “good” people, but after ups and downs and lots of introspection, they realize they’re never going to be happy apart, so they might as well be unhappy together.  Maybe they’ll even figure out how to stop hurting one another one day and find some sort of happiness.

What it subverts:

  • Yaoi Bubble: It takes place in the real world, where both men face social consequences for being in a homosexual relationship and trying to maintain one.
  • Everyone Is Gay Here: It’s about a gay guy and a bi guy.  Not a whole cast of gay-for-each other boys/men.  It’s almost as though heterosexual people exist.
  • Sex is Beautiful and without Consequence: They use lube and condoms.
  • Seme/Uke: They switch.  They both have moments of agression and submission.  They have, you know, actual personalities and complex sexual needs.

The Nezu/Koi story is really gorgeous because it is a sad story.  It’s a story about men who hurt themselves and one another, but over time, like in real life, learn to make the best of what they’ve got and who they are.

These titles have not been published in English, though they have been published in just about every other language. To read it in English, you’ll have to turn to (readily available) scanlations.

Who should you push it on? BL lovers who don’t mind a little sadness/realism, manga fans who don’t mind gay protagonists, and lovers of gay comics looking for something a little different.

[Edit: It was pointed out that this story does include unhealthy ideas about relationships (a lot of them, including possessiveness and force as marks of affection) so please keep in mind that this is a portrait of real dysfunctions in people and in society, not how romance should be.

Antique Bakery

This four-volume manga by Fumi Yoshinaga follows middle-aged Tachibana and the men he employs at his bakery: a young ex-punk-ex-boxer, a pushy gay man from his high school years, and his dimwitted childhood best friend.  Tachibana has has a complicated and trauma-filled past, though, so his reasons for starting a bakery may be more complicated, and less spontaneous, than they seem.

What it subverts:

  • All of the above from Nezu/Koi, and:
  • What Gay Community?: Head patissier Ono is a participant in the gay “lifestyle,” part of a community of men who will never be “normal.”  He’s accepted that he will never have a “normal” Japanese man’s life, and it’s a rare to see a character who embraces it.
  • I Hit You Because I Love You: When characters are physically/psychologically abused, it’s not played for kinks: it’s treated like the assault it is, and we see that there are actual physical and psychological consequences for everyone involved.

Antique Bakery is one of my top-five favorite manga, and one I repeatedly recommend to non-manga readers.  I push it on everyone.  It is a beautiful portrait of four very different adult men fighting their own very different demons.  They form a sort of family, and the ending is bittersweet – there is nothing you can do to just “fix” your psychological demons overnight.  The process is long, and the best you can do is have people who love you to help you through it.

This title IS available printed in English (DMP), and you should invest in it.

Who should you push it on? Any comic fan you know, whether versed in manga or not.

Like the Beast (aka Hontou Yajuu)

In this ongoing multi-volume series by Yamamoto Kotetsuko, a young yakuza named Aki falls in love with Tomoharu, a community-station cop.  Tomoharu falls in love back, despite the “taboo” nature of the situation.  Hijinks and sex occur.  Nothing too heavy or complicated happens … they just love one another a lot.

What it subverts:

  • Everyone Is Gay Here: Just these two guys. When Distressed Little Brother showed up, I was worried his big problem was going to be that he was gay too, but no.  He had a girlfriend and was just feeling pressured by schoolwork and overbearing parents.
  • Rape is Sexy: This title is rape-free.  No one finds the need to rape anyone else in order to prove their love or have their way.
  • Wibbling Uke: The “bottom” is spunky, demanding, and confident.  He doesn’t allow himself to be abused or subdued.

Like the Beast is actually just a standard, lighthearted BL title.  There no consequences for our protagonists, there is no gay lifestyle, just two guys who fall in love with no external problems to stop them.  What I love, though, is that it doesn’t stoop to the fetishization of rape, nor is there ever the “saw you remotely near another guy you must be cheating on me and I won’t let you explain” trope.  There are plenty of tropes, and silly reasons for tension abound, but it manages to avoid the really tired and offensive ones! Fun and guilt free boys love.

Who should you push it on? Yaoi fans only, probably.  The appeal will likely be lost on anyone else. (Not published in English.)

Kizuna ~Bonds of Love~

This eleven volume series by Kodaka Kazuma is a staple of the BL genre.  Kei and Ran are a happy gay couple, but with a complicated past: Ran was a rising kendo champion before a car accident paralyzed half his body.  Kei was there to help him through it, but the reality remained that, as an estranged son of a Yakuza boss, his proximity to Ran would always put him in danger – that car was meant to kill Kei.  Still, Kei and Ran manage to make a happy life for themselves and the people they love.

What it subverts:

  • Wibbling Uke: Ran, though always the “bottom,” kicks as much ass, if not more, than his “top.”  He is feisty, confident, and communicative.
  • Invisible Happy Ending: Ran and Kei eventually face coming out to their parents and grandparents, with mixed but generally positive results.  They make a home and future together in a realistic way.
  • Transsexuals Aren’t Real People: Though it is in probably the weakest chapter of the entire story, Ran befriends a “New Half” who talks about her life as a mistress in a legitimate way.  It would be a lie to say she’s not played for any laughs, but to see a futanari character that is not simply a sex object is pretty amazing.

What is doesn’t subvert:

  • Rape is Sexy: Unfortunately, the first volumes feature forced sex and “I Show My Love By Raping You.”  A terrible dark mark on an otherwise lovely series. The main duo never rape one another, though, if that counts for anything (and it doesn’t, as far as I’m concerned.)
  • Everyone is Gay Here: Standard Alpha-couple, Beta-Couple (and oh god, what do you call the third couple?) yaoi story. For some reason, EVERYONE is gay.
  • Imaginary Conflict: Ugh, the internal conflicts are so stupid. “This woman called you, you must be cheating on me!” Give it a rest and use your words, boys.

I’m on the fence with Kizuna, to be honest.  There’s a lot about it that I find embarrassing and irresponsible and just bad, but for all that’s bad about it, there’s as much good.  Characterization, artwork, and a complex story make it stand out among the yaoi of its era (see Haru wo Daiteta, Okane ga Nai, etc) with absolutely no redeeming qualities or attempts at meaningful characterization.  It’s just that Kizuna at least felt like someone was trying.

Who should you push it on? Yaoi fans who you think might light this kind of thing.  Be careful.  This series was recently re-released in omnibus format under the June Manga imprint.

How sad is it that I can count the BL labeled manga I’d recommend to others on one hand?  BL, as a genre, has to have artists to fulfill certain expectations to expect to be printed – perpetuating dangerous standards and allowing little room for new ideas.  I’m happy to be part of a webcomics community that includes a whole wave of people who have grown up consuming this material, and are using their awareness of its faults to make better and more subversive work.

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[GSWR 2] More Gay (ish) Webcomics

Looking for Gay/Queer/Slashable/BL/Yaoi Webcomic Reviews?

Check my Master Post of Gay Webcomic Reviews!

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On Commenting [Prince of Cats]

I have been writing a webcomic, Prince of Cats, for about five months.  I’m using fictional characters and fantasy elements as a vehicle to share the story of a queer community in the early 2000s.  I’m lucky (and incredibly humbled) to have really engaged readers.  Fandom culture is important to me, and there are some things I want to talk about in relation to my comic.

I love to wake up to all the exciting interactions every day, and I love knowing that my story is inspiring strong emotions and empathetic feelings.  That said, I want to reinforce a few things about the theme and mission of this comic, to ensure that all spaces on my website, including the comments section, are in line with this mission.

Lee and Frank’s story takes place knee deep in a queer youth culture kept ashamed and silenced. Here, the invisibility of sexual minorities is enforced by casual hateful language and micro-aggressions by peers. These are words that enforce the “worthlessness” of people acting outside of the gender binary, specifically, by degrading the feminine.

As a result, people are afraid to be openly gay, act outside of their expected gender presentations, or to be different because they are surrounded by people enforcing the idea that these things are wrong.  Casual use of the word “fag,” “sissy,” “gay,” “dyke,” “frigid,” “prude,” “tubby,” and “bitch,” among a whole host of other words and phrases, keep the teenage queer community “in line,” ensuring that they will always know that they are not welcome as they are.

It’s important that all spaces on my comic’s website are free of any kind of shaming or gendered slurs, so it feels wrong to let that kind of language go unaddressed and it is completely contrary to the intention of the story.

My engagement in fandom has come – it’s no secret – from slash and yaoi fandom.  The tropes of these genres are often problematic. Sometimes the fan culture fosters issues like the fetishization of homosexuality or the villainizing of women.  I’ve talked about it before in relation to the No.6 fandom, a narrative in which the female character could have been hailed as a selfless hero for giving her life to save the protagonists, but instead was seen simply as an obstacle in the way of the relationship between the two males.

My story is not “a yaoi,” (a point I address on the comic’s about page) but I don’t mention that to dismiss yaoi media or delegitimize it.  I say so because this is not a story centered around boys hooking up, and it’s problematic to treat it as such.  It is about a culture of queerness and the problems that queer kids face.  Lee, Frank, Adi, Owen, and Sam all battle prejudice in the span of this story.  I’d hate to see any one of them demonized for being “in the way” of the poster couple.

I hope that as a community we can honor what we’ve learned about language in the past ten years and be considerate of the words we use when commenting.  The characters may be fictional, but your fellow readers are not.

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Transsexual Identities in Manga

Despite a wide spectrum of sex and gender representations in Japanese manga, serious approaches to the transsexual identity and struggle are extremely rare — so much that I can count the examples I can think of on one hand.  Transsexual characters are technically bountiful, but only in very specific categories of fantasy.  I’ll explain why these categories of characters don’t constitue a legitimate examination of a transsexual identity (ie, an experience that transsexuals can identify with or relate to), and then review that handful of titles that do.

For conciseness, I’ve reviewed only manga and not animé, and I have not included any  underground, alternative, or non-published manga, as it falls outside of my realm of experience (see end notes/calls for contribution.)

Categories of Fantasy Transsexual Narratives

The Unwilling Supernatural Sex Change

One of the most common transsexual themes in manga involves a character who has unwillingly had their sex changed through magical means.  This is either used as a plot driver, a comedic element, or both.  Ranma 1/2 is probably the pinnacle of this theme, where the titular Ranma changes from boy to girl when splashed with water.  These kinds of characters clearly identify with their birth sex, and will feminize or masculinize themselves grudgingly in order to survive long enough to reverse the process.  These characters never identify as transsexuals (though you could argue they are in the sense that their new sex does not match the identity of their original sex, I suppose,) and so do not represent a person who is experiencing the process of transition or trans identity.  Other examples include Futaba-Kun Change! and Cheeky Angel.

The Girl-Prince

Another prolific theme is the girl who dresses and lives as a boy– with the very clear caveat that they never abandon their “true” identity as a female.  This is not necessarily negative, though.  Most recognizable from this group is Utena (Shoujo Kakumei Utena), the girl who dresses and “acts” like a boy to emulate her ideal of the Prince.  However, Utena never identifies as a male.  She doesn’t reject her femininity, but rather embraces the performance of the opposite gender without abandoning her sex.  Lady Oscar from Rose of Versailles is the predecessor of Utena in theme and style, living life in a man’s role but never as a man.  And Princess Sapphire (Ribon no Kishi) comes before even all of them.  This theme avoids addressing a transsexual identity because “it’s okay, they’re really female after all.”  They are interesting portraits of transvestitism, (and maybe transgenderism,) but never transsexuality.

The Okama, New Half, or “Trap”

Another widespread theme, and by far the most troublesome, is this: “A man pretending to be a woman.”  This is the best umbrella I could come up with for all of these discouraging depictions– the okama (a man dressing up as a woman for entertainment or hobby, often a comedic character), the new half (or futanari, a person with male genetalia, with or without  breasts who dresses like a female, and exists almost always a sexual object) and the “Trap” (just typing the term fills me with rage, this is a man who passes as a woman, and will either [a.] be depicted as sneaky and trying to “fool” men into bedding them or [b.] legitimately trying to be female but being met with scorn and derision when “caught.”)

The curious thing about this theme is, however, that these are actual Japanese identities, and that they are illegitimized as badly in real life as they are in manga.  While there are Okama and New Half bars, which employ those people as hosts, they are not respected– they are relegated to entertainment or sexual service, and, many times, both.  (A significantly more legitimate discourse on these identities, and the identity of gay men in Japan, can and should be read in Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan by Mark J McLelland.) Okama are visible in many anime, including Ouran High School Host Club and One Piece.  New Half are sprinkled intermittently too ( Kizuna, any “futanari porn”) as well as the *shudder* Traps (Gankutsuo, Princess Princess, Fushigi Yuugi, the list is endless.)  But since these characters are understood as “faking” it (whether their desire to pass as female is genuine or not) they are not granted a transsexual identity, and exist instead as entertainers, stereotypes,  and threats.

To be clear, I don’t mean to sound like I’m saying the okama, etc, are not legitimate transsexual identities (they are, in real life!), but they are not depicted as legitimate transsexual identites in manga (with the exception of the listings below!)

Legitimate Transsexual Identities

Below, I’ve compiled a few review of series that deal with the transsexual identity in a realistic way.  They don’t involve magic, they are respectful, and are often brutal in their honesty.  Like many transgendered stories, they often lean melancholy,  but above all, they are stories that transsexuals can identify with.

I.S. (IS: Otoko demo Onna demo nai Sei) by Chiyo Rokuhana

I.S. is about intersexed individuals.  (Intersexuality is the condition of being born neither male or female, per partial or abundant genetalia/hormones.) It seems to be an education piece more than an entertainment piece, meant to show different kinds of stories (intersexed kids, adults, parents with intersexed children, as well as those who chose to “pick” a sex, and those who embrace their otherness.)  The art is not particularly good, but not quite so intolerable that it cannot be read.  This title is unfortunately not available in English.

Horou Musuko (Wandering Son) by Takako Shimura

Wandering Son is a hit comic (recently rendered as an animé) that follows the story of a school-age transsexual boy and girl.  It is a daily life narrative merged with the anguish of growing up a transsexual child.  Shimura is known for exploring topics of sexuality (usually lesbianism) and this story treads new ground, depicting the legitimacy and sadness of transsexual youth.  A particularly beautiful angle of the story is that the two youths befriend an adult transsexual woman who lives a happy life with her boyfriend, painting a happy picture of something that could be.  The art is solid, though those used to action comics may find the slow, shoujo-style narrative tedious.  It is heart-wrenching, and the story is ongoing, so we wait with baited breath to see if happy endings are in store. This manga is being printed in English by Fantagraphic Books.

Hōkago Hokenshitsu (After School Nightmare) by Setona Mizushiro

After School Nightmare is often cited in the very short lists of manga with transsexual characters, but the content is and isn’t about transsexuality.  It is a masterful work about an intersexed student named Mashiro, who is “male on top” and “female on the bottom.”  In the story, Mashiro must take a mysterious “dream class” to graduate — and in the dream class, students look not like themselves, but like their “true” spirits.  Mashiro is horrified to find that he is female in his dreams, and even more horrified when the other students see him as such.  Someone who has experienced transphobic agressions may find this a very difficult read.  While Mashiro’s girlfriend accepts him as male, his rival, Sou, constantly badgers him to “quit pretending to be a boy,” sometimes to levels of physical assault.  I almost quit reading halfway through, for all that.  But it is worth reading to the end.  The story is actually a fantasy about something much greater, something complex and profound, that puts it high in the realm of quality manga.  And as with all of Mizushiro’s work, the art is solid.  After School Nightmare is out of print, but available in English second hand (amazon, ebay), released by Go! Comi.

Genshiken Nidaime by Shimoku Kio

Genshiken is the story of a group of college otaku (anime fanatic) and their college otaku club.  It is a comedy and a real story of  social others.  In the second installment of the manga, Genshiken Nidaime, we meet Hato-san, a girl who is later discovered to “really be” a boy.  As the series is ongoing, it is still unclear what Hato’s “true” gender identity is (transsexual, transvestite, other, ) but this is a plus, because in truth, Hato hirself isn’t sure what hir true identity is.  Hato is learning and exploring hir gender otherness as we watch, and the struggle is particularly interesting because hir sexual identity is mixed in with hir social identity of “fujoshi/fudanshi” (a “rotten” person, referring to someone engrossed in slash literature,) and hir sexuality (gay, straight, or other?) Hato is so many “others,” it’s distressing.  So far, Hato’s story has been treated with interesting realism and tact, though there are characters, as always, that repeatedly try to “convince him” to just live as his assigned birth sex.  Genshiken Nidaime is not available in English, though it’s predecessor, Genshiken, is.  And the art is excellent. (Edit: Kodansha has licenced Nidaime, and we can hopefully look forward to an English translation from them.)

Double House by Haruno Nanae –

Double House explores the identity of an okama as a legitimate transsexual.  Maho may have to work as an entertainer, but her portrait is that of a woman fighting a constant stream of micro-agressions and assertions of her illegitimacy.  In this very short, three-chapter story, she finds herself with an unexpected companion named Fujiko.  Fujiko is a young woman rebelling against her status, expectations, and gender, and falling in love with Maho as the woman she is, and not the object she is expected to be.  Their relationship is beautiful, and in the final story, we see a portrait of another okama, one who struggles with the additional burdens of sizeism and an unfulfillable desire to have children.  The art is dated, but it holds up well, subtleties in the simplified style easily portray the spectrum of sexes.  This title is, very unfortunately, not available in English.

(Technically Legitimate but Unreccomendable: Sazanami Cherry by Kamiyoshi:  It is about a transsexual girl, but as a manga it is just so poor, I can’t possibly suggest anyone read it.  Those immune to manga/moe tropes may find it cute, but I found it extraordinarily grating.)

Other works of mention that need perspectives:

Day of Revolution by Mikiyo Tsuda:  If you’ve read this title and can give a perspective on the transsexual themes, please let me know!  I have not read this manga. (Edit:  Please see Erica’s Okazu review of Day of Revolution.)

Moyashimon by Masayuki Ishikawa: I’ve been told that later in the manga, the protagonist’s best friend leaves and returns as a female.  I’m not clear whether she is a transvestite or transsexual, though I find bothersome the fact that she presents only as a gothic lolita.  If you have read this manga to the point where Kei returns as a female, and can give a perspective on the transsexual themes, please let me know!

Kashimashi! Girl Meets Girl by Satoru Akahori/Yukimaru Katsura:  This one initially falls into the category of “Unwilling Magical Transsexuality,” but since I did not finish reading it, I’m not sure to what extent the protagonist embraces a transsexual identity and/or whether she experiences difficulties because of it.  If anyone can weigh in on it, please do. (Edit: Commenters have suggested this may not qualify as a queer book, but again Erica from Okazu has comprehensively reviewed it.)

Also, as mentioned above, if anyone can provide perspectives on any underground, alternative, or non-published manga that deals with transsexual themes, please contact me or point us in the direction of resources about them.

As a final disclaimer, I’ve compiled this entry because I found a lack of any kind of comprehensive English-language review of transsexual identities in manga.  I am no scholar in the field, but I am a transgendered manga-lover who seeks to be as informed as possible about gender representations in Japanese comics.  I am aware that whole concept of a sexual identity is very different (and in fact very new, and very imported) in Japan than it is in the United States, and I seek to be considerate of that in my writing.

Please share any and all thoughts and recommendations.

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[GSWR 1] Eleven Gay Webcomics Worth a Look

Looking for Gay/Queer/Slashable/BL/Yaoi Webcomic Reviews?

Check my Master Post of Gay Webcomic Reviews!

 

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