Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Babbling: Total Manga Confusion

Manga, Yaoi, Wha?

I like Superhero comics. And I like certain themed and independent comics. Teenagers From Mars remains a favourite book. My experience with Manga is limited. Generally it's seemed like one half of a series, the best part of which for me has been the anime. And yes, I'm aware that the Manga and the Anime while being in the same universe, with the same character histories, with the same names, aren't likely to follow the same plots or sometimes even have the same tone. But that's one of the mysteries (things I haven't or will never get ) I've just come to accept.

But I've been struggling understand something for about a week now and trying to write down my thoughts about it. It starts with porn. I find porn boring and uncomfortable and yet YAOI makes great porn. Yaoi makes not boring, not discomforting porn. Comics and sex = yay! And no, I won't be going into the why of that on this journal. It's just enough to say it works for me.

Yaoi is more than porn, though. And it doesn't seem to be an easy thing to skim or dabble into. It doesn't feel like enough for me to know that it's a Japanese word and what that word means and what that wordrepresents as to the sensibility behind the art. There are politics going on. Women's politics, identification politics, worries about the extreme right and possible censorship; the list goes on. Not only that but there seems to be this crack in the world of publishing where a fiscally sound niche is being formed. Yaoi, Manga, OEL and more, there's some kind of revolution going on and through it all I need to be schooled. The questions is where do I go? Where do I start?

One part of the debate seems to be about Yaoi specifically and it being things written by women for women. But that's not supposed to make me think of Slash, even though it does. There seems to be a lot ofvehement definition and differentiation against Slash. The best I've read so far declared that that true 'Slash' readers of Manga would be Aimai or those who like the hints. Not those whoactually like to see it out there, clearly written and drawn.

And Slash also tends to lead to fandoms(usually Media) and fanfic and fan action. Which is a different community than people who read and write comics with a Japanese art style. And then Yaoi breaks into Boys' Love, which is different from Bara even though the protagonists are both male and both going to end up in bed. And all of that is different from Dōjinshi which is the equivalent of fanfiction and doesn't seem to apply to original made works?

And then like any drawn work, there are artists to discover and writers. But there's also apparently direction styles within the art, in terms of presentation and that's new and confusing.

But while I'm muddling through that, there's a whole other set of confusion concerning young fangirls and over-sauration and too much exposure and 'Won't someone think of the children!' - which seems to point out the possibility of shifts away from interacting with art that can get you of and labeling it straight up porn; that is art (something erotic) created just to get you off. Or at least that's my clumsy self definition.

Because while Shōnen means made for boys, Shōnen-ai is gay romance made for women by women? And even if it's not explicit, that Manga is mingled in with Yaoi in certain chain bookstores? Which boggles me, maybe because I just don't know the titles, because I haven't seen much of anything looking like Yaoi in my local Barnes & Noble which has a huge section. And somehow my library system has managed to tell the difference, because it has a huge manga selection and I don't see anything like Shōnen-ai or Yaoi there either. Is Fruit Basket porny and gender challenging and hot and I just don't know?

And how is that in Japan these books are written by women for women, when the bunch of people I see borrowing manga or reading manga at the bookstores (the places that are supposed to have yaoi) are boys. I realize there are many different type of manga, just like there are many different type of American / English First / Non Superhero + Superhero Traditional comics. And that Yaoi is writtenspecifically for women. But with all the concern I see buzzing around, are these young boys, gay boys? Is Yaoi comfort for young closeted teens? Are people afraid that no matter the title those young boys will be perceived as gay? What's going on? Is there any where to get information where it's not already assumed a person knows what's going on? I can look up the names of things, Mecha, Mahō Shōjo, but that doesn't tell me anything.

And it's not even enough to keep up with the various blogs and bloggers who keep talking about how Manga is perceived as a girl thing. And that some female bloggers get pissed off when people see them buying comics and just seem to expect them to like Manga and know titles and know what's going on.

I've seen boys browsing, borrowing and buying, but I've seen girls too. They get very excited and want to grab up at least three or four volumes and chitter about whether or not the bookstore really has a broad selection. They like to look at their parents like their parents are so old and just don't get anything and no they don't want any other type of book kbaithnx. There's only been one occasion I've noticed a boy reading in the aisle and not get up and suddenly disappear when I showed up browsing the graphic novel section (and why isn't it labeled Manga and given it's own section? Or if they'll all be lumped - Sequential Art?) and that was a group of brothers and sisters and I think their best friends where the girls were trying to get the boys into Manga and at least one of the boys kept complaining that he doesn't want to read about two boys kissing all the time. I realize now I'd have been wrong and ignorant if I'd intruded and said I doubted they'd sell those type of books in Barnes & Noble. And besides, by staying quiet I got to watch one boy surprise another by actually knowing one series and agreeing with a girl that it was really good and the fight sequences were awesome. It was a bit of a shock to me to see his friend go "Dude? You like guys?!" And for the other to go. "Shut up! It's a good book." And them to just go on their way. I still don't quite know what I saw; tolerance, acceptance, plain friendship, broadening comic horizons?

Between stuff like that and the back and forth blogging responses, I feel old and out of tune. What am I missing? Was there a revolution? Where are these readers coming from? Who is this audience? And I'm not talking about the romance loving 13-17 yr olds because if it wasn't romance comics it'd be young adult romance novels. But how did this thing get so big? How come there are English Language Manga Writers for English First Releases? How does that happen? How come Harlequin has two Manga lines? What exactly are they publishing? What's the difference between what they put out and what young girls are reading? Why is there alarm at what the young girls are reading? Why the concern?? Where is the concern? Where is it coming from? I know I'm not the only one surprised and curious, so why is asking questions suddenly a bad thing? And doesn't every fannish community have it's indiscreet and idiotic, so why the fear of 'They're spoiling it all'?

Can anyone direct me to Manga 101?

Monday, November 6, 2006

The ComicBook Store

It's this place of mystery. I hear so much talk about it being a boy's club. My own personal experience was that it was some sort of male Shangri-La that girls didn't even know about. I certainly didn't. I was lost without a place to go and find my comic heroes when I moved to America. I kept looking at Bookstores and Bookstores kept failing me.

Now, however, there's 'Online'. But...

If there's somewhere that has it cheaper - should I still buy / support a 'comic book store'? Online or not? Granted, I'm on disability and I don't have disposable income. That stuff that's not for food, shelter and clothing is severely limited. Heck, my mother still buys me clothing (and all things I dislike). That's just my situation right now.

And yet I find myself wondering if just going for the best deal for me, even if it only saves me a dollar, is somehow me missing some aspect of community.

Most of the people I've spoken to online go somewhere local. So then it seems more like community and keeping the money flowing as much as it is about purchasing something they like and having a place to talk. But remove that element and what's left? Does it really make a difference?

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Warren Ellis: Global Frequency

I didn't like Stormwatch and I didn't like Planatary. Transmetropolitan doesn't interest me. I suppose I'll try it eventually. The one conclusion I can draw from reading so much Ellis lately is that when he's hot, he's very very hot and when he's not - it's horrible. At least to me.

Planetary seemed pretentious. There were good ideas, and some beautiful art. But it bored me. Just blah blah blah blah blah. Blah? Blah. Blahblablah. Charlie Brown. Blah Wah Wah Wah. The dialogue was the worst part, which is unfortunate in something that relies on dilaogue to tell its story.

Wow did Planatary make a bad impression. I can't even think of it now except in small flashes of 'What the fuck?!'

Global Frequency on the other hand, is as someone mentioned, very much in keeping with the ideas and ideals behind Stormwatch and Planetary. But it's good. I cared. Big Sky in the TPB wa a rather abrupt switch in art style. I find myself wondering if it was some sort of filler - except the TPB reads like a collection of short stories all set in the same universe. But aside from a little flutter with Big Sky - I loved it. It's something I could consider buying; not before Astro City, Invincible or Runaways Vol 2. But if I had the extra money and it was right there. I'd grab it. That's how much I enjoyed it.

I didn't feel talked down to. I have to wonder how it is Ellis manages to write stories were people are just living their lives and we the readers hover somewhere over their shoulder - and then manages to write stories where it's obvious I'm reading a comic book because comic book logic and science are messing up anything remotely looking like a character or emotional beat.

As a writer, I'm curious about how that happens. Does he just get more comfortable with one set of stories? Is he a better short story writer? Does he fumble with long arcs - trying to make them too spectacular and ending up not making them much of anything at all? Obviously the answer is to read more and see. Except the thought of reading more and falling across the less than stellar bits isn't at all happy making. I'm going to stick to looking up more Global Frequency and see if it was only a one off thing or not.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Never Say Never: Civil War - Again - Why It Upsets Me

I tried to explain my displeasure in Civil War to a friend today. I absolutely bombed. To me a conversation is someone stating their opinion and then a counter-opinion and going back and forth until both sides until understand each other, even if they don't agree. But I was everything but eloquent.

She's not a comics fan, and in fact looking at too many pictures in a row can send her to sleep. But the topic came up and we were having dinner and it's something she knows I'm interested in and I'd been having a rough day, so why not talk about one of my passions. It seemed like a good idea until I actually tried to do it.

First I tried analogies. It's partly how I communicate with the world and it's partly because she doesn't know what's happened and I didn't know how to include all the information that comes with the pictures in a comic, without me having to retell the whole story. But she got lost with the analogies and kept pressuring me to just tell her what happened and what I didn't like. So I tried again. But this time she said it sounded like my dislike for the plot was the issue and she couldn't figure out what about the story itself was bothering me. And as I do dislike the plot, I tried to find another way to go at it. So I tried a third time, trying to avoid all the little hotspots that make me want to go 'arrrgh!'.

And when I'd tried that third time, or maybe it was a fourth time, she said stuff like. "So Congress got scared and did something stupid that people don't like? Well duh, that happens." Followed by. "So Peter Parker was never one of their ideological equals and now they're suspicious of him? Well duh. It's a civil war, right? If he shows he's not down with them of course they're going to be suspicious." And then she said things like. "They're using unsavory tactics and they aren't really concerned about information? Guantanomo Bay anyone?" The only thing that made any impact on her was the government's side using villains. She found that just plain stupid.

I tried to explain that I found the story thin, that there was so much meat to it that just wasn't being used. But all the while I kept getting more and more irritated. Because my feelings before talking to her were that if Marvel was going to use a Metaphor, then it should be a Metaphor. And they shouldn't be trying to bend current situations into the Superhero world in some kind of morality play. And yet - she's right. And I absolutely loathe that. I still think the writing sucks, and the story has no depth, and the rush to get it out is ruining avenues of exploration. I still think that Tom Foss or Prok over in Blogger have some wonderful ideas for how things could have played out (Barring Prok's new theory that it's all about Wanda's mucked up mindfuck). But my friend was right.

The government does do stupid things. Ours does and theirs does. My own irritation that this is nothing more than a broader termed Mutant Registration Act is proof that they have tried stupid stuff before. And who says the government learns from its mistakes? Congress does use fear and paranoia to push through acts that limit the personal freedoms of its citizens. It's been done. We in America live there. And while what happened at the school doesn't seem to be enough of a big deal for such a huge public outcry. What happened in real life with the Towers shares one simple similarity in that the people in power should have been expecting it - there were signs. There could have been accommodations made.

Ironman and Captain America becoming so embroiled in fear and paranoia and mutual feelings of betrayal? It happens. Soldiers for a cause coming to the realization that they've been lied to and friends around them are dying for an unweighted cause? Search theinternet and you'll find the blogs.

I wanted to say to her that the Marvelverse isn't supposed to be like that. That the Superheroes should know better. That the real thing to come out of this should be a more formalized training system for young heroes; no more throwing the kids in the deep end and seeing how they swim. But I couldn't. Because what I wanted to say was that 'I don't want to see that in that world! I want things to make sense because it's fictional. Fictional chaos is part of a plan and a plot. There should be logic and reason to it when I take a step back.'

I do not believe that Marvel is purposely mimicking the irrationality of a fear state and loss of virtue of individuals as they obsess with their own self righteousness to the destruction of all else. I don't believe this has all been planned. I don't see the signs and cues that reassure me that Comic God is in his Heaven and all will turn out, if not right, at least fruitful - meaningful. I do not believe that Goliath's death was a meaningless death for the sake of a meaningless death. Because I can't believe they meant to make me feel this angry and this filled with the need to smack a bitch and talk to them about iconic images, black history in America and volatile emotions. And that I think is the biggest failure of all; that prickle in the mind that makes it all too real, too unscripted, too irrational and too far away from comic reality. I've lost trust.

A reader isn't supposed to lose trust in a story like this even if the characters themselves no longer know up from down. There are our heroes!

Screw That. I Can Fly! : Willow discovers Invincible

I've just spent several happy hours reading 'Invincible' (Ultimate Collection Vol 1) by Robert Kirkman and Corky Walker.

I now have another group of writers, artists and heroes to put beside Astro City in the category of 'Brilliant, Wonderful, Beautiful Story.' It's different story telling but with the same theme of using the Super Hero elements as backdrop for a classic tale; old fashion mythological sagas. I love this stuff!

A young hero with a legend for a father who then discovers his own powers and begins to search for and settle into his place in this world, only to discover that it's all wrong.

How much better than that does it get?! Not too much better. And with these writers striking the right tones between Husband and Wife and Father and Son and Mother and Son. And friends. And the complications of highschool with rumors and girls and crushes and betrayal and that teacher you always knew had it in for you and wished all his students dead.

People keep saying I should try Ultimate Spiderman, because it hones Peter Parker's journey and brings into the modern world and I keep putting it low on my list of priorities because Spiderman's more iconic to me once he's learned his lessons.

But this is a whole new universe, with a whole new character for me to follow and love and root for. It might not have moved me in the same way as 'Confession' and 'Tarnished'. But I enjoyed it in a way I hadn't been able to enjoy Storm Front or 'Planetary'. It was just; adventure, adventure, adventure with subtle plot - bang! - emotional moment, adventure, adventure, adventure -bang!-.

And the Global Guardians made me laugh out loud. Midnight City and Green Ghost and WW (who was absolutely perfect in every way!). And the tiny peek into the Not!Starship Enterprise.

I'd forgotten the fun of being a geek and getting inside references. But I got them here and squeed liked a fangirl seeing someone take off their clothes.

It was the perfect pick-me-up for an emotionally wonky day. And it's yet another 30something dollars I'm going to have to dishout in order to own it.

Astro City leaves me rocked. Invincible leaves me elated.

Now I can understand some of my bitterness with Marvel's Civil War and DC's most recent Crisis. 'Runaways' makes Marvel not seem a hopeless cause in terms of telling stories I like and feel inspired to spend money on. But so far all DC's given me that's reached my awareness is ASBAR.

I love superhero comics. Yes, independent comics have their awesome place and 'Teenagers from Mars' will remain one of my favourites forever. But I love my bigger than life, bright color wearing heroes. And I love that this story exists along side Kurt Busiek's universe and writing to give me the little girl squee and baited breath and stomach clenching excitement.