Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Dark Horse in the misogyny sweepstakes; also, 1990s part one

-Hey, maybe somebody at Blogorama can explain to me--will every new Minx release be met by a week of guest blogging by one of the creators? Can anybody fill me in on the details there? Off the record is fine, BTW.

-About the recent seinen manga controversy: I read this first, which probably saved me a lot of unnecessary grief. Related: is seinen commonly stereotyped as either (a) Berserk-style blood-and-guts shit, or (b) katana-and-sandals? I mean, I know seinen encompasses these genres, but I also associate it with series I read and enjoy, like Dragon Head or Monster. And wouldn't Death Note be considered seinen? Isn't that, like, really popular in the US? Maybe I understand the term less than I realized.

-Speaking of stuff I read on Mr. Allen Butcher's blog, this post by Tom Spurgeon really should be accompanied by a photo of Brian Wood with some ironic-ish "PWNED LOLZ" type caption. Or you can just imagine it as you read the post. Or not.

-Okay, I know that yesterday I more or less equated attending the San Diego convention*
with being stuck on an airplane behind two used car salesmen talking shop. But still, this one panel sounds pretty awesome:

11:30-1:00 Comics Are Not Literature—For years, comics have presented themselves as a new kind of literature—but cartooning isn’t prose, and graphic novels aren’t novels. What if conflating comics with “literary” storytelling is a terrible mistake? Douglas Wolk (Reading Comics) moderates what should be a contentious discussion with Cecil Castellucci (The PLAIN Janes), Dan Nadel (PictureBox Inc.), Austin Grossman (Soon I Will Be Invincible), Paul Tobin (Spider-Man Family), and Sara Ryan (The Rules for Hearts). Room 8

(Via Heidi MacDonald)

*To be fair, this is basically how I feel about all conventions. I might be persuaded to go to MoCCA, SPX, APE, or that Toronto festival if I lived nearby, but I've never lived in a sufficiently interesting part of the country to have to entertain such possibilities.

-Okay, okay, fuck Dark Horse then. Truth be told, the fact that a dedicated comics publisher is reprinting these books is far more disturbing to me than any number of zombie Mary Janes. I know why Dark Horse is publishing it--money, duh--but I'd love to hear one of its employees try to rationalize this on a less-mercenary level.* "Gor is a...much celebrated...very influential...unique voice...first amendment...oh fuck it, we just like money."

*Preferably at a convention! Once again, I have an extra copy of Pyongyang (hardcover!) which I will offer to anyone who poses this question at a Dark Horse-centric panel at any of the remaining mega-conventions left this summer.

-Musical misogyny theater: Which of the following should I feel the most ashamed about liking:

1. "Glendora" by the Downliners Sect (If you've never heard it, I think you can download it here, on a compilation with a bunch of other good stuff like "I Had So Much to Dream Last Night" and "You Are No Friend of Mine." In all seriousness, there's some fucking awesome stuff on that playlist. You really shouldn't go through life having never heard "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In).")
2. The entire recorded output of the Faces
3. "Jilted John" by Jilted John
4. All the good Rolling Stones songs
5. "Golf Girl" by Caravan (warning: not very loud)

Please note that I do not, in reality, feel guilty about liking any of the above. This is merely an intellectual exercise. Maybe I'll try to connect it to comics tomorrow.

...And that's it for the timely commentary today. Now we turn our experiment in what might hubristically be called the new social history of the comics industry:

Dick Hyacinth's 1990s

Still haven't found a better title yet, but at least it's in a nearly illegible font. Actually, I'm not even going to cover the 90s today. As any history major can tell you, you can't talk about the Civil War until you've talked about the Mexican-American War. Likewise, I can't really explain how I experienced the comics industry of the 1990s without first explaining where I was coming from as a consumer. By the time 1990 hit, I was a 13-year old dedicated comics reader/buyer, spending the majority of my modest allowance on comics. This mania for comics did not arise overnight, however; it came in stages.

Comics were a part of my life as far back as I can remember. My mother would regularly include comic books in our rotation of bedtime stories; in fact, I distinctly remember her being offended at my sharp refusal of a Whitman Little Lulu reprint she wanted to read for me one night (I think there was some image involving cigarette ashes I found repulsive on some deep, visceral level). Superhero intellectual properties were also a big part of my life, especially DC's. I once asked my mother if high school ended early enough that I would still be able to watch Super Friends when I was 16.

Sometime c. 1984, I became an avid reader of comics. There were basically three causes for this: (1) DC and Marvel's publication of encyclopedia series for their intellectual properties, especially DC's Who's Who; (2) the Secret Wars and Super Powers toy lines, which led me to the comics of the same name--Secret Wars was particularly influential; (3) comics based on preexisting toy lines, especially G.I. Joe. These three phenomena introduced me to the world of continuity and shared universes, which were kind of like crack for 8-year-old boys like me.

By about 1986 I had graduated to being a connoisseur of comic books. I had favorite artists now, largely because Who's Who familiarized me to a fairly wide assortment of artists. I had always noticed that there was something different about certain artists (eg, Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Gene Colan), but now I could immediately identify anything drawn by them. Plus I actually knew the artists' names. This is not to say I suddenly had good taste: I still thought Bill Sienkiewicz' art was ugly.

Even more important was my growing appreciation for older comics, which reflected two new developments. First, my father let me start reading his stash of Silver Age comics that summer. This was a horrible mistake from an investment protection standpoint, but it only deepened my comics obsession. Second, Gladstone began publishing reprints of Disney and EC comics. I loved them both; I think my brother and I were buying them more regularly than any DC or Marvel comics at the time.

By about a year and a half later, I had made another transition; I was now an active collector of comics. I was never one to throw away comics after I was done reading them, but I was never overly concerned with how they were stored either (I threw them all in an old trunk, with no attempt to place them in any particular order). I had never been very interested in buying every issue of any given series; I determined which comics to buy based on cover art, the characters involved (especially the villains), and financial considerations. But in 1987, I started buying every issue of two series: the Englehart/Rogers Silver Surfer and the Michelinie/McFarlane Amazing Spider-Man.

What prompted this change? I think reading my father's collection might have had some impact. My dad had (and still has) a very nice SA collection which he acquired in college. Unfortunately, there are a number of holes in it, probably partly because he bought all his comics from a second-hand dealer (who, in retrospect, was probably buying all his comics from unscrupulous newsstand dealers). This frustrated the hell out of me, leading me to place greater value on getting every issue of the comics I liked. Another factor was, uh, puberty. There's no problem with reading comics when you're a kid, but I was already feeling a little uncomfortable with it by the time I was 11. It was around this time that I started using the investment excuse--sure, comics might be dumb, but they'll be worth something someday. In the meantime, there's no harm in reading them, right? Finally, I was no longer playing with toys, but I wasn't buying a whole lot of music yet. So that money now went towards comics.

My collecting mentality was exacerbated when my brother and I started buying all our comics at a genuine comic shop. Prior to this we had bought everything at drug stores or (very occasionally) the B. Dalton's at the mall. In fact, the only comic shop in town was not very kid-friendly. The store was festooned with signs offering stern warnings to parents. Super Giant Comics was a store primarily for adults. Children should not be left unsupervised. They certainly must not pick up a book off the shelf or out of the bins and start reading it. In fact, maybe your children would be more comfortable with these lightly soiled items we're selling for a quarter each?

By 1987, however, we were apparently well-behaved enough to become welcome guests every week at the comic shop. And we were comic-crazy enough to hold off on purchases until we went into town. (It didn't hurt that the comics arrived a month earlier at Super Giant than at the drug store). My brother and I shared a pull list together; there was a minimum of three titles per list, and neither of us were willing to commit to that many series. Yet.

I should note that, somewhere between my connoisseur and collector phases, I quit reading non-superhero comic books. This probably has something to do with the influence of my father's collection (I don't think he had any non-superhero comics, with the exception of a few issues of Sgt. Fury), the diminished presence of non-superhero comics on my local spinner rack, pressure to be more "macho" or whatever as I grew older, and the disappearance of Gladstone reprints from my local store. At no point, however, did I give up on non-superhero comics. I was still a voracious reader of comic strips, both in the newspaper and in reprinted form. And I checked out from the library every book which had word balloons.

Also worth noting: around this same time I became a total Marvel Zombie. This is sort of strange, since DC's superheroes were a much bigger part of my life when I was a younger child. There are probably several reasons for this transformation. Like many college-aged comics readers in the 60s, my father was always more of a Marvel fan, and his collection reflected this. He did have some non-Marvel stuff (I remember reading a Justice League 80 Page Giant in the car while the rest of my family was playing tennis at the public court), but his collection was probably 2/3 Marvel. I also gravitated towards Marvel because their comics were cheaper. During the early avid reader phase, Marvel comics were 60 cents each. DC charged 75 cents, thus ensuring that I would buy fewer of their comics. Another factor was the familiarity Marvel editorial tried to foster between itself and the reader. This is an oft-cited aspect of Marvel's success in the 60s; bear in mind that I was reading those very Silver Age comics while still young and impressionable. Still, I think this familiarity persisted well into the 80s, at least for me. Bullpen Bulletins talked to me on a level which I appreciated as a 10 year old kid. In contrast, Meanwhile... felt too grown up, like someone telling an anecdote on the Dick Cavett Show. Bullpen Bulletins featured profiles of editors which read like something out of The Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe. That really spoke to the pre-pubescent Dick Hyacinth. Finally, Marvel had a much stronger line of licensed comics--Transformers, G.I. Joe, Thundercats, and He-Man were all toy lines/cartoons which I enjoyed, so I naturally bought the comics as well (not so much the latter two, however, since they seemed a bit more "kiddie"). I think this inspired a greater loyalty to Marvel's overall line of comics.

So anyway, that's where I stood on the threshold of the 90s. I'll actually delve into that decade tomorrow.


Jog said...

Death Note is as shōnen as it gets, having been published in the mighty Weekly Shōnen Jump... it actually represents something of a contemporary breed of 'crossover' shōnen, in that it's a boy-targeted series that's nevertheless quite thoroughly groomed to attract girls as well... hence all the handsome male character designs, and the downplaying of rough 'n bloody action. There's always been a readership for shōnen material beyond 13-year old boys, of course, but Death Note represents a certain aggression on the parts of the editors...

Cultural differences play a big role in the blurring of lines between target audiences when manga is brought to the US... sometimes you get something like Air Gear, which is filled with skeevy stuff like young teenage girls taking fanservice showers, but it's considered appropriate for the demographic by a major publisher. The result is books with stories primed to appeal to younger teens wrapped up in plastic in the US, or Osamu Tezuka sex ed comics served up deluxe for discerning aesthetes.

But the border between shōnen and seinen (and, indeed, seinen and hentai) can blur on its own, sometimes coming down to what magazine's serializing the story in question... I don't have the exposure to really study it as much as I wish I could. I don't know if anyone not speaking Japanese does.

Brack said...

Even stuff like Yotsuba&! and Azumanga Daoih can be considered seinen because they appear in the moe-obsessed seinen mag, Dengeki Daioh (home of the worrisome Transformers Kiss series).

And so you end up with series that were written with a creepy 18-30 year old male audience in mind (take a bow "Strawberry Marshmallow") being marketed to a female audience in the US.

Jog said...

Ha ha... and even then, hentai is more a general slang term than a demographic. Some might call pornographic manga a subset of seinen, while others will block it out by whether it's a dedicated filth rag the material's being serialized in... this is why Eddie Campbell teaches us not to get caught up in labels...

Dick Hyacinth said...

Where does ecchi come into this? I think that's the anime I liked the best when I was a teenager.

Jog said...

From my experience, ecchi is used in the US to denote a sexually lewd but not outright pornographic work. It can also be used as a descriptive terms for a particular scene, or as an element in a work. Wikipedia tells me that in Japanese it can also be used as a slang verb for sexual intercourse itself (while hentai is more of a behavioral descriptor). Some people use hentai and ecchi as synonyms, but I've found that hentai is a more common term for porno itself, while ecchi is more a state a work passes through. Like: "That double-page splash in Air Gear with all the 15-year olds in the shower was soo ecchi that my own father turned me in to the police!" In anime, ecchi probably involves a horny male peeping into the ladies' side at the hot springs...

(I'm joking about Air Gear, by the way... I do believe one of the four girls was over 18)

Dick Hyacinth said...

Yeah, that sounds typical of the stuff I liked when I was 18 (and 30, given my oft-proclaimed love of Ranma and Urusei Yatsura).

Greg said...

I'm going to make a brief stop in San Diego, so if I can find a Dark Horse panel, I'll definitely ask. That might be fun.

GiantKillerMantis said...

So what's the controvesy about the seinen? American girls read more Japanese comics than American boys do? So what? If girls like those particular comics more than boys do, so be it. What's to get upset about?

Is it creepy/weird to anyone else that Japanese comics are viewed so much in demographic terms? "These comics are for boys aged 6 to 11.3 years, these are for women 21-35 who live in Fukuoka--the city, but not the suburbs" etc. This obsession with demographics approaches the nerdiness and anal-ness of an American fanboy's obsession with continuity.

Rachel said...

It's probably worth mentioning that ecchi is the out-loud pronunciation of "H," which, of course, stands for hentai.

Dick Hyacinth said...

You need a copy of Pyongyang, Greg? I'll be happy to send it your way if you come through here.

Greg said...

Actually, I DO need a copy of Pyongyang. For some reason I have never bought it. Must be my horrible taste or something. I've always been intrigued by it, though!

I'm going to the con on Friday, so I'll have to check the schedule for a Dark Horse thing. Just my luck they won't have a panel that day. But I'll let you know.

Harvey Jerkwater said...

Jeebus, your story of comics in the eighties was freakishly close to mine. It all sounds so familiar.

I'd add another reason why we were Marvel Zombies in the mid-eighties: at that particular time, DC was, well, boring. Their Bronze Age was still going, and it wasn't all that cool. Meanwhile, Marvel was putting out some high-quality jazz: Byrne's FF, Simonson's Thor, DeFalco/Frenz's ASM, DeMattis/Zeck's Captain America, Owsley/Bright's Power Man and Iron Fist...fine, fun comics.