research * the future * culture

Re: DC, Starfire, Sailor Moon, and the difference between comics in the US and Japan:

If the pronouns listed in the title above mean anything to you, I suggest you read this piece by Deb Aoki about why she left American superhero comics for Japanese shounen manga. Snip:

The fascinating and diverse female casts of Bleach and Naruto are a big part of these series’ appeal to both male and female readers. Yes, there are some busty babes in both series — but Soul Reaper Rangiku Matsumoto is a commanding officer in the Soul Society in Bleach, and Tsunade is a strong and dynamic Hokage (leader) of Naruto’s ninja village to name just a few.

There’s also a vast array of female characters, young, old, mature, immature, shy, assertive, eccentric, sweet, evil, and yes, even flat-chested girls. The female characters in these series are more than pin-ups, love interests, or cannon fodder; they are just as interesting, complex and integral to the story as the male characters.

This. This right here is what every writer who despairs of writing female characters should remember. People (including teenage boys!) on multiple contents, speaking multiple languages, enjoy Bleach. Bleach is full of female characters who are “just as interesting, complex and integral to the story as the male characters.” And some of them have flat chests.

Another important thing to remember, when making the comparison between the American and Japanese comics markets:

[In the manga market] For every hyper-violent/hyper-sexualized story like Tenjo Tenge, we have sweet and sensitive romances like Kimi ni Todoke. For every trash-tastic horror fest like High School of the Dead, we have slice-of-life tales like Bunny Drop. Manga readers in Japan (and the US) have a lot of choices.

To make it comparable to the U.S. situation, imagine a world where most of the vast majority of manga in Japan was endless variations on Ultraman, Power Rangers, Gundam, Gantz, and Tenjo Tenge, and there was little to no shojo, josei or boys love manga available. Weird, right? But that’s pretty much what we have here in the U.S…. now.

Ms. Aoki is entirely right. As David Hajdu points out in The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America, the United States was once a thriving ecosystem for comics creators of all sorts. Horror comics, romance comics, four-panels, funnybooks, Tijuana bibles. You name it, they had it. But all that changed when comics became associated with licentiousness and moral depravity by a psychiatrist named Frederic Wertham, who wrote The Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham’s ideas spread among American parents concerned with all the gory images their kids were spending hard-earned tooth fairy money on, and thus comics censorship was born. With it came the extinction of multiple species of comics writers — among them the females who could have changed the industry and brought in new markets in much the same way female manga-ka did in Japan in the 1970s. (I’m looking at you, Ryoko Ikeda.) As a result, American comic books are defined primarily by the species that survived: superhero stories, and the people (most of them men) who write, ink, paint, edit, and publish them.

When you think about it, this means that the American market for comics is seriously skewed. And sadly, this means that expensive reboots of veteran titles can involve neutralizing female characters, over-sexing them, or dumbing them down. Luckily, Sailor Moon has been re-published this week. Thanks, Kodansha.

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  • Madeline Ashby…

    ...is a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity, Tor.com, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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