Monday, February 20, 2006

Manga sharing and swapping is disease free!

There is no better way to waste a Sunday morning than reading manga (Yes God? What’s that? You like manga too? Better than church? Right on!). A lazy Sunday morning and while Linda reads romances I read Tokyopop.

Ten years ago I was looking for the perfect mix of visual and written storytelling. Reading Frank Miller’s Batman and Art Spiegelman’s Maus, I believed that graphic novels could be both art and literature. At the time, I was using graphic novels to help 18 year old high school students who could barely read overcome their fear of books. But after a lot of searching, I ended up fairly disappointed with the comic format; too much superhero action, not enough angst.

Sometime in the last few years, manga seduced me, with its frequent and popular youth/identity/ outsider/forbidden-love themes blending the best of art and storytelling. Now, with a new crop of North American artists, the best of social taboos, North American culture and sick humor can finally meet: just read I luv Halloween if you don’t believe me.

This morning I read Off Beat, a North American story about Tory, a 15 year old genius who is either investigating/stalking or falling in love with Colin, the mysterious boy from across the street. Did I like it? Well, I got that same feeling of wondrous delight I used to get reading Ray Bradbury stories.

But Beth, isn’t manga the Japanese invasion of mind wasting, no-attention span, addictive brain-heroin for today’s youth to drain away their creativity and initiative? If so, hook up a big IV of it into me cause I can’t live without a bit of yaoi or yuri to my week.

Last night Linda and I had a little party for the people in my fencing club. Michelle, a 16 year old 7-dayer (those lucky/talented fencers who fence 7 days a week, get special lessons and go to competitions) turned out to be a total manga addict (though a bit more into goth/sword stuff than me). She came with her boyfriend and her mom. Turns out her mom has to read the mangas before Michelle is allowed to buy them. They saw what few Mangas I had aquired after three weeks (36-40) and wanted to know, “What type of Manga do you read?” – uhhhh, have you ever heard of boy/boy, girl/girl love?

In the light of morning, I am beginning to wonder if her mother didn’t come over to make sure I was the “right” type of influence.

I gave Michelle Steady Beat to read during the party, which is another North American manga about a younger sister, Leah who finds a love letter addressed to her sister signed “Jessica.” It is a great and funny read about finding out why it does and also doesn’t matter if your family members are gay, and what does normal mean anyway. Where was this when I was growing up? Maybe a manga collection earlier in life could have clued me in on why my brother had the complete Barbara Streisand collection, loved show tunes and carried a blow dryer and curling iron to school to primp his hair (of course this was the 80’s, that magical time when people thought Boy George was “just a bit eccentric”).

Michelle loved Steady Beat so I am tempted to loan her Off Beat, ID_Entity, and Hands Off except that they all have gay/bi/trans/cross-dressing themes. Have I officially become a “bad influence?" Am I that predatory lesbian who is showing youths the delights of an “alternative lifestyle” while on the school trip? Oh, I really hope so.

I think normality is a bit like the prairies. While I am glad there are people who live there, and love the weather, the bugs and the eternal skyline – I am also really, really glad that I’m not one of them. People need to live in the prairies, but not me. People need to be socially acceptable. I’m probably not, but I am very glad I don’t have to try to pretend that I am.

Last night, when they were admiring my Revolutionary Girl Utena manga about fencing Veronica, Mr. Ho’s wife (Mr. Ho is the fencing master, Veronica goes to all sorts of Veteran Fencing events; like last week’s “Duel in the Desert” at Las Vegas where you fight for $1,000 in betting chips) asked me, “How do you find these things?”

I just do. “You ever need to find an obscure lesbian film, book or manga,” I told her, “just let me know.”

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