What do women want? Sigmund Freud thought he knew, but we all know about him. After a few decades of feminism, it’s become clearer that the best way to find out what women want is… to ask them. Sex and Sensibility
Edited By Liza Donelly
Hachette/Twelve, April 2008, $22.99
Donelly is a noted single-panel cartoonist and the author of Funny Ladies, a history of female cartoonists for The New Yorker. (She also teaches at my alma mater, Vassar College, which instantly inclines me to consider her a world-class expert on whatever she wants to be – we Vassarites have to stick together.)
Donelly collected nine of her colleagues – mostly single-panel magazine cartoonists, with a couple of editorial cartoonists for spice – and asked them to contribute cartoons on women, men, sex, relationships – that whole area. Two hundred cartoons later, [[[Sex and Sensibility]]] emerged. It’s divided into several thematic sections — Sex, Sensibility, Women, Lunacy, and Modern Love — and each cartoonist provided an essay about herself and her work, which are sprinkled throughout.
By Frederik Peeters; translated by Anjali Singh
Houghton Mifflin, January 2008, $18.95
This is another one of those semi-autobiographical graphic novels; I’m not going to assume that this is all “true” (whatever that means), but I will note that Peeters’s bio says that he lives with his girlfriend, her son, and their daughter — and that [[[Blue Pills]]] is the story of a man named Fred, his girlfriend, and her son. (And the main character of this book mentions that he working on a graphic novel about their lives.) So keep that in the back of your head — some proportion of this book is true, though we don’t know how much.
Fred, the narrator of Blue Pills, is a Swiss cartoonist, still in his mid-20s, who’s lived in Geneva his whole life. He remembers Cati vividly from a pool-party late in his teens, but never really knew her well. When he moves into the apartment building where she lives, though, he comes to see more and more of her and her young son (called “the little one” or “L’il Wolf,” but not named). Before long, Fred and Cati are drifting into a relationship, and Cati has to sit Fred down and tell him something difficult — both she and her son are HIV-positive.
(The “Blue Pills” of the title refer to their drug regimen to stay symptom-free, though they’re never called that in the body of the book. The fact that most Americans will immediately think of Viagra when blue pills are mentioned is unfortunate, but neither Peeters nor Houghton Mifflin seems to have taken a moment to worry about it.)
It used to be, if you wanted to reach for the comic art form for your sex education you had to send a couple bucks to those want ads in the back of the cheesy magazines for “Comics – the Kind Men Like!” That stuff was a bit distorted; well, in the case of the ones that featured [[[Popeye]]], I’d have to say they were quite a bit distorted.
Trust the Japanese to get real. After all, they’ve been using the comic art form to foster all kinds of truly educational venues: business, economics, history, language, and so on. You’d figure sex ed would be a no-brainer.
Be that as it may, doing sex ed comics in the form of a genuine story with a plot and character development is uniquely Manga. And TokyoPop brought the first volume of this series, Katsu Aki’s (Futari H) [[[Manga Sutra]]], to American shores.
Manga Sutra is a sweet and sensitive series that focuses on the psychological aspects of sex as much as – actually, more than – the mechanics. The story is about a young couple, Makoto and Yura, who met through an arranged “marriage meeting.” This is sort of a counseled dating service, but one where the ultimate intent of marriage is upfront. The two 25 year olds dated, liked each other, got married, and only then discovered they were both virgins with a lot of understandable insecurities and a lack of any clue.
Welcome to the second week of Manga Round-Up! This time, we have four more books from [[[Del Rey Manga]]] – all first volumes in series, as new-reader-friendly as it’s possible to be – which are aimed at a slightly older audience (sixteen and up) than the books I looked at last week.
And you know what “older audience means,” don’t you? That’s right – gore! (Did you think I was going to say “sex?” That’s the 18+ manga, which none of the publishers have sent me yet.)
Leading off the parade of blood-spattered stories is Hitohi Iwaaki’s Parasyte, in which alien spores drift down to Earth and creep into people’s ears to eat their brains. The parasites, who have no name for themselves – no culture or language of any kind, actually – then eat other humans, in very violent ways. It’s hinted that this is possibly a reaction by someone or something to save the Earth from us horrible humans. (But only hinted, at the beginning, and not brought up again.)
Our viewpoint character is a teenage boy named Shin, saved from having his brain eaten because he had his earbuds in while he was sleeping. (Possible life lesson #1: never, ever stop listening to music. Possible life lesson #2: don’t sleep on the floor, as the Japanese do.) Unfortunately, the parasite still got into his body – it just took over his hand instead. Shin names the parasite Migi (since it is his right hand, and that’s the Japanese word for “right”), and tries to live with it. But the parasites are utterly amoral and protective of their secrecy, so the mere fact that Shin knows they exist means that other parasites (the ones that ate brains, and so control whole bodies) want to kill him as soon as they learn about him. And getting along with an amoral, alien right hand that can transform instantly into whirring engines of death is not easy.
DC Comics caused a bit of a ruckus late last year when they announced their new Minx line of comics. Minx was avowedly an attempt to drag the large audience – mostly young, mostly female – for translated Japanese [[[manga]]] back to American creators by giving them books in formats and styles similar to manga. Some feminists took an instant loathing to the name, and to the fact that most of the announced creators were male, but everyone seemed to think that the idea was a good one. (Though I’m still surprised that no one has done the obvious thing: spend the money to start up an American equivalent of Shojo Beat. The manga system works so well partly because the periodicals act as try-out books and party because popular series can be sold twice, as periodicals and books. Trying to create a manga-like market with only collections is like trying to ride a bicycle on one wheel – you can do it, if you’re Curious George, but it’s difficult and slow.)
I’ve recently read two of the four Minx launch titles, and thought it would be interesting to look at them together. (The other two, which I haven’t seen, were Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim and Jesse Hamm and [[[The P.L.A.I.N. Janes]]] by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. And more books have already been announced to follow.) I’ll admit that I’m not the target audience for Minx’s books – I’m about twenty years too old, and sport the wrong variety of wedding tackle – but I am definitely the audience for a new book by the creative team behind My Faith in Frankie, and for a new book written by Andi Watson. And I’m certainly part of the audience for interesting, new American comics done well, no matter who they’re supposedly aimed at.
Let’s start with Re-Gifters, which is both more essentially conventional in its story and more successful in the end. It is a reunion of the crew behind [[[My Faith in Frankie]]], down to the publisher and editor – and the story has certain parallels to Frankie, as well. Our main character is a dark-haired young woman (Jen Dik Seong, aka Dixie), with a blonde best friend (Avril, who starts to narrate the story but is stopped quickly). Dixie thinks she’s crazy about a blonde boy (Adam), who turns out to be not quite as all that as our heroine at first thought. The narration, in Dixie’s voice, is also a bit reminiscent of Frankie’s. But that’s about the end of the parallels: Dixie’s story is completely down-to-earth, without any gods or other supernatural elements. (It’s also aimed at a younger audience than Frankie’s, so there’s no sex, either, and Dixie is a couple of years younger than Frankie was.)