Category Archives: Queer

New Maurice Vellekoop Comic on the way!

The World Of Gloria Badcock, coming this summer from Koyama Press.

Fabulous news! The incredibly talented cartoonist and illustrator Maurice Vellekoop has announced that he’s working on a brand new comic book, his first in many years! Fans of his work may remember the adventures of Ms. Gloria Badcock from the anthology collection of Maurice’s work, Vellevision, published many, many years ago by the good folks at Drawn & Quarterly. Perhaps if you’re of a certain age you might even remember her appearance from the Fabulous Babes comic book before that?

Well Maurice announced on his blog this weekend that he’d be bringing back Gloria Badcock in three sexy new adventures in a new 24 page comic book from Koyama Press this spring. For the bargain price of $5, you get a healthy dose of funny new comics, filled to the brim with the outrageous and erotic, all beautifully illustrated to boot.

I’d really been hoping that the book would be ready to debut at TCAF, but alas, it will not. I’m still incredibly excited about it though, and while Maurice will still be exhibiting at TCAF, we’re just going to need to throw another big party for this book when it arrives this summer. Clear your social calendars now…

Oh, and I was talking to Maurice the other day and he’d mentioned that he hadn’t gotten a lot of feedback on his blog since he launched it. With the advent of RSS feeds and Twitter taking up most of the conversation now, I said it was likely that lots of people were reading and enjoying and just silent in his comments section… But if you’ve been lurking and would like to offer a kind word or two I’m sure he’d appreciate it. He even has a great new illustration of “The 8 Circles Of Gay Hell!” for you to enjoy! http://www.mauricevellekoop.com/blog/

– Christopher

Queer Comix Haiku

A fellow named Mysh e-mailed me out of the blue to let me know about his Queer Haiku Comics, being released online under the name “Imaginary Encounters.” Unabashedly gay/queer haiku poetry that he’s written, and is adapting into single-page comics. He’s got a really lovely art style that is exactly appropriate to his poetry, and it possesses just that right mix of playful and erotic that had me go through his entire archive when I should’ve been busy with other work.

Head over to http://www.queerhaiku.com/ to see his work to date, or grab a sneak-peak at the whole project on Facebook. I’ve put up a couple of examples of his work at the end of this post, under the cut as they’re a touch NSFW ;).

– Chris

Continue reading Queer Comix Haiku

Comic Books Nominated for 22nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards

Image from Avengers: The Children's Crusade #1, by Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel. Stolen from http://blog.project76.tv/2010/07/13478/

GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Aliance Against¬†Defamation, have announced the nominees for their 2010 Media Awards. The awards recognize positive portrayals of gays and lesbians in the media, and for 10+ years “In the media” has also meant “comic books,” which is nice. Their nominations for the top gay-positive comics of 2010?

Outstanding Comic Book
Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Scott Allie, Brad Meltzer, Joss Whedon (Dark Horse Comics)
Fogtown by Andersen Gabrych (Vertigo/DC Comics)
Veronica by Dan Parent (Archie Comics)
X-Factor by Peter David (Marvel Comics)
Young Avengers: Children’s Crusade by Allan Heinberg (Marvel)

Every year I agonize over these awards because they specifically reward the ‘straightest’ material that happens to be nice to gays, rather than doing anything to recognize the work of actual gay cartoonists. I’m trying hard not to do this, this year, because hey, at least they’ve nominated gay writers Allan Heinberg and Andersen Gabrych. And I don’t want to minimize the support or work of vocally queer-friendly creators like David, Meltzer, or Whedon.

I just look at this list every year and think “If they had just nominated Ed Luce for Wuvable Oaf the resulting interest and sales could pay that creator’s’ rent for three months,” and it’s a bit depressing to me. Comics aren’t quite the powerhouse that film or theatre are, but if they can do “Wide-Release” and “Limited Release” categories for film, and “Broadway/Off-Broadway” and “Off-Off-Broadway” categories for Theatre (and that’s just New York), is it too much to hope for an area to recognize independently published queer comics work?

Also is it weird that they don’t list the artists? No? And they got the title wrong and it’s just Avengers: The Children’s Crusade and not Young Avengers: Children’s Crusade? Anyway.

I do wish sincere congratulations to the nominees and I hope that the resulting attention from the queer community means good things for them and their work.

EDIT: So, somehow, I completely missed the fact that the film SCOTT PILGRIM was nominated for OUTSTANDING FILM: WIDE RELEASE, which is excellent. I’d like to congratulate Bryan, Edgar, and Kieran for a bang up job. I’d also like to be a total bitch and point out that the outstanding comic book series upon which this nominated film is based has never been similarly nominated in its category, this year included, and wonder why that is in a very leading way. Hmmm…!

– Christopher

Illustrated Gay Club Flyers & Ephemera from Japan

It occurs to me, this being a comic-book website, that not all of my readers may be familiar with club flyers, and may think them to be a mysterious gay-Japanese invention. Let me assure you–clubs all over the world advertise themselves and upcoming events with bright, colourful flyers. But the Japanese ones tend to use manga-style illustrations as a primary attention-getting tool in a way most North American clubs don’t, and that’s awesome.

What we have here is a big (8.5×11″ or so) flyer for an upcoming party at the gay club Arch, a surprisingly big club space in a Tokyo district where most bars comfortably fit 6, and max out at 12. You know it’s a big deal because I was there the first week of November, and they already had the glitz-and-glam advertisements out for a party happening December 11th…!

This is a party for “Gachi-muchi”, or chubby-muscly, a sort of Japanese-only gay subculture that’s kinda like bears but kinda not, too. It’s the type or look typified by the characters in Jiraya manga or in G-Men Magazine, and occasionally by notable names like Genoroh Tagame. The reverse of this flyer features all kinds of photographs–real life versions of the idealized figure shown here. But since there are no illustrations I left it alone. After all, some of those gents might want their privacy.

For more, check out http://www.clubarch.net/schedule/index.html.

Speaking of which, one of the sponsors of the Gachi-Muchi disco party is BIG GYM, a gay bookstore chain (!) specializing in gachi-muchi, bears, and manly men. As such, their stores aren’t generally found in the Shinjuku gay district, but out and about around Tokyo. This here is a free pamphlet they were giving away illustrating the proper way to tie and wear Fundoshi, or traditional Japanese underwear. Check out Big Gym online at http://www.biggym.co.jp/, they’re an awesome, awesome store.

This flyer was picked up from a tourist-friendly shop in Shinjuku ni-chome, and it talks about Rokushaku, a specific type of Fundoshi, and with English instructions…! Interestingly, while a chubby guy is shown here this shop was very ‘twink’ oriented (look it up if you don’t know), I dunno if they’d ever seen anyone this size walk through the door… heh. Until we showed up anyway.

Ah, I totally loved this flyer. This is for a bar in Okinawa called “clutch”, with accounts for the Pacific-islander theming. Basically just a great big fun party scene with all different kinds of guys, letting you know that everyone’s welcome. That’s the bartender, or master/mama, in the center there. I learned that owners of similar bars across the continent will send each other packages of flyers to display and distribute. It’s kind of confusing when you don’t speak the language and see an ad for a bar that you’ve never heard of before, and find out its a thousand km away. Still, it’s only ever a thousand km away…!

Here’s a picture of the flyer that Andrew took, hanging up at a bar. I think this was in a washroom, so… uh. This photo could be worse? ūüôā

Finally, here’s a very cool thing. This is a free-giveaway from Big Gym (mentioned above) of an illustration by Gengoroh Tagame. They did this neat thing last year, where every month they gave away a free calendar with an original illustration by a famous gay manga-ka. It encouraged people to come back at least once a month, and hey, free calendar!

Totally gonna steal that idea.

Alright, that’s everything I grabbed on the last trip. Hope you enjoyed, folks!

Best,

– Christopher

Gengoroh Tagame has an English blog, and is not averse to English-language publications of his work! (NSFW)

Cover Detail from the September 2010 issue of Japanese Gay Men's Magazine "Badi", a special spotlight issue on Gengoroh Tagame. Art by Gengoroh Tagame.
"Deiri" illustration by Gengoroh Tagame. ©2010.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised this week to discover that the insanely talented gay manga artist Gengoroh Tagame has a blog, and one in English at that! You can find it online at http://www.tagame.org/enews/. This is pretty great as it’s a rare thing for a mangaka to have an English language blog, and Tagame is one of the most talented and easily the most famous mangaka producing gay-themed work (real gay, as opposed to yaoi-gay).

For those of you who not in the know, Tagame is best recognized for the muscular physique he gives his characters, which echoes the North American “Bear” gay subculture and the Japanese “Gachi Muchi” gay subculture, and is generally referred to as “Bara”. The majority of Tagame’s work is marked by strong themes of B&D and S&M, even leading into some verrrrry extreme situations. I heartily recommend checking out his website at http://www.tagame.org/frame_new.html and for the strong-willed and strong-stomached, check out his galleries.

Tagame is a bit of a trailblazer in that his web-presence has been English-friendly for years and years now, much moreso than any other gay manga artist (or almost any manga artist in general). While one of these days I’m really going to have to learn Japanese, for now I’m very happy that Tagame-san has made himself more accessible to his English-speaking fans.

Page from "Virtus" by Gengoroh Tagame. ©2010.

On that note, one of the most interesting posts about his¬†accessibility¬†came a few months back on his English-language blog, entitled “The Groundless Rumour About Publishing of English version of my comics:”

A little while ago, my friend told me the groundless rumor about me and my works.
It was a big surprise for me, so I think that I must correct them officially.

[the rumor]
Tagame does not want to publish his works in English.
In fact, he had refused the offer to publish his book from Tom of Finland foundation.

[the truth]
The rumor is false. I’ve been always wanting that my comics will be translated into English and will be published on magazines or books.And I’ve never been proposed such publishing program directory from Tom of Finland foundation.

Then, why my books have not been published in English? The reason is simple. If a proven publisher offers to me to publish my books in English, I welcome it. In fact, until now, French, Italian and Spanish publishers had contacted to me to publish my comic book in their language. I welcomed them, so my books in these three languages are being published now. But I’ve never been contacted from American, UK’s and Canadian publishers who want to publish my book in English. That is an only reason of why my comic books in English have been never published before.

For your more questions about that, I open the comment form of this post.
(But please write with very plain and easy English! I’m not so good at your language!)

– Gengoroh Tagame [link]

So there you go folks. Which one of you forward-thinking publishers is going to step up to the plate?

– Chris

What A Difference A Day Makes – Gay Graphic Novels Uncensored?

Timeline:

May 24th: Zan Christiensen posts a great article about possible censorship concerns against gay-centric graphic novels at Apple’s App Store, for the iPad and iPhone.
http://prismcomics.org/display.php?id=1858

June 13th: The New York Times covers the case of ULYSSES SEEN, a graphic novel adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses that had non-sexual nudity edited out after demands by the appstore people. Rage.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/technology/14ulysses.html

June 14th, 1:40am: I post a link to Zan’s article at Prism, add a little bit of commentary and additional thinking, call for comment. I feel bad for being behind the times…

June 14th, 10:40am: Tech blog Gizmodo picks up on the story of ULYSSES SEEN and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST censorship.
http://gizmodo.com/5562802/the-latest-examples-of-apples-stupid-editorial-censorship

June 14th, 12:30pm: Awesome Gay Blog JoeMyGod publishes a story on the same issue, based on a reader tip.
http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2010/06/apple-censors-gay-graphic-novels-but.html

June 14th, 4pm: Gizmodo updates that Apple has apparently reversed its decision and has asked the creators of both ULYSSES SEEN and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST to resubmit the unedited works for approval.

While it shouldn’t have taken a public, multi-site shaming to get Apple’s act together, I’m quite pleased that both sets of creators will get their work to be presented in the format they’d originally intended, and hopefully get a nice little sales boost from all of the attention. I’m glad that whatever small part I played in bringing the story to people’s attention helped resolve the situation, and kudos again to Zan for writing a great article and highlighting an obvious injustice. I hope the Yaoi Press people aren’t similarly left behind…

Which brings us to another issue, as mentioned by my friend Andrew Wheeler this morning:

@Wheeler: Given Apple’s censorship, shouldn’t intelligent liberals adamantly reject it as a publishing platform? Where’d our ethics go?¬†I refer in part to the censorship of comic adaptations of Wilde http://tinyurl.com/37j3q3b and Joyce http://nyti.ms/9HzgFE

Where indeed? Are we really prepared to hand over the keys to the digital kingdom to a company that has to be aggressively shamed into behaving well?
Or should we count our blessings, because there are companies that don’t know the definition of shame who might be in the same position soon (rhymes with Amazon).
– Christopher

Continued “Censorship” on the iPad – Gay books a no-go

Too racy for Apple? Apparently so... The Importance of Being Ernest, by Tom Bouden.

While I was on my little hiatus, one of the things I did make a point to read was Zan Christiensen’s excellent and lengthy essay on the difficulties that queer creators and queer-themed comics works have had getting accepted into Apple’s iPad app store. I recommend that you go and read it for yourself over at The Prism Comics website, a thriving c0mmunity for queer comics and comics-fans.

In case you don’t make it over there I’ll sum it up for you: There’s a very definite class-system at work in the app-store, and it’s looking very much like queer comics are at the bottom of the heap. The panel to the right there, from Tom Bouden’s adaptation of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest (featuring, naturally, an all-male cast!), was considered too sexy for an 18+ app, and is one of 6 or 7 panels in the book that got it denied from the app-store, all similarly tame (a bare bum, an embrace).

There are lots of examples, plenty of pictures to show just how ‘edgy’ the banned material is (not very much at all), and plenty of the standard Apple denials and non-denials (The Sports Illustrated quote is particularly telling).

The pragmatist in me believes that this isn’t a free speech issue, that this is simply a business making business decisions for itself that I don’t happen to like. But if gay-themed material is being held to a different standard than straight material, particularly if it’s systematic, then it’s both unfair discrimination and quite happily illegal (in most of the world anyway). Looking at the situation, I’d be inclined to start leaning towards the latter. I don’t know why a business would set themselves up as a censor, but if they’re going to, they better start being more transparent and accountable… or it’ll only be a matter of time before they find themselves in a great deal of legal trouble.

Edit: As a brief aside, I would love to hear from publishers if the approval process is the same (or easier) when it comes to getting your comic/graphic novel published through iBooks (Apple’s online bookstore) as getting a stand-alone app published…

– Chris

Really, IDW? Orson Scott Card?

I realize I’m kinda famous for not reading the Previews until it’s almost-too-late, but I do occasionally try to catch up on other websites’ mentions of the Previews, and I just saw Chris Sims agreeing with Dorian Wright that Orson Scott Card writing an adaptation of a video game made famous for its gay characters and storylines is total bullshit.

Dragon Age is a story-based RPG which features gay characters and gives players the option of playing a gay or bisexual hero if they wish to. Because this is the sort of thing gay video game players like, the game has received a mostly positive reception from the gay media.
IDW decided that the best person to write a comic in this setting is Orson Scott Card, a man so homophobic he has advocated treason in the event that gay marriage becomes the law of the land.
So, basically the good people at IDW can just go fuck themselves.

Dorian Wright, Postmodern Barney

I don’t know if I’d go so far as Dorian in my condemnation of the publisher–I like a couple of the folks at IDW quite a bit–but sincerely, fuck Orson Scott Card, and fuck that book, and what were you thinking in hiring him, for that book in particular.

I mean, if nothing else, as soon as either gay or videogame media gets a hold of this there’s going to be a total shitstorm. Which I, for one, welcome with open arms. And I mean by “if nothing else” that we disregard all of the basic reasons of human dignity not to give that proselytizing jack-ass any more money to fund his vicious hate-speech. Which in the comics industry we are all expected to do, all the time, for some stupid fucking reason.

– Chris

Manga Milestones 2000-2009: 10 Manga That Changed Comics #7

7. Antique Bakery Volume 1, by Fumi Yoshinaga. Published by Digital Manga Publishing, July 2005.

Much like Cardcaptor Sakura wasn’t the first shoujo title published in North America, nor the most popular, neither was Fumi Yoshinaga’s lovely, attractively-drawn episodic comedy/drama Antique Bakery the first yaoi title to make it to our shores or make it big. Actually, a very good case could be made by hardcore fans that, despite being created by an author known for her immensely popular yaoi titles and having come up through the doujinshi circuit and having gotten her start in yaoi, Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery isn’t yaoi at all; just a male-centric shoujo romance story with a couple of gay characters. These people are, for my purposes, entirely wrong. Because however tightly you want to focus labels like yaoi, BL, ML, whatever, Antique Bakery was at the forefront of the then-exploding yaoi manga scene in 2005-2006, and Yoshinaga’s was the first book to cross over into mainstream comics and manga readership, and that makes it more notable and important than any series that could be considered a more authentic example of the genre. Antique Bakery made everyone sit up and take notice.

So lets get some terminology out of the way. I’m just going to copy the first couple of paragraphs of the definition from Wikipedia in here, because that way if anyone’s got a problem with the definition they can head over and edit it there, instead of bothering me about it:

Yaoi (????)[nb 1] (aka¬†Boys’ Love) is a popular term for female-oriented fictional media that focus on¬†homoerotic or¬†homoromantic male relationships, usually created by female authors. Originally referring to a specific type of¬†d?jinshi (self-published works) parody of mainstream anime and manga works, yaoi came to be used as a generic term for female-oriented¬†manga,¬†anime,¬†dating sims, novels and d?jinshi featuring idealized homosexual male relationships. The main characters in yaoi usually conform to the formula of the¬†seme (literally: attacker) who pursues the¬†uke (literally: receiver).

In Japan, the term has largely been replaced by the rubric¬†Boys’ Love (??????¬†B?izu Rabu?), which subsumes both parodies and original works, and commercial as well as d?jinshi works. Although the genre is called Boys’ Love (commonly abbreviated as “BL“), the males featured are pubescent or older. Works featuring prepubescent boys are labeled¬†shotacon, and seen as a distinct genre. Yaoi (as it continues to be known among English-speaking fans) has spread beyond Japan: both translated and original yaoi is now available in many countries and languages.

Yaoi began in the d?jinshi markets of Japan in the late 1970s/early 1980s as an outgrowth of¬†sh?nen-ai (????)¬†(also known as “Jun√©” or “tanbi”), but whereas sh?nen-ai (both commercial and d?jinshi) were original works, yaoi were parodies of popular “straight”¬†sh?nen anime and manga, such as¬†Captain Tsubasa and¬†Saint Seiya.

Excerpted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaoi

So there you go. Yaoi, “Boy’s Love” (or BL for short), or shonen-ai. It all means about the same thing these days.

You may notice a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the definitions of yaoi, BL, shonen-ai, and what is or isn’t a¬†representative¬†of these genres, and that’s because the fans of these works tend to be the most intense and zealous out of any subgroup of fandom that I’ve ever personally run across. Yaoi is explicitly a fan-created culture, coming up out of the amateur-comics networks and meetings in the 1980s and in a very male-dominated society, and producers and proponents of this genre had to fight very hard to get taken seriously and treated fairly. I respect that, it’s hard not to, but considering its 2010 and the battles of yaoi and BL have been fought and won, here’s hoping that all involved can let their hair down a little.

One of the earliest manga to be released in North America that featured overt themes of same-sex attraction between male characters was the afformentioned Cardcaptor Sakura. The series featured several characters of near-deity status, and regular humans spending time with these deities would feel strange around them, a “tickle in their stomach” that was never explicitly refered to as romantic affection, but through context it was clear that characters would be in the initial stages of falling in love, and that happened a few times between male characters. The attraction was explained away (and of course those sorts of scenes were cut entirely from the anime release) and was never explicit, but it was quite surprising for fans at the time and it die-hard fans were wondering, from the moment it was announced as being licensed for North America in manga and anime format, if the homosexual overtones would be kept in. Tokyopop did, mostly. Nelvana didn’t, at all.

As near as I can tell, the first yaoi titles published in North America actually came courtesy of ComicsOne all the way back in 2000. As part of their massive launch of titles, ComicsOne broke ground by not only offering the first real yaoi/BL/shonen-ai titles in English, but also by offering digital downloads of their work in Adobe E-Book format. They did that for all of their print manga, and also produced numerous titles that were download-only, including the yaoi titles, Lucky Star by Shimoi Kouhara, and Horizon Line by Ikue Ishida [2]. Personally, as a gay guy down on the availability of gay or even gay-themed comics in North America, and having heard the occasional rumour about Japan’s plethora of “gay” comics, coming across these unpromoted, strange-format (e-book only) books on the ComicsOne website was a little like finding gold in them-thar hills. Explicit gay romance comics, where unlike the works available at the time with gay themes like Banana Fish or X/1999 from Viz, no one was the victim of terrible violence or child molestation! Win-win! Of course, not having a credit card (nor trusting ebooks, really) I never got to read those works. But knowing that they were out there was enough, for me, at the time.

According to an article published by Marc McClelland, yaoi started to be licensed and published in North America in 2003, but he doesn’t cite any publishers or titles. Off the top of my head, I’m going to go ahead and say Tokyopop’s Fake, a buddy-cop drama with a frustratingly vague gay edge was first out of the gate. A quick Amazon search shows 4 volumes of Fake published in 2003, with the first out in May. Tokyopop would later release the other mega-popular fan-demanded yaoi hit Gravitation in August of that year, and between those two series would rule-the-roost, until 2004 when DMP would begin releasing their Yaoi Books line with Desire, Selfish Love, and my favourite Only The Ring Finger Knows, and CPM/BeBeautiful would explore the darker, S/M side of yaoi and BL releases with Golden Cain and Kizuna. From there, it was just a hop, skip, and a jump to Tokyopop’s dedicated yaoi line Blu, DMP’s dedicated “mature” line 801 and a rebranding of their titles to more closely associate themselves with the Japanese publishers, with the line switching from “Yaoi Manga” to “June Manga” (after the famous Japanese BL anthology). The success of yaoi in the marketplace, an honest-to-goodness phenomenon in a decade full of them (GAY PORN COMICS FOR WOMEN!) inspired a huge rush of publishers eager to make some money in this new market. Best of all, most Japanese yaoi publishers were smaller organizations, and much more independent, so while you could have industry leaders like Libre (who licensed to CPM) or June (who licensed to DMP), fledgling English-language manga publishers like DramaQueen, the Boysenberry Books arm of Broccoli Books, or the yaoi-arm of an established publisher like Media Blasters could still find great licenses to release. And that’s before you even scratched the surface of doujinshi.

By the time Antique Bakery was published by mid 2005, there were likely about 100 yaoi releases already. By the time Antique Bakery finished its 4-volume run in 2006, there were more than 200. That release schedule ballooned to, at it’s height, more than 20 yaoi releases in a month, every month. That segment of the industry was growing by leaps and bounds, and I’m gonna be honest, as alien as manga in general and the Toykopop revolution in particular may have seemed to most retailers, it didn’t have a patch on how out there even the idea of yaoi seemed, let alone the contents which were often out-and-out pornographic. (As an interesting side-note, there’s never been a controversy or freak-out over the contents of yaoi titles, despite some pretty explicit and questionable publications… I honestly expected one to come up by now.) But the most important thing was, yaoi sold. It sold like gangbusters. But with so much of it coming out, and so many of the series only a volume or two long (with almost no-effort on the part of the publishers to build a following for individual authors), most retailers, even bookstore buyers, had no idea how to buy the stuff past “give me everything” and putting it out on the shelves. Much like the first part of the manga boom though, that strategy only works when “everything” isn’t dozens and dozens of new titles each month.

What makes Antique Bakery important is that it’s a gateway book, and one that broke out of and above the crowd. It’s a gateway into yaoi, sure, but also into shoujo manga, and into manga in general. It’s about food and it’s about love, two very universal subjects that can hook even the most reluctant or unlikely of readers, and it did. It’s also a book that ended up, and I can’t figure out how, with the author at the forefront of the promotion. It may be that “Fumi Yoshinaga” is an easier name for North Americans to parse and remember, or it might’ve been the fan community that, through illicit scans and distribution, knew that Yoshinaga had a huge body of work and big career ahead of her, of which Antique Bakery was only the beginning. Or it might just be that it’s a great series, and her name is worth remembering for that alone. At any rate, when Antique Bakery was solicited somehow I’d been made aware that the author was Kind Of A Big Deal, and it seemed like DMP was doing a lot to push the series. For example, it was the first comic book since Ren & Stimpy #1 more than 10 years earlier, to feature a scratch-and-sniff cover. Each volume would have a new scratch-and-sniff, strawberries, chocolate, all meant to entice you into the baking world within. No manga publisher had done something that clever, to that point. It was pretty cool, and got people talking.

It occurs to me I haven’t described the series in much detail. Simply, it’s about a bakery run by an attractive, scruffy jerk who knows everything about pastries and cakes, and owns a bakery. The lead chef has been in love with him for 15 years, but the owner brutally turned him down. Throw in a reformed street-tough learning about baking, and a clumsy childhood bodyguard trained to become a waiter, and you’ve got a series of highly episodic chapters that extole the virtues of love, friendship, and delicious food. It’s light material (until the surprisingly intense final volume), a comedy-of-errors with romantic tension (gay and straight), shocking twists, and page after page of delicious-sounding and gorgeously drawn cakes and pastries. In short, it’s a fluffy, guiltly-pleasure of a book, incredibly easy and comforting to read, with genuinely deep characters and relationships. It’s like a network dramedy, crossed with a Food-Network special. It’s fun stuff.

From its description I can imagine many of you who haven’t read it (or any yaoi/BL/shoujo for that matter) couldn’t imagine how this could be good, or important. Well the pedigree of the book might convince you. The series won the 2002 Kodansha Manga Award for shoujo manga upon its original release, and the English edition of Antique Bakery was nominated for a 2007 Eisner Award for “Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Japan,” the award’s inaugural year. This book connected with people, and as the Eisner nom evidences, not just the small, vocal yaoi fanbase. It’s a highly-crafted work that received tons of reviews and great word-of-mouth attention online and in the fan press. The last three volumes of the series were short-listed for the inaugural 2007 list of Great Graphic Novels For Teens, put together by the Young-Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). The books received multiple printings, though unfortunately later editions were no longer Scratch ‘n’ Sniff. Almost from the month it was released, Antique Bakery became the poster-book for the Yaoi boom in bookstores and forward-looking comic shops across North America. It was a book you could hold up and say “This is yaoi! And it’s GREAT!” and not have anyone who flipped through it after you said that call you a liar and/or blush. Sure, in the end it might not be 100% accurate, it might not fall under the very stringent ‘rules’ of what constitutes a ‘yaoi’ or ‘BL’ title, but it acted as many readers’ first exposure to the genre, it got wide acclaim, and its really really good. It’s important to have gateway books, particularly for audiences that had been completely ignored by comic publishing for more than 30 years–women and gay men. I know more than a couple of each who hold Antique Bakery amongst the favourite comics of all time, and in the big picture I think that’s a lot more important than labels.

Since Antique Bakery, DMP have published a number of additional books by Yoshinaga including Solfege, Ichigenme… The First Class Is Civil Law Volume 1 & 2, Garden Dreams, Flower of Life Volumes 1, 2, 3, & 4, The Moon and Sandals Volume 1 & 2, and Don’t Say Anymore Darling, with All My Darling Daughters scheduled to arrive in 2010 Edit: AMDD will be coming from Viz, not DMP. Tokyopop added Yoshinaga to their roster via their BLU yaoi line, with her series Gerard and Jacques Volumes 1 & 2 and the short story collections Truly Kindly and Lovers in the Night. Yoshinaga’s highest-profile release in North America came late in 2009, with the release of Ooku: The Inner Chambers Volumes 1 & 2 published by Viz. Ooku is an alternate-history series about early Japan, where women become the ruling class after a plague wipes out most men. The series is Yoshinaga’s most popular and best-received to date, winning numerous prizes including the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize for manga, 2007, shared with Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life. FWIW my favourite of Yoshinaga’s works so far is Ichigenme…, a sexy series that really rings true as both a yaoi series and contemporary gay fiction. It’s filthy, too.

Images Top-to-Bottom: Antique Bakery Volumes 1-4, by Fumi Yoshinaga, published by Digital Manga Publishing.

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– Chris