Sunday, March 24, 2013

Manga Week

What I found surprising about Osamu Tezuka’s “Buddha Vol. 1” was how diverse the character designs are. I am not very well versed in either manga or anime and one of the things that has always deterred me from delving into that world was the fact that so many character look exactly the same.

 A lot of manga uses a very specific style of character with similar giant eyes, small nose, and elaborate hair. To someone who isn’t familiar with the genre, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a lot of the characters because of the style. Determining a character's gender can also be a shot in the dark. So I was happily surprised to open Buddha Vol. 1 to find that these characters weren’t drawn in the stereotypical anime style at all. They have a huge variety of face shapes, nose sizes, and even huge ranges of tone and style. Some characters are more serious and realistically rendered with wrinkles and individual strands of hair while others look like they are from an old Beetle Bailey strip. This kept the comic much more visually interesting.

It was a bit strange that this is supposed to be a story about Siddhartha and Buddha and Siddhartha isn’t even born until half way through this volume. The Tatta character was a lot of fun. Him using his powers to possess different animals was my favorite part of the comic. His character was used to reinforce the importance of respecting all animals, and the fact that life is sacred whether or not it’s human. I’m not sure how all of these characters will connect into an over arching story but I’m sure there is plenty more to read in the following volumes.  From this initial volume it’s clear that this is a story with lots of dynamic anction, high drama, and even some romance.

I also read some Cinderella Boy which was much more in the typical Shoujo style that I was expecting from Manga week. The story involves what seems to be a common romance trope in Mangas with a girl, Riku, who has to dress up like a boy to be a part of a famous boy band. The dialogue is all very melodramatic with Riku constantly trying to figure out what fellow band mate Touya thinks of her. This kind of story seems to be written for a young girl demographic with all the romantic tension, sparkly backgrounds covered in roses, and a plot line revolving around a group of beautiful entertainers.  I would assume this story also appeals to fans of Yaoi since Riku is supposed to pass as a boy and  her and Touya can’t go a page without plenty of sexual tension. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Underground Comixs

I really enjoyed reading the stories from the underground comic scene. Easily my favorite collection of stories was Gay Comix. These were very personal stories about the artist's lives as gay, lesbian, and bisexual people living in the 70's. (I found it interesting that transgender people were not represented, when nowadays they are synonymous in the LGBT acronym.) Some of the stories were about an artist's entire life: growing up, falling in love and the unique challenges that come along with being gay. Some stories dealt with having a partner that recently died of Aids, while others were about dealing with a parent coming out later in life. When I first saw the cover of this book, I was expecting the comics to be a lot more salacious and shocking than what was actually inside. I'm sure the cover falls into the typical underground comics quota for being eye catching and overtly sexual. And while there are a few more raunchy strips that focus soley on sex humor (talking penises!) most of the comics inside are  deeply personal and touching. It's clear that these queer artists were desperate to have a voice and they really put their all into these comics. It says a lot about where America was culturally when these honest, heartfelt depictions of homosexuality in comics could only be found in the same dives next to underground comics that were made for just pornographic shock value. Only 30 years ago just the subject of homosexuality was completely taboo and it's clear that the stories in Gay Comix were trying to dispel that. It's just sad that the comic would never have the wide reach to impact the people who needed to see this perspective the most. It's even more depressing to think that in this day and age these stories by gay people would still be deemed too shocking in many parts of the country.

The thing I took most from these comics is how lucky we are to live in a time where queer stories are easily accessible. The internet is filled with the personal stories of LGBT people through blogs, video posts, and even web comics. A lot of the stories I read in Gay Comix reminded me of some of the gay web comics that I've read like Go Get a Roomie. While the honest account of gay people are still not widely found in mainstream culture, there is at least some progress. For instance you don't have to go looking in a seedy underground record store anymore to find stories about gay characters. Big name comic book publishers like Marvel and DC have begun to put a little effort when it comes to queer representation and diversity. Most notably the current incarnation of Batwoman is an out lesbian who's sexuality is handled rather seriously and isn't just fetishized for a male audience.

Stereotypes in Comics

This week I read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This novel is very interesting because it both involves the author's first hand account of constantly being judged for his Asian heritage as a child in a very realistic way while also dealing with some of the self hatred that comes along with years of being criticized for the way he looks and speaks with a character that is a very blatant racist Chinese stereotype. The novel was told in three separate stories that all converge at the end, but my favorite of the three was easily the autobiographical coming of age segments. Jin grows up constantly feeling like an outcast because of the cultural disconnect he has with his peers. His peers and teachers instantly dismiss him because of his race and his accent. When a person is being bullied, normally authority figures are the most obvious allies in the situation, but Jin shows on his first day of elementary school that this isn’t the case. His teacher instantly makes assumptions about him by mispronouncing his name and assuming he’s from China without any real care if she’s correct or not. To her Jin is just another Chinese student in her class. And that’s the main point the author is tries to drive home with the story of his childhood: That most people are willing to rely on stereotypes to explain others who are different from them because it’s much easier than trying to get to know a person. All of the negativity Jin receives for being a child of immigrant parents is absorbed to the point that he is just as mean to the next Chinese student that enters his class later on in school. Because when it comes down to it, Jin just wants to fit in. He wants to be accepted just like anyone else and that’s something that most of his peers just don’t want to put an effort into doing. Even though Jin understands exactly how alienated Wei-Chen feels as a new student from another culture, he initially distances himself from him just like everyone else in class.

 The self-hatred that the author felt as a child that is built up from so many years of bullying and feeling like an outcast is all dealt with through the “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee” portions of the novel. This story is told in the style of a traditional American sit-com where Danny is an all American kid living in a white suburban family. But things take a turn when Danny’s embarrassing cousin Chin-Kee comes to visit! Chin-Kee is depicted as a stereotypically racist image of a Chinese person. He has yellow skin, large buckteeth, permanently closed eyes, completely broken English, and he’s always wearing traditional garb. His race is played for laughs and absolutely no one takes him seriously. This is exactly the kind of image of an Asian person that you would find in a comic from the early 20th century, especially during WWII when propaganda was made to rally people against the Japanese. The Chin-Kee character is very uncomfortable to read and the story becomes pretty heartbreaking when it’s revealed that Danny is who Jin desperately wanted to be growing up. Because of the way he looks, many people just assumed Jin was like “Chin-Kee”. If he had been born with blonde hair and blue eyes his peers would have actually tried to get to know him. Jin even tries to become more like a “Danny” when he perms his hair to look like one of the more popular Caucasian boys in his class. While Chin-Kee is a very stereotypical character, he is used for a purpose to shine a light on how people treat people from different cultures. It should make you uncomfortable because we all know it’s wrong to judge people just on race and where they are from. But even if you aren’t blatantly a bully to someone, dismissing them can be just as hurtful.