Robot 6

Roundtable | Girls and fandom

This week’s controversy over the scheduling of a Twilight movie at San Diego Comic-Con raised an issue that we at Good Comics for Kids have been thinking about for a while: Why don’t girls’ comics (and their other enthusiasms, for that matter) get any respect? Even the comics bloggers who leaped to defend the Twilight fans often speak with contempt of genres aimed at tween and teen girls, an attitude that was on full display later this week when Yen Press announced it would be publishing a Twilight manga.

So I sent out the Bat-Signal to my fellow Good Comics for Kids bloggers and asked what they thought.

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Robin Brenner: I find it especially distressing that the SDCC crowd, made up of fans who have been typically dismissed and marginalized by the larger culture including comics fans, fantasy fans, and sci-fi fans, seem to think it’s perfectly warranted to dump on fans who you would think they have a lot more in common with than traits to divide them.

shorttemperedmelancholicAt anime cons you can witness the particular breed of enthusiasm teenage girls bring to the table: the ear-shattering squeals, the glomping, the elaborate and fantastic costumes, and the intensity of fannish behavior on display. I admit, the old-fogey part of my brain does startle at the sheer decibel level teen girls can reach, but at the end of the day, I have to smile: how brilliant is it that fans are so excited, so devoted, that they now represent a substantial fan audience? As someone who’s been a part of fandoms that have been dominated by men for, well, pretty much my entire life (including science fiction, fantasy, and comics), it’s refreshing to see women and girls get some attention.

Not so at Comic-Con. The last time I attended, I was struck by how different it felt than my local anime cons, and there was always this edge of awareness that this world tolerated me, but it wasn’t really courting me nor acknowledging me as a fan. I do think that came down to my being both a woman and a manga fan, as well as the fact that while I am a fan of comics in general, there is less at San Diego that is geared for me or would have been inviting to any of the teenage girls I work with every day. In fact, much of it was intimidating and dismissive. I can only imagine how much more teenage girls felt ignored.

Women and teenage girls are described as invaders. Well, remember, we do represent half the population, and if you want comics to survive in the long run, stop treating us like aliens coming in to muck up your well-laid plans.

Esther Keller: As a school librarian, I see that the girls are far more enthusiastic about what they’re reading than the guys. Seven years ago, when I ventured into the world of comics, it was still marginalized by much of the adult population. It was the advocacy of librarians (let’s face it, we are still a predominantly female vocation) and teachers (again, predominantly female) that helped comics gain the respect it deserves. Considering what women have done for the comics industry, why is this disdainful attitude out there? Are the men intimidated by us?

Kate Dacey: For me, it’s comments such as these that truly rankle:

“And now, you want to talk about the TWILIGHT fans. Hell, Val they aren’t even fans of the story. They just want the actors. If it was just author Stephanie Meyer there, and no movie, no actors, the turn out would be just about nil.”

“I am not going to insult women by being Ok with their fandom of complete rubbish. It’s like if they were superfans of Highlander 2 or the works of L Ron Hubbard or Dan Brown… Having said all that, I have not read or seen Twilight. I just go by the opinions of my intelligent female friends and the critics I like to read.”

What bothers me most is the underlying assumption that girls (and women) don’t know how to be proper fans, that they’re only there for the hot guys and couldn’t care less about the books or the creator—an assumption that ignores the fact that girls’ voracious reading habits helped put Twilight on the map in the first place, and suggests that their investment in the story is purely superficial. The other thing that bothers me about these statements is that many of the folks dissing Twilight have never read it or watched the movie, yet they feel perfectly qualified to assess its merits solely on the basis of who likes it. Teen girls love it, ergo it must be junk.

vampireknight1Esther: If Stephenie Meyer attended Comic-Con, there would be a huge presence. I can name at least 50 young ladies from my school who’d want to fly over to San Diego to meet her. They “stalked” Robert Pattinson and Stephenie Meyers equally. Personally, I enjoyed Twilight. I enjoyed the enthusiasm for the books way more than the books themselves. I loved it when I couldn’t get one of my 8th graders to shut up until I finally read Eclipse, and that this year I didn’t have any copies of Twilight on the shelf until the end of May. Some of these girls can pick out details that I probably never processed. So Kate, I’ll have to concur, the people posting just don’t see how involved these fans do get into the details of the story. They choose to close their eyes, because it’s inconveniencing them and the fandoms they want to concentrate on.

Robin: Frankly, I find it bizarre that these classic comics fans, many of whom could teach a course on Silver Age comics and all the permutations of, say, the X-Men, completely dismiss fans being exactly the same way about what is undoubtedly female-driven literature: supernatural romance. I’m particularly intrigued by the comment about Dan Brown—whatever I may think of the quality of any of these books, why is it fine to dismiss the legions of fans these tales have?

Lori Henderson: Until now, there hasn’t been a reaction to girls like this at SDCC that I’ve seen in the last 20 some years that I’ve been going. If anything, girls had been welcomed. SDCC is so big now that these reactions to Twilight and its fans are downright discriminatory. Has it always been this way and I just never noticed? Or have attitudes toward women in comics changed in the last 10 years?

It’s been brought up that Marvel and especially DC have a misogynistic view of women, and objectify them more than try to appeal to them, so is this reaction a reflection of the companies’ portrayals of women, or have the companies just been portraying women as their fans see them and we’re only just now see the true face of comic fandom?

These men need to change their attitude toward women, and that change should start at the comic companies that perpetuate them. They need to stop portraying women as objects and start as real people with real lives.

Kate: Now that Yen Press has announced that it will be publishing a Twilight manga, I’m fearing a second backlash against young female con-goers, since there are still a core group of tights-and-capes fans who dismiss manga as “comix for chicks.” Tom Crippen’s recent post at The Hooded Utilitarian exemplifies what I’m talking about:

I don’t get manga. I look at a page and want to look away. Reason: the stylization of figures appears to me to be highly uniform, and it’s not a particular stylization I like. Solid black hair, googly eyes, the kids who look like adults, the adults who look like kids, etc. The look turns me off. Further, its kindergarten feel makes it hard for me to believe worthwhile stories could be told using this stylization, or at least told to their advantage… Because my aversion to manga is so sharp and immediate, I have never given the comics a chance… I should have asked straight out: What am I missing? … Point one: the googly eyes, etc., belong to just one style of manga. The girls’ stuff, apparently. There are lots more out there.

Once again, girls’ taste is being called into question: how could they like something so divorced from reality that it has a “kindergarten feel” that’s ill-suited to “worthwhile stories”? This unwillingness to try and understand why manga—or, for that matter, Twilight—appeals to girls is maddening. I respect Crippen’s right to dislike this particular approach to storytelling, but it’s frustrating to read blanket dismissals of the medium that are couched in sexist, condescending language like this.

Sabrina Fritz: I have read all of the Twilight books, and I thought that while they weren’t the worst thing that I’ve ever read, they also weren’t the best, and I don’t think they necessarily deserve the fanbase that they’ve garnered. That said, I’ll give the manga a try with an open mind and see how it turns out.

ouranhighschoolEsther: This vehemence against manga and pigeon holing the format as something that’s just for girls is ridiculous. Yes, the guys who come to my library love super hero comics, but they also read manga. They like the manga oriented to them. Naruto, Bleach, SGT Frog, Dragon Eye, Hoshin Engin, Hikaru No Go….. Oh and BTW, I had plenty of guys borrowing Twilight this year. This gives me hope. The young men I work with will be a lot more accepting and respectful to women and their tastes than the men who are supposedly their role models.

Robin: I agree, Lori, that the change needs to come from within—from both the publishers and the fans. When I was last at Comic-Con, I attended a lovely dinner with a few women but mostly men, and at one point the conversation turned to why we women had pretty much stopped reading superhero comics and were now more drawn to manga. The gentlemen at the table, all great guys and fans and not at all the type that would spew bile aimed at girls, nonetheless were completely puzzled as to why women would be so bothered by the way female superheroes are drawn (not the writing, but the pin-up style art that is prevalent). I had a tough time explaining it at the time, but the next morning I came up with the right switch that got them thinking: what if we took Batman, dressed him up in a thong, and sent him out to fight crime, all the while featuring many panels of him lounging around in his bedroom or talking on the phone in a tiny towel. When I mentioned this to a few of my (straight) male comics fan friends, their reaction was very much a look of horror and an exclamation of, “I don’t want to see that!” My response was “…And so you see my point.”

Esther, I think you make a good point—that a lot of the current fans, the teenagers themselves, do not have even remotely the same baggage as many adult fans do, nor are they even aware of the various schisms. My teens all read everything, but by and large they read more manga (guys and girls both) than Western comics at this point. Everything is much more cross-media and cross-gender to my teens, and they are far less worried about who reads what than my generation was/is. I too had a lot of guys checking out Twilight, sometimes just to understand why all the girls were so ablaze, and, as one teen guy put it, “Vampires and werewolves. They fight. That’s cool.” As these guys grow up (and I hope this is true of some of the younger fans in their 20s and 30s that have also embraced manga and indie comics), they’re likely going to scratch their heads in confusion about such hullaballoos.

Lori: Twilight doesn’t need the “manga style” to get an audience, but a graphic novel in the manga format will fit perfectly in the YA book section next to the Twilight novels. Format isn’t really the issue with these commenters though. Manga haters are going to hate manga no matter what the subject it, and comic fans are going to hate a graphic Twilight no matter the format, or even if Alex Ross did the art. The problem is the attitude toward teen girls and women who want to enjoy comics without the objectification.

utena1Eva Volin: The librarian half of my brain wants to sit the fanboys down and explain to them about the birds and the bees, about brain development, and the statistics on reading patterns and buying habits of girls vs. boys. To remind them that teenage girls have expendable incomes, too, and ask if they’d really rather the girls spend that money somewhere else, like at a chain bookstore, or Hot Topic, or on eBay. Or at the booths in the dealers rooms where they sell cell phone charms of Naruto characters or the twins from Ouran High School Host Club. The librarian half of my brain wants to reason with people who would rather stomp their feet than get with the program and embrace this new generation of fan—a generation who, if encouraged, could save the comics industry.

But the fact that this argument has surfaced again, and that the comments have been so sarcastic and hateful, tells me that rational thought is not welcome here. And the fangirl half of my brain is pissed. How dare you tell me that Twilight fans aren’t “normal people,” you, who counted with pride the number of times you saw Star Wars? Posts and comments like these tell me that, even after being a comic book reader and fan for twenty-five years, I’m still not welcome. They tell me that I should expect to have my favorite books looked down upon. That the books I enjoy are too “kindergarten” and too obviously for girls to be worth a second look. That because I have two X chromosomes I need to have sequential art explained to me in small words and if I’m in a comic book shop it must be because I’m there to buy books for my son or nephew. And to all of that I say, “Bite. Me.”

I’m going to SDCC. I’m going to line up to see the panels I’m interested in. I’m going to cheer for the artists whose work I enjoy. I’m going to ask questions and get autographs and maybe even do a little cosplaying. And I’m going to spend money at booths that have the merchandise I’m interested in. Lots of money. And if you don’t want my business, don’t worry. Call it women’s intuition, but I’ll be able to tell. And I’ll remember. And I’ll take my business, as well as my nieces’ and their friends’ business, to someone else’s booth.

Robin Brenner is teen librarian at the Brookline Public Library and a former Eisner judge and Eisner nominee; Kate Dacey is a grad student and manga blogger; Lori Henderson is a manga blogger and the mother of two pre-teen girls; Esther Keller is a school media specialist in Brooklyn, NY; Eva Volin is the supervising children’s librarian for the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, CA, and a former Eisner judge; Sabrina Fritz is a 16-year-old manga blogger.

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54 Comments

As someone who works at a comic shop, I’m just stoked to see more people reading comics. I don’t care who. Twilight as a comic is going to be huge and a great thing for comics in general. It will just be interesting to see if it will be more movie or book based or perhaps a happy medium will be reached. It will be interesting to hear and read the reactions to it. At the moment i can only see it being very positive, no matter what it will bring a lot of attention to comics.

One thing you notice quickly working in a comic shop, is that the female readers are more open minded, while Twilight is what will bring them in inititally, six months down the track you will find them picking up more and more comics of all kind. Plus they begin bringing in more of their friends female or otherwise, just through the sheer amount of passion they have for what they are reading.

I actually wish the male readers could be more like them in this regard, as male readers tend to be downers on just about everything, especially if they know nothing about it. Check just about any article on Newsarama, its pathetic. Would be nice if they could channel that enthusiasm in a positive manner. While the female readers enthusiasm can be a bit much to take early some mornings haha, its refreshing and usually brightens your day. Definitely beats some deadpan long winded rant on the mythology of the Dark Horse Star Wars comics or who is really dead in the DC universe an hour after you wake up.

The male readers need to adjust their attitude, there is something for everyone, accept it, and now with this Twilight comic on the horizon, there is finally something for your girlfriend/fiance/wife to look at while you peruse those ridiculous amount of X-Men and Batman comics haha

I think a lot of this idiotic attack on Twilight fans has to do with (some) fanboys being afraid that they’re losing a part of their identity.

The more comics become mainstream through movies and TV and the more the conventions focus on all pop-culture, therefore inviting more people who don’t necessarily enjoy comics, the less unique our comic geek identity becomes. (At least that’s the way it feels.) That’s a pretty frightening thought, and, like Yoda said, fear leads to anger.

These frightened/angry fanboys lash out at the easiest target, which happens to be Twilight fans because so many of them are children. Unfortunately, it’s easy to dismiss things kids like.

How respected are comics and animation because, for so long, the majority of the material produced in these media were aimed at kids? The respect is growing, but it’s still no where near the respect that novels and live-action gets from adults just because there are no pictures.

None of this makes what those jerks say right. They should embrace the Twilight and manga fans and try to introduce them to comics that are similar to their taste. They should talk to them and maybe learn a little about things outside their comfort zones, things they’re not “experts” in.

And even if they don’t embrace the new con goers, the fanboys don’t have to go to the Twilight panel, there’s plenty more going on at SDCC.

because so many of them are children

…did you read the same article I did? It’s not about them being young, Josh, it’s about them being female. If Twilight mostly appealed to teenage boys, there might be some grumbling, but nothing like this level of hostility. And I get that you have good intentions, and you’re not wrong about geekboys getting defensive about what used to be a small and cosy subculture, but misogyny is a large part of that. The comics subculture in the US used to be a clubhouse with a great big “NO GURLS ALOUD” sign on the door, and there are lots of male comics fans who’d rather it was still like that.

I’m a middle-aged woman who has been reading comics since I was 5 or so years old, so it’s been almost 50 years. I’ve had to “prove” myself at a number of comics shops, that is that I had the right to be in the shop because I like to read comics. At one local store where I now live, the owner never did accept that a woman could be a comics fan; thank goodness he retired and sold his store to younger men who do accept me as a fan. At a New York Comic Con, I was accepted as a fan at indie booths, but ignored at the DC and Marvel booths. And I’ve been reviewing graphic novels for a library professional journal since 1993. I’ve never been to SDCCI, so I’ll be paying lots of attention to blogs and news sites to see how things go this year.

And at the school where I work, manga fans are pretty much equally divided between the boys and the girls, but it’s the boys who want to talk with me about the manga they like. And while the middle school girls talked a lot about the movie Twilight, they devoured ALL the books and would jump at the chance to meet Stephenie Meyer and squee at her. All the more power to them, I say.

I’ve made a similar comment elsewhere, but I think it deserves a repeat:
Male comic fans seem to be aggressive against ANYTHING they don’t like. Not just “girls comics” or manga but everything. Marvel vs DC debates tend to be ridiculous, the sheer hate for certain characters some people have is ridiculous, and the hyperbole for writers/artists/editors they don’t like are equally ridiculous. This is just another thing they’re acting ridiculous about and sadly, because the fanbase of Twilight is predominantly girls, their hyperbolic rants turn misogynistic very very quickly.
And it’s not just comic nerds that act this way. Try going to a gaming forum. Their conversations are about just as civil as any comic forum.

Twilight’s shit. Then again, so’s Transformers and a ton of other stuff that guys and girls alike love. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest, as I can’t really defend a good portion of the stuff I read, as it’s all floating in the same bowl with the aforementioned garbage. Gender seems to give people a good dividing line to use when arguing about things completely irrelevant to everyday life.

This was a wonderful read.

I am tired of the attitude that “boy’s fiction” in whatever form it takes is automatically better than “girl’s fiction” (also in whatever form it takes).

The way I look at it, yes, there is a lot of awful media aimed at women. But there’s also a lot of awful media aimed at men, too. A well-written/well-drawn story is a well-written/well-drawn story at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter what the target audience was supposed to be.

SDCC hasn’t been exclusively about comics for a long time now. Fanboys getting all upset that the girls are taking over due some movie are misguided (and for those that say “oh, they just like the pretty actors” — I certainly do not want to read any reports of anyone drooling over Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow or anything else).

If you’re a man, or a woman, who enjoys Twilight, at any age in your life, you have fucking horrible taste. Youth or gender doesn’t factor into having shitty taste in entertainment.

I’m an equal-opportunity hater. I cast as large a middle finger towards Twilight fans as I do towards the people who insist Blackest Night was the best comic of the year.

Maybe a SLIGHTLY bigger one towards the Twilight fans, since they’re louder, there are more of them and the thing they enjoy is actually detrimental towards not only literature, but society and feminism as well.

That being said, on the manga subject, it’s ludicrous to assume that it’s a “girl” genre when there are so many manga tailor-made for dudes. Hell, even a lot of the “girl” manga kicks the shit out of your average action manga any day of the week. Whether something is “girly” or not shouldn’t enter into the quality. Same thing with if something’s obviously dude entertainment. It’s the reason why one person can enjoy “Die Hard” and “Breakfast at Tiffanys” at the same time.

Noah Berlatsky

July 21, 2009 at 5:40 am

This is an interesting discussion, and I sympathize with many of the points made. I do want to say a word in Tom Crippen’s defense though. If you read the entire content of his posts on this subject, it’s quite clear that he is *not* making a blanket dismissal; he’s talking about his personal response *in particular.* Indeed, he’s *criticizing* his personal response; he’s saying he needs to think again about it. And over at HU, he’s participated in and had thoughtful discussions about several manga…including YKK, which does have a kind of big-eyed, kindergarteny look (Tom liked it.)

Really, if super-hero fans in general were as thoughtful and as willing to give manga and/or other audiences a chance as Tom, you wouldn’t have the problems you’re talking about.

And, given that, it’s worth remembering, if for just a moment, that manga folks can be pretty tribal and intolerant themselves. I’m just sayin’.

Noah Berlatsky

July 21, 2009 at 5:57 am

Oh, what the hey. I’ll also comment on this:

What bothers me most is the underlying assumption that girls (and women) don’t know how to be proper fans, that they’re only there for the hot guys and couldn’t care less about the books or the creator—an assumption that ignores the fact that girls’ voracious reading habits helped put Twilight on the map in the first place…

Personally, I think it’s silly to assume that there isn’t a sexual or prurient interest involved in most fandoms, whether male or female. There’s cheesecake all over pretty much every kind of genre fiction aimed at guys. If guys can be fans and gawk at Star Sapphire falling out of her costume, why shouldn’t tween girls get to look at/fantasize about hot guys?

Also, if you want to see the whole context of Tom Crippen’s comments, the conversation at Hooded Utilitarian is here. And Tom talks with some appreciation about YKK here and here

I read this roundtable yesterday and felt so grateful to all of you for saying what you did here. Now that I have a moment to say a bit more, I will. I’ve been pretty vocal about my feelings about this license being an overwhelmingly positive thing for Yen Press (and by extension, manga readers and the industry overall), and I believe that with my whole heart. I’ve also been appalled by the lashing out at young female fans you’ve talked about here. Appalled and actually *shocked*, though I suppose I should not have been. I think what makes this a particularly complicated subject for some people, though, is the fact that, from what I understand, there are some really legitimate reasons for not respecting the Twilight *books* which probably puts even some female fans in an awkward position.

I haven’t read Twilight, so I won’t pretend to be an expert, but in my circle of YA-reading women friends (most of whom *have* read the books, or at least tried) the objections to the series have been specific and fairly damning. They haven’t objected so much to the purple prose (did any of us care about that as teens?) but rather to the themes of racism and misogyny they see in the books, and which they honestly feel are potentially damaging to teen readers. They’ve cited specific items in the text–things said to/about the story’s heroine, constant comparisons made between one character’s perfectly white complexion vs. another’s “ruddy” skin, etc., and I have to admit their arguments are persuasive. They are, in fact, the reason I’ve stayed away from the books myself.

None of this excuses the fanboy reaction to this news, or the treatment of female fans in the comics world overall, but it probably does put some women in an awkward position. Can they defend the fans without finding themselves inadvertently defending the books? I think definitely so, but it does perhaps make things more complicated. Of course, I’d probably have a lot more respect for the fanboys’ position if any of them were objecting to the comic adaptation because they actually found the series morally repugnant, but that’s something I’ve yet to see.

In any case, thank you all for speaking out here on behalf of female fandom. I know it meant a lot to *me* to read this, and I’m sure many other women agree.

Noah: I didn’t pluck Tom’s comment out of context; I read the entire sequence of articles (including your eloquent defense of shojo), and noticed that Tom made same point in at least two of his “I don’t get manga” postings. His attempt to be humorous was dismissive and deeply disrespectful to female manga readers; if I had posted something in a similar vein dissing superhero comics, I would have been crucified by male fans for categorically reducing a diverse array of comics to a prevailing style. I know that many of my manga-loving compatriots are not open-minded about American comics, but please don’t tar me with that brush as well. My pull list includes everything from Black Lagoon to the ongoing Shanower/Young Wizard of Oz adaptation.

I agree with your point that “it’s silly to assume that there isn’t a sexual or prurient interest involved in most fandoms, whether male or female.” No one here is denying that many girls are interested in Twilight for the hot guys or romantic plotlines. Focusing exclusively on girls’ “prurient interest” in the series, however, makes it easy to dismiss female fans as nothing more than a silly, squealing mob that’s intruding on a sacred male space.

…it probably does put some women in an awkward position. Can they defend the fans without finding themselves inadvertently defending the books? I think definitely so, but it does perhaps make things more complicated.

Yes, it definitely does; I have many of the same objections to Twilight as your friends, Melinda. For me, it boils down to respect: I don’t want to have to distance myself from other female fans just to be taken seriously as a comic book reviewer and consumer.

For me, it boils down to respect: I don’t want to have to distance myself from other female fans just to be taken seriously as a comic book reviewer and consumer.

Kate, that is extremely well-said, and it is how I feel too. I’ve struggled with this same issue on several different fronts, and in the end… well, you’ve just really hit the nail on the head here. Thank you.

Brigid Alverson

July 21, 2009 at 7:24 am

Melinda, I think a lot of people who don’t like the books can still defend them.

I haven’t read the books myself, but my daughter read all of them. In fact, she dragged me to Barnes & Noble to reserve book in advance as they came out. Despite this eagerness, she is very critical. She feels the books are poorly written and some of the characters annoy her. I actually think this is really interesting—she’s involved with the books enough to be bothered by their imperfections. (Similarly, she stayed up till 5 a.m. reading the sixth Harry Potter book, then threw it across the room in disgust and woke up her sister to complain.)

So the books don’t have to be good, nor do the readers have to completely buy what they have to offer. It reminds me of a teenage girl I interviewed for a newspaper article on manga, who enjoyed writing Naruto fanfiction. She didn’t think Naruto was very good, she just thought it was good fanfic fodder. There are different ways of engaging with a book, and not all of them are obvious or predictable.

There are different ways of engaging with a book, and not all of them are obvious or predictable.

As a former fanfic writer myself, I can relate to this wholeheartedly. :) Also, this: Similarly, she stayed up till 5 a.m. reading the sixth Harry Potter book, then threw it across the room in disgust and woke up her sister to complain. (I have never actually thrown an HP book across the room, but there have been moments.)

I think what prompted my comment in many ways was looking at a particular subset of fans–women who generally spend a lot of time standing up for other women–and noticing the profound silence on this particular issue, which I can only attribute to their known disgust with the series. I’m personally not in a position to defend the series (or not), since I haven’t read it, but I can understand why they might feel conflicted. For instance, I’d definitely feel more comfortable defending fans of, say, Hot Gimmick than I would be defending the series itself. I might enjoy it on some level, but I’d have a hard time defending it or getting really excited about teen girls picking it up.

What this all comes down to in the end, is that I agree with both you and Kate, but I can still understand why some women might feel conflicted on the issue.

I’m always delighted to know more girls are reading comics and more kids are reading in general. Still, I couldn’t get through Twilight. I thought it was poorly written and presented a lot of really foul ideas about the ideal romantic relationship. If teen girls really believe this is romantic and strive for relationships like Bella’s, I fear for them.

Noah Berlatsky

July 21, 2009 at 9:36 am

Katherine, we can agree to disagree re: Tom’s comments. I still think you’re misreading him, but if you were patient enough to read the whole back and forth, you’re certainly entitled to your take.

I havent’ read Twilight either (though, at my wife’s urging, I think we’re going to watch the movie shortly.) However, I’ve certainly read/watched a bunch of art for girls which seemed extremely dicey aesthetically (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for example, has hugely problematic takes on gender and relationships, despite its feminist cred. (The whole “your boyfriend visited a prostitute because you’re too perfect — you need to apologize to him” thing. Ick.)) I’d certainly be willing to argue vigorously that Buffy is an overrated piece of crap in many ways. But it seems to me that there’s a pretty big jump from saying “this is lousy” as a critic to saying as a fan/potential purchaser/vendor “we don’t want teen girls in our space.”

It reminds me of the disco record burning event in Chicago way back when, yes? Just because you dislike disco doesn’t make you a racist. But the virulence of the hatred, and the way the dislike ends up getting used as a group identity linked to a kind of violence and/or exclusion starts to raise some questions.

Noah: Whatever else we may disagree on, the disco analogy is brilliant. (And yes, I’m old enough to remember it. Yikes!)

Brigid Alverson

July 21, 2009 at 10:12 am

Kris, a lot of us have the same reservations about Hot Gimmick, as Melinda mentioned above. But just because people read something doesn’t mean they buy it wholesale or take it as a model for their own relationships. Part of my daughter’s reaction to Twilight was her distaste for the relationships portrayed in the books. They gave her a chance to think about different types of relationships and articulate her own feelings, which I think was a valuable thing.

It’s not really pertinent to the discussion, but I honestly never thought of “Buffy” as “art for girls.” “Art that a lot of girls and women enjoyed,” sure, but never as something specifically conceived for that audience. Though I agree about the dicey gender/relationship issues Noah mentions.

Might as well put in my regurgitated two cents:
Twilight Fans are being dumped on while other fanbases such as Browncoats (or Whedonites in general) and Star Wars Geeks get to walk around like they OWN the convention? Something is wrong with this picture.

ok. I am a girl/woman (Lais is a greek name, and I am Brazilian).
I always liked X-men, but see comics were always a bit expensive and the begining of the story was so far behind that I didn’t have the interest to stard reading a story from the middle, so I didn’t. I started buying mangas at the age of 14 (I’m 20 now). And not with shoujo, with Evangelion.
I don’t like Twilight, I don’t like the way it’s written, and I think it’s just another harlequinn story, and it’s pretty clichê, there is thousends of storys about a good, nice looking, vegetarian vampire, this one just sold more than others…
I agree that comic books portrait women as objects, and they have a much more real body structure in mangas, and they have also a more human personality..
So I prefer mangas, I still read one or two american comic books as well as european, but anyway, I prefer graphic novels because they have an end, which is also a point for mangas.. you see i find it pathetic that thing of first, second batman… and even if it was the same person, he would be more than 500 years old…
Ok I also don’t like superman, he is a plan character, and so uninteresting..
I don’t like startrek and I think is childish.. so what?
The biggest problem is that they don’t like us in their enviroment and I think the only way to fix it is by taking it over, the way it is in brazil, where comic and manga events and almost the same and were comic shops sells mangas and so on.
So let’s have american comics drawn by women for women..

Just to comment as someone who has, in fact, read all of the Twilight books…

Melinda, what you say is very true — that there are many things that are problematic with the Twilight books, especially for adult female readers versus teen readers, IMHO. There are many troubling ideas of romance and idealization of said romance in those books. Hot Gimmick seems to me a really good parallel — you get caught up in the romance/soap opera, and then get upset with yourself for ignoring the myriad power/relationship problems that crop up.

That being said, I think Brigid’s point (as you agreed with, Melinda) is the most important point — the way anyone reads any book (or comic) is entirely their own, and people (teens included!) read all manner of things at multiple levels all at the same time. Yes, I have piles of teens who adore the books without thinking too hard about them, and to me, that’s ok. I don’t actually fear that they’ll truly think that that’s what a romance should be like in real life as they grow up. I also have piles of other teens (and they all interact, believe me) who have issues with the Twilight books, just the same way as many adult readers do, and who will quiz their friends about the appeal, their problems with the stories and relationships, and what to do with a series that’s melodramtically, romantically attractive and yet still upsets them.

I have danced the same dance with the Twilight books — I find them very compelling to read, in the moment, but there are so many times when I got a bit revolted with myself for needing to keep reading. And like Kate, I rebel from the idea that I somehow have to act as if I didn’t enjoy reading them to be taken seriously in criticism or as an intelligent, literate woman.

However, what I think is perhaps more odd about Twilight to me is the idea that any of this is something new. Wuthering Heights has long been held up as a romantic melodrama that teenagers are all forced to read in school, but I don’t see anyone getting up in arms about what the teenage girls will take away from Heathcliff’s creepy behavior. Nor does anyone seem to worry that all the boys will start roaming the moors and exacting their revenge in elaborate ways.

We need to trust in the people that read the books, whatever messages the stories may send, to be smart about what they take away from them and apply to their lives. It’s a question of dismissing people, here, not the works themselves, and I think that’s the real problem for me. I can hate Dan Brown’s books (and I do) but I would never dismiss a Dan Brown fan just because they like Dan Brown.

Robin, what a great point about Wuthering Heights! Your comment got me thinking about exactly why we are treating Twilight as though it is something new. Probably part of it is simply the size of the phenomenon which at least *appears* bigger than anything I recall in my teen years, though the impact of the internet and how easily information is shared these days may have something to do with that. I wondered too, though, if it’s simply that it is, for many of us, the first big teen book phenomenon to happen since we began our turn as “adults.”

Yesterday on Twitter many of us were confessing our own teen fiction obsessions that might make us cringe now, and things like The Outsiders and Flowers in the Attic came up. I remember my family’s patience with my Outsiders obsession, and none of them expressed worries (at least not to me) that I’d try to join a gang (or date a boy in a gang) or get into fights because of it, though certainly I was at *least* as wrapped up in it as many girls are in Twilight right now. It was a pretty big phenomenon at the time, even though it was an older book, because the movie was being made with all those new, good-looking teen idols just coming on the scene. I bought all the teen magazines for every bit of news. I even wrote a fan letter to C. Thomas Howell, the actor playing Ponyboy. I wonder, now, if my parents ever had their own worries about the depth of my obsession–maybe talked about it with other adults when I wasn’t around. Perhaps the only real difference between then and now is that my perspective has changed.

It’s a question of dismissing people, here, not the works themselves, and I think that’s the real problem for me.

This is, of course, the real point and I couldn’t agree more.

Hi Katherine Dacey

I think you just don’t like the phrase “girls’ stuff.” Because you saw the phrase, you assumed I was making an argument that I actually wasn’t making.

To be fair, in terms of this discussion, I will say that re: Twilight and its many issues of concern, we in the Teen Librarian community have had this discussion on listservs, forums, and in person for years now. I think perhaps we all realized the phenomenon a little earlier than the general public, long before the movie was even scheduled, and we all definitely read the books as early as they arrived. I remember getting the first book as an advanced reader copy at the American Library Association Conference. All that to say I’ve been thinking about the relative merits of Twilight, and comparisons to books like Wuthering Heights, for a long long time. :)

I’m so glad to see everyone discussing here! I’m just about to head off to my first day of Comic-Con-ing, and maybe some of this will come up in the Comics & Media Conference!

Q: Are we not men?

July 22, 2009 at 9:11 am

Somebody should do something about this Twilight business!

Having a bunch of shrill obsessives in silly costumes wandering the halls at Comic Con will TOTALLY change the tone of our yearly celebration of the things we buy!

Noah: As a major Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, my first response to your synopsis of the Buffy/Riley relationship in S5—”The whole “your boyfriend visited a prostitute because you’re too perfect — you need to apologize to him” thing. Ick.”—was “that’s not how it went down!” But then I thought about it a little more, and realized that you do have a point, there. Buffy’s strength and self-reliance was portrayed as the problem in that relationship, which is pretty screwy.

I guess this is just another testament to the fact that you can love something, even while being cognizant of its flaws.

Tom: As I explained above, I did not simply pluck this comment out of context — I read all of your posts (and Noah’s) very carefully. I have no doubt that you were trying to be humorous in explaining why you don’t like manga, but your tone and word choices are very unfortunate, as you seem to be saying that shojo manga, a.k.a. “the girl’s stuff,” has a “kindergarten feel.”

Word choice is important! If you don’t want to alienate female readers, be more circumspect in what you say. I learned that lesson the hard way after I wrote a snarky review of Vampire Knight. I dismissed it as generic crap for girls, and its fans took me to task for what I’d said. I still don’t like VK, but I appreciated the care and passion with which they defended their interest in the series. I’d conflated audience with content and my review, and deserved criticism from its fans.

Noah Berlatsky

July 22, 2009 at 4:31 pm

But…shojo manga is “girl’s stuff.” That’s the definition. And it does have a “kindergarten feel.” It’s deliberately and extravagantly cutesy. By design.

Word choice is important. At the same time, I think it can be kind of condescending to think you have to treat girl readers as if they’re going to break if you mention that you don’t agree with their consumer choices. Tom was quite careful to say that he was talking about his own preferences and not making blanket qualitative statements. He didn’t come anywhere near dismissing anything as generic crap for girls…though you know what? There is generic crap for girls out there, just like there’s generic crap for boys…and generic crap for etilioated college professors, for that matter. Sneer away at the lot of it, I say.

And it does have a “kindergarten feel.” It’s deliberately and extravagantly cutesy. By design.

Noah, if that’s really what you think, you can’t possibly have looked at much variety of shojo manga. There is plenty of diversity within the genre, especially when you look at the differences between shojo for young girls and shojo for teens, all of which fall under than umbrella. Also, regardless of what you (or Tom) think of whatever art you’re looking at, if you’re using the phrase “kindergarten feel” to describe something that is created for and enjoyed by girls or young women older than kindergarten age, they are going to feel insulted. This can’t be surprising. If you feel that description is the only way to clearly express your opinion, so be it, but the unavoidable result is that many girls and women (and probably men!) who enjoy the genre are going to feel insulted and belittled by your choice of words.

Brigid Alverson

July 22, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Are we talking about apples and oranges here? Hello Kitty has a kindergarten feel. Fruits Basket, not so much. In fact, I think most shoujo manga is not so much cutesy as hopelessly sentimental. Vampire Knight made me feel like I was back in high school again, so much so that I stopped reading it because I’m done with high school emotions and had no desire to relive them.

If anything, the guy manga has more of a kindergarten feel because a lot of it features girls who look very childish—as I write this, I’m looking at Amefurashi, a shonen manga, which features a girl who looks like she is about 10, holding a whip. I don’t see much of that sort of character design in girls’ manga. The page layouts are often quite complex in shoujo manga, and the characters look and talk like teens/adults.

Noah Berlatsky

July 22, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Hey Melinda. I’m actually going to stop hijacking this thread now. I have a long rambling response to this discussion here which folks can click on or ignore. Thanks to Kate, Brigid and all for your patience. It’s been a fun discussion.

I guess my response to both Noah & Tom would be to get a copy of the Shojo Manga! Girl Power! exhibit catalog and look at the entire range of shojo available. My reaction to the exhibit can be read here: http://comicsworthreading.com/2007/02/20/shojo-manga-exhibit-reaction/

I’ve said this before, but I don’t mind repeating myself. I find shojo manga to be the most visually insteresting and exciting comics anywhere. Good shojo artists have thrown out all the old rules for page composition and started from scratch. They are looking to fine art instead of comics for inspiration. They approach the page like a blank canvas and are creating new ways of telling stories. The best shojo manga simply can’t be described in traditional comic language. You can’t use the stolen cinematic vocabulary to discuss what their doing, you have to go back to the language of painting and illustration just to describe what you see. At times it feels like your inside the mind of the artist seeing their vision directly. When you can look at a wordless two page composition and instantly intuit the story, then you realize this is next/higher level of comic writing. After an experience like that, reading a traditional superhero comic feels like going back to the stone age.

Noah & Tom if you haven’t encountered shojo comics like that, then you really don’t know what you’re talking about. Once you sampled all the genres within shojo can you make a blanket statement about shojo in general. You’re both intelligent men, but you’re statements on shojo come across as moronic at times. I suggest that you stick to critiquing specific examples of shojo that you’re reading and leave generalizations to more qualified readers. I think doing so will help avoid a lot of needless argumentation and talking pass each other. Also by sticking to specific works, we can have a constructive conversation with concrete examples to cite on both sides.

P.S. I do have A LOT of respect for Noah & Tom in many regards. So my comments about their writing on shojo are not indicitive of my opinion of the other 99.9% of the material they write. I just want to clear about that.

Shoujo manga aimed for younger readers does often go the big-eyed, sparkly route with its art. For examples of shoujo that don’t do this, I recommend Basara and Banana Fish. Both also feature epic stories that could appeal to any reader, regardless of gender.

While i’m not familiar with either Twilight or its critics, the first thing that occurs to me when i read these accounts is how defensive the complainers sound. They don’t want Those Twilight Fans “invading” their con. They don’t want so much attention given to someone else’s fandom. (And as always, complaining online is its own fetish.)

Lots of fans want to believe that there is an objective goodness or suckness to entertainment. They want to believe that their favorite things are inherently, undeniably, empirically better that other folks’ favorite things. It’s not enough that they simply like it for subjective or idiosyncratic reasons, it has to be objectively better. In this sense, they tear down other people’s faves in order to build up their own.

So here’s Twilight, outshining the complainers’ faves. That apparently threatens their idea that whatever they like is the Best. So they start to deride, to gripe, to try to “prove” that Twilight isn’t deserving of the spotlight.

One way to do that is to attack Twilight’s fans. If the fans are irrational, or only like the actors not the story, or whatever, that’s points against it. (And, by this twisted logic, points towards what the Complainers like.)

That’s not unusual. It happens in politics. “Oh, you have to be so uninformed to vote for the Purple party. Everyone who understands the issues votes for the Yellow party.” It happens in music fandom. “Only dumb people listen to Frog Rock. People who understand music, like me, listen to Turtle Rock.” It’s Us vs. Them thinking.

In this case, the Them, from the Complainers’ perspective, are teen girls. So they pick on them based on stereotypes about teen girls.

There’s that Robert Frost poem that says “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Well, something there is in geekdom that can’t get enough of them. Having attended various cons, and hung around with loads of geeks, i’ve noticed that we love to ghetto-ize ourselves. Tabletop RPGers think that LARPers are so weird. Boardgamers disdain Magic The Gathering players. Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Manga vs. American Comics. It’s not enough to get shoddy treatment from the larger culture, we have to treat each other like crap, too? It’s completely stupid and pointless, but it happens all the time. Maybe it happens a bit less with the younger generation. I want to hope so, anyway.

Noah Berlatsky

July 23, 2009 at 7:27 am

Ed, I love shojo! Really and truly; Dokebi Bride is probably my favorite comic at the moment — I just read it for the second time and it made me cry again. In public, no less. Nana is the only series comic I buy regularly. I went to that shojo exhibit when it came to Chicago and had my socks knocked off.

Not that I can’t sound moronic at times on many, many issues, though.

Noah, Wait, I must getting what I read from you and Tom mixed up. I apologize. Sorry for misrepresenting your opinion. Anyone who reads Nana know that shojo is not all big eyes. Now I have to go back and reread it all so I can sort out who said what.

You make a good point, Paul. Also, I adore the idea of listening to Frog and/or Turtle Rock. :)

Ed Sizemore:
>I find shojo manga to be the most visually insteresting and exciting comics anywhere. Good shojo artists have thrown out all the old rules for page composition and started from scratch. <

Can you name a couple of series that do this sort of thing? It sounds amazing and i’d love to read it!

Paul, The first that comes to mind is Swan. The dance sequences are amazing. To a lesser extent St. Dragon Girl is interesting to read. I’ve read the first three volumes and not one page is done in a tradition square grid layout. Tail of the Moon has some amazing one and two page spreads. I would have look through my stacks to give more specific examples. So I’ll get back to you with that.

The problem with the ‘SDCC/fanboys stop being mean to Twilight/fangirls’, argument is that it conflates a dislike of fangirls and a disrespect for the things they enjoy with a dislike of Twilight.

This is the first time in several years I’ve skipped SDCC — and, IMHO it’s pretty welcoming to fans/geeks of the distaff persuasion. A large portion of the con hall is devoted to Manga/Manhwa/Anime, there are tons of cosplayers for girl-centric/friendly fandoms (Harry Potter, Naruto, etc.), and, unlike Robin Brenner, I’ve seen plenty of ‘glomping’ and tomfoolery with ‘yaoi paddles’ (if you don’t know, best not to ask) on the floor over the last few years.

Personally, I don’t care for shojo manga (though I used to like the Maison Ikokku anime way back in the day), but just like any other subgenre, it has it’s share of good and bad works.

I actually think most ‘adult male fans’ feel the same way: Shojo manga may not be their cup of tea, but no fanboy with an IQ above room temperature would deny that it has a rightful place at an event called ‘Comic-Con International.’

I think the reasons you’re seeing a backlash against ‘Twilight’, as opposed to other girl-centric fandoms boils down to the following:

1)Twilight is so aggressively mainstream that, in fact, many younger fanboys (and not a few fangirls) who have been ‘typically dismissed and marginalized’ are instinctively disdainful of it b/c a large portion of Twilight fandom is composed of the exact same folks who engaged in said dismissing and marginalizing. This is a fandom with a disproportionately large chunk of ‘mean girls’, not another group of geeks seeking common ground.

2)Along those lines, the majority of Twilight fans are openly contemptuous of anything not directly tied to Meyer, Pattinson, or Stewart. ‘I’m only here for Twilight,’ T-shirts were a frequent sight on the floor last year, which is one reason I’m very skeptical of the idea that Twihards represent a potential new comic/manga crossover audience. As fandoms go, it seems to be pretty monomaniacal.

3)Even relative to other hardcore fandoms, Twilight fans are notorious for their bad behavior, as even a brief perusal of Fandom Wank (or, really, any portion of the internet) will make clear.

Bottom line: Liking/respecting fangirls =/= not liking/respecting (extreme) Twilight fangirls — there’s a BIG difference.

Noah Berlatsky

July 23, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Ed, I do know shojo isn’t all big eyes. On the other hand, I think referring to the overall style as kindergardeny isn’t totally off base. (Yazawa has weird fetishization of infantiized women in both Paradise Kiss and Nana, for example.) Though, yeah, it applies much better to some series than to others (Dokebi Bride —or indeed most of the mahwa I’ve seen — not so much, for example.)

I don’t mind being mistaken for Tom, though.

Noah, I don’t know. I still the term is pejorative at best. Plus, do we really want to bring the argument down to the level of my stylization of the human body is better than yours? Because, unless we’re talking Alex Ross, no one gets to claim realism in this debate. Look at the average superhero, do you really think that body type is realistic? Do you know how much steroids the average male superhero would have to inject to have something even close to that physique? Let’s not begin to discuss the impossibilities of the average female superhero. So any fan of one style of comic art to claim that another style of comic art is unrealistic is like a chicken telling an ostrich it ain’t a real bird cause it can’t fly. I have no problem with Tom saying he doesn’t like shojo art. I think a better term for Tom’s objection is cartoony. It’s a critique that’s been level against Tezuka’s art and I may not agree with it, I do see why people call it that. Again, it would of great help if Tom listed the series he’s look at to help get a better feel for where the objection stems from.

P.S. Noah, obviously I’m not immune from moronic behavior, thoughts, and actions myself.

Noah Berlatsky

July 24, 2009 at 7:03 am

I don’t think the ideal for Tom (and certainly not for me) is realism. I loathe Alex Ross’ work myself.

At least for me, “kindergardeny” really isn’t particularly pejorative. It’s descriptive — and moreover, descriptive of art I tend to appreciate. I like kids’ art and many of the modern art styles which reference it. I’d way rather look at a Paul Klee than at a Chuck Close. My own art (such as it is) in zines I’ve done is extremely kindergardeny (because I can’t draw…but thankfully that’s no barrier to being an artist these days.)

I don’t mean to be persnickety, but since we are talking about perceptions of shoujo and the perceptions of what it is, I must point out that Maison Ikkoku is not shoujo, but seinen. It’s a romance at its core, created by a woman, and I love it dearly, but it’s geared for a young adult male audience.

Paul: You might want to check out two series that Vertical, Inc. released. Both are by Keiko Takemiya, a pioneering shojo artist who’s been actively producing comics since the late 1970s. They are Andromeda Stories and To Terra. Technically speaking, Terra is shonen, but the style is visually consistent with Takemiya’s shojo works. (The label reflects the magazine in which the story was originally serialized.) Both are visually arresting science fiction stories that address perennial themes (e.g. man vs. machine) in novel and fresh ways.

Noah, Now we’re just debating semantics. For myself, I find the term a perjorative. From the original discussion above, I would say most of the panelists agree with me. You might use it to mean childlike or unsophisicated, but I don’t think that’s the way most people would understand the term.

Looking at Tom’s post, he is certainly using it as a pejorative. The sentence prior is a negative statement on the art, the predicate clause following is a negative statement on the art. So why would you construe the subject clause between the two as positive? “The look turns me off. Further, its kindergarten feel makes it hard for me to believe worthwhile stories could be told using this stylization, or at least told to their advantage” I would be interested to see how you parse that quote to make kindergarten a positive adjective.

I find it disturbing that people feel twilight is a good role model and will encourage boys/men to treat women better. Edwards spends most of his time ignoring Bella or equally suspect behavior. The lack of development of responsibility, character, or independency in Bella is promoting the misogynist lady in the tower view of the world.
I would think that Naruto for an example from a ‘male story’ is a much better role model for boys than Edward as he is always attentive, dedicated and treats females with respect.
The whole male female targeting is something that should be handled at a corprate level and not labeled at the fan level. This is silly as there are a variety of sub types using those should heal the divide.
The idea that manga/anime is kindergardeny is laughable as there are large number of stories that young children would not understand or appreciate eg akira and those of the josei and seinen styles.

Thanks for pointing me toward this post, Robin. I think all of the panelists here have made some great, insightful statements. I wonder how much of the backlash is based on fans suddenly having to step outside of their comfort zone and acknowledge fandoms such as manga/anime or paranormal romance that attract a large number of mostly female fans. Sometimes it feels like there’s an unwritten geek litmus test (that, of course, differs for each geek), and if your fandom doesn’t pass it, you’re scorned. Since “girl” fandoms tend to be scorned anyway, female fans are doubly screwed.

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