I have been thinking for some time about a series of posts that I am very excited about. A friend of mine told me I’d lose all my readers if I did it. However, my stats have dropped so low that I think I am safe in attempting it now. (I don’t mean you, gentle reader.)
I am bemused by the separate spheres of readers for my favorite format and my favorite genre. I mean graphic novels and romantic fiction. I read blogs about manga, and the die-hard shojo readers claim they would never read a text romance. Blogs and websites devoted to romantic fiction don’t seem to have much interest in the GN format. This, despite the fact that they are enthusiastic about ebooks, audio books and movies.
This strikes me as odd. One of the most likely reasons is the poor reputation of romantic fiction. Another reason might be that adult women still may think of comics as either kids’ stuff or men’s stuff and not for them. (This was true for most of American comics history.)
The same kind of reaction that has plagued romantic fiction for ages is being applied to manga. I have read posts by concerned adults worried that girls will be badly affected by reading the love stories in manga.
I am re-reading Austen’s Northanger Abbey and came across a small digression about this topic. Austen, satirically of course, urges women novelists to avoid slighting their own efforts. She describes women readers who hide their Gothic novels in shame when they are discovered. Then these women pretend they were reading something more socially acceptable. Things haven’t changed much. Jennifer Crusie has a response and the academic Teach Me Tonight blog has a short history of negative views of romantic fiction.
It’s a pity that young girls who are reading shojo manga might give up the format (and genre) when they are older as discussed on MangaBlog. One of the most appealing things about shojo is it is created by women/for girls in a similar way that American romance novels are created by women/for women.
I wonder how young shojo readers will approach the subject of love stories, if they become writers. Will shojo themes enter their fiction? Will they turn to American romantic comedy films as the only way to approach love stories?
It would be a shame for these girls to overlook their heritage of American female storytellers. In recent years, the genre has become more flexible than ever before. The most chaste of inspirational romances to the American equivalent of Boys Love romances are for sale. Romances can cover every topic from midlife career changes to terrorism to child abuse. The only thing holding fast is the happy ending and the centrality of the love story, as defined by the Romance Writers of America.
The first romance story in comics that I read was Cutter and Leetah’s story in Elfquest. Ever since, I’ve been convinced that the format and the genre make a perfect match. I’m going to look at love stories in comics using Pamela Regis‘ narrative components as a framework. I don’t know that I completely agree with her but it’s a good place to start. (I’ll go into detail later.)
I have ready a post about Usagi and Mariko from Stan Sakai’s Circles. I am puzzled why I picked a love story that is not a romance for my first attempt. Perhaps it is because I used to be able to find a love story in the most unpromising of comics. And, well, even the manliest of rabbits has a softer side.
(The real answer is that Mariko and Usagi’s story is deeply affecting and I wanted to stay with it a bit longer.)