Tag Archive for women

Three quick reviews of Harlequin manga titles

So about 10 years ago, Harlequin, in partnership with Dark Horse, did a line of comics called Harlequin Ginger Blossom — manga-style romance comics written by Harlequin writers and drawn by Japanese artists. There were 14 titles published and then they disappeared. I figured the whole thing managed to not catch on and it disappeared

The other day, I was browsing through Comixology, and I came across the Harlequin/SB Creative page (I believe most are also available on the Kindle, though, and possibly elsewhere — this is just where I found them). Not only had the whole Harlequin manga thing not disappeared, there are nearly 450 titles. (Most seem to be both be written and drawn by women.)

A quick crowdsourced query offered some suggestions of ones to read. So of course I bought some and did just that.

lucDomesticating Lucwritten by Sandra Paul, art by Mayu Takayama

This was probably the most straightforward and the sweetest of the three I read. It’s about a playboy, Luc, who is trying to train his late grandmother’s dog so he can put it up for adoption. His dog trainer, Julie, ends up staying with him to do just that (like you do).

It’s fun and silly (the dog, an Italian mastiff named Puppy, even has some asides). I didn’t find Luc to be particularly attractive — little too stiff and square-jawed for me — but Takayama’s Julie is bright-eyed and adorable. It’s the least sexually-explicit of the three I read — while Julie and Luc clearly has sex, it’s all hazy and dreamy with no nudity.

I didn’t quite buy the romance between them — it’s all pretty obvious and tame — but it was cute.

passionate-sinnerThe Passionate Sinner, written by Violet Winspear, art by Yoko Hanabusa

This is when things start to go off the deep end, which I am guessing is the ultimate appeal of these. I mean that in a good way. A surgeon named Paul Von Setan is blinded and the nurse who took the blame, Merlin, pretends to be an old woman to become Paul’s secretary as he works on a book on a tropical island.

Following all of that? Of course, Merlin is found out and Paul suspects she was the nurse who intentionally blinded him. There’s a bunch of gothic silliness here in the classic sense (think … Jane Eyre, but maybe in reverse and maybe with a loss of a limb).

The relationship seems primarily passionate and physical at first, and Paul definitely has a weird, controlling streak. There is a bit more nudity here and the sex scenes — while still hazy — definitely feel more physical and present. Hanabusa’s art has a pleasing retro quality to it, which I enjoyed. Her panel layouts are also dynamic and appealing.

This kind of falls into the “I don’t know if I’d call it good” category for me, but it was fun and I enjoyed I had no idea where it was going next (even if it ended up in an expected place).

Thesheik Sheik and the Virgin Secretary, written by Susan Mallery and art Kakuko Shinozaki

When I asked for recommendations, someone said “anything with Sheik in the title” and OK, let’s ignore the ethnic implications and just go with that. I picked this one because that title made it seem like it was going to be ridiculous.

I was kind of right. It wasn’t as over-the-top as I expected, but I think that made it better.

The virgin secretary of the title, Kiley, asks her boss, Rafiq (you guessed it! The sheik of the title. He’s from a fictional country in the Middle East so that fixes everything!) if she can be his mistress. You see, Kiley
just caught her fiancé cheating on her and clearly this is a logical solution to that. They agree to do this for three months.

I admire how quickly the plot just jumps to this (this arrangement happens in the first three pages). However, after Kiley admits to Rafiq she’s a virgin, he says he’s going to take it slowly — in a good way, of course. Yes, they fall in love because of course they do, but their relationship seems to have a natural progression. While there is conflict and family drama, it’s all pretty quickly resolved. I liked that.

Of the three I read, this definitely had the most sex — lots of undressing, fondling early on and it quickly progresses to more as the book continues. There’s quite a bit of nudity as well (all female, though). The sex scenes are pretty extended and while they still leave enough to the imagination, I was surprised at what they didn’t.

Shinozaki’s art is loose and modern and I thought it suited this story well. Kiley isn’t presented as a great beauty, but that’s definitely one of the points of the story. Rafiq is playfully handsome. Her page layouts have a breeziness to them that makes this story fun. For all the expected beats, the art really carries the story.

I have to admit I was surprised by the overall quality of these — I definitely went into this with some curiosity but not overly high expectations. The writing, while it adheres to pretty standard romance novel tropes and beats, is strong and effective. The manga artists are a good match for each title. These feel like they weren’t treated as a throwaway — the quality is much, much better than it needs to be. I love that.

While I could see how easily these could be addicting — they’re certainly entertaining and fun — at about $6 per title, they’re a little pricey for things I’m unlikely to ever read again. However, I like to know they’re there and whenever I need some silly comfort, I can imagine myself buying a couple more every now and then. I have a couple more recommendations to read but I’ll gladly take more.

Pénélope Bagieu at the Gaithersburg Book Festival


You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but French cartoonist Pénélope Bagieu is a knight.

Bagieu laughed off being a Chevalier des arts et des lettres, saying it mostly consisted of getting a hug and a heavy pin, it did set the tone for her conversation with George O’Connor at the Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 16.

Bagieu, who is a recent transplant to the U.S. (Brooklyn, specifically — she joked the next thing she’s working on is finding a couch), discussed with O’Connor the recent translation of her first graphic novel, Exquisite Corpse (First Second, 2015) into English as well as her life, her work and being a rock star (she’s a drummer! Despite the fact she said her former band sucks, she was still a drummer in a rock band and that’s amazingly cool).

Bagieu got her start drawing a comic called Josephine for Swiss magazine Femina. While she had a background in animation, she had never drawn a comic before, so she said she learned as she went. After she completed a year, she realized she had a book. After three years, she had enough and liked the idea of writing a complete story. That became Exquisite Corpse.

O’Connor asked about why it took so long for the book, originally published in France in 2010, to appear in English. Bagieu talked about meeting First Second editor Mark Siegel in France and how he expressed interest in her work, but because of translation and rights issues, it just took a long time. She also discussed the differences between French and American markets. In France, books are just released; in the U.S. there are worries about if it’s for adults or if it’s for kids. She also laughed that books can’t be “too French” for American audiences.

Bageiu said she’s enjoying her time in America and loves that people are connecting with her work. She finds it amazing and delightful her book was translated. She joked that she doesn’t even care if people come up to her and say Exquisite Corpse is “crap” because they “said it in English.”

O’Connor asked about the main character of Exquisite Corpse, Zoe. Zoe wasn’t a reader and O’Connor found that intriguing. Bagieu said that was actually something she could relate to, mentioning that famous people were the people on TV in her world. She also mentioned that despite making comics, she didn’t really read them until some bookstore clerks helped her out. She mentioned My Mommy: Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill by Jean Regnaud and Mile Bravo as the breakthough comic for her. It left her “crying like a fountain” and made her realize that comics aren’t just adventures or “boyish.” She said she now gives all her friends comics as gifts, and she pointed out, she’s “never wrong.”

Bageiu and O’Connor then discussed her process. She writes a lot before she ever starts drawing, and said no one else can really understand her scripts but her. She plans things out because the moment she starts to draw, it’s “scary.” She said the one thing she’s really careful about and clear about is the dialogue.

When asked about her influences, Bageiu said her mom had a lot of picture books, and she spent a lot of time with those. She mentioned ’50s and ’60s illustrators, especially, and cartoons. She used to tell people she wanted to grow up to be Tex Avary.

As far as upcoming projects go (other than a couch), she just completed a book about the ’60s folk scene, focusing on Mamma Cass, called California Dreaming. While there’s no promising it will be out in English, she’s hopeful.

In conclusion, O’Connor asked if Bageiu had any dream projects. She said she doesn’t really think that way, but at a panel at Toronto Comic Arts Festival, she and other panelists were asked what all illustrators dreamed of doing. Everyone one of them said “the cover of The New Yorker.” While she didn’t say she hopes for that, it doesn’t seem out the realm of possibilities for her.

After all, there are so many things she wants to do. She wants to live “one hundred years” because she has so many stories to tell.

But since Bageiu has already been knighted, I don’t think any of us should worry about what the future holds for her.

Review: Team Girl Comic #10

teamgirlcomic10There are so many things that can change in just five years. I know I’ve watched with delight how women have become a growing force in comics. They’re creating their own and posting them to Tumblr and speaking out about issues on Twitter. They’re taking over the artists’ alleys at cons and filling up sequential art classes. The changes are an amazing thing.

Likewise, Glasgow-based Team Girl Comic has grown and changed from its early days into a group that can absolutely not be ignored. If you haven’t been paying attention to Team Girl Comic, Issue #10 is the perfect place to start.

As explained in the opening story by Claire Yvette and Gill Hatcher, in Team Girl Comic #10, Hatcher didn’t feel like her comics were quite fitting in to the scene she saw around Glasgow in 2009. In an effort to find a community, she began seeking out other girls and women making comics. They began publishing anthologies and holding events, but the companionship and camaraderie they found in each other was the most important.

The diversity of styles and subjects is delightful. MJ Wallace‘s sweetly thoughtful “How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Me” illustrates how she made peace with her body image in touching detail, even including some sketches from her life drawing classes. Shona Heaney‘s “The Winston Churchill Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” delivers on the title’s promise in both hilarious and disturbing ways in bleak, scratchy pen drawings.

There’s diversions into the fantastic, like “GEMS Saltire Squad” by Amanda “Hateball” Stewart, and into the surreal, like Donya Todd‘s “HC.” Many of the stories, though, do deal with what life is like for the modern woman, like Iona “Nondo” Mowat’s all-to-real “Small Talk Frustrations” and Lucy Sweet‘s charming reflection on getting older, “What Will I Be Doing When I’m Forty?”

The centerpiece of Team Girl Comic #10 is, without a doubt, “The Extraordinary Occurrence That Took Place at Comicon, in July 2013” written by the legendary Trina Robbins and illustrated by Hatcher. Robbins writes about how, last year, other than the predictable outcome of a bunch of men winning in the Eisner awards, a surprising number of women won. Hatcher draws the reactions — disappointment and boredom to men winning and happiness and surprise to women winning — in a playful way. What is a simple anecdote becomes an entertaining glimpse into how comics is constantly changing for the better.

By bringing together women creators of all ages and experience, Team Girl Comic #10 definitely feels like the party that’s illustrated on the cover. It’s one where you have friends and you’ll make new ones. Everyone is welcome and everyone is going to have fun.

And I know I’m looking forward to the day when I’m reading Team Girl Comic #20.

PDF provided for review by Team Girl Comic.

Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki at Politics and Prose

Mariko Tamaki, left, and Jillian Tamaki at Politics and Prose on May 17, 2014

Mariko Tamaki, left, and Jillian Tamaki at Politics and Prose on May 17, 2014

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s discussion of their new graphic novel, This One Summer (First Second/Groundwood Books, 2014) at Politics and Prose on May 17 was introduced by what seemed like an unlikely choice: A young man named Frans. In his metal T-shirt and camouflage pants with long hair and a beard, he didn’t seem like someone who would be too into a young adult graphic novel about two girls created by two women. But that was the point: Frans told us that while he came into comics through ’90s titles like Cyberforce, he found a lot to connect with in This One Summer.

If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

For about an hour, the Tamaki cousins discussed their book and their work overall in an intimate chat, taking questions from the audience of a few dozen. The two had a playful, easy chemistry with each other, which showed why they are such effortless collaborators.

Many questions focused on their creative process. Mariko said she gives Jillian a script that’s written in a play format, but mostly trusts what Jillian will do with it. And the idea of “trust” was a big theme in how they work with each other. Jillian said she felt entitled to ignore some of Mariko’s dialogue and direction, and Mariko was OK with that, saying that most of those things were for her own understanding.

As opposed to their first collaborative graphic novel, Skim, this story was more complicated so there was more back and forth and more editing (and many Skype conversations). Both spoke of the strengths comics as an artform has — Mariko said that part of writing comics is writing very sparsely and letting the visual elements do much of the work.

Many people had questions about the editing process for this book and comics in general. The Tamakis did a lot of their own editing, but they did work with their publishers. They both said they were fortunate to have publishers who understand what they’re doing and because they did Skim, both publishers knew what sort of subject matter to expect.

That led to a question if they were ever forced to make changes. Mariko said they never felt forced to make any changes and Jillian said she didn’t know why anyone would be surprised by what they were creating. Mariko said that the things that define “young adult” literature have changed and Jillian added most kids aren’t going to pick up a book unless it has edgier elements in it.

When asked about writing about female protagonists, Jillian shrugged it off. She said she only wants to make books she wants to read and she doesn’t understand the trends. She’s more interested in realism and didn’t think, at the time, that Skim was really a YA book. Mariko commented that the subtitled on the mini-comic version of Skim was “This is the diary of Skim Takota. So fuck off” and she wasn’t interested in writing to market. She said she can’t write a dystopian adventure story and her characters would be “the first two characters to be killed off in the Hunger Games.

Both talked about the hard realities of doing what they do. As much as Jillian loves making comics, it’s subsidized by the other things she does — teaching, illustration work and more. Because of that, she said “I should just make the comics I want to make.” Mariko laughed about having to teach a class about working as a writer and said it should’ve been a class on “Working four jobs.” But both felt their other jobs is what gives them material and depth and keeps them motivated. Jillian said she creates comics for comics audiences primarily, since they’re the ones who know the medium. If others like it, then that’s just a bonus.

They joked about the differences between U.S. and Canadian literature — mostly that Canada isn’t into that whole “hero” thing but instead, just surviving, and they liked that Canadian literature is full of “cranky, frustrated women.”

When asked about how she’s able to convey such subtle emotions, Jillian offered this advice: “If you want to learn how to draw, make a comic.” She’s someone who’s still learning and growing as an artist, despite her years of experience. Mariko offered her praise, saying that in anyone else’s hands, the moments Jillian draws would be melodramatic.

As a perfect summary to the talk, as the two discussed their expectations for This One Summer going forward, Mariko said simply “What I wanted this book to be, it already is.”

But if the reaction from everyone — including Frans — is any indication, it’s going to be much more than that.

(Also on Saturday was the Gaitherburg Book Festival. I have a few photos and few thought on Tumblr.)

Review: Over Easy by Mimi Pond

Over EasyFor most of us, we begin to cross the border between adolescence and adulthood when we get our first jobs. It doesn’t matter so much what this job is as much as it puts us in contacts with adults who aren’t teachers or parents for one of the first times. No matter what you do or don’t have in common with your coworkers, you’re all in that situation — that job — together.

In the delightful Over Easy (Drawn and Quarterly, 2014), Mimi Pond explores the days in the late ’70s when she worked in a diner in Oakland, Calif., to pay off her art school bills.

To be clear, this book isn’t necessarily a memoir, although many of Pond’s own experiences are reflected here. Instead, we follow her stand-in, Margaret, as she navigates the new world of adulthood. She finds and loses love, tries drugs, and experiments with a new attitude and personality, modeled after her fellow waitresses. In other words. Margaret grows up.

While the book is told in a linear fashion, it’s more episodic than plot-driven. In one chapter, Margaret will go out for a girls’ night on the town with a coworker only to be ditched. She follows her coworkers’ lead in the bar across the street. She watches as the waitresses and cooks pair off, break up and then pair off again.

To be clear, it’s almost always Margaret’s story. Nothing happens outside of her perspective, and despite the cast of colorful cooks and super-cool waitresses, only one other character is given much of a personality — the kindly stoner manager Lazlo, provides a laid-back guide to the new era of Margaret’s life. Everyone else, from the owner Frank and hippie Camille, tend to be texture in Margaret’s larger journey. Still there’s a realism to that — while specific memories may fade, the emotions behind them remain

But Pond’s easygoing and lighthearted style keep the book playful and engaging. Her gift drawing faces and body language give the book much of its humor and compliment her witty observations, which the book is full of. As Margaret applies makeup for her first day waitressing, she narrates: “Eyes with that slightly bruised look – like I’ve got a gangster boyfriend that slaps me around a little. I don’t put my glasses on. Even if I can’t see the customers, I’ll flirt with them anyway.” It’s illustrated by Margaret concentrating on applying her mascara and then squinting at herself in a full-length mirror. We’ve all been there, in one way or another.

The duo-tone teal washes also let this tale feel comfortable and lived in. It’s like old sketches or faded snapshots. In Pond’s hands, the book offers glimpses of people who are neighbors, friends, coworkers.

And that’s the ultimate takeaway from Mimi Pond’s Over Easy. It’s just one young woman’s story about working in a diner in the late ’70s, but it’s also about finding one’s place in the world of adults and that’s a story that’s easy to recognize. This may not be the time or the place where you worked, but it might as well be.

Copy of book provided by Big Planet Comics.