Once Upon A Time…Or, How to Make a Great LGBT Comic (and Contest!)

December 5th, 2011

Today I intended to write a review of an indie comic I supported through a crowdsource program. I thought, well, even if it wasn’t to my taste, there ought to be some good qualities right? Well…no, there weren’t. I was appalled through and through at how utterly sub-par the conception and execution were.

Obviously, I won’t be reviewing (or even naming) the book, because that wouldn’t help anyone. What I can do, though, is talk about why I felt the comic was so underwhelming. Because that can be generalized into a discussion of representation of lesbians and gays in comics and manga. And that is certainly worth discussing. The more I thought about it, the more I thought today we might – together – start to create a tutorial for not only independent comic artists, but also large companies on some things to consider when approaching diversity, and LGBT representation in comics as whole.

So, with that, let me talk first about creating a really good story.

A really good story does not talk about the characters. This comic began with the trope of a news report in which a character – and his gayness – were introduced by a reporter, with inexplicable camp puns. Because network news is so well known for its camp punning. Instead of seeing the hero doing hero things, we are told what he did, who he was and that he flew off with…I’m not kidding…a trick. On network news.

A really good story realizes that diversity is not providing multiple stereotypes to chose from, but providing characters who are also completely not stereotypical. Diversity of race, gender, sexual orientation are important, but diversity of perspective is critical. This is the reason why I’ve stopped reviewing series that don’t appeal to me, and started asking people who find that series appealing to write guest reviews. Yes, I can tell you why I don’t like it, but getting a completely different perspective, gives everyone a break and keeps things positive and fresh. This comic went with a “diversity of stereotypes.” There was the big hairy gay guy and the cut gym bunny and the drag queen and the drunk. Amazingly, none of them are like any gay guys I actually know, so as realistic a role model as Superman. Oh well, so much for diversity. This is the problem I’m having with DC’s interpretation of “diversity” as well. It’s still a bunch of middle-aged white guys sitting around a table saying, “Okay, we got one black guy, one Hispanic guy and a lesbian. That covers it.” (I know, I know Renee Montoya is a Hispanic lesbian…my point is, their new reboot was limited in perspective,)

A really good story never tells you the moral of the story. It doesn’t have to, because it was a really good story and either the moral was apparent or there is no moral and you’re free to take away whatever you wanted from it. This story literally sat down with a random child who was inserted in the story for the sole purpose of having the moral of the story told to him.

Which brings me to…a really good story knows who is reading it (and who might be.) This story was presumably for adults looking for a LGBT superhero team and instead we got Timmy being told it’s okay to be different. If it’s for the kids, then why the camp humor in the opening scene? It wouldn’t be suitable at all! Was this series supposed to be Lassie or RuPaul’s Drag Race? I could not tell.

When considering LGBT manga, we should always be mindful of these qualities. Overall, I think manga does “diversity of perspective” better than American comics by a lot. Sure, there’s a lot of pervy lipstick lesbians in shounen and seinen manga. Well duh, Victoria’s Secret is really for guys, too. But even so, there’s a wide variation in perspective between Amane from Strawberry Panic!, Shizuru from Mai HiME and Mina from Air Master.  Saki from Renai Joshikka and Sei from Maria-sama ga Miteru aren’t all that much alike, either, despite them both being the butchy, dumped girl. Fumi from Aoi Hana, Yomiko Readman from R.O.D. and Sarasa from Ame-iro Kouchakan Kandan might be visually similar, but they have entirely unique personalities, the manga are written for different audiences and from different perspectives.

I grew up on superhero teams and I was really looking forward to seeing a comic about superheroes who were Lesbian, Gay, Bi , Trans and Queer. Sadly, this wasn’t it. Ultimately, what I was hoping for was a series about a great superhero team that represented the LGBT community. Had they played with stereotypes and had some fun with them, it would have been cool. But to present the stereotypes as the entirely of LGBT representation turns me into a stereotype – the invisible, marginalized (and displeased about it) lesbian.

If I had created this team, I probably would have had each character represent a letter of the LGBTQ alphabet soup. A lesbian, a gay guy, a bisexual, a transgender person and someone genderqueer. Their powers would have had absolutely nothing at all to do with their queerness, nor would their names be puns or tacky uses of perjorative slang. No Dykewomyn for my team.

Which brings me to the one, repeated piece of advice I’m getting in the comments. I thought I had made it plain in the above paragraph, but I’ll make it plainer: The characters being LGBTQ should not be the plot. They should be heroes who are LGBTQ. It can be part of the story…but it should not be the story.

Each person would have a rich backstory – even if the reader never saw it. It’s enough to know that the Scarlet Cape (which is now the superhero name of the Trans character) had a great childhood with supportive, if confused parents, who are *far* less enthused that he’s a superhero than that he is a famous transman. Jezebel (the Genderqueer character) was raised by a pastor and his wife, and has not spoken to her parents in years, but they send her a religious Christmas card every year.  Etc, etc. You, the reader, don’t need to know these stories (although bits might come up in conversation) but I’d be damned before making them the main plot points.

Here are some suggestions from the comments that I thinks are very valid:

No one is LGBTQ in a bubble. Providing context on the environment they are in can lead to a richer experience of daily experience. A closeted person in a hostile environment coming out will have an entirely different experience than one in a welcoming environment. Establish the environment.

This having been said, sometimes the best stories *are* written in a bubble. Fujieda Miyabi’s stories are written in a fantasy space where love between women is surround by soft smiles and encouraging glances from other women. Despite the unreality, I find it all to be a very warm and comforting environment.

Also important, was the comment about not presuming that an LGBTQ relationship is less stable than a straight one. I don’t know anyone who does that, but it’s good advice to, in general, remember that if you’ve created a relationship and had your readers invest themselves in it, then just throwing it under the bus is a good way to alienate readers.

This reminds me of a popular LGBTQ webcomic that started a new arc by establishing that everything that had happened previously was a dream. People stopped reading it in droves, because, well, fuck that. The story had been established, people came to care about it. Then they werejust told, “oh well, none of that ever happened.” This is not a good way to write any kind of story.

***

Which brings me to the discussion portion of today’s post.

I have a gigantic pile of manga here that needs a home, some good, some bad. I’ll open this up to you, my readers, whose opinions and perspectives I value. Books will be rewarded randomly. I’ll announce winners in a separate post, eventually. (Sorry for the pile of vague, I still have a few plates spinning just as yet.)

If you were to teach a class on creating LGBT comics, what *one* thing would you add  to the above list? I’ll move the exceptional answers up into the post so we can make a good tutorial together. Let’s hear your suggestions for making great LGBT comics!

(Note: Perhaps before writing a comment, you all ought to read the other comments too, because so far everyone has said the exact same thing, and it’s something I actually already said in the context of this post….)

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32 Responses

  1. Cryssoberyl says:

    Overall, I think manga does “diversity of perspective” better than American comics by a lot. Sure, there’s a lot of pervy lipstick lesbians in shounen and seinen manga. Well duh, Victoria’s Secret is really for guys, too. But even so, there’s a wide variation in perspective between Amane from Strawberry Panic!, Shizuku from Mai HiME and Mina from Air Master. Saki from Renai Joshikka and Sei from Maria-sama ga Miteru aren’t all that much alike, either, despite them both being the butchy, dumped girl. Fumi from Aoi Hana, Yomiko Readman from R.O.D. and Sarasa from Ame-iro Kouchakan Kandan might be visually similar, but they have entirely unique personalities, the manga are written for different audiences and from different perspectives.

    This is a well-made point, and a view that my friend Zefiris has advocated for a long time – although I personally have always found it difficult not to see these as exceptions to the “pervy” rule.

    I’m aware that’s a narrow perception though, and it does seem to be true that with no pop-cultural archetype to run to when an LGBT character shows up, their depictions in manga actually end up much more diverse. It’s certainly an interesting (and perhaps hopeful) thought.

    Also, I assume you meant Shizuru, not Shizuku. :P

  2. @Cryssoberyl – Thank you for catching the typo, I had changed thoughts mid-stream and misplaced the name. ^_^

    I wasn’t making the point that these characters were or were not representative of “pervy lipstick” lesbians, just that they were different enough even though they were all PLLs that you could not mistake one for another, or plug one into another’s role in a larger sense, although perhaps Shizuru and Shizuku might comfortably take each other’s place at school. ^_^

  3. FurrySaint says:

    Most important thing is to make the stories about the characters themselves, not about their LGBTQness. (Unless you’re doing A Very Special Issue, but that’s a whole other class.)

    Take your favorite mainstream comic book hero. Now make them LGBTQ in whatever fashion is appropriate. What changes? They might have a villain or a villain group after them because of their LGBTQness, but most will be against them because they’re a goody-goody hero. Not because they’re gay or lesbian or whatever.

    Same with civilians. Some will love or hate them because of their LGBTQness, but most won’t care and just be glad they were around to stop whatever bad stuff was happening.

    Just my two cents.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “If you were to teach a class on creating LGBT comics, what *one* thing would you add to the above list?”… I think by blending the current news about our community into their series here and there in a kind of daily life, reality, human stories style, balanced with the usual stuff, and set with a general theme like the discrimination factor in X-men; for myself I had always easily identified with that and thought in these modern times if you changed the “mutants with powers” to “sexual deviants with powers” nothing else would need to be different as far as the “normals” mentalities and actions towards their despised “enemy”.

  5. Donaby says:

    Each character must have a motivation beyond I am LGBT thus I must join the LGBT super team. Not every member will have the same motivation in a team for they are not a team but a bunch of mind clones with different color capes.

  6. Catherine says:

    Storytelling is a skill – which means it has to be built gradually. You don’t just tell a good story one day. Instead, you start telling stories, and they gradually get less crappy as you develop the skill, learning from your mistakes. Respect the skill. Expect to spend time honing the skill before you’ve got something truly worth other people’s time. Get real feedback to learn from your mistakes each time through. If that sounds like too many drawings to throw away, and you don’t think you need the drawing practice, then get practice by writing text stories. With lots of honest feedback. Feedback, feedback, feedback.

    Read analytically. Read some truly good fiction and look deeply into what makes it good. Pick it apart with friends.

    Best of all: every convention has a writers’ group that will be glad to have you join. That’s the richest source of intensive feedback.

  7. Unknown says:

    What *one* thing would you add to the above list?

    Rather than reading a story about an LGBTQ person, I’d rather read a story about a person who happens to be LGBTQ. People are people, we all have similar motivations and desires, and LGBT people aren’t any different from straight people. IMO, the greatest service a storyteller can do when writing LGBT subject matter is to portray people realistically and as sympathetic characters – portray them in such a way as to subvert the uncertainty or fear that many straight folks have. Focus on the similarities, not the differences. A heartrending love story is heartrending no matter who the people in love are – and if you’re telling a universal message, people of either gender will be able to relate to it.

    More concisely – a good story is about a person. People are complex; they can’t be defined by just one aspect of who they are. Instead of writing about a person who is one specific thing, simply write about a person – and then slowly reveal all of the myriad and conflicting things that make up his/her identity.

  8. Sariel says:

    It’d be really nice to see some comics set in a time or place where any sexuality is accepted by society, as things actually have changed in some parts of the world. I’m not saying it’s all good, just that such places exist, and would be ideal to use if one wanted to write a story without the gayangst.

  9. Cara M. says:

    If I were teaching this, the first, and most important lesson, is that it isn’t going to be easy. Comics are hard. They take a massive skill set to do well, and that’s just the visual part, and the frame by organization of scenes.

    Writing a compelling story is an entire other skill set, one that has to be translatable to images, and that has to have a reason behind it’s telling. The reason has to relate to that fact that any story is a form of communication between you and the reader. What sort of story are you giving to your reader? What sort of reader do you want to enjoy your story? (You said this one nicely, Erica).

    And thirdly, writing about LGBT characters does not make it easier. You pick one single letter from the QUILTBAG, and you have opened a pandora’s box of hopes and desires and expectations. You need to be aware of these things. You need to make decisions about them. Those decisions will relate to your audience. Are you writing a public service announcement to ‘those bigoted straight people’ who probably don’t read comics and definitely won’t read yours? Or are you writing a story full of fun and adventure and romance for the kid who wants to believe that he can have it all, even if all doesn’t mean having to get the girl and means getting the guy instead?

    One of those options is much harder than the other, but if you pull it off it’s worth more, because a good story will speak to everyone, and a bad one rarely even reaches its intended audience. But writing a good story? Good luck with that.

    So yeah, comics are hard. Remember that.

  10. Jenny says:

    This may be slightly off-topic, and if so, I apologize, but it’s something I was just discussing with my girlfriend the other day.

    The LGBT community is not monolithic. Some Gay men are promiscuous; some aren’t. Some lesbian women really buy into the whole gender-replacement trope of Butch / Femme; some don’t. Honestly, we’re a “Community” only because we face similar societal challenges, not because we’re all the same.

    For that matter, LGB folk are identified based on who we fall in love with, while T folk are identified based on who they are.

    You could spend your life getting to know LGBT folk, and still not know all there was to know about us. I think it’s a topic best not approached from outside; if you’re not part of the community, don’t try to represent the community in writing.

    And even that’s overly harsh, because I’m not saying that straight writers shouldn’t include an LGBT character or two in their work, particularly if they’re depicting someone they’re friends with (I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said that writing is the art of concealing your sources) but I do think a straight writer should be very, very hesitant about writing a primary character who is gay, or writing a group of characters who are gay, if all they know about us is the stereotypes.

    Isn’t one of the prime bits of advice given to young writers “write what you know”?

  11. @Jenny – I completely understand what you’re saying, and to some extent I agree. Yes, the “community” isn’t monolithic, and is largely connected by shared persecution, rather than any real affiliation.

    But I do honestly disagree with “write what you know” when it’s used as a absolute. Write “only” what you know is both unreasonable and untenable.(Which is not what you said – I’m well aware of that. People being limited creatures that we are, we actually DO have to say, explicitly, “some gay men” rather than “gay men” because we will interpret anything not explicitly made condition as an absolute. Fans, especially, with their tendency to be both literal and pedantic. ^_^) However, when you say that if a person is outside the community, they should not try to write anything inside the community, that is in fact, what you are saying.

    I am not a man, and so by that absolute standard, I could never write a male character. Obviously that isn’t going to happen. ^_^

    It’s very true that gay men aren’t one thing, but it’s entirely different to say, “write a gay man who holds up as both gay and a man, and don’t worry about making him representative of ALL gay men” than to say, “unless you are a gay man you can’t write a gay man well, so don’t.”

    I wrote a gay man into Shoujoai ni Bouken. Here’s the scene where he comes out to Yuriko: http://www.Yuricon.com/snb/snb48.html

    I stand by the fact that Abe-sensei is a man, and is gay, rather than some kind of representative of all Gay Men. I just re-read the scene and I’m still happy with it.

    I think that if, as a writer, you’re approaching your characters as a “man” or a “woman” or a “gay man,” etc, you’re already doing something wrong. ^_^

  12. This reminds me of an another article I read once on writing gay characters by a fantastic webcomic creator:

    http://www.squidoo.com/writing-gay-characters

    I believe she’s saying many of the same things. :>

    As for my own piece of advice….gosh, that’s so tricky. I think your post (and the comments) have covered the basics, so I’ll go with something a little more specific.

    Not all LGBT people are privileged or white. Not everyone can afford the Sassy Gay Friend’s fabulous wardrobe. People still struggle with sexuality and gender identity in the inner city or in rural areas, whether they are immigrants struggling to learn English while working unpredictable retail schedules or live on a reservation or whether they are deaf or use a wheelchair.

    And I’m cheating and doing two pieces of advice here (Can I rationalize that with I don’t really want to enter the contest, I merely want to pontificate?) but this is something that, as a religious person, bothers me.

    Not all religious organizations are at odds with LGBT folk. Some Churches host Gay Pride events. Some Synagogues allow modified Ketubah for same-sex marriage. Some LGBT people have no difficulty reconciling their religion with their identity. Of course some do, but this does not have to be the crux of your character’s difficulties.

  13. Write good characters well.

    Not writing stereotypical characters is well and good, but focusing on NOT making a character stereotypical at ALL can limit one’s writing of that character also. (Even complete stereotypes can work in a story, if delivered the right way, even if they would be really tricky to pull off. See: But I’m A Cheerleader.)

  14. Just to add a couple other (non-comedic) examples of stories featuring characters that fit some stereotypes while still being good: Haruka and Michiru in Sailor Moon and (for a non-lgbt example) Precious in the novel Push by Sapphire.

  15. TempestDash says:

    One irritating thing for me is out of context declarations. I think a good story needs to be aware that people rarely walk around announcing their key character traits or sexual orientation. Even in Manga, which seems to believe that a character’s blood type and 3-measurements are statistical information as vital as their first name, we don’t see sexual orientation broadcast loudly unless it’s a PWP story. In western oriented media, it seems like most comics haven’t evolved from the old X-Men days: “I wonder what my friend Northstar, who is gay, was once part of Alpha Flight, is Canadian, oh, and also can manipulate light and fly, is doing today, Mr. person-I-just-met.”

    I guess my point is that while its better than it used to be, a frightening percentage of the world is not only intolerant of LGBT, but actively anti-LGBT, and it always strikes me as horribly unrealistic to have characters in any medium announce their orientation without validating they are in a LGBT-tolerant environment unless they have a reason not to be afraid of social or physical reactions. To say nothing of ignoring the fact that there are points in-between closeted and wearing-a-damn-billboard.

    These are just human nature observations, I should point out. I may be making bad assumptions since I don’t have very many LGBT friends to use as direct evidence. Though I have noted that straight writers seem to think these basic human nature motivations are trumped by one’s sexual orientation. Not to mention the absurdity of people focusing on a bunch of superheroes’ sexual orientation when they can FLY and throw FIREBALLs, which are much more alarming conditions.

  16. Filo says:

    ‘…superheroes who were Lesbian, Gay, Bi , Trans and Queer…”

    Doesn’t ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ mean the same thing, or does ‘queer’ mean something specific?

  17. Mara says:

    Give your protagonists what I call ‘The Rights of The Protagonist’ no matter who they are or what kind of story you want to write.

    The rights:

    1) The protagonist must encounter a problem.

    2) The protagonist must ensure the problem is dealt with in some fashion.

    3) The protagonist must be motivated to do this due to a personal philosophy that is construed or revealed at some point.

    This is as general as I could make it and I believe many characters are denied these rights including LGBT characters.

    It is important to emphasize that I am not saying make every piece of fiction into a genre style narrative, these are not things that must necessarily dominate the story itself. Simply in my opinion a decent protagonist generally shows signs of all three.

    Obviously stories without central characters need not worry.

  18. miya says:

    As you mentioned, overused stereotypes detract from possible enjoyment of a work and probably do not even resound at all with the audience or what is its target audience. Along that grain, characters who have a combination of characteristics that include, but are not limited to, capabilities, cultures, looks, outlooks, intellects, personalities, qualities and values, that make him/her interesting, relatable and/or unique to me.

    I usually look for one of these things when I read comics. What makes this character different from others I’ve read about? Can I relate to this/these character(s) on, at least, a certain level through the experiences, emotions, feelings, reactions or thoughts? Is the premise compelling? Am I enjoying the interaction between the art, story and character(s)?

    I think, more often than not, LGBT content gets treated differently, or put to the side burner, because of the belief that there has to be some radical message going along with it, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think what makes a comic enjoyable can and should be applied, even with the added, or focus on, the LGBT element.

  19. IF there is gayngst involved, it MUST be stressed that it is driven by the misconceptions and bigotries of society, and not that to be LGBT in and of itself is a Bad Thing.

    I’d like to see less of gayngst in general, but I also recognize that its presence in stories I read as an adolescent were something with which I could identify… but only insofar as the character suffering from it is not implied to be correct in doing so.

    I suppose, more simply, that there needs to be an unhitching of the notion that unhappiness is inherent to being LGBT, that when an LGBT character is unhappy, it is not because they are LGBT, but due to outside pressures or other internal qualities/beliefs/weaknesses/etc. about themselves that are unrelated to being LGBT.

    Hmm. I wish I could word that better.

  20. Nyanman says:

    As a general tip, try to use character types that fit into the story. If it is a high school romance, make sure the character are the type to be romantic, or that can grow into romance.
    Perhaps provide some perspective from another viewpoint-maybe that relationship where someone loves someone of the same gender, but that person is straight?
    Don’t just stick to LGBT characters as the only main characters. Being a person with LGBT friends, I can say that the straight friend is a difference and potentially a really good friend, and quite probably a useful character-especially as there are groups like PFLAG (parents and friends of lesbians and gays) who encourage straight people to join and provide emotional support to the non straight members. Sometimes to have real diversity you need to have a character type that isn’t diverse.

  21. Atarun says:

    I’m gonna talk specifically about love plots, which are a very effective way to highlight/present the characters’ genders and sexual orientations among other things.

    For me, a love plot is good if and only if:

    A) There is some kind of obstacle for the couple to overcome, otherwise it is just character traits and backstories, not an actual plot.

    Sure, queerness is easily made into an obstacle. That’s right: _made into_ an obstacle. It’s not an obstacle in and of itself. It’s an obstacle because of society and politics and peer pressure. So don’t throw in some LGBTQ in your plot and expect everybody to instantly relate to it being an obvious ordeal.

    My advice: reflect on what makes LGBTQ relationships different (harder?) than straight relationships. If you don’t want to explore those aspects, just drop the love plot.

    B) I want the couple to overcome the obstacle and end together.

    As a Yuri fangirl, I admit I tend to want the girl to get the girl. But some writers make it every bit as difficult as they can… by making one of the characters a poor excuse for a human being and/or a downright abusive partner, by sprinkling good characters who seem better matches around the couple or just by making the couple so completely dysfunctional it’s near-impossible to see them together and not think “WTF?!”.

    Now, why would you do that? Why on earth would you make every other option more appealing than the one you opted for in your plot?

    My advice: if the couple only makes sense from the infatuated characters’ viewpoint, adopt that viewpoint. Show your readers what’s so awesome about that love.

    C1) If the obstacle is overcome, they end together.

    That’s gotta be the original sin of Yuri love plots. How many times have I rooted for a couple who had overcome every obstacle thrown their way to finally… Part ways? End up happily ever after with other people (most often male)? Commit suicide?

    Now, there are many reasons why you might feel uncomfortable about an LGBTQ couple ending together.
    You might be worried about the message it would send. (sidenote: do not ever write a story… there are always messages people will see in them that you never intended to put there in the first place)
    You might be worried about the light it might cast on your own gender and sexual orientation, regardless of whether they are queer at all.
    You might be worried about alienating part of your readers.

    But no matter your reasons, one question remains: If you don’t want your characters to end together, why bother making it a plot in the beginning? If you do not commit to your characters’ relationships as much as you’re asking your readers to, you’re cheating.

    My advice: do not pick a couple for a love plot if you’re not comfortable with them ending together.

    C2) If the obstacle proves too much, they are heartbroken.

    Love does not always win. It is a sad truth but it is true nonetheless. Love can be bested by all sorts of things… duty, death, hatred, guilt, distance, time… but when love is bested, it is a soul-rending heart-breaking crushingly painful outcome. If you brush it off saying “it’s not so bad”, you put the lie to the love you yourself presented. That makes you a liar and it makes your readers feel like fools for ever buying into your lies.

    How is C2) especially relevant to LGBTQ plots? Too often, the readers (assumed straight by default, I presume) are expected not to care when an LGBTQ relationship breaks because “it wasn’t serious anyway”, “it wouldn’t have worked anyway” or “it was just fooling around”. Of course, you might well alienate your LGBTQ readers with such blatant hetero-normative intolerance, but you know who else might feel cheated? The rest of your readers, if any, since you got them invested in a couple only to tell them it was a joke.

    My advice: treat the downfall of a love as seriously as you treated its build-up.

    THE END, at last. ;)

  22. Read, read, read. Read good literature…great literature, and pay attention to what makes them good. Write, write, write, and develop your voice. Write until you can write characters with distinct “voices,” and keep writing. Ask other people for honest critiques.

  23. Anonymous says:

    On a completely unrelated manner…ok, not completely….were there any winners on the last contest?

  24. @Anonymous – I announced the winners this week for the last Okazu contest, as it happens, no one seems to have notices, so I’m going to do a post today that announces that and the Yuricon AMV winners.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Real quick suggestion: remember that life goes on after graduation!

    Now, question for Erica: does it still count as Story A if it’s in a high-school-like setting like http://v1.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080520.wretirement1/BNStory/retirement ?

  26. @Anonymous –

    “Story A” is not dependent upon setting. It’s “there is a girl (or woman) and she likes another girl (or woman.) The other girl (or woman) likes her back. The end.”

    A high school setting is trope-y for all manga, because for Japanese people it is a time of great freedom, comparatively to adult life.

    If the story ends with the acknowledgement of like/love, then it’s “Story A.”

  27. Anonymous says:

    “A high school setting is trope-y for all manga, because for Japanese people it is a time of great freedom, comparatively to adult life.”

    Wow, really?

    The version I heard was more like:

    birth through preschool: very low stress, your parents go easy on you now because they know that coming up…

    preschool through junior high: tons of pressure to pass high school entrance exams

    typical high school (if you made it to high school instead of having to leave school after 9th grade): tons of pressure to pass college entrance exams

    Kosen (vocational) high school: see http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/with-workplace-training-japans-kosen-colleges-bridge-skills-gap/2011/10/03/gIQAF0gmjL_story.html Less fear of unemployability (how stressful that fear is!), possibly the same pressures to pass college entrance exams, less pressure to look just like everybody else (no uniforms = no risk of being stuck in clothing that makes your body look even more unfashionable and thrown out of school if you wear something that doesn’t expose your body to as much ridicule), etc.

    “ronin” stage (if you didn’t pass the college entrance exams and want to take them again next year): lots of pressure to pass the exams again, but at least you don’t have to wear a uniform

    most of college (if you made it in): low stress since there’s little homework

    almost done with college and looking for a job: high stress since if you don’t have a job offer in hand by graduation you’re stale and supposedly unemployable, so you may have to ask your parents to pay for another year of college (see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/28/world/asia/28generation.html?pagewanted=all , “…Nagisa Inoue, a senior at Tokyo’s Meiji University, said she was considering paying for a fifth year at her university rather than graduating without a job, an outcome that in Japan’s rigid job market might permanently taint her chances of ever getting a higher-paying corporate job. That is because Japanese companies, even when they do offer stable, regular jobs, prefer to give them only to new graduates, who are seen as the more malleable candidates for molding into Japan’s corporate culture…”)

    employed (wither a 9th grade grad or high school grad or university grad), urban and suburban: in this global economy…

    employed (wither a 9th grade grad or high school grad or university grad), rural: lower stress according to the folks covered at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15850243

    retired: depends on your loved ones and family and health, I guess

  28. Anonymous says:

    “How is C2) especially relevant to LGBTQ plots? Too often, the readers (assumed straight by default, I presume) are expected not to care when an LGBTQ relationship breaks because “it wasn’t serious anyway”, “it wouldn’t have worked anyway” or “it was just fooling around”. Of course, you might well alienate your LGBTQ readers with such blatant hetero-normative intolerance, but you know who else might feel cheated? The rest of your readers, if any, since you got them invested in a couple only to tell them it was a joke.”

    Speakin’ as a straight reader: EXACTLY

    Read the fanfic at http://yuletidetreasure.org/archive/73/tickof.html . The couple is 2 bisexual women. they fall in love. the ending shows that they’re not going to be together much longer, and the reason is totally not “it wasn’t serious anyway”, “it wouldn’t have worked anyway” or “it was just fooling around”.

  29. @Anonymous – Yes, that would be very annoying. Unless it’s established that this is a pick-up at the very beginning.

    In fact, that was the underlying motivation of many of the old MIST magazine stories – woman meets woman under unusual circumstances (at a wedding, on vacation, etc) and they hook up. They part, but realize they want this to be more than just a one-night stand. (Or, they stay together, but a third party tries desperately to break them up, causing a misunderstanding, which, when it’s resolved brings the two back together.)

    I think establishing a couple readers care about is definitely critical to readership enjoyment.

  30. @Filo – In the context of LGBTQ,”Queer” does mean something different.

    Queer is a word that covers “other” gender or sexual preferences. Not everyone identifies their gender on a binary. i.e., male OR female, and not everyone is gay OR straight.

    Because humans are complex, some people find established gender or sexuality labels awkward fits at best.

    http://www.quora.com/Queer/What-does-Queer-mean-in-the-context-of-the-phrase-Gay-Lesbian-Transgender-and-Queer-Community

  31. Atarun says:

    @Anonymous on the topic of the high school trope:

    I am no expert and can’t say I know what makes Japanese high school such an omnipresent setting in manga, but as a storyteller I can see some appeal in it:

    – Gender-wise, it’s whatever you want it to be. Want half boys and half girls? No problem. Just boys? Sure. Just girls? Here you go. Harem situation? Been there, done that. Anything you want, no strings attached.

    – Clubs. Lots of plots fit right in regular clubs you find in most high schools, but if yours doesn’t, that’s no big deal: just make your own club up. Like one that looks for supernatural beings. Awesome.

    – Just as much family as you want. If you want to present your characters as credible human beings with family backgrounds, fine… but, well, most storytellers don’t. It introduces tons of secondary characters (when you might already have trouble keeping them sorted) and complicated themes like generation gap and cultural makeup and stuff. High school is the setting for you: you can make your characters practical orphans without dealing with the consequences and you can still introduce some parents or caretakers whenever it suits your plot.

    – The right amount of freedom. Teenagers are still somewhat free from responsibilities like work, family and image (compared to Japanese adults), but they can do fun (and stupid) stuff like fight, drink, have sex and disappear for months without anybody caring (okay, they’re not supposed to do any of that in our society, but it’s easier for the storyteller to get away with it if they’re teenagers than if they’re small children).

    – Change. To justify change in a character, you have to present your audience with compelling events (generally struggles). Guess what? Puberty is compelling enough to justify just about any change in a character. There are as many ways of growing up from a child into an adult as there are teenagers (maybe more). Take your pick.

    As always, I start with a quick remark and, revising it again and again, I end with an insufferably long comment… My apologies.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Atarun, thanks! :)

    I also just realized that *college* settings have all of these too… :)

    – Gender-wise? check
    – Clubs? check, and don’t forget non-club extracurriculars too (forming a band with friends, getting a part-time job and meeting coworkers, etc.)
    – The right amount of freedom? even more so that in high school, because they’re *adults* somewhat free from responsibilities like work, family and image (compared to older Japanese adults), some of them live in dorms or off-campus apartments instead of still living with their parents, they’re more likely to be over the drinking age, and if they have sex it’s even more socially acceptable (except to the junior-high-uniform-fetish people since colleges don’t require *those*, but how much of your target audience are they?)
    – Change? check! There are as many ways of growing up from an older child into an adult as there are older teenagers and young adults ;) There’s the dramas of picking a major, adjusting to a new roommate, sometimes studying abroad, sometimes moving off-campus, etc. Even physical changes still happen for a while after reaching fertility and ending puberty (gaining height, gaining hip width, etc.)…

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