Archive for the LGBTQ Category


LGBTQ Comic: Sugar Town

October 18th, 2017

Hazel Newlevant is an award-winning queer artist whose work has been mentioned here before. Some years ago I picked up If This Be Sin by her and I knew she was a talent I wanted to keep track of. Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to her newest work, Sugar Town

Before we get in to particulars, there’s a really important thing I need to be clear about: Sugar Town is…nice.I wanted to tell you that upfront so when I describe it, you’re not stressed out, looking for the conflict. There isn’t any. You can just relax and enjoy the comic and not be waiting for the boot to drop. 

Sugar Town follows the meeting of Hazel and Argent, two poly women, at a club in Portland and their subsequent relationship. Argent is a sex worker and has other female lovers and Hazel’s got a great guy, Gregor, waiting in New York for her. And none of this is a plot complication. 

In fact, there is no plot complication. Hazel and Argent meet, dance, celebrate Hazel’s birthday together, and fall for one another, to a backdrop of all the other pieces of their lives being pieces of their lives. It’s all very nice. Really. ^_^ 

Newlevant’s art has a soft, warm, squishy feeling. You can imagine what embracing Argent or playing with Hazel’s hair feels like. No hard lines here, it’s all cake and tears of joy. Sugar Town is a great comic – exactly what I expect from Hazel Newlevant.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Characters – 8
Story – 8 It’s “girl meets girl” without artificial drama
Lesbian – 10
Service – 2 on the principle that some people think like that

Overall – 8

It’s worth reading Sugar Town, then handing it around to all your friends and saying, “Look, we can just have this. It’s perfectly okay.”

You know what I’m doing this week? Working though a HUGE pile of manga and comics with great LGBTQ content. Isn’t that amazing?! I’m so happy….

Thanks very much to Hazel Newlevant for the review copy!

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LGBTQ: Dates Anthology, Volume 2

October 17th, 2017

In Summer 2016, I had the pleasure of reviewing the historical fiction anthology, Dates. Well, it was such a hit that editors Zora Gilbert and Cat Parra started working on a second collection. Today, we’re looking at Dates Anthology, Volume 2.

The sequel was even better than the original. The mix of prose and text appealed to me. You may know that I have, for many years collected doujinshi put together by groups of people in Japan. One of the features of these privately published journals (or “coterie literary magazines,” as the online translators like to say) is the mix of text and comics. Like ‘zines, doujinshi give creators a way to express their work in any media that suits them. Switching back and forth from text stories to comics gave me a chance to change the pace and tone, so that I didn’t just read this through without stopping to enjoy a bite here or there.

In general, I found most of the stories to be good and a surprising number were excellent, with a pleasant diversity of time, place, ethnicity, perspective and voice.  The stories were strong – many of them focusing on gender presentation, gender roles and gender identity, as well as sexuality. I quite liked Gwen C. Katz’s “The Ibex Tattoo” and “Flowers in the Wind” by A. D’Amico hit me just right.

The art was tighter than in the first volume, too. A number of the stories did wonderful things with the art. Marie-Ann Dt’s “Inkblot” and Nicole Figer’s “A Bard’s Tale” really piqued my interest with their art styles and Effie Lee’s “Kantha was just lovely from beginning to end.

Putting together an anthology is always hard. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little on the one side or the other to get the thing to print. Dates 2 doesn’t seem to have had to make any such sacrifices. It’s a really good read from front to back. I can’t think of a story I didn’t enjoy – that’s pretty amazing. ^_^ Like it’s predecessor, Dates 2 was crowdfunded (a campaign to which I contributed right away) and is available in print and digital formats. As a backer, I also received bonus comics and wallpapers all of which will find a place in my image collection.

All in all a very satisfying anthology.

Ratings:

Overall – 9 

I’m absolutely thrilled to see more great work from the folks at Margins Publishing!

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LGBTQ Novel: Apparition Alley

October 15th, 2017

Where were you in 1997? I was just on the cusp of my interest in anime. I was devouring lesbian mysteries- not because they were good, per se (and many were not) but because I could stand in a large bookstore like Barnes & Nobles or Borders and look though them in the newly minted “Gay & Lesbian” sections. 

Borders was a real game changer, if you remember. Barnes & Nobles took up the spaces and, seemingly, the stock of the Waldenbooks and B. Daltons and Coles that had left gaping holes in the malls of New Jersey. But it wasn’t until Borders stepped in, wanting bigger spaces near the malls, that the landscape changed for gay and lesbian readers. There was, for the first time, a “Gay & Lesbian” section. Admittedly a hodgepodge of fiction and non-fiction, self-help, coming out narratives and other miscellany. But it also had gay and lesbian literature. And pop culture. And mysteries. 

I was reading mysteries in the 90s. Mysteries that starred adult women with sardonic attitudes and who weren’t (always) obsessing about men. Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warchawski. and the like. And I had discovered Naiad Press, a publisher of lesbian novels and their openly lesbian private detectives: Kate Delafield, Carol Ashton, Caitlin Reece, Virginia Kelley. I ate that shit up. 

One day in the early 2000s, I suddenly realized that every single lesbian detective was an alcoholic and had had a stupid affair, breaking up their current relationship and all the straight detectives had terrible taste in men and I walked away from mysteries. 

In that 20 years a lot has changed. Progress, regress and digress, as I like to say.  I thought I’d step backward and see if there were any chapters left from that era I hadn’t read. To my surprise.,there were. I’ve read mostly everything written by Katherine V. Forrest. Heck I wish her a “happy birthday” on Facebook these days. But although I’d read all the other Kate Delafield novels, I had apparently missed Apparition Alley. Why not?I thought.

Kate Delafield is a detective in the LA Police Department. She earned her position in the bad old days of extraordinary sexism and homphobia, by being 5 times the cop the men were and by being as tightly closeted as any human could be. When we meet her in Murder at the Nightwood Bar, her partner is a viciously racist, homophobic and misogynist dickwad, typical of the LAPD force at the time. By the time Apparition Alley takes place, LA police have been radically overhauled twice – once after the Rodney King beating and again after their overt corruption and incompetence seen nationally in their handling of and testimony during the O.J. Simpson case. In Apparition Alley, the LAPD is trying to be a better police force…and a lot of officers are unhappy with it.

The case is typical of a Delafield case. One thing leads to another and the subplot is – always – about the dangers of being gay in th LAPD. But Apparition Alley also addresses the issues inherent in coming out or being outed in the late 1990s. Kate is, in the course of her investigation, given information that could out hundreds of LAPD employees at all levels. What she does with that information was not at all surprising to me, but it made me wonder what I might do in her situation. 

I’m not always opposed to forced outing, I’ll admit. If a person is in a position of  being able to cause real good or real harm to LGBTQ people and chooses to use that position to be overtly homophobic and harmful, I’m not going to feel bad if they are outed. Homophobic pastors and politicians caught with rent boys, for instance. Oh well, cry me a river. But the situation becomes more complicated as we go through the list. How about a gay cop, whose partner with seniority is violently homophobic? Do they risk their job, possibly their life, to come out? No…but what if they are complicit with gay bashing by that partner in order to protect their secret?  It’s easy enough to say, “well, they should come out” or “get another job” when one is not deeply embedded in a culture that supports and encourages homophobia.

But, then, we are all in that culture right now, aren’t we? Outing is a viable threat, still. My goal is to see this become a world in which it no longer has any power. 

Ratings:

Overall – 7

I want to like Kate Delafield, but in this volume you can really see her hitting a wall. She’s become the old guard that my generation had to crawl over because they had become too terrified to change, until AIDs started picking them off. And, sadly, she will share the fate of so many other self-loathing lesbian detectives in future novels.

Which is why I chose to review this today. Not just because of nostalgia, but because we are again on a cusp of being a society that encourages shame and fear of consequence. Only it’s 20 years later, and we’re (obviously not for me, anyway) going to be shoved back into the closet. 

So….what do you think about outing public figures? I’m genuinely interested to know what you think.

 

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Image Comics to publish BINGO LOVE!

October 10th, 2017

Some big news out of NYCC this weekend! Image Comics is going to be publishing Bingo Love.  the book that I’m calling THE comic of 2018. 

Created and written by Tee Franklin, with art by Jenn St-Onge, and colors by Joy San.  Bingo Love is a historical tale of a black lesbian couple from when they meet, how they are separated and how they are able to be together after a lifetime apart. Here’s the official synopsis:

Bingo Love is a LGBTQ romance story that spans over 60 years. A chance meeting at church bingo in 1963 brings Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray together. Through their formative years, these two women develop feelings for each other and finally profess their love for one another.

Unfortunately, these young lovebirds end up separated, as they are caught kissing by Mari’s grandmother. Being forbidden from seeing each other isn’t punishment enough as both Mari and Hazel are forced into marriages with men whom they do not love.

But fate had another plan. Decades later, now in their mid 60’s, Hazel and Mari are reunited, again at a bingo hall, and their love for each other is still alive. Together again, the sexagenarians decide to divorce their husbands and live the rest of their lives together as wife and wife…despite the objections of their children and grandchildren.
Good luck!

It is every kind of wonderful all rolled up in a book of adorable and awesome and I cannot WAIT to read it. I was a backer of the Kickstarter and I’m planning on buying a physical copy or two as well.

So congrats to the Bingo Love team and yay us, for being able to get this book even more widely distributed.  I’m telling you, this will be the book of 2018. It will be available on Valentines’ Day 2018, don’t forget to pre-order with your local comic store!

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Yuri Manga: Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 (English)

October 4th, 2017

Third time’s the charm. In 2012, JManga did a digital-only translation. Towards the end of 2014, Digital Manga Publishing also tried putting Shimura Takako-sensei’s new classic Yuri manga out as a digital publication. Now, in 2017 we have what is very likely to be the definitive English-language translation for the series, in omnibus format. Thanks to Jocelyne Allen, Jen Gruningen and the folks at Viz, I think we’re at peak Aoi Hana here in the west.

Sweet Blue Flowers, Volume 1 introduces us to Manjome Fumi and her old childhood friend, Okudaira Akira. They had been very close as children, but when Fumi moved, they fell out of touch. Now, as they both head to different high-end girls’ schools, they’ve met again. 

I was reminded as I read this book that although the opening and the ending are – in my opinion – very weak, the rest of the story is excellent. It’s got surprising depth and breadth. Characters that surround Fumi and Akira are as well-developed as they and as interesting. 

In the first half of this Volume 1 – the original Volume 1 that was, Fumi is charmed, then asked out by an upperclassman at her all-girl’s school. Sugimoto is not her first girlfriend, but may well be the first by her own volition. Their time together is brief, as it becomes very clear that Sugimoto carries a whole host of issues with her and Fumi recognizes that she’s worth paying full attention to.  By the second half of the volume, Fumi has learned a lot about herself, among them that Sugimoto is the third person she’s loved.

The school play gives a chance for the cast of both schools to mix and emotions to be be heightened. Wuthering Heights is an unsurprising allegory for the tensions and passions of the cast to swirl and come together and part, like a storm. 

But by the end of the volume we have Akira and Fumi still friends. Fumi has, in a very rare act in Yuri manga, comes out to Akira. It’s a tempestuous time in their lives, but they both know who each other were – and are – and are there for each other. 

This still, after all these years, stands out as one of Shimura’s most tightly put-together stories. Other series have sort of swirled and eddied around the same material without changing, but we can see the changes to Akira and Fumi and their friends in pretty steady progression, as they encounter, deal with and grow from challenging situations.

This is a series that has many (if not all) the hallmarks of a “S”-era story and in my Very Brief History of Yuri I call it and Maria-sama ga Miteru “S for a new generation.” We can, like Fumi, enjoy the atmosphere of an old girl’s school. We can enjoy the drama that comes along with the hot-house environment. And we get the added advantage of characters with society – friends and families, brothers and parents and teachers who are male and female and a modern sensibility, in which gay people exist, and have lives. This is all so critical to my enjoyment of a manga. We have this series in omnibus form (available in print and digital format) and it, like several other series available right now, will be on my short-list of books that embody the classic concepts of the genre of “Yuri.” 

Interestingly, since the author attempted (unsuccessfully) to visit Yoshiya Nobuko’s home, the grandmother of Yuri gets both a mention in the notes and is attributed as the women who pioneered Yuri in Japanese literature. This is true, but she’s even more important than the note accounted for, because she not only pioneered Yuri, but also a great deal of what we think of as shoujo literature and manga. Yoshiya Nobuko-sensei was the richest woman in Japan in her lifetime. She’s an inspiration and a hero of mine. (Here’s my report of visiting Yoshiya-sensei’s home, from 2013.)

This edition came with a lovely assortment of postcards from the Aoi Hana Meets the Enoshima Electric Railway collaboration event from 2012 (an event reported in excellent detail by Guest Reviewer Bruce P – with pictures!). The book itself is exceedingly well put-together, with those cover flaps that take the place of a dustcover, but allow readers to see all of the cover and flap art. Color pages are included – including the cover of the second volume as a interior color page. Even the font choice matched the original well. And the translation and adaptation are excellent. I really do think this is a “definitive” edition. We’re not likely to get better. There’s very little room for it to be better. 

This is the version we all wanted. There’s no excuse not to buy it and support the author and folks at the publishing companies that brought it to us! Volume 2 will be out in December, 2017.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Characters – 8
Story – 7
Yuri – 7
Service – 1

Overall – 8

Today’s review was brought to you by the kindness and generosity of Okazu Superhero and occasional Guest Reviewer, Eric P.! Thank you Eric, once more, for all your many years of support! 

If you enjoy our Guest Reviews here on Okazu, I hope you’ll help support the Guest Reviewers – the Okazu Patreon is a mere $34/month away from being able to pay our writers. Every dollar will get us closer to that goal. If you’re a regular reader here and have enjoyed Eric’s reviews, I hope you’ll consider supporting Okazu on Patreon so we can pay him for his work! 

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