How Lesbian Social and Political Activism Helped Give Birth to Yuri Manga

May 21st, 2017

This was originally presented at the Queers & Comics conference, on April 14th, 2017 as part of the “History of Queer Manga” panel.

Here on Okazu, we’ve gone over the history of Yuri in previous essays, tracing the tropes developed in literary roots of “S” stories of early 20th century Japan, to mid-century exploration of sexuality and gender by the Magnificent 49ers.

But it’s worth reminding ourselves that, in the late 20th century, sexual and gender revolutions occurred on a scale that had never previously been seen in the social and political spheres. Anti-war protests and feminism all became part of public discourse and media coverage in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Japan, just as they were doing in America. Communities of intention were built by feminists, by lesbians both inside and outside of feminist groups and by radical feminists and lesbian separatists, looking to create a new kind of society. Today I want to briefly discuss the place lesbian communications had in the birth of what, 30 years later, would become a new genre of Japanese media.

In America, the oldest lesbian organization is known as the Daughters of Bilitis. Founded in 1955, the group was active through 1972. During that time, the founders collected many books and periodicals both about and by lesbians to assist them in their stated goals.  These publications included The Ladder, The Daughter of Bilitis’ own newsletter that included information, interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. Collections of these publications can be found at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in NYC and GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, if you’re interested in taking a look.

1971 was, for our discussion today, a significant moment. As feminism grew in importance, the first known formal lesbian community was established in Japan, Wakakusa no Kai (Fresh Green Club). This name was meant to literally represent the fact that it was a “grassroots” organization. Wakakusa no Kai did not disband completely until the mid-80s. 

1971 also saw the creation of Japan’s first commercial gay magazine, Barazoku. By 1976 , the editor, Itou Bungaku, included a page for lesbians, which provided information on how to get in touch with lesbian groups and printed letters by lesbians looking to meet other women. This page was called “Yurizoku no Heya” the “Lily Tribe’s Room”. This is generally credited as the origin of the term “Yuri”in regards to lesbian-themed media. 

In the days before the Internet, the most common way a lesbian had to meet other woman like herself, was to go to a gay bar that allowed lesbians or, perhaps, a lesbian party night at a gay bar. If she lived near enough to a big enough city, there might even be a lesbian bar. A Japanese lesbian would find, as her American counterpart might, flyers for lesbian events or groups. Letter columns and personal ads in magazines like Gekkou or Barazoku could function as a lifeline, especially for more provincial lesbians, for whom the big city was both literally and figuratively far away. But a lesbian life was a fantasy that few could embrace. Manga of this period that included lesbians at all, tended to show one partner leaving to be married or dying, leaving the other with unfulfilled longing that could never be resolved. This image shows a flyer from 1981 that advertises a “marriage meeting” for gay men and lesbians who wished to marry to fulfill familial obligations. 

As lesbian groups developed and grew, it made sense to create newsletters to communicate with and among members and non-member readers.  In 1976 Subarashi Onnatachi, the first lesbian feminist newsletter was begun. Disagreements internally caused it to suspend publishing after one issue, but others publications arose: Hikari Guruma and Za Daiku  in 1978. By 1982, “Lesbian Communications” by groups like Regumi Studio and mini-magazines were popular in the lesbian community for sharing information, interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. 

These newsletters and mini-magazines, somewhat naturally led to the creation of the first lesbian magazines in Japan.

In 1995, Japan’s first lesbian magazine, Phryne premiered.

 

While Phryne only lasted 2 issues, editor Hagiwara Mami created Anise magazine in 1997. Like Phryne, and the lesbian “communications” of the 1980s, these magazines included interviews with lesbians, guides to women’s bars and lesbian parties,  comics, fiction, reviews of media and even horoscopes. 

At the same time, LOUD (Lesbians of Unusual Drive) was created as a sex-positive organization. They took their communications online, to a lesbian-focused BBS and, eventually a blog. Inevitably, these media would still provide space for sharing event information, personal ads, comics and interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. 

Among the comics creators being published in these magazines and on these websites were names that would go on to put out self-published works at the increasingly popular comic markets being held in Tokyo and other Japanese cities. These doujinshi could be informative publications about gay life or fan works pairing up characters from popular anime or manga series. Even well-known novelists got their start in these magazines, in which chapters, that would later be collected, were originally published.

Lesbian newsletters had morphed from typed and mimeographed creations to slick publications with color photos, original art and stories, but the core concepts – stories and news about lesbian life – remained at the center.

These lesbian newsletters provided an environment that fostered creativity by and for lesbians, covered issues of immediate interest to lesbians and made it possible for young artists to create lesbian work long before the word “lesbian” was something one uttered in public. Some of these artists moved on to mainstream publishers and left their lesbian roots behind them in order to reach a broader audience. Other artists went on to build a following creating parody comics of popular series and evolving over time to creating original art that was picked up by magazine publishers.  Many of the most popular names in Yuri manga got their start this way, using the  springboard of lesbian communications to launch a career.

And, in this way, these lesbian communications – these newsletters, magazines and doujinshi – made room for an entire generation of lesbian artists to openly draw the stories they wanted to read, about the characters they wanted to read about, and helped to eventually give birth to the Yuri genre.

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Yuri Network News – (百合ネットワークニュース) – May 20, 2017

May 20th, 2017

Get ready for some great reading!

Yuri Manga

In the wake of the buzz for My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, let’s not forget the other notable series out in English this year. A couple of folks have commented to me recently that they are tired of schoolgirls and moe. Of course I sympathize. But let me also recommend to you a soul-healing schoolgirl series, Kase-san by Takahashi Hiromi, if you aren’t already reading it. I’ve reviewed the first book, Kase-san and Morning Glories and the second book Kase-san and Bento is hitting the shelves this week. Yes, it’s about schoolgirls, but there’s something real and relatable about it in a way that I rarely see in schoolgirl Yuri.

And, to this point, we have some very exciting news about the Kase-san series! The fourth collected volume (the first since Pure Yuri Anthology Hirari went out of print in 2014) has been announced! Apron to Kase-san. (エプロンと加瀬さん。) is slated for a late July 2017 release date.  There’s so much significance about this news. It’s the first Yuri manga series that has continued to be successful with no print magazine, that has been not just wrapped up online, but is actually getting multiple digital venues for new releases – and of course, has that wonderful animation clip, which the production company has intimated might lead to bigger and better things. Thanks to our Special YNN Correspondent Verso S for keeping us up to date on this news and thanks to Shinsokan and Seven Seas for investing in this series!

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The 6th volume of Canno’s hit, Anoko ni Kiss to Shirayuri wo (あの娘にキスと白百合を ) was really quite interesting and, is now available on the Yuricon Store (along with the other titles mentioned here.) One of the strengths of the series is that the relationships are all very different. This isn’t just a matter of  pairing all the couples up, but that relationships – especially love – can be very complicated.

Minamoto Hisanari’s flight of fancy, Kanaete! Yuri Yousei ( かなえて! ゆりようせい) about the Yuri Fairy who grants Yuri couples their wishes, has now been collected into a volume of it’s own. It’s ridiculous and adorable. ^_^

Now Loading…! by Mikanshi was a short, but pleasant, look into adult life at a independent game development company that ran in Comic Yuri Hime and is now collected.

Almost defying belief, the seventh volume of Kuzushiro’s gag comedy set in the Heian-Kyo, the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Kimi no Tamenara Shineru, Volume 7 (姫のためなら死ねる ), hit shelves this month.

 

Yuri Anime

Ichijinsha has made it pretty plain that they are never going to animate anything we consider good Yuri here at Okazu. ^_^; For people who prefer dysfunctional, abusive, not-really Yuri, NTR: Netsuzou Trap and Citrus anime are launching this summer and for people who enjoy Yuri with animal-eared girls, they’ve announced Konohana Kitan, the one series that they never got rid of from Comic Yuri Hime S, according to ANN. (In the meantime, those of us who find functional human women who fall in love with one another appealing, get nothing. Grrr.)

 

Other News

ANN reports that the final Sailor Moon Musical, -Le Mouvement Final-, has been announced for autumn 2017, with the return of a former Sailor Moon as Sailor Cosmos.

This is something to stay aware of – an important case in the Netherlands was decided upon this year that makes fansubs illegal.

Fansubbers, of course, maintain that they are doing a Good Thing by allowing millions more people to enjoy films and TV shows that they might not otherwise be able to understand. BREIN, however, asserts that subtitles are mostly used by people who download pirated media, and thus fansubbers are not only violating copyright themselves but also inciting piracy and damaging the market.

The Dutch court sided with the IP owners, stating that “subtitles can only be created and distributed with permission from the rights holders. Doing so without permission is copyright infringement, and thus punishable with either jail time or a fine, depending on where you live.” The emphasis is mine, but Ars Technica has the full report and it’s worth reading. 

Nippon.com reports on ground-breaking manga translator Frederick Schodt, who spoke at the Japan Foundation’s Tokyo office on his four decades of work in manga and about his his newest work, The Osamu Tezuka Story

 

Know some cool Yuri News you want people to know about? Become a Yuri Network Correspondent by sending me any Yuri-related news you find.Emails go to anilesbocon01 at hotmail dot com. Not to the comments here, please, or they might be forgotten or missed. There’s a reason for this madness. This way I know you are a real human, not Anonymous (which I do not encourage – stand by your words with your name!) and I can send you a YNN correspondent’s badge.

Thanks to all of you – you make this a great Yuri Network!

 

 

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LGBTQ Manga: My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness (English)

May 19th, 2017

Nagata Kabi made a huge splash on online art community Pixiv with her heartfelt and honest autobiographical comic, in which she discussed her depression, the eating disorder she developed as a result and the long path to recovery and hope. East Press picked up Nagata-san’s narrative from it’s online home and printed it in book form. When I reviewed Sabishi-sugi Rezu Fuzoku ni Ikimashita Report (さびしすぎてレズ風俗に行きましたレポ) in 2016, I was convinced there was no chance we’d ever see it in English. I am so pleased to be completely wrong about that. ^_^

There are several amazing things about this book right on the surface. The publisher in English is Seven Seas, which has shown a genuine desire to be a Yuri powerhouse in the western manga market, but which – up until now – has favored moe schoolgirls over lesbians. I don’t blame them, I’m not criticizing…if anything I’m thankful that this is so out of their wheelhouse. Unlike something steeped in genre tropes like Hana & Hina Afterschool, I think Kabi Nagata’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness has a significant chance of reaching a non-manga-reading audience with a story that will very likely be meaningful for them. This is no Sweet Blue Flowers, this is a fairly brutal tale of a real life in crisis.

The most notable thing about this story is not that the artist is a lesbian. It’s that the Pixiv response to this woman’s honesty about her detachment from herself ,shows that a lot of people (not just in Japan) find themselves completely alienated from their own needs at an even earlier age these days than previously. The “mid-life” crisis has become just a “life crisis.” Pixiv readers resonated with this idea of the life one assumed one was supposed to have, the self-flagellation of not being able to even so much as fake that, and the breakdown when it all becomes too much. I sometimes think about the desperate loneliness of men and women in earlier centuries, unable to access – or even perhaps conceive –  of a life more emotionally fulfilling than the one they occupied.

The complete honesty of this story is moving. It hurts watching Nagata-san struggle…even when I know that she would come out the other end of this long tunnel.  

In my review of the Japanese volume I said “I think the story will resonate for a lot of people, although I am not one of them. I’m accustomed to my own bouts of depression and burn-out, but do not find solace in other people’s tales of their own experience.” I stand by this, but want to amend that the language barrier did affect me after all, because in English I was more deeply touched by the words. For that, I need to give my sincere thanks to translator Jocelyne Allen and adaptor Lianne Sentar (for whom I also owe thanks for the review copy!) Technically, this book looks awesome, maintaining the original three color interior of the original. And for that, I thank Lissa Patillo and all the fine folks at Seven Seas. You did an especially good job, with an especially challenging and especially worthy manga.

Which brings me to the final notable point about this book. It will officially hit shelves on June 6 and is already the #1 top selling manga in the Yaoi, Gay & Lesbian manga category! (And, almost in the top 5000 for books in general, wow.) When I checked yesterday Yuri manga filled 6 of the top 10 slots in that category, along with Hana & Hina Afterschool , Bloom Into You, and the Kase-san series (especially Kase-san and Bento, Volume 2 of the series), it’s something I never expected to see, and it warmed the cockles of this Yuri-lover’s heart.

Ratings:

Art – 6
Story – 8
Character – 8
Service – 2
Yuri – 7

Overall – 8

Please buy this book, so we get more Yuri about lesbians. Please buy this book so we get more comic essays by lesbians. Buying this book lets Seven Seas know that you want lesbians in your Yuri. ^_^ And tell everyone you know about it. This book is, along with My Brother’s Husband, a game-changer.

And, while you’re at it, let Amazon know that the category title ought to be Yaoi, Yuri, Gay & Lesbian. I’ve written them to ask for it to be changed. If you write them, too, maybe they’ll change it!

 

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TCAF 2017 Roundup, Part 3: Books and Food

May 18th, 2017

Today I’m just gonna list everything I bought at TCAF, because it was all so awesome. ^_^ In no particular order, just as I pull them off the pile. On Sunday, I finally had a chance to walk around the Toronto Public Library and see the exhibitors and their wares. The bottom floor includes the larger publishers, like Fantagraphics, Koyama Press and First Second. The second floor is where you’ll find smaller publishers like Northwest Press and Chromatic Press and scattered around both floors are sections given over to self-publishers and makers of mini-comics and doujinshi.

We’re starting with RAMCOM, a Ramen Yuri minicomic by Emily Forster.

As I was passing the table, they called my name and said, “Its Ramen Yuri!” and I handed them money and just kept right on going, because who doesn’t want ramen-themed Yuri? ^_^ And you know how I’m always looking for fun, original work, so this was all the wins. 

When I came home and read it, I handed it over to the wife and she loved it too. It’s a smile-maker.

 

Stéphanie Leduc‘s book Godless World caught my eye because of the art, but when she told me there was a Soundcloud soundtrack available that can be listened to as one reads, I threw money at her immediately.

Think about it – a multimedia, fantasy with a female lead. Yes, please.

 

 

I picked up Hannah Fisher’s Cosmo Knights because the postcards featured butchy women boxers that said “Fight Like A Girl” and I am a sucker for women who kick ass. 

And because the summary reads like this: The popular sport of cosmic jousting is alive and well, with tournaments in which Cosmoknights armed with spacesuits, medieval weaponry and jetpacks compete for the hands of princesses across the galaxy. Unfortunately for potential suitors, the princesses are over it.

Oh, okay. ^_^ I mean, it’s not like it’s hard to convince me to get cool-looking self-published comics, but this looks great!

 

I’ve reviewed two books by Barry Deutsch here, from his Hereville series. But even more in our wheelhouse he and Becky Dawkins are currently drawing a series called Superbutch that you should all be reading. “Someone is protecting the lesbian bar scene of 1940s Turtle City” reads the page metadata.

Lillian is a woman who has an amazing story about a woman of color passing as white during the day, lesbian superhero. It’s a great webcomic and I am now pleased to have a print volume of the first couple of issues. The book itself has a back cover that lists  More Comics With Queer Women of Color – several of which I have reviewed here on Okazu!

This list is not just an “oh good” it’s a “Yeah Baby!” so I’m sharing it with you all in hopes that you will run out and throw money at these. They deserve support and as much promotion as they can get!

Also from Barry and Becky, I picked up First Glance: A Young Girl’s Thrilling Quest for Lesbian Smut. This is not a smutty comic at all, but very much about the quest LGBTQ people have to go on to find themselves. This book is particularly wonderful for having front and back covers reminiscent of a mid-century lesbian pulp novel.

I mentioned yesterday that I had read Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward in preparation for the panel with her and Cecil Castelluccci so while I had a chance, I picked up her new book, Brave

This book, as I pointed out yesterday, is about the kind of microagressions one gets from people who position themselves as friends. And, to that point, Svetlana noted how mean I am to her. She’s not wrong, it’s a long-established habit of mine to be mean to people I love best. But I did apologize. It’s probably a really destructive habit, but it’s pervasive in my close circle where we’re all pretty brutal (but funny and supportive and loving, so I’m not about cutting a person down.) I’m not sure how this book is going to hit me – I may end up be the bad guy and not in a good way. Hrm. ^_^;

I was able to pick up a copy of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband, which I am literally holding on to for a day where I can sit and savor it.

Although I mention this book last, it was actually my first purchase. So Pretty, Very Rotten is a book of “Comics and Essays on Lolita Fashion and Cute Culture” by Jane Mai and An Nguyen. They launched their book at the Japan Foundation as part of Koyama Press’s 10th anniversary. The book includes an essay by the creator of Kamikaze Girls/Shimotsuma Monogatari, Novala Takemoto.

The launch was accompanied by a party with very cute food – sushi rolls and Pocky and cute girl cookies and items of Lolita fashion displayed as if they were at a museum. Both An and Jane appeared in Lolita clothing – as did a number of reception attendees! I always assumed Lolita would die out, but to my (pleasant) surprise, it’s growing and changing and continuing as a living thing. Jane and An gave us a quick overview of  Lolita culture and the story behind their book. I’m really looking forward to reading this. Congrats to An and Jane! I stopped by their table in the library and they thanked me for the support with a copy of their mini-comic,  don’t talk to me or I’ll set myself on fire, which, as my wife points out, is a great title.

One last note about Toronto – the food is spectacular. I was able to enjoy Cafe Bouloud Toronto with my roommates, where we had fabulous French food and the best seat in the house. This is one of those meals that you just go all in or you don’t do it. Duck confit, pork belly, quenelles and steak frites, wine and profiteroles kind of all in.

On Saturday, I had the extraordinary experience of sharing an Indonesian Rijstaffel at Noorden, a Dutch Restaurant, with 10 lovely people. (We discuss this on the third Four Ladies in a Hotel Room podcast.)

I enjoyed the wares at the Museum Tavern with Alan and Giselle and with the 4 Ladies and friends we shared cocktails in the rooftop bar at the Park Hyatt and had exceptional duck (again) at Firkin on Bloor

And with that, as I rolled my stuffed body and bags away from Toronto, I am once again reminded of the old TCAF chestnut, “this year’s TCAF was the best year ever.” (At TCAF, everyone is nice and it’s always the best year ever.)

Thank you TCAF and Library staff and volunteers, publishers, comic creators, panelists, moderators, guests, attendees and my fabulous roommates and friends!

2017 was definitely the best TCAF ever. ^_^

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TCAF 2017 Roundup, Part 2: Panels and People

May 17th, 2017

Because I had not been back to TCAF in some years (for the first Queers & Comics Conference in NYC and last year for Tokyo Rainbow Pride, the 20th anniversary Sailor Moon exhibition and Comitia, I wanted to show my love for the event in the way that best suits me – I volunteered. I strongly recommend doing this. In fact, my advice for getting the most out of any convention is “Don’t just attend the show, be part of it as a volunteer.” The show is SO much better that way. You won’t see the same show as the attendees, but your chances of meeting and spending quality time with amazing people quadruples.

So, as I said yesterday, I was staying with four extraordinary comics journalists. Heidi MacDonald has reshaped comics journalism pretty much single-handedly at The Comics Beat. Brigid Alverson  is a well-respected comics writer, whose work regularly appears on Publisher’s Weekly,. and who ran the Comics AM column over at CBR. She is now working on Smashpages, where she has just launched the Comics Lowdown, where you can get your daily dose of comics industry news. Deb Aoki was the lead for About.com’s massively successful Manga page for years, has her own blog about manga and comics. Deb has written for many of the major comics press, including Publisher’s Weekly – and is a talented professional artist in her own right.

These women are consummate professionals and being in their presence made me up my game considerably. I’m not kidding when I tell you that they made me better at everything I did in four days. Thanks to them all for being so inspiring.

My first panel experience of the con was on Librarians and Educators Day, on the LGBTQ Comics for Kids and Teens panel moderated by Brigid, and featuring Scott Robbins from the Toronto Public Library, comic artists Justin Hall and Andrew Wheeler (Another Castle) and myself. Luckily for all of us, the entire panel was recorded for posterity by Jamie Coville. Luckily for me, I had *just* that very day posted a review for Princess Princess Ever After. Phew, I was relevant. Justin Hall and I floated the absurd and fabulous idea of creating a kid’s queer comic together. ^_^ (It’ll have centaurs. That’s about as far as I got.)

 

 

 

On Saturday I moderated two panels, both of which had me nervous as heck going in. The first was Teamwork: Comics and Collaboration. This featured Nate Powell (John Lewis’ March), John Jennings (Octavia Butler’s Kindred), Molly Ostertag (Strong Female Protagonist) and Sandra Marrs and John Chalmers, the team known as Metaphrog (The Little Mermaid).  What a fantastic panel. I mean…breathtaking. Listening to Nate Powell discuss the weight of illustrating civil right’s leader John Lewis’ tale or how John Jennings broke down drawing a page of Octavia Butler’s novel was amazing. Molly Ostertag talked about the passion needed to be in comics and Metaphrog spoke of all of one’s passion being in service to the work. It was just…amazing. It was such an honor to meet these talented and dedicated folks. 

 

 

I went from there to my second “hold, me, I’m scared” panel, where I was moderating Cecil Castellucci (Soupy Leaves Home, The Year of the Beasts with Nate Powell!) and Svetlana Chmakova (Awkward, Brave). I’ve known Svet for years, but this was my first time meeting Cecil, and man, she’s a powerhouse! I had just read Soupy and Awkward, and to be honest, both books resonated with me on a similar level, but Svetlana and Cecil could not have been more different in the way they approached the story. Cecil spoke of heading off to find one’s self and Svetlana insisted, “No one does that. You poke here, then there until you sort of find the path.” I learned a lot about process and about their experiences. (To be honest, that’s why I moderate…so I can learn from these folks.) Loads of fun and an audience full of readers holding their books (and reading them before the panel! Squee!) I’ll be reviewing their books in days ahead, but don’t wait for me, do go get them and read some stellar writing and see great art.

On Sunday I was locked in the Pilot, which is a bar, doing two panels back to back. These were my “easy” panels, which was good, but I still had to work my butt off to be worthy of the panelists!

Sweaty Pages: Comics and Erotica, featured Colleen Coover (Small Favors), Dechanique (La Machina Bellica), Francois Vigneault  (Titan, which has just been collected in a French language volume) and Kou Chen. It was a varied audience and a varied panel which made for some interesting and amusing conversation about porn. I kind of lost my mind when asking “How hard….how difficult…is it to draw…?” and “What’s a good length?” I finally said, “No, this lesbian will not make these jokes” and we agreed that about half of what we said as just going to sound dirty, so we stopped trying to avoid it. ^_^

And last I ended up moderating youth librarians Scott Robbins and Robin Brenner on Challenged Books. The audience was interested more in collections policies and how to select for representation, which I found kind of fascinating. Both Robin and Scott explained that strong collection policies  (and intimidating forms to fill out) kill a lot of the initial screaming and we briefly discussed how much harder it is for school libraries, as well as the trend of administrators walking into libraries and removing a book without a formal challenge. If you’re interested in the topic, I strongly recommend the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund website and hope you’ll consider helping them out. They are instrumental in defending against book and comic book challenges.  They track challenges and publicize cases that might otherwise go under the radar. We are our own protection against censorship.

There are a few other people I want to shout out to the team from Massive: Tagame Gengoroh-sensei, Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbiens all of whom are doing amazing work with Tagame-senei’s My Brother’s Husband and the Queer Japan movie.

I also want to very much thank Sana Takeda (Monstress) and my dear friend Mari Morimoto for taking time to chat with me. Sana-san was absolutely delightful to meet her and Monstress co-creator Marjorie Liu

Many thanks to Mark Siegel of First Second Books, author Scott Westerfeld, artist Zach ClementeCalvin Reid and Jody Culkin of Publisher’s Weekly, and Bill Campbell from Rosarium Publishing, it was lovely to meet you all.  It was fantastic to catch up, however briefly, with translator Jocelyne Allen. Thank you Lissa Patillo of Seven Seas and Sean Gaffney of A Case Suitable For Treatment for being marvelous meal companions and good friends. And hugs and much love to Alan,Giselle and Merc for making my time in Toronto a pleasure every time. 

One more part to go…Books and Food, the best part of TCAF! Tune in tomorrow.

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