NYCC 2015, Day 2

Friday was the day that my planned schedule just blew up. And I’m happy that it did, as I got to see some really great panels. I started off at 11am with “From Blackface to Black Panther”, an examination of the role of black characters in comics over the years, from stereotypes such as the Imp and Ebony White to more modern-day characters. It started off with a brief history, discussing the debut of blackface in the 1830s and the creation of minstrel shows which created the stereotypes still known today – the “Stepin Fetchit” roles, etc. This then transferred to film, cartoons, radio and TV. Civil Right helped to change America, and it led to changes in comics – be it via All-Negro Comics, William Gaines taking on the comics code over a central character being black, Lobo (the Dell Comics version), or Black Panther for Marvel.

The panel then started in earnest, noting that if people get discomfited when racism is discussed, that’s a good thing – dialogue is good. The panel was very diverse, with comic artists and creators but also comic shop owners, a pastor, and the chaplain at a Hospice. They discussed when they first became aware of racial stereotypes. The difference between John Stewart and Luke Cage was mentioned, Gabe Jones in Sgt. Fury, and how it was shocking to realize that was a fantasy – there were no integrated WWII units. Looney Tunes were mentioned, with Bushy Hare, where Bugs mocks a Australian Aborigine, being singled out as particularly reprehensible. Black characters whose story begins with them stealing, or having a desire to be heroic for money rather than ideals.

It was mentioned that a lot of black characters are still mostly written by white guys, and it tends to show in dated lingo showing up in supposedly modern comics. Many characters who are black still tend to be from the streets or the ghetto, as opposed to a lot of modern black youth. Most interesting was the pastor mentioning how he always hated Black Panther for going on about not doing good if it meant risking his kingdom. It wasn’t till he grew up that he realized that Black Panther was protecting it from encroachment by whites.

They then discussed the challenging aspects of writing for black characters. Some are the same as all writers – how to make a character interesting. It can be a challenge this type of character, as it’s hard to “avoid avoiding stereotypes. One big problem is the fact that Marvel and DC still rely on 40-50 year old heroes – we need more original black heroes to take off. (DC was mocked a lot in this panel for their backwards views on many things.) More to the point, we need more black creators at all levels of production – creating comics and in editorial/publishing. It extends to film and TV as well – even in a TV show with a mostly black cast, the staff behind the camera tends to be white. And most importantly, folks need to BUY and show their support – money talks.

After this came a panel on gay, yaoi and yuri manga in Japan and North America. Deb Aoki moderated a panel with Chris Butcher of the Beguiling comic store, Erica Friedman of Okazu, Ann Ishii, who is behind the Massive gay manga anthology, and Ed Chavez of Vertical Comics. First terms were defined, as BL is not written by or for gay men, whereas gay manga is. As for yuri, it’s defined by the audience preconceptions – if they want it to be yuri, then it is. That said, does any of this reflect reality in modern Japan?

There’s been an uptick in Japan recently in realism or essay manga – simply drawn life stories that appear in josei or seinen magazines. A lot of those discuss gay and lesbian themes. A slew of creators were mentioned, including Tagame, Jiraiyah, and Nakamura Ching of Gunjo fame. Some titles mentioned that are out over here include Blue (out of print from Ponent Mon), and Seven Seas’ yuri titles, most of which tend towards the male yuri fan, with adorable moe girls meeting in all girls’ schools.

Ed admitted Vertical hadn’t gotten many requests for BL or yuri, though What Did You Eat Yesterday? is an obvious exception. It was mentioned how hyperrealistic Yoshinaga is trying to make it, possibly as “penance” for doing unrealistic BL for so long. Things are getting more mainstream in Japan now, though – josei is starting to do stories with more realistic lesbians, and Futabasha’s Manga Action, a seinen title, has Tagame’s manga about a man dealing with his brother’s husband, who is not only gay but – horrors! – Canadian. There are also a lot of AIDS awareness book,s in Japan with manga-style art – which shows that gay and lesbian folks in Japan can still be otaku and like moe stuff.

Q&A discussed avoiding popular series where a character is under 18 – it’s very hard, particularly in North America, to avoid the “gay = pedo” negative stereotype, and so they take no changes as they would be branded with a label. There was also a discussion of something that had been mentioned earlier, with yuri publishers worrying if too many female readers read their titles. Someone wondered if the same might happen in reverse? All in all, a fascinating panel with a lot of discourse.

As this was going on, Viz were announcing a pile of things in their own panel. Seventh Garden is a Jump Square title about a man forced to become the servant of a demon. Black Clover is a new Jump series from the creator of Hungry Joker with magic and wizards and grimoires and coolness, as you’d expect from a Jump title. Monster Hunter – Senkou no Kariudo is an Enterbrain series from Famitsu Comic Clear, and as you’d guess features monsters and those who hunt them. Not Elves, though, that series is too old.

Totsuzen Desu ga, Ashita Kekkon Shnimasu is a new “Josei Beat” series that Viz is releasing as Everyone’s Getting Married. It’s from Petit Comic, and will be rated M, so is along the lines of Happy Marriage and Butterflies, Flowers. The lead doesn’t look like a pushover – looking forward to this. Then they brought out the biggies. Akatsuki no Yona is a 19+ volume Hana to Yume series whose recent anime finally garnered enough interest to get Viz to pick it up for Beat. I can’t say enough about how awesome it is, particularly its lead. You may recall the author from the series NG Life. This is better.

Do you like sports manga? We have not one but TWO Jump sports manga titles. Kuroko no Basket has been running for a looong time, and has 3 anime series and a big BL fandom. Now that it’s ended in Japan, and Via has finished Slam Dunk, there’s room for a new basketball title. And Haikyuu is a volleyball manga that has an anime as well, with many themes common to other Japanese sports manga. These are both big deals, and if you want more sports titles you should support them. Sadly, still no Medaka Box. (I kid because I love.)

Back to panels I did attend with Asian-American comic creators. There was a lot of big talent on this one. Greg Pak was the moderator, and we also had Amy Chu, Ethan Young, Janice Chiang, Larry Hama, Marjorie Liu, and Wendy Xu. They discussed who they were and what motivates them to draw comics in general and comics with Asian-American characters in particular. These ranged from simply wanting to touch people with their comics to wanting to see more Asian-Americans they could relate to, to grappling with the identity of being Chinese-American or Korean-American.

The manga boom was mentioned as an obvious new source of readers – they wanted more Asians in their comics, and weren’t getting them from Marvel or DC. Things are changing, yes, but it’s not immediately obvious or “big” – Larry mentioned asking DC why they still colored Asians as yellow, and the answer was “Oh, we’ve always done that”. It doesn’t even have to be conscious – when he mentioned they should stop that, they were quick to do so, but he had to speak up. There was also discussion of stereotypes such as the Fu Manchu Yellow Peril, or Asians as cowardly. (I was amused by Marjorie noting her grandparents honest to God owned a Chinese laundry.)

There were some very interesting stories regarding what publishers said didn’t sell. A Romance publisher told Marjorie to change her name as Chinese named romances didn’t sell. Larry once wrote a Chinese noir story and was told that genre didn’t have Chinese heroes, possibly forgetting Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto. And of course there’s the white guy worry that things are getting TOO diverse – “whoah, we already have two Asian-Americans! There’s no room for a third! We’re full!” And again, as in most panels I’ve been to this con, the audience was told to affect change by buying stuff.

Stereotypes are hard, as sometimes you do want to use them – can you write a kung-fu book without it getting into negative stereotypes? You get self-conscious, trying to avoid Chinatown, or yakuza, or Dragon Ladies. And there is the burden they feel about needing to “represent their race”. Things ended with a Q&A, which got into the Yellowface fiasco of Avatar’s movie, the balance between ‘Asian’ and ‘American’, and how the panel all agreed that New York City has some of the best positive diversity in the US. A terrific panel.

Speaking of terrific panels, Archie Comics is always a highlight of every NYCC, if only as it has the most talented public speakers. Archie Comics is 75 next year, and there’s a big series of events to commemorate that, starting with a new book that as 75 stories, one from each of Archie’s 75 years, narrated by Archie himself, in-character. There’s also the new Jughead reboot, and creators Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson were both there to discuss the challenges and joys of creating it. Archie has an advantage over most comics, as its being available in so many grocery stores, chains, etc. and being obviously oriented at young people makes it most readers’ first comic book. It can thus be tricky to honor the series’ extensive past while still moving forward.

After launching the reboot of Archie and Jughead, Betty and Veronica get one next year, drawn by Adam Hughes. There’s also the Riverdale TV series inching closer to production, which will also have the Josie cast, Cheryl Blossom, and Kevin Keller. Kevin is mentioned as, along with Afterlife with Archie, one of the things that changed Archie Comics in a substantial way. Afterlife showed that you could take the Archie cast and put them in a Cthulhu horror series. And the new Sabrina is apparently one of the most terrifying horror comics on the market.

Questions included discussion of the Archie musical, which will be a Funny or Die production with a book by Adam McKay. As for a Sabrina movie, they clearly have some oars in the water but couldn’t say anything. I asked about Jughead and asexuality, as well as Melody from the Josie series being touted as bi in fan circles. Is it only original characters like Kevin who can be open about it? John Goldwater said they did not close off the Archie cast to anything like that as long as it was handled true to their character. Chip says he DOES see Jughead as asexual, and said there would be no romance in his comic. It was a good response, and another great panel.

My last panel of the day was Vertical Comics, with Ed Chavez and his Powerpoint Slides. (Sounds like a ska band…) He had no specific new manga to announce, but did run down their recent releases and the near future. Gundam the Origin has done better than most expected – a lot of folks expected it would be a disaster, but no. Kizumonogatari is still awaiting cover art, and so has been moved back 3 weeks, but is highly anticipated. Nichijou also got a big response, and Ed touted the series’ weirdness over its typical 4-koma schoolgirl humor.

The big news was at the end, when Ed announced new audiobooks of Attack on Titan: Harsh Mistress of the City and Kizumonogatari. These will have professional voice actors, SFX and background noises, and will be close to dramatizations. We heard some demo clips from both titles, and they sounded very intriguing. This is Vertical’s first foray into this type of work, and I’m interested to see how it does.

After that I walked through the rain back to the subway (yay for new 7 line!) and the hotel to type everything up. Tomorrow is just as packed – one wonders how close I’ll stick to my schedule this time.

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  1. I am SO excited about Yona of the Dawn’s announcement! I thought it was only a matter of time, since the anime seemed to do quite well over here online, but yes! FINALLY!

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