I believe the imaginary children are the future

For those who care about such things, which I hope is all of you, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly has passed its Youth Healthy Development Ordinance Bill, which Tom (The Comics Reporter) Spurgeon rightly describes as “extremely depressing and… deeply unnecessary.” Kevin Melrose has additional details at Robot 6.

The must-read piece on the legislation comes from Roland Kelts, writing for The Comics Journal:

“In other words: When the welfare of real children is at stake, the government turns the other cheek. But if you dare illustrate gay or trans-generational love, watch your back. Watch what you draw is akin to watch what you think. Brave new world?”

Here’s hoping Tokyo gets a swift economic kick in response to this.

Stooping to conquer?

It seems distasteful to ask publishers to license additional titles when so many people are worried that the currently licensed properties will see completion, so I think I’ll put the license requests on hiatus for a while. As we all ponder the future of the manga industry, I thought I’d share an email entitled “Fighting back against manga piracy” pointing to an approach that I find unsettling:

“It’s written by somebody who decided to attack the manga aggregator sites by going directly to their ‘sponsors’ and complaining about child p__n. This one action caused a chain reaction that got several piracy sites black listed from AdSense. Without ad money these sites can’t support themselves. The readers won’t donate or buy memberships. Most sites mentioned in the above link have found alternative sources of ad revenue.

“It’s important to note that going directly to Google would have done nothing. Only those who actually pay for the ads can make the ad software providers act. Those paying for the ads don’t care about piracy per se, but the notion that their money is supporting content that sexualizes teenagers and children and bankrupting the youth of America will motivate them to demand changes in a hurry. They simply don’t know where their ads are appearing but they should be informed, repeatedly.

“I just wanted you to know that there is a way for people who care about the manga industry to fight back. And win. This is the only way.

“But you didn’t hear it from me…”

I’m not going to link to the site, as the URL is a positive mine field for unwanted attention and comment spam, but you’re all bright enough to do a search and find it on your own.

Now, you all know that I find these aggregator sites revolting. They attempt to turn a profit without compensating the original creators, and they do so with a sheen of artificial legitimacy that too often goes unchallenged by uncritical journalists. But this approach – demonizing the content in an effort to hinder its unethical purveyors – strikes me as counterproductive in the extreme. Instead of pushing Google to respect copyright and intellectual property and vet its advertisers, it pokes at Google’s worst and most reactionary impulses while fostering the kind of lurid suspicion that has always plagued manga to some degree.

I don’t doubt that the approach works, just as charging mobsters with tax evasion works, but it seems like there’s a concomitant level of damage to the product and the industry you’re trying to protect. You’re smearing the comics in an effort to keep people from pirating them, and while that probably keeps aggregators on their toes, it gives manga the kind of black eye that lasts longer than the inconvenience created for aggregators.

And as I said, I’d love for these aggregators to sweat. But I want them to sweat because they’re illegally profiting off of the work of others and damaging a legitimate enterprise through their selfishness and greed.

Adapt this now

Over at the BBC News web site, Stuart Nicolson looks at a totally fascinating bit of history that involves… well… see for yourself:

“Hundreds of children aged from four to 14, some of them armed with knives and sharpened sticks, were patrolling inside the historic graveyard.”

Adding to the fascination is the fact that the incident was used to clamp down on 1950s horror comics.

Someone needs to turn this story into a graphic novel at his or her earliest convenience. My initial recommendations would go to Rick Geary if we’re talking about a straight-up historical retelling or Ted Naifeh if you wanted to fold in some actual supernatural elements.

Update: Tom Spurgeon points to this piece at The Horrors of It All that offers evidence that the urban legend about the iron-toothed vampire may well have had its origins in comics after all.

Recent reading

Interesting things I’ve read lately:

A roundtable on digital piracy of comics featuring representatives of Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Top Shelf: It kind of surprises me that Aaron Colter from Dark Horse never mentions the impact of piracy on the publisher’s licensed products, though it doesn’t surprise me that Fantagraphics experiences more piracy in its Eros line, a lot of which is translated product from Japan. I sometimes suspect that respect for a creator’s rights doesn’t always extend beyond one’s continent of residence, or it at least loses some of its ideological vigor.

Musings on the National Book Award categorization of David Small’s Stitches over at NPR’s Monkey See blog: This is a curious turn of events. I admire the book a lot, but I don’t think the hubbub over its nomination does it any favors, though it obviously doesn’t diminish Small’s achievement. As Tom Spurgeon has said so often, book publishing is gross. (And I also wanted to note that the Monkey See blog is generally a lively, entertaining read. I’ve been enjoying its comics content, though I hope Glen Weldon writes about manga at some point.)

The Robot 6 coverage of the Big Apple-New York Comic-Con situation by Sean Collins: The actual outcome of this is really only interesting to me in the abstract, because I’m unlikely to attend either event, much less both, but Collins approaches the subject with wry thoroughness.

A story at Publishers Weekly that provides some clarification on those Federal Trade Commission guidelines for blogger disclosure: Well, “clarification” is probably as optimistic a term as “guidelines,” but the story makes the guidelines seem less draconian. Or at least it presents the comforting notion that the FTC has no idea how to enforce the guidelines, if and when they figure out what those guidelines actually are.

Read the label

Tom Spurgeon points to a manga flap in Lexington, KY, involving a copy of Yuu Watase’s Absolute Boyfriend (from Viz’s Shojo Beat imprint and serialized in the magazine) in the children’s section of a Books-A-Million. I don’t really have anything much to say about the story itself, which reads like one of those “Can too much applesauce be fatal?” stories that local news outfits love so much. But Tom did make a couple of points about the Books-A-Million chain, and I wanted to chime in:

“The one thing that jumps out at me is that Book-a-Million is a big growth account for manga recently, and it’s my understanding that the chain has shown up in some towns that haven’t had a bookstore in a while. That would mean the store has increased coverage for manga in addition to simply increasing the number of outlets where it’s available.”

That was certainly the case here in north-central West Virginia. Books-a-Million was the first stand-alone chain bookstore in town, and it’s had a reasonably sized (and growing) manga section since it opened a few years back. It’s since been joined by a Barnes & Noble, which has its own substantial graphic novel/manga section.

I vaguely remember reports of Books-a-Million having a special “adult graphic novel/manga” section separate from the general population for some of the spicier, plastic-wrapped offerings, though I’ve never seen that set-up personally. And I’ve never seen manga or graphic novels shelved in the children’s section, though admittedly I don’t spend a lot of time there.

I can say without qualification that I think Absolute Boyfriend is probably the worse thing Watase has ever created, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s rated for older teens, as is a fair amount of the Shojo Beat line (or just for teens), so it sounds like it might have been carelessly shelved, if in fact it was in the children’s section.

See no evil, speak no evil

A common thread in many of the discussions about that Eightball business in Connecticut was the level of maturity of the works on the school’s approved reading list. It comes up again in this column from The Hartford Courant:

“But how ironic that in educated and affluent Guilford – where the summer reading list for high school includes Charles Bukowski, Augusten Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg – it’s a graphic novel that’s causing a stir.”

The common conclusion is that it’s okay to cover mature themes in prose – just don’t illustrate them, and Courant columnist Rick Green agrees:

“The problem with ‘Eightball #22’ is that it violates the first rule of dirty: The book doesn’t just talk about breasts and sex. It has images, if only a few. In high schools and Superbowl halftime shows, we find that shocking.”

Apparently, the second rule of dirty is “Don’t read it aloud.” This piece in The New York Times talks about the anniversary of a ruling in favor of Ginsberg’s Howl and a radio station’s decision not to air a reading of the poem designed to test the zealousness of the Federal Communications Commission:

“Janet Coleman, WBAI’s arts director, said that when the idea of airing the poem to test the law was proposed, ‘I said, “Yes, let’s try it.”’ The radio station has a history of championing the First Amendment, having broadcast the comedian George Carlin’s ‘seven dirty words’ routine that resulted in a 1978 Supreme Court ruling on indecency. But after several harsh F.C.C. rulings in 2004 — against CBS for a glimpse of Janet Jackson’s breast during the Super Bowl halftime show and against Fox for curse words used during the Billboard Music Awards — ‘our lawyer felt it was too risky,’ Ms. Coleman said. The commission can impose ‘draconian fines,’ she said, that could put WBAI out of business.”

When we assume…

The mother of the now-14-year-old girl at the center of the situation in the Connecticut high school visits The Beat to present her side of the story, which is really, really welcome, given some of the assumptions that were flying around.

If I had a teenaged daughter…

… I’d greet each new day with a handful of Valium washed down with a brimming tumbler of vodka. That’s all I can say with any certainty.

I wonder if anyone’s using this Connecticut business to put a Minx pitch together. There’s certainly enough hot-button material there.

The best defense?

New York Magazine’s Vulture column picks up on the Eightball kerfuffle:

“Having read the comic, which was later included in Clowes’s Pantheon-published graphic novel, Ice Haven, we can say that calling this comic book ‘borderline pornography’ is hilarious. Dude, Gossip Girl is borderline pornography. This is an extremely non-salacious art comic by a guy whose work is so tame these days he’s currently the Times magazine’s cartoonist of choice.”

Was there a compliment in there?

The rest of the story

More details on the Eightball #22 controversy are available in the New Haven Register. Most interesting to me is the reaction of the father of the unnamed student, who chafes at being viewed as a reactionary censor:

“‘I’m extremely upset with the administration for not following through with their word of contacting the parents,’ the father said. ‘It looks like we got some teacher fired (over) a Harry Potter novel or Catcher in the Rye.’

“His wife said she became especially concerned when her daughter told her Fisher asked her ‘how the book made her feel,’ although the mother added that she has no idea ‘what his intention was.’

“‘She was victimized by him to begin with and over and over again for 2½ weeks now,’ she said. ‘We just feel like if people understand what he had given her, then they would understand that it’s not our daughter’s fault.’”

It’s an extremely thorough and nuanced report from Rachael Scarborough King, delving into aspects that normally aren’t considered in stories like these. The piece also gives a lot more detail than the badly written fear-news sound bytes at WTNH.

By way of example, one of Scarborough King’s sources is Charles Brownstein of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund:

“‘Somebody could do a superficial glance of the material and not put the contextual pieces together, thereby perhaps seeing a panel with violence, perhaps seeing a panel with nudity and taking the image out of context as something that it’s not,’ he said. ‘The more people are educated about the category, the less those sorts of misunderstandings occur.’”