Recently, the judging panel for the 2016 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which will be presented in July at Comic-Con International: San Diego and serve to “[highlight] the best publications and creators in comics and graphic novels” from around the world announced this year’s slate of nominees. As has been the case for years now, manga titles are only honored in the Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia category. But, for the first time, a book on Japanese comics has received a Best Scholarly/Academic Work nomination.
Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan is published by the University Press of Mississippi – which has already contributed significantly to anime/manga studies with God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post World War II Manga (2009) and Japanese Animation: East Asian Perspectives (2013). It has been particularly active in comics studies in general – in fact, every year since the Eisners first introduced an award category for academic books on comics in 2012, at least one of their titles has received a nomination.
The book’s four editors (Mark McLelland, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Sagunama, and James Welker) are all recognized authorities on the subject, and authors of some of the most well-known, influential, and widely cited previous approaches to it. McLelland (University of Wollongong) has been writing on sexuality in Japanese visual culture going back to 2000’s The love between “beautiful boys” in Japanese women’s comics (Journal of Gender Studies), 2001’s Why are Japanese girls’ comics full of boys bonking? (Intensities: The Journal of Cult Media) and 2006’s A short history of ‘hentai‘ (Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context). In 2003, Nagaike (Oita University) published, in the U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, Perverse sexualities, perversive desires: Representations of female fantasies and “yaoi manga” as pornography directed at women, and since then, has also been one of the editors of a Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics “Boys’ Love Manga (Yaoi)” special section and contributed to the essay collection International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: The Influence of Girl Culture (Routledge, 2015). Suganuma (University of Tasmania) is the author, most recently, of Queer cooking and dining: Expanding queerness in Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yeasterday? (Culture, Society & Masculinities). Just some of the sources where James Welker’s scholarship has appeared iclude Girl reading girl in Japan (“From The Cherry Orchard to Sakuro no sono: Translation and the transfiguration of gender and sexuality in shojo manga”), Mechademia (Flower tribes and female desire: Complicating early female consumption of male homosexuality in shojo manga), and Signs (Beautiful, borrowed, and bent: “Boys’ Love” as girls’ love in shojo manga).
One necessary – and reasonable – question to ask, of course, is, given that the topic of “male-male romantic and sexual relationships” in Japanese comics has already been addressed in literally dozens of book chapters and journal articles, not to mention the 2010 essay collection Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre, what exactly is it that makes Boys Love Manga and Beyond different and worth noticing? As I mentioned when first highlighting this book, its focus is specifically on the boys love/BL “phenomenon” – and BL narratives – in Japan: their history, their themes, and their audiences. It is also explicitly interdisciplinary, with approaches drawn from fields including literature, sociology, cultural studies, and anthropology. Finally, this volume features contributions from both Western and Japanese scholars, including several essays that have previously been published in Japan, but have never before been translated into English.
Online access to this book is currently available via JSTOR, Project Muse, and University Press Scholarship Online, and the publisher has also released the book’s introductory chapter. Since the book was published, it has received a brief review in Japan Times, and a more in-depth, scholarly one in the academic journal Japan Forum.
The other titles nominated in the category this year are The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art (Rutgers University Press), Graphic Medicine Manifesto (Penn State University Press), Superheroes on World Screens (also published by the University Press of Mississippi, edited by Rayna Denison, who has written extensively on anime, and with chapters on the 1978-1979 Japanese live-action Spider-man television series, and on Blade of the Phantom Master, an animated feature film that was explicitly presented and marketed as a Japanese-South Korean co-production), and Unflattening (Harvard University Press), which has been hyped widely as a unique and unprecedented “dissertation in comic form”. Frankly, of these, I would not consider Boys Love Manga and Beyond to be a front-runner for the award. But, nonetheless, even its nomination marks a major achievement for the field of anime/manga studies.
And, needless to say, congratulations to the book’s editors, the authors of the individual chapters, and everyone who has been involved in publishing this volume. Even just the nomination already goes a long way to highlight what can be achieved when scholars focus their attention on Japanese comics – and on some of the specific ways in which we, as scholars, present our research.