Category Archives: Gender

CfP: Spaces Between – Gender, Diversity and Identity in Comics (ComFor 2018, Cologne)

The conference topic Spaces Between – Gender, Diversity and Identity in Comics will draw our attention to the nexus between the medium of comics and categories of difference and identity such as gender, dis/ability, age, and ethnicity, in order to open and deepen an interdisciplinary conversation between comics studies and intersectional identity studies within the international comics studies community. In this respect, the 13th annual conference of the German Society for Comics Studies will not only contribute to the disclosure of exclusions, power structures and (hetero)normative allocations in comics, but will also critically analyse their socio‐political and communicative forms of (re)production.

Potential topics for contributions may include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • constructions of gender in comics

  • the interplay of gender and genre in comics
  • conceptions of identity and their (de)construction in comics
  • intersectionality and comics
  • the (re)production and constitution of difference and power structures in comics
  • manifestations of heteronormative structures and allocations in comics
  • mechanisms of hegemonic exclusion(s) in comics
  • queerness and comics
  • historic dimensions of identities in comics
  • diversity and normalisation processes in comics
  • race, class and ethnic stereotypes in comics
  • comics and postcolonial studies
  • body images in comics
  • representations of dis/ability in comics
  • the interrelation of comics, health and corporeality in the realm of graphic medicine
  • economies of difference: gender, identity and diversity on the (international) comics market
  • spaces between, centres and peripheries: transnationality and diversity in comics culture

See the PDF here for more information.

Leave a comment

Posted by on 2018/03/15 in Gender, General


Tags: , , , ,

Bangladeshi Women Creating Comics

by Sarah McNicol

Comics are, of course, found in many cultures, from Japanese manga and Chinese manhua to South and Central American historietas, and Filipino komiks that draw on traditional folklore as well as elements of mainstream US comics. Moreover, it has been argued that comic books “have always been attuned to the experiences of immigrant Others” (Davis-McElligatt, 2010: 137). Graphic narratives have long played a crucial role in representing and constructing immigrant subjects and the immigrant experience. Today, several of the most widely known graphic novels address issues of migration including Chris Ware’s (2001) Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and Shaun Tan’s wordless graphic novel (2007) The Arrival. The latter is often said to depict a universal story of migration, telling “not an immigrant’s story, but the immigrant’s story” (Yang, 2007). Nevertheless, it is explicitly the story of a man’s migration as he leaves his wife and daughter behind to make a better life in a new land. At the end of his struggles, the man reunites with his family who, it would appear, settle seamlessly into their new life without experiencing any of the hardships he has endured. Discussing literature more broadly, Pavlenko (2001: 220) argues, “immigrant women’s stories were continuously ignored by the literary establishment” despite the fact that female migrant life writing often explores different themes from those of traditional male autobiographies.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Queering the Western? Questions of Genre, Gender, and Normativity in Rikke Villadsen’s Et Knald Til (2014)

By Charlotte Johanne Fabricius


How can one queer a comics genre – especially one rooted in patriarchal tradition, rife with male gaze and stereotypical gender roles? I consider ‘queering’ to be not only an inclusion of nonnormative gender and/or sexual identities, but a broader strategy of ‘making strange’[i]. Furthermore, I consider the comics medium to be an especially interesting site in which to investigate such ‘strangeness.’ This idea has previously been offered by, amongst other, Ramzi Fawaz, who, in The New Mutants (2016), draws upon queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s idea of queerness as “gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances”, which manifest themselves as “formal gaps, overlaps, dissonances, and resonances of comic book visuality.”[ii] I speak of queering as not only a ‘making unfamiliar’, but also of ‘making possible’ different futures and logics than presented in traditional version of a genre. In the following, I investigate one such attempt, the comic Et Knald Til (Another Bang), which has been characterised by publishers as an ‘erotic Western’.

Et Knald Til[iii] is written and drawn by Rikke Villadsen, published in 2014 by the Danish Publishing House Aben Maler, and nominated for a Ping Prize for Best Danish Comic Book in 2014. It tells the story of a quintessential Western town, inhabited by cowboys and loose women. An outlaw with a price on his head comes to town, kills the men who try to stand in his way, solicits a prostitute – who explodes after their intercourse – and has a drink at the saloon before retiring to a room in the same establishment. Parallel to these goings-on is the story of a young woman in the town who dreams of being a man, so she can leave the town to go adventuring. When the outlaw arrives, she steals his horse and the clothes of one of his victims and sets out. When she starts menstruating, however, the horse recognises her sex and throws her off, leaving her to an uncertain fate. The story concludes with the outlaw waking up in his room only to discover that he has been transformed into a woman identical to the one whose story the reader has been following.


“If only… / If only I was like / If I were a man / I wouldn’t have to lie / here with my mouth half-open, waiting. / If I were a man I would be full of action and testosterone / My beard would scratch when I rubbed my hand across my chin” © Rikke Villadsen 2014.

The title of the comic contains a pun which is more or less preserved in my suggested translation, Another Bang. The word “knald”, translated to “bang”, means both a loud noise and a euphemism for sexual intercourse. The auditory meaning is emblematic of both the Western genre, with its frequent gun fights, and of comics, where such onomatopoetic exclamations are iconic to action-based narratives. The lewder use of the term refers, at least in Danish, to a casual encounter, one in which no romantic or emotional attachment is implied. Indeed, the bangs themselves belong to the male-dominated side of the narrative, as it is outlaw who is responsible for most of the shootings and the sexual encounter. The female protagonist enters the story by reacting to one of these bangs. Her narrative is catalysed by the actions of a man, and she is only able to find agency in reacting to the goings-on in the parallel narrative. Even though the title phrase is one of her lines of dialogue, she only gets to say the word, not do the deed.


Et Knald Til functions as a pastiche of Spaghetti Westerns, and in this case is quite unlike more “straight” Western comics. Though it contains trademark elements in its setting, characters and basic plot, something is always a little ‘off’. The female protagonist’s lines are in Danish, whereas the rest of the characters speak in lines taken from classic Western films, making the dialogue strange and stilted, and marking the woman as an outsider, who can’t quite seem to coexist properly with the rest of the story. She lives on the margins of this society, on her own pages and in her own chapters, only indirectly interacting with the rest of the characters.


This, of course, is no accident: Villadsen draws heavily on a stereotypical gender binary, which upholds the structure of the story (separate chapters, separate linguistic codes, separate plot lines), but is also critiqued within the story. Her heroine soliloquises wistfully about becoming a man, so she can go on adventures and not be confined to a traditional female societal position. Villadsen goes to some lengths in giving her agency, but this agency remains tied to masculinity. In order to move along with her narrative, the heroine must dress in a dead man’s clothes and steal his phallic power, first by pointing out his lack of a nose (which has been replaced by a bullet hole) and then by claiming a phallus of her own – “suck my dick, metaphorically” she exclaims, standing over the body.  She the steals another man’s horse and attempts to ride out of town, only to be discovered by the horse when she starts menstruating, at which point the horse throws her off, leaving her – presumably – to die.



“Yes, well, metaphorically / …suck my dick, metaphorically! / Huh? What’s that?” © Rikke Villadsen 2014.

Agency is tied to violence, which in turn is tied to sex in this world, a trope Villadsen critiques, but ultimately seems to uphold. The two female characters – our heroine and the prostitute – both die after having attempted to reach personal freedom and sexual climax, respectively. Neither of them quite fits into the roles set out for them, and they are punished by death. By introducing the cyclical element at the end of the narrative ‒ transforming the outlaw into a woman ‒ we are not certain that her fate will be much different from those of her predecessors. The agency afforded to women within this gender binary is limited and liminal, existing only for a short period of time.


To counter the heavy normativity at the surface level of the story, Villadsen inscribes a sense of fragility at the centre of these power structures by what I term her processual aesthetic. Panels and pages in Villadsen’s work have a sketchy and re-drawn look, often leaving pencil marks or abandoned lines on the page, creating a palimpsestic, work-in-progress feel. She works in pages with a large amount of negative space, as if this world could vanish into the blankness of the page at any moment, and has almost foregone the use of gutters, favouring a grid layout instead. Most of the characters stay within their confinements, but the heroine spills over the lines surrounding her, trying to escape from the story that cannot contain her embodied reality.  Even though the lack of gutters minimises the uncontrolled potential of the blank space (I am drawing here on Scott McClouds understanding of the gutter as a place where everything and anything can happen)[iv], our heroine points to the artificiality of the constraints of a comics page.


© Rikke Villadsen 2014.

A paradoxical estrangement happens when reading Villadsen’s work: Villadsen as an author seems acutely present, showing us her work at various stages of completion, down to her meticulously lettered dialogue. There is something more than a little queer about this story, that relies on a set of tropes which are pushed to their extremes. The drawings look like caricatures, just as the genre has been transformed into a pastiche. Villadsen’s use of classic Western quotes works, paradoxically, to queer the majority, at least to Danish readers – to us, only the heroine is speaking clearly, whereas the language of the men is foreign, constructed, strange.


Villadsen’s processual aesthetics, in order words, serve multiple purposes, but ultimately make it impossible to term the work as definitively normative or subversive. The fluidity of the lines and hyperrealism – such as the impossible posing of the characters, the exploding prostitute, the talking horse, and a scene in which the outlaw converses with his own Wanted-poster – subvert the reader’s expectations of the gritty realism of the Western genre. The reader comes to expect a twist on every page, and this expectation is fulfilled, but the final twist suggests a circular logic that most of all points to uncertainty.


Villadsen’s processual style is interesting for two reasons: firstly, because it clashes with the highly rendered, almost romantic style of Spaghetti Westerns. Yes, they are gritty in content and tone, but especially Francophone Western comics[v] are visually detailed and mostly realistic, looking like the films they pay homage to. Villadsen’s style is a far cry from this aesthetic. Secondly, showing the reader the various stages of drawing, keeping movement and uncertainty on the finished page, suggests that these pages could have been drawn differently, that a different outcome was close at hand. Nothing is certain, everything is constructed, and hence, everything could have turned out differently.


The ending of Et Knald Til, where the outlaw is transformed during sleep into a woman identical to our lost heroine, posits a dilemma with regards to the queer potential of the story and use of genre. On the one hand, we may reasonably expect that this new woman will experience the same fate, that the story will repeat itself, following the prescriptions set by the genre conventions. There is nothing terribly queer about a character switching sexes – the binary stands, and presumably won’t change the intrinsic links between violent agency and masculinity.



But on the other hand, endings like this prompt re-reading, a discipline essential to queer interpretations. Suddenly, we consider our heroine in a new light. Suddenly, nothing about the gender binary is stable. Suddenly, nothing about the genre conventions is stable. There is nothing ‘inherently’ queer about this particular work – processuality, pastiche, gender-swapping, and transgressing social borders as strategies are not queer per se, but as I see it, queering a genre or a format is about making it unfamiliar, and Villadsen does achieve that.


Villadsen’s linking of genre-specific tropes and binary gender constructs makes explicit the parallel I wish to point out with this article: that, in many ways, genre works like societal constructions of compulsory gendering, what we might – with Judith Butler – term the heterosexual matrix.[vi] Genre revels itself through Villadsen’s work as a structure, a formula which is critiqued, but only within the constraints of that very structure. The heroine of our story discovers to her dismay – and ultimate demise – that the structures of her world are rigid with gender and restricted agency. What Villadsen lets us, as readers, discover, is that the rigidity stems equally from the constraints of genre. Though the heroine does not succeed in obtaining freedom, she does point us in the direction of a queering of genre: one must also, in the process, queer and destabilise gender.


In making explicit the links between the Western genre and binary gender, Villadsen wills us to consider what stories could be told if we were to push the boundaries of genre – and gender – even further, reading and deconstructing them together, as it were.


If we are to make an example of Et Knald Til – I would hesitate in calling it a completely successful queering, but it is a very interesting attempt – we should consider making strange and poking fun of genre within those genres, if not the only way, at least one way of queering a genre. This is, perhaps, especially suited to genres that, like the Western, do not hail from the comics format originally, but have found a new and unique expression within it. There is a set of conventions both with regards to plot and characters and as concerns the format of comics, meaning that a making unfamiliar can happen – as it does in Et Knald Til – both at the level of the story and in the layout and style of the pages.


A “queer view” looks for the potential subversion in a work, which can only be located if one is familiar (to some degree) with the context and formal elements of the work. The question that prompted my reading is how a balance can be achieved between conventions that are beloved and highly effective, but often antiquated and problematic, and a queered, subversive, more progressive stance – in other words: how can old media be made anew without repeating past prejudices? An answer may lie in a strategy of poking fun and pushing boundaries, especially in links between gendered structures and genre structures, rather than courting nostalgia.


Author Biography

Charlotte Johanne Fabricius holds an MA degree in Modern Culture from the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen. Her work on comics concerns the intersection between the comics form and aesthetics and norm-critical theory, especially regarding subversive potential in mainstream comics genres.

This paper is adapted from a presentation given at Comics Forum 2016.



Butler, Judith. Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. Thinking gender. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Fawaz, Ramzi. The new mutants: superheroes and the radical imagination of American comics. Postmillennial Pop. New York ; London: New York University Press, 2016.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. 39. New York: HarperPerennial, 2011.

Villadsen, Rikke. Et Knald Til. København: Aben Maler, 2014.



[i] Using the term ‘queer’ in this way risks talking over the lived experiences of those who use the term for themselves, or indeed have had the term used against them as a slur. I choose to use the term academically, because, to me, it can describe what happens when mainstream culture starts poking holes in itself and its traditions, making possible different narratives, different aesthetics, different ways of being. I speak of queer as a ‘making unfamiliar’, a ‘making possible’ of being outside the norm. My identity politics here limit themselves to wanting room for more, for difference.

[ii] Ramzi Fawaz, The new mutants: superheroes and the radical imagination of American comics, Postmillennial Pop (New York ; London: New York University Press, 2016), 33.

[iii] Rikke Villadsen, Et Knald Til (København: Aben Maler, 2014).

[iv] Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, 39. (New York: HarperPerennial, 2011), 66–69.

[v] I am thinking here especially of series like Charlier and Giraud’s Blueberry or Jijé’s Jerry Spring. I am also indebted to Matteo Pollone for introducing me to the Italian equivalent, Tex by Bonelli and Galleppini.

[vi] Judith Butler, Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity, Thinking gender (New York: Routledge, 1990), 151 et passim.


Tags: , , , , ,

Manga Studies #7: Shōjo Manga Research: The Legacy of Women Critics and Their Gender-Based Approach by Masafumi Monden

Shōjo manga varies in style and genre.[1] But despite this diversity, there is a certain conception of shōjo manga aesthetics, dominated by images of flowers, ribbons, fluttering hem skirts, and innocent-looking girls with large, staring eyes.[2] Traditionally, the beginning of shōjo manga has been equated with Tezuka Osamu’s Princess Knight (Ribon no kishi), but more recent studies have instead focused on prior texts,[3] namely the creations of Takahashi Macoto, who was influenced by the so-called lyrical illustrations (jojōga) of artists such as Nakahara Jun’ichi, Takabatake Kashō and Takehisa Yumeji.[4] Manga influenced by jojōga have arguably prioritized visual qualities.[5]

The importance of visual qualities has increasingly been recognized in shōjo manga studies.[6] However, most critical examinations of shōjo manga place emphasis on the role of narrative structure and representation of gender. This applies particularly to those who read shōjo manga as a medium to challenge conventional gender roles. As Iwashita Hōsei points out, female manga researchers especially have tended to focus on biological and socially constructed gender (2013a: 58). This column discusses two such works, Fujimoto Yukari’s Where is my place in the world? (1998, revised edition 2008) and Oshiyama Michiko’s Discussion of Gender Representation in Shōjo Manga: Forms of “Cross-dressed Girls” and Identity (2007, revised edition 2013).

While studies of shōjo manga have been around since the 1970s, it is still a new and developing discipline. However, on closer inspection, a pattern emerges. Studies of shōjo manga, both in Japanese and English, particularly but not exclusively by female scholars, examine the genre as a subversion of patriarchal order which is assumed to limit young women to a state of powerlessness due to their fixation on “female” gender.[7] As stated by Takeuchi (2010: 96), such reading of shōjo manga usually focuses on works published in the 1970s, notably gender bending narratives about boys in love with other boys (e.g. Hagio and Takemiya’s famous works), or cross-dressed heroines (as Ikeda Riyoko’s The Rose of Versailles). This discursive trajectory then leads to the “queer” genres of Boys’ Love (BL, or yaoi) or more recent fighting heroines in male attire.[8] Conversely, this leads to a lack of scholarly interest in “typical” or “conventional” shōjo manga, typified by flowers, ribbons, and innocent girls with large, staring eyes.

Remarkably enough, those who use shōjo manga to challenge conventional gender norms often revoke “girlish qualities,” and by implication (girlish) femininity. For example, shifting the focus from the specific 1970s titles to BL or cross-dressed fighting girls in the late 1990s, and from there to more recent shōjo manga, sidelines the majority of 1980s and 1990s shōjo manga. That period was predominated by so-called school-life narratives set in Japan, in continuation of the “maiden-esque” (otomechikku) style of the 1970s.[9] Perhaps because of their emphasis on girlish qualities, such mainstream shōjo manga like Honda Keiko’s Moon night, starry dawn (Tsuki no yoru hoshi no asa, 1983-5) have been perceived as less subversive than the ones which visually, and hence explicitly, blur the distinction between masculine and feminine.

The underlying perception of (girlish) femininity as unfavorable, is exemplified in the monographs by Fujimoto Yukari and Oshiyama Michiko. Fujimoto’s Where is my place in the world? (1998), one of the most frequently cited works in shōjo manga studies. Based on her extensive experience as a magazine editor, Fujimoto offers close readings of shōjo manga through the concept of gender. Her book illuminates changes in shōjo manga, and rather than merely following the usual trajectory of shōjo manga discourse (starting from the 1970s and jumping into the 2000s), she casts light on understudied artists such as Nishitani Yoshiko, Ichijō Yukari, Matsunae Akemi, and Shimizu Reiko. Moreover, her analysis of shōjo manga pursues not just one, but several representational issues, including romance, growing up, family, society, career, and female relationships. Fujimoto’s analysis is strongly influenced by her personal experiences as an informed reader “who has immersed herself in reading shōjo manga for 30 years”(190). In other words, her reading of manga is neither supported by solid social, cultural, or historical evidence, nor by a theoretical framework. Furthermore, due to her initial position as an editor and manga critic, her writings may be classed as journalism rather than scholarship. In addition, Fujimoto tends to describe her personal reading history as a shared experience among female readers, as distinct from male readers who supposedly do not read shōjo manga.

Fujimoto argues that shōjo manga represents girl readers’ fear of sexuality, and hence their perception of “femininity,” a word which she uses almost synonymously with “female sexuality” in a derogatory tone (50). For Fujimoto, shōjo manga is a medium for women, a text that reflects the values of women most accurately, including the ideology of romance, which teaches female readers to dedicate themselves to love, whether mutual or unrequited (14). Men, she writes, do not fall into that “trap” because they know romance is another name for lust (25). Her negative casting of “femininity” is also evident in her interpretation of Boys’ Love, where she endorses the view that “beautiful boys” in shōjo manga (and yaoi) are nothing more than girls without the female body, and are hence liberated from (unfavorable) feminine sexuality, which for her is synonymous with passivity and objectification in the beginning (142-3).

Takahashi rightly notes that critics like Fujimoto (and Yokomori Rika in a similar way) overestimate the power of shōjo manga narratives in influencing their readers while undervaluing their visual properties (2008: 134). In addition, as Takemiya Keiko states, manga is a popular media, aiming at appealing to a wider audience (2011: 96). This latter remark relates to the necessity for manga of staying sensitive to social trends and creating an affinity between the readership and its contents. It also illuminates the fundamental characteristic of manga, let alone shōjo manga: to entertain. Moreover, even among female readers, reading experiences of shōjo manga can differ depending on factors such as social status, generation, and taste. In this regard, Fujimoto’s almost fan-like approach actually indicates how readers make sense of shōjo manga differently.

Fujimoto mentions that the aim of her book is to trace changes in shōjo manga through the themes of romance, sexuality, family, and business, and she begins with the description of “genuine” shōjo manga works (by Nishitani Shōko and Ichijō Yukari) (4). However, in the chapter where career is concerned, she uses manga clearly not targeted at girls, but more precisely described as “women’s (josei) manga” – probably because she attempts to illustrate the deviation of shōjo manga from works where hetero-sexual romance was a quintessential tool to affirm the identity of the insecure and passive girl, to those where the girl has started to actively claim a “place for herself.” This raises questions about what shōjo manga, after all, is.

There seems to be a growing concern about this issue. Kan et al. (2012), Iwashita (2013a), and  Kuramochi (2013) offer the following definitions: Kuramochi, a curator at Kyoto International Manga Museum and specialist in shōjo manga, cites the museum’s criteria of: “works that are initially published in shōjo manga magazines” (2013: 203). This is based on a media studies approach with a special focus on readership, which Iwashita also utilizes. But manga are increasingly published without specific age and gender targets or format specifications (e.g. online). Correspondingly, Kuramochi suggests defining shōjo manga as graphic narratives that turn on the “maiden (otome) switch,” triggering dreamy, girlish imaginations (204). Visual properties are, quite obviously, essential for such imaginations.

Oshiyama Michiko’s study of cross-dressed heroines in shōjo manga (2007) takes a path similar to Fujimoto’s. Her work offers extensive data on shōjo manga featuring female characters in male attire from the 1950s to 2000s, with interviews with the artists (particularly Ikeda Riyoko) and reader comments published in magazines. Oshiyama’s numerous examples of manga works, most of which were initially published in such shōjo-targeted magazines like Nakayoshi, Margaret, LaLa, and Chao, correspond with Kuramochi’s general definition of shōjo manga and thus are more “typical” than Fujimoto’s. It is quite obvious, however, that Oshiyama, too, tends to perceive (girlish) femininity as a negative quality that restricts women. In such a view, “masculinity” equates to intelligence, agency, and independence while “femininity” equates to passivity, dependence, and oppression. For Oshiyama, Oscar in The Rose of Versailles (Berusaiyu no bara, 1972-3), a cross-dressed heroine who becomes the commander of the Royal Guard and is responsible for the safety of Marie Antoinette in France on the eve of the Revolution, is the “first” example of a cross-dressed young woman who truly possesses both masculine and feminine attributes, and is unrestricted by the conventional gender norms (209). Another manga to which Oshiyama pays particular attention is Saitō Chiho’s Revolutionary Girl Utena (Shōjo kakumei Utena, 1996-8) in which a teenage girl dressed in male school uniform engages in a series of sword duels whose winner will receive the “power to revolutionize the world.” According to Oshiyama (278), after Utena, the heroine in male attire that had challenged the established notions of gender became rare while the theme of cross-dressing continued to exist in manga such as Nakajo Hisaya’s Hana-Kimi (Hanazakari no kimitachi e, 1996-2004) and Hatori Bisco’s Ouran High School Host Club (Ouran kōkō hosuto kurabu, 2002-10). But here, the concept of cross-dressing has become a fashionable prop to make the narrative more dramatic. The loss of gender-subversive challenge is further highlighted in the 2013 revised edition of Oshiyama’s book where she provides a close analysis of Hatori’s work.

Although focusing on cross-dressing, Oshiyama does not pay much attention to dress (apart from the ribbons and dresses of Tezuka’s Princess Knight and Ikeda’s The Rose of Versailles). Instead, she substantiates gender differences by means of differently depicted chins, eyes, and eyelashes. Eyes are important in shōjo manga [10], but as their rendering can vary between artists, they might not be the most reliable analytical tool for examining gender-related meanings. Moreover, Oshiyama seems to imply a one-dimensional appearance of femininity with Oscar being the only character able to assume both female and male traits according to context and partner. Her argument can be summarised thus: male attire indicates the female character is liberated and active, while female dress suggests she is oppressed and passive. This is particularly notable in Oshiyama’s analysis of The Rose of Versailles where she perceives the frill and lace-clad female characters as being “trapped” in conventional femininity (2007: 184). Both Fujimoto (134) and Oshiyama emphasize the importance of cross-dressed heroines in shōjo manga, and both argue that the history of shōjo manga begins with a princess in male attire. However, though cross-dressing has been vital, it has also been overemphasized. In fact, other genres have been likewise important, such as ballet manga, for example.

Ballet manga have been created since the early 1950s [11], and thus the history of ballet manga may correspond to the history of shōjo manga itself. But until recently, ballet manga has received almost no serious scholarly attention.[12] One reason for this lack is that ballet manga have been perceived as not “gender-transgressive” enough. This brings to mind the inclination of shōjo manga studies to perceive (girlish) femininity in a derogatory way.

Are other interpretations of femininity in shōjo manga possible? The concept of “feminine” beauty as conveyed visually in shōjo manga through a cascade of gauzy ballet costumes and fluttering dresses can indeed be a very powerful, and empowering, tool. The graphically voluminous decoration of women’s dresses as such can very well signify power through visibility. Full skirts, bodices, and sartorial decorations give substance to female claims of importance by increasing their physical size to at least double that of men. This idea applies to the depiction of Marie Antoinette, juxtaposed against the uniform-clad Oscar in The Rose of Versailles, for example in the scene at the ball where Oscar declines Marie Antoinette’s persuasion to dance like other court ladies because she is, first and foremost, a military person.[13] While the scene itself might be symbolic of Oscar’s “transgression”[14], visually, readers are drawn to the “feminine” presence of Marie Antoinette who, due to her dress, appears almost three times bigger than Oscar. Ikeda herself stated in an interview that in order to keep girl readers engaged in historical manga, she needed to use beautiful and glamorous props such as beautiful dresses.[32]

Indeed, the meanings ascribed to “feminine” or “girlish” dresses in shōjo manga can be far more complex, as ballet manga of celebrated artists like Takahashi Macoto and Maki Miyako have exemplified.[33] From the 1970s onwards, manga by artists such as Yamagishi Ryōko and Ariyoshi Kyōko increasingly used the romantic beauty of ballet as a means to offer more serious and realistic depictions of psychological complexity and sexuality. Takeuchi Naoko’s figure-skating manga The Cherry Project (1990-1) and Mizusawa Megumi’s Toe Shoes (1997-8), originally serialized in Nakayoshi and Ribbon (Ribon) both predominantly shōjo-targeted, are addressing such realities as the value of ambition, hard work, and daily practice, while confronting also the negative effects of training like injury, however lightly. The highly romantic art of Yamagishi, Ariyoshi, Takeuchi and Mizusawa, which manifests itself in the flowing full skirts of tulle, ribbons and scattering flowers, undoubtedly helped such underlying themes to be comfortably communicated to the reader. Therefore, highly “girlish” visual qualities materialized in the use of dresses, flowers, and romantic narratives should not be missed.

The above survey of shōjo manga studies is intended to show that attention to qualities other than explicitly gender-subversive narratives can be equally important for advancing the genre as a scholarly topic. Paying more attention to visual and fashion aspects as well as less known works and thematic sub-genres can further illuminate the cultural uniqueness of shōjo manga.


Dollase, Hitomi. T. 2010. “Shōjo Spirits in Horror Manga.” U.S. –Japan Women’s Journal, no. 38, pp. 59-80.

Fujimoto, Yukari. 1998 [2008]. Watashi no ibasho wa doko ni aru no? Shōjo manga

ga utsusu kokoro no katachi (Where is my place in the world? The Shape of the

Heart as Reflected in Girls’ Comic Books). Tokyo: Gakuyō Shobō.

— 2012 [2007]. “Takahashi Macoto: The Origin of Shōjo Manga Style” (trans. Matt Thorn). Mechademia 7(1): 24–55.

Honda, Masuko. 2010. “The Genealogy of Hirahira: Liminality and the Girl” (trans. T. Aoyama and B. Hartley). In T. Aoyama and B. Hartley, eds, Girl Reading Girl in Japan. New York: Routledge, pp. 19-37.

Ikeda, Riyoko. 1994[1972]. Berusaiyu no bara (The Rose of Versailles), vol. 1. Tokyo: Chūōkōron-sha.

Iwashita, Hōsei. 2013a. Shōjo manga no hyōgen kikō : hirakareta manga hyōgenshi to Tezuka Osamu (Aesthetic mechanisms of shōjo manga: An open-minded history of manga aesthetics, related to the imagined role of Tezuka Osamu). Tokyo: NTT Shuppan.

— 2013b. “Sutairu-ga to sutairu” (Style illustration and Styles), Eureka, Vol. 45-16, pp. 195-202.

Kan, Satoko, Hitomi Dollase, and Kayo Takeuchi, eds, 2012. Shōjo manga wandārando (Shōjo Manga Wonderland). Tokyo: Meiji shoten.

Kuramochi, Kayoko. 2013. “Nakahara Jun’ichi to shōjo manga (Nakahara Jun’ichi and shōjo manga),” Eureka, Vol. 45-16, pp. 203-210.

Kyoto International Manga Museum, ed., 2013. Baree manga: eien naru utsukushisa (Ballet Manga: An Everlasting Beauty). Tokyo: Ōta shuppan.

Monden, Masafumi. 2014. “Layers of the Ethereal: a cultural investigation of beauty, girlhood and ballet in Japanese shōjo manga.” Fashion Theory, Vol. 18, Issue 3, pp. 251-296.

Ogi, Fusami. 2001. “Gender insubordination in Japanese comics (manga) for girls.” In John A. Lent, ed., Illustrating Asia: Comics, Humor Magazines and Picture Books. Richmond, UK: Curzon, pp. 171-186.

Oshiyama, Michiko. 2007 [2013]. Shōjo manga jendā hyōshōron: “dansō no shōjo” no zōkei to aidentiti (Discussion of Gender Representation in Shōjo Manga: Forms of “Cross-dressed Girls” and Identity). Tokyo: Seiryūsha.

Prough, Jennifer. 2011. Straight from the Heart: Gender, Intimacy, and the Cultural Production of Shōjo Manga. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press.

Schodt, Frederik L. 1983. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics. Tokyo and New York: Kodansha International.

Shamoon, Deborah. 2012. Passionate Friendship: The Aesthetics of Girl’s Culture in Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Suter, Rebecca. 2012. “Orientalism, Self-Orientalism, and Occidentalism in the Visual-Verbal Medium of Japanese Girls’ Comics.” Literature & Aesthetics 22.2., pp. 50-71.

Takahashi, Mizuki. 2008. “Opening the Closed World of Shojo Manga.” In

Mark MacWilliams, ed., Japanese Visual Culture: Explorations in the World of Manga and Anime,. New York: M. E. Sharpe, pp. 114–36.

Takemiya, Keiko. 2011. “1970 nendai no shōjo manga ni okeru geijutsusei e no shikō to sono mokuteki” (1970s Shōjo Manga’s Aspiration to Art and Its Purpose). Bijutsu Forum 21, No. 24, pp. 96-98.

Takeuchi, Kayo. 2010. “The Genealogy of Japanese Shōjo Manga (Girls’ Comics) Studies.” U.S. –Japan Women’s Journal, No. 38, pp. 81-112.

Welker, James. 2006. “Beautiful, Borrowed, and Bent: “Boys’ Love” as Girls’

Love in Shojo manga.” Signs 31(3), pp. 841–870.

Yamada, Tomoko. 2013. “The Emergence of Ballet Manga; and the Role of

this Exhibition and Catalogue.” In Kyoto International Manga Museum, ed., Ballet Manga. Tokyo: Ōta shuppan, pp. 32-35.

Masafumi Monden is a fashion and cultural studies researcher affiliated with the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). He earned a PhD from UTS in 2012. His growing publication record includes a book chapter on the history of ballet and clothing in Japan (edited by Valerie Steele, 2014) and a research article on ballet manga and dress (Fashion Theory, 2014). His first monograph Japanese Fashion Cultures: Dress and Gender in Contemporary Japan will be published in 2015 (Bloomsbury Academic). Particular research interests include transnational cultural flows, beauty and the role of fashion in the periodical press, ballet, opera, music video, cinema and manga culture.

[1] Iwashita 2013a: 11; Schodt, 1983: 101

[2] Honda 2010 [1980]; Kan et al 2012: 7

[3] Iwashita 2013b: 196-7

[4] Fujimoto 2012 [2007]; Kuramochi 2013; Takahashi 2008

[5] Kuramochi 2013: 208

[6] See Welker 2006, Takahashi 2008, Fujimoto 2012[2007], Suter 2012, Iwashita 2013a

[7] Ogi 2001; Kan et al. 2012: 14; Dollase 2010: 74

[8] See Ogi 2001; Oshiyama 2007; Shamoon 2012

[9] Kan et al. 2012: 17-8; Prough 2011: 51

[10] Iwashita 2013b: 195

[11] Yamada 2013: 32-5

[12] See Monden 2014

[13] Ikeda 1994 [1972]: 89

[14] Oshiyama 2007: 168

[15] 1980 cited in Oshiyama 2007: 241

[16] Kyoto International Museum 2013: 11; Monden 2014: 274-8

To read more from Comics Forum’s Manga Studies column, click here.


Posted by on 2015/03/10 in Gender, Manga Studies, Women


Tags: ,

Between Supermen: Homosociality, Misogyny, and Triangular Desire in the Earliest Superman Stories by Eric Berlatsky

Fig 1, ™ and © DC Comics.

Fig 1, ™ and © DC Comics.

The Superman “shield” most familiar to contemporary readers is a pentagon. Emblazoned on his chest, it is a recognizable symbol of the “first superhero” whose emergence in Action Comics in 1938 gave birth to the genre most associated with the history of American comics. Interestingly, however, the symbol has little resemblance to that which first appeared on Superman’s chest in his debut. In those early days, Superman, created, by Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (artist), had a simple triangle on his chest, with a sinuous “S” in its center. The shift in insignia is largely insignificant, but the original shape is reflective of the ways in which those early stories revolve around a “love triangle” that is both familiar and unconventional. [1]

Fig 2, ™ and © DC Comics.

Fig 2, ™ and © DC Comics.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on 2013/04/11 in Gender, Guest Writers, Women



%d bloggers like this: