Thursday, November 27, 2014

Solidarity and the American Shoujo/Josei Comic Scene

Now that my con season is OVAH, I can finally focus on something I've been wanting to do for a long time- creating a network for Western shoujo and josei influenced and inspired artists to connect.  I've currently achieved two of many goals- I created an open Facebook group Western Shoujo Comic Artists and am putting together a directory of Western comic artists who identify as being shoujo/josei in content, identify as having been strongly influenced by shoujo/josei manga, or serve the same market that shoujo and josei manga serve.

These attempts towards a community have been a long time coming.  Back when I wrote my post
The Problems of OEL Mangaka, I'd just come out of several great discussions with more established artists who faced many of the stigma I also faced.  We agreed that community was important and that OEL (Original English Language) manga was a problematic moniker for our work, but could not agree on a better term, and thus no lasting digital community was formed. 

I believe community is vital, especially for comic artists who may have difficulty finding where their work belongs.  The internet has been a huge tool for meeting other artists who share one's influences, aethestics, and goals, but without specific places to meet up, many of us may just be floating on a digital sea.  While I enjoy a variety of comics, especially those influenced by manga and European comcis, after participating in the Hana Doki Kira shoujo anthology, I knew I wanted to be part of a group that specifically focused on making quality comics for girls and women.

Right now, the group is small, but quickly growing as new members are invited by existing members or find out about the group through Twitter or Tumblr.  Upon joining, members are encouraged to introduce themselves and their work (preferably with links!) and make a folder under their name in which to post samples of their work.   The purpose and inspiration behind forming this group was to foster a sense of community- many artists whose work falls on the feminine end of the spectrum have a difficult time finding work and finding an audience willing to support them.  By forming an online group, we're able to tap into a ready made audience excited for our work- fellow comic artists.  We're also able to support one another, and make arrangements for shared hotel rooms and meetups at conventions.   I'm hoping in the future, we can also utilize this group to organize anthologies and group art books.  We currently have an Ask Me Anything with Becca Scoble of Sparkler Monthly going on focusing on Sparkler Monthly Magazine (an online Western shoujo and josei monthly magazine that also distributes independently published Western shoujo and josei comics) focusing primarily on Sparkler's distribution service, although group members are encouraged to ask any questions they may have about Sparkler. We'd LOVE to have other publishers and stores interested in supporting our group members join our ranks, even if they can't participate in an official capacity as representatives of their employment.  We'd be more than happy to welcome any comic industry professionals who enjoy shoujo and josei comics (especially Western comics heavily influenced and inspired shoujo and josei comics) into our ranks.

While I may be the administrator, I don't intend to be the gatekeeper, and anyone who feels their work is shoujo or josei in aesthetic, market, or influence is welcome to join.  While the group's name may have "Comic Artist" in the title, we also welcome shoujo and josei writers, illustrators, and animators.  Because I've had others (artists, professors, editors) determine for me where my work falls and what I am and am not capable of doing or drawing, I resent the thought of having to do that to other artists.  Members of this group may self identify as having shoujo or josei traits in their work, but this doesn't mean their work is anime-esque in style or content.  What this usually boils down to is one of two things: 1. The artist makes comics for girls and women primarily, but enjoys any and all readers they may have and 2. The artist was influenced or inspired by shoujo and josei comics at some point, or continues to draw inspiration from these genres.  The rules are pretty lax right now, but there is a strict 'no drama in the group' policy, and I would prefer that members keep whatever beef they may have either to themselves, or between themselves.  Any unnecessary negativity will result in being removed from the group, and the offending posts purged, as this is meant to be a positive environment.  Hopefully by working together, we can inspire a new generation of artists to carry the torch, and maybe even inflict a little change on the current comics scene.

Regarding the Western Shoujo Artist Directory, it's a combination of artists who've requested to be added as well as artists I know who fit one of the three criteria.  It's still a work in progress, so if you'd like to be added to the document, please comment (or email) me with your Name, Twitter Handle, Studio Handle (if applicable), Comics and their websites, and any additional websites you'd like included.  If you work as a studio, please include relevant information for all parties involved.  If you're on the directory and you'd like to be removed, I can do that as well, please just send me an email.  A sample entry looks like this:

Becca Hillburn (@Nattosoup)
Comic: 7" Kara
website: www.nattosoup.blogspot.com,
www.nattosoup.tumblr.com

As you can see, I do not include anyone's personal information like addresses, emails, or phone numbers, and only include information that's easily accessible through two minutes of Googling, unless the information is volunteered.  The point of the directory is to make it easier for members of our individual audiences to find more work that they'll like, and to help us find each other.  Anyone is welcome to submit information to the directory, and if you aren't yet on there, it isn't a statement about you, I just wasn't sure if you'd want to be included.  I understand some artists are trying to distance themselves from OEL manga and manga influenced comics, and I respect that decision.