Tag Archive for manga

Comic Book Obscenity Laws; or, the Case of Brandon X

What do you use to read when you’re traveling? Do you pack up magazines and books or go all digital on your laptop or eReader? Do you ever stop at a shop in the bus station, airport, or train station and pick up a comic to read? An act as benign as carrying a comic book at an international border can be enough to get you in some serious legal trouble.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) had a table set up in the main hallway of the MangaNEXT convention. They had stacks of raffle tickets, artwork, pins, and pamphlets to raise awareness and raise money for this very issue. I spent a little bit of time talking to the workers at the table throughout the weekend to find out what was happening.

Brandon X, as he’s being called, is facing serious legal trouble in Canada over comics. Specifically, he had a collection of manga on his laptop. Customs officials in Canada asked to see his cellphone, iPad, and laptop. It is within their rights and jurisdiction to search electronic media at customs. When the customs official saw the wide-eyed child-like style of manga, they interpreted it as child pornography. The CBLDF is not releasing the names of the titles in question, but they plainly state that these were not pornographic titles.

 Comic Book Obscenity Laws; or, the Case of Brandon X

The logo for the CBLDF's work on the Brandon X case

Now, Brandon X faces a minimum sentence of one year in prison and having to register as a sex offender for having manga on his laptop. Let that sink in for a minute. A twenty-something guy could have a black mark follow him the rest of his life because a customs official wasn’t familiar with manga art. I can only hope that the trial makes it quite clear how absurd the charges are and Brandon X gets out unscathed.

There are a few takeaways from this incident. One, it is not isolated. Comic artists Tom Neely and Dylan Williams had books they were carrying over the US/Canadian border confiscated last May due to allegedly obscene material. One book featured two first year art students kissing–they looked too much like children–and the other book featured dark humor bordering on horror used as satire–naughty things with corpses. The books were seized and shipped to Ottawa to be examined for an official ruling on whether or not books already published in Canada were obscene material.

The second point is the nature of obscene material. It’s not enough at the US/Canadian border to explain how the wide-eyed characters of traditional manga art are not children. You have to prove, in context, the age of the characters. If they do anything even remotely romantic in nature (like kissing, as Neely and Williams learned), you will face problems caused by the allegedly obscene content. It’s not just child-like characters that can raise eyes of customs agents. Anything that can be deemed obscene–violence, sex, depravity of any kind–can result in legal problems.

The third point is a major one. Until last weekend, I had no idea this happened. Comics are comics, book are books, and so long as they’re published legally, there shouldn’t be a problem, right? Obviously, I was wrong.

initiationofsarah4 Comic Book Obscenity Laws; or, the Case of Brandon X

Is this image from The Initial of Sarah obscene because of the lack of context?

I took a look through my own laptop while working on this piece. In my screengrab folder alone (where I keep all images for online media writing), I found a picture of Homer Simpson tarred and feathered in his underwear, a handful of images featuring the young leads of Super 8 in tight quarters, a composite image of Nicki Minaj that looks childish on one side and overtly sexual on the other, and an entire folder of images of the animated opening sequence of The Happiness of the Katakuris in full eyeball ripping glory. How much of the content on my computer would be deemed obscene when I travel with my work?

What about the volumes on extreme horror and B-movie advertising that accompany me on all but weekend excursions? Are those obscene too? What about the webcomics in my bookmark folder or the archives of my own comic work? Some of those characters look like children even when they aren’t. Would I be facing obscenity charges if I crossed over into Canada today?

What we have with the story of Brandon X are two ways to help change this situation. First, you can give everyone you know a heads up about this issue. Share the CBLDF site, this post, or any information you find on issues of content censorship gone haywire. Knowledge is power and this subject is under-represented all over the place.

Second, you can consider joining to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. The money won’t just be going to Brandon X’s trial costs. It’s used for all aspects of their work. The goals of the CBLDF are to fight censorship and raise awareness of censorship issues facing comic creators and fans alike. The funds are split between legal and educational efforts. Memberships start at $25. You can also donate directly to the CBLDF for a minimum of $5 or purchase donated items from artists and writers in their shop.

The case of Brandon X is not an isolated incident. Unless we work to raise awareness of censorship issues and fight against genre bias, he won’t be the last person to get in trouble for owning a comic book.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

Everybody’s Welcome: MangaNEXT and Instant Community

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of participating in a convention called MangaNEXT. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into when I applied for a press badge to this convention. I just knew that the subject interested me.

Manga are Japanese comic books. They cover a wide variety of topics and are targeted to every market imaginable. There are manga for boys, manga for girls, manga for young men, manga for young women, manga for men, manga for women, etc., that all break down into many different subgenres and interests, likes sports, cooking, fantasy, or romance. Traditionally, the new manga start out in magazines. These magazines contain many stories in each weekly or monthly issue. The popular stories are then collected in tankoben, or volumes–small books of an individual title. Think of them like comic book anthologies. You get multiple issues in one book.

While I had an interest in the form and exposure to a few titles, I really did worry about what I was getting myself into. Did I know enough to even get anything out of the convention? Would I recognize any of the guests or cosplay? And most importantly, would I have to say “manga” before figuring out how people were going to pronounce it in this area?*

manganextpressbadgeschedule Everybodys Welcome: MangaNEXT and Instant Community

My credentials and the tankobon-styled convention guide.

Any fears I had dissolved quickly when I showed up to the central office to pick up my press credentials. Before I even had the chance to introduce myself, one of the many MangaNEXT staffers asked me what I was looking for. I was directed to the table where a trio of staffers were finishing up preparations for the press office. They could not have been nicer about greeting me and handling a few last minute details. Within a few minutes, I was presented with my freshly laminated press badge with my name front and center.

The name thing initially struck me as odd. Most conventions I’ve been to just hand out badges categorized by your ticket type. A press badge would just say press, while a one day badge would say one day or the valid day of admission.

Not at MangaNEXT. The purpose of this convention seemed to be fostering a sense of community among manga fans. Why shouldn’t you be able to walk up to someone and introduce yourself? You’re all there for the same reason. The ice breaking is done as soon as you go up the escalator to the heart of the convention.

This concept was confirmed when Ezra, the convention chair for 2012, delivered a lovely tribute to the culture of manga fans during the opening ceremonies. “It’s all about the love of manga and standing together and all the fans [uniting]!” Looking around the room, I could see the variety of people being united by an interest in manga. There were children and adults. There were people in elaborate cosplays and people wearing everyday clothing. No matter what the motivation for attending MangaNEXT was, everyone was welcome.

beatrice Everybodys Welcome: MangaNEXT and Instant Community

This cosplayer doing Beatrice from Umineko no Naku Koro ni gladly posed for photos every few steps she took.

This broad reaching approach resulted in a wide variety of engaging content all weekend long. Of course MangaNEXT had an Artist Alley and a Dealers Room. Most conventions do. And yes, they were packed with fans scoping out good deals on manga, art, autographs, and accessories all weekend long.

What stood apart was the range of panels, workshops, and activities to participate in. You could spend an hour learning about the breadth of apocalypse-themed manga. Maybe you wanted to learn all about paneling your own manga from an art teacher in a workshop that quickly filled to standing room only capacity. Perhaps meeting a variety of international manga artists and having a chance to win one of a kind artwork was more in your wheelhouse. Or maybe you just wanted to show up, dress up, and party all night long. These activities and so much more were readily available throughout the convention.

I unfortunately had to duck out early on Friday for music work, forcing me to miss out on panels about surviving cosplay emergencies, coloring manga, cartoon adaptations of video games, and ballroom dancing. I also knew that I couldn’t do any interviews because I was on call for another production that might have needed a last minute rehearsal during the weekend. I knew that I could not waste any time the rest of the weekend if I was going to get the full experience of the convention. Here’s how my Saturday went down.

I started off with back to back panels run by fans. The first was a loosely moderated discussion about bad anime. The panelists (the creative team behind YouTube series Underbelly) went toe to toe with audience members about how the shows went so wrong in translation and edits. The next panel (members of Disorganization XIII) became an engaging look at the fan fiction community through the lens of literary criticism. Cheekily titled “From Mary Sue to Shakespeare,” the goal was to open a fanfic writer or fan’s eyes to the context of the community as a whole. Both panels really set the tone for the rest of the weekend. As fans, we’re all equal and we all have valid opinions.

From there, I shifted over to the larger panel room for back to back Q&A sessions with Japanese manga artists. Tomo Maeda (Honey Blood; Black Sun, Silver Moon) and Makoto Tateno (Yellow, Romeo/Romeo) were met with a mix of fans, press, and curious con-goers who all had equal opportunities to ask questions and meet the artists. The artists took all of the questions in good humor, from queries about the process of creating manga to personal interests and inspiration.

I knew I wanted to see how the workshops were run, even if I myself had not considered creating manga before. First up was Jen Lee Quick (Off*Beat) doing a Q&A session about selling a manga or comic with a story bible. She generously handed out copies of the original story bible for Off*Beat. She also spent a lot of time engaging with the participants one on one about the creative process and any concerns they had.

creatingmanga Everybodys Welcome: MangaNEXT and Instant Community

Meta manga from a manga convention about creating manga at a manga convention

Lily Hana (Farewell Feeling) ran a workshop called “Creating Manga from Start to Finish.” Instead, it became a workshop for the attendees on whatever they’re interested in. She polled the audience and spent the workshop teaching us all about panel layout in manga. She gave individual feedback on everyone’s storyboards and patiently answered any question thrown at her. She even put up with my nonsense which, in case you can’t tell from my…art(?), was a literal biography of showing up and getting the last seat for that workshop.

As if lessons in creation and easily accessible panels weren’t enough, I also chose to attend a few of the more specialized panels. The guys who run Spiraken Manga Review sped through an hour long panel on post-apocalyptic manga because the schedule fell behind. Their breakdown of different varieties of the apocalypse was still very engaging. Erin Finnegan (Anime News Network) also raced through a panel but for a very different reason. She set out to discuss the wide world of unusual manga genres and schooled the large audience on everything from pachinko manga to educational business school manga.

Saturday night ended with a series of events for the fans. Instead of a traditional Masquerade (think cosplay onstage), MangaNEXT introduced Iron Cosplay. Teams of four were pulled out of the audience to put on manga/convention themed skits. One team had to tell a giant robot story featuring a Final Fantasy hero, Derpy Hooves, a Time Lord, and a ballet dancer. In fifteen minutes, they came up with a crowd pleasing performance about a Time Lord abducting Derpy Hooves and a Final Fantasy hero to fight the evil giant ballet robot destroying the city. The hosts kept the event moving with live dancing and interactivity while the groups prepped their skits.

Now imagine the variety of panels, workshops, and events I didn’t get to at MangaNEXT. I didn’t get a chance to visit the manga library or watch the judging in the Hall of Cosplay. Every time I chose one panel, I was forced to skip two or three other panel events happening at the same time.

communityatmanganext Everybodys Welcome: MangaNEXT and Instant Community

A group of cosplayers start an impromptu meet up at MangaNEXT

Now imagine hundreds upon hundreds of people navigating all these different events. There were people who seemed to unwittingly travel in groups the entire convention and people who never even got to see each other. Strangers joined forces to act out moments from popular manga and anime. People were talking, laughing, and just having a good time with like-minded con-goers.

No matter where I went at MangaNEXT, I was made to feel welcome. It didn’t hurt when a few guests and convention attendees recognized me either from NYCC or, by name alone, from Sketchy Details. But even total strangers who had no idea who I was or what I was doing there were inviting.

All conventions have their own unique feel to them. The events inevitably take on a life and persona of their own. I haven’t felt this comfortable at a convention this large in a long time. MangaNEXT welcomes everybody with open arms.

Thoughts? Love to hear them.

*The answer is “mahn-gah,” as what we translate from Japanese as “a” is typically pronounced as “ah.” And yes, that does mean that “ahneemay” is closer to the pronunciation of “anime” than you might typically hear. More importantly, I wasn’t the only person trying to get the word right this weekend.