Tag Archives: yuri

Interview: Erica Friedman

Sorry to be Absent Without Blogging for nearly over a month.  My final school semester just began on my master’s degree, I’m writing a thesis (or supposed to be…) working on a few other projects, working 20-30 hours at my bookstore job and my GA position on the side.  Life is busy.

Anyway, Erica Friedman is probably the only person outside of Japan who makes yuri a full-time business (and if you don’t know what yuri is, the wikipedia article explains it much better than I could).  Yuri fandom is small, but growing rapidly as people increasingly realize that it’s an available option, with publishers like Seven Seas and Yen Press filling their publishing lines with yuri titles (along with promotional blurbs from Friedman herself).  She operates Yuricon, an online “celebration of yuri in anime and manga,” as well as its’ publishing wing, AniLesboCon (a.k.a. ALC) Publishing, which issues (along with other work) the Yuri Monogatari anthology.  Erica also blogs at Okazu.

To sum up my own thoughts on yuri and yaoi…frankly, it’s not material targeted towards my interests and perspective, and I admit that I’ve read relatively little yuri or yaoi material (I recently, in my first review on this blog, gently panned the recent Yen release S.S. Astro, which I think was more warmly recieved by audiences more favorable to yuri content).  However, it’s ludicrous to think that yuri and yaoi are just about sexual content–the books are far more diverse and complex than that.  Older readers, particularly those who came of age in the age of male-dominated comic shops, will probably be given to scoff at yuri and yaoi titles, but they’re being consumed voraciously by young people under 25.  And remember: they’re going to be voting in stronger and stronger numbers, too–I find it extremely unlikely that anti-gay marriage proposals are going to be a successful wedge issue when these manga readers come of age.  In other words, I don’t entirely buy Erica’s response below that yuri is largely only for tittilation–but, I’m given to think in political terms.

Any rate, enough fawning.  Here’s the interview, conducted via e-mail:

First off, how’s the yuri publishing business?  I’m interested in how you
think yuri as a publishing area is doing right now, plus the status of your own
ongoing projects (ALC, Yuricon).

Well, before I answer that, let me say that my point of view is not the same
as more mainstream  publishers who also publish Yuri. So this should not be taken
as a statement that covers folks like Seven Seas, Infinty, Tokyopop, etc.

In terms of the kind of books we publish at ALC, the market is very good. We’ve
seen significant sales growth in the last few years as Yuri beomes more and
more popular – and as more Yuri fans are looking for stories that ring true in
terms of lesbian experience.

This year “WORKS,” our collection of stories by Eriko Tadeno went into a 3rd
edition, and we’re currently working on “Yuri Monogatari 6.”
I’d love to bring out more books faster, but I’m hampered by a limit on time
and funds. Same as everyone else. 🙂

I read that you went to Comiket, which must have been exciting.  Are there
any interesting differences in social attitudes and fan culture at Comiket
versus American conventions such as Comic-Con or Otakon?

It was exciting. One of the best things I’ve had a chance to do as a result of
creating ALC, in fact. 🙂

What surprised me most was the *lack* of differences between fandoms. The
Japanese are less likely to run through the halls screaming and waving weapons,
and there’s not clumps of cosplayers halting traffics in hallways and doorways,
as there frequently are in American events but, overall, the people are the
same.

Here’s a great story to illustrate this:
I was sitting with Rica Takashima at our table in Comiket. People would come up
to the table without looking up, mumble someting that was meant to be “May I
look at this book” and we’d say, “please.” If Rica said “Please take a look”
they never blinked, but if *I* said it, they’d look at us suddenly as if I had
slapped then, then run away. She thought that was hysterical and kept nudging
me to scare people by speaking Japanese. lol

Two months later Rica and I were at the New York Comic Con and we were doing
the same exact thing. Someone would come up, we’d tell them to please look at
the book. If I said it, they would look or not, but if she said it in English,
they’d look up startled, and run away. The both of us became instantly
hysterical with laughter.

I thought it was  good experiment in how *not* different fans are.

Do you think yuri and yaoi manga are changing the way young people think
about GLBT issues?  I find it interesting that, in 2004 when anti-Gay marriage
amendments were being voted on in the US, that “Gravitation” was one of the
most popular manga available.

Not really. Both Yaoi and Yuri are basically meant for titillation. Sure there
are some gay men or lesbian women reading, writing or drawing in these genres,
but the larger body is created by straight women/men for an audience of
straight women/men and hardly even touch upon anything remotely like a GLBT
issue.

In fact, issues of being gay or lesbian are mostly cloaked by any number of
tropes – “I’m not gay, I love *you*,” is a popular one. Characters often simply
ignore the issues of being gay, or are portrayed  – especially in Yuri – as if
their relationship is somehow pure, by which they mean not physical, or just barely
post-pubescent. Also, by making it a school story, based on admiration of an
older character, it puts it into that space where it’s just a crush or a phase.

In other words, it’s portrayed as not a  “real” relationship.

In fact, one of my personal working definitions of Yuri (not the official ones
I use for Yuricon or Okazu, but something I think in my head) is that Yuri is a
story with lesbian content, but no lesbian identity. This has exceptions, of
course, but as a rule of thumb it works.

Have you had any relations with other manga publishers, for example Seven
Seas or DMP?  Obviously, ALC and Yuricon are completely separate entities, but
both companies are significant publishers of yuri and yaoi, respectively.

I do. I try to play nice with any other company I encounter – and I’m a big
believer in good relations with my neighbors. I’m sorry to say that I don’t
know DMP as well as I’d like, but the guys at Seven Seas and I have a great
relationship – at least, I’d like to think so! lol

Have you read any non-manga comics or graphic novels that explore lesbian
themes–for example, “Fun Home” by Alison Bechdel?  What are your thoughts on
these?

Yes, I have and I’ve reviewed some of these on my blog Okazu. I thought “Fun
Home” was brilliant, but not for the lesbian content specifically. Just
overall, it was really quite exceptional. I don’t care for Bechdel’s “Dykes to
Watch Out For” series, so I was especially impressed by her prose.

My tastes range pretty far and wide, and when something does address lesbian
issues or is a GLBT work that I think might be of interest to Yuri readers, I
preview it on Okazu.

This is an easy question–what do you think yuri is doing for feminism?  I
know a lot of women aren’t always satisfied with how romance and sex are
portrayed in a non-heterosexual context.

I can’t even begin to start to answer that! LOL And when I do, I’m sure to
enrage someone. Oh well, here goes.

If I had to approach the issue I’d say that the institutionalized sexism and
harassment in Japan is reflected in manga – the fact that most “strong” female
characters in anime and manga are almost always eroticized means that they have a
feminism score of 0. Josei and shoujo manga are *filled* with male leads that verbally, physically and emotionally brutalize the women who love them and it’s
portrayed as entertaining drama – or worse, as comedy. (I particularly find
shoujo comics in which boys flip girls skirts up and then torment them about
their underwear as *comedy* completely enraging.)

Yuri is no better. So often the “lesbian” is simply a male pervert in female
guise. They treat the girls they “love” with no unconcern for their feelings –
and are often portrayed as doing things that, if a male character were to do it
would be seen as completely unspeakable.

Just as Yuri rarely has any connection with “lesbian” there’s just about the
same gap between anime and manga’s “strong” women and feminism.

What do you think are the best manga titles to recommend to someone who
isn’t familiar with yuri?  Why do you think so?

I always hesitate to do lists like this, because my tastes and yours may not
jibe in any way. Every year I post a top ten of the year on Okazu. Feel free to
check those out!

And it’s hard for me, because my actual top manga are frequently untranslated.

But here a few *popular* Yuri titles that are available in English. In no
particular order:

Iono-sama Fanatics
Kannazuki no Miko
Strawberry Panic
Rica ‘tte Kanji!
Kashimashi Girl Meets Girl
Last Uniform
First Love Sisters
Hayate x Blade (coming out this fall)
12 Days
Steady Beat

All of these are available through the usual methods, or on the Yuricon Shop,
if a person is feeling particularly lazy or wants to see some other choices. lol

Where do you see yuri, and your involvement in it, in five years?

You know, I’d LOVE to say that I see a big change. I do see a *little* more lesbian identity in Yuri, driven primarily by ALC and some of the work
from the lesbian artists drawing for Ichijinsha’s Yuri Hime magazine, but I think those will remain overshadowed by the hordes of “pure” Yuri and moe seekers, who want their Yuri de-lesbianized, between barely pubescent girls, or who want their lesbians to have huge chests, wear short skirts and be openly pervy.

Any upcoming books/projects that you’d care to plug?

We’re working on “Yuri Monogatari 6” right now, as I mentioned. It’s going to be especially wonderful, since we are including a story by popular lesbian novelist J.D.Glass. This is a side story to her upcoming novel “American Goth” so we’re very excited to have it.

*****

Thanks to Erica for taking the time to answer a few questions.  Don’t forget to check up with Okazu for reviews and other content, check out Yuricon and the Yuricon mailing list, as well as the Yuricon store.

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