Robin Brenner: One of my favorite responses that I got from the survey was from a young gay man who said he liked reading yaoi because it made him think that one day he'd get a cute boyfriend too. (everyone goes 'Aww.')
Yaoi is a genre, and it's about romance. Romances are a very different thing than any other genre, and they have their tropes and conventions. This is something that is lacking in comics in general nowadays. There aren't many romance comics for anybody.
This is something that people are looking for, so it shows that there's a lack of that kind of thing out there, and people are finding it in (yaoi and yuri manga). If we had more romance comics, or would there still be a place for yaoi and yuri manga, or is it just that people are so desperate to find this kind of representation?
Chris Butcher: That gets into the general "Why manga?" question. There's something amazing and unique about manga that people respond to. Even if there were a 100 romance books on the stands, shojo and BL manga would still find an audience, there would still be a demand for it.
Scott Robins: In just my reading of yaoi, I notice that there's a lot of high tension and desperation, and there's something really interesting about that. I don't think you see that in a lot of other romance comics. It's shown in an especially visual way in these stories; you see the tension in their faces and in their actions. I think that's what makes it appealing.
Alex Woolfson: Absolutely. I think you'll always have straight women creating guy-guy action for other women. I create the work that I create because I create it for women. I like writing for women. I also like creating for gay men too. I like the stuff that women write for other women. I think women write gay porn well! No matter what, it will always have a place and it will be popular. As more work is out there, the more of the best stuff will rise to the top.
Leyla Aker: To go back to what Chris said about (yaoi) being fundamentally queer, I think one of the reasons why yaoi appeals to people is its dislocation. You're talking about stories women for women about the opposite gender relationships. It's a complete removal of the context from reality.
Even if we had a substantial body of work in this country that portrays straight relationships for straight readers for that audience... and people have tried this! Aurora Publishing, which went out of business in the past year, was primarily launched to publish straight romances for presumably, the same people who read BL. Harlequin manga launched their line of straight romances. Regardless of what you think the quality of these stories were like, there wasn't a market for them. It was available, but it wasn't fulfilling that same need that BL seems to be providing.
I don't have an absolute answer to that question; there's a ton of academic papers that go into that, but I do think it has something to do with the kind of gender deracination that happens. When you take these relationships that don't have connection to reality, it allows the authors to spin out all these scenarios that would otherwise be impossible. If you tried to re-position these exact same stories as "realistic gay relationships," or as a "straight relationship," it would fundamentally alter the nature of them.
Erica Friedman: It's well known in Japan that many female BL artists are actually gay. There's some sense within that community like, we know what it's like to be gay.
Chris, you made a good point — almost all romance manga is fantasy. So when you draw it out of the normal circumstances, you've basically put this out there as a fantasy, idyllic middle school, high school world, where all women lounge around in lingerie and eat bon-bons all the time. (laughs)
In fact, in Maria Watches Over Us, the author said 'People have described my story as light yuri, but I think of it as a fantasy. One way that the reader knows that this is is fantasy story, is because no one has cell phones.' It's a story set in modern times, but her comment was, 'I know that they're high school girls without cell phones — it's a fantasy, get over it.' (laughs)
There's a fundamental queerness about it, but it doesn't mean that it's necessarily a lesbian or gay story. You're taking it out of normal reality, and you're doing something with it to make it a fantasy romance.
I don't think you can stop people from doing this. I got into this because i wrote fanfic for Sailor Moon. Fan-fiction is the breeding ground. I wrote what I wanted to read. If you're doing any kind of fan work, fanart, fan-fiction or cosplay — you're queering that you've done. You fantasized it and did something different with it. That's human nature. I don't think it has anything to do with yaoi or yuri.
LOVING THE 'CRACK' OF FANTASY ROMANCE VS. CRAVING MORE REALISM
Robin Brenner: We found in our survey there are deal breakers, like when you're reading a yaoi story, then something happens and you think, 'Oh, god no.' (laughs)
One thing that's interesting about yaoi and yuri manga is that it's almost always fantasy, it's outside of reality. However, a lot of the titles we recommend in our list are closer to reality. For example, Future Lovers is a title that most people found to be universally appealing.
When we say realism, do we mean we want stories that address actual issues of what it means to be gay in Japan? Things like coming out, identity issues – all of that is rarely addressed. Hence the name of this panel, "Gay for You" — the character is not just gay for that person, but they're dealing with the fact that they're gay in a context. That can get complicated.
So what you think about the tension about the titles you like because they are more realistic: are they still romantic enough when they don't have as much fantasy? Do you think we can expect to see more of this kind of 'realistic' stories about the gay experience in these genres?
Leyla Aker: I would pull back that question to 'What do people look for in manga?' For myself and many of us on this panel, the works we really like are the ones that have more sophisticated, narrative storylines. The honest truth is, that's not what most people want.