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Month of LGBT Comics BONUS – Only Words and Diplomatic Immunity

All this month, Brian is reviewing different comic books with LGBT themes (LGBT standing for “Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender”), based on submissions from the actual creators of the comic books themselves. Some of those creators sent me their comics, perhaps because I review stuff too! Whatever the reason, I’m going to review them too! Here is an archive of the comics featured so far!

Today’s selections are by Tina Anderson (writer) and Caroline Monaco (artist). Only Words is a longer, manga-sized work, while Diplomatic Immunity is single-issue sized. Diplomatic Immunity costs $6, while Only Words is $12.95.

Neither of these, unfortunately, is all that good. Both seem to function more as straight porn than actual stories, although Diplomatic Immunity is far more egregious in that regard than Only Words. Perhaps I’m the wrong person to review these, as they’re very much in the yaoi manga tradition and therefore maybe I’m missing subtext, but the fact is, neither comic bothers all that much with what most people consider accepted aspects of storytelling, such as characterization and plot. Diplomatic Immunity, in particular, lacks almost anything but sex. That’s perfectly fine, but like most porn, it tends to get boring. In Diplomatic Immunity, a “felinoid” (cat person) named Cam is upset because some dude named Kayxon forbid his hunky partner, Lanor, to “play” with Cam, even though Kayxon is away on a “mission.” The girl to whom he’s whining says that if a partner is away for more than a day, the other is fair game. So Cam goes over to Lanor’s house, and they have sex. The “twist” is that “diplomatic immunity” only stands for the person who’s away from home, but that’s just part of Cam’s puckishness, I suppose. That’s the entire issue – there’s no other point, and the book only exists for Cam and Lanor to fuck each other. It’s vaguely insulting to people in a committed relationship, claiming that they’re allowed to have sex if they’re away from their partner for more than a day, but I’m not going to worry about that. What I am going to worry about is that the comic has no plot, no interesting characters, and no point. Monaco is a fairly decent artist, so if you want to see graphic gay sex drawn well, this might be the comic for you!

Only Words is a more interesting comic, mainly because Anderson has more of a plot on which to hang the sex. It’s not as in-depth as it needs to be, but it’s intriguing. The story is set early in World War II, after the Germans invaded Poland. In a Polish town, a young man named Koby, who was studying to be a priest, finds himself as just a regular student and a target of Nazi Youth bullies, led by a villain named Oskar. Koby is the very definition of a straight arrow – he rats out his classmates as a matter of course – but he also harbors a secret desire for Oskar. It’s a classic case of the good “girl” yearning for the bad guy – in the yaoi world, there’s usually a very clear case of “masculine” man and “feminine” man, and Koby fits the latter role – with the twists that both participants are men and, of course, Oskar must suppress his desires. Plus, Oskar is not just a rascally bad boy; he’s truly vile, which adds a disturbing layer to their relationship. Koby dreams about Oskar, and one day, Oskar suddenly announces that he’s going to fuck Koby and he tells Koby when and where. Koby, of course, shows up at the appointed place, and Anderson actually gives Oskar some back story which explains his desire for Koby and his cruelty. As I’ve done a bit of research on yaoi after reading these comics (including the fact that “yaoi” has fallen out of fashion as a term to describe this kind of story), I’ve discovered that a criticism often levelled at the genre is that one or both of the participants don’t self-identify as homosexual, and that definitely describes Oskar, who tries to feminize Koby as much as possible. Naturally, in a book where a Nazi wants to have sex with another man, things don’t end well.

This could be a more piercing critique of Nazism’s attitudes toward the dominant part of sex and what it meant to be a homosexual who was attracted by the Nazi mystique, but Anderson only skims the surface of the deep psychological scars that Oskar and even Koby bear, so the book comes off as a bit more uncomfortable than it should have been, as we’re left with an unsuccessful attempt by Anderson to make a Nazi sympathetic. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out that Nazis were people too and that the reasons they had for what they did were varied and as real as any other motives, but because Oskar is so vicious and because the explanation for why he is that way is so stereotypical, it feels like Anderson simply wanted to focus on the fact that Koby desires the violence of sex with a Nazi and ignore everything else. At the last moment, it feels like she realized that she should give Oskar a bit of personality, but what she does turns him from a monster into a victim, and both nuances are lost. We’re expected to shift our feelings quickly from loathing Oskar to pitying him, and neither really works. Koby’s lust is a bit more understandable, as Anderson hints that Oskar fulfills his need for order that he had found in the Church before the war, so it’s easy for him to fantasize about Oskar dominating him. Their relationship is certainly a twisted one, but while stories of destructive lust can certainly be riveting (and the stuff of Oscar-winning movies in more than one case), this feels like it wants to be that kind of story without the depth of a truly great one. It’s definitely more complex than Diplomatic Immunity, but it still lacks the power to move beyond a story about sex.

It was very keen of Anderson to send these to me, and I’d like to thank her. Yaoi is a fascinating genre of manga – perhaps not exactly my cup of tea, as I’m a straight male, but one that could be used to tell some very interesting stories. These two might not be great examples of the genre, but they were kind of neat to read.

16 Comments

Both seem to function more as straight porn

Heh.

Yeah, whoops. That was a silly choice of words.

Gotta say, it’s pretty awesome that as a straight man you can write such objective reviews about this. Good on you :)

“Perhaps I’m the wrong person to review these…”

Perhaps you are. :-)

“As I’ve done a bit of research on yaoi after reading these comics (including the fact that “yaoi” has fallen out of fashion as a term to describe this kind of story),…”

Sometimes a bit of research can be dangerous. Not sure where you got that yaoi as a term has fallen out of fashion for this kind of story but it’s very much in use in the U.S. Japan uses boys’ love, perhaps that’s where the confusion is. Either way, I’ve read both of these stories and know Tina’s work very well. She writes OEL (Original English Language) titles and these two are more yaoi than gay comic although you can find Diplomatic Immunity in the stores of the Castro in San Francisco. Clearly it finds favor amongst the gay community if it sells well enough to be stocked there so I’m not going to pigeonhole these as only yaoi (although I think they are more yaoi than gay comic).

Tina likes to have a twist in her stories that isn’t always typical in yaoi so I agree that neither of these are the perfect reflection of yaoi but they still fit the definition of yaoi quite well. Female yaoi fans will understand what this means and yes, we are the majority of the fans. That’s not to say the gay community doesn’t read yaoi, they do but that’s not the fan base most yaoi is written for, thus the unrealistic representation of gay relationships. It’s not that the authors of yaoi are trying to piss off the gay community, they are just writing the story for a different audience.

Either way, thanks for recognizing there are stories out there for the LGBT community but I have to wonder if you’re the best person to review those stories for them or these stories for us. I would never venture into thinking I as a straight woman could review a story for a gay person. I couldn’t possibly know what they’re looking for in a story. Know what I mean? I’m sure all of this sounds harsh and it’s not meant to be mean or insulting. I’m certainly open to hear your side if you wish to respond. :-)

I think he was pretty up front about his unusual situation in reviewing these comics (you could almost infer that they were sent to him in error, but he is game enough to review what he receives regardless), rather than trying to say pass himself off as some kind of expert or insider.

Honestly, yaoi review, I think Greg was exactly right in applying the same criteria to these comics as he does to any other comic. His descriptions and criticism are very clear and I doubt any further insight into yaoi conventions (as interesting as they may be) would really change his review. Just because I know the history of DC comics and the various conventions underlying the genre I am not necessarily more correct in my estimation of a superhero comic.
What I find really irksome is your implication that an outsider could not possibly understand a “story for a gay person”. These categorizations should be rather irrelevant – a well-told story can make us adopt a perspective we do not have in our everyday lives – which, of course, does not preclude sexual orientations we do not have. Do I have to be gay to appreciate Allen Ginsberg?
The Nazi-story sounds a little bit terrible. There is nothing lazier than inventing tragic backstories to explain the reasons people chose to harass and hurt in uniform. Hannah Arendt observed the banality of evil, people committing atrocities because they told themselves they were just doing their jobs, rationalizing their choices, following others. But then, the depiction of Germans/Nazis generally strikes me as a little weird from my few forays into Japanese popculture.

I agree with Carl Walker. Brian Cronin is great people and intelligent, goes above and beyond to provide a great book review. Yaoi Review, your implication that an outsider could not possibly understand a “story for a gay person” is undermining something that is already taking place. These Month of LGBT Comics themes in their odd way are a bridge to comics in the LGBT world and as themes tend to be universal, I think the understanding we promote between each other is a great thing.
I’ve been asked many times about the porn aspect of LGBT comics, and I’m not sure how to state that in the genre some of us are still trying to find a voice and proclaim that, yes we love the same sex and what we do with one another is not all that bad…the porn is some sort of seeking validation.
But I made the very blunt statement on a Webcomic Beacon podcast interview back in February that at one point you just have to pull up your pants and start telling an actual story. Shocking us with explicit sex to desensitize us to it is kind of futile in the end. We’d really like a good story, after all

COULD YOU IMAGINE doing a story about the flipside of this aspect, revolving around the family and friends of a couple–any couple, gay, lesbian, straight–that can’t seem to get out of the Honeymoon aspect of their relationship?
“So are they gonna go out with us for pizza this weekend, or what?”
“Nah, not tonight, either…they’ve been locked in their room screwing for three weeks straight…”
I hope that illustrates my point and doesn’t offend the artists too much. ;)

“it feels like Anderson simply wanted to focus on the fact that Koby desires the violence of sex with a Nazi and ignore everything else.”

Sometimes as a writer relying on an advance and book deal, you do what you’re told. As a writer all of us write the stories we want to tell, but oft times they end up edited or tailored to fit a particular market, and that’s ok. In the manga biz I’ve found that the editor is usually the publisher and they’re also the marketer. Sadly in ‘yaoi’ the “Priest wanting to have violent sex with a Nazi” sells books, and so the ‘complicated’ stuff ends up on the floor to keep the page count reasonable. =_=;

And Greg, they weren’t sent to you in error. ^_- I wanted your perspective. As for Only Words, you hit on many of the things that’s it’s lost points on in the past– characterization isn’t coming through, you’re not looking at the times/setting for more dramatic back-up… I’m not asshurt by your review; I understand it completely and appreciate your thoughts.

As for Diplomatic Immunity, I wrote that for Class Comics – a gay publisher. He wanted something ‘yaoi’ and if you read most Class Comics titles you’ll know it’s all about the porn. ^_^ Fun stuff if you’re into that sort of thing.

As for Jen, I understand why she’s reacting the way she is. I’ve been following the LGBT Comic Month and have noticed that Brian’s review style doesn’t dig as deep when he realizes the book he’s reviewing is ‘porn for the sake of porn’ and little else. Greg, I can’t speak for Jen, I can only assume she thinks you’re being ‘too serious’ and might be speaking as someone unfamiliar with the tropes enough to recognize that in ‘yaoi’ some tropes are orchestrated better than others– and this is how they should be judged. I agree to a degree, but I’ve had these titles reviewed by ‘genre blogs’ and I know their thoughts, so I sent these to you in order to get an opinion from ‘someone outside the box’.

On an end note, thanks again for reviewing Greg – I’m grateful for your opinion and your point of view.

-Tina

Correction, tho, my kudos for this review does go to Greg Burgas, not to Brian. :)

Don’t give up writing anytime soon, Tina…it takes persistence to make your niche. Believe me, I know. ;)

Hi Pam, I have no intention of ever ‘giving up’. ^_^

My mark has been made in the GloBL, I think I’ve brought enough to the genre that it’s at least recognized and appreciated by fans of Japanese yaoi. 2011 is my final year for releasing titles like this, but I’ll always look back on my work and those that buy it– with affection.

Continued luck in your chosen medium as well, and thanks for the kind words. ^_-

Bash helmet is an overlooked gay super hero – his principle weapon is innuendo.

Jordanzord: Thanks. I try!

Jennifer: I agree that it’s tricky to look at something that’s written for so specific an audience if you are not that audience, which is why I wrote that. However, I also think that any form of literature can be reviewed based on what it tries to do and whether it succeeds at that. For me, Diplomatic Immunity only works as porn, which doesn’t really interest me. I think that if, as a straight man, I can get past the fact that it’s primarily that, I can still try to figure out if it engages me beyond that, and it doesn’t. I’d review heterosexual porn the same way – after you get past the sex, does it bring anything else to the table?

Tina makes an interesting point that I might be “too serious” in my review for you, and I’d like to hear your thoughts on that. I’m certainly willing to concede that it might be that, but one thing I do with reviews is take them seriously – I get that some books are simply meant to be fun, but I also like to think that the creators worked hard on those books, and they deserve my best attempts to figure out what they did and why I liked or didn’t like the comics. I get that the comic is a fun little romp, but I also don’t think Anderson made it worth my while. It happens.

Carl and Bombie: Thanks for your support. As I wrote above, I get where Jennifer is coming from, but I do hope that I explained my position well enough.

Pam: I’ve been noticing your comments on these posts that Brian has been doing, and I’m glad you stopped by here with your thoughts. They’re appreciated.

Tina: As Pam demonstrates in these comments (sorry, Pam, but it was too perfect!), some people do get the writers of the blog confused occasionally, so I was joking a bit when I implied these might have been sent to me by mistake. I’m glad you did send them to me – they’re well outside my normal reading parameters, so I very much doubt if I’d ever have read them otherwise. Thanks for some of the “back story” about the books – I find the way comics get published and the machinations behind that really interesting, so it’s cool to know.

I don’t know if Games With Me is further along in your development as a writer, but I thought it sounded pretty interesting when Brian reviewed it. I always like to see writers developing before our eyes!

Thanks again for sending these to me. I always appreciate expanding my reading palette!

@Bombie & Pam (since Pam said something similar in that I ‘said’ an outsider couldn’t understand a story for a gay person)

His descriptions and criticism are very clear and I doubt any further insight into yaoi conventions (as interesting as they may be) would really change his review.

I couldn’t disagree more but that’s because I know the genre.

What I find really irksome is your implication that an outsider could not possibly understand a “story for a gay person”.

That’s not what I was saying, my point was that a straight person is going to have a harder time understanding what the gay community as a whole is really looking for in an erotic story. Again I’m speaking of yaoi. I like yaoi but I do not like gay erotic comics. I would not try to review for Class Comics because I know I don’t like how those characters are drawn but I know gay men sure do. To go in and say you wouldn’t like this because I don’t like this would just be dumb of me to do. I’m sure there would be a lot of gay men asking what in the hell would a straight women know about what gay men like in porn. Not that I can’t like it but that I’m going to appreciating it for different reasons.

The Nazi-story sounds a little bit terrible. There is nothing lazier than inventing tragic backstories to explain the reasons people chose to harass and hurt in uniform.

Yaoi is full of tragic back stories to make the story happen. That’s just the way it is. If I believed yaoi to be real, I’d have to believe half of the men in Japan lost their parent’s in a tragic accident at a young age. Again, this is yaoi. Yaoi literally means ‘Plot? What plot?’.

In the end, Greg gets what I’m trying to say and I appreciate the response he gave. Greg, yes your review is too serious for yaoi although the detail and thought you put into it was nice. It’s not that these authors aren’t trying to make a good story but they are always going to be limited by having to get to the sex quickly or by trying to please their editor. We as yaoi fans know that and we laugh about the yaoi tropes. When I review yaoi, I say if the typical tropes exist or if someone did something unique and different. I don’t necessary slam a book for being typical because 90% or more of it is. I really point out the unique and the fresh. Tina’s stories are not typical. Some will like that and many will not. Writing OEL for yaoi fans who tend to prefer Japanese boys’ love is already a tough sell although with the addition of some great yaoi webcomics over this last year plus and Tina’s releases, it’s getting better.

@The Yaoi Review: Excellent points, and I concede. I agree Yaoi does push the envelope on the tragic hero at times. But I also would like to make the point that reviews like these do stretch the mind, and I’ve read books that I would normally not even bother with based on someone’s review. Whether I like all the elements of a certain story or not, I come away with something new every time.
Kudos again to Greg for creating a thought and discussion provoking review.
Quote: “As Pam demonstrates in these comments (sorry, Pam, but it was too perfect!), some people do get the writers of the blog confused occasionally”
Hey now…I DID correct myself, now didn’t I? ;)

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