Here is Part 2 of the interview with Nijicon’s Lyndsey Bellamy. Here, we get into some discussion about the culture surrounding yaoi and m/m readership. (In case you missed it, part 1 is here.)
6) How do you think the audience for yaoi and m/m is changing?
I like to think that the audience for yaoi and m/m is changing for the best, at least in the US—unfortunately I can’t speak for elsewhere. Older fans are growing up and therefore asking for stories that reflect their growing tastes. For example when I was younger, I read more shonen-ai, sweet romance stories that featured idealistic high-school aged teens. Now, I crave more true-to-life stories that depict men(with body hair and more defined musculature) as well as humor and fantasy genres. Yaoi and m/m stories have definitely evolved along with the views of its expanding fanbase.
I feel that the yaoi and m/m genre is still a niche one, however that is slowly-changing. Although, I think “slash”(the pairing of canon-heterosexual male characters with each other) is becoming more mainstream as evident by the influx of shows(both live-action and anime) that feature highly-attractive men in close relationships with other equally-attractive men—for example the popular anime series Free! Iwatobi Swim Club. Yaoi fans are a dedicated group, so when we like a series it becomes insanely profitable for the companies that produces it. Even US network television shows are taking a page from this book as evident by such series as Suits(USA Network), Teen Wolf(MTV), and Supernatural(CW), which all have HUGE followings that slash the main male characters.
In recent years, I am definitely seeing more original works. Although doujinshi is still a huge part of yaoi(after all, it’s where the genre was born) and a critical piece of fandom(Even I got my start drawing doujinshi/fan comics). While there is a divide between those who only read japanese yaoi and those that read only western-style comics, most of the fanbase I’ve encountered is integrated and tolerant of both styles. My hope is that “western-style” yaoi and m/m works grow and take on their own unique personality, independent of their Japanese counterparts—after all who wants to read a copy of something else?
On a personal level with my own art/writing, I’ve been told by western comic fans/editors that it’s “too manga”, and manga fans have told me that it’s “too western”—when I first started in comics, it took me a while to be okay with just doing work “my style”. So, now I write and draw what I want and am thankful for anyone that also happens to enjoy it.
7) In your email, you mentioned that the con scene has been getting less representation from yaoi and m/m publishers. Why do you think this is?
Honestly, I think this is a combination of the hits that the comic industry has taken as a whole* and the low sales due to low traffic at their booths. Many fans of yaoi and m/m are uncomfortable buying books in person and prefer to do so via the anonymity of the internet. In my experience selling my own work/promoting Nijicon at other conventions, many attendees would look at the booth in interest but shy away or would only approach if safely among a group of other yaoi and m/m fans. Meanwhile, the other attendees would walk by with eyerolls, look away with barely-hidden disgust, or jokingly approach on a dare from teasing friends. Yet many attendees have asked me without hesitation, “Where’s the yuri/ girl-on-girl action?” or “How come there’s no yuri convention?”.
In my life, I’ve never seen any aversion to works featuring two girls being intimate anywhere.This imbalance of opinions instills a level of shame and embarrassment among people who do enjoy the yaoi and m/m genre. For some reason, booths that sell books featuring two men simply kissing are somehow more lewd and unacceptable while the crowded booths selling graphic hentai/yuri are seen as “normal” features at general manga/anime/comic conventions.
To fix this issue, I feel that vendors need to engage their target audiences on the East Coast(for some reason, areas like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore are ignored by yaoi events). Like the manga industry itself, yaoi fans need to support events like Nijicon that focus on yaoi and m/m stories/comics which will prove that this genre is one that shouldn’t be ignored or shamed. I don’t mean to quote Field of Dreams, but if fans demonstrate that there is a demand for yaoi and m/m, then general anime/manga conventions will be forced to acknowledge the genre and then the publishers will come.
Conversely, I’ve had the opportunity to attend/exhibit at LGBT pride events(that have nothing to do with anime/comic conventions) where Nijicon has received nothing but enthusiastic support. This past year, Nijicon promoted itself at OutFest, an block party in Philadelphia, PA. This event was all-day and had over 20,000 people, all of which were interested in LGBT issues and entertainment. After spending the day talking to the attendees, we were shocked to find that many people were completely unaware of m/m fiction and comics. In fact, many of them were interested to know more and we spent a good amount of our time recommending series to check out.
*With the shutdown of Tokyopop, came the shutdown of their yaoi imprint Blu Manga. At the time, Blu Manga licensed some of the most popular yaoi series such as Junjou Romantica. So, unable to purchase the rest of the English version of this extremely popular series, the genre sort of floundered. It wasn’t until the emergence of digital imprints and smaller publishing groups, as well as new licensing/distribution companies, were fans able to find the comics and novels they craved again. However, since these companies are smaller than giants like Tokyopop or Geneon and usually based in California, they are unable to travel to as many conventions, especially ones that are across the country. So, with their lack of representation at East Coast events, conventions altered their programming to not include the yaoi and m/m fandom.
8) Last year, you came to us about sponsorship — how did you find us?
I actually found Raythe Reign via the internet and ads I’ve seen on sites such as adultfanfiction.net. Fellow fans have also recommended the works you have published, so I decided to check it out. I was pleasantly surprised to find works that I enjoyed. So, I reached out to see if Raythe Reign wanted to be part of our event. So far, it’s been an awesome experience!
9) Who is your favorite yaoi or m/m writer at the moment? Is there anyone you think is underrated?
Now that is a LOADED question. I can’t really name one over another, since I like all their work for different reasons. I’ll simply name some of the creators whose work I would read without even looking at the back cover of the book:
Hinako Takenaga(The Tyrant Falls in Love, Challengers) – She writes such funny stories that still manage to have a lot of heart
Sanami Matoh(FAKE, Until the Full Moon/@Full Moon) – I enjoy her style and she’s not afraid to include well-rounded female characters
Yaya Sakuragi(Tea for Two, Bonds of Dreams, Hide and Seek) – Her works feature characters that are all well-rounded and flawed. It makes them easier to identify with
*Alex Woolfson(Artifice, The Young Protectors) – I really enjoy the fact that he writes amazing stories that just happen to have gay relationship/characters. His focus is on telling multi-layered stories that he wishes to read, which is why I think they are so popular.(If I had the means, I’d produce Artifice into a full-length movie)
*Hamlet Machine(Starfighter) – She could’ve made Starfighter just another sexy webcomic, but she bumped it up into legendary status by supplying an intriguing plot along with her amazing art. I dare anyone to read volume one of that comic without wanting to read the rest of it.
As well as a plethora of online handles/pseudonyms for fanfiction/original fiction writers that would take up entirely too much space to name here
*I really admire all the talented webcomic creators/ self-published authors who made what they love into a business. I think they are all underrated, because they have the determination to publish on their own without waiting for someone else to do it for them. It’s not easy work, it really is a labor of love.
10) Is there anything you wish we would have asked? Answer it here!
Umm, let’s see.
Is there anything I don’t like about the genre?
The one thing that irks me about the genre is the the feminization of some of the male characters. I read yaoi and m/m because I like reading about two men in a relationship, when I want to read about a male/female relationship I have plenty of options. I’m not really a fan of yaoi or m/m series that makes the character “girly” for no reason other than to make the story more palatable to readers that aren’t fully comfortable with the genre.
Any recommended reading for long-time yaoi fans?
Love Mode by Yuki Shimizu (An older series that is for anyone that would like an edgier, more dramatic version of Junjou Romantica – it’s still plenty humorous, though)
Love Pistols by Tarako Kotobuki (this series is just fun, and suspends reality in a way that only manga can)
Dog Style by Modoru Motoni (This series is a fascinating look at relationships between friends and lovers, not to mention it challenges the traditional
uke/seme positions in yaoi)
Future Lovers by Saika Kunieda (This is one of the most realistic portrayals of a gay relationship I’ve read in yaoi. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)
U Don’t Know Me by Rakun (A Korean manwha that is beautiful to read and a treat for the eyes. I also LOVE the fact that the “bottom” character is such a bad-ass)
Only Serious About You by Kai Asou (I have a soft spot for yaoi stories that feature a single dad finding love again)
Cute Devil by Hiro Madarame (I don’t want to reveal too much, but it is full of hilarious surprises. I recommend the entire series if you can find it)
His Favorite by Suzuki Tanaka (It’s a refreshing take on the “bullying the one you love” trope)
*Beached by L.Bellamy (SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION OF MY OWN ILLUSTRATED NOVEL ^_^)*
What yaoi series would I recommend to a first-time yaoi reader?
Junjou Romantica by Shungiku Nakamura
Despite the issues some readers may have with it, this series is popular for a reason. Junjou Romantica is funny yet makes fun of it’s own genre. Not to mention, it follows three couples so if you don’t like one, chances are you’ll like another. Junjou Romantica is also a series that has heart and is all about finding love after heartbreak. You’ll find yourself laughing along with it one moment and then feel it pulling at your heartstrings the next. And while this series contains sex—which differentiates it from shounen-ai, nothing is explicit. All around, it’s a good start for most newbies.
We enjoyed getting Lyndsey’s perspective and want to do more interviews. Is there someone you’d like us to reach out to? Suggest someone below in the comments. You can also go back to part 1 of this interview here.