The Moto Hagio Interview conducted by Matt Thorn (Part Three of Four)

Posted by on March 11th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One, Part Two.

Boys’ Love

Thorn: Now, I may get in trouble for asking about this … [Laughter.] … about the whole “boys’ love” thing …

Hagio: Oh! [Laughs.] Go ahead.

Thorn: Some people say it was started by the woman who occupies the office next to mine [Keiko Takemiya] … others say it was started by you. [Laughter.]

Hagio: Oh, it was Takemiya. The woman who lived across the way, Masuyama, was something of an expert on homosexuality. She brought a copy of the magazine Clan of the Rose to show us.

Thorn: Was this a European magazine?

Hagio: No, it was Japanese35. It had plenty of personal ads and such. I’m not sure if it’s still around. There were two kinds of publications about gay men. One was for men who are serious about loving other men, and the other was for women who found the idea of men in love to be intriguing. Clan of the Rose was the former, and, I’m sorry, but it didn’t do a thing for me. [Laughter.]

So Masuyama introduced us to this stuff, and Takemiya was crazy about it. What was her first story along those lines? “In the Sunroom”? And I was just looking on in puzzlement. [Laughs.] Then one day they invited me to go see Les Amitiés Particulières [1964, directed by Jean Delannoy, known in English as “Particular Friendships” or “The Special Friendship”]. It was playing in Kichijoji. It stars Didier Haudepin, and is a love story set in a boys’ boarding school. It’s the kind of story women get excited by. [Laughs.] I thought it was so beautiful. I’m a sucker for anything beautiful. Clan of the Rose, on the other hand, seemed ugly to me. [Laughs.] Maybe “coarse” is a better word. But this movie was beautiful. That’s when I got into this. Until then, Takemiya and Masuyama used to ask me, “Why doesn’t this interest you? Why doesn’t this turn you on?” and I would say, “No, thanks” and keep my distance. But one movie changed all that. [Laughter.]

Thorn: I see.

Hagio: So Takemiya may wish she had never told me about it. [Laughter.]

Thorn: So “November Gymnasium” was the first story you did that reflected that influence?

Hagio: Well…

Thorn: But you actually came up with the story for The Heart of Thomas first?

Hagio: Yes. After seeing Les Amitiés Particulières, I began doing The Heart of Thomas on an impulse. You see, I did a lot of stories that I never published.

Thorn: Really?

Hagio: These days I suppose they’d be called doujinshi. [Laughs.] So I started doing The Heart of Thomas for myself, really. And as I was fiddling with this, it occurred to me that I could make another story using these two characters, and that became “November Gymnasium.” [Laughs.]

Thorn: I see.

Hagio: So I made “November Gymnasium” for publication. And the idea in that story was that they were attracted to each other because they were actually brothers, which Masuyama, who loves boys’ love stories, thought was terrible. “How could you draw something like this?” [Laughter.] So the idea of actually publishing The Heart of Thomas came some time later.

Thorn: Did you see it as problem at the time to do a story for a girls’ magazine in which all the characters are boys?

Hagio: Yes. It had never occurred to me to do an all-boy story unless it was science fiction, so I was concerned. I considered doing it as an all-girl story. When it came to writing the plot, I did two versions: a boys’ version — heavily influenced by Les Amitiés Particulières — and a girls’ version. So I thought about it, but I was in for a surprise. When I wrote it as a boys’ school story, everything fell into place smoothly. But when I wrote the girls’ school version, it came out sort of giggly. Maybe it’s because I was a girl myself, but that sort of nastiness distinctive to girls worked its way into the story. So I decided the boys’ school version was better. “November Gymnasium: The Boys’ School Version.” [Laughter.]

Thorn: Did you ever do a complete rough of the girls’ version?

Hagio: No, I didn’t do a rough, but I did draw a few scenes in a sketchbook. For example, the scene in which the protagonist first transfers to the school. She’s wearing a checkered miniskirt and carrying a trunk. [Laughter.]

Thorn: Do you still have that sketchbook?

Hagio: It might be around here somewhere. I don’t know.

Thorn: If you have it, I’d really love to see it.

Hagio: I might be able to find it, but on the other hand, it may be gone.

Thorn: And it was [Special Edition Girls’ Comic Editor-in-Chief] Junya Yamamoto who gave “November Gymnasium” the go ahead.

Hagio: Right. He told me my next story would be 40 pages, so I decided to go with this. So he ran the teaser for “November Gymnasium,” and he also gave me five more pages, which was a big help.

Thorn: Didn’t he say anything about the fact that the characters were all boys?

Hagio: Nothing. After I moved to Shogakukan, and Yamamoto became my editor, he only checked the roughs of my first two or three stories, and after that he would just accept the finished piece.

Thorn: [Laughs.] Really? No discussion, no checking?

Hagio: Only with much longer works would he ask the artists what they were planning to do.

Thorn: In other words, he trusted you that much.

Hagio: I don’t know. He seemed to look forward to seeing what I would come up with. Maybe he found my work interesting. So I would take him the finished piece, and he would read it on the spot, but he wouldn’t say much about it. And I was so nervous. I would watch every expression on his face, the way he moved his eyebrows [laughs], and think, “Is he thinking this is no good? Is he thinking it’s fine?” And he wouldn’t say anything when he was done, so I would think “Phew! This one was all right, too.” I had to rely on telepathy. [Laughter.]

Thorn: But Yamamoto was unique, wasn’t he?

Hagio: Yes, he was. And after he had looked at my piece, he would start talking about movies and books and other artists’ comics. But he wouldn’t talk about my piece. [Laughter.] But you can tell a person’s mood by the way they talk, right?

The Forty-Niners and the Shoujo Manga Renaissance

Thorn: Around that time, the number of female cartoonists grew quite suddenly, didn’t it? Right around 1970?

Hagio: That’s right. Around the late 1960s. Machiko Satonaka made her debut36. Well, the weekly anthology magazines had been around for a few years before that, but the number increased37. Then Girls’ Comic was founded around 1970, which meant one more place for artists to find work38. It’s sort of like the creation of a new baseball team. [Laughs.] So new artists came into the field.

Thorn: Was there an atmosphere of male chauvinism at the time? Actually, I suppose there often still is today.

Hagio: I used to go to Shogakukan’s offices and be told, “Girls’ comics are 10 years behind boys’ comics.” They would ask, “Why don’t girls’ comics artists draw backgrounds properly?” The implication being that they didn’t draw them because they lacked the skill. All kinds of stuff. Oh, you know how you lay out a page, and a close-up of a character will spill out over into the next panel? They would say you can’t do that sort of thing. So I had to listen to that all the time, but I just became inured to it. I would just think, “I don’t care what these old farts think.” [Laughter.]

I’ve always read boys’ comics, too, so I understand their appeal. But if you put a boys’ comic and a girls’ comic in front of me and ask which one I’ll read first, I’ll choose the girls’ comic, because it’s closer to my own sensibilities. Men are going to make smug comments, and that’s all there is to it. I knew what they said wasn’t true, so I didn’t let it bother me.

Thorn: If girls’ comics were 10 years behind, wasn’t it the fault of those middle-aged men? [Laughter.] I mean, they [the male editors] insisted for years that they knew what girls wanted to read.

Hagio: I think there is that, but it also goes both ways. For example, the male characters that appear in girls’ comics are a girls’ ideal, right? There aren’t any boys like that in real life. [Laughs.] In the same way, the female characters who appear in boys’ comics are completely unrealistic. [Laughter.] There are no such girls.

You know, serving as a judge for the Tezuka Awards, I find myself thinking, “Men just are incapable of reading girls’ comics.” [Laughter.] It’s the same when I’m judging the Shogakukan Awards. They have four categories: children’s, boys’ girls’ and adult, or rather “general.” In the children’s, boys’ and general categories, there aren’t any major divisions in opinion, but as soon as discussion turns to the girls’ comics, more than half of the men say, “I just don’t get it. I’ll have one of my [female] assistants read them.” [Laughs.] “I didn’t get it, so I asked my wife for her opinion.”

Thorn: Yes, the Tezuka Awards are pretty dominated by middle-aged men.

Hagio: Yeah, there’s no helping that. But I’m talking about the Shogakukan Awards, where I’ve been through this year after year. In a sense, that makes it easier for the women to impose their opinions [in the girls’ comics category]. [Laughs.] You can’t force people to like something they have an aversion to. But it makes me think that our brains are really structured in different ways.

Thorn: But Yamamoto wasn’t like that, was he?

Hagio: Oh, he was. His favorite comics were the GARO type. But even so, he believed that girls’ comics had something special to offer. What I admire about him is that he went to the trouble to ask a lot of different people about the genre, and tried to understand just what girls’ comics are about. He did a lot of homework.

Thorn: So do you think that Yamamoto was a major factor in the sudden appearance at that time of what is commonly called the Magnificent 24-Year Group, and the kind of, for want of a better word, “literary” girls’ comics associated with those artists?

Hagio: Oh, I think he was a major factor, yes. I think it was really Yumiko Oshima39 who blazed that trail, though. She had been working for [Shueisha’s] Margaret, but she moved over to Shogakukan, where she did You Can Hear the Rain [1972] and all those short stories. They were a real shock.

Thorn: Stories like Birth! [1970]?

Hagio: Yes, well, Birth! was one she did for Margaret, and it was incredible, but she appeared in Margaret so irregularly, you never knew when she was going to show up. But when she came to Special Edition Girls’ Comic, you knew you could read her every month. The whole “Yumiko Ohshima World” just unfolded in an amazing way. Very poetic. Very philosophical.

Thorn: So you were stunned by her work?

Hagio: I was. It was beautiful.

Thorn: Were you close to Ohshima?

Hagio: No, I didn’t meet her until some time later. I remember visiting her in her little flat. The room was so clean and neat, not what you would expect from a cartoonist. [Laughs.] And she had a shelf full of art books, collections of famous paintings, and I thought, “Wow! Instead of comics reprints she’s got art books!” [Laughter.]

Thorn: Your own shelves were full of comics reprints.

Hagio: That’s right. The complete Astro Boy. [Laughs.]

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3 Responses to “The Moto Hagio Interview conducted by Matt Thorn (Part Three of Four)”

  1. […] Matt Thorn’s interview with Moto Hagio from The Comics Journal #269, Part One, Part Two, Part Three […]

  2. […] of good stuff to read this weekend: Here are parts three and four of Matt Thorn’s interview with Moto Hagio at The Comics Journal, and at the same […]

  3. […] of good stuff to read this weekend: Here are parts three and four of Matt Thorn’s interview with Moto Hagio at The Comics Journal, and at the same […]