Thorn: Now, I may get in trouble for asking about this … [Laughter.] … about the whole âboysâ loveâ 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. Iâm not sure if itâs 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, Iâm sorry, but it didnât 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? âIn the Sunroomâ? And I was just looking on in puzzlement. [Laughs.] Then one day they invited me to go see Les AmitiĂŠs ParticuliĂ¨res [1964, directed by Jean Delannoy, known in English as âParticular Friendshipsâ or âThe Special Friendshipâ]. It was playing in Kichijoji. It stars Didier Haudepin, and is a love story set in a boysâ boarding school. Itâs the kind of story women get excited by. [Laughs.] I thought it was so beautiful. Iâm a sucker for anything beautiful. Clan of the Rose, on the other hand, seemed ugly to me. [Laughs.] Maybe âcoarseâ is a better word. But this movie was beautiful. Thatâs when I got into this. Until then, Takemiya and Masuyama used to ask me, âWhy doesnât this interest you? Why doesnât this turn you on?â and I would say, âNo, thanksâ 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 âNovember Gymnasiumâ was the first story you did that reflected that influence?
Thorn: But you actually came up with the story for The Heart of Thomas first?
Hagio: Yes. After seeing Les AmitiĂŠs ParticuliĂ¨res, I began doing The Heart of Thomas on an impulse. You see, I did a lot of stories that I never published.
Hagio: These days I suppose theyâd 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 âNovember Gymnasium.â [Laughs.]
Thorn: I see.
Hagio: So I made âNovember Gymnasiumâ 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 boysâ love stories, thought was terrible. âHow could you draw something like this?â [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 girlsâ 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 boysâ version â heavily influenced by Les AmitiĂŠs ParticuliĂ¨res â and a girlsâ version. So I thought about it, but I was in for a surprise. When I wrote it as a boysâ school story, everything fell into place smoothly. But when I wrote the girlsâ school version, it came out sort of giggly. Maybe itâs because I was a girl myself, but that sort of nastiness distinctive to girls worked its way into the story. So I decided the boysâ school version was better. âNovember Gymnasium: The Boysâ School Version.â [Laughter.]
Thorn: Did you ever do a complete rough of the girlsâ version?
Hagio: No, I didnât 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. Sheâs wearing a checkered miniskirt and carrying a trunk. [Laughter.]
Thorn: Do you still have that sketchbook?
Hagio: It might be around here somewhere. I donât know.
Thorn: If you have it, Iâd 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 Girlsâ Comic Editor-in-Chief] Junya Yamamoto who gave âNovember Gymnasiumâ 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 âNovember Gymnasium,â and he also gave me five more pages, which was a big help.
Thorn: Didnât 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 donât 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 wouldnât 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, âIs he thinking this is no good? Is he thinking itâs fine?â And he wouldnât say anything when he was done, so I would think âPhew! This one was all right, too.â I had to rely on telepathy. [Laughter.]
Thorn: But Yamamoto was unique, wasnât he?
Hagio: Yes, he was. And after he had looked at my piece, he would start talking about movies and books and other artistsâ comics. But he wouldnât talk about my piece. [Laughter.] But you can tell a personâs 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, didnât it? Right around 1970?
Hagio: Thatâs 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 Girlsâ Comic was founded around 1970, which meant one more place for artists to find work38. Itâs 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 Shogakukanâs offices and be told, âGirlsâ comics are 10 years behind boysâ comics.â They would ask, âWhy donât girlsâ comics artists draw backgrounds properly?â The implication being that they didnât 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 canât 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, âI donât care what these old farts think.â [Laughter.]
Iâve always read boysâ comics, too, so I understand their appeal. But if you put a boysâ comic and a girlsâ comic in front of me and ask which one Iâll read first, Iâll choose the girlsâ comic, because itâs closer to my own sensibilities. Men are going to make smug comments, and thatâs all there is to it. I knew what they said wasnât true, so I didnât let it bother me.
Thorn: If girlsâ comics were 10 years behind, wasnât 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 girlsâ comics are a girlsâ ideal, right? There arenât any boys like that in real life. [Laughs.] In the same way, the female characters who appear in boysâ comics are completely unrealistic. [Laughter.] There are no such girls.
You know, serving as a judge for the Tezuka Awards, I find myself thinking, âMen just are incapable of reading girlsâ comics.â [Laughter.] Itâs the same when Iâm judging the Shogakukan Awards. They have four categories: childrenâs, boysâ girlsâ and adult, or rather âgeneral.â In the childrenâs, boysâ and general categories, there arenât any major divisions in opinion, but as soon as discussion turns to the girlsâ comics, more than half of the men say, âI just donât get it. Iâll have one of my [female] assistants read them.â [Laughs.] âI didnât get it, so I asked my wife for her opinion.â
Thorn: Yes, the Tezuka Awards are pretty dominated by middle-aged men.
Hagio: Yeah, thereâs no helping that. But Iâm talking about the Shogakukan Awards, where Iâve been through this year after year. In a sense, that makes it easier for the women to impose their opinions [in the girlsâ comics category]. [Laughs.] You canât 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 wasnât like that, was he?
Hagio: Oh, he was. His favorite comics were the GARO type. But even so, he believed that girlsâ 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 girlsâ 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, âliteraryâ girlsâ 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 [Shueishaâs] Margaret, but she moved over to Shogakukan, where she did You Can Hear the Rain  and all those short stories. They were a real shock.
Thorn: Stories like Birth! ?
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 Girlsâ Comic, you knew you could read her every month. The whole âYumiko Ohshima Worldâ 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 didnât 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, âWow! Instead of comics reprints sheâs got art books!â [Laughter.]
Thorn: Your own shelves were full of comics reprints.
Hagio: Thatâs right. The complete Astro Boy. [Laughs.]
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Tags: Akiko Joh, Boy's Love, Clan of the Rose, Helter Skelter, Iguana Girl, Junya Yamamoto, Keiko Takemiya, Les AmitiĂŠs ParticuliĂ¨res, mothers, November Gymnasium, The Heart of Thomas, The Poe Clan, twins, vampires