Guilt by association

Over at NPR, author David Lipsky identifies his literary guilty pleasure, Marvel’s Runaways. Setting aside the justice of whether or not comics should still be considered a guilty pleasure instead of just a pleasure (and right after Read Comics in Public Day!), there’s been some consternation over a portion of his commentary:

“But I bear the books a grudge. Marvel collected them — because their biggest fans were female teenagers — in tiny digests with girlish covers that were intensely embarrassing to read on the subway. I kept locking eyes with people I could swear had just shaken their heads.”

What do you think of the covers of the first three digests? Do you find them particularly gendered?

On a slightly different front, I’ve seen a few people mention that they’re put off by the covers of Vertical’s Twin Spica, noting that they read a little young. Thoughts?

25 Responses to Guilt by association

  1. The first volume of Runaways does give off a kind of “teen relationship drama” vibe (all it needs is a “this fall on the CW” tacked on somewhere.) But the other two? It’s a pretty far leap from “a girl is an important character in this book” to “here be 180 pages of princesses, prom dresses, and cuddly baby unicorns.”

    At least, I’d like to hope that’s a far leap for most people . . .

  2. Wow, if those covers are “girlish” I’d like to see him carry around a volume of NANA.

    I’m glad to have a chance to stand up for the Twin Spica cover art, though. I’ve heard so many complaints about the first volume, in particular. It really surprised me, because I feel like that cover really evokes a kind of nostalgic, fantasy/sci fi feel I think really fits the series. When I thought about it, I realized that it reminded me strongly of the cover to one of my favorite collections of Zenna Henderson stories, The Anything Box. Considering how many sci-fi & fantasy stories written for adults feature young girls in the lead, it would never occur to me to assume that having one pictured on the cover suggests that the series is actually *for* young girls.

    • davidpwelsh says:

      It’s always looked to me more as an evocation of stuff for kids and the way it made us feel as kids rather than actual stuff for kids, so I think your use of “nostalgic” is dead-on.

  3. James Moar says:

    The first Twin Spica cover reads younger to me than the other two. The second and third have a laid-back air that I wouldn’t tend to associate with kids’ manga (I think the use of poses that don’t focus on the reader and clutter contributes to that mood). Young-looking and cutesy characters on all of them, of course, though I assume that’s entirely faithful to the contents.

  4. dxInt says:

    Yeah, the Twin Spica covers are bad. A japanese school girl outfit on a comic book cover triggers the “weird kind of manga fan” vibe when an adult is reading it, automatically. The girl resembles Yotsuba on the 3rd volume, even.

  5. Kris says:

    Yeah, I don’t think those are very girly. Tell him to read the Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane books on the subway instead.

  6. Matthew says:

    One of those books has a dinosaur on the cover. Dinosaur!

  7. LillianDP says:

    I kind of think he’d get the side-eye for reading *any* comics on the subway, don’t you? Girly or not. We can discuss gendered covers all we want, but I don’t yet think that comics are so mainstream you’re not going to be silently judged by the people with the latest Franzen or Atwood in their lap (or even Dan Brown). Even in Japan, the comics paradise, you see a lot more people reading comics wrapped in the non-descript paper from the bookstore than flaunting the latest One Piece digest openly. (manga magazines are a slightly different story, I suppose, but still)

    But way to be a trailblazer, dude! Keep it up, in spite of the shame. I’m just jealous that he has a subway to read on…

    • davidpwelsh says:

      When I think about it, I judge everyone I see reading in public by what they’re reading.

      And yes, totally agreed on the public transportation envy. It’s why I love to visit DC so much.

  8. Aaron says:

    I like the Twin Spica covers the fact that it’s full cover art is one of it’s charm. Although when it comes to Cover art I wish American publishes would keep the old Japanese covers and just translate the titles and other cover info into English. Like those old Margarete covers for example to me are so awesome or the red white and blue covers from Hana to Yumi but that’s more of just a dream that I don’t think is ever going to happen.

  9. […] Welsh asks the readers what they think of the covers of Marvel’s Runaways and Vertical’s Twin Spica, and the […]

  10. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    I suppose I have to cut him some slack since he wrote the piece for a specific My Guilty Pleasure article, but man, reading through it, I was almost going to give up before the final paragraph if he apologized for liking the book so much, one more time.

    I guess it’s the kind of thing I like to tell myself I’ve outgrown. I can remember being 15 and embarassed to buy a Pet Shop Boys or Kylie Minogue CD (though more for the gay stigma than the girlie one), but I’ve more or less outgrown that, and can happily read Nana on the metro…

    As for the covers themselves, they don’t look particularly girlie to me. YA fiction, and its huge boom the past decade or so does seem to be based more on teen girl readers than teen boy, but as others said, to me it just looks like an interesting YA book.

    (Interestingly, I read so few Marvel/DC comics, but was a huge fan of Vaughan’s Y: the Last Man, thanks to my brother, so was going to check out Runaways, also due to the Whedon connection, but had *no* idea they had been collected and marketed in a digest, manga-like format).

    I’ve not yet read Twin Spica (it’s on my list–trust me), but I can see both takes on the cover issue. It does scan as young to me, but also as a more nostalgic take on that… And I’m with Aaron that ideally I’d love to see the original Japanese covers uses (and more and more, they seem to be) although I get why in many cases they aren’t seen as the most commercial (especially for older titles).

    • Eric Henwood-Greer says:

      Oh and coincidentally, I was just on NPRs site going through their comic reviews, after coming across a brief but pretty decent review of Hagio’s Drunken Dream, that I missed from last week, that gives a shout out to this site.

  11. Faith says:

    There’s a whole ‘nother issue, which is why I saw red when I read this article: why is “girly” bad? Considering how non-girly the damn covers are, the writer seemed to be freaking out over reading a book with a girl on the cover, which is upsetting on so many levels, especially to someone who writes/draws comics about young female characters. I bet he’d be ashamed to read my books on the subway too. Is masculinity so fragile? Have we learned nothing from William’s Doll and many many sitcom plots including that one episode of Community where Troy discovers his talent for dance? A REAL man is not ashamed of his “girly” passions!

    … anyway. I will be over here, screaming into a pillow. 😛

    • There’s a whole ‘nother issue, which is why I saw red when I read this article: why is “girly” bad?

      This issue is close to my heart as well. *sigh*

      • davidpwelsh says:

        Just for the record, and not to congratulate myself, but I read the girliest comics available in English anywhere I please. I was just rather puzzled at the interpretation of those Runaways covers as remotely gendered, when they seem admirably neutral to me.

  12. Aurora says:

    I like the Runaway covers! All except until we get to volume 9. What the heck is up with that wanna-be manga crap? D_> I’m ashamed to admit it, but I actually haven’t read past volume 7, because the cover of 9 pisses me off so much.

    But I’m a girl, and I don’t particularly care what anyone sees me reading, so. Guess I’m not the right audience for this question.

  13. einhorn303 says:

    Personally, I love the Twin Spica covers, but I actually like moe.

    If the covers to Twin Spica were changed from the original Japanese ones, I would be enraged. The whole concept of “Americans hate anime/manga, so we can’t have our covers look like anime/manga” is insane when that’s what the product actually is.

    The US covers of Atelier Rorona and the 1st Spice and Wolf volume are examples of this marketing practice in full disastrous effect. My god, that stuff is horrible.

  14. Apple says:

    The second Twin Spica cover reads a little “her leg is broken.” Hehe.

    All of the covers in this post do read as youth-oriented titles (from an American point of view; Twin Spica actually looks like a classic Japanese title/gekiga; I should note that I haven’t read it). But girly? No. I think the author’s quote just shows that he is insecure about his own manliness. Do the covers have sparkles? Unicorns? Faeries? I can’t imagine what made the covers seem “girly” to him. If anything, they feel “young”/speak to a younger audience. If he’s really that worried about it, he should cut the cover off a Tom Clancy novel and glue it over the top of The Runaways. Problem solved!

    Side note: I used to feel embarrassed about reading manga on the lightrail. But then I spotted a 40-year-old woman in a business suit doing it one day. Ever since then, I’ve been reading manga on the train all the time. Although it still embarrasses me a little if I am reading a smutty book. I still have to hide those in public XD

  15. Jenna says:

    I think the reason Twin Spica cover reads young is that the artwork itself is “cutesy”: her round head, round eyes, small nose and mouth… The look of wonder on her face. But you couldn’t take her off the cover because she’s the main character! You could, I suppose, skew the cover as for older folks by doing like Vertical did with Buddha– the abstractions of inside art displayed in a slick, graphic style.

    I’m not sure what I would prefer, though. It’s a hard choice. The publisher keeps the original Japanese cover (like Twin Spica) and satisfies the hardcore fanbase, but risks turning off the more casual readers, or they revamp it entirely (the Spice and Wolf debacle) and upset the hardcore fanbase and appeal to the casual readers.

  16. Nan says:

    Not knowing much about Twin Spica, they look like an old-school Ribon/Nakayoshi/Ciao manga to me. I’m thinking of something akin to Hime-chan no Ribon. It deceptively looks like a book geared for younger readers and would probably be something I’d pass over. Something is off with the girl’s leg in volume 2, and boy is that distracting. And uh, those Runaway covers are girlish? They look pretty gender neutral to me…

  17. Eric Henwood-Greer says:

    It also probably should be mentioned that Marvel seems to have published several different editions of Runaways for “collectors” in much more, umm, serious (I guess is the word) covers, if it really upsets someone so much. I would scoff at this, but then I have to admit that I have been trying to buy every volume I can find of both recent Collected works of Moto Hagio and Takemiya, which are presented in very “adult” binding–stuff you’d expect to see on deluxe editions of classic literature–and I love them.

  18. … There is nothing remotely girly about those Runaways covers. And even if they were, what the hell is wrong with that? I assume that the writer is an adult who is in no danger of being beat up by jocks on the way home from school? Seriously, dude needs to grow up. It doesn’t matter what strangers think. And I strongly suspect that the strangers on the subway didn’t actually care what he was reading nearly as much as he thought they did. Grown ups know who they are, and don’t waste time worrying that the slightest little thing will cause their metaphorical gonads to shrivel up and fall off/out.

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