ProudTimes Books & Authors
By ProudTimes’ LA Correspondent, Kenyth Mogan
The world of anime and manga is one of fantasy and romance. With so many great stories out there, there really is something for everyone. This includes the gay community, a group vastly underrepresented in most mainstream comic book realms. In an attempt to rectify this empty space, VIZ Media has created an imprint specifically for “Boys Love stories,” SuBLime. After reading a few of their titles, I was given the opportunity to speak to Jennifer LeBlanc, an editor with the imprint about Boys Love Stories, their appeal, and why a lot of them seem to be written by women.
Kenyth Mogan: Why do you think Boys Love books are so popular?
Jennifer LeBlanc: Boys love (BL) is a niche within a niche, really. But they’re popular enough to support their existence. I’m speaking solely about the English-language market.
KM: What can you tell me about the start of the SuBLime Imprint with VIZ?
JL: Back in 2011 sometime, VIZ and the Japanese publisher Libre Publishing decided to go into partnership and start a BL imprint. I was hired in August of that year to run the imprint, and we officially launched in 2012. We released our first digital-only titles in February and our first print titles in June.
KM: Why is it called SuBLime?
JL: We went through a lot of names trying to find just the right one. The meaning of sublime worked, and as an added bonus, it has “BL” right in the middle.
KM: When I was first getting into the industry (my first GN was published in 2007), it seems like yaoi books were still a bit on the taboo side. Do you feel like this is still the case or has the industry changed? If so, what do you feel has caused the change?
JL: I think things have definitely changed since then, but I wouldn’t say BL is mainstream and everyone is okay with it. Its longstanding presence in the manga market has helped, for sure. And I think people in general are more open to gay content as well as women exploring their sexuality through entertainment media, think “50 Shades of Grey.”
KM: What is currently your most popular title?
JL: Definitely Ten Count by Rihito Takarai.
KM: Ten Count is one of the most popular yaoi titles ever. What, in your opinion, makes this one so popular? Its story? Its art? Or is it the explicitness of the series?
JL: All of that. We weren’t really sure how it would be received at first due to the storyline being about a counselor and someone who is essentially his patient. But it’s a great story about two people struggling and how they each help each other to deal with those struggles. Beyond that the art is absolutely gorgeous, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the sex scenes are quite explicit.
KM: From the Boys Love titles I’ve read from SuBLime, most of them seem to be written and read by women. What is it about the genre that you think resonates with women? Do you think they write more romantic stories than their male counterparts?
JL: The BL market in Japan is made up mostly of women writers, and the writers we publish are at least working under female pen names. Male writers of explicit gay content tend to fall under the label of “bara.” The BL genre is written by women for women, and I think it works because women know what women want to see in a story. Many of us are tired of the played-out tropes surrounding female characters in romantic stories, and boys love eliminates that completely by putting male characters in those positions. Women can explore their sexuality through BL without having to deal with comparing ourselves to the completely unrealistic female characters we tend to see. We’re also not forced into the submissive role women often receive in romantic storylines.
KM: Is there an upcoming series that SuBLime is especially excited about?
JL: We actually have a few things we’ve yet to announce, so I can’t go into any detail there, but we did recently announce Fourth Generation Head: Tatsuyuki Oyamato by fan favorite Scarlet Beriko, and the fans really went crazy over it.
KM: What titles would SuBLime recommend to readers just getting into the Boys Love genre?
JL: I guess it depends on what level of explicitness they’re looking for. I was okay with the super hardcore stuff when I first started reading it. But if we’re assuming someone is just dipping their toe into this type of content and aren’t sure how they feel about it, I would start with something light like His Favorite, which is rated T+. It’s your typical high school story common in manga and it doesn’t get overly explicit. It’s pretty funny too. Tableau Numéro 20 is a collection of stories (this time all adults), so readers can get a variety of content, and although it’s rated mature, it really isn’t at all.
KM: Will SuBLime be licensing the Ten Count, or any yaoi anime?
JL: have no idea as that’s a completely different department. What I do know is that they would never say if they were if it wasn’t something that was officially announced already. You never tip your hand when it comes to future business plans!
In speaking with LeBlanc, It was intriguing to learn that most “Boys Love” titles were written by women, for women. But what’s interesting, is that the stories are not sexual just for the sake of being sexual. They are romantic stories, sweet yet seductive. Check them out.