Zac Clifton utilized a variety of manga and research books in his paper. Photos by Danielle Stallworth for The Alabamian.
For Zac Clifton, a senior majoring in English, what began as a school assignment has blossomed into a unique opportunity to share his research with an audience outside of the classroom.
Clifton will be presenting his research paper this March at Kami-Con, an annual three-day convention held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) that celebrates Japanese culture, cosplay, anime and manga.
“I’ve only been to one con, but I got the idea by watching some of the other panels they had there and I thought, ‘I could do this,’” said Clifton. “So I just submitted a little abstract to them, and they were like ‘Yes! We’ll take you!’”
Clifton’s presentation began as an honors thesis that he wrote last semester on yaoi, a specific type of manga written by female authors for mainly female readers in Japan. It focuses on romantic and sexual relationships between male characters.
“The thing that really interested me was the amount of sexual violence that happens within these mangas,” Clifton said. “Particularly with it being female-based. It’s concerning how it gets transmitted over here into western media and how that gets conflated with gay identity.”
Dr. Alexander Beringer, Clifton’s advisor, said that Clifton’s research is innovative because American readers don’t always know how to react to themes in yaoi that are specific to Japanese context.
“I’m especially impressed by how his work illustrates the changes in readership for manga as these materials travel from Japan to the United States,” Beringer said. “These questions about cross-cultural reception will only become more pressing as the role of manga continues to grow in the U.S.”
The process of writing this paper was challenging for Clifton. Beringer suggested several books for him to read over the summer. He utilized not only manga, but books on different theoretical perspectives.
Clifton knew that he wanted to write a longer paper, which is not typical for an undergraduate class.
“I decided the easiest way was to break it down into sections,” Clifton said. “I pretended I was writing mini essays, and I combined them.”
He also let students in the Harbert Writing Center read his work to help him decide how to organize it and edit it. All of this resulted in a 26 page paper titled “(YA)ru, (O)kasu, (I)kaseru: Do Him, Rape Him, Make Him Rape, Loss, and Silence of Queer Identity in Boys Love Manga.”
Clifton said that he may extend his research in the future and even seeks to get his paper published. He is excited to give a presentation in a less academic environment but is a bit nervous to see how fans will respond to criticisms of the yaoi genre.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m shaming them for something they enjoy,” he said. “I think yaoi does really good things for some people. I think it does so at the expense of other issues that need to be addressed.”
Some of the content of Clifton’s paper deals with fan responses to the sexual violence in yaoi, and one of his main goals was to see how fans of the genre would react to his research.
“I thought it would be a good opportunity to present at a convention and see just sort of what feedback I get from the fans,” said Clifton. “That could not only help my research but potentially shape it in a different way. So hopefully I will not be attacked.”
Kami-Con will take place March 11-13 at the BJCC in downtown Birmingham.