Who knew that a cartoon could change one lesbian’s world — and inspire her to do the same for other lesbians? In the late ’90s, Erica Friedman, the founder of Yuricon and ALC Publishing, a North American publisher specializing in lesbian-themed manga, first saw a cartoon on television called Sailor Moon. About halfway through the first episode Friedman saw, she turned to her wife — who had insisted that she watch it — and said, "We are watching two totally different cartoons: You are watching the prepubescent little girl cartoon, which is a delightful thing, but I’m watching this incredible lesbian subtext."
Friedman said she had never seen anything like it: "I was totally blown away." That was Friedman’s introduction to anime, or animated Japanese films and TV shows. She did some research and discovered that on the third episode of Sailor Moon‘s third season, an overt lesbian couple was featured — no subtext necessary. Excited by this, Friedman dug deeper, looking for more lesbian content in anime and manga (Japanese comic books). Then she found yuri.
Anime, manga and doujinshi (zines and small-press comics) that contain sexual and/or romantic relationships between women are known in the West as yuri. Shoujo-ai (literally, "girls’ love") is a term sometimes used to describe female/female romantic relationships as opposed to sexual couplings.
Immersing herself in the world of anime and manga, Friedman hooked up with the organizers of a now-defunct mainstream anime convention, and when they asked her what she wanted to see more of, she replied, "More girl/girl content." They didn’t believe anyone other than Friedman would be interested. "They looked at me like I had six heads."
Rather than getting angry, she created her own organization in 2000, AniLesboCon. (The name was an inside joke, a nod to a name used in yuri written by a friend of Friedman’s.) It began with a website, where Friedman ran contests for fan fiction, fan art and anime music videos. She gave away what were then hard-to-find yuri manga as prizes.
In 2003, she changed the name to Yuricon, which better reflects the genre Friedman celebrates. The same year, she held her first convention, taking place over three days in Newark, N.J. Yuricon 2003 included an academic lecture series with five North American scholars presenting papers on women’s roles — as characters, readers and creators — in anime and manga. This kind of scholarly content was a first at an anime convention.
Friedman founded a publishing company in 2003 as well. ALC (AniLesboCon) Publishing specializes in what Friedman refers to as "100 percent yuri — yuri by and for lesbians, to express lesbian life and love." While ALC does accept submissions from heterosexual artists, they focus on publishing stories in which female/female relationships are central to the plot.
ALC Publishing’s most recent title is the fourth in their anthology series, Yuri Monogatari 4. In this volume, as well as the anthology Friedman’s working on now, there are stories by artists from Europe, North America and Japan, proof that the yuri phenomenon has spread across the globe.
The Yuricon mailing list contains subscribers from Europe, the Philippines and Thailand in addition to the U.S. and Japan. Though lesbian yuri fans in the U.S. and Japan don’t interact much with each other due to the language barrier, they are definitely aware of each other.
Friedman, who reads Japanese at about a high-school level, keeps up with yuri bloggers from Japan and reports about them in her own blog. When attending a convention in Japan, she learned that yuri fans in Japan read her blog as well.
Friedman makes it a priority to keep ties open between yuri artists and readers in Japan and those in the U.S. Her friend Rica Takashima, a Japanese manga artist, is a great help in this regard, with her numerous contacts in Japan. (Takashima’s book Rica ‘tte Kanji!? was the first title ALC Publishing translated into English.)
Yuri fans from all over the world traveled to Tokyo for Friedman’s second convention, Yuricon 2005, a one-day event run by Takashima, who also headed up ALC Publishing’s Japanese division. Manga artist Akiko Morishima created an illustrated synopsis of this 2005 event, which can be seen in Yuri Monogatari 3.
In 2005, Friedman and Yuricon were also part of a joint venture with the Shoujo Arts Society called Onna! which celebrated women who work in anime, manga and doujinshi. "We focused on women’s roles in animation and comics, including American animators and comic artists," Friedman said.
The Yuricon website is both an informative and entertaining resource. Included is "The List," an extensive record of "lesbians, wannabes and oughtabes" in anime and manga; a calendar of yuri-related events (including the first yuri convention in Germany last month); essays about the genre by Friedman and others; and a page for Yuriko, the official mascot of Yuricon and ALC Publishing.
Yuriko’s adventures in life and love are captured in the series Shoujoai ni Bouken by Erica Friedman. Yes, in addition to her archiving, publishing, organizing and networking hats, Friedman has donned that of an artist.