As the video opens, we are in a locker room. The men walking in know each other and exchange greetings as they strip down to their workout gear. This is an athletic group of guys with well-toned bodies; they range in age from their twenties up to one venerable gent who’s fairly long in the tooth. They enter the gym through a door clearly labeled “Herrar”—Men—and find, to our surprise if not to theirs, that a young girl is in charge of their class. Her striped sweatsuit makes it impossible to pinpoint her age, but she could be as young as twelve. She immediately begins directing them in a series of supple movements that would be more appropriate for girls her age than for this collection of mature males. They do their best to follow her.
When my younger daughter moved out on her own, she left a copy of her music library on our kitchen computer. For years I hadn’t listened seriously to anything recorded later than the 80s, but I wanted to know what mattered to her and to other kids her age—especially to girls—so I started listening to her music. I found some great artists who were brand new to me—Cat Power, Postal Service, Iron and Wine, Metric, Sufjan Stevens, Tegan and Sara, Portishead. I also found hours of electronica, much of it unlabeled. I dimly sensed a change blowing in the cultural wind, so I wandered onto the net in search of something I knew I wouldn’t be able to identify until I’d found it. I wanted to experience a connection with what was going on right now as intensely as I’d felt when I first heard Bob Dylan in 1963.
Because I was going to interview John K. Samson, the Artist in Residence at UBC’s Creative Writing Program, I spent several weeks playing his CDs in my car stereo and then finished off my immersion in his music by listening in bed with my eyes shut. Before that I wasn’t very familiar with his work. I knew him, of course, as the lead singer for the Weakerthans, and a tune or two of his had floated by me on CBC Radio 3. Several friends had praised his work, telling me that there was no one anywhere quite like him. The more I listened, the more I realized that I was encountering a powerfully accomplished artist who was, indeed, like no one else. If you give John’s songs your full attention, they wind themselves deep into your psyche in a way that tells you they plan to stick around for a while.
When our Creative Writing Program at UBC began offering a course in Graphic Fiction, I decided that it was about time for me to learn something about it. Several colleagues recommended that I begin by reading Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and that was excellent advice. Then I read a dozen or so Canadian and American graphic novels—enough to become genuinely excited by sequential art. Japanese comics seemed to be on everybody’s mind, so I thought that I should take a quick look at them too. It’s three years later, and I’m still looking—still deeply immersed in the world of manga. Much of what I’ve been reading is shōjo—that is, comics written for girls. That has struck some of my friends and colleagues as a bit odd, so I want to take some time here to try to explain my fascination.