By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
"Any time you're depicting children engaged in deviant sexual acts drawings or stories about those acts that's a concern," says Adam Palmer, who directs the center's legal office. "Many times people make the same arguments about Internet stories or fantasy chats, but the sad reality is that some of those fantasy chats lead into the temptation to go after an actual victim, or they perpetuate an idea that it's OK to engage in those acts." In addition, Palmer says, the pictures can be used to groom potential victims. "It's trying to normalize something that is not normal, it's criminal," he says.
Yet Palmer couldn't recall a case in which the authorities had gone after a purveyor of manga in fact, he had to be reminded what manga is. The pursuit of those who victimize real children is more urgent, he says, and the number of complaints the center receives makes it unlikely that it will pursue reports of virtual exploitation. But the PROTECT Act has already been used as a legal tool: This past March, the first defendant was convicted under the new law. Manga fans are unlikely to adopt him as a martyr, however, since the middle-aged man was on parole for previous sex offenses, and was caught with a stack of child pornography that included both photographs and anime.
Yaoi fans who run Web sites have been spooked by two shutdowns in recent years. In May 2005, a well-respected yaoi fan and writer of fan fiction who went by the name Sahari closed down her site, Yaoi Shrine, and deleted and purged her blog. According to an article about the incident on a site called Net Family News, the shutdown was spurred by an angry mother who had discovered her 12-year-old daughter's fascination with the site. When the mom discovered that Sahari worked at a junior high school in real life, she contacted the police, the school board, and the PTA. The site vanished, and Sahari disappeared as a visible online presence.
"A lot of us are up in arms about minors coming into our Web pages," says Betsy Tea, the San Francisco fan who helped start the site Boys Next Door. After another site closed for similar reasons to those of Yaoi Shrine, says Tea, "I painstakingly went around and registered with Net Nanny and all those programs that parents can use to block sites with adult content." Boys Next Door's splash page starts with a resigned disclaimer: "This is the part where we try in vain to cover our own asses," it reads, before admonishing the visitor to enter only if she is of legal age.
The possibility of a conservative backlash is a looming X-factor in the business plans of the young yaoi publishers. Some, like the popular startup DramaQueen (based in Houston, Texas), expect fans to support their favorite companies and the First Amendment to protect them. "The great thing about America is that there are laws that allow for artistic expression," says Tran Nguyen, founder of the 1-year-old publisher. "These are women's voices; these are our expressions of eroticism."
Nguyen says she's proud that her company has pushed the boundaries since its first publication: "We were really bold in our choice for our debut. There wasn't any explicit sex on the market you didn't see any penises." DramaQueen's first book, Brother, tells the story of two stepbrothers who quickly overcome the taboo inherent in their love and commence a book-long sex spree. The boys are hot, the sex is graphic, and the story is enough to keep readers interested. Fans ate it up, posting rapturous reviews on Web site forums about the "delectable man flesh."
Other publishers, however, are easing away from the hard-core yaoi market. Yaoi Press of Las Vegas, which has published some of the raunchiest material in the genre, plans to bring out more young-adult titles, with "cute" stories suitable for 13-year-olds. The editors say they'll benefit from being able to advertise their titles in more mainstream magazines.
Another company, Digital Manga, Inc. (based in Gardena, Calif.), has created different subsidiary companies to keep the audiences separate. "The June line is very romantic, very sweet," says Rachel Livingston, a company spokesperson. "It's stuff you would find easily in any bookstore. Yaoi is kind of a controversial thing so we sat down with a bunch of bookstores and asked them what the limit was." At Yaoi-Con 6, she announced the launch of a distinct company, 801 Media, that would cater to more adult tastes.
"It's to make things easier if it says '801 Media,' you'll know what you're getting," Livingston explains. "Now if someone comes to us and says, ÔI bought this book for my 12-year-old daughter, and now I'm very upset,' we can say, 'We did everything in our power to warn you!'"
Since flying under the radar has become less of an option with every book sale, each publishing company is feeling its way forward, looking for the combination of warnings and due diligence that will ward off lawsuits while satisfying fans clamoring for harder, edgier stuff. Meanwhile, the Yaoi-Con staff is scrupulous in its efforts to keep underage fans out of the event. In years past, there have been rumors of young girls trying to "ninja" their way in, so the convention's security guards stake out back doors and staircases.