Ooku wins the Tiptree Award

The first two volumes of Fumi Yoshinaga’s alternate history series Ooku: The Inner Chambers, have won the James Tiptree, Jr Award this week. The Tiptree award, given out at Wiscon, the feminist-oriented science fiction convention, is awarded for, “science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” Given the rarity of a graphic novel winning literary awards (unless there is a separate category for the format), this recognition indicates that comics are infiltrating the worlds of literature.

Ooku is a challenging premise illuminated by one of the most accomplished and adventurous manga creators working today. Fumi Yoshinaga is known for her sly comic timing, her spiky and complex characters, and her keen observations on family, love, friendship and the ties that bind. Ooku, an alternate history of the Edo period of Japan, ponders how a male-dominated society structured by complex, emperor-driven heirarchy would cope with the catastrophe of having over three-quarters of their male population die in a sudden plague. The government struggles to maintain  control, and eighty years after the first outbreak, women have taken over all major offices including the shogun. Men have become a precious commodity, and the finest are kept hidden away for the female Emperor’s enjoyment. One of the line of VIZ Signature titles, aimed squarely at adults and brimming with intelligence and ambitious interrogations into gender and power, Ooku is well-deserving of the award.

Over at The Comics Journal, Shaenon Garrity comments eloquently on what I agree makes this award important: namely that comics and graphic novels as a whole are not a format one traditionally expects to contribute significantly to exploring gender. Mainstream superhero comics are not known for exploring questions of gender and gender identity explicitly. A reader usually has to dig into the independent comics scene to find gender related tales and commentary. This award also points to how tracking the titles committees outside the comics industry notice is instructive as to what appeals to readers in general versus what appeals to already established comics fans.

I encourage all selectors to consider why graphic novels have won the awards they have. As always with awards, the winners reflect the list makers as much or even more than they reflect the titles or the readers. It’s heartening to see a graphic novel recognized by a group that admits they’re not particularly manga fans nor comics readers: they just know that Ooku challenged perceptions of gender in a literary, complex tale, and that’s all they needed to know.

Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1 (Ooku)
Fumi Yoshinaga
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2009-08-18)
ISBN / EAN: 1421527472 / 9781421527475


Ôoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 2 (Ooku the Inner Chambers)
Fumi Yoshinaga
Retail Price: $12.99
Paperback: 200 pages
Publisher: VIZ Media LLC – (2009-12-08)
ISBN / EAN: 1421527480 / 9781421527482

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