Female Pioneers of Shōjo: 牧 美 也 子 Miyako Maki.
Miyako Maki is one of the early female pioneers of shōjo. While she grew up reading comics, she didn’t discover manga until after after she graduated from high school. Her parents began a book distribution company, and she left her job at bank to help them. This is when she encountered manga for the first time. She was excited about the prospect of working within this growing medium. It seemed like a good way to express her own emotions and inner thoughts. Her career as a manga artist began shortly after, when her story Haha Koi Warutsu was published in 1957. She was only 22-years old! Most women of that era began their careers by selling their work to kashibonya, stores that allowed customers to rent/read books on-site. Sort of like a library, but you know, that costs money and doesn’t allow you to take the book home to read in the bathtub. However, Maki took her 128-page manuscript straight to the director of Tōkōdō, a huge manga publisher. At first he laughed at her, but he could also see her talent. So he sent her home with notes for improving her story. It worked!
Soon Maki moved to Tokyo, where she met fellow shōjo artist Leiji Matsumoto . They married in 1961 and spent years collaborating on various (successful) manga projects. She drew the female characters, while he worked on the men and animals. In her own work, she focused on telling the stories of innocent-but-determined young women, often ballerinas. While most manga writers of that era found themselves focusing on the idealized West and complete fantasy worlds, Maki told stories of contemporary Japan.
In the late 60s, Maki switched her focus to “ladies’ comics” (redisu-komikku, redi-komi, josei manga), a genre intended for late teenage and adult women. These ladies’ comics are often considered to be a more realistic view of love and relationships than the highly idealized romance of shōjo. Furthermore, they take a more graphic approach to sex and violence. Not only was Maki one of the first women to work in this genre, her depictions of sex and the characters’ sexual feelings aligned with the emerging women’s movement in Japan. Her stories focused on badass women that did not allow obstacles and adversity to hold them back. She wasn’t afraid to write about sexual taboos of the time, including sadomasochism and lesbianism.
Okay, but are you ready for a plot twist? Or maybe just a surprising fun fact? Despite her groundbreaking and renowned work in racy comics for women, in 1967 Maki also invented Licca-chan, widely considered the “Japanese Barbie.” The toy maker Takara used the face and proportions of Maki’s art to create the doll. The first Licca-chan was sold with a brochure featuring an illustration of Miyako Maki. Unfortunately she holds no patent rights to the doll.
This is the first in a series about the amazing female pioneers of shojo. Stay tuned for more!