MMF Color Trilogy Manga Out Loud Podcast Posted

As our contribution for the Manhwa Moveable Feast, covering the Color Trilogy, Ed and I did a podcast, specifically discussing the young woman’s coming-of-age aspects of the story.

The Color of Heaven cover
The Color of Heaven
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Let me first say that, to those put off by my early use of the word “garbage” to describe charges of sexism against the book, I do think most of those evaluations aren’t appropriately treating (or able to see) the work as an old-fashioned, nostalgic historical, or confusing their story with the one the author wanted to tell, or reacting to what they’re reading into the story instead of what’s on the page. But I should have chosen a less inflammatory word — all I can plead is over-indulgence. We’d just come back from a lovely Italian lunch out, complete with gelato, so I was a bit punchy. (I don’t think those calling the series sexist without brooking any argument were appropriately considering the value of alternate opinions who disagreed with them, as they were asking me to do, but it’s my responsibility to set a better example.)

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the value of patience, of sometimes waiting for things to progress and acting at the right time instead of always rushing at life and trying to shape things to your will. That’s not a male/female divide, but a youth/maturity one. And that’s one of the qualities I very much appreciate about the book. Others criticize it for telling women to wait and not act — but that ignores the many positive steps these women take, from Ehwa’s mother turning down a financially beneficial marriage for her child, to Ehwa learning to make choices for reasons other than romantic infatuation.

Others have criticized the series for viewing a time period where women had few choices in a positive, nostalgic light — but why not? Why must a book set in rural Korea at the turn of the 1900s be miserable? What’s wrong with focusing on the positive and writing a dual love story? That kind of criticism says more about the reader than the work, and that they should stay away from historical romances, especially those told poetically and flowerly. They also tend to ignore the bits that do show how difficult life then was — Ehwa’s mother having to take crude comments made to her face in order to keep her tavern business successful, for example. The books aren’t for everyone, it’s true, but criticizing them for not having the modern politics you wanted to read seems misguided.

Ed and I also talk about the unusual publisher for the series — First Second hasn’t done any other manga titles — and the many natural metaphors used in the book, as well as the virtues of symbolism over explicitness. (You may want your copies close at hand, since we do refer to some page numbers to indicate particular scenes.) I particularly praise the portrayal of the depth of the relationship between mother and daughter, a type of interaction still not much seen in comics. I appreciated how much that was valued, and how much both learned from each other.

Here’s another hilarious defense of the book as fitting in with a lot of other stories about teenage girls and what we expect of them sexually.

18 Comments

  1. Johanna, if you really think that my problem is that I’m not able to see the work as an old-fashioned, nostalgic historical, it’s hard for me to imagine that you actually read the column. I see it as exactly that, and I say so numerous times. I have a problem with that kind of old-fashioned, nostalgic view of women being romanticized and revered by a contemporary male writer.

  2. I wasn’t speaking directly to you, Melinda, or taking up your specific comments, just the general attitude. (Please don’t take things personally; they weren’t stated that way. Let’s keep this about ideas, not who read what sufficiently.) I don’t think the books should be expected to share contemporary politics when that’s not the author’s aim or goals. I also, as I said in the podcast, disagree about the amount of romanticizing going on. If the period appears all positive, then that’s a shallow reading that ignores the many disturbing problems the characters face that indicate the constraints of their society at the time. Someone truly romanticizing the period wouldn’t have included the story about the guy in the mat being killed, I think.

  3. PS the “able to see” phrase comes from you quoting Michelle as saying, “Try as I might to view these attitudes through a historical lens, I’m simply unable to get over my knee-jerk reaction.” I think that’s a fair paraphrase.

  4. Also, you say your problem is that a man wrote this story — if the author had been a woman, would the romantic nostalgia be ok, or is this story just unacceptable to you for being “old-fashioned”?

  5. Hi Johanna, just for clarity, it would make more sense if you linked to the review in which Michelle actually made that observation originally, rather than the Off the Shelf column where it was quoted, since that quote by itself is a highly inaccurate representation of the conversation that takes place in the course of the column. I begin by using that quote as a jumping-off point, but there are 3000 words of discussion following that.

    I do think Ehwa, her mother, and their circumstances are highly romanticized in the series, evident in everything from the language, to the choices in paneling, to how they are drawn.

    As to your question about whether I would have had a problem with the series had it been written by a woman… yes, I would have still objected to the values being advanced by the author, and though it probably would have felt a little less creepy, I might have been even more appalled. I have a difficult time imagining a woman writing the series exactly as Kim did. I can imagine a woman writing the same story but that’s an entirely different question.

    I think there’s something fundamental we disagree on here and there may be no getting past it. I don’t think it is at all “misguided” or inappropriate to hold a contemporary author accountable for his values and opinions as expressed through his work. If this was nothing more than a simple, objective account of historical events, that would be a completely different story, but I think we can both agree it is not that. It also would be a different matter if the story was actually written in (or shortly after) the time period in which it was set. But values or opinions expressed through any kind of fiction by a modern author are completely fair game, and it honestly baffles me that anyone is being taken to task for this.

  6. I think we’ll just to have to disagree, as you say, because I think it’s perfectly legitimate to write a historical romance that reflects the values of the time and has a happy ending, and I see your criticism as saying that’s not something that should be done. I’m also not comfortable trying to get inside the author’s head or make assumptions about his intentions here, which I see criticism as shading towards, especially given his place in a very different culture I know little about directly.

    Also, as for the “taking to task”, I think this MMF would have been much more successful, from my perspective, if those who were calling the book sexist had been more specific and limited in their criticisms, as you have been, from the start. I started out participating feeling behind the 8 ball because they were so vehement and harsh. Instead of saying “the characters’ treatment is sexist” or similar, by calling the book overall sexist, I felt as though I was being called a bad feminist for liking and supporting it, and that set up an argumentative, conflict-ridden dynamic from the start. Staking out such a firm position that “the book is sexist” doesn’t allow for much honest disagreement, since it’s such a wide-ranging condemnation.

    I don’t think the book should have been selected for this MMF, especially with a host who didn’t like it. That put you in a very odd spot and didn’t allow for even ground among disagreeing participants. The whole thing has left a bad taste in my mouth about participating in future events of this type.

  7. I’m sorry this has been such a bad experience for you. I definitely feel like the odd man out for enjoying the book so unreservedly. I don’t have a problem with an author writing a book that not only takes place in the past and reflects the values of that period, but who also personally embraces those values himself. Regardless of whether I agree with those values or not. An American example might be if an Amish author wrote a book about growing up on an 18th century farm. I could love the book even if the author was personally condemning me for owning a computer.

    I have not read all the end notes in each volume of The Color Trilogy, so I don’t know if Hwa meant this simply to be a historical romance that reflected the realities of his grandmother faced or if he meant this as a historical romance that was a call to return to more traditional values and gender roles. I’m not convinced that this book is praising traditional values. I’ve read all the reviews Melinda has linked to and no one has made a compelling argument to demonstrate this.

    I haven’t read Emma, but now I’d love someone to compare the gender roles and ideas of love and marriage in Emma to The Color Trilogy. Why is one historical romance so beloved by the MMF and the other so reviled? What did Emma get right that The Color Trilogy did wrong?
    The Color Trilogy deals forthrightly with sex, love, and marriage. I get the impression this book has really hit close to home for a lot of reviewers. Some have written as if Hwa is writing a book directly aimed to refute their personal beliefs. I’ve been amazed at how emotional some of the reviews have gotten.

    I’ve enjoyed all the reviews even if I was a bit puzzled and taken aback by some of them. I’ll be interested in seeing what next month holds for the MMF. I hope you will continue to be a part of it Johanna.

  8. Well, it was put to a vote, and this was the book people selected, as you know. I admit I was a bit disappointed initially that the series chosen ended up being one I dislike (I much prefer to talk on and on about things I love), but I’d already agreed to host, and people seemed excited about the prospect of tackling a series that was somewhat controversial.

    I don’t know that this scenario is that much different, though, in terms of allowing even ground, than when the host genuinely loves the series. I’ve actually heard (offline) that a few people have felt uncomfortable expressing negative opinions during previous Feasts because the books were so widely-praised. I think in this case, you’ve found yourself in their position.

    As a participant, I’ve expressed my opinion about the series, certainly. But as host, I’ve also tried to be very clear that I think readers are best served by reading all opinions on the book (that is my true opinion), and I’ve even specifically pointed them to your podcast as a worthwhile example of an opinion that differs greatly from my own (as well as all the other discussion between you and Ed).

    Truth be told, I agree with more things the two of you said in your podcast than I do with some of the opinions being expressed by other people who also did not like the series. I would have gone on to quote more of it specifically in my round-ups, but that’s actually quite difficult for me to do, since the place I’m able to listen to podcasts (my car) doesn’t actually offer me the opportunity to take notes. :) I haven’t been leaving comments anywhere, figuring that I have my own blog in which to express my opinion, nor would I have commented here if I hadn’t felt that my opinion (and Michelle’s too, actually, based on what she says during the Off the Shelf discussion you linked to) was being misrepresented.

    I think (hope) you know that I like and respect you a lot, and I can’t imagine deciding that someone is a bad feminist based on their opinion of a single series of books.

  9. [...] MMF Color Trilogy Podcast Posted – Johanna Draper Carlson (Manga Worth Reading) [...]

  10. [...] Manga Worth Reading, Johanna Draper Carlson discusses her recent podcast with Ed Sizemore, and also comments on [...]

  11. Ed, that’s a great comparison. Emma has a non-traditional view of romance across classes. The heroine gets to marry up and become a lady instead of being trapped in a life of servitude. Unrealistic as that was, it’s a happier ending that can more easily be related to by someone today. Also, the author acknowledges the challenges such a relationship would face more explicitly.

    What the author actually intended is a good question. I don’t believe that’s discussed in the end notes.

    I am very curious to see what’s selected next for MMF.

    Thank you for being so gracious a host, Melinda, and for struggling through with a difficult choice of work. I wonder now if some of the voters just wanted to sit back and watch the debates. :)

  12. As someone who didn’t enjoy these books much, I actually really like reading the opinions of those who did because I wanted to like them and to find them lovely. I just kept getting fired up instead. Probably this does say something about me, but I figure it’s worthwhile to blog about that anyway, because it’s clearly not an isolated response.

    I, too, am curious about the next choice for MMF. I know Maison Ikkoku has been suggested, which would be a great impetus for me to finally finish it.

  13. Oh, that’s a wonderful choice! I was planning on rereading that myself anyway. I shall pop right off and nominate Maison Ikkoku now.

  14. After reading the reviews, I’m strongly reminded of The Bechdel Test. ;) I’m also now more eager to go read some stuff written by Korean women and girls in the early 1900s, 1800s, and even earlier IRL…

    Johanna Says:

    “…I do think most of those evaluations aren’t appropriately treating (or able to see) the work as an old-fashioned, nostalgic historical…”

    It’s OK to dislike a story because you dislike its premise.

    Julie Said in a comment on “My Girlfriend’s a Geek Book 1″, 05/17/2010 at 11:30 AM:

    “…just that you can’t really criticize Yuiko for being unsympathetic or Taiga for being a doormat, since that’s the point, however distasteful you or I may find it. It’s like criticizing Homer Simpson for being a fat lazy drunk and Marge for putting up with him…”

    Ed Sizemore Said in reply, 05/17/2010 at 12:16 PM:

    “…I’m missing something. Why can’t I criticize Homer for being a fat, lazy drunk and Marge for putting up with him? I can’t say the premise of the sitcom or a manga isn’t funny? I can get the joke and still not laugh…”

    :)

    Johanna Says:

    “…or confusing their story with the one the author wanted to tell, or reacting to what they’re reading into the story instead of what’s on the page…”

    What’s wrong with this, especially when the reviewer tells the reviewer the context in which he or she read the book (instead of implying that every other reader would have the same reading experience the reviewer did)? Is it any less wrong when a reviewer gives something a positive review after using one of these approaches? It reminds me of AICN…

    Harry Knowles Says at Ain’t It Cool News Reviews:

    “Why AICN reviews are different

    “Written by Harry Knowles comes the Ain’t It Cool Movie Reviews! What makes these so different is my philosophy that film review doesn’t begin and end with the opening and ending titles. There is more to it. What we do and who we are affects the review. Instead of hiding that, I share it. You should know who your reviewer is, what he was anticipating and what happened to him/her on that particular day…”

    :)

    For example, Daniella Orihuela-Gruber sure didn’t confuse the trilogy with her own story. She compared it with her own story and clearly said so, instead of just saying she didn’t like the trilogy (and implying that every other reader would similarly dislike it whether or not we had similar experiences of growing up with a single mom holding down a paid job IRL).

    That’s perfectly fair. Neither Kim Dong Hwa, nor any other author of leisure reading out there, nor any other artist of other leisure media, is entitled to have his or her audiences forget our own experiences, feelings, and opinions when we read their stuff. ;)

    Melinda Beasi Says:

    “…I think there’s something fundamental we disagree on here and there may be no getting past it. I don’t think it is at all ‘misguided’ or inappropriate to hold a contemporary author accountable for his values and opinions as expressed through his work. If this was nothing more than a simple, objective account of historical events, that would be a completely different story, but I think we can both agree it is not that. It also would be a different matter if the story was actually written in (or shortly after) the time period in which it was set. But values or opinions expressed through any kind of fiction by a modern author are completely fair game, and it honestly baffles me that anyone is being taken to task for this…”

    Yeah, that makes sense.

    Ed Sizemore

    “…I don’t have a problem with an author writing a book that not only takes place in the past and reflects the values of that period, but who also personally embraces those values himself. Regardless of whether I agree with those values or not. An American example might be if an Amish author wrote a book about growing up on an 18th century farm. I could love the book even if the author was personally condemning me for owning a computer…”

    No problem. At the same time, would it be unfair of you to not enjoy that book while you read it? I’d say you’d be completely entitled to your opinion, and to sharing your opinion, either way.

    Also, a closer American example might be Gone with the Wind, since gender is closer to race than to electronics ownership. Would you still enjoy reading the book and the author Margaret Mitchell’s apparently personally longing for those “good old days”? Especially if you’re African-American? Would it be unfair of you to not enjoy reading the book?

    Melinda Beasi Says:

    “Well, it was put to a vote, and this was the book people selected, as you know. I admit I was a bit disappointed initially that the series chosen ended up being one I dislike (I much prefer to talk on and on about things I love), but I’d already agreed to host, and people seemed excited about the prospect of tackling a series that was somewhat controversial.

    “I don’t know that this scenario is that much different, though, in terms of allowing even ground, than when the host genuinely loves the series. I’ve actually heard (offline) that a few people have felt uncomfortable expressing negative opinions during previous Feasts because the books were so widely-praised. I think in this case, you’ve found yourself in their position…”

    Good points.

    Johanna Says:

    “Ed, that’s a great comparison. Emma has a non-traditional view of romance across classes…”

    Also, Mori Kaoru takes into account likely viewpoints from more than one class in Victorian-Era England – not just one traditional English lord’s likely view of romance across classes but also traditional English servants’ likely views of romance across classes, two possible traditional German immigrants’ views of romance across classes, etc. She also acknowledges that there was a diversity of personalities within each class too. :) It’s much better and more realistic than just being all respect-their-standards-unless-they’re-the-victims.

    “…The heroine gets to marry up and become a lady instead of being trapped in a life of servitude. Unrealistic as that was, it’s a happier ending that can more easily be related to by someone today. Also, the author acknowledges the challenges such a relationship would face more explicitly.”

    More good points.

  15. I know you’re not trying to directly criticize my review, but I guess the thing I forgot to convey well in the review is that I don’t know a single working mother who doesn’t put her kid to work. That Ehwa’s mother wasn’t seen doing that until Ehwa was well into her teens just struck me as odd in general. It was my fault that I let the review become too much of a comparison of the two of us, but it was pretty obvious to me that we have similar backgrounds.

  16. Given what we see of the tavern in the opening sequence, I would think poorly of Ehwa’s mother (does she ever have a name? I just realized I’ve never called her anything else :) ) if Ehwa was put to work there. And since they live there, I’m not sure how much housework Ehwa could do without the same problem. But then, I identified more with the mom than the daughter.

  17. It seemed to me like the house had two sides, however. The tavern side and their living side. Still… Ehwa could have done the household chores while her mom worked the tavern side. I honestly found the mother of the main character in All My Darling Daughters to more realistic to me. Then again, they are in different time periods… But my mother is very old fashioned and from a different time period than most moms of kids my age.

  18. [...] The Manhwa Moveable Feast winds up with a podcast about The Color of Earth trilogy by Johanna Draper Carlson and Ed Sizemore and a review by Sean [...]

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