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Sweet Nothings…

Sparkler Monthly Issue #031 (Feb 2016)Happy almost-Valentine’s Day, Sparkler fans!

So the philosophy behind Sparkler has always been MAXIMUM FEELS, and since this is a month for romance, we’ve got some extra special feels for all of you! <3 <3 <3

This month we’re bringing you a fun one-shot project – originally announced during our Year 3 Kickstarter – that ought to set everyone’s hearts aflutter: it’s the Bad Chemistry Situation Audio Drama! If you’ve never heard of Drama or Situation/Talk CDs, our podcast this month will give you a terrific overview and intro, but the gist of it is you get to have a honey-voiced gentleman (or not-so-gentle-man) whisper directly into your waiting ear. In this particular scenario, you, the listener, are trying to pass your university chem class with your grumpy (but handsome!) lab partner. *swoon*

We’ve also got a new installment of Witch’s Quarry (with some blushing romantic hints of its own! Poor besotted Vee…), a new enemy and some very pastel new allies emerging in Magical How?, the start of a new arc in Orange Junk (featuring the Music Club!), and the wrap-up of Chapter 3 of Knights-Errant…with a surprising emotional twist, no less!

For those of you looking for some romantic new books to put on your bookshelf, we recently released the Mahou Josei Chimaka paperback (and adorable surprise keychain!) and the steamy Tokyo Demons Cherry Bomb Collection (also available as an ebook…that’s free for VIP members). And don’t forget the lovey-dovey team-ups we’ve been doing with other creators and publishers: you can find the TJ & Amal Complete Omnibus in the Sparkler Shop now (squee!), along with a special BOGO promotion with Fresh Romance digital magazine, where you can buy a starter bundle for Sparkler and get a starter bundle of Fresh Romance absolutely free! Perfect as a Valentine’s gift for the comic-lover in your life. And, now through February 21st, we’ve got a bunch of our sexiest, steamiest, and most feels-ful romances on sale for 20% off in the Sparkler Shop, including a new Cherry Bomb short story: this prologue to Dusk in Kalevia follows Demyan – an angelic embodiment of human fear – through a KGB mission during the lavender scare. *heavy breathing*

If you prefer Galentine’s to Valentine’s, we’ve got you covered there as well: join us for the next live session of the Sparkler RPG: ESPU on February 17th, where anyone is welcome to contribute to the game! And while you’re at it, check out the sexy official art by Angeline Mauri that was only posted a few weeks ago. <3

And who knows…there may be another surprise or two for Valentine’s Day itself, so stay tuned to sparklermonthly.com all this month for timely romantic surprises. :)

Love and Kisses,

Lillian (comics editor)



Shop updated with Ring of Saturn paperback, Mahou Josei Chimaka, and more!

Chimaka_pink_smallNow that we’re back from TCAF 2015, we’ve stocked the Sparkler Shop with our newest products! We have brand-spanking-new Ring of Saturn perfect-bound paperbacks (whee! XD), all of which were signed by KAIJU during their TCAF appearance. We also have Christy Lijewski‘s slick art book BLKBT; although we’re sorry to say that Dire Hearts is still on hiatus due to Christy’s health, she has an amazing backlist, and that art book is packed with her famously freaky-and-handsome dudes, among other things.

Also new in the shop by KAIJU: the complete Mahou Josei Chimaka ebook (featuring exclusive, brand-new chapter covers) and a pre-order for the Chimaka paperback, coming this July! We’re so excited for that one. <3 KAIJU has really been killing it lately, so we’re happy to have a giant shop update that’s almost entirely their stuff.

Enjoy!



May the Fourth (er…Fifth…) Be With You!

(I’m not just a manga nerd! I’m an all-around nerd! :-D )

Ah, I’m so excited about our May issue!! After folding the first 40 pages of Jennifer Doyle’s amazing political drama Knights-Errant into the magazine last month, we finally get to update with new pages!! I’m super psyched to be working with Jen, and even more psyched to bring you all the next phase of this fantastic story. And in honor of the new start, this month’s Member Exclusive is a behind-the-scenes podcast chat with me (and Becca) and Jen—listen in as we basically shoot the breeze for an hour, revealing both my internet lurker tendencies, and Jen and my respective overly-educated liberal arts backgrounds! Yesss…

But that’s not all we’ve got on the comics front. “For Peace” wraps up its mini-series run this month, with a lovely and charming conclusion (lady truckers are so sweet to each other!), and volume 1 of Windrose ends in a seriously epic, classic manga fashion! You’re going to love this amazing finish! Plus there’s a hilarious new installment of Orange Junk and the latest thrilling chapter of Skyglass.

So when do you get to read all this great stuff? Well, paid members can download either high-rez PDFs or ebook files of the full issue right away—not to mention get access to our Membership exclusive, which is the above-mentioned podcast with Jennifer Doyle. For folks reading for free, comics update either Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday and Thursday, depending on the series. So you’ll get to read everything, it’ll just take a little patience!

The flip side is that this means we still have a bunch of amazing comics continuing from last month as well—from the eerie finale of the first volume of Gatesmith to the mind-blowing magical battle of Mahou Josei Chimaka, our ongoing comics are not to be missed! And that’s not even counting Lettera and Witch’s Quarry which are still going strong!

In other news, most of the Sparkler team, plus several Sparkler creators will all be at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival the weekend of May 10th and 11th—stop by, say hi, and pick up some Sparkler goodies, including print copies of The Ring of Saturn, hot off the presses! Exciting!!

In other, other news, we passed 200 members last week in our Membership Drive, but we’re still a long way from where we want to be in order to keep the company stable, let alone growing—the thing we need the most now, though, is just more awareness. So if you like what we do here, recommend us to a friend! Tell them about your favorite comic, get them to try out one of our awesome audio dramas, sit on them and read them the first chapter of one of our fabulous prose series… We hope they’ll find something that they love about Sparkler too, and then pass it along to the next future fan!

<3

The Sparkler Team



Why do we need “comics for women”? Why not “comics for everyone”?

desk

Hello there! Welcome to the Sparkler Monthly Blog, a companion to the Sparkler Monthly Podcast. This is a space for the Sparkler editors to rant on various topics from time to time.

I felt like responding to a question I still run into sometimes, since Sparkler is explicitly designed to appeal to the Female Gaze. Here’s a 101 Primer on why we do what we do.

Why do we need “comics for women”? Why not “comics for everyone”?

First of all: there’s no such as thing as “comics for everyone,” because no comic is designed to appeal to literally every kind of comics reader, nor will it be enjoyed by every kind of comics reader. What we should be saying is comics for anyone. I know that sounds like a semantics argument, but bear with me. It’s an important part of my argument. So…

suchasThen why can’t we focus on “comics for anyone”?

This is what I want–a comics industry where anyone, from any background, can find a comic that speaks to them. I want comics to cover such a broad spectrum of perspective and genre that people treat them like bigger fiction mediums (like novels, TV, and movies): just one more channel through which we consume stories in our culture.

But we’re not there yet.

There are a number of reasons the print-based Western comics industry doesn’t draw the same audience numbers as TV or prose novels, but here’s a big one: it doesn’t appeal to a broad enough audience yet. It’s not appealing to enough new and/or different people. And since the average creator and reader of comics has traditionally been male, white, and straight…

“Comics for women” is an essential step in attaining “comics for anyone.” It’s one section of “anyone” where we have a serious vacuum, and until we fix it, we don’t truly have comics for anyone. If anyone walks into a comics store today, they can choose between 80% of titles that were made by or designed to appeal to straight dudes, and then 20% of titles that are supposed to appeal to the rest of the spectrum of people who exist. If I’m not a straight white dude, will I find something that I like in there? It’s certainly possible! But the odds aren’t in my favor. And there’s the very real, very important feeling that this sort of thing conveys to me: This isn’t really for me. I’m not really welcome here. Even if the people (mostly men) who work in this store are incredibly nice to me, and the other customers (mostly men) are nothing but respectful and helpful, I still feel like an outsider.

It’s not their fault. It’s a result of the system.

It’s akin to you being a straight guy who really likes a good love story, so you go to the Romance Novel aisle of the bookstore. Do you stop and browse through all those books plastered with bare male chests, hoping to find something that really speaks to you? Probably not. Probably especially not if you’re Native American or Scottish, and your race is reduced to an exotic name and a costume for women to giggle about. (Note: I love romance novels, but that industry has a lot of crap to address, too.) It’s clear that this entire section isn’t really for you, so maybe you should get your fiction elsewhere.

This is how a lot of not-straight-white-guy people feel about comic stores, but comics aren’t a genre–they’re a medium. So now they think comics aren’t really made for them.

Look, no one is saying comic stores should become like the Romance Novel aisle. We just want them to be more like actual bookstores, where there are different aisles for different things–where anyone can walk through those doors and go to a section that appeals to them.

So why gender it?

It’s already gendered. We just don’t say it out loud. You know how Hollywood makes “movies for anyone,” yet they hire far fewer women and write far fewer stories about women and the women are usually talking about men or could be replaced with a piece of furniture? The print comics industry is like that, but it’s arguably worse.

It’s already designed to be mostly for and about men. We have to gender things or we’re ignoring reality, or, even worse, we’re assuming that the male experience is the human experience, and the female experience is “something else.” That means the female experience–half of the world–is pushed aside as “genre.”

If we don’t talk about gender, we’ll never fix this imbalance, because we’re being trained not to see it.

In Japan, a country with a MUCH bigger and more successful comics industry than ours, they use a more nuanced way of organizing their comics. For example:

-“This half of the comic store is for males.”

-“This half of the ‘male’ section is for teenage males.”

-“This aisle in the ‘teenage male’ section is full of action series.”

That’s obviously not exact (Male Gaze is still a bigger section than Female Gaze), but you get the idea. You will absolutely see grown women with baby strollers in the “action series for teen boys” section sometimes, because she knows what she’s getting and maybe that’s exactly what she wants! She has that freedom, because she’s not being pushed into a section labeled “comics for anyone” and seeing that, whoops, she’s staring at a lot of half-covered breasts and tough men with girls draped over them, so “anyone” is shorthand for “we’re almost never actually thinking about you, so you probably feel unwelcome here.” She’s being seen as a person and a valued consumer, and given her choice.

She is, as a default, welcome. And if she wants to gravitate toward the aisle where a lot of other women pushing baby strollers might be hanging out, she can! She might especially go there first if this is her first time in the store.

shutinDo you really want to exclude an entire gender when you’re making a comic series, though?

Like this thing, addressed by Kelly Sue DeConnick. (She also made up the “sexy lamp test” linked above, because she’s full of gems.)

Just because a comic was “made for women” doesn’t mean it’s only for women. It’s for anyone who likes it. According to the basic theory behind Male Gaze and shonen, James Bond is for men, Death Note is for men, any series where men are expected to relate to it more than women can (it’s about Guy Stuff, it takes shortcuts that it assumes men in the audience will understand–like the camera panning up a woman’s body because the audience is supposed to desire her) is a story “for men.” Does that mean anyone who’s not a man (a woman, someone not on the gender binary) can never enjoy or relate to a story like that? Non-men read/watch/relate to stories like that all the time, regardless if it has anything to do with their lives or desires! A good story is a good story, and can be enjoyed by anyone. (Even a bad story can be enjoyed by anyone, but that’s a rant for another time.)

Also, the nebulous concept of Guy Stuff doesn’t just appeal to The Typical Guy. (Which in the case of the Western market, is arguably a straight, healthy, cis white guy between the ages of 18 and 45.) Does a gay guy relate to the camera panning up a woman’s body? A gay woman might appreciate that more than he does. How about a story about a high school football team comprised of mostly white dudes? Maybe a Hispanic, attracted-to-men jock would get a lot more out of that than a straight white guy who was in a punk band in high school.

My point is, anyone can potentially relate to any story, we’re just trying to put more Female Gaze/shojo/Lady Stuff into the market. For anyone. And like explained above, we want more people within the monolith of “anyone” to be acknowledged and catered to.

Then how would you even define “Female Gaze,” if it’s not just for women?

Just like the traditional Male Gaze–which, remember, is the majority of Hollywood and comics–this concept is extremely broad.

In my opinion, you need to start with something that doesn’t actively alienate women or treat them as The Other. So treating women as fully realized human beings–both in the story and in real life, both on the creator end and consumer end–is the absolute baseline.

Female Gaze also skews (but is not limited to): created by ladies, about interesting female characters, sexualizing something outside of “sexy and/or objectified women,” about topics/within genres that traditionally do well with female readers, and, since Female Gaze is often reactionary, a whole host of other stuff boxed out of the traditional Male Gaze.

At Sparkler, the majority of our staff and creators are female, and not just because more of them apply to us and we value insight from people who are not Straight White Guy–women are also not as comfortable in the mainstream print comics sphere. Sometimes it’s a result of “valuing dude stuff” to the point where women don’t feel welcome (like in the comic store examples), sometimes it’s the fact that they don’t write Male Gaze and that’s most of what’s being published, and sometimes it’s outright discrimination. But there’s this giant pool of female creators, especially ones who want to write outside of the Male Gaze, and they don’t have that many publishers to go to. It’s such a waste. We wanted a place where they were considered the default and not the “exception” or a “novelty,” because it’s exhausting to be constantly trying to prove yourself in a system that wasn’t built for you.

Still, we also hire dudes and people not on the gender binary, because you don’t need to be a woman to create Female Gaze. (In fact, some women are terrible at writing Female Gaze, and some men/non-binary writers are fantastic at it.) Some of our stories are mostly about dudes. Some are about being attracted to sexy women. We only publish Female Gaze stuff that we think is really, really good, in any genre, tackling any subject.

We don’t limit ourselves, because that would be falling into the exact same trap that’s plagued Hollywood and comic stores. We want to publish Female Gaze stories that make women feel welcome, but can appeal to anyone. To broaden the definition of “anyone.”

Everyone needs to work at this if we want comics for anyone.

Lianne

(Note: Like in 2014, there will be some excellent people on the TCAF panel “What Do Women Want?” this year. I’m sure you’ll hear some great opinions there.)



A little spring cleaning!

sparkler-april2015Hi, Sparkler fans! We hope you enjoy our delightfully orange color this month to celebrate Orange Junk‘s debut in our magazine with the all-new Chapter 8, available in this month’s issue! And welcome to the digital pages of our magazine, Heldrad. <3

We figured it was time to do a little spring cleaning around here. Hope you like the new look of the site as much as we all do! This is the last in a long string of site updates that have been in progress since the start of this year—but I think we’re finally done for a while! Whew!

While the front page obviously looks different, hopefully your overall experience continues to be as good, if not better than ever. A lot of the changes were done behind the scenes, as we streamline the back end of the site to make maintenance easier, but the most important thing is that you readers can find what you’re looking for, enjoy it, and then share it with others!

But probably the most exciting thing about this update is that we wound up with nearly 100 pages of new comics for you all to enjoy in Issue #021 this month! No wonder I’m so tired. :) Between the end of Gatesmith vol. 1, the magical finale of “Mahou Josei Chimaka,” a silly and sexy Dead Endings side story (our Membership Exclusive of the month), the hilarious new chapter of Orange Junk, plus ongoing updates of Lettera and Witch’s Quarry, we’ve got more amazing comics than you can shake a mop at! And that’s not counting the finale of Dusk in Kalevia on the light novels front, plus a new installment of The Cat Lover’s Circumstances!

The best part, too, is that now we’re in countdown mode to new pages from Knights-Errant as well! Our next issue goes up on May 4th, and in addition to our regular stellar line-up, we’ll be starting the new and ongoing serialization of Jennifer Doyle’s dark historical drama. I, for one, am super stoked!

Anyway, we’re gearing up to head into Year 3 of the magazine this summer, and we couldn’t have made it this far without your enthusiastic support. We hope that you continue to enjoy what our teams are creating, and that you help spread the word about Sparkler and the great work our artists and writers have been producing! This can’t happen without you all, and we’re eager to start Year 3 off strong!

-Lillian (head of comics)



Share the Love!

Apologies for the delayed update this month. The latest round of snow on the East Coast took out our main office (internet went down for the count…), and I actually don’t know how to launch the new issues by myself! (Lianne and co. do all the heavy lifting on the website. I’m just here to be snarky and edit comics…)

Anyway, love is definitely in the air this month, with the big news being the launch of our brand new original audio drama, The Cat-Lover’s Circumstances! Help us welcome new creative team Lamp (writer) and Aiwa (illustrator) to the Sparkler Monthly line-up! We’re super excited about this series, since it’s our first audio drama to come in over the transom as part of our pitch process, and we think it’s the perfect fit for Sparkler! Cute girls? Cute guys? Cute kitties?! Sold! We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

But romance is blossoming all over the magazine in February, and not just the love between a girl and her cat—we’ve got a new chapter of Skyglass, the second installments of short comics series “For Peace” and “Mahou Josei Chimaka,” and Tokyo Demons even features a surprise wedding, of all things! Plus some psychically-influenced lovey-dovey feelings all around (except maybe for Touya, and seriously, %&* that guy).

Probably the only non-romantic thing we’re releasing this month is Jen Quick’s Gatesmith side-story/pilot chapter, “Hungry,” which is our Membership Exclusive of the month. It’s hard to have hot make-outs at an almost-witch-burning… OR IS IT?! (Too soon?)  Either way, it’s a great short story, and it will segue nicely into the next installment of Gatesmith, coming in March. Look forward to it! And that’s not the only thing you’ll be getting from Jen this month,so stay tuned! :-D

Anyway, the best Valentine you can give us is that if you like the stuff we make, tell someone else about it! Our entire archive is now free to read, so it’s easier than ever to share the love and bring a little sparkle to someone’s day with fun original series written for women by women (Mostly! We actually have our first dude creator in the line-up now. :-) ). Our goal is to spread the feels as much as possible, and you, our fans, are the best advocates for the work we’re doing. Enjoy!

<3, as always,

The Sparkler Team



The end of the year is upon us…

Happy Holidays from all of us at Sparkler!

Gracing our cover this month are Sadie and Robin, here by popular request for a special holiday sequel to “Before You Go,” one of our short comics series from earlier this year. They’re bringing a touch of winter romance to our pages this month, and we hope you’re all as happy to see them again as we are! ^_^

Also on the comics front is a new installment of Gatesmith, launching a new story arc in the frontier town of Edgeward, plus the first installment (after a terrific teaser in November!) of KaiJu’s new short series Mahou Josei Chimaka, a little Sparkler-style magical woman series.

On the prose side, things (FINALLY!!) take a sexy turn in Dusk in Kalevia, and both the drama and the romance ramp up in Skyglass!

Last but not least, our Member Exclusive of the month will be a new podcast, wherein the Sparkler team (and perhaps some special guests!) discuss writing love, romance and sexy stuff for a female audience. *wink* Don’t forget to send us your questions via our social media channels!

And even more important, don’t forget that throughout December you can get 10% off on everything in the Sparkler Shop, including memberships and Distro titles, using the code: HOLIDAY

Among the things that will be available this month are paperback editions of both Gauntlet and a pre-order of Tokyo Demons Volume 2, plus the complete digital edition of Awake, our first original audio drama, which includes an hour and a half of all-new bonus material. Just in time for all your holiday needs! <3

On a more business-like note, we’ve been doing a ton of site upgrades lately–if you haven’t checked us out on mobile recently, our mobile experience is sleeker than ever. You also may have noticed that Sparkler Monthly comes with the comforting green lock to make sure you know that we’re a secure site–we’re excited to announce that this change comes because you can now subscribe to the magazine directing through our site, no PayPal account required! And if you want your local store, library, or club to order any of our books (and quite a few of our Distro books), we just launched our first quarterly catalog. There will be additional changes to the site over the next month or so, so stay tuned for more details!

 



Brrr!

The days are getting shorter and it’s starting to feel like winter outside, but we’ve got plenty of sizzling stuff this month to keep you warm, first and foremost being an amazing, fiery cover by the fantastic Asia Kendrick-Horton. Things are going to heat up in Skyglass Chapter 6 this month, but Phoenix is always smokin’. *wink wonk*

Gatesmith and Dusk in Kalevia are both taking a month off, but our line-up this month is still super exciting. We’ve got a thrilling new installment of Windrose, the dramatic next section of Tokyo Demons Vol. 3, the start of the brand-new mini-series For Peace from Dinner Ditz‘s Alexis Cooke (featuring lady truckers in loooove!), plus a teaser of a new KaiJu magical-woman mini-series that will launch in our December issue: Mahou Josei Chimaka!

That’s to say nothing of DNA-RW, a dark prose short by two creators we’re happy to welcome to Sparkler: Sarah “Neila” Elkins of Here There Be Monsters, and Ru Xu of Saint for Rent! Nel has an unusual ability–she can copy DNA and rewrite her own DNA to match it. When she decides to use this shape-shifting skill to help find a serial kidnapper, she swiftly finds herself in over her(?) head.

And last but certainly not least, our Member Exclusive of the month will be a behind-the-scenes chat with the actors from Awake, our first original audio drama! Stay tuned for that in Week 3 this month. ^_^ It’s to celebrate the release of the complete Awake series set coming to the Sparkler Shop in Week 4. And speaking of the shop, we recently released a limited run of Sparkler mini sketchbooks that are available now!

BTW, if you don’t follow our Tumblr or Facebook, you might have missed that we’ve got a bunch of our comics up on Comixology now, if you like reading things that way. (I know I do! The Ring of Saturn looks particularly great on my tablet. ;-) And if you’re looking for the perfect ebook to curl up with on a gloomy day with your hot beverage of choice, Dead Endings is now up and available in a new complete edition (with a bonus story!) from our shop, or via Amazon!

In other news, Gauntlet has been sent to press, and Tokyo Demons vol. 2 isn’t far behind! We should have those available in spiffy print editions for all your holiday shopping needs before too long. <3