Lesbian love in webcomics: Red String

It occurred to me recently that I’m reading a number of awesome webcomics that include massively enjoyable lesbian characters, so in honor of Valentine’s Day, that upcoming celebration of patriarchal heteronormativity, I thought I’d do a mini-series on lesbian love in webcomics. I know for sure that I’ll be talking about Penny and Aggie, Fans! and YU+ME — if you guys have any other recommendations, let me know!

First up: Red String!

The title is a reference to the “red string of fate,” which is an idea from Chinese legend, basically saying that men and women who are destined to fall in love are connected by a red string. So, Red String is a webcomic that explores the concept of love.

At first glance is looks like a very typical manga– soap-opera-y relationship drama, cute girls in short uniforms, and so on. However, the more I read it, the more I am amazed by its depth, and by it’s un-manga-ness. (As a note, I know I am making gross generalizations about manga here, and that it’s a hugely broad category of story-telling. I am referring here to the non-magical, shoujo romance-type stories that form a large subsection of manga. Also, for the record, I adore all the manga I’ve read. If you find yourself offended by any generalizations that I make, please, I don’t mean your favourite manga. I’m just trying to identify trends.)

Now, when I check the F.A.Q., I see that the author outright denies any claim that her comic is manga–

As an American I create comics, not manga. Red String does not claim to be anything else. My art is influenced by many different artists and writers, both American and Japanese. My work reflects those influences. As for why I set my story in Japan, as an author, I find that if something interests me, I want to write about it. I am interested in Japanese culture. I have tried my best to write a tale as accurate as possible to the traditions and nuances of the culture. However, this story was primarily written for an American audience by an American author, so pacing and style will obviously be different from Japanese manga stories.

I find that the interplay between manga conventions and the American writing produces something that I haven’t seen anywhere else. A Japanese high school is an excellent setting to explore ideas of romance, self-identity, and social politics; although the people are very much the same deep down– i.e., awkward teenagers with all the accompanying problems– the stricter societal norms can really highlight the conflicts inherent in that time of life. There can be drama in just who is speaking to whom, or where one sits, and so on. Some of these were topics of conversation in my own high school, but not all of them, and certainly not to the extent which they seem to be here.

But Red String does something unusual, in taking that setting and then doing something with it that actual manga rarely does, in exploring constantly-changing plots. At least in my experiences with manga, a series tends to be defined by its “pitch,” and so a story about three high school students dealing with will-they/won’t-they relationships is always going to be a story about those three students dealing with their relationships, until everything gets resolved at the very end, or until the series just fizzles out and stops. In Red String, on the other hand, the author is not at all afraid to change things, even extremely important things. People actually get past the flirting and indecision, and date each other. And they break up. “Friends forever” who in traditional manga really would be friends forever move away or drift apart. And then they make new friends. Sworn enemies soften and learn to understand each other. The story is always changing, always focused on the same themes of love in all its forms, but always fresh and interesting.

And then there’s The Gay. Same-sex relationships are not uncommon in manga, but they are almost always implied, rather than acknowleged, especially female ones. Part of this is the way that all romantic relationships in manga spend long periods of time in that will-they/won’t-they stage, but there’s something extra going on with the gay relationships. The characters will rarely state sincerely that they would like to have a relationship. It’s all joking innuendo; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lesbian couple in a manga that could’t be interpreted as “just close friends.” Even those who are probably intended to be seen as “more than friends”– Tomoyo’s feelings for Sakura in Cardcaptor Sakura, or Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune– never quite go out and say it. Which is why I am thrilled to say that Red String continued to be very un-manga-like.

Quoth the author:

This comic’s main theme is LOVE. It is not confined to just heterosexual love. It deals with all forms of love; romantic, parental, platonic, heterosexual, homosexual, unrequited, etc. I believe if you have love, you are a very lucky person. I believe in not discriminating against people who have love in their hearts. Love is better than hate or prejudice. Also, some people have brought up the religious aspect. I am writing a story set in Japan and most Japanese are Buddhist or Shintoist. Less than 2.5% of Japanese are Christian. It would be grossly inaccurate to push Christian beliefs on characters that obviously were not raised in that religion.

Later I will probably talk about the specific gay characters and how fantastic and refreshing I’m finding their storylines to be, but for now I just want to say: AWESOME. Especially because there’s no way to pretend that we’re just talking about “admiration” or “close friendship.” The gay characters talk to their friends, and to each other, and they are honest, and they kiss. That’s the best part! KISSES! Right there! On the page! Unambiguously romantic! AWESOME!

This is not, by any means, the only reason I enjoy this comic; Red String, does, after all, deal with all forms of love, and it deals with them all in fascinating and refreshing ways. It’s just particularly refreshing to see a comic that talks about love without shying away from homosexual love.

To those who are just joining the blog from Red String, welcome! If you want to read some more of what we’ve got here (and I know you do!), why don’t you check out my other “lesbian love in webcomics” articles here? Or you can check out some of my old favourites! I’ve always loved “More Xena; also, thoughts on pregnant heroes“, as well as my critiques of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kiki’s Delivery Service. I hope to see you again– and please share your thoughts in the comments!

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10 Responses to Lesbian love in webcomics: Red String

  1. […] the opposition have gotten more and more out-of-line. (Please note, this post, unlike the one on Red String, is a critique, not a review, meaning it will contain […]

  2. […] is all to due the lovely Gina Biggs at Red String, who has most kindly linked to my review of her comic! I thought I was her biggest fan before, but I was wrong; now I am her biggest fan. […]

  3. Aviva says:

    Great review. Other webcomics with lesbian romances: Angels 2200 and Misfile (which is sort of gay…guy gets turned into a girl and falls in love with another girl). Both of these comics are written by men, but I think they still manage to create interesting (and not entirely prurient) storylines and characters.

  4. eloriane says:

    Thank you! I’ll definitely check them both out. 🙂

  5. […] my body, which is “chubby,” but are actually pretty normal.) As much as I love both Red String and Penny and Aggie, this is one way in which Rosalarian really takes the cake for me– […]

  6. Tangent says:

    There are a decent number of gay and/or lesbian characters in webcomics. Here’s the ones I recall from my reading list:

    http://www.punchanpie.net/cgi-bin/autokeenlite.cgi – The comic itself starts with a relationship between two bisexual young women. A year in, the relationship falls apart, and it continues to follow those two women separately (though neither have started dating again).

    http://www.questionablecontent.net/ – Faye’s sister is gay (and there’s a storyline about her being “outed” to her family, though considering QC’s humorous nature, it’s not done in a serious dramatic fashion), and one of Marten’s coworkers is also a lesbian.

    http://www.clanofthecats.com/ – Chelsea Chattan is actually bisexual, and at one point is in a relationship with another woman (a female vampire who used magic to catch Chelsea’s attention, but still dramatically done).

    http://girlyyy.com/ – The two main characters are in a lesbian relationship. The comic’s rather quirky and bizarre, so expect more humor than serious drama for their relationship.

    http://www.flipsidecomics.com/ – The two female leads in this comic are in a lesbian relationship, though it kind of hits you out of the blue, especially if you’d read Chapter 0 (Maytag’s partner Bern was deep in the closet apparently).

    http://yoshsaga.com/latest.php – Not sure if it counts, but there’s a female catgirl chasing after a robot girl in this one (with the robot girl unnerved by the attention). Those aren’t main characters though.

    http://www.stripteasecomic.com/ – One of the secondary characters is a lesbian who’s been in a couple relationships, and who only realized she was lesbian partway into the comic.

    http://www.abandoncomic.com/ – A couple of the secondary characters in this comic are in a lesbian relationship.

    http://www.urbanfey.net/index.htm – There might be the start of a gay relationship growing in this comic; when one of the cast died and was reincarnated as a guy, the former girl’s partner is finding himself unnerved and not sure how to handle it.

    http://www.menagea3.net/ – NSFW. The comic’s start has two bisexual guys entering into a relationship together. One of the female cast is into both guys and girls and is lusting after her female apartment-mate (as is the guy who lives there too).

    http://www.funinjammies.com/ – One of the two female leads (who are identical twins, interestingly enough) is a lesbian, though not in any current relationships.

    http://www.angels2200.com/ – All female starship crew, there are a couple of lesbian couples on board.

    http://www.footloosecomic.com/ – The female lead just found out that the guy she was crushing over is actually a girl… and is confused because she still has feelings about the other girl.

    http://www.taikiwebcomic.com/ – The story of a teenaged girl who is starting to realize she’s lesbian and is falling for another girl. There are some autobiographical elements to the comic based on the author’s life, apparently.

    http://www.nopinkponies.com/ – One of the secondary female characters is lesbian and interested in the main character (but realizes that the main character is probably straight and is interested in the male lead).

    http://thelounge.comicgenesis.com/ – Several lesbians in the comic. Lots of fanservice, the comic slowly declines in storyline quality the further it goes (in my opinion at least).

    http://www.elgoonishshive.com/ – One of the female characters is bisexual and in a closeted relationship with another female character, there is also a single gay male character who is crushing on the (straight) male lead.

    http://moonfea.comicgenesis.com/ – Currently down. Don’t know if it’ll return, but there were several lesbian relationships in the comic. NSFW, sort of a guilty pleasure of mine.

    http://fribergthorelli.karrey.com/wbk/ – I believe there is a lesbian character in this comic, but it’s been a bit since I read it, so I’m not entirely sure.

    http://www.falcontwin.com/ – NSFW, ended (with a bummer ending), had a female lead who was realizing she was lesbian and was in love with another female character.

    http://www.unicornjelly.com/ – Ended, there was a gay relationship among secondary characters. The sequel, Pastel Defender Heliotrope, had a (sort-of) lesbian relationship between a human girl and an entity that was animating a female sex doll (long story, it’s not a sex comic but rather an epic science fiction/fantasy).

    http://www.pennyandaggie.com/ – There’s a couple gay and lesbian characters, the two female leads are supposedly straight but there’s a bit of apparent sexual tension between them.

    Hope this list helps!

    Rob H.

  7. eloriane says:

    Haha! You found so many of these, your comment got eaten by my spam filter! Good thing I read through it to rescue it!

    I’m familiar with a lot of those, some of which impress me a lot more than others, but you’ve definitely mentioned some I haven’t seen before! Thanks! I’m really excited about reading these (and hopefully reviewing them too!)

    I can’t believe I didn’t think of Punch and Pie, actually; I really love Aerie, and the comic definitely did some really interesting things with the relationship. I’ll review it soon!

  8. […] now reviewed four comics with prominent lesbian characters (Red String, Penny and Aggie, and two by Rosalarian), but this is the first in which the sexual orientation of […]

  9. Tangent says:

    I’m glad some of those weren’t on your radar. ^^ My own reading list is fairly extensive, so I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that I found as many comics as I did. But yeah, I have to agree that some of the comics were far better than others; I suspect it depends on who is writing it and part of the reason behind their adding the characters. The girl writing Taiki, for instance, is a lesbian and is writing a semi-autobiographical story here, and has a far more realistic and respectful story, while The Lounge (when I was still reading it) often uses cheesecake art and no doubt used the lesbian aspect to draw in a fanbase who enjoys faux lesbians (though I’m not 100% sure there; he’s got at least one female friend helping him at times, so it might actually be less over-the-top than it might have become).

    And as I said, some of those are just possibilities and potential homosexual aspects to the story – Urban Fey and Footloose haven’t had anything obvious, but the hints and the groundwork have been laid. (One aspect of Footloose I find rather humorous is the “magical boy” who enjoys crossdressing as a girl but who is actually straight, especially as his female classmates think he’s gay.)

    I’d be remiss in not mentioning one other comic: Planet Karen, which is an autobiographical diary/journal comic in which Karen’s admitted to bisexual tendencies, but the comic often touches on moments, rather than ongoing elements of her life (with the exception of the fire that destroyed her apartment recently). It’s a good read in any event.

    Take care! 🙂

    Rob H.

  10. […] reviews Red String and Penny and Aggie. I’ve interviewed both T Campbell from P&A and Gina Biggs from Red […]

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