I still think comparing romance novels to superheroes bears weight in that there’s little competition in the same fields as these three hold a near monopoly/duopoly over the market. There are or were superhero publications published by other publishers such as Image and Dark Horse but not too many of these survived in the long run, that’s without being bought by either DC or Marvel. This is likely true for romance.
Harlequin in fact bought some of its competitors (most notably Silhouette and Kimani). Recall how DC bought Charlton, Wildstorm (from Image) and that it was a merger between National Publications and Action Comics. For another matter, Marvel bought Malibu. There might be horror, crime, fantasy and science fiction publishers that did the same, just not to my knowledge.
That’s not to say there’s nary their equivalent of Harlequin or DC and Marvel. The closest would be Tor but there are several more doing the same or similar like Penguin, Gollancz and the like as far as I know. Maybe even the Oxford University Press for classics (romance included). If a publisher has a near-monopoly on the market, the market will be associated with it.
Same with a duopoly.
As for romance novels, I wouldn’t say they’re bad or good. I don’t read those much so I won’t judge the quality. There could be some romance novels that do depict relationships in a realistic, believable manner with all the consequences. I think somebody pointed out on Mike Duran’s blog that the problem’s due to being overshadowed by a singular publisher.
There are publishers other than Harlequin who do publish romance novels but it doesn’t help that Harlequin’s the biggest publisher who bought other publishers (Mills and Boon, Cora Verlag and Silhouette to name a few) that it’s a near monopoly. The fact that Harper Collins bought Harlequin despite owning Avon (what was one of Harlequin’s competitor) kind of worsens things.
To put it this way DC and Marvel have a near-duopoly on superheroes that even if other publishers do the same genre, it’s either almost always exceptional or briefly. Image used to publish a lot of superhero comics but it turns out to have found its true calling outside of it. Archie Comics also does superhero comics but its bread and butter is Archie Andrews and friends.
The Phantom might count but he’s also a lone example in the newspaper cartoon world, especially since Spider-Man’s part of a bigger brand. If you have publishers having a near-monopoly on such a genre that it’s going to be the first thing to come to mind. For every Jane Austen and any realistic, non-escapist romance novel there’s another one published by Harlequin.
The same person also pointed out about the distribution model. Harlequin novels were formerly distributed through vehicles, longer than other books did. Likewise Marvel and DC tend to dominate the comics specialty shops with non-superhero comics faring better in bookstores. (From personal experience.)
That and market saturation, which Marvel and DC did in the 1990s though they still arguably do to some extent. The parallels aren’t exact but close enough to give an idea of romance publishing.
I recall how Comic Book Resources used to have a column called She Has No Head which deconstructs sexism in superhero comics. Now as to why some people tend to prefer their muses to be headless, to some it would be that it’s easier to fantasise about what they’ll look like. Even if it’s sometimes dehumanising (actually some deliberately do so).
Not all romances do this as there are others who do bother to show their models’ faces. (Though if he does make eye contact, it’s as if he’s interacting with the reader but oh so too invasive at times.) But it seems for others, headlessness seems preferable to giving them faces (let alone proper eye contact and emotions though that would give away too much to the characters’ personalities).
Again not all romances do this and there are some romance readers who take issue with it. But I think when it comes to headlessness, it makes it easier to fantasise about such a character that they’re dehumanised this way.
Whilst I don’t feel like shaming people for reading romances, I still think the romance novel’s the best example of the female gaze in the wild. I mean, there are women who do objectify men in photography but they’re far from the norm (even then, they’re outnumbered by their gay male counterparts). So we’re ultimately left with romance novels as the most mainstream expression of the female gaze.
I actually think if Dianora Niccolini’s any indication, the female gaze’s not any better especially with the faceless or headless men (something I tried to undo and still do) or men with their eyes turned away. I’m not entirely against beefcake as much as I think the real problem with the use of headless men (like with headless women)’s that it makes it harder to identify who’s who.
Also if such a nude man were to make eye contact, especially if he does the mile wide stare or has strong emotions, he wouldn’t be entirely desexualised but would still come off as an actual person. (Something I learnt too.) So I think when it comes to the use of headless men, not all romances do this but headless bodies seem to be so dehumanised that it’s hard to identify the actual people behind those anyways.
Strange to say but I don’t read romance novels. What I do know’s that it’s rather stigmatised for various reasons. I did have a relative who read romance novels and had pet dogs. But I’m not inclined to talk smack about people’s reading choices much or at least not so much as I did before.
I’m not necessarily in for nor against romance as much as I think it’s one of the truest expression of the female gaze in action en masse. As in it’s one of those stories where men do get objectified a lot, which I think is partly why some men don’t enjoy romance novels much. Among other factors.
Again I’m not out to chastise romance nor to advocate it as much as it’s my epiphany that romance novels are some of the few venues where the female gaze roams freely.
Like I said, anime might not be around forever (even a mangaka might agree with me) and alternatives might come out. Hiroki Azuma said about database consumption as the tendency to categorise and fetishise/favour certain things, treating characters as interchangeable due to having shared traits. Grand narratives might be best illustrated by worldbuilding.
As in the tendency to create a believable environment for characters to thrive in and where characters are used to move the themes and plot in that story. Grand narrative franchises might include Star Wars, Dune, Lord of the Rings, Warhammer 40k and Dungeons and Dragons. This isn’t always the case as you can be moe to characters from grand narratives.
But it’s harder to not be moe when it comes to franchises that don’t have much of or rely on creating plausible worlds to begin with. Again not always the case but I have a feeling that the most moe franchises/brands are any one of those Mills and Boons novels, crime novels and superheroes. (Especially when it comes to being handed down to entirely different authors, differing portrayals in other media and reboots.)
Again not always the case but I think stories that don’t involve much worldbuilding are bound to be moe in some way or another.
It’s always possible to be moe (infatuated with) to characters outside of anime. But I have a feeling that once anime dies, moe might become a feature of fictions that needn’t worldbuilding much. Something like crime fiction and romance novels. As strange as it sounds, it’s even highly plausible given their structures. Whilst not always the case for speculative fiction but at least in the West, there’s much more attention paid to worldbuilding.
Again not always the case but I think crime fiction’s much likelier to be moe and have actual moe characters than science fiction will ever have and do. Rao help if the next crime fiction story not only openly references anime (or certain anime) but also has recognisably moe characters like animal-eared women. Especially if that crime story’s actually also part of a recognisable media brand like the Flash.
Memes can also help make post-anime moe possible as it’s already being done. Though I still think moe might become more of a crime fiction thing should anime die, that’s when some anime fans may turn to substitutes to fill in the gap.