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December 26 , 2014

Sex, Japanese style

Over the course of the last 15 years, many have been the columns dedicated to graphic novels, comic books, LGBT superheroes and the like.

It is the new mythology, the representational pantheon of the modern age, the visible incarnation of the Jungian archetypes, given spandex-clad life with boundless bosom and bulging biceps.

Comics and graphic novels have also provided a milieu in which writers can collaboratively unburden themselves, recalling moments from the past, righting wrongs, rehashing decisions good and ill.

Comedy, tragedy, political agitation and prurient romps have all found their way onto the pages of comic books and graphic novels, from such luminaries as Roberta Gregory, Donna Barr, Robert Kirby, Samuel R. Delany, Jennifer Camper, Jon Macy, Sina Sparrow, Carlo Quispe and more others than could fit into these pages.

What has not been mentioned here, at least not so that anyone would notice, is the works of those toiling in the world’s largest comic market: Japan. Manga (comic books) and anime (cartoons) produced in Japan come in such copious amounts that virtually everything one could think of has been published.

While gay-themed manga is common, the most plentiful and visible of it is referred to as yaoi, or “boys’ love,” and is produced for consumption by adolescent females. Just as heterosexual men in the United States seem fixated on the idea of two women together, in Japan, heterosexual female love the guy-on-guy action.

However, Japan being what it is, there is also gay-themed manga produced for gay, by gay men. That is the theme of Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, a collection presented by Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd and Graham Kolbeins (paperback, $35, Fantagraphics).

The book is a follow-up to last year’s Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, a collection by Kidd, Ishii, Kolbeins and Dan Nadel collecting the work of the gay manga master. Tagame’s work is included in Massive as well, along with Inu Yoshi, Kumada Poohsuke, Takeshi Matsu, Jiraiya, Gai Mizuki, Fumi Miyabi, Seizoh Ebisubashi and Kazuhide Ichikawa.

“These tales as a whole involve forbidden desire between men, and succumbing thereto,” Kidd writes in his introduction. “This has a lot to do with the state of contemporary Japanese gay culture, which seems to say, ‘No, I’m not allowed to do this, but I have to. I sure hope nobody is looking. I sure hope nobody finds out.’ But of course we’re looking, and we want to know. And we have found out, and that is, frankly, what the characters and their creators really want.”

Massive focuses on homoerotic manga made by gay men, but even within that broad category, this volume is by no means comprehensive,” Kolbeins writes. “Thousands of works have been drawn by hundreds of artists, so rather than attempting to encompass a complete history of that highly heterogeneous terrain, we’ve chosen to profile nine of the most influential gay mangaka making work today.”

“As the title suggests, the work in Massive represents a popular trend within gay manga of depicting larger-bodied masculine male figures 0 but each artist in this collection lays claim to a vision of male-male sexuality all his own,” he notes.

Gengoroh Tagame’s contribution to the collection is a chapter from his 600-page post-WWII epic Do You Remember South Island POW Camp?, taking place during the American occupation of Japan. It was an era that continued the scarring of the national psyche, arguably as much as being the only target of atomic weapons did.

Lt. Kiyotaka, a prison of war, becomes the sex slave of Maj. William Howard, the camp’s warden, to get quinine to fight his sole remaining private’s malaria. It’s hairy, it’s kinky, it’s as politically questionable as Tom of Finland’s fixation on Nazi uniforms, and it’s awesome.

Inu Yoshi’s tale “Kandagawa-Kun” follows a young bear who is in the process of breaking up with his boyfriend when he wins a helper android who is a little too interested in fulfilling his sexual needs. “I’m your mildly erotic humanoid helper,” he tells him. “It follows to reason my first objective is to resolve any sexual frustration on the part of my owner.” The story is oddly adorable, actually.

Kumada Poohsuke is completely out of the closet, and most of his comics are at least partially autobiographical… and completely, unselfconsciously revealing. His contribution to the anthology is comprised of short, humorous strips, and he is a kinky little pervert who takes absolute joy in being that kinky little pervert!

He also has a longer story dealing with dress-sock fetishism. It’s less engrossing but every bit as revealing.

Takeshi Matsu’s style is closer to what one expects from manga, and follows young Kannai, who draws very realistic bodies on his sketchpad, then holds them up so he can see real people’s faces above them. The new boy, a total jock, figures out what he’s doing, but appreciates it. Kannai suddenly has a chance for romance.

Jiraiya loves… ahem… massive men. Men around whom he cannot fully stretch his arms. And that’s what is in his incredibly polished pinups and his amusing tale of Guu, a caveman who wants to have a baby but can’t quite seem to wrap his head around the idea that he’s not going to get one by having sex with other cavemen.

Gai Mizuki was lured into gay manga by the internet, seeing his friends producing art. His story of a gym teacher who never learned to jump rope is simultaneously sexy and ridiculous, perhaps the most endearing and naïve entrance into camp culture ever.

Next up is Fumi Miyabi, who takes on Japanese history and mythology for the tale of a demon who comes down from his mountain and gets schtupped into submission. It’s seldom that on feels sorry for a tengu, a mischievous demon-creature, but he did get schooled pretty badly by the villagers he came to prey on.

Seizoh Ebisubashi gives us the tale of a sexually insatiable (and heterosexual) fifth-grade teacher who gets used and abused by the school’s janitor and then one of his pupil’s fathers. There is a major threesome and everyone leaves happy, as might be expected.

According to the next artist, Kazuhide Ichikawa, pornography can save lives. He would know, as his story of two opposing Yakuza bosses hypnotized into an inability to keep out of each others’ pants illustrates. The Yakuza is the Japanese mob, and they’re some bad mamajamas. It’s also pretty funny hearing them talk smack about each other while kissing passionately.

The book winds up with a timeline of same-sex love in Japanese culture, which was fairly accepting of it until the entry of Western culture and Christianity. It’s interesting to think of where Japan’s gay community would be had that not happened; of course, there is also the possibility that a separate construction of sexual orientation would have arisen, the classical ideal of doing the paternal duty and then having male lovers on the side. Regardless, the point is moot, thanks to some overzealous Christian missionaries and Western governments.

Of course, if that had happened, we wouldn’t have Fantagraphics’ Massive, so there is that.

 

 

 

 

 

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