Book Review | Books | Garth Greenwell | Japan

Gengoroh Tagame’s ‘The Passion Of Gengoroh Tagame: Master Of Gay Erotic Manga’: Book Review

BY GARTH GREENWELL

PassionI tend to cover my eyes at horror movies, if I can’t avoid them altogether; I hate violence of all kinds; Law & Order has about as much gore as I can manage. And yet, when I first flipped through this collection of Gengoroh Tagame’s erotic manga, which is obsessed with the domination and  torture of burly, hyper-masculine men, all of it depicted in sexual explicitness, my reaction shifted quickly from cringing shock, to fascination, to something like amazement.

In the most brutal of the seven graphic narratives here (there are also helpful essays by Edmund White, Chip Kidd, and Graham Kolbeins), men are kidnapped, drugged, beaten, and raped in horrible ways, often for the entertainment of an audience. In no way is this book for everyone, as Tagame himself acknowledges in discussion with Kolbeins. But neither is it a book only for those whose fantasies tend in the direction of Tagame’s own. I loved this book by the time I finished it, and I found myself lingering over even very brutal panels, not out of titillation but wonder.

This has mostly to do with Tagame’s art. Even in depicting violence, his drawings have an extraordinary delicacy, conveying extremes of emotion—humiliation, pain, despair, but also arousal, relief and, in one story, heartbreaking devotion—with incredible economy. The essays offered here discuss Tagame’s debt to Japanese woodblock prints, and I found myself marveling at the fine textures of his work, the gorgeous patterning of clothing, floor tiles, landscapes, the hairs on a man’s legs or the sweat on his face. 

Most of Tagame’s panels are too explicit to be shared here. But my own introduction to his work came through this wonderful short video my brilliant friend Max Freeman made as part of an interview he did with Tagame for the Huffington Post. (Max is also one of the creators of the fabulous queer web series The 3 Bits, whose Kickstarter campaign you should rush over to support.) In the video, Max films Tagame making one of his sketches (this one is rated PG) and talking charmingly about how he became an artist. 

 

For all their beauty as art, the narratives collected in The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame—appearing here for the first time in English—are also compelling as stories. They range across genres, styles, and historical periods, and often have elements of fantasy or science fiction. (One story features a drug that turns men into sexual beasts; another has a detective who receives psychic revelations through sexual experiences of certain kinds.) Though all of them have at their center sexual interactions defined by domination and submission, not all of them are brutal. In four of the stories, the sex is consensual, and in my favorite, the very moving “Exorcism,” a world of samurai warriors is the unexpected setting for almost unbearable tenderness. 

TagameIt may be precisely this emotional range that lifts Tagame’s manga. In “Missing,” a story of political kidnapping that has some of the most excruciating scenes in the book, what seems like an unremittingly dark narrative transforms suddenly into a story of love, if of a disquieting kind. These kinds of moves elevate Tagame’s stories above simple narrative frames for sexual acts, and they kept me dizzied and invested as I read. As did the intelligence that's everywhere evident in these pages, a restless interrogation of phenomena with which we’re all complicit, whether the ritualization of violence in sport and entertainment or the cult of masculinity that Tagame’s stories repeatedly undermine and exploit.

I don’t think it’s likely I would have found this collection without Max’s video and the recommendation of other friends. Had I stumbled upon it in a bookstore, I’m fairly sure I would have set it down after the briefest of glances. But reading it through I felt what is one of my measures of meaningful art: having spent time in Tagame’s imagination, I turn from it with a richer sense of the world. As I say above, this book certainly isn’t for everyone—but don’t be too quick to conclude that it isn’t for you. 

Previous reviews...
Jason K. Friedman’s ‘Fire Year’
David Levithan’s ‘Two Boys Kissing’
Thomas Glave’s ‘Among the Bloodpeople: Politics and Flesh’
Duncan Fallowell’s ‘How to Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits’

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, which won the 2010 Miami University Press Novella Prize and was a finalist for both the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award and a Lambda Award. He is currently an Arts Fellow at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop.

Feed This post's comment feed

Comments

  1. Definitely on my list

    Posted by: MickyFlip | Dec 8, 2013 1:51:31 PM


  2. I have been a fan of Gengoroh Tagame for a long time. I am glad to see it being recognized here. I do find it interesting the comment, "Most of Tagame’s panels are too explicit to be shared here....". I was unaware that Towleroad self-censored and is so, um, "PG" or perhaps "PC" conscious.

    Cut and paste Tagame's name in your search engine. Go to his site. His work is stunning.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Dec 8, 2013 1:54:23 PM


  3. Thanks so much for the eloquent and thoughtful review of our book, Garth!! I read Towleroad on the daily, so it's a thrill to see Gengoroh Tagame's work recognized in this space.

    If anyone's interested in learning more about Tagame and gay Japanese artwork in general, look up my (NSFW) Tumblr, Gay Manga! ^_^

    <3 Graham

    Posted by: Graham Kolbeins | Dec 8, 2013 2:12:51 PM


  4. I'll stick with "Hello Kitty"

    Posted by: JonnyNYNY2FLFL | Dec 8, 2013 3:21:11 PM


  5. No one does porn like the Japanese.

    Posted by: anon | Dec 8, 2013 7:26:42 PM


  6. I like his art. Until he starts drawing about scatology and mutilation.

    Posted by: Felix | Dec 8, 2013 7:40:51 PM


  7. If you like Tagame's work, but not the more "extreme" elements, then check out some Bara from Go Fujimoto or Jiraiya.

    Posted by: FuryOfFirestorm | Dec 9, 2013 3:07:25 AM


  8. Tagame is the best Gay erotic artist working today, clearly the heir to Tom of Finland. Some of his BDSM subject matter is much too extreme for me, though. It's too bad some people believe that sex between men must needs involve pain and degradation in order to be exciting.

    Posted by: Stuffed Animal | Dec 9, 2013 9:46:04 AM


Post a comment







Trending


« «Closeted Harvard Students Inadvertently Outed By Facebook« «