[Translation] Tagame Gengoroh’s “Painting the essence of gay erotic art” Part 1

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Tornado by Tagame Gengoroh

Calling himself a “gay artist,” Tagame’s manga overflows with sadism, masochism, fetishism, and other representations of extreme sexuality. His readers subsequently become captivated by this intense worldview. Until now, Tagame has been perceptively pursuing the possibilities of the pornographic genre. How were his distinctive works born? Where did they come from? We asked him to tell us his story.

His first publication was in “Shōsetsu JUNE”?

[Int:] Although it was around 1986 when you started publishing manga and stories under the name “Tagame Gengoroh,” you were writing and painting before then under different names. Your first manga was actually published in “Shōsetsu JUNE,” so could you please tell us a little about the sequence of events leading up to that publication and how the work came into being?

[Tagame:] The first time I drew manga was during my high school years. At that time, shōnen manga was undergoing a renaissance in ero gekiga style,[1] and I particularly enjoyed reading the slightly homoerotic works of artists such as Hisauchi Michio and Miyanishi Keizō. On the other hand, I was also very attracted to the deep black-and-white contrasts to be found within the work of Rockwell Kent.

The idea to write a manga which fused the worldviews of Hisauchi Michio and Miyanishi Keizō with the illustrative techniques of Rockwell Kent quickly emerged in my mind, and so I wrote a manga in which the protagonist is a young man who prostitutes himself whilst dressed as a woman. At the time, I had no intention of having this draft published, but when I entered university and casually showed it to a classmate who wanted to become a shōjo manga artist, she recommended that I try and send it off to JUNE.

[Int:] After that, your [literary] style underwent a great change and you began to write works which focussed on “bears” (manly men with beards and thick body hair). Was there perhaps an event which caused this change?

[Tagame:] I was strongly influenced by an American magazine called Drummer targeting a “hard gay” audience that I came to know during my first trip overseas when I was a university student.

Although I realised during my youth that I was personally attracted to bears, at that time men covered in body hair with flowing beards did not really appear within the pages of Japanese gay magazines and I came to think that “my preferences are really kind of marginal” and “it must be forbidden to draw beards in gay magazines.” But within magazines like Drummer could be found erotic art that straightforwardly presented my personal desires, which opened my eyes and thus I experienced a real sense of culture shock.

[Int:] On the other hand, you were writing many manga with so-called “shota” protagonists.

[Tagame:] For the longest time, I have always thought that I do not possess within me any kind of “shota moe.[2] At one point, however, I suddenly thought “when I was a child, I enjoyed seeing the protagonists of shōnen manga fall into hardship” and I thus tried to draw something along those lines and found it unexpectedly enjoyable (he laughs). Whilst I am not at all turned on by real, 3D boys or the androgynous boys appearing within shota works, I have realised that I do quite like “supermen with the form of young boys” which appear similar to the protagonists of shōnen manga.

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Overcoming differences across media

[Int:] You have written a great number of works not only for gay magazines, but also for Boys Love (BL) magazines. I wonder if there are any differences in what these two types of magazine are looking for?

[Tagame:] To start with, there is a tendency for gay (male) readers to worry themselves over their relationship with the characters appearing within the manga,[3] whereas female readers tend to concern themselves only with the coupling in the context of the work itself (he laughs). Therefore, when I am writing for a gay magazine, I think about the kinds of men that I like and what I will do with them, whereas when I am writing for a BL magazine, I try and think specifically about the relationship between the two men [appearing in the story].

Also, even though we can speak about “gay magazines” and “BL magazines” as singular entities, it’s important to recognise that each specific magazine has different things which they are looking for. For example, whilst there were a number of manga which included romantic elements within the comic anthology called Kinniku Otoko (Muscular Men), Comic JUNE was quite different. In fact, it had more “realistically”[4] erotic short stories than most gay magazines, and so illustrations which matched that mood were really necessary when drawing for Comic June.

Furthermore, if I had to say, it seems to me that women and heterosexual men tend to be able to read much more deeply between the lines [than gay men]. In the case of gay men, once they have satisfied their [sexual] desires through their reading, their intellectual engagement with the text tends to come to an abrupt end (he laughs).[5] Nonetheless, because I personally think that “more than anything, I want to draw porn!”, the fact that gay men are able to satisfy their desires through my drawings makes me very happy. I really do believe that being able to become aroused through looking at art without overthinking it whilst also enjoying its beauty is actually something which is very important.

[Int:] I think that one of the most amazing things about your work is its ability to meet the expectations of both those readers who want to read things deeply and those who are looking to have their desires quickly satisfied.

By the way, over the past few years, I get the feeling that the direction your work is going has once again undergone a few small changes and that there is now an abundant variety in your works that wasn’t necessarily present before. For example, in your short work “Fisherman’s Lodge” (Fuyu no Ban’ya) that was serialised within the pages of the gay magazine Bádi throughout 2011, I noticed a lack of extreme scenes and more of a focus on the emotional relationship developing between two men. I received a strong “BL-like” impression from the work.

[Tagame:] Around 2006 and 2007, I completed “Do You Remember the South Island’s POW Camp” (Kimi yo shiru ya minami no goku) and “The House of Brutes” (Gedō no ie) that were serialised in the gay magazines G-Men and Bádi, as well as “Virtus” in the BL magazine Gekidan.[6] At that time, I had a sensation that was akin to a radical break within myself. I felt that I had exhausted the themes which I had been exploring until then via “Do You Remember the South Island’s POW Camp” and “The House of Brutes.”

On the other hand, until this moment of breakage, whereas I had previously been changing how I created my work in response to the needs of the various magazines in which I was being published, I took a radically different approach with “Virtus.” Instead, I assigned myself the rules to “draw whatever I want without concerning myself with the demands of the medium” and to “draw without using the extreme sexual images that I had been selling up until that point.” I wanted to see just how far I would be able to go if I discarded my “signature moves” and tried to write a different kind of narrative.

As a result, I realized that even if I created something that didn’t contain extreme depictions of sex or that places a focus on romantic content, I would in fact be able to continue drawing. I therefore also came to understand that I didn’t need to break down my stylistic intent based on the medium of publication. I no longer had to write in a certain way “because it’s a gay magazine” or “because it’s a BL magazine.” To put it another way, holding the belief that “you have to draw in such and such a manner” no longer came to influence my artistic process. I am able to create works how I want to create them. So perhaps this is the cause of greater variation throughout my current practice.

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Tagame Gengoroh (2014). “Painting the essence of gay erotic art” from Bijutsu Techō Vol. 66, pp. 114-119.
Trans: T. Baudinette

Part Two is available here.

Notes:

[1] Simply put, a movement towards the creation of more “realistic” erotic manga rather than the more stylised artistic forms then dominating pornographic manga.

[2] An affective relationship with shota characters. As a term, moe has a widespread usage in Japanese popular culture to signal an appreciative relationship with a [typically] fictional character or physical and emotional traits.

[3] Here Tagame uses the phrase “悶々とする” (mon mon to suru), which expresses an extreme sense of urgent worry and concern. I have chosen to maintain the term “worry” although I recognise this might seem over-wrought. I believe he is using the term ironically.

[4] Tagame uses “即物的” (sokubutsuteki ni), which can also mean “pragmatically” or “utilitarian.” The context suggests, however, that he means that the stories in Comic JUNE were more practically focused on the mechanics of sex than on romantic or other concerns. This is indeed consistent with Tagame’s broader thinking about “realistic” depictions of homoeroticism, a key criterion which he has utilised in the past to define what can and cannot be considered “gay erotic art.”

[5] Here Tagame is referring to the fact that most gay male consumers of his comics do so for masturbatory purposes, as I have explored through my own ethnographic work.

[6] Personally, I would not consider Gekidan to be a BL magazine, since it is published by Bakudan Comics (a publisher of geikomi). Tagame’s description of it as such is interesting, and is definitely something that needs to be explored further.

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