TCAF 2015 – Gengoroh Tagame Talks Gay Manga, “Bara,” BL and Scanlation

TCAF 2015 – Gengoroh Tagame Talks Gay Manga, “Bara,” BL and Scanlation

In early May 2015, Japanese gay manga artist Gengoroh Tagame was a special guest at Toronto Comic Arts Festival, his second visit to TCAF. Entitled “Gay Comics Art Japan,” the panel featured Tagame, along with Graham Kolbeins and Anne Ishii (editors/translators for Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, from Fantagraphics), and Leyla Aker, Senior Vice President of Publishing at VIZ Media.

What resulted was a lively talk about the differences, and the sometimes problematic relationship between gay manga and boys love manga, how both genres are perceived in Japan and abroad, the impact of online piracy/scanlation on gay manga creators, and much more.

UPDATE: Listen to the audio clip of the panel on SoundCloud. The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.

 

TCAF 2015: GAY COMICS ART JAPAN

ANNE:
I’m just going to introduce the panelists and myself real quickly and then we’ll jump right into the discussion. We’re going to talk about gay comics art and how it intersects with different forms of queer manga.

Gengoroh Tagame, photographed by Leslie Kee for "Out in Japan"

Gengoroh Tagame, photographed by Leslie Kee for “Out in Japan”

I’m Anne Ishii, I’ll be moderating and translating for Gengoroh Tagame, who’s in the centre. (Tagame is a) renowned master of gay erotic manga as well as an illustrator and fashion model, as you can see here [referring to presentation slide of Tagame photographed by Leslie Kee for Gap].

Next to him, shooting the Maysles documentary on gay manga is Graham Kolbeins, filmmaker, writer… my better half. Not in the legal sense, but you know… (laughter)

Leyla Aker (is) over on the far left, in all black. SVP, sorry, Senior Vice-President, in case you don’t know publishing industry shorthand, of publishing for VIZ Media, and responsible for so much great boys love (BL) and yaoi manga for the SuBLime imprint which everybody should be downloading legally uh… as much as possible. She’s better known as “Turkish Delight”… (laughs)

LEYLA:
You had to go there!

ANNE:
It’s because she’s Armenian, that’s why we call her that. (groans from audience/panel) No, she’s Turkish, she’s Turkish! Calm down. Okay, so we’re going to talk a little bit about queer comics, gay manga, and BL and everything in between.

Let’s start with Graham. I think he’s going to say a little bit about Gengoroh Tagame and gay manga in general.

 

INTRODUCING GENGOROH TAGAME AND GAY MANGA

GRAHAM:
Thanks, Anne. So, MASSIVE is the brand that Anne and I do, and it is mostly concentrated on gay male Japanese artists making manga. But we’re interested in branching out into other forms of queerness: lesbian manga, transgender, intersex manga. So, more to come.

Tagame_PassionBut today I’m talking about Gengoroh Tagame, who’s our guest of honour and he is one of the most internationally renowned gay mangaka. He was the first commercially successful manga artist making manga about gay subject matter.

In the early ‘90s, he had a breakout hit, that helped him launch G-Men magazine  in 1994, along with two other editors from the gay magazine Badi. But before that, Tagame had actually been drawing manga all the way back to high school. This was before gay magazines were even publishing manga in a serious way, so the only real outlets for him were BL magazines. He sent his work to June, which is a famous BL magazine from the 1970s, and he was using a different pen name at the time.

G-Men Magazine

G-Men Magazine

He started using the pen name Gengoroh Tagame in 1986 when he drew his first manga for Bara Komi, the first magazine that was exclusively devoted to manga by gay men. It was a supplement of Barazoku magazine, which a groundbreaking publication when it came out in 1971. It was the first mass market gay magazine in Japan. About 15 years into their publishing history, they began focusing more on manga.

Bara Komi was a watershed moment for the genre, but it wasn’t until the mid ‘90s when G-Men came along, that the platform really existed for gay manga to flourish. G-Men helped launch the careers of a lot of amazing artists and you can see some of those artists in the anthology that we just put out through Fantagraphics a few months ago called Massive.

Gengoroh Tagame has published over 26 books of manga in Japanese, and over 50 books altogether in five different languages. In addition to his manga, he’s a novelist and he’s a historian. He’s the writer of a series of books called Gay Erotic Art In Japan, so he’s seriously engaged in looking at the historical aspects of this type of work.

Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It

Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It – Back cover art by Gengoroh Tagame

This is the book I just mentioned, Massive— it has excerpt of Gengoroh Tagame’s work as well as Jiraiya’s, who did the cover art, and seven other great artists who have been making an impact on the gay manga scene over the last two decades.

This is the story that we excerpted for Tagame’s chapter in Massive, called Do You Remember South Island POW Camp. The whole thing is 700 pages long and was published over 60 issues of G-Men Magazine. It is historical fiction set in an American POW camp immediately after the war in 1945, and it sort of looks at the power imbalances of war through the filter of BDSM. It’s a really interesting work that I hope can get published in its entirety someday, in English.

Gengoroh Tagame has also had a few standalone collections released by the German publisher Bruno Gmuender, translated by Anne Ishii. The latest is Fisherman’s Lodge. It’s sort of a short or a medium length work for Tagame, 112 pages. It’s a very quiet, meditative, intimate story set in this lodge up in the mountains during the winter. This younger man goes there to work with an older fisherman and they form a relationship. It’s very tender, even though it has some rough sex in it too. (audience laughs)

Fishermans Lodge by Gengoroh Tagame | Bruno Gmunder

Fishermans Lodge by Gengoroh Tagame | Bruno Gmunder

Gunji and Endless Game are the two other books that Bruno Gmunder has released of Tagame’s work.

His latest manga, currently being serialized in Monthly Action magazine, is My Brother’s Husband (Ototo no Otto). The first volume of this work is being released later this month in Japanese, and it’s remarkable because it’s the first manga that he has made for a mainstream manga magazine, not for a gay audience necessarily, but for a general audience. It started in November 2014 and has been a huge success. (NOTE: In less than a month after its release, Ototo no Otto Vol. 1 had its 4th printing)

These are some images from various moments in the story. It’s about a straight man whose twin brother had moved to Canada and gotten married to a man. His brother passes away, so his brother’s husband comes to Japan and visits him and the young daughter that he’s raising. It explores issues of identity in really interesting ways and just what it means to be gay in Japanese society.

This character, Mike, the Canadian husband, he comes to visit and there’s a bit of cultural exchange — he shows the Japanese family traditional Canadian cuisine. He makes them a Kraft Dinner. (audience laughs). So there’s some really light-hearted…

My Brother's Husband (Ototo no Otto) by Gengoroh Tagame

From My Brother’s Husband (Ototo no Otto) by Gengoroh Tagame

ANNE:
Is that a First Nations dish or…?

GRAHAM:
It’s the national dish of Canada I hear. And…

MAN IN AUDIENCE:
…is the Canadian a ginger?

ANNE:
That’s a good question!

GENGOROH:
Not ginger but brown, I think.

GRAHAM:
The young daughter who’s very plucky and resilient, she takes a liking to this Canadian man and it’s just a really sweet story.

But, you know, not everything can be sweet so… (audience laughs as Cretian Cow comes on screen)

Our latest translation, this is a piece that MASSIVE published– it was supposed to be here for TCAF but there was a bit of a shipping snafu so, we’re taking preorders– it’s called Cretian Cow. It’s a story based on Greek mythology, the story of Theseus and the Minotaur.

Cretian Cow by Gengoroh Tagame | Massive

Cretian Cow by Gengoroh Tagame | Massive

ANNE:
The Minotaur’s also Canadian. (audience laughs)

MAN:
And maybe ginger!

ANNE:
Also ginger.

GRAHAM:
So unlike what you may remember from your studies into antiquity, the Minotaur takes Theseus hostage and sort of sexually enslaves him. I won’t spoil too much but it’s a great, surprising story, every page has a surprise on it. It includes male impregnation, so that’s always fun! (audience laughs)

In addition to the publishing, MASSIVE has also been engaged in making clothes, and we’ve done a few different t-shirts with Gengoroh Tagame. You can find them at our booth at TCAF and also at the TCAF shop– they carry a number of Massive products and some rare Gengoroh Tagame prints from the first time he was at TCAF two years ago.

Massive Jiraiya Tank Top | © 2015 MASSIVE - Gay Manga Goods

Massive Jiraiya Tank Top

The next thing we’re doing is this series of tank tops designed by Gengoroh Tagame, Jiraiya (who just came out for a U.S. tour last month), and Seizo Ebisubashi, all playing on the theme of “Massive.” They each drew original illustrations interpreting that word.

Anyway, that’s all just a fragment of Gengoroh Tagame’s esteemed history and his oeuvre but just wanted to show you some of the things that he’s been up to lately.

ANNE:
Maybe we’ll have Leyla talk now…

LEYLA:
Why don’t we keep going on the Tagame train?

ANNE:
Okay, all right…

GENGOROH:
Hello everybody, I’m Gengoroh Tagame and almost everything about me has already been told, so there is nothing to say now… (audience laughs)

ANNE:
There goes the train.

LEYLA:
Okay. The train is now… so just to reiterate what Anne said, the reason why I’m sitting here — which I was questioning on the way over, I’m like, “Why am I on this panel?” but…

ANNE:
You’re questioning?

LEYLA:
I’m questioning. But the reason I’m on this panel is, one of the imprints that VIZ Media has is called SuBLime, which is dedicated towards boys’ love and yaoi manga publishing. Does anybody here not know what that is? (no hands are raised in audience) Okay, you’re good. Just checking.

Embracing Love Vol. 1 & 2 by Youka Nitta | SuBLime Manga © Youka Nitta

Embracing Love Vol. 1 & 2 by Youka Nitta | SuBLime Manga

That got off the ground almost like three, four years ago? It came out because years ago, when the first manga boom was happening in the United States, the first few boys’ love books came over, I think from Central Park Media. That was Embracing Love by Nitta Youka, and all those sorts of things. (NOTE: Embracing Love is now available from SuBLime Manga)

Tokyopop then launched their own imprint (BLU Manga). There were a bunch of smaller fan imprints like Drama Queen that also started, and a couple of other publishers were dabbling in it. The manga bust followed up the manga boom, and almost all of those entities went out of business.

So a couple years later, Libre, who is the largest publisher of boys’ love (manga) in Japan, approached us and said ‘Hey, would you guys be interested in working together to bring this material back to English speaking audiences?’ And we said sure. So that’s how it started.

Right now, we have… I’m not exactly sure about our total number of volumes is, but if you go into SublimeManga.com, most of what we publish is available in digital form. We also made it DRM-free, and downloadable, since that seemed to be very important to this audience. And then we have the print component as well.

 

BOYS’ LOVE AND GAY MANGA: A PROBLEMATIC RELATIONSHIP

LEYLA:
The reason why I was asking myself on the way over here why am I on this panel is because of the problematic relationship between boys’ love and gay manga.

You know, clearly it’s an issue, it’s one that I think anybody who’s involved with that industry (is concerned about). But especially NOT in Japan, where those lines are very, very clearly delineated and there’s not much crossover– although I guess Tagame-san could actually tell me if that’s not true.

Love Stage!! by Eiki Eiki and Taishi Zaou | Sublime Manga

Love Stage!! by Eiki Eiki and Taishi Zaou | Sublime Manga

Here, I think those boundaries are a lot more fluid. One of the interesting things that came out of this whole SuBLime imprint is that because we are publishing this stuff ourselves, directly, digitally– we have access to a lot of consumer data. You know, it’s all confidential, we can’t see anybody’s personal information but just in the buyer behaviour, one of the things that really, really startled me was that I always just assumed that 95% of the audience for BL manga was women, and it wasn’t.

What we actually found out was… depending on what volume was in question, fully up to 50% of our reader engagement was male. On average, it’s about 15 to 20%, and that to me was really startling, because I would not have anticipated that at all.

It’s also really cool because it means that even the definitions and barriers in my own head as a professional who should know better… you know that even those get broken down by what people are into, what turns them on, and what they read.

The other little factoid that has come out of that is that the greatest engagement with male readers was the more romantic titles. It wasn’t the hardcore sex titles, so I don’t know. This is pure speculation, but maybe that’s an area that isn’t as well served in gay literature.

ANNE:
So following up then, I’ll just embed what you were saying into a question and translation, but I wonder maybe you could start by talking about first what you think is the difference between the readers in the US and Japan, in terms of how we decide to draw boundaries between what’s considered BL, what’s considered a gay manga.

Gay Erotic Art in Japan vol. 1 by Gengoroh Tagame

Gay Erotic Art in Japan vol. 1 by Gengoroh Tagame

GENGOROH:
When I look at gay art in comics as a critic, I get really anxious about that division precisely because the simplistic way of dividing it is that BL represents more romance, narratives, thinner body types, more effeminate characters. And then so-called “gay manga” would be just more diesel, big guys and more hardcore sex, etc.

But what happens when the creator is a woman doing more hardcore work? Is that considered gay? Is it BL just because she’s female? Is it about the audience, or is it about the creators? So those are definitely things I think about a lot as a critic.

Furthermore, going back to the gender of creators, that’s problematic as well because sometimes BL creators– and I’m speaking just from personal acquaintance with some of these creators– may be biologically female or identify on the page as heterosexual women, but sometimes they’re actually lesbian or transgender.

And then sometimes it’s the case that a woman will draw sort of muscle-y characters and then take on male pen names for publication in gay media. Which is also very… not problematic, but just raises questions, just how do we start to categorize?

There are anecdotes from the editors of gay magazines who see these submissions, see a male pen name and assume that they’re men, write to (the artist), want to meet, when they meet, it’s a shock! (laughs).

ANNE:
Tagame-sensei is not specifying whether that’s like a bad shock or a good shock but of course, the fact that there’s that schism between what people are expecting and what the reality is, is really interesting…

 

YAOI, BL, GAY MANGA, BARA: DO LABELS MATTER?

GENGOROH:
I mentioned in the Massive anthology that I actually personally hate the description “bara” comics, because it’s inaccurate and a false representation, but I’m thinking now based on all the issues I’ve just delineated that “bara” could actually be a very convenient term to describe the situation, or the style.

Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, edited by Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd and Graham Kolbeins| Fantagraphics

Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It | Fantagraphics

The reason I hated the description “bara comics” is because the one thing I wanted in the 21st century for people to stop appropriating this terrible word in association with gay men. I don’t want there to be any link between this derogatory term with the gay community. But, seeing it used as a way to describe just the content makes it apparent that it’s very convenient for talking about art that is linked by characters that are muscle-y, huge, and hairy, versus more feminine theme of willowy, romantic figures. That’s a delineation that I can appreciate, I think now, the more I think about it– “bara” could potentially emancipate the content from its creators.

So I don’t know if it’s the same in the U.S., but if you see advertisements or magazine covers in Japan featuring big guys, it reads as gay. However, nobody looks at Playboy and thinks (that magazine) reads as lesbian! (laughs)

Affiliating the creator with his art is sort of a false positive because, just because the… creator is a gay man does not necessarily mean that the man he’s depicting has to be gay. Furthermore, when you’re looking at some of their work it’s not that they’re doing anything gay. We’re kind of assuming because the creator is a gay man that the art has to be gay male, which is a little problematic.

ANNE:
I agree. Sometimes in making our clothing, for example, there’s this assumption that it’s risqué and really it’s just a topless man at the end of the day, which is in itself not problematic but there’s this idea that it’s edgy because it suggests something, but that’s all in our heads.

Or a similar question, and this leads to this idea of jargon and nomenclature which I’m sure you [Leyla] deal a lot with, between yaoi and BL, but what do you think as an editor going into this? (You) see it from the point of view of the creators: How they want to be described in relationship to their work? And then to see how the audience can create their own lexicon.

LEYLA:
There’s a lot there. There’s a lot there…

ANNE:
In as few paragraphs as possible. (laughs)

The Man of Tango by Tetuzoh Okadaya | SuBLime Manga © 2013 Tetuzoh Okadaya

The Man of Tango by Tetuzoh Okadaya | SuBLime Manga

LEYLA:
Yeah exactly, exactly, I’ll stick to one chapter.

So, about two years ago, there were two major authors who shall remain unnamed, who we really wanted to go after, who the fans were requesting constantly. We couldn’t end up publishing either of them, because they objected to being put into the category, into a BL imprint. They did not want their work pigeonholed like that. These were, by the way, BL authors.

But I have to respect that because it’s the intention of the creator of something that can never really be put aside regardless of how the audience takes it. And I agree with them, you know. If I had my druthers there would be no imprints. There would just be books.

The nomenclature that we’re talking about exists not for the benefit of the works themselves, but exists for sales. At the end of the day that’s what it’s for. When you go into a bookshop, when you go online to a vendor, there has to be some way to categorize all the stuff to maximize sales. That’s the way that the world works. We get that, we understand it, but it’s unfortunate because when you exist with those categories for so long, it cannot help but shape your perception of the content, which I think is really unfortunate. But I also don’t see a way to really get beyond that.

Yesterday in one of the panels I was actually on with Deb Aoki, when we were talking about female-friendly manga for libraries, the whole issue of the… genres of the particular works came into question and in particular, the difference between what they mean in Japan and what they mean outside of Japan.

This kind of loops back to one of the things that we were talking about earlier, is that the categorizations that it may have existed in the creator’s mind in Japan are definitely not necessarily how they’re mapped onto the audience expectations here. So that adds a whole other layer of complexity onto it.

So I guess at the end of the day, do I think these labels are problematic? Do I think that they’re ultimately good for the work? Yes and no. Do I think that there’s a really viable system to get away from them at this point in time? I don’t really see that, but if anybody has any ideas let me know, I would be happy to entertain them.

 

GAY MANGA, THE INTERNET, AND SCANLATION

GENGOROH:
I wonder if these categories haven’t been exacerbated by the proliferation of the Internet.

LEYLA:
Oh yeah, for sure.

What has happened with the scanlations and fansubbing and everything over the last decade is great in that it has extended the audience for this content exponentially. It is also bad because as you’re probably aware, Internet and rational thought, they don’t really mix too well. (laughs)

So it’s been really fascinating to watch over the past few years the hardening of the perception of this content on the Internet, being done by the fans who themselves say that they’re trying to defend this content. And it’s self-reinforcing. You have all seen examples of the Internet outrage machine at work and it’s been interesting to watch those conversations. In a way, the fandom is also hardening its own perceptions of what is and isn’t appropriate as well, which is also problematic.

Tornado by Gengoroh Tagame

Tornado by Gengoroh Tagame

GENGOROH:
Yeah, I agree. There’s such a great contradiction on the Internet. On the one hand, it really supports the community, and in another way it completely denies it. I know personally it’s been an issue. I’ve seen a direct influence of the proliferation of content online for example, with like a decreased sale of print goods, for sure.

For me, I think one of the biggest problems is I think many of you are aware of my work is very unsafe for… Internet. So if you go to my website, you might have seen the warning page, and then, in the site there’s yet another stage of consent for the really hardcore stuff.

In the case of writing for magazines, I’m very deliberate about my audience. I have a very precise idea of who’s going to take this in, and I write accordingly.

So if I’m writing for a BL-leaning magazine, and I know that I’m going to have a lot of female readers for example, it’s going to be more romantic. On the outside maybe there’s some pee, but definitely no poo! (audience laughs)

Of course, the converse would be if I were writing for, let’s say, a gay BDSM magazine, knowing who its audience is, then it’s needles and cutting and castration and beat downs and…

LEYLA:
All the good stuff. (audience laughs)

Endless Game by Gengoroh Tagame | Bruno Gmünder

Endless Game by Gengoroh Tagame | Bruno Gmünder

GENGOROH:
So in the print age when we were still printing books, it was easy to determine where (my content was being purchased and read). If it were a hardcore gay BDSM book, then I could also raise the price and place a premium on it, so nobody could accidentally buy it just out of curiosity, pricing it beyond curiosity levels.

BL stuff is cheap. It’s like a BL-oriented book would be more like 600 yen ($6) and then BDSM stuff would be more like 2,000 yen ($20). This goes back to the whole category thing, but I suppose part of it is perpetuated by sales for sure. The sales machine, and then there’s also sort of a self-perpetuated category machine devised by readers, who are desperate to delineate and create their own niche.

It’s so important for readers to have really accurate, authentic, specific identities. But… I wonder why. Why do you think that’s become a bigger issue? Because that’s a question that comes up almost every time you talk about queer comics now.

LEYLA:
I don’t know. But I have a couple of suspicions and one of which is that… whether you’re a gay man reading gay comics or a straight woman reading BL comics or a gay man reading BL comics or a straight woman, what you’re doing is that you are looking for alternatives to the kind of homogeneous mass edifice of sexuality as depicted in mass media.

The World's Greatest First Love Vol. 1 by Shungiku Nakamura | SuBLime Manga

The World’s Greatest First Love Vol. 1 by Shungiku Nakamura | SuBLime Manga

Clearly if you are a person who’s seeking out that kind of content, the mass media version is not doing it for you. Not only is the mass media version not catering to you– it is actively kind of trying to erase what your desires are. I think that most people tend to have an experience of that if they’re into this content. So I think it’s partially almost a reaction against that.

Because it’s such a crucial issue to a person’s identity, when you do find this kind of content that actually speaks to your desires and experience then it becomes very important to kind of get that identity right. So that’s what I think partially leads to a lot of this self-imposed kind of categorization.

As a publisher, it’s hard to engage with, because you know that it’s obviously this very, very crucial issue. But at the same time, you’re limited in the ways that you can respond to it, because we can’t (respond to it).

If anybody’s as old as I am, they remember there used to be those custom books that you could order that would have your name in it throughout the whole thing. If we could, we would create content just for you, for your particular kink, but we can’t do that.

So on the one hand, I always hope that people remain broad-minded enough to be able to find something they like in any given title. What I hate to see is that immediate negative reaction of like, okay this doesn’t speak exactly to what my experience is, therefore invalid. It’s hard, these are all tremendously complex issues.

GRAHAM:
I think that also speaks to part of the reason why the Internet-based communities that have surrounded this work and create scanlations or distribute the manga in unauthorized ways have been so passionate about it. They see something that reflects part of their identity that isn’t in mainstream culture. They feel a tremendous sense of ownership over it. Because it’s so rare to find something that speaks to them, they want to protect the images and distribute them to other like-minded people, but sadly, the artist doesn’t always come into the equation, and that’s problematic. But I think that passion and the desire to put labels on things comes out of the fact that so few cultural products, especially in mainstream comics, speak to the complexity of people’s sexual identities.

LEYLA:
Just to elaborate on that, when we’re talking about especially the online fandom community, the dissection of the content gets Talmudic. Especially what we see through our social media is that there’s these elaborate debates about categorization on the behalf of the western fans of what is truly gay: What is “shonen ai?” What is “yaoi?” I mean, the artists don’t even know what these categories are, so it’s really interesting to see that kind of granular dissection happening.

My Brother's Husband (Ototo no Otto) by Gengoroh Tagame | © Gengoroh Tagame

Page from My Brother’s Husband (Ototo no Otto) by Gengoroh Tagame

GENGOROH:
So just to touch back on the problems with giving full access to work online, you used to be able to control a lot of those categories in the print medium with very prominent disclaimers, this is for you, this is not for you, with clear age rating.

These things with the scanlation community, a ten-year old could be reading my work, and that makes me extremely nervous. I feel like I can’t help but think, maybe I shouldn’t take things to such an extreme. It actually inhibits my artistic freedom in that sense, because I’m not able to fully go the full extreme anymore, if I’m worrying constantly about a ten-year old picking up my work online.

It’s much more simple than that. If you don’t like horror movies, you’re not going to go to a horror movie. Except now because they’re free, people might watch horror movies just to laugh at it, like ‘This is so extreme and ridiculous.’ That becomes a problem because that’s an infringement on my freedom of expression if somebody thinks it’s a joke.

It’s irresponsible for the scanlation community to not be able to put these sort of stop gaps in place to make sure people are reading it in an appropriate sense, especially if the wrong young person picks it up or whatever.

A scene from Cretian Cow by Gengoroh Tagame | Massive

A scene from Cretian Cow by Gengoroh Tagame | Massive

And then the stuff that the hetero Internet fans want or look for are those extreme stories, precisely because the more extreme it is, the more entertaining they find (it), for the wrong reasons. I’m trying to make depictions of gay men that are more about their hirsuteness or their manliness and it ends up being like, for example, something like Cretian Cow becomes really popular with hetero thrill seekers.

Sometimes my most aggressive work is turned to an internet meme like some kind of a… “Two Girls, One Cup,” you know?

ANNE:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

GENGOROH:
For that to happen to my work is… the most annoying thing.

 

Q&A: CAMERA-SHY MANGAKA AND MY BROTHER’S HUSBAND

Graham Kolbeins, Gengoroh Tagame, Anne Ishii and Leyla Aker | © Deb Aoki

Graham Kolbeins, Gengoroh Tagame, Anne Ishii and Leyla Aker

ANNE:
On that note… because we only have ten minutes left, we have time for a couple questions from the audience.

MAN IN AUDIENCE:
In the Massive anthology, I notice that Gengoroh is one of the only ones who has a photo with (his) face (visible). I was wondering if you could comment on that. What being a gay manga artist in Japan means when there’s some kind of… taboo, and what that has meant for him.

GENGOROH:
There are two motivations I think. One is that they’re just not out, publicly. The other is that they’re out, but they don’t want to cross their lives as mangaka and (their) personal lives, they don’t want that to get… confused.

LEYLA:
Also I just want to interject, mangaka in general don’t show their faces, generally.

ANNE:
Yeah. Straight ones too…

LEYLA:
The reason for that is a vastly different sense of public personal roles in Japan. Here, artists are trying to get their faces out everywhere but there… Aya Kanno (creator of Otomen  and Requiem of the Rose King), who’s one of our authors who was in the panel just before this, she voiced an opinion which a lot of mangaka share, which also kind of ties into things that we were talking about, that she doesn’t want her identity tied to her works. She wants her works to only exist for themselves, and that’s a viewpoint that a lot of mangaka also share.

ANNE:
Yeah. That’s true.

GRAHAM:
Also just to add onto that, there just aren’t workplace protections, there aren’t laws protecting LGBT people in Japan. A lot of the mangaka in Massive have a day job, and may not want their bosses to know about what they do.

(ANOTHER) MAN IN AUDIENCE:
We didn’t really get much into the historian part, but I was curious, as to when you’re doing that, do you find it easier now to– I don’t know how much of it might be first person interviews, but is it easier now to have people open up than it might’ve been in the past or is it more difficult for some people you know (who) don’t want to talk about that sort of thing? How does that (impact your) work as a historian?

GENGOROH:
It’s definitely probably a little easier now just because of communications technology. Sometimes in the past, I literally just couldn’t find contact information for artists. So now with Internet, Twitter, text messaging… (it’s) a little easier to find people.

My Brother's Husband (Ototo no Otto) Vol. 1 by Gengoroh Tagame (Action Comics) | © Gengoroh Tagame / FUTABASHA

My Brother’s Husband (Ototo no Otto) Vol. 1 by Gengoroh Tagame (Action Comics)

(DIFFERENT) MAN IN AUDIENCE:
I just want to ask him about his current work Ototo no Otto. What does it means for him to publish a gay narrative in a mainstream magazine? What kind of message are you trying to (convey) to (readers)?

GENGOROH:
Foremost, what I want to have happen with Ototo no Otto is for straight readers to actually understand that Japanese gay social life is actually pretty normal. A lot of straight Japanese people probably don’t know that they know gay men, or (they) have never met a gay person and they say that they’ve never seen one, or (they) don’t know what they look like. To them (meeting a gay person) is like encountering a panda in the wild. (laughs)

So this is just a way of making it more available and accessible. In the story, it’s about a guy whose brother is gay so it lets the reader directly emotionally connect with a character, experience it, and kind of identify with what it would actually be like to know gay people.

For the gay audience, I want them to see that I’m obviously out. Everybody knows I’m gay and do comics as a gay artist. I want gays, especially young gay people, to see that it is possible to be published in a straight magazine, be completely out and unafraid. I want them to gain a little courage out of this.

Ototo no Otto on Monthly Action July 2015 | © Gengoroh Tagame / FUTABASHA

Ototo no Otto on Monthly Action July 2015

This cover of the (first volume of Ototo no Otto) is actually also the cover of the magazine it ran in, when it first came out. You’ll notice the Canadian husband (is) wearing a pink triangle shirt. I did that deliberately as sort of a little experiment, just seeing how much I could get away with, making it more immediately visually gay to just anybody picking up the magazine. I think it might actually be the first general market Japanese manga magazine with an explicit gay symbol on the cover!

So the day this book comes out (in Japan), the next chapter of the story is released in the same magazine, and my image for the (Monthly Action) magazine cover will feature a rainbow flag.

It’s sort of my experiment in seeing how much I could get away with, but also just the power of these symbols and seeing how communities can kind of cross over. I’m having fun with it.

We’re out of time, but we will be at our booth in the Reference Library next to Fantagraphics.

LEYLA:
You can look for our products at any of the fine retailers here. All of our products are sold through the shop or The Beguiling.

ANNE:
Okay. Check it out, go to SuBLime dot com…

LEYLA:
Sublime manga dot com, not the band…

ANNE:
I’m sorry.

(applause as the panel ends)
——————-

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One Comment

  1. Happy to see some recognition that males read BL too. To anyone who’s been in the community for a long time it comes as no surprise, but so often “by women for women” is used to ghettoize and delegitimize BL in comparison to gay manga, “by men for men.” Not that it should take knowing that men read BL to get it some kind of respect, but misogyny.

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