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The proliferation of manga within Japan cannot be overstated, and as a readily available outlet for gay expression, what gets translated on Western shores is yaoi, a subset of comics featuring gay male love stories typically illustrated and written by women for women readers. So it is a culturally significant event that Gengoroh Tagame, a genuine master in his field (that field being bara, gay comics by gay men for gay men), with a bearishly virile style which is instantly recognizable, receives a long overdue English translation. That this initial volume is a pitch perfect representation of his work makes for an outstanding debut.
Dual introductions by Edmund White and the compiler of the book, Chip Kidd, as well as post-script from Graham Kolbeins, provide a lively and informative discussion of Tagame’s work without being overly academic or fannish. Kidd notes that Tagame is often compared to Tom of Finland, but where the later is static, Tagame is kinetic. His men sweat and grunt. The seven stories (with helpful postscripts from Tagame himself) contain some Olympic fucking, severe BDSM, and flow between the urban and rural, brutality and affection, all in multiple milieus. Tagame’s intensely pornographic work makes room for the joyous, however. The consensual sex here engages in transgression that unlocks some rather messy transcendence. His art, the way Tagame works the physique and deploys violence, demonstrates an awareness of and participation in an historical heritage, as manga can be traced back to affordable, mass-produced 18th century woodblock prints.
Like Tom of Finland, Tagame’s art ultimately surpasses genre. He’s actively minting iconographic work and more needs to be made available. The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame is a carnal explosion that makes for a wonderful holiday gift for that special someone overly worried about assimilation.