The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame
by Gengoroh Tagame, ed. Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd & Graham Kobleins
PictureBox Inc, April 2013
256 pages / $29.95 Buy from PictureBox
Passion is generally defined either as “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling” or, within the context of personal relationships, as a “strong sexual desire; lust.” Strength & power are two words that dominate these definitions. Strength & power are two concepts that dominate the short, hypersexualized narratives of Gengoroh Tagame’s characters: strong, large & butch men dominating, fucking, & occasionally loving other strong, large & butch men.
In the world of manga, and especially in the imported consideration of such, there’s an abundance of yaoi stories that teen girls flock to, love, write fan-fic about: yaoi is a subgenre of manga that takes young, thin, often effeminate boys loving other young, thin, often effeminate boys. Clearly, there’s a contrast between this & what I’ve mentioned Tagame’s narratives hold above: thick muscles, thick cocks, heavy BDSM overtones–there is the occasional cross-generation ‘romance’ told by Tagame, but even the young boy shares a closer physic to a professional wrestler than the twinky waifs that populate yaoi.
Pierre Guyotat once remarked that he couldn’t write unless his cock was hard. Similarly, Tom of Finland once remarked that his best drawings occur while he’s erect. I have to imagine that the sexual narratives that overtake Tagame’s work drive their creator, as well, to sexual satisfaction. There’s a remarkable sense of erotic obsession that drives the work, moving from gang-bang fantasies to hyper-developed arenas of sadism. Sometimes, when there’s time for it to develop, a work develops a plot, often a somewhat complicated one considering the constraint of a number of pages. Sometimes there is less plot, but always there is a surge of powerful eroticism dominating each panel.
I would hope that in 2013 there’s been enough critical consideration given to the subject that we’re pass the point of immediately dismissing anything erotic or pornographic as trash–dismissing the idea that these genres can’t carry anything but a sense of sexual satisfaction. Pornography & eroticism, as genres, are inherently more attuned to the experience of the reader–the idea is to, often, give the reader something to get off to. This means that the way the story is constructed has to play with the idea of affect while at the same time deal with the mechanics of narrative itself (while, yes, the joke is that pornography never has more than a pretense of plot that is quickly abandoned to the repetition of the in-out-in-out flow of the fuck, the reality is that narrative itself can be an important element of the best eroticism).
Tagame’s narratives, as mentioned before, float between being expertly constructed and being a thin pretense used to present sex. The back and forth between the stories creates an interesting dynamic, presenting varying modes of how eroticism is working within the same, shall we say, container. When given the space, the narrative can take on importance that finds the sex functioning in a utilitarian manner, simply moving the narrative forward. I find the stories that have more space to breath both more interesting and also more titillating, due to their overwhelming narrative insistence that the sex is couched within.
There’s something to be said, as well, for the increasing levels of sadism displayed as the book carries on. In hyper-masculine sex situations, there is generally always an air of sadism present–sometimes this is hidden by machismo, other times it’s present in power relations due to age differences, etc. But a few stories near the end of the volume further approach a developed, Sadean insistence of cruelty for sexual excitement (and this is not surprising, in an interview Tagame says he starting reading Sade when very young). The intense sadism is not for everyone, clearly, but it’s wonderfully constructed and really satisfying if you are ‘into it.’
A final note should be made on Tagame’s drafting skills–he’s fantastic. There’s a real energy in his drawings that provides the momentum necessary for these narratives to really take off. While the immediate point of reference (big-cock big muscles “man’s-man” types fucking more of the same) is Tom of Finland, Tom of Finland’s characters are as stiff as the cock’s jutting from their bodies–they don’t move, there’s no real energy. Tagame delivers a total sense of movement that provides more of a reason for the sweat that drips down brows.
It seems obvious to say that this collection isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t need to be. Tagame has articulated his own sexual fantasies within a collection of great manga. If you like seeing huge muscle dudes fucking other huge muscle dudes with varying degrees of sadism, there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy this. However, there’s more inside than what’s on the surface, so prepare to experience more than a boner.