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House of 1000 Manga

by Shaenon K. Garrity,


A while back, my “House of 1,000 Manga” collegue Jason Thompson devoted a column to “64 Pounds of Porn,” his box of strictly-research porn manga.  Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It is almost 64 pounds of porn all by itself.  The title is not kidding around: it's a big anthology about big men with big appendages doing big, big things.  And nothing in Thompson's box is remotely like it.  This is the kind of manga that's never been seen in the English-reading world before.

That's right.  It's time to talk about porn again.  Consider it my New Year's gift to you.

Massive is only the second work of gay men's erotic manga published in the U.S.  PictureBox's groundbreaking anthology The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame introduced discerning readers to the genre via Tagame, one of the legends in the field, who draws like Tom of Finland if he were a million times better at draftsmanship and also deeply into violent, hardcore BDSM.  Sadly, PictureBox went out of business before it could publish its planned follow-up, an ambitious survey of modern gay men's erotic manga from a range of creators.  But Fantagraphics saved the project from the sexy gay dustbin of history, and here it is: one of the best, not to mention one of the smuttiest, collections of manga ever published in the U.S.

Massive is a plus-size anthology of short manga and series excerpts by nine artists, almost all of whom are into massiveness themselves.  Big guys are the preferred body type here, whether heavyset bears or jacked musclemen.  It's a far cry from the wispy bishonen in Boys’ Love manga, which is largely created by women for a female audience, although some of the artists in Massive draw BL too.  Some draw realistically, others in cartoony gag-manga styles or with the loose lines of an indie comic, while still others produce slick, commercial artwork that wouldn't look out of place in Shonen Jump magazine (and some of the artists draw shonen manga under another pen name).

The stories cover a wild variety of subjects and moods, but all contain graphic sex scenes, a must-have in gay men's manga magazines.  (Seriously, it was hard to find scans for this article that didn't have penises in them.)  Some of the artists are enthusiastic about putting their fantasies to paper, while for others the sex is there to sell the story.  Inu Yoshi, an artist with a cute, cuddly style, calls the porn content “a necessary evil” and prefers to build sex scenes that focus on the emotional content.  Gai Mizuki, who draws weary-faced, macho athletes, says, “Honestly, it'd be great to have more kinds of genres of gay manga, but as it is, it's all under the auspices of ‘adult comics.’”  Popular cover artist Jiraiya, on the other hand, argues for escapism: “[queer people] have needs too, and some of them have times when life doesn't seem that great…when they feel that way, they can read my manga and my manga are happy.”

Sex (usually with big guys) is the only thing the stories in Massive have in common.  Tagame is back with an excerpt from his dark epic Do You Remember South Island P.O.W. Camp?, in which a sadistic American prison camp guard brutalizes a stoic Japanese commander.  Inu Yoshi offers a goofy story about a guy and his beefy, bespectacled robot housekeeper.  Kaz (wow, there are a lot of cartoonists named Kaz) draws yakuza bosses in lust.  Fumi Miyabi retells a traditional tengu folktale and adds a shroom-fueled gay orgy, because why not?  Kumada Poohsuke offers a series of gag strips about a kinky office where the boss has a foot fetish; like most gag manga, it makes pretty much no sense.  And “Caveman Guu,” by Jiraiya, follows a caveman who rides around on a giant bear and can't figure out why none of the men he has sex with have gotten pregnant.

Each comic is accompanied by a lengthy interview with the artist, and the interviews alone are worth the price of the book.  They offer a glimpse into a vibrant but constantly struggling Japanese gay culture which, even today, remains largely underground.  Most of the artists work under pen names, and many are photographed with their faces hidden, either because they're not out of the closet or because they don't want people to know they draw pornography.  They talk about the history of gay culture in Japan, the way things work in their very specialized corner of the publishing industry, and why the term bara (rose) for gay manga is outdated and American fans should stop using it.  (Sorry, gay manga-ka.  Mea culpa.)  Many are concerned about the scanlation trade, which can be especially hard on small indie publishers who need every sale.  At the same time, some have started to expand out of the traditional (and stagnant) magazine market and testing the waters of digital publication.

Today in Japan, queer people are slowly coming out of the closet and achieving respect and recognition, especially young people.  But change is slow, and the artists in Massive grew up in an era of secrecy, when finding other gay men, or any media aimed at gay men, was a quiet revolution.  Kazuhide Ichikawa recalls that “there weren't gay main characters in film and television.  Take Star Wars, for example… Luke Skywalker isn't gay, but I'd love to see him fall in love with a man.”  As would we all.  Are you listening, J.J. Abrams?  Many of the artists in Massive discovered Boys’ Love and yaoi in their youth, but didn't see their desires fully reflected in these female-centric fantasies of gay male love.

Massive is clearly a labor of love for its three editors.  And because one of those editors happens to be Chip Kidd, one of the world's top book designers and a longtime fan of gay manga, it looks fantastic.  Sure, it's porn, but it's the kind of porn that makes other porn feel ashamed for not trying hard enough.  And maybe these artists’ fantasies can help change reality.  “In schools these days, there are gay kids now who are so popular!” says Jiraiya.  “I'm like, what is this, the plot of a manga?”

Shaenon K. Garrity is an award-winning cartoonist best known for the webcomics Narbonic and Skin Horse. Her prose fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, Escape Pod, and Daily Science Fiction. Her writing on comics appears regularly in The Comics Journal and Otaku USA. She lives in Berkeley with two birds, a cat, and a man.
Banner designed by Lanny Liu.

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