Gengoroh Tagame by Dr. William S. Armour

At the opening of our ‘Boys Life’ Mardis Gras exhibition, we were lucky to have Dr. William S. Armour from the School of Languages and Linguistics, University of NSW, to give a speech about the works of Gengoroh Tagame. We thank Dr. Armour for allowing us to reproduce his speech here.

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Gengoroh Tagame is an important figure in the world of gay Japanese erotica having complied 3 volumes of a history of the subject as well as being a prolific author of many serialised manga in Japanese gay magazines and stand alone manga books. He has recently begun to animate some of his stories. His work has a huge following in France and Spain and some parts of the US.

Unfortunately as far as I am aware, there is little academic interest in Tagame’s manga, a real pity since they are so rich in both technique and content. It’s easy to dismiss his work and that of his contemporaries as just porn to get off on. That realistically is one outcome, however, Tagame’s work at least has a much deeper foundation making them worthy of prolonged study.

Gengoroh Tagame first used this pseudonym in 1986 and from 1994 he became a full time gay erotic artist contributing to such Japanese gay magazines as G-Men and Bady. His main gay erotic art influences are a mix of Japanese (reading Yukio Mishima in his late teens) and Western, including drawings by Tom of Finland and the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe. He draws extensively on his own personal fantasies, for example, bears, bondage, despair, discipline, leather, muscles, piss, scat, slaves, torture, whip and punishment among many others.

While there are some points of intersection with other Japanese gay manga writers such as Jiraiya and Matsuzaki Tsukasa in terms of depicting the almost exclusive use of typically big muscular Japanese men having unprotected sex with other big muscular Japanese men, Tagame concentrates his erotic attention on extreme male-to-male encounters, mostly involving the fantasises listed above.

There are several common aspects to all Tagame’s manga, namely, hyper-masculinity is represented by big muscles, big dicks, and often some degree of hirsuteness, either on legs and ass or full body. While there seems little difference in the way that Tagame’s men are drawn and how the male characters in Western erotic gay comics are depicted, Tagame draws almost exclusively Japanese men and he uses specific Japanese cultural and historical motifs – samurai, yakuza, war among others – as the basis of his narratives. Tagame’s choice of drawing hyper-masculine Japanese men helps breakdown certain stereotypes, in porn at least, that Asian men in general are skinny, small dicked, effete weaklings who are fucked for the pleasure of big dicked buff macho white guys.

While he draws a range of male characters, he favours older muscular men who interact with younger muscular men and in the case of men of the same age, one extremely muscular man with another who is lean and athletic. Hairy men are another characteristic of Tagame’s artwork, though as you can imagine drawing a hairy body in each manga frame must truly be counted as a labour of love. Rough, crude language involving cussing and swearing is also a common feature of the dialogue and challenges the myth that the Japanese language is bereft of swear words.

Dr. William S. Armour
School of Languages and Linguistics
University of NSW