PictureBox’s groundbreaking anthology The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame introduced the English-speaking world to manga by and for gay men via Tagame, one of the legends in the field. Sadly, PictureBox went out of business before it could publish its planned follow-up, an ambitious survey of modern gay men’s erotic manga. But Fantagraphics saved the project from the sexy gay dustbin of history, gifting us at last with Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, one of the best, not to mention one of the smuttiest, collections of manga ever published in the US.
Massive describes the book itself, a plus-size anthology of short manga and series excerpts by nine artists, as well as the subject matter. 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 gay manga artists draw BL too. Some artists 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 in some cases draw shonen manga under another 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. Some of the artists are enthusiastic about putting their fantasies to paper, while for others the sex is there to sell the story. 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. 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. 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 Japanese gay culture which, even today, remains largely underground. Most of the artists work under pen names, and several 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 for gay manga is outdated and American fans should stop using it. (Sorry, gay cartoonists.).
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, 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.