Monday, January 19, 2009

Gay Erotic Art in Japan Vol. 1

Gay Erotic Art in Japan Vol. 1: Artists From the Time of the Birth of Gay Magazines

Compiled by Tagame Gengoroh

Notice: This book with English text translation.
[Release date: December 19th,2003 On Sale]
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Price (provisional): 4,500 yen (tax out)
ISBN 4-939015-58-0 C0071
Size: A5, 194 pages

Cover Illustration:MISHIMA Go
Book Design:KOKUBO Yumi
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There has always been the custom of sodomy from the ancient days in Japan, and, of course, there were pictures whose motifs were sodomy. The picture scroll, "Chigo-soshi (Catamite Stories)" from the Muromachi era [1336-1573 -K.Y.] and "Shunga"[erotic Ukiyoe -K.Y.] featuring images of sodomy by Hishikawa Moronobu or Miyagawa Choshun from the Edo era [1603-1867 -K.Y.], are well known. Without doubt, they are pictures of intercourse between men; they look like gay erotic art. However, is that really true? Here, the question is whether the Japanese sodomic culture ─sodomy in Buddhist monasteries or the custom of adoring pages in samurai society, and pederasty, which was popular in Edo era─ is equal to homosexuality in the present. As I understand, the matter pederasty is constructed as "a custom which does not deny it," or "support from spiritualist-like beauty," and "an idea of substitution." Therefore, it is a choice something people select out of many other options. On the other hand, homosexuality is an "absolute sexuality which is immanent in an individual," and it is something the person can choose based on custom or beauty, or be forced to have. It is often misunderstood by heterosexual people that being gay is something a person can choose to be, or is merely a way of life; it is actually a part of the person and is unchangeable. The word "gay" is a word to describe the group of people who share a preference for people of the same sex as sexual practices, it is not a word to regulate the specific types of sexual practices or relationship. (Note 8) So, pederasty, as we have seen, does regulate the type and the style of the relationship up to a certain point. From a linguistic point of view, these two words cannot be considered identical. (Note 9) Another question is, whether it is acceptable to consider pictures as gay erotic art simply if intercourse between men is illustrated in them. If so, male "Shunga" ukiyoe from Edo era and "Yaoi" [depicting the recent females interested in gay sex, beautiful gay boys, etc -K.Y.] art, "shota for men" [depicting males interested in very young boys, -K.Y.] art all would be considered gay erotic art. However, while "gay" is a word which refers to sexuality, "Yaoi," "June [the same meaning as "Yaoi" -K.Y.]," "Boys Love [again, the same meaning as "Yaoi" -K.Y.]," and "Shota for men" refer to artistic and sexual genres, not any specific sexuality. (Note 10)

Sexuality and these words don't have clear boundaries, they intercross with each other, making a vague and gradated area. Therefore, of course, there must have been some gays in the people who constructed the sodomy in Edo era, or the current "Yaoi" and "Shota." This only means that it is possible for gay erotic art to exist in those genres, and it is still impossible for the word "gay" to cover all those genres. Therefore, even when an erotic art piece is illustrating gay images, if it is a product of the genre in which being gay as the subject is not required, we shouldn't call it gay culture or gay erotic art.

This term, "gay erotic art" does have some problems. One is the premise that the artist is gay himself; it is sometimes rather too dependent on this premise. For example, even when the motif of the pieces is pinup-like male nudes, and not sexual intercourse, it is considered to be gay erotic art just because "the artist is gay," and therefore, this is a picture of his type of men." If we remove this premise, it is no longer a gay drawing or anything special but merely a picture of naked men. This is because there is no gay phenomenon or relationship such as intercourse between men or love between men.
There have been examples of pieces by heterosexual male, or female artists being featured in gay magazines and becoming popular with gay readers. So, there are some cases in which the pieces function and serve as gay erotic art regardless of the artists' own sexuality. This is contradicts the theory mentioned above. In order to discuss gay erotic art, instead of adhering to pieces by gay artists or pieces that illustrate gay situations, we should consider whether the pieces are produced for gay viewers, together with the influences such art may have in actual gay culture.

For the reasons given above, I have used the word "otoko-e (male pictures)" instead of "gay erotic art" when discussing art in gay magazines. I did this to try to put aside the issues of the artists' sexuality and sexual differences by defining "otoko-e" as "pictures illustrating the charms of men." Since the premise is that those magazines are for gay men, the logic is this: "Because both the subject in the image and the viewer are male, when the viewer finds the man in the image attractive, regardless of the artist's sexuality or sexual difference, a gay relationship is formed between the subject and the viewer."This logic can exist only under the circumstances that the viewer is gay. The word "Otoko-e" is sometimes used in Japanese art history to mean a picture scroll, in contrast with "onna-e (female pictures.)" To cancel the logic I just gave, and in order to avoid possible confusion, this word is not used in this book.

Regardless of the language used, the basic theory is the same. At the base of gay erotic art, as well as in its expressions of gay eroticism, the point is, it illustrates the beauty of men or the sexual charms of men according to the artist's perceptions and skills. (Note 11)

If we consider the ukiyoe "danshoku-shunga (male erotic art)" as the root of the present gay erotic art, it can be said that the unisexual expression of men by ukiyoe artist, Suzuki Harunobu and others influenced the current liking for beautiful boys. This influence can be seen in the pieces by Takahata Kasho and others. This influence on gay erotic art and its preference for beautiful boys and young men is introduced in this book by artists such as Okawa Tatsuji.

If that is the case, what about Funayama Sanshi or Mishima Go's gay erotic art depicting of a liking for rough men? Since the interest is on macho types, there are no common pictorial factors with pederastic "shunga." However, they have some common factors with ukiyoe by Katsushika Hokusai or Utagawa Kuniyoshi's "musha-e" [worriors' pictures -K.Y.]in expressing macho color, by exaggerating muscles, and, by illustrating thick body hair. Their work also has some similarities with the cruel pictures of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. (Note 12) This genealogy flows into the illustration culture of Ito Hikozo and others. As in the art of Takahata Kasho. Their art was around when the artists featured in this book were in childhood or puberty. One basic assumption is that these artists were influenced by the illustration culture like this while they were discovering their own sexualities, and were stimulated by it. It may be possible to see one stream that flows from ukiyoe to them. After experiencing the short lived magazines that were published in the post World War II years, these artists, featured in this book, finally had some publication that dealt with S&M or homosexuality and targeted the sexual minority of the readers; for the first time they had a place to have their work published. When gay erotic art is told from a gay cultural and historical point of view, it may be appropriate to consider that the time a medium such as "Fuzokukitan," where gays could introduce their pieces expressing their own sexuality, was born as the time gay erotic art was really born for the first time.

Let's go back to the subject and quickly consider how gay erotic art in Japan changed after the birth of gay magazines. Three of the artists included in this book, Mishima, Okawa, and Hirano, moved their center of activities to "Barazoku" from "Fuzokukitan," and Mishima later became one of the leading participants of another magazine, "Sabu" when it was established. These four, of course, are not the only artists at the time the gay magazines were born. Ishihara Gojin from "Sabu," had outstanding skills, and a wide range of work ─from children books to comics, S&M, and gay magazines. He also drew mysterious and slim beautiful young men, as did Hayashi Gekko. Toyama Minoru, who also had excellent skills, drew young men with a mysterious look and a mature body in both "Sabu" and "Barazoku. " Tsukioka Gen who kept drawing young men with sorrowful faces in a wide range of styles ─from Japanese to European─ for "Barazoku." And there were many more.

Let's consider up to this time as the first generation. The over all common factors are that the men they drew generally have a sorrowful look and a dark side, which may look rather sentimental; images of men with cheerful smiles and without worries cannot be found. The motifs are often the darkly spiritual male beauty based the traditional homo-social world in Japan, such as "samurai" or Japanese gangsters. Influences from Western gay culture are rarely seen. Although this chapter is about the history of drawings, so I won't go any deeper with this. At the time the time around the birth of gay magazines, some male nude picture books were published, and they too had an important role in the history of gay erotic art in Japan. In particular, the work of two photographers. One is Yato Tamotsu, who is known for his personal connection with Mishima Yukio, has left three picture books, "Taido (Body, Marshal Arts),"Hadaka-matsuri (Naked Festivals)," and "OTOKO (Males)."The other is Haga Kuro, who published many picture books under the name "Bon. " These artists are most important and should be highly evaluated for both the quality of their work and the influence they had on gay erotic artists of the same generation. (Note 13)
From the 70s to the 80s, the gay magazines grew rapidly. Each magazine produced extra issues, picture books, and photo books: "Barazoku" bore "Seinen-gaho (Young Men's Graphic)," and "Sabu" bore "Aitsu (That guy),"and "Sabu" Special."They had a larger format (A5) than the original magazines (B5) and put a higher priority on photography and illustrations. In addition, foreign gay cultures, art, and lifestyle that were introduced in "MLMW," ─a magazine, which developed from another magazine, "Adon"─ were increasingly influencing the next generation. In 1982, a new gay magazine, "Samson" was established. In the beginning, it was a general, interest gay magazine, dealing with all kinds of body types just as the other gay magazines did then. Later it specialized in the limited sexualities ranged around "chubby chasers" and "Daddy lovers." Thanks to this change, it supported gay artists who specialized in certain fetishes, and that was something uncommon in other magazines. (Note 14) In addition, Togo Ken established "The Gay." The cover art was male nudes from Europe and the US, and there were not so many illustrations in the main texts. So, there isn't much to discuss from a gay erotic art point of view. However, I remember it for using a famous artist from the heterosexual media for the cover art, and releasing some hardcore pornographic picture books as extra issues.

In these circumstances, the second-generation artists emerged.I would select three artists as representatives of that generation. First is Takeuchi George, who drew illustrations greatly influenced by the general commercial illustrations and fashion illustrations of the time. At the same time, he kept working on his serial illustrations in the Tom of Finland style in "Adon," "MLMW," and later "G-men." Second is Hasegawa Sadao, who drew wide range of illustrations from pinups to action pictures, and torture pictures, and whose decorative style took in European fin de siecle art, Japanese ukiyoe, and Asian ethnic art. He published in "Barazoku," "Sabu," "Adon," "MLMW," "Samson," and later "SM-Z." Third is Kimura Ben. Using a delicate touch, he drew delightful men, including sporty young men who look familiar, and not beautiful men who appear disconnected from reality. The three of them took care of the cover art of the gay magazines for many years. For both the quality and the quantity of their work, these three remain in gay people's hearts.

Other than these three, there are a number of other second-generation artists. Gym was attracted to the massive and bulky look of bodybuilder-like muscles and excelled in drawing young men with a strong smell of sweat ("Sabu"). Inagaki Seiji excelled in drawing detailed sketches of young boys with decorative and esthetic looks ("Barazoku"). Kiyohara Muneaki, who used a several pen names, such as Minakage Ryoji, and Mitate Kozo, worked in various genres such as illustrations, photography, and comics ("Sabu" "Barazoku" and later "Badi"). Takakura Daisuke drew realistic flabby bodies, and not idealized bodies, with every single body hair in details with a pen ("Sabu," later "Samson").
These second-generation artists vary in type and style, therefore it is hard to point out general characteristics. If I am to try to do so, first, the generalized sorrow and darkness, which were noticeable in the first generation, is fading. Together with each artist's differences in his art, this development must be related to the different stances; the time in which gays had to deal with some kind of guilt for being gay was disappearing, and the time in which gays were freeing themselves from guilt was emerging. As for motifs, samurai and gangsters decreased in number, and sportsmen increased instead. This may suggest that the objects of gay sexual fantasies are shifting from spiritual beauty to physical bodies as time went by. As for fetishic symbols, in addition to traditional loincloths and tattoos, motifs such that are influenced by European and American gay culture, such as jock straps and thin tank tops, leather fashion decreased in number. It was also when gay magazines started featuring comics. Yamaguchi Masaji who worked on a serial comic strip, "Gokigenyo (How are you?)" ("Barazoku"), which had both, romantic elements and hardcore and pornographic elements. Kaido Jin who drew high-level comics such as "Tough Guy," and "Make Up" that were of extremely high quality as romantic stories as well as erotic pieces ("Adon"). These are the two major comic artists.

In addition to them, a number of other artists also created gay comics. Yamakawa Junichi released many short comic strips that were very rich in settings ("Barazoku"). Takemoto Kotaro excelled in sentimental love stories with a ladies' comic-like touch, and is still actively producing ("Barazoku"). Tadokoro Daisuke drew sentimental love stories and cynical illustrated essays with a queeny taste ("Barazoku"). Mitate Kozo's work has already been discussed ("Sabu" and "Barazoku"). Bone Kaburagi worked on a long serial comic strip, "Kaze no Album (Album of Winds)," shifting his style from ladies' comic-like style to serious adult style ("Samson"). Tomozo drew of the eroticism of older male couples ("Samson"). The works of these artists are memorable.

In this period, in addition to the artists mentioned above who specialized in gay magazines, there were cases of artists contributing occasional illustrations and comic strips to gay magazines. To name as many as I can remember: Naito Rune, Yoshida Katsu ("Barazoku"), Minami Shinbo, Watanabe Kazuhiro, Yoshida Mitsuhiko, Fukuhara Hidemi, Aso Kan ("Sabu"), Tsuchiya Susumu, Leo Sawaki ("Adon"), and, although the period is a little late, Fujishiro Seiji, and Uno Akira ("The Gay"). However, these artists' works don't have any significance as gay erotic art, and they didn't have any concrete influence on other gay erotic artists. One exception must be Yoshida Mitsuhiko's comics, in which the artist's talent and the magazine's style combined nicely in producing excellent works of erotic art. And there is Tsuchiya Susumu's serial comic strip, in which he drew romances of salary men with a delicate touch and gave viewers a fresh impression. Finally, Leo Sawaki's illustrations, in which drew men's bodies with a realism touch to produce fine works of erotic art. (Note 15)

Now let's look at the flow of gay erotic art after the second- generation to the present. In the late 1980s and 1990, extra issues, picture books, and large-sized magazines, all disappeared, though, the major gay magazines all continued publishing. On the other hand, other general interest magazines often featured articles about gay life, and art magazines started featuring gay artists in Europe and the US. In addition, gays started trying to capture themselves in books and magazine-type books, that is, in media other than gay magazines and from different points of views than just sexual preference. (Note 16)

The latter is an experiment mainly by gays influences by "MLMW," and this kind of movement eventually lead to the essential change of gay magazines to be discussed. In 1994, "Badi," and in 1995, "G-men" were established. The existing gay magazines responded with manual editing, somewhat like small circulation magazines. The two new magazines dealt with everything that gays were surrounded by, including the gay market, gay communities, activities and gay lifestyles. Together with this new generation gay magazines, the circumstances of gays were in were becoming more and more active. For example, gay pride parades, HIV- related events, and all kind of gay nights at clubs were held. (Note 17)

Meanwhile, two of old gay magazines were discontinued, "Adon" in 1996, and "Sabu" in 2001. The number of gay erotic artists featured in gay magazines has increased compared with the 90s, and there are more varieties. At the same time, the media in which gay erotic art is featured has variety beyond gay magazines. There are pamphlets and flyers for various events, exhibitions related those events, personal galleries on the web, "Komike [shorthand for Comic Market, a twice a year festival of small circulation magazines and books organized by amateur artists -K.Y.], and cross-over with Yaoi culture. Each of them is growing in it's own way, and keeps going actively. However, this expansion also is diffusion. If each medium is fractionalized with it's own character, naturally there will be some separation between the members who are consisting each medium in generation and style. This probably means that the media, which is best able to cover the whole of gay culture, will continue to be the gay magazines that have a wide audience of every generation, from teens to seniors, and offer art and articles covering tastes and lifestyles. (Note 18)

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