Ep. 78 – Our Colors, by Gengoroh Tagame
Every generation needs its coming-out story, and Gengoroh Tagame’s Our Colors is both groundbreaking and timeless. This week Christopher leads the crew through this autobiographically-informed title and many personal, hilarious, and even heartwarming (maybe a little cringe?) stories are shared. Plus: All four hosts have shout-outs this week!
Powered by RedCircle
IN THIS EPISODE
00:00 Our Colors
01:05:00 THE BREAK
01:05:30 Shout-outs! Some manga, a TV show about food (kinda) and a game that you might (or maybe shouldn’t) play
By Gengoroh Tagame
Translated by Anne Ishii
Designed by Chip Kidd
Production assistance by John Kuramoto
Published by Pantheon Books. Available in print / digital
Audio editing by David Brothers. Show notes by Christopher Woodrow-Butcher and Deb Aoki
BEFORE WE GET STARTED
This episode is sort of a hard PG-13, but the show notes are NSFW, fair warning.
As we mention pretty quickly in this episode, this is our second experience with the work of Gengoroh Tagame, after our episode on MASSIVE earlier this season. You can go listen to that episode and read the show notes for a decent grounding on gay manga, the impact of Tagame-sensei, both on gay manga in Japan, and the impact that MASSIVE has on the availability and visibility of gay manga internationally. Plus, the book itself is FULL of fascinating interviews and info about gay manga and gay culture in Japan. It’s available now from Fantagraphics, and if you find that Our Colors is up your alley, go get a copy of MASSIVE too.
That said, you don’t NEED to do that! Our Colors stands on its own very well, but if you, like me, like to dig into this stuff, well, we’ve got some info for you already!
ABOUT GENGOROH TAGAME
(From the Penguin Random House bio, in italics)
Gengoroh Tagame was born in 1964 and lives in Tokyo. After graduating from Tama University of Art, Tagame worked as an art director while writing manga and prose fiction, contributing illustrations to various magazines. In 1994 he co-founded the epochal G-Men Magazine, and by 1996 he was working full-time as an openly gay artist.
[Christopher:] While I was browsing used and gay bookstores in Japan, I actually came across a magazine containing some of Tagame-sensei’s earliest illustrations and comics, SABU. SABU: Mangazine For Men Who Love Men was published from 1974 to 2002, and is considered by fans to be the first magazine concerned with a masculinist gay image. The magazine was founded by Go Mishima (we talked about him in the MASSIVE episode linked above), and the early issues were about cut/muscular/ab-having dudes, often with fundoshi/‘traditional’ Japanese underwear, tattoos, crew cuts, and even some S&M themes. Kinda makes sense that Tagame would be drawn to that sort of gay ideal, eh? 🙂 Here’s a few pages from SABU from 1992, featuring a cover illustration by Tagame and the title-page from his comic in that issue. So hot the page edges are burned! 😀
He is the author of dozens of graphic novels and stories, which have been translated into English, French, Italian, and Korean. His artwork has been exhibited in galleries across Europe and America.
[Christopher:] Tagame was one of the first gay manga creators that became well-known to Western gays and manga fans, basically because he was the only one with an English-language version of his website! He’s always been a forward-thinking creator who recognizes that his audience extends beyond Japan. You can visit the English version of his site, “The Gay Erotic Art of Gengoroh Tagame” along with his Japanese website to view galleries of images, lists of published works, and even some “shocking” content. You can still see said website at this link.
Despite having an English website in the early 2000s, it wasn’t until the publication of The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame by Picturebox Books (RIP) in 2013, with the assistance of Chip Kidd and the MASSIVE team of Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins, for him to be legally, officially translated into English. In 2014, the MASSIVE anthology was published by Fantagraphics, and then German gay book publisher Bruno Gmunder began an extensive publishing program of gay manga, which included four titles by Tagame-sensei: Endless Game, Gunji, Contracts of the Fall, and Fisherman’s Lodge. Unfortunately, following the death of its founder, Bruno Gmunder went out of business and these books went out of print… and now fetch a LOT of money on the secondary market.
That said, Tagame has also been extensively published in other languages. If you’re a French-reading or Italian-reading fan of Tagame’s work, there’s quite a few titles available. Oh, and it should go without saying, but all of the titles listed above are VERY adult, and not for the faint of heart.
His first all-ages title, My Brother’s Husband, earned him the Japan Media Arts Festival Award for Outstanding Work of Manga from the Agency for Cultural Affairs. In 2018, it received the Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia.
[Christopher:] Yeah, “His first all-ages title” is carrying a LOT of weight right there. Lol. Anyway, yes, My Brother’s Husband became very popular around the world, getting numerous editions in various languages. I even saw it in Traditional Chinese here in Taiwan the other day! It also got a live action adaptation from NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster, which is… a really big deal. NHK is a notably conservative media outlet, and for them to adapt this manga to live action TV show and to run it in prime time? Cool stuff, very progressive.
Which is all to say that Tagame’s follow-up to My Brother’s Husband was a hotly anticipated release. I think the timing is a bit unfortunate, being at the tail end of the pandemic when it’s difficult, if not impossible for Tagame to travel to promote it, which is honestly why I wanted to choose this book, rather than My Brother’s Husband to discuss on Mangasplaining. Our Colors is brand new, it’s in stores now, and it could use some positive attention given how… completely insane and otherwise distracting the world is right now.
So now you’re up to date, let’s talk about Our Colors!
01:00 We talked about My Brother’s Husband a bit above, but yeah, it did very well, was released as two hardcover volumes, and then as an all-in-one bind-up from Pantheon during the pandemic.
I actually re-read My Brother’s Husband from start to finish again while doing these show notes, and just like the last time, it made me cry at the end. It’s such a good, affecting book, and I hope I don’t take anything away from it talking about it this episode as being for a different audience. It’s very, very good.
02:45 ABOUT OUR COLORS
Here’s the description from Pantheon:
A mesmerizing coming-of-age and coming-out graphic novel by the genius writer-artist of the Eisner Award–winning breakout hit My Brother’s Husband
Set in contemporary suburban Japan, Our Colors is the story of Sora Itoda: a sixteen-year-old aspiring painter who experiences his world in synesthetic hues of blues and reds, governed by the emotional turbulence of being a teenager. He wants to live honestly as a young gay man in high school, but that is still not acceptable in Japanese society. His best friend and childhood confidant is Nao, a young woman whom everyone thinks is (or should be) his girlfriend; and it would be the easiest thing to play along—she knows he is gay but knows, too, how hard it is to live one’s truth in their situation.
Sora’s world changes forever when he meets Mr. Amamiya, a middle-aged gentleman who is the owner and proprietor of a local coffee shop, and who is completely, unapologetically out as a gay man. A mentor-ship and friendship ensues, as Sora comes out to him and agrees to paint a mural in the shop, and Mr. Amamiya counsels him (platonically) about how to deal with who he is. But it won’t be easy. Mr. Amamiya paid a high price for his freedom of identity, and when a figure from his past suddenly appears, it becomes a prime example of just how complicated life can be.-Pantheon Books
04:30 So, without getting tooooo into the weeds here, I’ll just say that during the pandemic, book sales shot up massively, especially for manga, comics and graphic novels in general. But in many, if not most sectors, the percentage of books sold that are not new, or “backlist” in the bookselling vernacular, increased pretty dramatically over new books, or “frontlist”. Basically, people were buying things that were familiar or that they had always been meaning to read, and the hit-titles got bigger, while newer or more recent books had a MUCH tougher time gaining traction in the market.
I can’t find a link to this info right now but I watched two presentations on it recently, you’ll just have to trust me. 🙂
06:30 I think the afterword for this book REALLY puts a nice perspective on the entire story, and maybe it should’ve been an introduction? Or a foreword? I dunno.
I think it stands on its own, of course, but the context I had going into it (more on that shortly) is something that I think would’ve added a lot for every reader.
07:30 Yeah, this lady is drawn so well, and is devastating within the context of the story.
09:35 Is this a time-travel story? This dreamy opening sequence, with the “I love you,” really could’ve pushed this story in a more spec-fic direction. Instead, and I guess this is a spoiler, this story is set in the ‘real’ world… unsustainable, probably unprofitable coffee shop notwithstanding.
10:30 I referenced Tagame’s early work as looking like it was influenced by Akimi Yoshida, author of the manga Banana Fish. I’ve only got one image from that period handy, used above, but maybe you can see it if I show it next to a similar drawing from Banana Fish?
I can see it, but I might just be making up a connection too, because both of those bald dudes are letches.
I’ve never asked Tagame-sensei if Yoshida was an influence. I’d love to do a big interview with him, once I could do some more research on his early career. Luckily, Japan just announced its reopening later this week! I’d love to go jump in and hit up the bookstores for and libraries for info.
Banana Fish, by the by, is a groundbreaking gritty shojo action series about a Japanese journalist who falls in with a young American street hustler and gang leader while a deadly drug making its way into the seedy sidestreets of New York City. It’s available in 19 volumes from VIZ Media, and it recently (2018) got a TV anime adaptation, more than 20 years after it was published, which revived interest in the series. It features a gay characters, romantic interest between the leads, and is considered an important work that had a big influence on BL and gay comics in the 1980s.
Read a free preview of Banana Fish: https://www.viz.com/read/manga/banana-fish-volume-1/product/5687/digital?action=read
Watch Banana Fish anime on Amazon Prime: https://www.amazon.com/BANANA-FISH/dp/B07F8H7SHY
13:30 If you’ve only ever read BL manga, then seeing a manga written from the perspective of a gay mangaka who shows what it’s REALLY like for gay people in Japan can be pretty shocking. I was pretty inoculated to that, but it was super interesting that Chip had that reaction, when everything we’ve read to date was 100% super cool with the gays, up to and including Dick Fight Island.
[Deb:] Just jumping in here to say you must listen to our Dick Fight Island episode because this Chip-hosted conversation is just hilarious.
14:30 We recorded this a month ago, and probably wouldn’t have joked quite so hard about the hurricane at the end of the book, given the events of this particular week… Yikes. Sorry. But the Hand of God, or at least of the author, is very visible in the last bit of the book. 😉
15:57 Poor Mizuki-chan, she isn’t drawn quite as pretty as some of the other characters.
16:20 Yeah, there’s a definite quirk of the art where characters don’t always show up in perspective quite correctly. David mentions this issue on page 130, and it really jumped out at me at the end of the book.
It’s a small quirk of the art, don’t mean to dwell, but it is distracting at certain points of the story.
17:30 While Our Colors was released fall 2022 in English, the final volume of the three volume series was released in fall of 2020 in Japanese, and in winter of 2020 in France! The series was also releasing a chapter at a time on Kindle in French too, so you could follow along, legally, very close to the Japanese serialization. I’m… super impressed to see Tagame’s work get this treatment! The added bonus being that the chapters on Kindle, in French, reproduce the color pages…!
Which is all to say, I’ve gotten little freebie preview booklets of the series in French in 2020 AND in 2022 at the Angouleme Comics Festival, and have been impatiently waiting for the English edition since then. 🙂
25:00 One of my favorite authors, Taiyo Matsumoto, is mentioned here with reference to his “autobiographically-informed” six volume series Sunny, published in English by VIZ Media.
The book is definitely worth reading, it’s quite beautiful and affecting, and we’ll probably cover it on the podcast eventually. But for a good overview on how Matsumoto approached Sunny, check out this interview with Xavier Guibert.
30:50 The question mark in this book is terrible, agreed.
31:35 There’s a striking image in Our Colors that almost seems like it’s from a different book, or by a different artist… and it is! It’s by the character of Sora, and it’s a great page-turn revelation.
Interestingly, I found this image in color from the French edition, and thought I’d share.
32:10 And yeah, “graffiti” written in graffiti style is amazing.
35:00 [Deb:] For more on mahu and their place in Hawaiian culture, here’s an interesting, award-winning documentary about a mahu kumu hula (hula master) that you can stream / watch online called Kumu Hina.
Or you can watch the trailer here:
Incidentally, there’s a documentary in production now called The Glades Project, about a nightclub in Honolulu that featured trans / cross-dressing performers back in the day. It’s a look at a nearly forgotten part of gay life in Hawaii, and illustrates that while mahu were common in Hawaii, it doesn’t mean it was always easy to be gay in the Aloha State. Here’s a trailer, so you can get a taste of what’s in the works.
Also, here’s the production company’s website, so you can get updates on the progress of this film project: https://www.hulagirlproductions.com/glades
41:40 “Have you tried not being a mutant?”
I don’t know why, but this is two weeks in a row where Chip referenced X2: X-Men United, and I have to include X2 video clips in the notes. BIZARRE.
42:50 I think the idea of context-switching has become a bit more mainstream over the last decade, but the use of the visual, the iron-clad emotionless mask, is a pretty great comic-book style bit of visualization of that situation, but when the time comes, Sora doesn’t let the mask go up any more. It’s a powerful moment in the story.
44:13 While there’s many forms of context-switching, I talked about ‘Polari’, the gay dialect. You can read the Wikipedia entry on Polari for some good background on this. The long and short of it is, it was a way for gay men, before the decriminalization of homosexuality in Great Britain, to speak with one another without worry of having their words overheard by those that might do them harm.
Here’s a short film you can watch all in Polari, to get a sense of it if you like.
48:00 I mentioned Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which was a powerfully cool and queer comic about… rebellion? I guess? It doesn’t sum up well. Anyway, I encountered it when I was the exact right age to encounter it. Highly recommended.
50:30 I just wanna say, I love writing these show notes for all you readers, so when I said I would include the shower scene in these show notes, I didn’t take into account that my copy of My Brother’s Husband would be on the other side of the world. So I bought a digital version just to give you this:
Please sign up for our Mangasplaining Extra newsletter, because it helps me pay for all the extra stuff we do to bring this info to you. 🙂
51:50 “Is there anything UnToWaRd?! happening here?” There isn’t anything happening in this book anyone really needs to worry about… but I’m a bit worried that people will think there is, and they’ll stay away.
52:10 Yeah, this subject of inappropriate teacher/student stuff came up in the first volume of Sweetness & Lightning, in our Four First Chapters episode a few weeks back. We’re going to dig into the full volume soon, and I think it’s interesting how it’s handled.
57:00 The section where Sora’s crush gives him a sexytimes gift is really lovely and sweet, and also the most frustrating thing in the entire world. It’s such a well-done scene.
1:00:30 I feel like I don’t really need to explain homosocial behavior, because this Kiss the homies good night meme does it better than I could.
1:02:30 Going to a washroom cubicle to cry is kinda sad, but going into a washroom cubicle to cry because you can’t handle someone loving and accepting you? That’s the real stuff right there.
1:02:45 I think the comparison between Chip Kidd’s design for the book versus the Japanese/French editions is really interesting. They took this book and they turned it from a traditional 3 volume manga series with ‘manga’ appeal, and turned it into a Graphic Novel, with appeal somewhere between adult fiction and artsy young adult fiction. I have a lot of thoughts about why manga publishers don’t repackage manga for different audiences… And the short version is they don’t really have to. Usually. They made this one into something special, and it looks like the whole Mangasplaining crew agrees! Thanks for listening!
1:05:00: THE BREAK
01:05:30 SHOUT OUTS
DAVID’s shout-out is for the manga series And Yet The Town Moves by Masakazu Ishiguro.
CHIP’s shout-out is for The Bear, about a fine dining chef who moves back to Chicago who takes over his brother’s sandwich restaurant.
CHRISTOPHER’s shout-out is Fortnite. Don’t play Fortnite.
DEB’s shout-out is Our Dreams at Dusk (a.k.a. Shimanami Tasogare) by Yuhki Kamatani published by Seven Seas.
[Deb:] Our Dreams at Dusk is a beautifully-drawn 4-volume story about a high school boy dealing with his gay identity while having a crush on his straight classmate. He later finds solace in a community center where he befriends gay, lesbian and ace (asexual) people who give him courage to face the future (sounds kinda familiar, yeah?).
She also recommends Came the Mirror and Other Tales, a collection of short stories by Rumiko Takahashi (creator of Ranma ½ and Inu-Yasha) published by VIZ Media.
She picks it specifically for “My Sweet Sunday,” a collection of autobio comics stories drawn by Takahashi and fellow Shonen Sunday manga legend Mitsuru Adachi about how their respective careers in manga started, developed and intersected over the years. It’s charming and full of interesting tidbits, like how Takashashi had a crush on Crying Freeman co-creator Ryoichi Ikegami.
Speaking of Maid Cafes, here is photo proof of Christopher’s Maid Cafe Membership Card:
And that’s this week in Mangasplaining! This episode is also available wherever you get your podcasts, so please subscribe and leave a review, so others can discover our show. Also, if you’d like to get the latest episode delivered straight to your inbox along with exclusive interviews, articles and new chapters of manga you can’t read anywhere else, subscribe to our Substack newsletter. See what you’re missing at Mangasplaining Extra!
Next week on Mangasplaining:
Get ready for our episode on Kowloon Generic Romance vol. 1 by Jun Mayuzuki, from Yen Press. It’s another grown-up book for grown-ups — but will Chip like it too? Find out next week!
Thanks so much for listening! Please support your local comic and manga specialty shop when purchasing these books, and you can find one near you at comicshoplocator.com. You can also check your local library for print and digital lending options, they have TONS of manga! Finally, thanks to D.A.D.S. for their musical accompaniment for this episode.