Going Gaga for Gay Manga

by Jill Gleeson

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday August 30, 2016

If you don't know about it yet, don't feel too badly. Erotic gay manga, a subgenre of the popular Japanese comic books with highly stylized, colorful graphics and adult themes, has traditionally been little known outside of the fringiest, most hardcore communities. While the Tom of Finland Foundation has been steadily amassing a collection of it, even within the Land of the Rising Sun gay manga has long been considered taboo and faced censorship.

But thanks to Massive, a New York-based company dedicated to bringing the art form to the masses, you can not only purchase gay manga, you can wear it.

Gay Manga Goes Mainstream

The brainchild of friends Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins, Massive was born in 2013 with the publication of "The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame," a collection of the master illustrator's dark, sexually explicit cartoons centered on ultra-violent tales of bondage and sadism. Ishii and Kolbeins, who worked with legendary graphic designer Chip Kidd to bring "The Passion" to fruition, also included interviews and author notes. Before long, encouraged by brisk sales, the team had begun offering T-shirts graced by Tagame's stunning line drawings of bound and often gagged hyper-masculine men.

The gay hip-hop and trans community went wild for the shirts and that same year Opening Ceremony came knocking. The global fashion brand teamed up with Massive to create a 2014 collection featuring the work of Jiraiya, who is (along with Tagame) considered one of the most influential creators of gay manga. According to Ishii, however, the styles of the two artists couldn't be more different.

"Tagame leans more toward the style of Tom of Finland that incorporates fetish, a lot of power dynamic in play," she explains. "Jiraiya is more cheerful. He's said in interviews that the most important thing for gay media to do is to give readers something to look forward to because there's so much darkness in the news. And Jiraiya is probably best known for his illustrations, which are all air-brush technique. He has a very photorealistic sensibility - it's less like line art."

Gearing Up

The partnership with Opening Ceremony was such a hit that a second collection followed in 2015. While the company is not currently offering any Massive gear, that will change; Ishii characterizes the collaboration with Opening Ceremony as "ongoing."

In the meantime, the Massive website continues to offer an array of striking goods emblazoned with gay manga art, from T-shirts and sweatshirts to underwear, hats, bags and, of course, plenty of graphic novels. There also are buttons and postcards available featuring Jiraiya's beefy, lip-smacking "Best Couple," the sales of which benefit victims of the Pulse nightclub attack. Most unusual is the "Passion Bag," a luxury rope bondage bag inspired by the artwork of Tagame and constructed by designer The Henry.

"Not only is it an interesting bag, but we source everything domestically," says Ishii. "It's all produced in New York City. Henry actually constructs the knotting himself, so it takes an entire day to assemble the bag. It's the first thing we've done with this kind of scope, but we do want to eventually do something a little more affordable, maybe smaller, maybe less complicated. But this is an homage - Tagame specifically really spoke to Henry. There is something really beautiful about the bondage that Tagame portrays. Even if you aren't into that kind of kink it's really mesmerizing."

What's Ahead

Massive has commissioned another graphic novel from Jiraiya (scheduled to release this fall) and will launch a line of clothing to coincide with the book's release. No matter how popular the merchandise becomes or how big the company grows, Massive will remain guided chiefly by Ishii and Kolbein's deep appreciation for gay manga.

"It's beautiful art, and it's always astonishing to me when beautiful art goes overlooked or misunderstood or underappreciated," Ishii details. "I just really wanted to make sure it got presented correctly and with respect. It's the kind of thing that could easily go into the realm of the ghettoization of Japanese manga forms. I'm thinking specifically of things like Sailor Moon or Pokemon. I wanted to make sure that didn't happen to gay comics."

Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.