The work of legendary gay erotic artist Gengoroh Tagame (田亀源五郎. 1964-) has been notoriously hard to track down outside of Japan. That this master’s work should languish in obscurity felt like an injustice, and it was part of the reason that Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd and I decided to put together Tagame’s first English-language collection of comics, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame.
When I moved back to Los Angeles this summer, after a year in Chicago, I made it a priority to reconnect with Tom of Finland Foundation. Sharp and Durk were incredibly gracious and welcoming, granting me the privilege of exploring the Foundation’s impressive erotic art archives. I felt like a kid in a candy store as I delved into the collection, discovering a bounty of work by Gengoroh Tagame and other legends of Japanese gay erotic art, including Sadao Hasegawa (長谷川サダオ, 195?-1999) and Goh Mishima (三島剛, 1924-1988). The importance of what the Foundation is doing in preserving these works cannot be understated: it’s one of the few outposts in the world dedicated to keeping this vital history alive.
Aside from being one of the world’s great gay erotic artists, Gengoroh Tagame is also a devotee of erotic art history (even penning an invaluable series of books entitled Gay Erotic Art in Japan) and a huge fan of Tom of Finland. In 1995, when Tagame co-founded the iconic Japanese gay magazine G-men, he traveled to Los Angeles and spent time at the Tom of Finland Foundation, donating some of his early works and collecting materials that would illustrate a beautiful spread about Tom in an early issue of G-men. From an e-mail exchange with Gengoroh Tagame:
Since 1950s, the works of ToF were already published many times in Japan, but all of them were piratical publishing. They were expendables, just pornographic eye candy, and never introduced the artist himself. I was a big fan of ToF, and already personally mail-ordered 2 books of Retrospective personally from the publisher.
So, when I started G-men, I wanted to feature ToF formally, not only his works, with his portrait as an artist. The chief editor agreed, we went to USA for a week for coverage. We went to San Francisco first, to walk with the pride march (one of our friend who was a Japanese postman had the plan to walk with SF’s postmen group, so we asked to join it, and walked).
Second, we went to LA to visit ToFF. Then we visited their place, and had meetings with Durk Dehner, Richard Hawkins and F. Valentine Hooven III who is the author of Beefcake: The Muscle Magazines of America, 1950-1970. There, I saw the original drawings of ToF first time, and was very impressed, and also impressed to see Tom’s playroom in basement.
Tagame stayed in touch with the Foundation over the years, sending them delightful BDSM Christmas cards, beefcake postcards, and copies of his books and magazines.
Take a peek at a few of the incredible works by Gengoroh Tagame archived by Tom of Finland Foundation in the gallery below. For a more comprehensive look, check out the Tom of Finland Foundation tag on my Tumblr, Gay Manga!