If you love comics and you’re gay, or if you you’re gay and you love Japan, or if you’re none of these things but just want to read a good, nuanced story, then you should know that the English translation of Gengoroh Tagame’s My Brother’s Husband went on sale this week.
Even if you don’t know the name Gengoroh Tagame, you’ve likely seen his work — possibly online, possibly on Tumblr, possibly during some “me” time. Most of it scans more or less like Tom of Finland by way of Japan, with bearish, muscled men going at it in every conceivable position, often engaging in BDSM in the process.
Even if that kind of sex between those kinds of dudes isn’t your thing, you’d at the very least have to admit that Tagame is a master of drawing the human body, if not the male body in particular.
Here’s a SFW sample, cropped for viewing ease at even the most public of office computers.
You get the idea.
What’s notable about My Brother’s Husband, however, is that it has all the sexuality with none of the sex. It’s strictly PG. Go ahead: Flip through all 350 pages of it, and you won’t see a single dick.
Contrary to what you may be thinking, however, the dicklessness of My Brother’s Husband is actually a selling point. And it’s a remarkable moment in the career of an artist who dares to depart from what made him famous.
My Brother’s Husband focuses on Yaichi, a single Japanese dad raising his young daughter, Kana. He gets a visit from Mike, a burly Canadian man who was married to Yaichi’s twin brother, Ryoji, but who has recently become a widower. As a result of his brother’s coming out and immigrating to Canada, Yaichi had lost contact with him years ago, and he knows little about this well-meaning otaku who is visiting his late husband’s homeland in an apparent effort to find some closure.
In a more typical Tagame story, this setup would lead into some raunchy man-sex. That doesn’t happen. (Or at least not yet.) Instead, Tagame uses this tense meeting between estranged relatives to explore concepts such as the quirks of navigating Japan as a foreigner.
Right off the bat, Mike hugs Yaichi upon their first meeting. Yaichi later explains that Japanese people just aren’t huggers.
LGBTQ readers will likely relate to other situations in the book, even if they know nothing about Japanese culture. For example, in having to explain homosexuality to his daughter (and seeing her readily accept it in that way kids often do), Yaichi begins to question how he accepted Ryoji’s coming out and whether his muted reaction might have been what drove his brother out of his life.
In another incident, Kana wants to invite a school friend over to meet her Canadian uncle, but she’s confused when her friend’s mother forbids it, warning that this foreign gay man is a “negative influence.” Yaichi and Mike must subsequently explain that not everyone is necessarily enthusiastic about same-sex marriage.
(You can see a preview of one of the chapters over at io9, if you’re interested.)
Tagame’s style, even in SFW form, features big, beautiful panels that give a sense of human physicality but also the locations these characters occupy. When you read My Brother’s Husband, Yaichi’s version of Japan will seem real and lively, even though it’s just colorless lines on a page. It also makes the collection a quick read, even at 350 pages, but no worries: The cover marks it as the first volume of what we all should hope is an ongoing story.
And if Tagame’s newest doesn’t quite satisfy your desire to see hulking Japanese dudes exploring the each other’s tips and bits, last year’s collection of his erotic work, The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, is still available. Think of it as a companion piece for My Brother’s Husband.
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