(About male art, not mostly about language, though taxonomies figure prominently.)
Max Vasilatos has been sending me postcards from a collection of Kinu Sekigushi’s Manga Boys cards (2005), from his Manga Boys book of 2004. KS is a gay French artist living in Paris, apparently self-taught, creating manga/anime — sensual, homoerotic images — outside of the Japanese yaoi tradition of manga, but clearly influenced by it, as well as by the conventions of American comics (link). He draws very masculine young men in close to equal sexual relationships (though b/t coding — roughly “bottom” vs. “top”, see here — is almost inescapable in these matters), young men of complex racial/ethnic identity (as this is represented in the comics).
An album of KS’s drawings, focusing first on the aspects of the male body that preoccupy him: (a) buns and (b) muscular upper bodies/torsos and bulging crotches (ass and cock, the two foci of gay male sexual desire):
On the ass patrol, two images (note the buttocks barcode in the first):
Both drawings have men with what we might think of as “trendy Japanese” hair.
Then two frontal images, focused on muscles and crotches:
(Surfer and skater boys figure prominently in SK’s imagery.)
The postcard book doesn’t go full frontal, but SK hasn’t shied away from this: see an example on AZBlogX, here, along with a pissing-against-a-wall image.
And then there are the couples, many couples, three of them below:
#5 has two very “Western” men (in hair style and eye shape), but of different skin coloration (and note the profusion of phallic calla lilies). #6 has two thoroughly “Japanese” men (in SK’s representations). #7 has two conventionally slant-eyed men, but of very different skin colors. This is SK’s world: masculine men loving masculine men, in any combination of race/ethnicity.
This is certainly manga/anime, but it’s far from the traditions of the Japanese genres. Here we enter a thicket of taxonomies (which SK largely stands outside of). Start with yaoi:
Yaoi, also known as Boys’ Love, is a Japanese popular term for female-oriented fictional media that focus on homoerotic or homoromantic male androphilic sexual relationships, usually created by female authors. An article … describes it as having begun as homegrown fan fiction between male cartoon characters. As these depict males, there is an androphilic male audience as well; however, manga aimed at a gay male audience (bara) is considered a separate genre. The main characters in yaoi usually conform to the formula of the seme (top or attacker) who pursues the uke (bottom or receiver). The material that would be classified into this genre primarily involves gay relationships between the handsome or cute (male) characters, usually erotic.
Although the genre is called Boys’ Love (commonly abbreviated as “BL”), the males featured are pubescent or older. Works featuring prepubescent boys are labeled shotacon, and seen as a distinct genre. Yaoi (as it continues to be known among English-speaking fans) has spread beyond Japan: both translated and original yaoi is now available in many countries and languages.
Yaoi began in the dōjinshi (fan fiction) markets of Japan in the late 1970s/early 1980s as an outgrowth of shōnen-ai, also known as “Juné” or “tanbi” (which contain platonic relationships between pubescent or pre-pubescent boys), but whereas shōnen-ai were original works, yaoi were parodies of popular shōnen anime and manga. Yaoi came to be used as a generic term for female-oriented manga, anime, dating sims, novels and fan fiction works featuring idealized homosexual male relationships.
Most yaoi fans are either teenage girls or young women. The female readership in Thailand is estimated at 80%, and the membership of Yaoi-Con, a yaoi convention in San Francisco, is 85% female. It is usually assumed that all female fans are heterosexual, but in Japan there is a presence of lesbian manga authors and lesbian, bisexual or questioning female readers. Recent online surveys of English-speaking readers of yaoi indicate that 50-60% of female readers self-identify as heterosexual.
So though there’s a very broad sense 0f yaoi, taking in all male-male manga, the label also applies narrowly to a very specific, and very Japanese, genre, in which visual style, thematic content, and intended audience are united; SK’s work is far from this genre. It is in fact also distant from the Japanese sub-genre of bara, given that bara’s premier artist, Gengoroh Tagame, specializes in
gay BDSM erotic manga, many of which depict graphic violence. The men he depicts are hypermasculine, and tend to be on the bearish side. (link)
This isn’t SK’s world either.
SK’s men live in a multi-racial easy-going queer youth culture that has little to do (other than in artistic style) with the world of Japanese yaoi, or bara, or shotokan. When I describe his stuff, I tend to fall back on the adjective sweet, which of course doesn’t encompass the reasons why these images get many men off, but does get at their tone. They’re hot and sweet and (because they’re self-mocking) funny.