You can view part one of this article here
Part 2 – The Blockbusters
If you asked an average Tagame fan for his favourite picture, I suspect that many would have some difficulty nominating a specific one, but typically might recall a spectacular, torture scene along the lines of the one above (from 'The Silver Flower'). Tagame uses striking images like this as points of climax and high drama within the story. Close-up views and unusual viewpoints help to make them extremely powerful and dramatic. Yet, paradoxically, while Tagame's canon of work is highly regarded, the individual 'blockbuster' images just don't seem to enjoy the same fame as (for example) Tom's or Etienne's work. Why should this be?
I suppose pictures like this, daring and original in their time, have been overtaken by a decade of adventurous bondage photography which has made them seem rather less exciting. Tagame's treatment of this subject is not particularly sensual or dramatic either. There's no wriggling or escaping going on, just an angry expression on the captive's face, accentuated by his very bushy eyebrows and moustache (which for me quite neutralises any erotic feeling). Tagame's coloured images do often look rather 'staged'. In this particular example we also have an upside-down, human image. Our brains have difficulty decoding these and that infuses the image with a sense of the unexpected and bizarre. It's a useful technique in a comic story but the images don't seem to register in our memories in quite the same way as normal orientations.
There's plenty of facial hair in this image too (from Gedo – House of Brutes) but the tearful face (in contrast to Mr Angry above) amply compensates and I do like the swirling patterns of his body hair. It all suggests this is a very virile man, but in the story he is supposed to be a young husband who is not up to his marital duties. He is mercilessly chastised and given unconventional guidance by his father and family (counter-productive in this form I would have thought!).
This image could easily have been a suspension pose as well, but dumping the captive on the floor helps to emphasise the contempt and humiliation being heaped upon him. The single foot in the corner of the picture, threatening a well-aimed kick, looks a little odd, but feet and shoes are highly symbolic of scorn in many cultures.
Tagame loves chunky, thick-waisted bodies but he gives himself an artistic challenge by trying to fold them up like this. The result is not quite convincing, but this is one of Tagame's images that has 'stuck' with me – that's partly because of knowing the erotic 'mitchmen-esq' background story. It's a reminder that these pictures are from comic book narratives and are not really designed to be viewed on their own. These climactic scenes, seen in isolation contain few pointers to the context and background story and where clues do exist (as in this example) they can be puzzlingly obscure, but that's simply because it is all laid out in preceding frames.
This page from 'The Trophy' makes the point quite well. The final electro-torture image is very dramatic in it's own right, but it works even better with the introductory frames. In fact the first little picture showing electrical 'currents' dancing around the water-soaked captive's neck and body is an impressive, suggestive little detail in it's own right. It's the sort of chopped-off, half-explored idea that makes Tagame's work both tantalising and frustrating at times.
In this page from 'Jujitsu Kyoshi', two striking images have been cropped, reoriented in one case and shoe-horned in together to create an impression of the prolonged and varied punishment of the disgraced Jujitsu Instructor. Tagame knows what he is doing, he wants you to turn the page round and it works fine for the purpose of the comic, but I guess it's not surprising if cropped pictures like these do not get wider recognition. I think the right hand one in particular is excellent. The intensity of the encounter is brilliantly captured in the different expressions on the two men's faces- cold determination vs fearful anticipation. The drawn back whipping arm and the ball-stretching gym weight are superb details.
Notice the use of atmospheric, background patterning in this and the previous image. It's a favourite device of Tagame, not only contributing to the feel of the picture but saving him from having to deal with background areas too small to convey useful detail. More importantly, it seems to reflect an interest in conveying what the victim is experiencing - the searing razzle of the electricity, the surge of cold water, the tingling sting of the whip.
This is part of the finale from 'The Trophy'. The story features Funayama (a policeman and national sports champion, left) who is kidnapped on the orders of a lustful politician and forced to become his plaything (the electro-torture image above captures part of that process). Funayama's police colleague (right) who tries to find him is caught too and shares his fate. Not Tagame's most inventive plot, but the ending is spectacular as the two men end up pitted against each other in a bizarre (if improbable) contest of sexual capability.
This enema retention test produces an amazing picture, but (like the candle picture above) the strange angles, with bodies oriented in almost every direction take a lot of sorting out visually. The non-standard, thick waisted body shapes don't seem to help either. There's no shame in this, bodies lying on the floor are very difficult to render - even in photographs - and particularly if their limbs are not in their usual arrangements. Compare Etienne's hog-tie from Sailor Beware (below)
Etienne - Sailor Beware
As an aside, notice how Etienne's picture is positively stuffed with clues about what's going on.
In contrast, Tagame's picture does not have any indications that the captives are Police colleagues being groomed for sexual slavery. Nor is it obvious that both men in Tagame's picture have one hand and ankle cuffed together and hoisted in the air – making enema insertion easy and giving the potential for a very sexy pose. Tagame passes on this because the head to tail arrangement of the two men is important for what follows in the story (you work it out!). Mr Angry makes a reappearance here, it seems rather a pompous response to anal insertion, but happily, the young Funayama looks more suitably discomforted.
Whipping (from Takeki Chishio)
Tagame's readiness to depict pretty much any extreme you can imagine is part of his attraction for some and but undoubtedly the reverse for others. His 'historical' stories in particular sometimes feature successions of barbaric tortures and mutilations, even executions, all graphically portrayed. For my money these go beyond the realms of erotica into pure 'horror'. This image (and the 'Wedge' image posted previously) are as far as I want to go in giving examples, suffice to say this is just the opening shot in this man's terminal torment.
Notice that it's a double whipping and another extremely effective portrayal of a vicious punishment. In this image, the sound and movement 'effects' are more prominent, visually conveying urgency and drama while a bold ray pattern represents the impact and focus on the man's back. Once again, it works perfectly well on the comic page, but taken in isolation is a bit overwhelming.
My final example portrays a less violent torment inflicted on a young man by a gang of blackmailers in 'The Trap'. The preceding frames detail his forcible undressing step by step in a scene you won't have seen replicated in any video. The sequence culminates in this bottom shot to die for - but what a disappointment it is to have prominent speech bubbles blocking the middle part of the image!
The fact is that Tagame is a story-teller. The dialogue drawing out the poor victim's secret desires is clichéd, but it's the main point of this storyline. The exposure of his smooth and rather beautiful young body teases us but is mainly there to represent a sort of purity that is progressively tainted by the gang as they taunt him, humiliate him and then take him - and he discovers that he likes it. So what appears at first to be a familiar 'get-em-off' sex scenario turns out to be a porn-y parable of a young man discovering his true sexuality.
In this part of my article I've tried to show how Tagame's comic book techniques and his focus on story-telling cause his imagery to seem unsatisfying when viewed in isolation. Tagame's stories are the essence of his work and the illustrations are simply the building blocks of them. He doesn't want you to get off on looking at the characters, but by seeing, sharing almost, what happens to them. As I explained in part 1, getting into his stories isn't easy, but they reward the effort, having more depth than you might expect, reflecting the experience, the unfairness, the consequences of growing up gay and that is what I will explore in my next article.
Part 3 continues here
Part 3 continues here
Meanwhile, I recommend readers to visit Tagame's website
For other articles in this 'mitchmen' series click on the A-Z label below