When we get older, we are often asked — and ask ourselves — what we would say to our younger selves if we could. But writer / artist Gengoroh Tagame has taken this thought experiment one step further with Our Colors (hardcover, Kindle) a new manga that, as he explains in the following email interview (translated by Anne Ishii), he wrote for teenage Gengoroh.
Courtesy Of Gengoroh Tagame
I’d like to start with the story. What is Our Colors about, and when and where does it take place?
Set in contemporary Japan, Our Colors is a story that takes place one summer in a seaside town, following a gay high school student who loves to paint.
Where did you get the idea for Our Colors?
It’s something I’d wanted to read as a middle and high schooler myself, so decided to write for my own self. As I’m now in my 50s, I think of it as a gift to myself 40 years ago.
Is there a reason Sora is an aspiring painter as opposed to an aspiring filmmaker or aspiring video game designer or some other kind of visually-oriented creative person?
I wanted Sora as a main character to coincide somewhat with who I was as a young person. I also wanted a way to talk about the names of paint colors, and ways to talk about color in general, hence: painter.
In a similar vein, is there a reason why his friend Mr. Amamiya is an out and proud middle-aged man as opposed to a fellow teenager who’s also out or an even older out gay man, like say in his 70s?
I wanted to depict a relationship where two gay men of different generations could discover each other’s commonalities and differences; learn from each other. It’s principally a “coming of age” story, but not just for younger readers, but for older readers, actually. I think that’s who I really hope is affected by this story.
Our Colors is your seventh major series after The Toyed Man, The Silver Flower, Pride, The House Of Brutes, Do You Remember The South Island’s POW Camp, and My Brother’s Husband. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on Our Colors but not on anything else you’ve written?
Not really. I have always written “comics I want to read” and this time it was “comics I would have liked to have read in high school.”
How about non-literary influences; was the story in Our Colors influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I was really moved by the positivity of Love, Simon.
This seems like a good time to switch over to the art. What artists — comic book and otherwise — do you see as having a big influence on the way you drew Our Colors? Because some people have compared some of your art to Tom Of Finland, but it seems like that style might not work as well for this kind of story.
Depicting male-female relationships as a main storyline was definitely a new challenge for me, and I fumbled around a bit, but there weren’t any particular influences or references as far as other works or writers.
One thing that’s interesting about Our Colors is that while the story, as you mentioned, deals with color, the book’s art is black & white. Was there any thought on your part of having the art be full color, or maybe black & white but with splashes of color like what Frank Miller did in his Sin City books?
Japanese manga magazines run almost everything monochrome as a rule, and even if there are occasional color pages in the serializations, when they’re compiled into graphic novels (tankobon), they’re rendered in black and white anyway. So there isn’t the opportunity to consider full or part color in the first place.
Another interesting aspect is that the American version of Our Colors is a single volume, while the Japanese and European versions were three volumes. Did you add anything to the American one, like new transitional pages?
The Japanese version, like the American and European versions, are all identical in plot.
The U.S. edition of Our Colors was translated by Anne Ishii. In working with her on this translation, was there anything of major consequence that you had to change, like maybe because of cultural differences between American culture and Japan’s, or even American gay culture and Japan’s?
I haven’t had to change anything really. Anne might have adapted some things in her translation to make language more legible to North American readers, but I leave that wholly up to her.
Now, along with Our Colors, Fantagraphics are issuing two anthologies of your work next month called The Passion Of Gengoroh Tagame: Master Of Gay Erotic Manga Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. What is actually included in those collections?
Passion Vol. 1 is a reprint of the first book that was originally published by Picturebox and then Gmunder Books. Passion Vol. 2 is a sequel and includes “Slave Training Summer Camp,” “Dissolve,” “The King Of The Sun,” and “Minimal Chronicles” which are being translated into English for the first time. They represent contemporary, period, and fantasy elements, while of course in the realm of gay BDSM comics.
Going back to Our Colors, both Hollywood and the Japanese film industry love turning manga into movies, TV shows, and video games. Do you think Our Colors could work as a movie, show, or game?
I fully welcome the opportunity to have my work adapted to film or television. If my work reaches more people, I should like to include myself in a new audience of an adaptation.
And would you want it to be live action or animated, and want it made by a Hollywood studio or a Japanese one?
I’m equally keen to see a live action or animated adaptation of my work, but I do think that because Our Colors explores the possibilities of art and color that animation might give a richer experience of the story. But I don’t feel strongly about where the production takes place, except that I’d want the production staff to consist mainly of openly queer people, and that might make it less likely or more difficult in Japan.
Finally, if someone enjoys Our Colors, what manga by someone else would you suggest they read next?
There are four works specifically that came out as Our Colors was culminating, also written by gay writers and directed to teen readers. Minamoto Kazuki’s Kaiju Ni Natta Gei [The Gay Who Turned Kaiju], Momose Shuhei’s Mukai-Kunwa Sugoi! [Mukai-Kun Is Awesome!], Nohara Kuro’s Kimino Senaka [Ytaring At Your Back], and Okura’s Uchino Musukowa Tabun Gei [My Son Is Probably Gay]. These are all epoch-making manga, in my opinion. In my thirty-five years of making manga as an openly out gay artists I have never seen any other openly out gay artists, until now. And I have no knowledge of any commercial publishers producing teen manga for gay readers written by gay writers. To think that, including Our Colors, there are now five publications coming out at once is extraordinary. I was so overjoyed about this, and because each of us is writing such different stories with different styles, I encourage everybody to read and compare all of these works.