Every year I try to write a little bit about an artist whose work I particularly enjoy that is attending TCAF as one of our guests. As Festival Director, I realize that it’s a bit treacherous to play favourites with the attending artists, and I generally don’t. If anything, I try to write about an artist whose work I love, but who might not be that well known to the general public, and who could use the ‘boost’ in notoriety before they get to the festival itself.
This year I was going to write about Shintaro Kago, Japanese gag cartoonist, pornographer, and comics formalist–a really interesting guy with really interesting work. I’d been thinking about the blog post I would make, here, on the blog, and maybe I’d also remind whatever readership I have left about TCAF coming up and all that, and it woulda been a nice post. A funny thing happened though, as I was composing that article in my head (I compose a lot of articles in my head that never make it here), I was approached by Kago’s Italian Publisher, Hollow Press, to write the introduction to TRACT, an original graphic novella of Kago’s work that would be debuting at TCAF 2016. I thought to myself that writing the introduction to that book would be just like writing an introduction to the cartoonist on my blog, more or less, so I happily accepted their offer and wrote my (short) introduction to the work of Shintaro Kago. It appeared in the new graphic novel TRACT, which as far as I can tell will not be distributed to North America through normal channels (The Beguiling has it, though, and it sold out at TCAF!).
And now I got a blog post out of it too:
INTRODUCTION TO SHINTARO KAGO’S TRACT
I have liked the work of Shintaro Kago for a very long time.
Since seeing his beautiful, perverse, inventive story Punctures in the year 2000 anthology Secret Comics Japan, I’ve been fascinated by a creator seemingly obsessed with comics formalism, the kind of work that could only be made because of the strengths of the comics medium, while simultaneously being draped with eroticism and grotesquery. These things don’t really exist in the American comics market, and this story (and really that whole anthology) was a revelation. I scrounged to find other works by Kago, some illegally (to my great shame), and each time I’d be thrilled and awed by comics that would push at the boundaries of the storytelling medium, while simultaneously being very explicitly sexual, and often quite disturbingly so. Pages and panels would rotate, spin, and fold on themselves and back again, all while distended genitalia would skitter along the gutters, having grown tiny limbs and minds of their own. Incredible stuff, reinforcing my idea that Japan was a land of unfettered experimentation within their comics industry, that manga was willing to truly expand the language of the form.
When I began to travel to Japan and to interview manga-ka, meeting Shintaro Kago and asking him about his groundbreaking work was at the top of my list. I finally got my chance on one trip, interviewing him about his long career in manga. After expressing my admiration (with examples!) I asked him why his incredible, experimental comics were so pornographic?
“Because adult magazines are the only places I can get published,” he answered. “As long as a story has some kind of sex, or even sex and grotesqueness, I can do whatever experiments I like.”
It was not the answer I was expecting, both disheartening and inspiring. It seems that even in Japan, the innovators of the industry must take work where they can find it, creators struggling to find their audience however they can, to connect with people. Much of Kago’s recent career has become trying to make these connections outside of the manga industry, through original toys, commissioned personal and professional illustrations, whatever it takes. I admire his dedication, and thank those that have seen the value in his work and published him.
To that end, I’m very grateful to Hollow Press for commissioning and publishing this second original work by Shintaro Kago, free from the bonds of genre and manga magazines, so that he might communicate his ideas on formalism, on storytelling, on comics to the wider world.
- Christopher Butcher, comics212.net & TCAF