One of the great things about LGBTQ+ graphic novels is that they can defy stereotypes. An excellent example is the manga My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame. Homosexuality in Japanese comics is mostly of the Yaoi (Gay) and Yuri (Lesbian) variety, which tends towards the very romantically dramatic and artistically stylized, and is often written for a heterosexual audience. My Brother’s Husband is very different from this approach. While the drama looks at the broader Japanese social perceptions of homosexuality, the internal struggles of the characters, especially main character Yaichi Origuchi, takes centre stage. Tagame’s art is also very clean and clear and the linework is superb; beautifully setting this work apart from the more stylized mainstream.
Family is at the centre of the story of My Brother’s Husband. Yaichi is well acquainted with loss – his parents died in a car accident, he has separated from his wife Natsuki, and his twin brother Ryoji left for Canada and has not been in contact for 10 years. When Ryoji dies abroad, Yaichi learns that Ryoji was married to Mike Flanagan, who comes to visit Japan. Mike wants to see the places Ryoji told him about and also get to know his brother-in-law Yaichi and Yaichi’s young daughter Kana.
Yaichi has conflicted feelings about Mike. Mike was a part of Ryoji’s life that Yaichi knew nothing about, and Yaichi is uncertain about his own feelings about homosexuality. Kana is the bridge between the two men – she is delighted to have a Canadian uncle and fascinated by the big, burly Mike. She insists that Mike stay with the family for the duration of his visit, and despite Yaichi’s discomfort, he agrees to host. This sets the stage for Yaichi to challenge his own prejudices and misconceptions as he spends time with Mike.
Another great book that challenges stereotypes is Jen Wang’s The Prince and the Dressmaker. Set in Paris near the end of the nineteenth century, Wang’s story focuses on the relationship between Frances, a lower class dressmaker and aspiring fashion designer, and Prince Sebastian, the young prince of Belgium who is in Paris for the summer to be matched with a noble bride.
Sebastian has found that he is happiest and his best self when he’s wearing colourful and stylish dresses, and Frances quickly becomes his confidant when he hits the town as Lady Crystallia. Although Sebastian is comfortable with who he is and what makes him happy, he is also aware that as the crown prince, he must not let anyone know about this aspect of his life. His family expects him to select a bride from the noble ladies visiting, and he is also aware that he is not the bombastic, buff military man that his father and other nobles around him are. Frances supports him and his nightly transformation, but is also aware of the precarious position she is in – she is known by many to work for the Prince, and as her designs become more famous as worn by Lady Crystallia, she risks someone connecting the two through her.
Jen Wang’s art is very clear and bold, and the colours in the book are muted but reminiscent of the posters of Toulouse-Lautrec, adding the sense of time and place. Characters are dynamic in their depiction, in some cases exaggerated, but help establish their character, from the rugged and oversized King to the severe leanness of the designer Madame Aurelia. The overall artistic feeling of the book is that of a slightly muted Disney fairytale, and the story itself is very much along fairytale lines, charming and magical while still being complex and interesting.
These titles and other LGBTQ+ graphic novels are available in print and also as eBooks through our website.
Ryan Gracey – www.tbpl.ca. If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you.