Dear Editor of the Tumblr ********-bara,
Thank you for getting in touch with me, it’s good to start a dialogue. I’ve seen your site before and felt immense sadness and frustration that many of my favorite artists’ bodies of work are available on your Tumblr for free. I had decided to let it go (because what can I really do? I’m powerless to stop this in any meaningful sense), but the fact that you’re reaching out to me indicates that you haven’t quite thought through the ethical ramifications of what you’re doing. So if you’ll humor me for a minute, I’d like to walk you through it. You messaged me to ask where you can find a book that you’d like to buy (a single copy of), scan, and then disseminate for free. How are you okay with that?
Is it because it’s erotic art that you feel entitled to do this? Or, do you think the creator of said book (Go Fujimoto) makes so much money that he doesn’t need any more? Because he’s famous to you, do you picture him like Rick Ross, driving a Maybach around Okinawa and making it rain at the gay bar? I’m sorry to say that’s not even remotely the case. It would be amazing if gay mangaka were rewarded so handsomely for their incredible stories, their rarified artistic skills, their brazen courage to create homoerotic fantasies in the face of censorship and social stigma—that they didn’t have to worry about things like making the rent and keeping the heat on. I WISH a career in gay manga could pay artists the same amount of money that their more famous, heterosexual mangaka counterparts make.
Or even beyond that, imagine if Gengoroh Tagame or Jiraiya were rewarded for their labors – their hundreds of hours of work every month – with the kind of money that renowned contemporary artists make. I’m talking Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst money. Those fools make hundreds of millions of dollars for gold-plated, diamond-bedazzled turds churned out by anonymous assistants. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the artists we loved and respected made that kind of money? If Damien Hirst ever makes a comic book, by all means, you should bootleg that shit.
Unfortunately, Seizoh Ebisubashi does not have enough money to buy a small island. In fact, I’m not totally sure he has enough money for a vacation to a small island. But he works hard every day to keep churning out the artwork you love. He even posts free excerpts and work in progress on Tumblr. And then when he finishes a manga, he humbly posts a link to where you can spend a few dollars to legally download the work he spent weeks putting together. That’s apparently not enough for you. You have posted entire long-form works by him that took months or years for him to make, but are instantly devalued their free availability on Tumblr. Why buy the book when they’re right there on the screen?
Someone asked you recently how long you’ve been making this “amazing work.” Maybe they were confused because they’d never seen it before, and their only point of access to the life’s work of Gengoroh Tagame, Jiraiya, Seizoh Ebisubashi, Satoru Sugajima, Takeshi Matsu, and the others you’ve pirated, came through the filter of your bootleg scans. You responded: “Oh, Although I am an artist I haven’t posted any of my art work on my tumblr. The credit for the Manga that i post goes to the respected artist who I put in the description and the hastags.” The artists are not benefiting in any way from you “crediting” them in the hashtags. You’re only making it easier for their work to be found on Google and through Tumblr, be reblogged, and further devalue the worth of their books.
If you care about these artists as much as it seems like you do, because you spend a lot of time neatly organizing and sharing their work, you’ll stop what you’re doing. Remove the hundreds of unauthorized images of their work from your Tumblr. I encourage you to read the book I co-edited, Massive: Gay Erotic Manga and the Men Who Make It, and listen to the voices of the artists you’re bootlegging describe with passion and frustration how difficult it is to continue on with their careers in a world where their work is consistently devalued by sites like yours. (Also, they don’t use the term “bara” to describe their work, but that’s a whole other can of worms).
I’m not saying things are perfect – there are hundreds of gay manga out there that need to be made more readily available through authorized translations not only in English, but many other languages as well. It’s slow work, but we’re making incremental progress and soon we’ll be walking instead of crawling, and then we’ll be running instead of walking. I know that’s frustrating when everything can (and sometimes seems like it should) be made instantly accessible with a few clicks. But that’s a shortcut that harms the artists and the fragile industry that supports them.
If you like gay manga and want to see more of it, there’s a simple way you can help that happen. You don’t even need to spend any money—Just don’t reblog. It’s as simple as that. Don’t post and don’t repost the bootleg manga you will inevitably come across on this endlessly expansive Internet, and you’ll become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. I know this may involve some cognitive dissonance, but you’re going to have to divorce in your mind the act of bootlegging a Michael Bay blockbuster or a Taylor Swift album from the act of bootlegging a gay manga made by an artist struggling to meet deadlines in a one room apartment. At MASSIVE, we’re trying to foster an environment that can support the creation of new works, that can reward the artists the way they deserve to be rewarded. You can be a part of building that, too, simply by doing nothing! And that’s what you’ll do if you care about this work at all.
With love and respect,
P.S. How about instead, you post your own artwork that you mentioned? It seems like you have good taste, so maybe people who like what you’re bootlegging will appreciate the work you’re actually making. And then some day you can put it in a book! And hopefully people will buy it and you can make a living off your art. Wouldn’t you like to live in a world where that’s possible?
UPDATE: So, I’m pleasantly surprised to have heard back from the editor of the above-mentioned Tumblr. They responded thoughtfully and pledged to remove the bootleg scans from their blog. Sometimes talking about these issues really works! Thank you, editor, and sorry to single you out. It’s a widespread problem but one that we can each do something about, simply by posting responsibly.