Drawn That Way
If you're familiar with manga (Japanese comic books), you may also know about yaoi, Japanese fiction (comics, videos, games, etc.) that focuses on male-male erotic relationships--but for a female audience, and, for the most part, by female authors and artists. I'm no expert, but I could not resist dipping into the genre when, browsing on Amazon, I found Pinned! a 2005 manga by Studio Kosaru of Indonesia and Yamila Abraham, whose setting is the world of professional wrestling. Fortunately for me, it's in English translation, though I might have convinced myself to get it just for the pictures of wrestling and soft-core gay porn (badly drawn, but they get the point across).
The plot concerns a young Mexican wrestler named Synn who catches the eye of the Wrestling World heavyweight champion, Renegade, an Italian-American wrestler Synn has idolized since childhood. The catch is that Renegade is gay, and the rumors are that Ren raped and blacklisted his last lover-slash-tag-partner, Stalker, and now he wants to help Synn's career while helping himself to Synn's as-yet untouched ass. Renegade's name says it all. He plays by his own rules--and he's got a taste for S&M kink that Synn finds both repulsive and fascinating. Ren also likes playing with Synn's head, sweet-talking him at first, then bluntly telling him he wants to fuck his ass, and then creating elaborate angles (inside and outside the ring) to reel the rookie in. Sensing the youngster's trepidation, Renegade makes a magnanimous gesture, setting up a championship match in which he and Synn face off in a climactic fight so that Synn can become the youngest heavyweight champ in history.
Pinned! is a decidedly low-brow but addictive melodrama that lumps together elements of The Wrestler, Valley of the Dolls, The Vampire Lestat, Wall Street, and Basic Instinct. And if Renegade's machinations were not already enough to overwhelm him, the sensitive teen hero also has to deal with overnight success--a scary female fan who is suddenly glued to him--and the jealousy of fellow wrestlers who think he's getting too much too soon (i.e. what they've been waiting years for). Like a lot of popular culture, especially Japanese pop culture, readers must tolerate sudden shifts in emotion and character, with no plausible psychological motivation, all because the clunky plot needs to move along a predestined path.
Synn especially is a conveniently blank slate--straight-identified but marked as gay by every other signifier. His ambivalence about Renegade is matched with a curious absence of evidence that he has any other life or identity apart from Renegade--no girlfriend, no past romances, no legal guardians, a sterling reputation in "grassroots wrestling" that's never specified or described. The comic contains fleeting (and rather fun) interludes in the wrestling arena, but most of the story transpires in 5-star hotels, intercontinental jetliners, and assorted Southern California mansions.
I found the story irresistible. Definitely a guilty pleasure, the comic invokes not just the violence of ring wrestling but also abduction, rape, murder, and forcible massages. With the right cast (Taylor Lautner? Ryan Reynolds?), I'd see the movie, and then buy the movie on Blu Ray. The line drawing is fairly primitive, and the eroticism is concealed behind conveniently placed home furnishings--or simply heard offstage, all that bumping and moaning behind walls. Its raciest elements are simply talked about. But any romantic drama with a belly-to-back suplex in the opening frame has guaranteed I'll be on for the full ride.