Ex Civil-War surgeon George Callahan is a man haunted by his past. Unwilling to deal with the demons of his childhood he turns to opium, and finds back-alley employment with the heartless brothel keepers of San Francisco’s Chinatown. In Volume 1 of this gorgeously illustrated gay historical drama, Dr. George Callahan searches for a Chinese woman from his past, and soon finds himself unwittingly drawn to dim-witted male prostitute Jun, whose own life is complicated by the unwanted attentions of an aggressive bouncer named Roan Baxter.
Games with Me is an original German manga published in Germany by The Wild Side in (2009). The English language edition is currently available in digital format only, on the KINDLE reader from Amazon
Review by Erastes
Tina Anderson never conforms, and never shies away from pushing hard at the edges of her genre. I’m no yaoi expert, as I’ve said before on this blog; the handful of books I’ve read have not gripped me because of the dewy eyed and seemingly mentally deficient ukes and enormous and suited semes–plus rape being a shortcut to love of course, which seems to be a must.
However, here we DO have a dewy eyed, long haired uke AND a angsty stern be-suited seme. But there the comparison stops dead. And good job too.
Right from the first page we are thrust into Callahan’s bloody world. He’s a doctor all right, but he’s an abortionist at the same time, necessary work for the brothels of San Francisco in 1869. It’s clear that Callaghan is talented, and has a conscience, but we are also shown –cleverly–that he’s got that certain disconnect that many doctors need to have. The Chinese think he’s dead inside, a frozen man.
He is a troubled man, and one clearly with a “past.” He loses himself in opium when he’s not working–what is he trying to forget?
Callaghan calls at a male brothel to collect payment for a job, and asks to spend some time with a young man there, called Jun. “A retard” according to Roan, the brutish bouncer. As Callaghan walks to Jun’s room, there are chilling details, a padlocked gate, windows that don’t look out onto the outside world, a man with two obviously underaged boys. We know, if we hadn’t known from page one, that we aren’t in yaoi land any more.
Jun is heartbreakingly my favourite character in this. So sweet to George (and you can guess, probably to all of his customers) and with the mind of a child you almost feel uncomfortable reading about him, but he’s not a child–the book doesn’t cross that line. It’s clear that George knows Jun from somewhere, and the first volume here doesn’t do more than tease us with this.
There’s a subplot involving Roan, the bouncer–who fancies the pretty Jun, too, and wants to play “love games” with him. Jun, to my delight, was nicely pragmatic, telling Roan he had to buy a card to spend time with him. (Red for teatime, White for fulltime, Black for roughtime) It broke me when George pushes Jun away at one point and Jun recoils in fear “if you want to hurt me, you got gotta buy a black card!” Just. Gah.
But, the writer being who she is, doesn’t make Roan a typical villain. He actually does seem to want Jun, he just doesn’t have a clue how to approach him, how to woo him. Jun is understandably wary of the man, as he’s obviously been abusive–or worse–to him before, so Roan tempts him with toys.
The drawings are beautiful. Brighto doesn’t stick to any fixed layout, but changes it from page to page, sometimes three panels, sometimes less, a full page here, a small insert picture there – I’m sure there are technical terms for this, but I’m afraid I don’t know them. Also it’s nice not to have to read front to back! The historical detailing is beautifully done, the clothes are good, as is the architecture and the sex is rather warming without showing anything too graphic.
Take all that, and the promise of volume 2 to come, and you certainly have a keeper in my book. I can’t wait to find out what happens next. This ranks up there with the best gay historical graphic novels – the other being, of course, Only Words, by Tina Anderson and Caroline Monaco.
If reality based m/m historicals are selling, and are popular, then so do graphic novels deserve to be. I highly recommend this, and hope that it comes out as a print book at some point–that she gets a publisher to take it on, as it’s only available in English as a Kindle version at the moment. But if you have a Kindle, then don’t miss out of this little gem of a book.