Pretty Boys and Animals: A Coloring Book
Artist: Emrys Csato
There is a great deal of discussion about the portrayal of the female form in Western pop culture. However, the male form is often equally distorted.
To be clear, I’m not against idealized bodies in comics and cartoons. Most of them focus on larger than life characters – the protagonists are the gods and goddesses of pulp and the artwork reflects that. But it can become tiring when this idealization only focuses on a certain body type or archetype.
Western pop culture tends to presents non-threatening, busty women as the female ideal and bland, sexless action men as the male one. When Western pop culture does sexualize men, it often does so by associating them with power rather than vulnerability. Male beauty is seldom celebrated and usually only if it fits a narrow definition of masculinity. Generally the Western ideal tends to be white and masculine.
This ideal is challenged by one of the tropes common to Japan. Bishōnen literally translates into beautiful youth or boy. While Bishōnen characters traditionally possess an androgynous beauty, they also challenge stereotypes about men who don’t fit the Western masculine ideal. The West still suffers from a disdain for those who transcend gender expectations, especially feminine men. Bishōnen challenge this perception of the feminine male as weak. In manga, this character archetype is usually linked with martial arts or other forms of fighting prowess.
Pretty Boys And Animals is a delightful coloring book for all fans of Bishōnen. Every one of the fifteen pages in Pretty Boys and Animals captures a tender moment between one of Csato’s characters and an animal.
In some ways, the project reminded me of the Marvel Swimsuit Editions of my youth in which iconic characters were displayed in relatable situations. And swimsuits.
Unlike the Swimsuit Editions, Csato successfully avoids the cheese-cake aspect of the pin-up genre. His characters embody a sort of masculine beauty seldom showcased in Western work. Csato’s men possess that unique mixture of vulnerability and lithe strength associated with the Bishōnen archetype.
The line work is varied enough to give his figures a sense of weight and solidity. The textures on each page are beautifully rendered, lending the work a tactile feel. The artwork itself is exquisite in its attention to detail.
Each character is unique and a great deal of thought has gone into matching them with the right animal. Pretty Boys With Animals is more than a celebration of beauty – it’s a meditation on man’s relationship with Nature.
The pages are printed on 190gsm A4 artist paper in pure white. This thickness allows for saturation from markers and is resistant to harsh treatment. This allows one to use a variety of mediums.
Pretty Boys With Animals would have worked well as an art book. But as a coloring book, it offers more than the pleasure of admiring art. It offers one the option of creating art and one can’t put a price on the thrill of creation.
The Pretty Boys With Animals Kickstarter runs until December 30.