Wednesday, June 18, 2008

One Thousand Years of Manga

The Daily Yomiuri Online has published an article about a fascinating book called "One Thousand Years of Manga", which traces the cultural roots of Japanese comics dating all the way back to the 11th century. This is very unique as most English-language books about manga only cover the past few decades. Looks like an interesting read, and this article goes on to explain how rich the world of manga really is.

The book itself is available right now on Amazon. You can read the article about it on the Daily Yomiuri website or click the link below to read it here.

From emakimono to Osamu Tezuka: Book goes through 1,000 years of a 'uniquely Japanese' manga history

Kumi Matsumaru / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

Art historian Brigitte Koyama-Richard points to various art forms that have sprung from or been influenced by the interplay of cultures. For instance, the Art Nouveau movement in France took inspiration from Japanese ukiyo-e prints, while the works of today's Japanese mangaka are seen to be affected by the style of Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha.

Still, Koyama-Richard said manga is an art form that developed in its own particular way in Japan, and she wants to introduce the history of the deeply Japanese art through her book One Thousand Years of Manga.

Going back as far as the seventh century, the 247-page coffee-table book One Thousand Years of Manga explores the history of manga, showing how it led to the works of modern manga masters such as Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) and Shigeru Mizuki (born 1922). With about 400 images, the book focuses on emakimono illuminated scrolls made in the late 11th century at one point and on manga about heroes drawn during the postwar reconstruction period at another, showing how manga have been created to reflect changes in society and people's moods and interests.

Covering such a long span of years was possible because Koyama-Richard, a professor of art history and comparative literature at Musashi University in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, is a researcher of ukiyo-e and Japonisme as well as manga.

This distinguishes the book from those written by most Western researchers about Japanese manga as they usually cover only the several most recent decades, from the time mangaka such as Astroboy and Black Jack creator Tezuka were active up to the present day.

According to Koyama-Richard, nishiki-e prints made in the Edo period (1603-1867) were often satirical and rich with a sense of fun, features that are also found in today's manga. "I think they share a similar esprit, satisfying the purpose of entertaining people."

Thanks to her comprehensive approach, One Thousand Years of Manga has already been in translated into English, Italian and German after its initial release in French in September last year.

In addition, Spanish and Polish editions are planned for this autumn. The linguistic multiplicity strongly suggests the book has distinctive content.

Koyama-Richard, a 30-year resident of Japan who is also well versed in Russian language and literature, said she wanted the book to change people's negative mind-set about manga, in France in particular.

"In France, there are as many people who hate manga as who like it. They automatically link manga with violence and sex, without reading it," Koyama-Richard said. "While studying ukiyo-e, I learned how much [Gegege no Kitaro creator] Mizuki-sensei, for example, loved Edo culture. It is very clear as he drew The 53 Stations on the Yokaido as a way to celebrate The 53 Stations of the Tokaido, the series of woodblock prints by Ando Hiroshige [1798-1858]. With such episodes, I wanted to show where manga came from and make people turn their eyes toward the culture of the old days."

The Tokaido was the main road between Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo), and Mizuki's "Yokaido" was a pun using the word "yokai," a general term for the folkloric Japanese spirit creatures that inspired many of his characters.

"For manga fans, I want them to know more about old Japanese culture, too, and that manga came from the wonderful culture," she said.

In April, Koyama-Richard was invited to give a lecture on the book at the Guimet Museum in Paris just before the start of an exhibition on ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) there. According to Koyama-Richard, because of the nature of the museum, which specializes in traditional Asian art, only two out of her 100-member audience said they had liked or read manga before. "But after the lecture, they told me that, although they knew nothing about manga or had believed manga were not worth reading, they now realized manga offers an interesting world.

"Such people must have thought ukiyo-e and manga were completely unrelated. They didn't know there is manga drawn for educational purposes, either."

Koyama-Richard said that, as a specialist of Japanese visual culture, writing the book was not difficult for her. "Moreover, I made a lot of discoveries while writing it. I really enjoyed it."

Still, Koyama-Richard confided that it took her two years to finish the first French edition as a great deal of time was needed to obtain permission to use images owned by various organizations. "As far as emakimono or things in the Edo or Meiji (1868-1912) period are concerned, Kumon Institute of Education [which contributed 31 images to the book] and museums were very cooperative in lending me images. But in terms of today's manga works, it was very difficult to obtain the copyright owners' permission," she said.

"One time, after I explained everything about my planned book, a copyright holder asked me, 'Then what do you want to do?' I could not understand the question, so I said, 'What do you mean?' Then I was asked if I was going to make a doll using the image I wanted to borrow! I replied, 'Well, I have never made any doll...'" she said with a laugh. For this reason, Koyama-Richard said it will be difficult to publish the book in a Japanese version.

Although there are many people outside Japan studying or drawing manga, Koyama-Richard believes that manga is still not part of their culture.

"Manga--I mean what is described as manga in Japan--is part of Japanese culture, and works created in other cultures as manga are not manga in a real sense," she said. "Manga is something you cannot create without the mind of a Japanese. It is a matter of esprit."

"But even if you are a non-Japanese, it may be possible to draw a manga after living here for a long time," the author said.
(Jun. 13, 2008)


lotusgreen said...

that's cool. thanks.

Anonymous said...

I've been looking for information about this book since I saw it in stores. I think I'll get get it. Thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this!
I could really use it on my concept paper. Of course, Full Credits to the book and site! *bows* ^O^/