Thursday, January 7, 2010

History of Manga, Part 17

Being outside of Japan, I'm not sure how much of Japanese culture you're really aware of. Within Tokyo, there are so many exhibitions and displays, it becomes hard to keep track of the differences between them. The Japanese have elevated the nature of exploring an art to an art itself. That is, most arts have ranks, and as you master different elements of that art, you increase in rank. The most obvious analogy is the martial arts, such as judo and karate, with their belt system, and sumo with its Ozeki/Yokozuna classes. And, just as there are competing styles within karate, there are competing schools within each art. Not all arts have clear rank distinctions, but the differentiation between a beginner and a master is as much about the craft as it is about understanding and following the traditions of a specific school within that art.

Some examples include:

Ikebana: Flower arranging
Chado / Sado: Tea ceremony
Sumo: Japanese-style wrestling
Yakimono: Pottery and ceramics
Bonsai: Miniature trees
Bonseki: Miniature landscapes
Chigiri-e: Torn colored paper to make images
Kaiga: Japanese painting
Han-ga: Woodblock printing
Sumi-e: Ink wash painting
Nihon-ga: Japanese-style painting
Kamishibai: Paper drama storytelling
Origami: Paper folding
Kirigami: Paper cutting

In part, the reason for bringing all this up is that a lot of the earlier magazine artists either started out studying some other art form, or took up some other form after retiring. Examples being Rakuten Kitazawa (Tokyo Punch) practicing sumi-e when he retired, and Goseki Kojima (Lone Wolf and Cub) starting out creating kamishibai illustrations (which, granted, isn't really an art style). Rakuten, and shojo magazine illustrators Koji Fukuya and Sudou Shigeru received training in nihon-ga very early on. There's an overlap and interweaving of art styles that affects manga as we know it, and makes tracing manga history more complicated. That is, if someone uses calligraphy within a specific manga story, is that calligraphy blending into manga, or manga with calligraphic trappings? Is it a manga artist dabbling in sumi-e, or a sumi-e artist messing around with manga?

Han-ga is the blanket term for "printing". In general, it refers to the original form of carved woodblock printing. Different craftsmen would be involved in each stage, with one person doing the drawing, one group carving the different woodblocks, and yet another group making the prints. (Each color or shading technique would require its own block. The printing process would have as many stages as there were inks or blocks). Ukiyo-e is a very specific genre of han-ga that describes work produced between the 1600's and 1900's depicting landscapes, historic tales, kabuki actors and scenes from the pleasure quarters all as part of the "floating world"; i.e. - the impermanent and fleeting. The term "manga" arose from ukiyo-e as a separate sub-genre.

Within han-ga we also have "shin-hanga" and "sosaku-hanga". Shin-hanga, or "new hanga" was an attempt to revitalize ukiyo-e-style prints by using western concepts of light and mood while maintaining ukiyo-e's themes of landscapes and actors, but specifically geared towards the European market. "Shin-hanga" as a term was coined by Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962), and the movement flourished from 1915 to 1942.

Sosaku-hanga
, or "creative prints", in comparison, focused on one artist doing all the work in all stages of the process, from making the woodblocks up to making the prints themselves (as opposed to han-ga's, and shin-hanga's, teams of craftsmen); it started in 1904 with Kanae Yamamoto's "Fisherman", and continues today. An active proponent of the "self-expression" movement that included sosaku-hanga was Shirakaba magazine, which we've seen surface in the Birth of a Million Seller thread. Horror artist Umezz had a han-ga exhibit featuring some of his most famous characters at the GAoh! gallery last Fall, but I don't know if he carved all of the woodblocks himself or not.

Where things start getting messy is when we try to separate specific arts and say "this is manga and this isn't". Early magazines and books were made using han-ga techniques. Topics that appeared in the ukiyo-e form continued to appear in modern magazines and newspapers following the introduction of the printing press in the 1860's. In fact, ukiyo-e wasn't always just printed using woodblocks; occasionally the artists would paint directly onto the screens. Then we have kamishibai.

Kamishibai, or "paper drama" is essentially a picture box with paintings on wooden panels or stiff paper used to illustrate tales spoken by a storyteller. The panels are changed out with each new scene. According to the wiki entry, kamishibai dates back to the 1100's, when Buddhist monks used e-maki (picture scrolls) to teach moral stories to people that couldn't read. It declined as an entertainment form when literacy improved following the Meiji Restoration and the increased availability of books and magazines, as we've again seen previously in the Birth of a Million Seller series. But, with the Kanto earthquake in 1923, and the depression of the 1920's, kamishibai regained popularity as a way for unemployed men to make a living. It again lost popularity in the '50s with the advent of TV, but is still used in certain schools and libraries to entertain children, both in Japan and in various western countries. The Kyoto Manga Museum offers daily kamishibai performances.

In essence, kamishibai straddles anime and manga, giving the storyteller an opportunity to use changing scenes and character poses, while not quite reaching the fluidity of true animation. If you look at the review of Eric Nash's "Manga Kamishibai" at the LA Times site, the type of illustration such as was used for "Jungle Boy" is said to have gone on to influence modern manga's "wide-eyed" look. The problem is that the article doesn't give us enough information to work from and I'm not going to buy Nash's book just to do a couple of minute's research. The dates given in the article are between 1920 and the '30s. And, if you compare Jungle Boy's eyes to that of Jun'ichi Nakahara's 1920's Shojo no Tomo covers, you'll see that Jun'ichi goes even farther with the "big-eye" look. Is Nash lying to us?


(Ad for "Jungle Boy", from the LA Times article, for review purposes only.)


(Jun'ichi Nakahara's Shojo no Tomo covers, 1920's, used for review purposes only.)


(Reijo-kai magazine cover, 1922, from Birth of a Million Seller, used for review purposes only.)

Did kamishibai influence later manga artists? Or, were the magazine illustrators of the early 1900's just taking the styles they employed in their magazine work and repeating it for kamishibai? Chicken or the egg? Because magazine illustrators also did kamishibai paintings, and the kamishibai-only painters could have been copying from magazine covers. Egg or the chicken? In fact, manga followed several different paths and converged at different times. While the LA Times article probably overstates the importance of kamishibai on later manga artists like Tezuka, it is true that Shichima Sakai, the manga artist that gave Tezuka the idea for "Shin Takarajima" and had made Tezuka redraw his characters before allowing their publication, had also worked as a kamishibai illustrator, as well as an illustrator at Osaka Puck magazine in the 1920's. If anything, we could say that kamishibai was one of the things that influenced later manga styles, but certainly not the only one, and definitely not independently of the work running in the newspapers and magazines. Nash probably isn't lying, just uninformed.


In along with simple prints, we also have illustrated literature. It's true that literacy rates were low among the masses for a long time, but that doesn't mean that there were no books. Kusazoshi were prints made using woodblocks (han-ga), but that combined text with illustrations. Produced from the 1600's to 1868, kusazoshi consisted of a large sheet of paper folded and then bound (which was the form for Seiyo Zashi, Japan's first recognized magazine, in 1867). Subsets of kusazoshi include akahon ("red books", 1700-1800's, mostly fiction for children), aohon ("blue books"), kurohon ("black books"), kibyoushi and gokan.

Books printed before 1775 are typically referred to as aohon, and after as kibyoushi. Kibyoushi generally took on more literary trappings, ran about 30 pages, and were read increasingly by educated adult males. Gokan were longer books published from 1807 to 1888. The wiki article describes kibyoushi as a very early form of comic book, where each picture spanned one page, and text filled the blank areas. The wiki also comments that kibyoushi lost popularity in the early 1800's because it tried to appeal to too-wide an audience. It's interesting that "akahon", or "red books", were aimed at children in the 1700's, because the same name "aka-hon", refers to "rental books" (AKA: red books) that were available from rental shop into the 1950's. (Tezuka's "Shin Takarajima" initially came out as a rental book, and authors Chiba Tetsuya (Ashita no Joe) and Monkey Punch (Lupin III) wrote for rental book publishers.


I'll conclude with this - if you like modern manga, great. I know that before starting the History of Manga series that I had little interest in much of ukiyo-e, and no interest in kamishibai. I did like some of the Views of Mt. Fuji, and I'd bought Hokusai's classic print of The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. But that was it. In fact, not only didn't I care much about woodblock prints, I had no interest in manga comics dating before 1980. So, if all of this talk about han-ga, nihon-ga, kamishibai and kibyoushi bores you to death, I understand your pain. If not, then I hope you now have a slightly better idea of manga's roots, and some of the other art styles intertwined with it.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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