Wednesday, January 13, 2010

History of Manga, Part 19

Manga this, manga that. With all this constant bandying about I've been doing with this word, you'd think I'd have gotten tired of using it a long time ago.

As I mentioned previously, "hanga" refers to the printing process, specifically woodblock printing. In this process, one artist draws the picture, another transfers it to a set of woodblocks (one block per ink color or shading section), another set of craftsmen carve the blocks, then yet others do the actual printing. It's an assembly-line system at heart.

(Hokusai Manga cover, used for review purposes only.)

In the 1600's, ukiyo-e started to gain ground. Translating to "Pictures of the Floating World", ukiyo-e focused on the impermanence of life in Edo (old Tokyo), and its subjects generally fell into specific categories - kabuki actors, landscapes, geisha and scenes from the pleasure quarters. In the late 1700's, artists were exploring other topics, and the word "manga" was coined for this purpose. In History of Manga Part 1, Santo Kyoden and Aikawa Minwa were said to have popularized the word; Santo with his 1798 "Shiji no Yukikai", and Aikawa with "Manga Hyakujo" (1814).

(Village life, from Hokusai Manga, used for review purposes only.)

Now. There's a museum in Harajuku, the Ukiyo-e Ota Memorial Museum of Art, just off Omotesando Dori and Meiji Dori. It's a two-story building, with exhibit space in the basement, and 1st and 2nd floors. 1000 yen per adult, making it a bit expensive. They have rotating exhibits, and fairly strict rules. Take your shoes off at the entrance (there's slippers for you in the shoe lockers), no cameras, no flashes, no loud talking. For the most part, the artwork is hung on the walls, but there are some in the glass cases as well. Reading copies of the exhibit books can be found on all floors, and the first floor gift shop sells a wide variety of books. The curator can speak English if you have questions.

(Various animals, from Hokusai Manga, used for review purposes only.)

When I arrived, the main exhibit was "Colors of Edo: Masterpieces from the Ota Collection". Lots of kabuki actors, women of pleasure, and pictures of Mt. Fuji. As described in the explanations next to the pictures, in Japanese and English, not all ukiyo-e were woodblocks. Some was also paint applied directly to silk screens. They also had examples of shin-hanga in the basement room (shin-hanga was an attempt from 1915 to 1942 to revitalize ukiyo-e by adding western techniques of light and shading, and was sold mostly to the European market). If you like ukiyo-e, I recommend you visit the Ota Museum.

(From Hokusai Manga, used for review purposes only.)

In with all of this, I bought the first book of "Hokusai Manga". Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) may be best known for his "Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji" and the classic print "Great Wave Off Kanagawa". But, he also printed a large number of what he called manga, which were then collected into a 15 volume set called "Hokusai Manga". The edition I have collects the set into 3 books of 5 volumes each, with volumes 1-5 comprising book 1. 2100 yen per book. Volume 1 was first printed in 1814, with volume 5 coming out in 1816. The books are essentially just page after page of prints, with credits and comments at the end. Book 1 is 319 pages, and pretty much all in Japanese.

(Chinese gods, from Hokusai Manga, used for review purposes only.)

What sets manga apart from ukiyo-e, other than the subject matter, is the fact that it's black and white while ukiyo-e was printed using a variety of colors. Then again, the difference in subject matter is also vast. Where ukiyo-e centered on 4 or 5 main topics, Hokusai's manga is all over the place. Several pages are just studies of insects, others are townspeople in various trades, there's more with the different stages of farming, weaving or boat building. Yet other pages show fanciful animals, demons and gods. I especially like the elephants, drawn from the imagination, because no one in Japan had ever seen one.

(Craftsmen at work, from Hokusai Manga, used for review purposes only.)

This here is the true origin of the word "manga". Basically, it's a form of black and white illustration that departed from the restrictive categorization of ukiyo-e. Initially, in the early 1800's, it's just representative. We won't see actual story telling surfacing until later. And, at this current time, story telling was already taking place in the kusazoshi books, which combined an illustration with text on the side. The word "manga", or "whimsical pictures", will now wait to take on the meaning of "caricature" when newspapers blossom in about 70 years.

(Cover for volume 3 of the set, used for review purposes only.)

The below images are all from Hokusai Manga, used for review purposes only. Note the sheer variety of subject matter. This book is highly recommended for anyone that likes Japanese art.

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