Monday, January 11, 2010

History of Manga, Part 18

As mentioned in "Meet the Okamotos", there's not a lot of information online regarding Ippei. My primary interest in him comes from the fact that he was one of the most influential manga artists of the early 1900's. Now, this is in the sense of "manga as caricature", as proposed by contemporary Rakuten Kitazawa. Tezuka supposedly named Ippei and Rakuten as two of his main inspirations, and Ippei's profile was made into a wall tile along the stairway to the second floor of the Saitama Manga Museum, built on land donated by Rakuten's family. As well as being a successful political commentary cartoonist for the Tokyo Asahi newspaper, Ippei also founded a school for training new cartoonists - the Ippei Juku.

(Top: Ippei self-portrait at age 24. Bottom: "Dojou Hell", portrait of Ippei (right), age 24 and his father, Takejirou, 52).

The problem was that I could only find one or two of his drawings online, and that wasn't enough to get an idea of his art style. If he trumpeted the concept of editorial manga, I needed to know if I could find his influence showing up in Tezuka's works, or anyone else's for that matter. Short answer is "nope".

(From left: Ippei, first son Taro and wife Kanoko, politician/historian Yasuo Tsunematsu and Dr. Kamezo Nitta (pronunciation of Nitta's name is not confirmed.))

It's kind of a disservice to say that Ippei was "just" an editorial cartoonist. His subjects ran from current events to political protest, social commentary to everyday observations. He was trained in western-style painting, and could actually draw realistically if he wanted to, but generally he preferred a crude, sketch-like style that is very similar to Gahan Wilson's work (and I love Gahan Wilson).

(Early ice cream vendors.)

"Okamoto Ippei - Manga Rambling Essays Collection" was first printed in 1995, apparently in conjunction with, or by the Kawasaki Museum (which has a tendency to occasionally run exhibits related to manga). It's now out of print, but it's one of the few books I found that covers Ippei's works. In addition to the various comic strips and individual panels, there's also many essays, discussions of his work, a few family photos and a fairly extensive time line. It's all in Japanese, unfortunately, so I'm only going to highlight just a bit of the book. Besides, I've already mentioned some of his biographical information in "Meet the Okamotos".

Hasegawa Nozenkan and cat. Nozenkan was a literary figure who probably worked at Asahi Shimbun along with Ippei.

Natsume Soseki


"Eiffel Tower stupid pictures, Paris, France, July 6, 1931."

Ippei and his family toured the world in the 1920's, and Ippei's credited with bringing back to Japan a number of American comics, including "Mutt and Jeff". He also spent long periods of time away from his family, to the point that Taro, his oldest son, felt that he was growing up only with himself and his mother in the house. Taro, of course, went on to make a name for himself as a major figure in the abstract art world. Ippei, meanwhile, drew a number of sketches of life in France and Germany in the 1930's.

"What throw should I use today."

I really like this one. It's like Edward Gorey and Charles Addams rolled up into one.

1) Learning by watching others (monkey see, monkey do), the maid servant sees the boy's cloak and the girl's art books while cleaning up the room.

2) "The cloak like this, the books like this, and now I'll leave the kitchen to get some blue western liquor".

3) "Touyama (the houseboy's name), come see, I'm a new woman."
(Feb. 11, 1911)

Notice the lack of word balloons. Text accompanying the illustrations was still common in the 1920's, and word balloons wouldn't actually take over for at least another decade. Most of Ippei's works are sketches with some kind of sophisticated writing along the side.

1) While receiving change, the man grabs her hand.

2) Then, he uses his knees to trap the female conductor in place.

3) Taking offense, the conductor gives the "go ahead" signal to start the train while the man is still exiting the car, causing him to go flying.

(Troubles When the Female Conductor Appeared)

A day on the town in Tokyo always seems to end with the couple passed out on the train afterward.

In summary, Ippei Okamoto was one of the first political sketch artists to really make a name for himself in the newspapers, at a time when Rakuten was doing the same in magazines. At this point, the word "manga" was being repurposed from the "whimsical pictures" of ukiyo-e to "caricature" (in the sense of "political cartoon"), and the two main proponents of this new meaning were Rakuten and Ippei. Unfortunately, while Rakuten remains well-known today, Ippei has pretty much been relegated to "father of abstract artist Taro Okamoto", "husband of poet-writer Kanoko Okamoto", and "that other guy that shows up in Rakuten's museum in Saitama".

As for his lasting impact on story-driven manga post-Tezuka, that's a tough call. As mentioned before, Tezuka supposedly called Rakuten and Ippei two of his influences, but neither of their styles show up in his work. At best, Ippei's desire to speak his mind and foster other artists may have helped Tezuka to do the same. Otherwise, Ippei seems destined to just be a footnote in manga history.

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