From February 6th to April 7th 2016, the Japan Cultural Institute of Rome presents the exhibition “Manga Hokusai Manga”. Divided in four sections, the exhibition shows the influence of the great comic master Katsushika Hokusai on the contemporary manga scene.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is appreciated worldwide for color woodcut prints such as the so called Great Wave. In view of Japan’s contemporary comics and the global proliferation of their imagery, his Manga too enjoy increasing attention. Many people even regard them as the roots of today’s manga. But what do contemporary graphic narratives and the master’s “diverse drawings” share beside the name? Already their outward appearance does not seem to confirm the existence of a continuous tradition. As distinct from art exhibitions of Hokusai’s work held so far, this show approaches the Hokusai Manga from the perspective of contemporary manga, highlighting genre specific style, pictorial storytelling and participatory culture rather than pursuing historiographic verification. Viewers are invited to compare the two kinds of manga over the course of five parts and explore where they actually meet.
1. Hokusai Manga: Funny Pictures?
With recourse to a then new Japanese word, Hokusai named the most popular compilation of his drawings “manga.” Block-printed in three colors and published from 1814 to 1878 in fifteen stitched bound volumes, the Hokusai Manga comprise thousands of images, not necessarily funny throughout. Depictions of grimaces and acrobatic physical activities in particular have created the impression of “manga” as cartoons or funny pictures (giga). Although neither interconnected by a narrative nor integrating words and images in a comics-specific way, the Hokusai Manga approximate contemporary manga to a certain extent, at least insofar as they attest to a salient aesthetic interest in movement, rest on reproduction and have seen an extraordinarily wide circulation.
2. A Character Named Hokusai
Since the 1970s Hokusai has made numerous appearances as a manga character. Unsurprisingly, this character’s physiognomy differs significantly from Edo-era imagery, Hokusai’s self-portraits to begin with. As distinct from fellow ukiyo-e artists, he had a predilection for a round instead of an elongated head as if to present himself as a facetious character. Contemporary manga narratives that feature Hokusai exhibit a great diversity, stretching from realist representation to fannish appropriation. Thus, the character named Hokusai evinces not only historic change in “manga,” but also the concurrent existence of age- and gender-specific genres, commercial bestsellers and alternative comics, entertaining fiction and educational productions in contemporary story-manga.
3. Manga-like ukiyo-e, ukiyo-e-like Manga
Ukiyo-e–the art of the commoners in 17th-19th century Japan–appears to have anticipated comics specific techniques of rendering movement and visualizing the invisible, although occasional balloons contain dreams instead of speech, and lines that suggest wind and rain are not abstract symbols but integral part of the pictorial representation. Paneled pages and images in sequence were not unusual, surfacing even in the non-narrative Hokusai Manga. But the mangaesque wide-eye look seems to be a different matter. Some contemporary manga artists have actually experimented with ukiyo-e-like faces. Their works suggest that the key to manga-typical enjoyment lies less in pictorial style but rather the way in which narrative setting, diction and cultural references facilitate readers’ access.
Although more enjoyable than many other publications of its kind, the Hokusai Manga served primarily an instructional purpose, as a reference book for students of pictorial art (edehon/etehon), among them an increasing number of amateur artists. As such, the Hokusai Manga may appear as precursors of those How to Draw Manga manuals that have accompanied the formation of manga culture within Japan since the 1950s as well as the globalization of Japanese comics since the late 1990s, playing a crucial role in the spreading of fanzine culture (dōjinshi) worldwide. Rather than aesthetic semblances, it is the cultural potential inherent in actively copying and collectively sharing popular imagery, the highly participatory trait that conjoins Hokusai Manga and contemporary manga.
The link between Hokusai Manga and contemporary Japanese comics is easily assumed, but only rarely explored from the perspective of manga artists. Have the Hokusai Manga actually influenced them, and do they provide stimulation for present production? In what way do the Hokusai Manga in particular and other works by Hokusai in general attract manga artists’ attention? Original art works created specifically for this exhibition may serve as a point of departure for such considerations.
February 6 – April 7, 2016
Monday to Friday 9am – 12.30pm/1.30pm – 6.30pm, wednesday until 5.30pm, Saturdays 9.30am – 1pm
march 17, 2016, 18.30 conference MANGA Hokusai manga by prof. Jacqueline Berndt
Istituto Giapponese di Cultura
via Antonio Gramsci 74 00197 Roma
info: 06 3224754