Duck Duck Book

57 – one thousand years
11.3.2008, 7:17 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

One thousand years of manga / Brigitte Koyama-Richard ; [translated from the French by David Radzinowicz].
Paris : Flammarion ; [New York] : distributed in North America by Rizzoli International Publications, c2007.
[MCL call number: 741.5952 K88o 2007; one copy, no holds; one copy reference only at Central Library]

If you pick up a brand-new Japanese comic book and read it, my guess is that you are more likely to enjoy the story, the writing, or the art than you are to consider its historical antecedents.

If I am wrong, or if my pointing this out inspires you to explore the history of manga, Brigitte Koyama-Richard is at your service. Koyama-Richard traces manga’s roots back to the magnificent story scrolls painted 800 to 1,000 years ago exclusively for the enjoyment of elite audiences, through the establishment of printmaking as a popular art, the “golden age of caricature” and the opening of Japan to the west in the 1800s, the rise of the comic strip in the early 1900s, the work of the highly influential writer/artist Tezuka Osamu, and finally, contemporary Japanese comics.

Throughout this tour of artistic formats, political and technological developments, and cultural change, Koyama-Richard provides comparisons between the Japanese artworks that are her main focus, and well-known examples of European art that are contemporary to them. These comparisons are helpful for western readers who are ignorant of the existence and significance of major Japanese works, allowing a gentle introduction that encourages a developing understanding of the significance and context of seminal Japanese cultural icons — from treasures of history like the thousand year old scroll Choju jinbutsu giga (Frolicking Animals and People), to modern masterpieces like Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy).

A large percentage of the text in One Thousand Years of Manga is in its carefully written picture captions, which provide bits of history, biography, and thoughtful criticism of the images that appear on nearly every page. But the essays explaining each chapter in manga’s long history are clear and interesting as well, and the pictures — reproductions of scrolls, paintings, prints, comic strips, books, sketches, and many other incredible artworks — are incredible.

At the back of the book are a series of interviews with manga artists, a short essay about western influences on Japanese comics, a glossary of Japanese terms used in the book, a very brief overview of historical Japanese political eras, a biographical glossary of artists, a manga chronology, some selected manga statistics from Japan, and a bilingual bibliography. Even with all this magnificent endmatter, there is no index; but the book is well organized enough that it is hardly to be missed.


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