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Monday, January 03, 2005

THREE UNDERGROUND MANGA ARTISTS, BY CHRIS VAILLANCOURT

Introduction: Chris Vaillancourt, who clearly knows far more about manga than I do, sent me biographies of three major underground manga artists of the sixties and seventies, and has given me permission to publish them here. He's included links to pages about these artists with sample art, and sometimes complete stories. Enjoy!

Kazuhiko Miyaya (Note: the last character in Miyaya's name is clearly "tani", and he's listed as Miyatani on the handful of English-language reference I've come across. However, in his online postings and in some of his comics, it's signed "Miyaya" and the fan I corresponded with confirmed that "Miyaya" is what he should be called)---When I asked a Miyaya fan to explain Miyaya's appeal, she replied simply: "Miyaya made comics cool." I had never heard of Miyaya until the past year, and assumed he was one of the 60s-70s "underground" artists who had a devoted cult following but would hardly be known to a larger audience; it turned out that Miyaya was one of the superstars of late 60s underground manga and the early seinen magazines. A paucity of in-print work and his retirement from manga at the end of the 80s somewhat diminished his star power in comparison to a Tsuge or Nagashima, but he retains a loyal following and is spoken of reverently by fans and critics who spent their adolescence and twenties with his work.

Miyaya won the second "Grand COMpanion" prize for best new artist in the May 1967 issue of Osamu Tezuka's experimental magazine COM. Influenced like so many others by Shinji Nagashima, he quickly developed his own style, working with several assistants. Backgrounds were realistic and detailed. Working in both COM and the early seinen magazines, Miyaya oscillated between technically skilled genre work--Golgo 13-style gangsters, race car drivers, boxers-and the work which earned his reputation, sensitive coming-of-age stories. The Miyaya fan I talked to via e-mail stated that Miyaya's work at this time was infused by his love of pop culture, especially Western: several works bear the titles of Western rock music, such as his 1971 collection Jumpin' Jack Flash or his most acclaimed short serial, "Like A Rolling Stone". As the write-up on the Tezuka site puts it: "[Miyaya] conveyed the feelings of rebellious youths through the scenes of the time, including politics, sex, and rock music, thereby capturing the imagination of readers." Miyaya was also a pioneer in the depiction of sex in manga. The cover of his first collection from COM depicts a nude woman squeezing her breast, her crotch obscured by the head of a young man facing the reader, while the inside featured a nude photo of Miyaya (known for his good looks) and his girlfriend.

Miyaya diversified his output in the mid-70s, drawing a violent, never-reprinted serial for Shonen Champion and an erotic one for Garo. During this time, his drawing style shifted, backgrounds becoming so hyper-realistic they look like covers from a lurid pulp book, characters becoming overly muscled, their Belmondo-style broken noses and tough-mug faces looking ever more grotesque. One of Miyaya's major works in the early 1980s was Ningyo Densetsu, in which the wife of a fisherman murdered by the developers of a nuclear plant embarks on a bloody revenge spree. The manga was made into a live-action film in 1984 by future Evil Dead Trap director Toshiharu Ikeda. At some point Miyaya reportedly became a Mishima-style right-winger, which informed his latter-period work (he illustrated a 1987 book on patriotism).

Miyaya's output dwindled in the 80s, and by 1991 he had disappeared from the field, resulting in rumors that he had died. His work a victim of the often haphazard attitude toward posterity exhibited by the publishers of art manga in the 1970s, with many of his best-known works never even compiled into books, Miyaya's reputation was kept alive by critics who wrote articles about him; one episode of NHK's show on manga was devoted to Miyaya. In 1998 one of Miyaya's 80s' serials was collected by Ohta Shuppan and published as the 13th volume of the Quick Japan Comics Library. It remains the only Miyaya volume currently in print. Miyaya returned to draw a 32-page comic in 1999. In recent years a number of fan sites sprung up, and Miyaya has begun to participate in them. In a magnanimous move, he allowed the sites to reproduce several stories in full (as well as the complete Shonen Champion serial), in some cases supplying his original art to be scanned. He also established his own website and sold a collection of his work through it. The young company Web Freestyle announced early this year that they would release a collection of Miyaya's classic stories from the 60s & 70s, but the book appears to have dropped off their schedule.

Literature: Miyaya (as Miyatani) is mentioned in The World Encyclopedia of Comics entry on Nagashima as one of his followers. That's all I've found in print.

Links:

http://www2s.biglobe.ne.jp/~FREE-MY/miyayasakuhin.html

This Miyaya fan site has five of his stories, both genre and personal. The 3rd story (from Play Magazine 1971 I believe) is the work which convinces me most of Miyaya's reputation.

[UPDATE: Chris has emailed me that this site has added new stories since he wrote this, and that the story he singled out as his favorite is now the fourth story. Here's a direct link to that story, in case they add more. -- AS]

http://miyaya-fan.cocolog-nifty.com/

Recent site in which fans pick which Miyaya comic they want posted. Only 2 stories, both genre, and not really impressive to me. Interesting for historical reasons.

http://homepage1.nifty.com/DORA/miyayaf.html

The main Miyaya fansite. Contains a good selection of illustrations and comic pages from throughout his career. He also participates on the bulletin board.

http://bb.10daysbook.com/shop/miyaya/

Official Miyaya homepage. The bulk of it consists of a bizarre full-color "story" (?) which reminds me of something out of a late-70s Heavy Metal. The song titles lead to mostly-text discussions about his life and culture in the 60s. Plus, vintage photos.




Fumiko Okada---Another legendary figure to emerge from COM was Fumiko Okada. Okada outlined her life in an interview last year upon the republication of her comics. Okada's mother died when she was 12. She loved the manga of Tezuka and the fairy tales of foreign countries as a child, which instilled a "yearning" for Europe in her. In high school she was introduced to Raymond Peynet and Edvard Munch, who would become influences on her development as a cartoonist.

After drawing several unpublished stories in 1966, she debuted in the February 1967 issue of COM, winning the magazine's newcomer prize at the age of 17. From 1967-70 Okada would appear almost exclusively in the magazine and become one of its most vital contributors, with an impact that lasts to this day. Okada's work was praised by Tezuka and had a pronounced effect on such fellow COM contributors as Keiko Takemiya and Moto Hagio, who would form the nucleus of shoujo manga in the 1970s. Hagio has singled out Okada as one of her favorite artists, and wrote the afterword to her first book. The samples I've seen of Okada's art look forward to some of Hagio's techniques, but with a more surreal feel. Another major artist inspired by Okada is Fumiko Takano, one of the most revered of contemporary manga artists. Okada's comics have been compared to Western psychology, poetry, literature, fairy tales and surrealism, receiving accolades from literary figures of the time.

Despite this acclaim, Okada stopped drawing at the end of 1970. In 1971 she worked at an animation studio but quit within the year, and at the age of 21 attempted suicide. She is listed as drawing three stories in 1972, but did not draw again until 1978, during which time she worked as an insurance clerk and saw the publication of her first collection (1976). Okada's subsequent output was sporadic: 6 stories in 1978-1979, 1 story apiece in 1980, 1982 and 1983, 2 stories in 1988 and 1 story in 1990. She then retired from manga and has yet to return.

Okada's legend grew during the 90s. She was profiled in Quick Japan as part of a series on "kieta mangaka" and the famous used-manga store Mandarake published a collection of her work. In 2003 the first volume of Odessey (sic?) 1966-2003 was published, with a second volume following in 2004. The books collect previously unpublished work and doujinshi contributions in addition to her classics and feature her commentary. This upswing in visibility led to hopeful rumors that Okada would return to manga, but that has yet to prove the case, as Okada, a convert to Catholicism, has focused on raising her two children. A recent article in The Daily Yomiuri paired separate interviews with Tsuge and Okada: both are acclaimed and popular artists with a tiny output and personal sufferings who nevertheless have an ever-growing fanbase. One case in point is the brother-sister team of Nishioka Kyodai, whose avant-garde work in Garo and Ax (good enough to appear in an anthology like Le Cheval sans Tete or Drawn & Quarterly) is indebted to Okada.

Literature: The Michigan Reading Room lists an index entry for Okada in Encyclopédie des bandes dessinées (1986).

Links:

http://www.momiji.sakura.ne.jp/~werdna/okada/index.html

Okada fan page, with bibliography, chronology, and reviews. I took the bibliographic info and some of the personal info above from here. The site as a whole is well worth looking over.

http://media.excite.co.jp/book/special/okada/

This is where I obtained most of the personal info on Okada. Contains her commentary on her childhood and influences, as well as a list of books she recommends.

http://www.mandarake.co.jp/shop/info_nakano/tajimi/nbl009/

Plug for Odessey with sample panels.

http://en.tezuka.co.jp/tomm/contents/project_ex/no09/cat04.html

English-language page on the "Graduates of COM" with brief but useful detail on both Okada and Miyaya. The overall sub-section on COM is worth reading. I wish there was more.


Shinji Nagashima: One of the most important and popular figures of the 1960s. Nagashima was born in 1937, and made his professional debut at the age of 15. Like so many young artists he worked for the rental-manga market and in a variety of genres, most notably shoujo manga and children's comics. Nagashima's breakthrough came with Mangaka Zankoku Monogatori in 1961, an autobiographical work based on his experiences as a struggling young manga artist. The World Encyclopedia of Comics pegged it as the first autobiographical comic; while that's not likely, it's probably one of the first.

In 1964 Nagashima joined Tezuka's animation studio Mushi Productions where he worked as a character designer on the Jungle Emperor Leo movie and a 1973 TV series called Wansa-kun. In 1967 Nagashima became one of the editors of COM. According to Schodt in Manga! Manga!, at some point in the 60s Nagashima "left his wife and family and took up residence in a cheap apartment in Shinjuku, at the time Tokyo's equivalent of Greenwich Village" (p. 141). In 1967 Nagashima drew on his life there for his other representative work, Futen. Starring "Hinji Nagahima" and featuring one of his assistants as a main character, Futen ran in COM from 1967-68, then switched over to the seinen magazine Play for the rest of its run from 69-70. In 1972 the complete Futen was collected in book form by Garo publisher Seirindo and was a huge success. During this time Nagashima served as the editor and judge of the aforementioned "Grand Companion" reader's section, which launched the likes of Hideshi Hino, Murasaki Yamada, and future Mandarake founder Masuzo Furukawa, and compiled a collection of young artists' work in 1968 (the cover features my favorite Nagashima image: a sullen youth in a striped shirt glares at the reader while in the background birds carry away a smiling little girl by her pigtails).

Nagashima joined Garo in 1967 and began a long association with the magazine. In the early 1970s he created the Peanuts-inspired Tabito-kun about the wanderings of a little boy. He left COM in early 1971, a few months before the magazine folded as a result of the financial troubles of Mushi Productions. He was a constant presence at Garo throughout the 70s, contributing the covers for 1975-76 and 1979-80 (a tradition at Garo, where Sanpei Shirato drew the bulk of the covers from 1964 to the first half of 1971, Seiichi Hayashi the second half of 1971 and all of 1974, Yuji Kamosawa 1978, King Terry most of the 80s, etc.). He won the Shogakukan Award for Children's Comics in 1975.

One online review I came across on Nagashima praised Futen but criticized his other work for being overly sentimental. Having only read one complete Nagashima story I can't comment on the accuracy of the charge, but the Nagashima's covers and illustrations often have a cutesy feel, and he appeared comfortable drawing children's comics in a way other gekiga pioneers were not. The Nagashima story I read was from 1971, reprinted in a 1996 issue of Garo devoted to Katsuichi Nagai. Nagashima portrays himself as a chubby, dumpy guy with glasses and a beard. While the story appears autobiographical, Nagashima employs traditional manga exaggeration: attempting to catch the train, Nagashima leaps off the platform and swings round on the handlebar. A dish-throwing fight between a couple is rendered as slapstick. Nagashima's characters are cartoony and bear a Tezuka influence, while his backgrounds have a jazzy feel to them, a far cry from the cross-hatched, dark cityscapes of most late 60s, younger Garo artists.

Mangaka Zankoku Monogatori was reprinted last year by Comic Box, which also released two brief collection of short stories, one devoted to his Garo-era work, the other his kids' comics. Tabito-kun is also in print, as is a mainstream series about judo. Futen unfortunately remains available only via pay-to-view download, and many other Nagashima works from his early gekiga to 1970s underground serials are hard to find.

Literature: There are separate entries for Nagashima and Futen in the Horn book; the "updates" in the 1999 edition are a waste, just one tacked-on line. In addition to Manga! Manga!, Nagashima also crops up a couple of times in the Kinsella book. Mangaka Zankoku Monogatori was reviewed last year in Animerica. There must be more out there, especially as I've seen French and Italian references to Nagashima online.

Links:

http://glaymotchy.ld.infoseek.co.jp/nagashima.htm

http://www.geocities.co.jp/AnimeComic/7173/nagashinji_room.htm

Lots of covers and illustrations, mostly from the 1960s.

http://homepage2.nifty.com/mangajp/nagasimasinji.htm

Good sampling of covers and illustrations from the myriad of genres and styles Nagashima worked in.


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