Monday, June 16, 2008

Takeo Saito's Golgo13, Kimonos and Bad Sons

I have a great memory for many things. I can remember dialogue from TV shows I saw 20 years ago, I can remember all the lines of Annie Hall, every song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (even though I now wish I couldn't), lots of poems, lots of Wodehouse, some of Shakespeare, some of Burns, and if I had a conversation with you in 1982, I may well bring it up next time we meet - particularly if you said something that has been getting on my wick for 26 years. But I still forgot to send my old man a Father's Day card, so I've sent him a belated one. Sorry it's late, Happy Father's Day, Bill - from your ungrateful and stupid son.

It also doesn't work well in this respect:

(the following two items are related but they are separated by 3 years so you have to make the leap with me)

in the Art and Architecture edition of The New Yorker, Oct. 17, 2005 I read an article about a Kimono painter and it made an impression on me. It was called Letter from Japan, The Kimono Painter.

(now you should be able to tell by that very accurate date that I have gone and hunted down that edition of The New Yorker from my little library so that I can be completely accurate)

So now I can be very precise, it's called Letter From Japan, The Kimono Painter, A modern master of venerable art, and it's by Judith Thurman. The article is about the master yuzen Kimono maker Kunihiko Moriguchi, and it is accompanied by a gorgeous illustration by Ruben Toledo. If it's online at the New Yorker archive, I recommend you read it, it's marvelous.

Ah, ha, I found an extract in the New Yorker archives; click here.

(so now we launch forward to Father's Day 2008 to discover why this particular article came to mind)

Well, I been watching some Japanese TV shows featuring Mangaka of all ages, and it struck me that the description of the Kimono painter's apprenticeship, as described in Judith Thurman's story about Kunihiko Moriguchi, the Kimono painter, is much like the apprenticeship of a cartoonist studying under a Mangaka. Even the description of the artist's studio, with its library of books, tools and its computer station, sounds similar to the studio of the Mangaka. And what Moriguchi says about the job itself, that " one becomes a yuzen painter just, or primarily, for the livelihood. It is a way of life.", struck a chord as it would with any illustrator; in fact with anyone involved in any way with a comic strip, comic book, graphic novels, or daily cartooning. The more I watched the Mangaka in their studios, the more I was convinced of this, and the more I came to understand why the job of a cartoonist, especially a manga cartoonist or Mangaka in particular, is so revered in Japan.

Clearly, the fact that the creations of the Mangaka are creator-controlled in a way they often are not in the West, is at least partly responsible for the way the studio set-up of the Mangaka has evolved. The entire project is imagined and put together by the team in the studio, headed by the Mangaka, who sits in a position at the head of affairs, his desk approachable from all sides so that the work can easily be handed to him to check quality control. The work rate of some of these masters is truly awe-inspiring and as you will see from the movie clips (for as long as they are allowed to stay here) the projects they work on benefit from this team approach - which helps us greatly in understanding how one man or woman can create several series with 100 or more volumes. It should also go some way to dispelling the myth that the 'creator' credit suggests little or no involvement by the great man (you know who you are - you might want to go back to your review and change that suggestion).

Whilst we do have creative teams working on projects in the West, even on creator-controlled projects they tend to be geographically spread around, rather than all working together in the one studio. And although the advent of faxes and computer networking and Skype and the like has sped up the process beyond the old snail-mail methods, this Western system is still markedly slower than the Japanese equivalent.

In some studios the Mangaka will only pencil the work, with others in the studio handling the inking. In others studios the Mangaka will ink only the main characters and the apprentices will rule lines, ink backgrounds, handle toning and burnishing, scanning and all the other parts of the process.

The show, in particular, that I was watching as I thought about this is a sort of 'This is your life' or at least a 'This is your Character's Life' of Golgo13 creator Takao Saito. Born in 1936, Takao Saito, is older than the two other Mangaka I've been watching recently, which is nice because I was beginning to fear that everyone creating the manga I enjoy was younger than me - which would just fill me with despair about my pathetically low artistic output. Having said that, I don't think even another 100 years would allow me enough time to produce a body of work as consistently stunning as Takao Saitou has produced.

From his debut in 1955, with Kuuki Danshaku (Air Baron) the man has barely paused to take a breath. In 1959, he helped to establish the comic studio "Gekiga Koubou" which in 1960 became Saito-Productions. In 1964, Saito began the 007 Series, based, of course, on Ian Fleming's famous character. In 1967, Muyonosuke started serialization, and 1968 this series was followed by his magnum-opus, Golgo 13 which is still running today. Never one to rest on his laurels, the Seventies marked the debuts of the serials Barom One, Kagegari , and Survival and since then Kumotori Jinpei, Onihei Hanka-Chou and Shikakenin Fujieda Baian have all been given birth by Saito-Productions. One of the most respected cartoonists in Japan, Takeo Saito won the 21st Shogakukan Manga Award, the Grand Prize of the 31st Japan Cartoonist Awards, the Jury’s Special Award at the 50th Shogakukan Manga Awards and in 2003 he received a Purple Ribbon Medal. He is a director of the Japan Cartoonists Association .

It's also nice because it makes this first film of a Mangaka's studio, providing it is the first time you have seen inside such a studio, seems more in touch with the rituals and traditions of the venerable occupation, whereas the studio of one of the younger creators could look, out of context, like a much more modern set-up; rather than what it is - a modern variation of a traditional Mangaka workplace.

So, hopefully TokyoTV will allow us to keep these parts of the show as essential research and for the purposes of studying and reviewing a rich part of Japanese cultural heritage. I hope they won't mind me doing so, but I've chopped the show into smallish sections, and left out the interview and audience parts so that we, over here, can concentrate on the action in the studio. I've also left in the section about Japanese manga readers increasingly reading their manga on their (much cooler than our) phones.

You can pick up a few volumes of Golgo13 from Viz Media.


sebastian pertl said...

Great article, thanks for shareing the documentary clips.

Rod McKie said...

Hey Sebastian,

Thanks for looking in.

I'm hoping to do a post that looks inside a few studios, including Urasawa's studio - soon.

Unknown said...

i love manga and i wont to become a cartoonist but i dont know where to start

Rod McKie said...

Hey Emma, it took me a while to find your post after moderating it.

The best place to start is by producing your own mini comics, getting your work online, and reading as many tips and tutorials as you can.

A lot of manga artists started out producing their own publications and then worked their way up in the studio of a mangaka. You just have to find a comprable way of making it where you are. Good work will always find an appreciative audience.