Manga Kamishibai – Book Review

Ryan Hudson
ART 335
Book Review

Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater. By Eric P. Nash. (New York Abrams Comicarts, 2009 304.).

Americans are, for the most part, aware of the expansive world of comics and animation. Especially in recent years, comics have had a rebirth in American culture- some could argue larger than in the 1930s. Theaters are becoming over-saturated with masked vigilantes and villains. While most Americans know the origin of Superman and the tragic tale of Batman’s past, people in Japan are more familiar with other names such as Golden Bat. What may be surprising is Golden Bat even predates Superman. Eric P. Nash’s book, Manga Kamishibai, dwells into the underground Japanese artistry of story and image, unbeknownst to most  Americans.

Manga Kamishibai tells the story of 19th century Japan through the history of a lost medium known as, Kamishibai (a way of telling stories through panels of image and improvisation.). Nash tells this history in an unconventional, yet effective, way. Instead of a clean consecutive timeline, he travels back and forth through the past. He finds a point in time- one story leads to another until the chapter ends and time reverts back to its original point. Nash backs up his arguments through the claims of actual Japanese artists and their stories. For this reason, the chapters tend to focus on a Kamishibaiya (kamishibai storyteller) or the artist. He follows that person’s story through time until the next person’s story begins. The people he brings forward are travelers through time and direct connections to history. This allows for multiple viewpoints of Japan and the different goals of Kamishibai.

At some parts in the book, Nash tends to make assumptions that seem far-fetched, but this is also the greatest strength of his writing. While the book does give factual information that the Japanese fictional hero, Golden Bat, was conceived before superman, he goes as far to say that Golden Bat may very well have been the “first” superhero. It is self-evident that Nash has a love (bias) towards Japanese culture and history. To be the first of anything is a bold statement. A superhero can mean different things to different people- most stories are never brought out of thin air, they are simply manipulations of past stories and events. To say something was the “first” is to ignore the influences before it. Though his points can be argued, there is no denying that his writings are no less as exciting as his passion. He is aware of his audience and their understanding, or lack of, of the topic. When reading his book there is a strong sense of empathy- neither the people, stories, or audience is left out. A sense of bias comes out from his book because of his love for the topic. He truly understands the Japanese and leaves no room for the reader to fall short of empathy towards the subject.

There is an irony to the story of kamishibai. Influences can be interpreted as homages to past works- where the intention is hardly to replace, but to carry on. “TV Killed the Kamishibai Man,” this was the second to last chapter of Nash’s book and the metaphor suits it well. It is obvious that television drew influence from kamishibai, stories told through image- the difference is that television was not saluting kamishibai, but replacing it. In most writings the last chapter is left to talk about the future. Nash transitions to this in a way that evokes feelings of loss towards the medium. What the future holds for kamishibai is… Death. However, he turns back to the artists and what their future holds. He talks of kamishibai men evolving to a new medium, manga, Japanese graphic novels. Manga was the next big thing for the artists. They could still tell stories through images, only instead of a voice there were words. Manga would later find its way into the spotlight of young children just as its predecessor had. And although, the golden days of Kamishibai may had come to an end, the book was never about the single medium. It was about the artists.

After reading Eric P. Nash’s book, Manga Kamishibai, nothing is lost. There is a gain in knowledge that steps out of the confounds of one’s borders. He has been on the same journey as his readers. The realization that America is not the father of animation, but merely a brother of a nation who found their own path to the same medium. The evolution is captivating- the reader can clearly visualize the unknown life of an artist in Japan during the early to mid 20th century. It is the stories of the people in Japan and the obvious love for the subject that convinces readers to believe a history that is not a part of their own.



Tristan Tzara


Tristan Tzara by Man Ray

Dada was an artistic movement which started in Zurich, Switzerland. The movement was an after effect of WWI and prided itself on “anti-art”.  Tristan Tzara is an artist/poet from the Dada movement and is one of its founders. He was born in Romania in 1896 and died in Paris, France in 1963. His main goal during the movement was to spread Dada to wide audiences. He accomplished this by publishing manifestos, which were intended to shock its audience. He practiced his art and poetry publicly at a local cafe in Zurich; this included some performances in which he would speak vulgar and illegible language.


To make a Dadaist Poem by Tristan Tzara

“To make a Dadaist poem”, is a poem by Tristan Tzara and is possibly one of his most famous works. He published the poem in 1920. The goal of the piece was to inform audiences of the key concepts in Dada art, specifically Dada writings. The poem is literally directions on how to make a Dada poem. The fact that it is considered a poem is a direct reference to “anti-art”. How is this a poem if all he did was cut out pieces of paper to display directions? Tristan Tzara provoked this type of response. Furthermore, he was informing the viewer that anyone could write a poem (“a work of art”) with these simple steps.

Tristan Tzara should be remembered as a key artist during the Dada movement. He spread the movement and informed audiences through his writings. He was a great example of Dada artists goals and “anti-art”. He revealed a more clear understanding of what Dada was, a question on bourgeois society. He continues to provoke people to ask themselves, what is art? What boundaries determine a work of art and who is the artist?




If Mucha was Metal


Throughout High School, I dove into the realm of Metal music. I was very active as an artist and music was my main source of inspiration. A lot of my artwork was inspired by music of the metal genres. One artist in particular also became my primary inspiration, Dan Mumford. Dan’s work can be seen on multitudes of album covers and now movie posters. His style consists of vibrant color schemes and consistent, detailed line work. At the time that I was studying his work for my own interpretations, I thought his work was completely original and derived from his own mind. However, it is true what they say, that all art is influenced by its predecessors.


One day, I came across an interview someone had done with Dan Mumford, and one of the questions asked was, “who are some of your influences?”. Dan was adamant to reply with an artist by the name of Alphonse Mucha. This was my first entrance into art nouveau and after seeing Mucha’s work, it was uncanny. There was influence down to the brush strokes. I saw Dan Mumford as a future form of Mucha. If Alphonse Mucha listened to heavy rock n’ roll, this is what his artwork would look like.

Dan Mumford, took Mucha’s sensitivity to color, female subject matter, detailed line work and made it his own. It also seems coincidence that Mumford’s work, like Mucha’s, was made and printed for commercial purposes, as albums and posters. His work is a revival of the Art Nouveau movement. His images are consistently decorated and remain flat. In the age of the 21st century, where quantity matters more than quality, it is nice to see that artists like, Dan Mumford, are keeping the Art nouveau mentality. To show that Art is a craft and is not one to be replicated, but to be original and not just quick imitations. His work is a great example of this, for he is sending an homage to the past, instead of simply copying it.


Dan Mumford, Star Wars Promotional


Alphonse Mucha, Bières de la Meuse