Interest in the Japanese artform manga has been simmering in the United States since the 1980s. But now, it may be reaching its boiling point. This import, which originally appealed to kids and young adults (although everyone reads manga in Japan), is now attracting plenty of adults who are crazy for Japanese pop culture. Fans collect books, create figurines of their favorite characters and participate in cosplay (dress up in costumes) at conventions around the country celebrating manga, anime and role-playing games. And the art world is beginning to take notice. Hello Manga! Japanese Comics and Beyond, a new exhibit at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London (organized by assistant curator Carolyn Grosch and Connecticut College professors Dr. Takeshi Watanabe and Dr. Sayumi Harb), explores the essence of the artform, as well as its impact in the United States. The exhibit also points up a fascinating East-West connection.
Unlike traditional American comics, manga is printed in black-and-white and with typical Japanese right-to-left page formatting. It’s illustration style, however, was actually partly inspired by American artists. Artist/animator and “father of manga” Osamu Tezuka (creator of “Astro Boy”), was deeply influeneced by the movies of Walt Disney and Fleisher Studio Films (creators of Popeye and Superman screen cartoons). The combination of characters drawn as wide-eyed innocents with Disney-style animation techniques developed into the distinctive Japanese manga style we see today.
The multigallery exhibit includes collections of books—separate ones for boys, girls, men and women—of popular titles such as Ghost in the Shell; Astro Boy; BlackJack; Ashita no Joe; FairyTail and Naruto, with matching toys and action figures. Step-by-step drawings by Alex Mamo (one of Mamo’s drawings appears above), a Connecticut College graduate and Japanese-trained manga artist, are exhibited with delightful animation cels and sketches from anime films and TV series, including Akira and “Sailor Moon.” One gallery, with huge colorful contemporary wall murals of characters ranging from adorable to fierce, painted by a variety of artists, stands out. Next to it is a gallery filled with formal 19th-century Japanese prints and textiles from the museum’s permanent collection—early examples of Japanese artforms sought after by Americans. Fun art projects, a children’s film festival and tea party are scheduled during the exhibit’s run, through March 17.
For further information, call (860) 443-2545 or visit lymanallyn.org.—C.P.R.