A guest feature by Littlestone.
Reporting in The Guardian on the 15 August last year, Mike Pitts writes that, “With its crumbling pillars and fading frescoes, the British Museum isn’t the first place you’d associate with Japanese graphic novels. So it’s a slight surprise to learn that the museum will soon publish its own manga-based book.”
It’s uncertain which crumbling pillars and fading frescoes Mike’s referring to as the structure of the Museum itself is sound and any light-sensitive objects are kept and exhibited in controlled environments. That aside, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the British Museum is associated with Japanese graphic novels (in this case with the publication of Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure). Japanese graphic novels (manga) have been around for nearly 140 years, but their origins (outlined in Part I of this series) stretch back some two millennia in the form of handscrolls and, since the beginning of the 17th century, in the form of woodblock prints of the Ukiyo-e tradition. The British Museum’s collection of Japanese prints is world famous, but perhaps less famous is its collection of Chinese prints – ranging from early Buddhist texts to Communist revolutionary posters, and later still of prints by modern Chinese artists. With this in mind it’s again to the Chinese pictorial tradition that we look for more recent links to the phenomena of manga, cartoons and graphic novels.
Walk into any craft or artist materials shop today and you’ll be confronted with at least half a dozen ‘How to Draw Manga’ books. Before how to draw manga there were books on how to draw cartoons, but long before either of those there was the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (Jieziyuan Huazhuan 芥子園畫傳). The manual was first published in Jinling between 1679-1701 and became a well-known teaching aid for painters throughout the Far East.
How to draw figures from the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Author’s collection
Chinese calligraphy and ink painting are very closely linked; the same brushes, ink and paper (or silk) are used, and the same surety of execution is required for both. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a good calligrapher will also be a good painter (though not necessarily a good artist) as they are working within the same graphic tradition. The ink painting below is an outstanding example of an ancient graphic art tradition brought to fruition in the hands of a consummate artist, and it’s that same tradition that gave birth to the art of manga in Japan.
Woman with a saké cup. Attributed to Hokusai. Private collection
Hokusai was only five years old when William Stukeley died in 1765. Many readers here will be familiar with Stukeley’s accurate illustrations of Avebury and its surrounding area, so what to make of his 1759 sketch below – surely slightly tongue-in-cheek but if not definitely winning first prize in the oldest megalithic cartoon category!
The Druid Sacrifice of Yule-Tide by William Stukeley (inset). Note Avebury and Silbury in the background
Putting aside the strict definition of the word cartoon (ie a draft for a painting) and focusing on Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, we have in the cartoon, “…a piece of art, usually humorous in intent. This usage dates from 1843 when Punch magazine applied the term to satirical drawings in its pages, particularly sketches by John Leech. The first of these parodied the preparatory cartoons for grand historical frescoes in the then-new Palace of Westminster. The original title for these drawings was Mr Punch’s face is the letter Q and the new title “cartoon” was intended to be ironic, a reference to the self-aggrandizing posturing of Westminster politicians.”*
In Part I of this series we featured an 1879 cartoon from Punch of Stonehenge by Edward Tennyson Reed. Japan’s first manga magazine, the Eshinbun Nipponchi, appeared in 1874. The Eshinbun Nipponchi was heavily influenced by Japan Punch, founded in 1862 by the British cartoonist Charles Wirgman. In other words, it seems there might have been a cross fertilization of Japanese/Far Eastern graphic art traditions and Western satirical cartoons at play during this period, leading eventually to the Western cartoon and Japanese manga traditions we’re familiar with today. That cross fertilization is still at play. The British Archaeology magazine usually has a cartoon in each of its editions and, bringing the megalithic cartoon phenomenon up-to-date, this brilliant cartoon by Bill Brown in a Guardian Money supplement illustrates the on-going creativity of the manga tradition and the role that megaliths continue to play in it.
Illustration by Bill Brown
Links and further reading.
The Tao of Painting – A study of the ritual disposition of Chinese painting by Mai-mai Sze. This is an English translation of the Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting). Bollingen Foundation, Series XLIX. Princeton University Press, New York, 1956.