I left off last week somewhere verging on unfamiliar territory, or, if you will, right at the boundary between the known and not-so-known. In many ways, the posts in this series will reflect that movement into ever greater degrees of unknown-y-ness. Our first stop was a well-known but, to my mind, grossly misunderstood artist, Kitazawa Rakuten, and today we will be moving on to the barely known and still misunderstood, but only insofar as the place of kindai manga (again, the period from the Meiji Restoration to the Second World War) in manga history is a problematic one at best. I say “barely known,” because among Rakuten’s deshi (disciples), only Shimokawa Hekoten has a Wikipedia page, and his standing in the modern Japanese retrospective on the history of its popular culture is based more in his being the creator of the first Japanese animated film. Now, I know that Wikipedia is, at best, a flawed thing and that its standards for “notoriety” have regularly been used to take down pages against which certain Wikipedians bear silly grudges, but it is a good bellwether for how, despite the information on kindai manga being available and not terribly hard to find, in the end, its significance for manga in toto seems to matter very little to people.
This is a shame, because, as I hinted at last week, much of the work produced in this period bears the mark of what would now be considered progressive or avant-garde. I occasionally run into a salient quote from Virginia Woolf, which, in its decontextualized form reads, “nothing has ever really happened until it has been recorded.” This is, as is often the case, a misquote of a recollection of Nigel Nicolson as he and Woolf went on a bug hunt: “nothing has really happened until it has been described. So you must write many letters to your family and friends, and keep a diary.” The discrepancy between the quote as codified in collections and in its source is telling for the issues under consideration here. The mere record of the existence of these artists, the mere archiving and reprinting of their work is insufficient against the description of manga history we have handed down to us, one which never denies their existence yet never quite integrates them into it. In turning to Jihei this week, I want to examine what it means for a particular manga artist to have a place/nonplace in manga history, a kind of historiographic purgatory from which one can only be extricated by the due diligence of the living.
A Map of Changing Mores
Kindai manga is generally thought to be of two kinds: political (seiji) and social (fūzoku) commentary. In 1915, Rakuten had a falling out with his backers for Tokyo Puck and returned to the Jiji shinpō newspaper company, where he would turn its comics page into a larger newspaper insert much like what was being done with American newspapers. Tokyo Puck would continue for some time without its founding editor, but with Rakuten’s departure, the political content all but disappeared. Tokyo Puck‘s survival was, in many ways, an anachronism, because the boom in manga zasshi such as TP, Warai, and Osaka Puck was ultimately short lived, and it was the various newspapers and their stable artists who largely carried the torch. Though typically listed as one of Rakuten’s deshi, Jihei contributed to a variety of publications before becoming a regular contributor to Jiji manga (the aforementioned insert). Over time, Jihei’s role grew into eventually becoming an editor alongside Rakuten. He had earlier published his own short-lived manga zasshi, Aka (Red), and his stint for the Jiji shinpō company seemed to pave the way for his inevitably attaining to the status of his ersatz mentor, Rakuten, or the scion of the Asahi shinbun, Okamoto Ippei. This was not to be, much to the misfortune of all comics fans, for Jihei died in 1925 at the age of only 39.
Jihei, like any other comic artist of the time, was interested in the changing roles of women and, like those other artists, was not necessarily sympathetic (or entirely opposed) to their liberation. The point, at the end of the day, was to be funny; social commentary, while that is what modern scholars tend to focus on, was a means to a sometimes very different end. Here we have another consideration of the “new woman” in a full page comic from Jihei’s magazine Aka titled “The New Woman’s Expectations of Authority,” in which are depicted various types of women taking over positions of social prominence: the “political type” (seiji-teki) seated in the upper right, the “business type” (keizai-teki) to her immediate left, the “ruling type” (hōritsu-teki) to the left again, the “military type” (gunji-teki) below her, and so forth. We see a standard trope of depicting the “new woman,” where women take on the roles and in some cases even the uniform/dress of the man whom she would displace, though in some cases the reversal has more to do with social customs, e.g. the man pouring sake for a woman (his wife?) in the bottom left. Note how he appears to be holding up his sleeve with his left hand, something which a woman wearing a kimono would have to do with her oversized sleeves yet a man in the form-fitting sleeves of a suit jacket would not. The implication is clear, I think, that as the “new woman” takes on men’s roles, so too would men take on the roles of formally subservient women. Read into that what you will.
What interests me, though, is less the repetition on an all too common theme in kindai manga as the formal peculiarity of the way in which the text in the legend above relates to the image below it. The order in which the “types” appear above does not match the order in which one might read the “lines” of women below. The first three noted above follow closely enough, but the next one listed, the “religious type” (shūkyō-teki), seems to correspond to the woman with the shaved head, first from the right in the second line. From there, it moves to the “educated type” (kyōiku-teki) down and to the left, and then to the “military type” back up in the second line. You might think that the sumo lady to the left would come next, except she’s last in the legend. I call this text a “legend,” because how it relates to the image has more the function of mapping than simple narrative progression. In fact, there really isn’t any narrative or sequence to speak of, so how the text is related to the image is purely an act of interpretation, how the reader “maps” it onto the figures below.
The idea of a kind of comics cartography runs throughout Jihei’s work. Here we have the phrenological “charts” of three types of modern individual, from left to right, the bureaucrat (kanryō), the capitalist (shihonka), and the day-laborer (rōdōsha). Instead of mapping particular texts onto particular types, we have text used as a map to determine type, much in the same way the bumps and depressions of the skull were thought, in phrenology, to indicate the personality characteristics of a given individual. Jihei also used the form of actual maps, in this case a rail map, to determine a kind of spacial and territorial relationship between otherwise abstract sociological concepts.
From the starting point (kiten) in the center one might ride the rails of the society express to “humanity” (nindō, to the bottom right), on to “individual equality” (jiyū byōtō), then at “restructuring” (kaizō) one might head east by way of “revolution” (kakumei) to become a political “radical” (kageki) or head south by way of “regular elections” (futsū senkyo) to becoming a “democrat” (minpō). If your heart’s desire is to one day become a bureaucrat, well, then, thankfully Jihei has produced this station map, so you might find your way there.
I wanted to focus on Jihei’s “maps,” in order to bring to light an aspect of my larger comics studies project that I am both very excited about and yet somewhat wary to present. I have for some time been engaged with the various ways in which critics define what comics are, and this blog is one manifestation of that broad interest. Nearly always, comics are defined formally, and “formal” can mean many things to many people. The other, far less common method for determining what comics are (and, perhaps more importantly, are not) is sociological in nature. Both have their drawbacks, and, at any rate, attempts to define comics in categorical terms are always going to run into the problem that historically, comics/manga/whatever have been a remarkably fluid thing. What I want to show here with Jihei is that comics is not a “thing” necessarily but a form of reading/interpretation, one which poaches from other forms and reworks them (as with the forms of “mapping” considered here), sometimes parodically and sometimes not. This tendency to rework ways of perceiving texts seems to be at the heart of what comics do and accounts for, better if not perfectly, their tendency to resemble other, seemingly circumscribed media. I’ll leave it at that for now.
Sometimes Looking Back is Really Looking Forward
Jihei, like many of the kindai mangaka, was trained as a painter, and, as I noted above, contributed broadly to the manga media of his time. In 1921, he contributed several paintings to a print series published as two handscrolls (emaki) based on the common ukiyo-e topic of the 53 Stations of the Tōkaidō. I’m fascinated by this thing, for lack of a better term, because while it poaches from two traditional Japanese artforms, it does so in such a way as to render both completely uncanny. For one, your average Edo period depiction of the stations wouldn’t have ladies riding by on bicycles nor would it have (as above) two travelers gazing at the kinshachi atop Nagoya castle through a telescope. Moreover, several of the stations are titled by the current names of those places (e.g. the manga emaki has Toyohashi instead of Yoshida), and print series of the premodern period were bound as codices, not scrolls. As with the mappings above, when manga uses a pre-existing form, it almost always transforms it, it does not become it. Thus my frustration with people who try make arguments that the Hokusai manga is just like modern manga based purely on seeming formal influence…
Of course, much of Jihei’s work is entirely conventional: simple narrative told through the lens of sequential panels, in comics just like yer great-granpappy use ta make.
In this full page comic from 1923, we are presented with a day in the life of a man “until a money order arrives from his hometown” (kunimoto kara kawase no todoku made). Every manner of disaster befalls him, and the money itself isn’t much of a reprieve. The man is cartoonish, both in how he is drawn and how he behaves, and one could hardly distinguish this twenty panel comic from the other “slice of life” newspaper cartoons that were popular at the time. But to take this is as indicative of Jihei would be a great mistake, because his style is extremely fluid, adapted as needed to the mode of the “funny papers,” political cartoons, social commentary, or… something else. The nonspecificity of Jihei’s style would make his work incredibly hard to identify, if it weren’t for the fact that he was one of the few artists to actually sign his work, and whose status as Rakuten’s deshi and as an editor of Aka and Jiji manga assures that he is at least not completely unknown.
Yet, looking closely at Jihei’s work we see the more one delves into the texts of this period, the more deeply unsettling it is not only for our preconceptions of manga but of all comics. Manga/comics of the early 20th century are not, as it turns out, the necessary precursor that manga historiography sets up to justify and explain what comics are now but rather something eerily like and yet also dissimilar to contemporary manga. The question is, then, is it eerie, because the comics of the past are truly something altogether different or because our view of what comics are is unnecessarily narrow and present-centric? I don’t know; that’s a real concern. But we could at least start asking ourselves the question, rather than take our preconceptions for granted.
Next week: manga landscapes, manga architecture, and Kawamori Hisao BLOWS YOUR MIND!!!!11
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