Japan Society Employs First-Ever Mangaka-in-Residence

Mar 2nd 2010

Artist/Illustrator Hiroki Otsuka to Create an Original Japanese-style Comic Book Based on the Spring 2010 Kuniyoshi Exhibition

New York, NY – Japan Society taps internationally acclaimed visual artist and professional illustrator Hiroki Otsuka as mangaka (comic book illustrator) artist-in-residence in conjunction with the Society's spring exhibition Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection, March 12-June 13, 2010.

The first residency of its kind in the U.S. in terms of content, scale and breadth of public engagement, Hiroki Otsuka will create an original full-length manga (comic book) inspired by the work of Kuniyoshi—often working onsite visible to visitors. In addition, Otsuka lends his talents to an array of related activities, including illustration workshops for the general public and New York City high school students, devising and judging an international manga competition, blogging about his work and experience at Japan Society, and creating original Kuniyoshi-inspired artwork to be made available to the public. Otsuka will also participate in Japan Society's food-themed all-day festival j-CATION (April 10), and the Society's second annual cosplay event, Cosplay Play 2.0 (May 15), for which he will create promotional artwork.

"Kuniyoshi's love of complex narrative, his busy, frenetic style, his powerful characterization, his inventive use of space, and his mass-market appeal all mark him as a grandfather of contemporary manga," says Joe Earle, Director of Japan Society Gallery and organizer of Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters. "We are underlining the parallels between Kuniyoshi's work and contemporary manga by asking Hiroki Otsuka—an outstanding manga artist living in New York—to serve as our mangaka-in-residence, inspiring visitors by creating his own meta-narrative about Kuniyoshi and his work."

Otsuka's yet-to-be titled original manga, which begins production on the March 12 opening of Graphic Heroes Magic Monsters, centers on a teenager who comes to Japan Society's exhibition as part of a school group. The student literally gets drawn into the artwork as a Kuniyoshi-inspired warrior and is called on to save New York City from the multitude of monsters marauding throughout Kuniyoshi's prints.

Earle notes, "What we particularly liked about Otsuka was his sympathy for Kuniyoshi's skillful circumventions of official rules and regulations—for example the 1843 Earth Spider triptych which viewers of the time interpreted as a satire on Japan's weak ruler and his ministers, with the demons representing those who suffered under the oppressive reforms. In the same way, Otsuka's work will incorporate commentary on contemporary America."

A new episode of Otsuka's manga will be made available weekly online. Visitors to Japan Society Gallery will have the opportunity to observe Otsuka working onsite on Friday evenings 5-9, and Saturdays and Sundays 11 am-5 pm.

In conjunction with the residency, Japan Society offers the public manga workshop Brutes, Beauties & Beasts: Drawing Inspiration from Kuniyoshi with Hiroki Otsuka. With Otsuka as a guide, participants bring their art to life choosing from one or more of the five themes from Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Warriors, Theater, Beautiful Women, Landscapes, and Humor. The 2-hour workshops take place amidst bamboo gardens and an indoor waterfall in Japan Society's Murase Room. [For ages 16 and up, single sessions take place Saturdays, March 13, March 20, March 27, April 24, May 22, May 29, June 5, June 12, 11 am–1 pm. Tickets are $30 per person including materials and free admission to the gallery. Parental permission slips required for children under 18. For more information and to register call 212-715-1224.]

Otsuka will visit The High School of Art and Design and The Brooklyn Friends School as part of the Japan Society Education Program's Responding to… student outreach series, which pairs high school groups to participate in a multi-part, intensive study of Japan Society exhibitions. In Responding to Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese Prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (April-June), students explore exhibition themes and make connections to contemporary culture in a manga project led by Otsuka. The program culminates in a special exhibition of the students' artwork at Japan Society and a reception for students, teachers, and parents. [For more information call 212-715-1224.]

To further celebrate Kuniyoshi's impact on contemporary manga, Otsuka will serve as guest judge for Japan Society's first annual manga competition, MANGA MADNESS! (March 19-May 1). Participants are asked to submit previously unpublished manga artwork, and the top three winners' will be displayed at Japan Society. [Beginning March 19, send complete applications to submissions (at japansociety.org). Digital scans are preferred but photocopies may be mailed to Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street, New York, NY 10017, ATTN: MANGA MADNESS! Please DO NOT mail original art as hardcopy submissions will be discarded after the competition. Entries must be emailed or postmarked by May 1, 2010. Full contest information and rules will be posted at www.japansociety.org in March.]

Finally, each week Otsuka will select a print from Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters and create a work of art inspired by the print on paper or canvas. The completed artworks will be made available for sale after the exhibition closes. [For sales-related inquiries call 212-715-1252.]

About Hiroki Otsuka

A professional comic book illustrator since 1994, Brooklyn based Japanese artist/illustrator Hiroki Otsuka honed his craft drafting and inking comic book cells for a variety of projects, and illustrated for a number of major Japanese publications through 2004. "I grew up reading manga like all youngsters in Japan, although I was completely obsessed with submerging myself in their realm of imagination," says Otsuka. "Since then, I have devoted a great deal of time studying manga. Through drawing manga, I like to open doors for readers to share my imaginative world. I use personal experiences, or experiences and stories from my friends to inspire my work. I create drawings, paintings, and manga whose underlying themes are entertaining and convey something of the essence of living freely, easily and vividly."

In 2005, Otsuka's focus shifted from graphic to fine arts, working predominantly with traditional sumi ink used in Japanese calligraphy. Otsuka's debut solo show at Brooklyn's Stay Gold Gallery in 2005 prompted The New Yorker to write that his works "push the populist youth quotient through the roof." Since then, his work has appeared in galleries throughout the United States and Japan, and has been featured in international art fairs in New York, Tokyo and Basel, Switzerland. He's been exhibited at major art institutions such as The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (Nothing Moments, 2007) and in academic settings such as Pittsburgh University Art Gallery (Making Faces: Depiction of Women in Japan from Edo to Today, 2009). In 2007, Otsuka was featured in Japan Society's centennial exhibition Making a Home, curated by Eric C. Shiner, that highlighted 33 Japanese contemporary artists living and working in New York. Berlin's Kunstraum Richard Sorge held a major exhibition of Otsuka's paintings and murals in 2009 entitled Everything to More. Most recently, Otsuka provided the integrated illustrations for choreographer Jeremy Wade's critically acclaimed multimedia dance there is no end to more, a Japan Society commission which had its world premiere in New York in December 2009.

Discussing his process, Otsuka says, "I always begin by drawing the pictures on a sketchbook just using a black pen, which is a basic manga technique. As simple as this sounds, so much information can be conveyed with just one line. The spontaneity of lines is my identity. It shows how I have been inspired and mirrors my state of mind and energy flow. Lines are the most significant aspect of my works, even more important than what I draw."

Related Japan Society Events

Japan Society's spring 2010 exhibition Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters: Japanese prints by Utagawa Kuniyoshi from the Arthur R. Miller Collection (March 12–June 13, 2010) examines the career of print artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861), whose vivid scenes from history and legend, wildly popular 150 years ago, feature giant spiders, skeletons, and sea creatures; Chinese ruffians; women warriors; haggard ghosts, and ferocious samurai. His prints include familiar themes such as landscape, kabuki theater, beautiful women, as well as less well-known subjects like religion and folklore of Japan, China and other Asian countries, and exotic experiments with foreign subject-matter and European techniques. In Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters, Japan Society presents 130 dramatic images by a graphic genius whose work is a major influence on today's manga and anime artists. Organized by the Royal Academy of Arts in collaboration with Arthur R. Miller and The British Museum. [$12/ $10 students and seniors/FREE Japan Society members and children under 16; Admission is free to all on Friday nights, 6-9 pm. Japan Society Gallery hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 am-6 pm; Friday, 11 am-9 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11 am-5 pm; the Gallery is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Docent tours are available free with admission Tuesday-Sunday at 12:30 pm.]

Japan Society offers a taste of everything Japan with j-CATION (Saturday, April 10, 1 pm-1 am), a one-day open house festival taking over the Society's theater, gallery, lounge and classrooms. The first-annual j-CATION centers on the theme of Japanese food. Participants are invited to feast their eyes on films with culinary themes in an afternoon of Edible Cinema, drool over innovative bento box creations and "how-to" demonstrations, savor tastings and dig in to talks given by star speakers. While authentic and unusual drinks and bites satisfy curious cravings throughout the day, the evening explodes into a smorgasbord of music with the delicious sounds of Brooklyn-based dream-pop band Asobi Seksu and a guest DJ's sweet beats rocking into the night. [$5 suggested donation.]

Following the massive success of Japan Society's KRAZY! Cosplay Party in 2009, the Society hosts its second annual cosplay event, Cosplay Party 2.0 (Saturday, May 15), in conjunction with the exhibition Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters. Fans are invited to create and showoff costumes of their favorite characters, and share their enthusiasm for anime, manga, and video games. Cosplay Party 2.0 includes an anime film premiere in Japan's Society's big screen theater; a costume competition with special appearances from Uncle Yo, World Cosplay Summit Team USA girls, and manga artist Hiroki Otsuka; prizes from Kinokuniya Bookstore; musical entertainment; a photo booth; free admission to Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters; and more. [Time and ticket price TBA. Only costumed individuals are eligible for the competition.]

About Japan Society

Established in 1907, Japan Society has evolved into North America's major producer of high-quality content on Japan for an English-speaking audience. Presenting over 100 events annually through well established Corporate, Education, Film, Gallery, Language, Lectures, Performing Arts and Innovators Network programs, the Society is an internationally recognized nonprofit, nonpolitical organization that provides access to information on Japan, offers opportunities to experience Japanese culture, and fosters sustained and open dialogue on issues important to the U.S., Japan, and East Asia.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and V subway at Lexington Avenue). The public may call 212-832-1155 or visit www.japansociety.org for more information.


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