Most people are familiar with Katsushika Hokusai (1760 - May 10, 1849) for his woodblock prints like The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (1829-32). It is one of most iconic Japanese images.
Many of his other prints are just as well known and beloved.
Today's blog is going to focus on Hokusai's Book of Manga that is less widely known. For the beverage I chose the Midori Sour.
It is a refreshing, lovely mix of sweet and sour. I learned a handy new bar tending trick - if it turns out you don't have sour mix like you thought you did before you went shopping you can make your own! Just mix one part simple syrup to one part lemon and/or lime juice and huzzah - sour mix!
So I have my delicious drink and am ready to look at Hokusai's Manga.
In Hokusai's time Manga referred to sketches, not the graphic novels we think of today,1 like one of my favorites Azumanga Diaoh.
Hokusai's Manga was first published in 1814.2 Hokusai observed everything around him and captured them in his sketch books which were then made into woodblock prints and published. The subject matter varies so widely which makes this a really fun topic.
A lot of the drawings are of animals, flora and objects likeNoh masks. He painstakingly recreates and catalogues what he sees around him.
In his Manga Hokusai also studies movement and scientifically documents the mechanics of human movement.
These observations of human motion are valuable and Hokusai uses them extensively in his woodblock prints.
Hokusai also studied perspective using Mt. Fuji as a focal point in his Manga. This of course translates into his famous woodblock print series 36 Views of Mt. Fuji (1826-1833).
In addition to a peek at the artist's process Hokusai's Manga also gives us a glimpse of life in Edo period Japan. The sketches feel familiar because several of them depict everyday subjects modern audiences can relate to. In the sketch below we can see people conversing, smoking and making a purchase from a street vendor ... all typical things we see today.
Hokusai's Manga aren't all serious and studious though.
There are Manga of demons and deities.
Hokusai's wonderful sense of humor really shines in his Manga of random, ridiculous things.
The following examples are my personal favorites:
In this series of sketches a man blows out a candle with his nose and then makes a bunch of silly faces.
In this one is called 'felled by a fart.' Yes, the powerful fart knocked out the man on the ground. This one always makes me laugh because I apparently have the sense of humor of a 5 year old.
In the sketch below two Sumo wrestlers struggle to dress their fellow wrestler. Who hasn't been there when trying to get into your pants that a just a bit too tight ... am I right????
These sketches would also highly influential in 19th century French Impressionism.3
In L'Enterrement (1867-1870) by Edouard Manet the perspective and cropping is very reminiscent of Hokusai's Mt Fuji works. There is an off-center vanishing point in the upper right and activity in the foreground that is not the focal point of the image. The cropping is also similar to Hokusai's works.
The same can be said of Manet's The Races at Longchamp (1864).
So to wrap up ... How do we place Hokusai's images? Are they simple sketches done for pleasure? Are they instruction manuals? Both? I say they are a bit of both. Hokusai may not have intended his Manga to be instruction manuals but they certainly turned into them in both Japan and abroad.
I hope you enjoyed Hokusai's sketches and chuckled at least once.
Check out my gallery for more. CHEERS!