The British Museum team busy installing a show-stopping 17-metre-long theatre curtain ahead of the opening of the MANGA Exhibition earlier this month. It was made by Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyōsai for the Shintomi Theatre on 30th June 1880. That day, after drinking a few bottles of rice wine, Kyōsai retreated to a studio and started painting. Just four hours later he emerged with the huge curtain, depicting members of the acting company as various kinds of monsters. The curtain is on loan from the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University. Photo: British Museum

British Museum’s massive MANGA exhibition opens this week

The British Museum team busy installing a show-stopping 17-metre-long theatre curtain ahead of the opening of the MANGA Exhibition earlier this month. It was made by Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyōsai for the Shintomi Theatre on 30th June 1880. That day, after drinking a few bottles of rice wine, Kyōsai retreated to a studio and started painting. Just four hours later he emerged with the huge curtain, depicting members of the acting company as various kinds of monsters. The curtain is on loan from the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University. Photo: British Museum
The British Museum team busy installing a show-stopping 17-metre-long theatre curtain ahead of the opening of the MANGA Exhibition earlier this month. It was made by Japanese artist Kawanabe Kyōsai for the Shintomi Theatre on 30th June 1880. That day, after drinking a few bottles of rice wine, Kyōsai retreated to a studio and started painting. Just four hours later he emerged with the huge curtain, depicting members of the acting company as various kinds of monsters. The curtain is on loan from the Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum, Waseda University. Photo: British Museum

Author and manga expert Paul Gravett was lucky to be granted an exclusive sneak peek at The British Museum‘s MANGA exhibition, opening this week – and he’s very impressed.

Announced last year, the exhibition, which will run until August, explores the phenomenon of manga and is the largest exhibition of the art ever to take place outside of Japan.

The show includes bestselling books such as Moto Hagio’s Po no Ichizoku (The Poe Clan), a series from the 1970s about a family of vampanellas, or vampires, whose main characters are Edgar and Allan.

Artist Rieko Akatsuka installs her dynamic sculpture inside the MANGA exhibition at the British Museum, which opens this week. Akatsuka’s father was a pioneering manga artist and she was inspired by his use of onomatopoeia for the sound of laughter. This piece uses randomly placed letters taken from the manga so “a viewer can compose their own laughter depending on where they’re positioned.” Photo: British Museum
Artist Rieko Akatsuka installs her dynamic sculpture inside the MANGA exhibition at the British Museum, which opens this week. Akatsuka’s father was a pioneering manga artist and she was inspired by his use of onomatopoeia for the sound of laughter. This piece uses randomly placed letters taken from the manga so “a viewer can compose their own laughter depending on where they’re positioned.” Photo: British Museum

Many of the objects in the exhibition will be loans coming to the UK for the first time. Among the original manga pieces to be put on display is the late Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy), Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece and Akiko Higashimura’s Kuragehime (Princess Jellyfish).

The Japan Cartoonists Association Chairman Tetsuya Chiba is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony.

The British Museum are also publishing, with Thames & Hudson, MANGA, a huge 352-page hardback book by curators Nicole Rousmaniere and Matsuba Ryoko, to accompany the exhibition.

Arranged into six broadly chronological, thematic chapters, the book traces the origins of manga, from its beginnings to the present day.

“I have never seen so many different and outstanding pages of original manga artwork in one show,” enthuses journalist, curator, writer and broadcaster Paul Gravett, who’s the author of books such as Mangasia: The Definitive Guide to Asian Comics.

“It’s an unprecedented landmark achievement, beautifully presented and designed, and clearly and cleverly making the appreciation of Japanese comics accessible to anyone. Your gob will be truly smacked!

“It really is MANGA-nificent!”

Did Hokusai invent manga? As an author, artist and block-cutter, Hokusai knew Japan’s print industry inside out. In the late 1700s, he regularly designed illustrations for ‘yellow covers’ – popular comic books for adults, like modern manga. This print from around 1833 shows a menacing skeleton pulling down a mosquito net. Like a manga illustration, the bold image seems primed for movement and mayhem.
Did Hokusai invent manga? As an author, artist and block-cutter, Hokusai knew Japan’s print industry inside out. In the late 1700s, he regularly designed illustrations for ‘yellow covers’ – popular comic books for adults, like modern manga. This print from around 1833 shows a menacing skeleton pulling down a mosquito net. Like a manga illustration, the bold image seems primed for movement and mayhem.

Translated literally as ‘pictures run riot’, Manga refers to a form of Japanese narrative art that has grown over the centuries to become a global phenomenon. Initially referring to graphic prints, novels and comics, manga has expanded beyond its original forms to include animation, art, fashion and new media such as film and gaming, and has international reach. Immensely popular with people of all ages, manga is big business, with a turnover of £3 billion in Japan in 2016.

A visual narrative art that tells stories with pictures in real or imagined worlds, today, the medium is revered across the globe and has influenced the styles and stories of comics, anime and cosplay, as well as graphic novels, fashion and even gaming in recent decades.

Allan and Edgar, the main characters from the Poe Clan series by Moto Hagio, which focuses on a family of vampires.
Allan and Edgar, the main characters from the Poe Clan series by Moto Hagio, which focuses on a family of vampires.

As a medium, Manga has greatly developed since World War Two, however, says the British Museum, its “artistic roots can be traced back to narrative hand scrolls from the 12th century.”

The family-friendly  exhibition itself has grown out of a vastly growing collection of manga while British Museum curators continue to collect works in a genre that’s cross cultural impact has been enormous in recent history. (For example, the British Museum holds original copies of Seinto Oniisan (Saint Young Man) by Hikaru Nakamura).

Some of today’s biggest brands can trace their conception back to the manga genre, including numerous anime – the likes of Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop or Yo Kai Watch and more.

Citi Manga Exhibition - British Museum 2019

MANGA at The British Museum, London, on 23rd May and runs for three months, until 26th August 2019| Tickets free to British Museum members, Adults £19.50 (prices may vary), under 16s free, 2-for-1 tickets for students on Fridays. More information here on the Museum web site | Buy MANGA, a huge 352-page hardback book by curators Nicole Rousmaniere and Matsuba Ryoko

• British Museum Curator Tim Clark reveals why Hokusai might be the father of modern manga in this blog

• Paul Gravett is online at www.paulgravett.com

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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