80 Famous People – Howard Carter

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

We’re back with the 80 Famous People series, this time it’s Howard Carter, the Brit who discovered Tutankhamun’s (King Tut) burial site in 1922. According to the wiki entry, Carter was born in London in 1874, but was raised in Norfolk, probably because of ill health. His father was an artist, and he encouraged Howard to draw as well. At age 17, Howard was attached to the Egypt Exploration Fund to assist in excavations and to document the various tomb decorations (required because still film photography was an emerging and expensive technology at the time; George Eastman had just created his film process in 1888, replacing the use of glass plates). Carter worked on several sites, and was appointed as the first chief inspector of the Egyptian Antiquities Service in 1899. An incident involving a group of French tourists and Egyptian site guards resulted in his resigning in 1905. He was reduced to selling paintings on the street for 3 years before a friend introduced him to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, George Herbert. Herbert had been an explorer and sportsman until he was severely injured in a car accident. He was sent to Egypt to recover his health and he wanted to hire someone to do some excavating for him. Carter agreed and suggested that they look for the rumored tomb of Tutankhamun. They spent 5 years looking in the Valley of Kings before Carnarvon threatened to cut the funding for the work. Carter talked him into extending the support for one more year, and finally located the tomb in 1922 (work was suspended for 3 years due to WW I). All of the royalties from the discoveries went to Herbert. Carter worked on cataloging the thousands of items found until 1932, after which he retired from archeology and became a part-time agent for collectors and museums. He died of lymphoma at age 65 in 1939.

(Finding the cursed box.)

The intro manga has Merrino discovering a strangely decorated metal tin in a park, and Daichi claims that according to one of the school legends, there’s supposed to be a haunted box nearby. Youichi hesitates to open it because he’s afraid of the curse, then he drops the box and the cover pops off to reveal a dessicated frog. In the wrap-up, Youichi’s mother arrives from shopping, and reminds the kids that they’d buried a time capsule a few years ago. Daichi and Utako are relieved to find their toys and hair accessories inside, and Youichi suddenly remembers that he’d stuck his live pet frog, Mopy, in the box. A little later, Merrino finds another box, this one dripping with evil wards and a black cloud.

(Getting permission to work the Valley of Kings, and picking the first test dig site.)

The main manga is by Konatsu Uraji (Machikou!, Momokon Teacher), who had worked on mook #5 on Mozart. The art on this mook is pretty good regarding the backgrounds and treasures. Unfortunately, Carter, who had been in his 40’s during the period portrayed in the story, is drawn as being no more than 20 here. Most of the characters look nothing like their photos.

The story starts with Carter, age 17, working for Flinders Petrie and excitedly finding a buried box that turns out to be one of the local people’s lunch. Petrie tells the boy about Tutankhamun, and reassures him that archeology is all about not giving up. We jump to 1907, when Carter is reduced to selling drawings on the street. An unnamed friend comes up and gives him the name of someone that’s looking for an archeologist. Carter jumps at the paper and ends up interviewing with the Earl of Carnarvon. They agree to look for King Tut’s tomb, but that’s believed to be located in the Valley of Kings, and at the moment, the American Theodore Davis has the contract with the Egyptian government to excavate there. Carter and Carnarvon explore elsewhere, biding their time.

Finally, after working the site for 7 years, Davis gives up and returns his contract to Egypt. The government official in charge tries to talk Carter out of looking for Tut’s tomb, citing all the previous failures, but Carter is insistent. With the new contract, Carter first tries one specific location that only yields the remains of some small building walls. They go to Davis’ site, and after 5 years, Carnarvon’s health fails and he decides to pull his funding because of the huge expenses amassed so far. Carter demands one more chance and forfeits his rights to anything they find in the future. Carnarvon agrees, and his daughter, Evelyn, pleads with Howard to find the tomb for her ailing father’s sake. That night, Carter begs Tut to give him a sign. He remembers Petrie’s words about returning to where you started and to resume digging. The next day he goes back to where he uncovered the ruined walls. Soon, he finds a sealed entrance with stairs to an underground passage. Carter wires London to have Carnarvon join him in Egypt. With the Earl and Evelyn standing with him, Carter makes a small exploratory hole in the wall at the end of the passage. Looking in the hole by candle light, he makes his famous quote when the Earl asks him what he sees, saying “Wondrous things”. The story ends with Carter finally opening Tut’s tomb and greeting the long-forgotten king.

(Textbook section.)

The textbook section focuses heavily on Carter’s time in Egypt and his work with the Egyptian Antiquities Service. There are sidebars on Petrie, Carnarvon, and the speculated reason why Tut’s name had been removed from the List of Kings. There’s a mention of the shock Carter got when Davis prematurely announced that he’d found Tut’s tomb. One article claims that the current English spelling for Tut’s name came from the romaji spelling when it was rendered into Japanese and then back to English. Another section claims that while Carter apparently was attracted to Evelyn, their differences in family positions prevented him from marrying her. The last two pages include a floor map of the tomb with descriptions of some of the items found, plus partial instructions for how to turn corpses into mummies.

(The postcards.)

Comments: Overall, this is a very informative volume, and the artwork isn’t all that distracting. The main manga is as shlocky as most of the other mooks in the series, but that’s to be expected because it’s aimed at children. The textbook section is more complete, and better than the English wiki article. Recommended.


The 80 Famous People series seems to be winding down, and so far there’s been no announcement I’ve seen about extending it again. The remaining featured names are Robert Capa (Hungarian combat photographer), Confucius, Oscar Shindler (Shindler’s List fame), John D. Rockefeller, Hideo Noguchi (Japanese bacteriologist), Clara Schumann (Pianist) and Neil Armstrong. I intend to get the mooks for Noguchi and Armstrong, and I’m tempted to also pick up Capa and Confucius.  We’ll see.


On the Gakken Otono no Kagaku, front, Gakken has officially announced the release date for the next adult science kit (the updated pinhole planetarium) as July 25th. Interestingly, though, it seems that they’ve taken down their Facebook page and their developer’s blog. This really limits the amount of information coming out of the company to primarily just the newsletters (which usually get released a few days before the numbered kits come out). I’m particularly annoyed by this because I was planning to post a link to my video of the Japanino + Flip Clock to their FB page after I finished it. Sigh.

80 Famous People – Hokusai Katsushika

Back in the 80’s, there was a really nice little independent bookstore in the same shopping center as my favorite tex-mex restaurant. The restaurant was tied into the building’s PA system, so you could place your reservation and then walk around for an hour. When your table opened up, you’d hear the announcement no matter where you were. I’d go there every Friday night, and then spend the hour in the bookstore. They had a good selection of artbooks, including several coffee table books on Ukiyo-e. I bought one collection of Hiroshige‘s prints, and I was considering getting some others. Sadly, the entire complex closed up before I came to Japan the first time. However, as part of my first trip here, I worked for Hitachi in Yamaguchi prefecture, and during one day trip to Yamaguchi City, I happened past a used art print shop that had a box of ukiyo-e out on a table in front. I ended up buying several prints as gifts for $60, including Hokusai’s Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Later, when I was working on my History of Manga webpage, I picked up a copy of Hokusai Manga, vol. 1 from the Manga Museum in Harajuku. So, yeah, I know a little about Hokusai. Not that much, though.

I was debating whether to pick up this volume of the mook, because the character designs are modern-day manga style, and not at all in keeping with Hokusai’s self-portraits. However, the textbook section had some nice reproductions, and I figured, “what the heck”. Up until this point, I hadn’t seen that much personal information about the artist, so this mook is useful on that count. According to the wiki entry, he was born sometime around 1760, and died at 90 in 1849. His early years are up for debate, but he learned to paint at about age 6, was sent to work at a lending library and bookshop at age 12, and became an apprentice woodblock carver at 14. By 18 he entered the studio of Katsukawa Shunsho and he learned how to make ukiyo-e there. Ukiyo-e is a woodblock (“hanga”) printing system where different blocks are used for each color of ink. Initially only in black-and-white, it had become a full-color process by the time Hokusai was a child. It lends itself well to a factory-style assembly line, where the artist makes the rough draft drawing, someone else stencils it on the blocks, a third carves each block, and a fourth operates the actual printing press. It gets its name from the lower caste levels of society which treated the living world as impermanent or “floating” (“ukiyo-e” = “pictures of the floating world”) , and generally consisted of images of kabuki actors, geisha, folktales and landscapes. The term manga was first coined to refer to woodblock prints that were outside the typical ukiyo-e genres.  Hokusai’s skills surpassed simple landscapes and caricatures, and his volumes of “manga” contain thousands of drawings of workers, craftsmen, animals, mythical beasts and facial types.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

In the textbook section, the mook discusses various aspects of Hokusai’s life. He took on over 30 pennames, to represent the different changes in his art styles. He moved 93 times, including a reported 3 moves in 1 day. While he traveled Japan extensively to do research and for his “36 Views of Mt. Fuji” series, he and his daughter, Oei, hated doing housework. When one apartment became too filthy to stand any further, they’d move out. Oei was also an accomplished artist, as well as a model for some of Hokusai’s drawings. Neither of them could be bothered to worry about money, so while their prints sold well, they’d occasionally find themselves broke. In 1839, his house and studio were destroyed in a fire; he supposedly worried only about saving his brushes. According to the wiki, his final words are translated as, “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years… Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.”

In the intro manga, Youichi and Mami’s mother is getting ready for a visit from a foreign penpal. The kids suggest that she prepare a fancy dinner for the guest, but Merrino berates them because foreigners really want to see what Japan is like (that and he’s trying to get Mrs. Makiba to make more cookies for him to eat). The group agrees. That night, Mohea has a room made that combines a Japanese bath, with a painting of Fuji on the tile wall, with a living room that has anime playing on the TV. In the bath is a big fish. As the rest of the group talk to her, the fish stands up – turns out that the foreigner is actually a space traveler named Salmon Marineski, from Fish Planet. Everyone changes into swimsuits and jumps into the bath. In the wrap-up, Salmon is happy to learn about Japan, ukiyo-e and Hokusai, and he thanks everyone for making his trip so enjoyable. In the last panel, he picks up a slice of sake sashimi (sliced raw salmon), says it looks delicious and asks what it is as he prepares to take a bite. Mami stands by in shock.

The main manga is by Noboru Rokuda this time (Saigo Test, F, Dash Kappei, Ganso). The incidental characters are often portrayed in the traditional ukiyo-e styles (long thin head, crescent moon eyes), while Hokusai and Oei are more blocky and manga-like. There are a few reproductions of Hokusai’s drawings, and the backgrounds are pretty detailed. The art’s good, but I’d have preferred designs closer to Hokusai’s self-portraits. What really stands out, though, is the storytelling gimmick. Essentially, Rokuda introduces himself into the manga as an unseen reporter that acts in first-person. The narration is actually Rokuda talking as he walks through Edo (old Tokyo) and interviews people.

The story starts out with Rokuda visiting a young Hokusai in 1794, and tries to talk to him under the name Tetsuzo. He offers to buy the artist a rice cake and sake, so Hokusai slams the sake down and quickly passes out. Hokusei normally doesn’t drink because it affects his ability to draw and thus he can’t handle his alcohol. He asks if Rokuda knows about kintaro ame, which is a kind of hard candy with an image of a boy inside that is stretched out. While the image looks the same in cross-section no matter where you break it, there are actual differences if you look close enough – angry Kintaro, smiling Kintaro, sad Kitaro, etc. Hokusai then stalks off to play with one of his daughters from one of his wives (married twice, with 4 sons and 2 daughters). Rokuda asks if the reason he’s so busy is because he has so many mouths to feed and Hokusai throws a bottle at him.  Time passes, Hokusai changes names, publishes a variety of drawings, and grows in popularity.

In 1817, Rokuda finds the apartment empty and assumes that Hokusai has moved again. Wandering through the city, he locates the artist in front of a temple completing a brush painting of Daruma on a canvas 120 square tatami mats (600 feet long). Oei is walking through the crowd, throwing out handfuls of rice. On closer inspection, each kernel is seen to be painted with 2 small sparrows. Hokusai then goes on a trip for his 36 views of Fuji, and Rokuda now understands the reference to the kintaro candy – each aspect of Fuji yields a different kind of landscape. This is when he creates the Great Wave. In 1849, Rokuda interviews Oei, while her father lies passed out on the floor, a brush in one hand. Her father leaps up, demands that the gods give him 10 more years so he can become a real artist, or at least 5. Oei asks about his latest painting and he says its the soul leaving the body and traveling over a summer plain. He then collapses and dies soon after at age 90. Rokuda claims that he can actually see Hokusai’s soul over a field, and thanks the painter for all his hard work.

The textbook section describes Hokusai’s rumored early childhood, education as an artist, and professional background. Sidebars talk about his filthy living quarters, why he moved so many times, his occasional poverty, and many pennames. There’s a small discussion of Oei, and various representative reproductions of his works. The last 2 pages talk about how ukiyo-e prints made their way to Europe via a French importer named Felix Bracquemond as packing material for ceramic vases, and then grew in popularity with artists like van Gogh, Gauguin and Cezanne. There’s a mention of Hiroshige, and an explanation of the woodblock process. The final sidebar explores the mystery of Toushuusai Sharaku, an immensely popular ukiyo-e artist who came out from nowhere, released over 140 prints and then disappeared again. One speculation is that he’s one of Hokusai’s many pseudonyms, but there’s been no confirmation of his identity one way of the other.

Overall, I did learn a lot that I hadn’t known about Hokusai before, along with some details missing from the English wiki. The mook manga is just a brief introduction to the artist as a person and doesn’t get into any significant detail, but it is a nice start. Recommended if you can find a copy and can read Japanese.

80 Famous People – Vincent van Gogh

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Vincent van Gogh is well-known as an impressionist painter, as well as “that guy that cut off his ear to give to a girlfriend”. Born in Zundert, Netherlands, in 1853, he moved around a lot as an adult, working as a missionary in Belgium, a teacher in England and then as an artist in Paris and parts of southern France. He had a close relationship with his brother, Theo, and attempted to establish friendships with other impressionist painters in Paris. However, his mental illnesses made him emotionally unstable, while probably also driving his artistic senses. He’s reported to have frequented various brothels, and it’s possible that part of the problem was derived from having contracted syphilis. He’d gotten into arguments with Gauguin over art, and at one point attacked the other artist with a razor blade. He then retreated to one of the brothels on Rue du Bout d’Aeles, and used the razor to cut off pieces of his left ear, which he then gave to a prostitute to protect. He later checked himself into an asylum, Saint-Remy, near Arles, for about a year. Reportedly, his mental condition worsened and he’s believed to have shot himself in the chest with a pistol, although the gun was never found. Two doctors attempted to care for him, but they weren’t qualified to do the surgery needed to remove the bullet. Theo was contacted and he rushed to see Vincent. At the time, van Gogh was in good spirits, but infection from the untreated wound kicked in a few hours later, and he died about 29 hours after pulling the trigger.

Theo set up a gallery to display and sell Vincent’s works, but there was only 1 sale while he was alive. A few months later, Theo died from the effects of syphilis. Theo’s widow, Johanna, published Vincent’s collected letters, and that eventually raised awareness of van Gogh as an artist and his popularity increased from that point. Later, both brothers’ remains were exhumed and relocated to be next to each other in Auvers-sur-Oise.

The intro manga has Youichi and Daichi looking at a poorly-drawn flier advertising an upcoming school dodgeball game. Youichi wants to win this time, but first he’s compelled to do something about the flier. He notices that Utako is wearing a pin with sunflowers, and she states that it’s a souvenir from her father’s business trip to France, inspired by van Gogh’s paintings. Youichi decides to use the yellow pull tabs from small bottles of milk to create a sunflower-like banner for his supporters to wave during the game. Unfortunately, he can’t drink enough milk to get the number of tabs he needs and he falls into despair. Then, Daichi and Merrino step in with the tabs they’d collected, but it’s Utako who’s smart enough to get a kindergarten class to help out in drinking all the milk. This gives Youichi way too many tabs, and the finished flag weighs several pounds. In the wrap-up, Youichi has made it to the final dodgeball round and it’s just him and one opponent in the last match. Youichi had injured his finger along the way, and he’s afraid he’s going to lose. Suddenly, he sees a yellow petal fluttering by – Mami and Merrino are waving the flag so hard that the tabs are falling off. The resulting image is like van Gogh’s sunflowers. Thus inspired, he manages to eliminate his opponent and win the tournament. The story ends with a janitor forcing the gang to pick up all the loose tabs from the floor of the gym.

Kazuasa Sumita (Flower Claw, Kamigariki, Witchblade) is the featured artist on the main manga. He’s done a very good job at capturing both Vincent’s likeness, and the spirit of his paintings. This volume is one of the most realistically-presented manga in the series so far. But, the story itself is simplified and reworked to appeal to a younger audience. There’s no mention of the brothels or sexually-related diseases, and Vincent is not shown attacking Gauguin with a knife. Instead, the focus is on Vincent and Theo’s brotherly bonds, and the paintings created at certain time points.

The story starts with Theo entering Vincent’s room in the “yellow house” in Arles, as his older brother lies in bed, dying. There’s a close-up of a pistol, implying that it’s in the room with them. Vincent says that he can’t take this world’s pain anymore, and he dies as Theo shouts out his name. There’s a flashbask to when the two were boys, and Vincent had been punished by his father. He feels alone in the world, and Theo promises to protect him. The scene shifts to when they were both young men and Vincent has failed to hold down another job. Theo is trying to understand Vincent’s artistic path, and gets yelled at for not getting what Vincent sees. Vincent goes outside to paint some landscapes, and finally produces “The Potato Eaters”. He sees some impressionist works at a museum and falls in with artists like Emile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He meets Gauguin and, moves into the Yellow House in Arles. But, Gauguin berates him for not understanding what an artist’s true function is and tells him to stop painting. In despair, van Gogh cuts off part of his ear and then checks into Saint-Remy. This is followed by a change in his artstyle and the production of “Starry Night”. He continues to exchange letters with Theo, and as a show of support, Johanna suggests that they name their new baby “Vincent”. van Gogh then moves in with his brother, but he hears Johanna arguing with her husband over the additional burden on their finances, since Theo is unable to sell any of his brother’s works. He finishes “Crows Flying over a Wheat Field”, and then supposedly shoots himself to stop causing problems for Theo. The scene returns back to Vincent’s death bed, and the story ends with Vincent praying that Theo could see the beautiful world of nature that he sees.

(From the last 2 pages of the textbook section.)

The textbook section describes Vincent’s upbringing and time spent wandering around western Europe and England before settling down in France. There is some discussion of his interactions with other impressionist painters, and the argument and fight with Gauguin. There are sidebars on Theo and Johanna, and photos of many of his paintings. Ukiyo-e, Japanese woodblock prints, were making their way to Europe at this time, and van Gogh avidly collected them. He included several in his later paintings, and “Almond Blossoms” (1890) was heavily influenced by ukiyo-e. The last 2 pages talk about 4 of his paintings and “reveal their secrets”. In one self-portrait, he’s shown as being left-handed, but that’s because he was using a mirror and the image was flipped left-for-right. There are two versions of “Vincent’s Room” (1889), and the big differences between the two are explained as their having been made for two different audiences. And, there’s a comparison of Vincent’s “Sun and Sower” (1888) with Millet’s “The Sower” (1850). The magazine wraps up with the 2 postcards.

Overall, the artwork is really good in this issue, but the story contains several obvious omissions and alternations. The most glaring are Vincent’s frequenting brothels, giving his ear to a prostitute, and the changing of his last words. Theo reported them as “The sadness will last forever”, while the mook gives it as “I can’t take this world’s pain anymore”. So, if you want to see van Gogh’s paintings, this magazine is recommended. If you want an accurate biography, go to the library.

80 Famous People – Kiyoshi Yamashita

Normally, I’m not interested in illustrators and fine artists, at least not as far as the 80 Famous People series is concerned. If I want to learn about Chopin or Chihiro Iwasaki (and I know that Chopin is a classical composer), I can go to wikipedia. However, if there is something unusual about someone that isn’t a scientist or inventor, I’m going to seriously consider buying that mook. What makes Kiyoshi Yamashita interesting to me is that while he seems to have had a mental disorder, he had created his own form of art using pieces of torn paper that rivals oil brushwork for its level of detail.

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used for review purposes only.)

According to the wiki entry, Kiyoshi suffered a stomach disorder at age three that left him with a speech impediment and possible brain damage (maybe as an autistic savant). He was bullied in school in Tokyo, and reportedly pulled a knife on one student, so he was placed in a special needs school in Chiba, where he was introduced to chigiri-e, a Japanese style that uses torn pieces of colored paper and glue. Kiyoshi took the art form even farther, as hari-e, by making the pieces almost impossibly small. At age 18, he ran away from the school and wandered the countryside with only a small backpack, a rice bowl, chopsticks and a yukata (evening shirt). He was found 3 years later, failed the exam for WW II military service and was returned to the school. He then recorded his travels from memory as hari-e, and in a written diary. His life inspired a long-running TV drama, and he was in high demand as an artist. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 49.

This is one of the few cases where the wiki entry is really short and lacks detail. The idea that Kiyoshi was “naked” because he just wore a vest is silly, and there’s no explanation for why he was known as the “naked general”. Instead, he wandered Japan in a yukata, which is a kind of evening robe that some men still wear outdoors at night during the summer when it gets really hot and humid. In fact, Kiyoshi had a habit of referring to cities and towns by military rank – Tokyo being “General”, Osaka “Lieutenant General”, etc. By using military terminology when asking for directions, people started calling him “General”. The “naked” part came from his only wearing the yukata on his travels.

The intro manga starts out with Ken Oogami wrestling with artist’s block, and Merrino suggesting that he put on a white undershirt, take a large rice ball with him, and then wander Japan for inspiration. When Ken decides that this is really what he needs, Merrino whispers that he just did this to be funny. Mami arrives and asks why Merrino is picking on Ken, but the wolf-boy figures that he’ll go on his journey anyway. When he comes back, he shows his sketches of space-alien super heroes in white undershirts to Mami. She is unimpressed.

The main manga is by Yuu Minamoto this time (Kamisama Drop, Samurai Harem, Samurai Harem: Asu no Yoichi). She’s got a solid understanding of Kiyoshi’s artwork, and does a good job on the backgrounds. The problem is that the human characters are manga-style, and both Kiyoshi and Kase are drawn as kids, while at the time they met they were both adults. Unfortunately, there’s no date specified in the story flashbacks, so we’re left guessing if the flashback was at age 20, or later. In any event, Kiyoshi wasn’t anywhere near as young as Yuu draws him when the fireworks event happened.

(Kase sees “Nakoaka Fireworks” for the first time.)

The story starts out with a department store opening up an exhibit of Kiyoshi’s hari-e pictures. While the attendees are surprised by the level of detail in the artwork, one particular man stands in front of an image of fireworks, called “Nakaoka no Hanabi” (Nakaoka Fireworks) (while the date given for the picture is 1950, Kiyoshi always made his artwork after returning home, so he could have been in Nakoaka closer to 1947, when he was 25). The guy yells out “I met him!” The flashback jumps to Kiyoshi trying to sleep in a train station, and the station master trying to kick him out. Kiyoshi starts walking away along the train tracks, then returns and asks for something to eat. A little later, Kase, a fireworks specialist, is talking to his crew about the new display he’s designed for that evening. He notices a vagrant sitting next to the canisters and yells at him to get away because it’s dangerous. Kiyoshi turns and asks how something that makes such beautiful sky flowers can be dangerous, and Kase shouts that they contain gunpowder. Kiyoshi flashes back to when people were celebrating Japan’s entry into WW II, and how the soldiers used gunpowder for their weapons. He wondered why, if people were so happy to be going to die for their country, that they’d be weeping at the same time. He wrote that if all the gunpowder used to kill people were used instead for fireworks, there’d be no need for war. That night, Kiyoshi sees Kase’s fireworks display, and is transfixed.

Back in 1965, Kase looks at the finished picture and realizes that he’s seeing the image of his fireworks display from that time. A female exhibit attendant comes up to him and mentions that Kiyoshi had also kept a diary and she reads the passage that relates to that picture. Kase comments on how Kiyoshi had captured perfectly his feelings of how that display was supposed to inspire people. He later buys a similar picture made by Kiyoshi, which he still has at his home now. The manga ends with a picture of Kiyoshi walking away from the reader, and the narrator saying that his final words when he died at age 49 were “which fireworks should I go see next?”

The textbook section goes into some details of Kiyoshi’s upbringing, including the illness at age 3 that left him with a stutter, the family’s house burning down during the Great Kanto earthquake in 1925, his father dying when he was 9, his being bullied and and placed in the Yawata school. At age 14, he started gaining attention for his hari-e pictures, and he was already in exhibitions when he ran away at age 18. He’d thought he could make a living on the road, but illness and severe cold weather forced him to try to find his mother’s house. He went on long journey’s repeatedly after that, and at one point, his younger brother found him in Kagoshima (where I live) and returned home with him again. An American newspaper wanted to write an article on him, but no one knew where he was, which led the reporter to enlist the public for help. Eventually, he was taken on a 40-day tour of Europe, and he created images of London Bridge and the Eiffel Tower afterward. At age 49, he fell ill and died a couple months later.

Sidebars illustrate several of his pieces, both hari-e and pen on paper. There’s a short piece on Kase, and a reprint of a Japanese newspaper article on Kiyoshi. He was also known as “the Japanese Van Gogh”, so there’s a short comparison of the two artists. There are several photos of him at different ages, and the last 2 pages give closer looks at 4 of his pictures, including London Bridge, and Kagoshima’s Sakura-jima volcano.  And, we get the two post cards.

It turns out that Kiyoshi is very well-known in Japan, and had inspired a “Kiyoshi boom” for his art in the 60’s. The Japanese wiki is more detailed than the English version, and is therefore probably more reliable. The Ijin mook does skip over some parts of his life, but it still contains enough information and artwork to justify wanting to learn more. Recommended.

80 Famous People – Michelangelo

(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

I think it’s a safe bet to say that most people at least know the name Michelangelo. Born in 1475, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni sculpted the two statues Pieta and David, created the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, and succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica. He and da Vinci are the two preeminent figures of the Italian Renaissance. Since da Vinci has already been covered in the Ijin series, it’s now Mikey’s turn.

The intro manga has Merrino posing in a muscle suit for a school art project Utako is trying to build in modeling clay. The rest of the group is getting bored, and when Mohea enters the room, they all suggest that she pose for Utako. Merrino gets upset at being ignored again, and is actually afraid of losing his title as Sheep-planet prince if his older sister usurps him. So, he tries getting attention by climbing up a pile of chairs, but they collapse and Mohea races forward to rescue him. When she steps out of the cloud of dust holding the limp body of her little brother, the group yells out that she looks just like Michelangelo’s Pieta, which fires up Utako. The story ends with Mami and Yuichi trying to see Utako’s finished model – it looks like an ugly lump of clay. Utako complains that what she imagined was much better than what her hands could produce, and Mohea says that’s all anyone could ask for.

The main manga is by Shinichirou Nariie, one of the artists on the Steins;Gate franchise. The character designs are overly stylized, and the expression on the Pieta doesn’t even come close to that of the real thing. But, it’s still better than some of the other artists used in the Ijin series.

The main manga starts out with people marveling over the beauty of the Pieta statue, but since it’s unsigned and no one else seems to be skilled enough to produce this level of art at the time, the audience speculates that it’s another of da Vinci’s pieces. Michelangelo is standing nearby, and the slight stings him enough that he carves his name into the statue that night. We then get a flashback to when he was a child staying at his grandmother’s hut. His father was busy with work, and he kept complaining about being bored, so his grandmother took him to a construction site when he became entranced with the stone workers. One of his uncles gives the boy a small rock carving, which inspires him to learn art. Later, he gets into an argument with his father, who wants him to start school to learn Latin to enter into the bureaucracy, while Michelangelo wants to further his art studies. The boy runs from the room, leaving his sketchbook behind. After looking at the quality of the drawings in the book, his father changes his mind.

The story returns to the present, where the Church gives him a large hunk of rock to sculpt. He agonizes over it for awhile, then produces the David statue. From here, he goes on to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He acquires an assistant who is used mainly for mixing paints. The assistant asks how Michelangelo can draw such amazingly accurate figures, and he replies that he’s not sure. He just tries to see how people move and act from the inside and then works his way out. The story ends with the completion of his “Last Judgement” fresco in the Sistine Chapel in 1541.

As always, the textbook section talks about what is known of Michelangelo’s upbringing, schooling, and relocation between cities in Italy. There are sidebars on the Medici’s, pictures of lots of his works, and a mention of the rivalry between him and da Vinci. The last 2 pages discuss other people active during the Renaissance, including Raphael, Miguel de Cervantes, Johannes Gutenberg and Martin Luther. There are two additional sidebars mentioning the three top developments of the Renaissance (discovery of gunpowder, moveable print, and the magnetic compass), and the cultural developments in Japan at the time – called the Higashiyama Culture era (which introduced asymmetrical design, ikebana, Noh drama, sumi-e painting and and the use of tatami floor mats). Plus, of course, we get the two postcards.

(The two post cards for this issue.)

The artwork for the main manga is fairly weak this time – Nariie isn’t good enough to do proper justice to Michelangelo’s art. The main attraction in this mook is the collection of photos in the textbook section. Recommended if you’re an art student.