A recent exhibit at International Manga Museum of Kyoto has shown the ways in which the comics of Japan have changed since their inception. Although comics may not have been around for many years in other countries, they were created in Japan since the 1600s.
The exhibition Great Manga History Traces from Edo, examines the earliest instances of these comic strips. These started with the Giga prints that were made with carved woodblocks and printed with colored inks. These were the purest forms of comics, as they were comical situations portrayed in small strips and distributed by fans.

The prints are provided by a private collector, Isao Shimizu, who has made it his life’s work to find these ancient artifacts. Some of these prints simply show Japanese citizens going about their day to day life with a game of Mahjong or two, which is a board game similar to the ones on bingo sites at pgbingo.com.

This isn’t the manga that we’re accustomed to and anime was a long way behind it too. The collection contains around 250 different pieces from the end of the Edo and start of the Meiji eras. There are also a number of comics from later eras, such as the Taisho, that really show how comics changed into what we know today. Each piece is explained in detail to the viewer and the culture of the time is dipped into too. This really explains the joke to the reader, as many of the comedy elements wouldn’t translate for western cultures.

Manga is believed to have descended from these wood carvings but it’s possible to go even further back with its origin. A style known as Toba-e was popular as far back as the 12th century and this was more of a caricature style. The people portrayed in these prints sported extremely long limbs in a first attempt at a stylistic drawing.

These drawings were some of the first in the world to use words above characters’ heads to denote speech or thought. Prior to this comics and drawings were silent, in much the same way that movies were early on. This was a turning point for comics and without this innovation manga may not have grown into what it is today.

With the rise of printing technology came the rise of these artists and their craft, another theme that the museum examines. The first ever professional comic artist Kitazawa Rakuten is another feature within the storyline of the evolution of manga. He was widely regarded as the first to create manga in the modern sense and his life as an artist was filled with peril. The shifting politics in Japan in the late Meiji era and plots to assassinate the emperor made the political commentary that he designed more dangerous than ever.

Many were inspired by the work of Kitazawa Rakuten and this gave way to the new manga revolution. For these artists their work was a chance to speak out or create fantasy worlds and the public have been hanging on ever since.


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