"the first manga to be released stateside"
February 26, 2014 12:09 PM   Subscribe

In 1931, at a time when the American comic book barely existed, Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama wrote and drew the semi-autobiographical Manga Yonin Shosei, possibly not just the first graphic novel, but certainly the first manga published in the US, written in a mixture of Japanese and English.

Joe McCulloch usually spents part of his weekly comics guide in The Comics Journal to talk about lesser known comics or manga and they don't come much more obscure than this Manga Yonin Shosei, self published in 1931 and translated and republished only in 1999 by Frederik L. Schodt. Over the translation, which leaves the English of the original alone, McCulloch says the following:
I can’t say it’s the most attractive solution (and I mean “attractive” in the aesthetic, rather than pragmatic sense), yet to my mind this also underlines the artifice at the heart of Kiyama’s endeavor. What the white characters say in this book — along with the occasional Chinese and black, rudely caricatured in the racist manner of the day — are never really what they’re saying, but what Kiyama and his friends can understand of them, and likewise what the Issei can communicate. In this way, having these words spring up from the same hand that draws their bodies seems appropriate, as their hesitancy shakes with the slapstick of bodies. The Japanese language, in contrast, comes from some eternal interior: thoughtless and automatic, issuing from humans but internalized, and stripped of the consciousness of composition.
Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama was Issei, a first generation Japanese immigrant, who had lived in San Francisco from at least 1902, but who left for Japan in 1937, where he died in 1951. This saturday the San Francisco Public Library will be holding a talk on Kiyama and his graphic novel by Schodt.

For more on Kiyama and his graphic novel, Shaenon Garrity of course has a review.
posted by MartinWisse (3 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I bought that back in 1999 or thereabouts. It's really fascinating, since you can see how he's reading the funnies around him, but incorporating a more serial and realistic style of storytelling than a lot of his contemporaries. Another element that's a little haunting are the stereotypes and how that self-conception of depicting oneself as white and westernized was one contribution to Japan's invasion of East Asia (since how can you be westernized without having colonies too?). This sits alongside Kiyama's low-key and everyday depictions of racism towards people of Japanese descent in the US at the time.

I just need to figure out where my copy is.
posted by Gnatcho at 2:56 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love this book. I read more than a couple times when I was maybe 13 or 14, presumably the leftovers of one of my brothers (how they heard of it, I have no idea). I actually bought my own copy a year ago, and it is still really great. It is mostly written in episodic formats of varying lengths, and I remember even as a kid feeling like this old comic was intensely similar in style to the graphic novels I was just beginning to get into instead of newspaper comics. One of the most memorable sections follows them walking around the rubble of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 which really struck me and was probably the first time I'd read anything about it.

Beautiful stuff.
posted by Corduroy at 7:17 PM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

[oh, hello Gnatcho, my older brother and only other commenter....]
posted by Corduroy at 7:19 PM on February 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

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