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Sunday 1 November 2015

A Very Odd Picture

It’s not every day you see the founder of a major world religion working in a comic book studio, so imagine my surprise when I saw this picture in the British Museum yesterday, which depicts not one but two of them doing just that. The caption reads: “Nakamura Hikaru (born 1984): Buddha and Jesus drawing manga, cover artwork for Saint Oniisan vol. 10. This artwork for the front cover of a manga book depicts Buddha creating his own manga, helped by Jesus.”

I know almost nothing about manga comics, but Nakamura Hikaru is described as a “young and very popular manga artist who specialises in comedy.” Apparently Saint Oniisan is her best-selling title, with weekly sales around 30,000 (which would have been a relatively low figure back in the heyday of comics in the mid-20th century, but much higher today when fewer people read comics). As far as I can tell, the series deals with the comic adventures of Jesus and the Buddha as they attempt to pass themselves off as ordinary people in modern-day Tokyo. The caption goes on to say “The playful depiction of the founders of two world religions as youthful men on holiday in Japan has achieved cult status. The two divine beings negotiate the ups and downs of their life together in a humble flat in suburban Tokyo. The series explores dilemmas in everyday life with visual gags, puns and word play.”

The current display in the British Museum focuses on the work of three manga artists of different generations, Nakamura Hikaru being the youngest. As well as the cover image, several black and white pages from Saint Oniisan are also on display (see example below). There is also a short interview with Hikaru in which she says “I was surprised by the positive reactions to my manga. I received letters from religious specialists, university professors, Buddhist priests and Christian clergy. I have also had requests to use my manga in universities for teaching purposes.”


Brian Clegg said...

You say 'when fewer people read comics' about the present day, but I'd also say that like TV channels, the audience has been split by the sheer diversity available. I don't read comics, but I do get Forbidden Planet's regular marketing emails and I am always amazed by the sheer volume of different titles on top of the familiar old DC and Marvel ranges.

Andrew May said...

That's an excellent point, Brian. It hadn't occurred to me, but of course you're right. I still think the total number of comics sold per month is lower than it was 50 years ago, but the number of different titles available is bigger, and that reduces "sales per title" even more.

Richard Sutton said...

I remember the glory days of the counterculture comix like Zap and others. They gave some amazing artists and writers a platform for biting satire and truth-telling, but as we became an ostensibly more diverse society, the need withered. Or did it? I still have a ragged copy of Zap No. 1 around here somewhere... Jesus and Buddha would probably have worked with Schuman the Human on some pretty profound stuff. It also helped to be "in the herbal zone" when reading this kind of profundity.

Andrew May said...

Thanks Richard (I know who you are, even if Google doesn't)! I used to have a replica copy of Zap number 1, but if you have the original you are very lucky - it must be very collectable now!

Richard Sutton said...

Maybe if it was never read! The pages are as thin as tissue now and raggedy, too. It just seems to never feel outdated, so I'll probably re-read it 'til it falls apart.

Andrew May said...

Probably the best idea!

I see Google managed to get your name right this time!