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Japan Recap – Week 2

Date : December 21, 2018

So after a week of shaking hands, handing cards, bowing, smiling and wearing shirts and jackets, it was time for part of the delegation to go home. Thomas-Louis and Francis went back to QuĂ©bec City, while the rest of us kinda did our own things for most of the rest of the week. Now that the “work” part was done, it was time to see EVERYTHING (in Tokyo at least).

Over the next few days, I went back to a couple of places like Shibuya, Asakusa and Akihabara. The morning was usually spent having breakfast at a near-by coffee shop, while making a rough plan for the day. This meant browsing through a tourist guide from the hotel and cross-checking to see if it matched any of the numerous suggestions I’d gotten from friends, and then plotting a train and subway itinerary. And I was off!

Without going into the details of each and single day, there is one thing that struck me about Tokyo; neighbourhoods have themes. I didn’t know Setagaya was ALL thrift shops (well, not really, but there were a lot) so there I was, browsing through perfectly curated, pristine 90’s sweaters, retro sports vests and knock-off band tshirts. Then, there was book alley, which had a mix of tiny claustrophobic shops and big, beautiful stores that displayed the Japanese’s wonderful sense of graphic design. I bought stationary, needless to say. Akihabara had loud rows of anime video billboards, arcades and a dying breed of electronic shops, tucked inside long, seedy corridors. It was a cyberpunk paradise. And as we would find out on the last night, during a walking tour, Kabukicho had… the “sex” stuff. I’m talking hostess clubs, love hotels, gaudy advertisements, the whole deal.

And then there was Ameyoko street in Ueno, an insane row of tightly packed shops, adjacent an elevated railroad. It was too crowded (and I’m too short) to take any good pictures but I knew that I had found a piece of Tekkonkinkreet’s Treasure Town right there.

Speaking of which, I managed to get my hand on the movie’s white art book, which currently retails at $68, for well under half the price, at Mandarake. I think I spent at least an hour in that manga shop, just… lost in a sort of fog, not able to read any of the books’ spines, angry at their fascination for wrapping EVERYTHING, including books, in plastic sleeves. I had to make some tough budget choices but buying that book in Japan felt really symbolic for me. At that point, I had bought only a few souvenirs for friends, a pair of shoes for me (out of necessity), a bit of art supplies and not much else. In a city where buying stuff seems to be a religion, I can safely say that I at least showed some restraint.

Another highlight of the second week was an impromptu visit at the 21-21 Design Museum in Roppongi. I had no idea what the museum was about and the poster for their ongoing exhibition showed only a clay pot and some writing I obviously couldn’t read. So with a few hours to kill, I went in. The exhibition was about the Mingei movement, a folk art and craft philosophy that values the beauty of simple, well-made everyday objects. While I’m in no way a pottery artist or a wood worker, the objects on display, the beautifully translated accompanying text, and the quotes used throughout the exhibition, touched me in a way I still can’t explain. Maybe being surrounded by noise and people and a LOT of city made me especially receptive, but watching a 20-minute video of a guy weaving a basket and a girl painting on fabric, in a dark museum room, made me teary and provided a much needed break. I got out of the museum, feeling oddly serene, and met up with Gautier–who had been to the Mori museum all day– in a smoky, vaguely european-themed cafĂ©. It was all very artsy.

Two days later, we both decided to go see what I thought would be a Kaneoya Sachiko exhibition at the Vanilla Gallery, but I was a week too late! We went in anyway; the walls were covered from top to bottom by meticulously aligned original manga pages by artist Atsushi Kaneko. And after wandering in awe for a few minutes, I walked into the next room only to find the artist himself, hunched over a Cintiq, drawing. Insane.

At this point, the trip was coming to an end. I was getting a bit homesick, I dreaded the event of (another) earthquake and I longed to be in my own bed. The last event we did was an evening walking tour of Kabukicho, the red light district, and its drinking and social culture. The walk ended at the Golden Gai, an odd, densely-packed shanty-town of micro bars, all with a different theme and a varying level of aversion for foreigners. It was the last night in Tokyo, we had met up with Thierry and Stephanie, it was time for one last beer. We were just getting “comfortable” in the closet-sized drinking hole wistfully named “Not Suspicious”, when two other english speakers (a guy and a girl) came to claim the last two sitting places. After about five minutes of chatting, I discovered they were cartoonists (!), the girl followed me on Twitter (!!) and she was in fact, Natasha Allegri, the creator of Bee and Puppycat. For which series, I did an alternate cover years ago. The world is VERY SMALL.

And the next day, we left.

It’s getting harder and harder to summarize the trip as the weeks pass. There are a few things that stayed deeply engraved in my memory: the weird, informal architecture, the trains, the wires. The smell of cigarettes and cooking oil, the taste of miso. The faces of people we met, the feeling of complete, total humility in front of the work of manga masters like Kim Jung Gi and Mr. Kaneko. The sheer scale of the city that even an avid sci-fi and anime lover such as myself, can’t comprehend. And most of all… knowing that chances like this come around once or twice in a lifetime for an artist. I’m incredibly grateful of having had the chance to visit Japan because of my art, and I hope this experience and the networking we did, will open the door for more artists in the future.

I made a bit of a selfish wish at a shinto shrine but in hindsight, I should’ve added “I can’t wait to come back” before clapping my hands and bowing.




Japan recap – Week 1

Date : December 9, 2018

So it’s been a while, hasn’t it! I skipped the October recap, which is entirely my fault and I will blame it on actually finishing my book, while planning a trip and generally freaking out. But nevertheless, I’m here to make amends and to talk about the last two months, but more importantly… JAPAN! As some of you know by now, I spent two weeks in Tokyo, from the end of November to December third, as part of a Quebec BD/comics delegation. Part of the trip was for business/cultural exchange but part of it was also for pure fun and wonderment. A lot of my work was and still is influenced by Japanese comic or video game culture so needless to say that it was like a dream come true. So here is a very abridged summary of my experience in Tokyo, starting with a very busy first week!

Our little French-Canadian, jet-lagged and culture-shocked group consisted of Thomas-Louis who manages the Festival de BD de QuĂ©bec and who pretty much organized all the trip for us; Gautier, my editor, Francis, StĂ©phanie and Thierry, fellow comic artists, and Christine, aka Nunumi, an up and coming author who’d been in Japan a couple of times. Thank god she was there to ease us into the rhythm of the country and to translate a few things.

The first week was basically all of us attending activities put together in partnership with the Quebec delegation based in Japan. We gave a talk at Tsukuba University and were addressed as “-sensei”, which I found out, also applies to mangakas, and not only mentors or teachers. I have to admit, I had a bit of an ego-boost at that moment! The talk was hosted by Miki Yamamoto (an insanely talented author and artist), who had visited Montreal as part of the FBDM in May. We were off to a good start!

The following days were spent in two separate “comic book conventions” of opposing scales. The Comic Art Tokyo was in two tiny classrooms at an inner-city university. The Kaigai Manga Festa on the other hand, was held at the GARGANTUAN Tokyo Big Sight, and gathered crowds like the which I had never seen in my life. Oddly enough, despite being halfway around the world, the exhibition floor, the ambiant hum of the crowd, smiling to get people to stop and look at our books… it all felt very familiar. I managed to sell out the few Nuclear Winter copies I had brought and made a few bucks with small prints. Considering the language barrier, I’d say it’s pretty good! One of the highlight of the week was getting to hang out, if only for an hour or two, with old studio-mates Karl Kerschl (who now lives in Japan) and Brenden Fletcher, who gave me a hell of a pep-talk! 

The following activity on our super-tight schedule was a meet-and-greet at the embassy of Canada, with all the protocol and hors-d’oeuvres one could expect. It wasn’t all stuffy and serious though, and I met with authors and publishers and web-comic people, who all seem to be on the verge of some kind of change in their industry. While I’m no expert, I felt like the model of the overworked mangaka slaving on a series for 10+ years, published in chunks in a cheaply-printed catalog (like the Jump), is slowly shifting. To prove the point, Shonen Jump rolled out a new digital subscription service this week, that I assume, will kill their iconic weekly paper anthology… Their is a definite shift in the way Japanese people are consuming mangas, and while comic bookstores are still very much a part of the landscape, I’m curious to see if there is indeed a slide towards phones and tablets.

So that’s the gist of what we actually DID on week one. This was of course, intertwined with a bit of sight-seeing and shopping, but I think I’ll cover my own personal experience of Tokyo in a follow-up post. I wanted to retell the “business” side of the trip because first, it’s the reason I could actually go and, and second, because I believe developing relations with other artists and publishers, regardless of where in the world, is a key part of growing as an indie author. I can’t rely on huge publishing structures right now, especially if I intend to keep on making creator-owned books, by myself. So part of the job is staying in tune with how the media and the market is evolving and that’s done by actually talking to people, be it readers or professionals, wherever they are! Plus, I find it genuinely interesting! I’m incredibly lucky to have had the chance to travel to Japan to hopefully, pave the way for other Quebec artists to visit. It was incredibly enriching, destabilizing, mesmerizing and at points, challenging. I’ll try to gather my feelings and thoughts on the trip for next time, as I write about week 2, which was spent touring the city freely. 

Until next time!