Crazy Cool Kitaro In Comic Shops This Halloween
Oct 19, 2016
You’re familiar with things that go “bump” in the night around Halloween time. The usual culprits are ghosts, vampires, and werewolves. But are you familiar with the monster known as a “yokai” in Japan? If you pick up the Drawn & Quarterly book Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro: Strange Fun For Everyone, you’re about to get an education in Japanese folklore that’s fun for all ages! Read our interview with Drawn & Quarterly Editor Zack Davisson to learn more about this awesome manga comic that comes from one of Japan’s most important artists and scholars!
Halloween ComicFest: For those unfamiliar with Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro, how would you describe its creator and universe?
Zack Davisson: The easy answer to that it is “Japan’s Hellboy.” Kitaro’s a yokai — a Japanese word for supernatural creatures — that battles against other yokai. Kitaro is a fun, wild comic that uses Japan’s abundant folklore to tell weird and wonderful stories for all ages, and has been beloved by the country since its debut in the 1960s.
The more complex answer is that Shigeru Mizuki is one of the most important artists and scholars to emerge from Japan, an actual genius who shaped the character and form of the country using his art and writing. Mizuki is a fundamental creator. Much of Japan’s modern pop culture from Pokémon to Spirited Away to Godzilla to Naruto to Attack on Titan draw lines directly back to Mizuki and his works. He also was a WWII veteran who wrote honest biographies and history of a world in turmoil. The reverence that Mizuki is held in Japan can perhaps be summed up best by the message sent by the government of Japan on his death, saying simply “Arigato, Daisensei — Thank You, Great Teacher.”
Japan — and the world — would be a very different place without Shigeru Mizuki
Halloween ComicFest: Can you describe the style brought by the series creator, writer, and artist Shigeru Mizuki?
Zack Davisson: It’s much like Mizuki himself, a blend of goofy fun and hidden depth. Mizuki created a style that is well known in Japanese art and animation today, blending hyper-realistic backgrounds with simple foreground characters. You can see the same effect being used in Studio Ghibli films and many other works.
As an artist, Mizuki was heavily influenced by European print makers like Albrecht Durer. He brought that intensely detailed line work into his backgrounds. Storywise, he was a student of the German philosopher Johann Goethe, and it has been said that Kitaro is a hidden course in Goethe’s philosophy.
Combined with fart jokes and randomness, of course. Because if there is one thing Mizuki never did, it was take himself too seriously!
Halloween ComicFest: What elements of Japanese mythology make it into Strange Fun for Everyone?
Zack Davisson: In this particular story most of the monsters are Mizuki’s original creations. There are a few yokai that have folkloric roots, like Kitaro’s pals Nurikabe and Konaki Jiji. Mizuki mixes and blends folklore with his own ideas and inspirations. It often takes dedicated scholars to divine which is which.
Halloween ComicFest: What can fans expect from the story of Strange Fun for Everyone, and why should they pick up this book first?
Zack Davisson: As you can see right in the title, it is “strange fun,” and that should be reason enough to pick it up! It’s a great story. I picked it because I wanted something that was self-contained and complete, with lots of monsters. You get an introduction to Kitaro and Shigeru Mizuki’s monster world along with some more fun and games. It’s a story I’ve loved for a long time. I think everyone else will too!
Halloween ComicFest: What about Kitaro makes these stories resonate with American audiences?
Zack Davisson: I may be biased, but I think Mizuki’s work — especially Kitaro — has universal appeal. It’s one of those comics like Tintin or Moomin that transcends its country of origin. It’s a cliché, but also true that Kitaro is hugely popular in Europe and many other Western countries. It’s only America that is late to the party in discovering how awesome a comic it is.
It has that lure of dark fantasy, like Tim Burton or Rob Reger’s Emily the Strange, or Charles Addams The Addams Family. With Kitaro, Mizuki created a way to play with the supernatural that wasn’t exactly harmless, but still presented a friendly face.
Halloween ComicFest: What sets Kitaro apart from other manga titles?
Zack Davisson: The unique vision of Shigeru Mizuki. In fact, Mizuki is so unique that I often hesitate to use the word “manga” with it, because that puts an image in people’s minds. Kitaro is like nothing else. It is weird — so weird. And that weirdness is very much part of its appeal.
Halloween ComicFest: If fans enjoy Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro: Strange Fun for Everyone, what other comics would you recommend?
Zack Davisson: More Kitaro! We are doing a 7-volume set of Kitaro comics at Drawn & Quarterly, and they are all amazing. Birth of Kitaro was released this spring, with Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon coming out this fall, followed by The Great Tanuki War. It’s really a dream come true to do this series — this is exactly what I got into translation to do.
This is an amazing time for comics and manga in particular. People often talk about the 90s manga boom as the golden age, but I actually think it is right now. The 90s had a lot more quantity — a lot more titles flooding the market in a desperate attempt to be the next Sailor Moon or Dragon Ball. But people’s image of manga has finally moved beyond thinking of it as a single genre, to allow works like Kitaro to get their long overdue American debut!