restricted access Ehon Sakka to Iu Shigoto (review)
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Ehon Sakka to Iu Shigoto [Working as picture book creators]. Tokyo: Kodansha, 2012. 183pp. ISBN_978-4-06-217584-5.

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This book introduces readers to contemporary Japanese illustrators of note. The subtitle, “Why I Became an Illustrator of Picture Books” is important in setting the mindset for this book’s purpose. Using a journalistic style, interviewers ask illustrators questions of interest to readers who are curious about how they work, get their inspiration, and create their books. Were there particular ways in which their childhoods led to becoming an illustrator? How did they become interested in children’s book illustration work? Are they exclusively picture book illustrators, or do they also engage in other work? How do they find balance in their lives? This volume provides a collection of earnest searches for illustrators’ stories. In many instances, what may have appeared to as an uneventful childhood had episodes that later influenced books being created; learning about such episodes leads the book’s readers to further understandings of the creators and creations.

The profiles of illustrators in the book are arranged by Japanese alphabet with surname followed by personal name. Hence, the order of the chapters is: Abe Hiroshi, Arai Ryōji, Ishii Kiyotaka, Oikawa Kenji, Kitayama Yōko, Komine Yura, Suzuki Kōji, Takabatake Jun, Takeda Miho, Tashiro Chisato, Hasegawa Yoshifumi, Horikawa Rimako, Matsunari Mariko, Miura Tarō, Murakami Yasunari. It is important to note that with the exception of a few who have been featured in earlier books on Japanese illustrators, most are introduced here as contemporary working illustrators who are currently making notable contributions across a wide range of illustration styles.

Space allows introducing only one illustrator here; but one example offers a flavor of the rest. Arai Ryōji, winner of the 2005 ALMA (Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award) reveals a personable side as he reflects on his upbringing with classic “youngest child syndrome.” The language is informal, and it’s easy to imagine him speaking. Arai also reveals that his work stems from his multisensory awareness: he says that he can feel and smell air, and that he finds music emanating from his compositions of bold colors. He reveals his penchant for skipping classes in art school as a college freshman from the countryside, and instead, taking weekly pilgrimages to a children’s bookstore. He describes his surprise at finding Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight, Moon and the ensuing attraction to the beautiful world of picture books where tableaus could have words added, create a whole story in one artistically designed and beautifully bound book, and be sent to viewers all over the world. As a student with limited means, he frequently immersed himself in piles of books on the floor of the store, wallowing in his finds. His first purchase was Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni. The photographs in this chapter on Arai communicate much about him, [End Page 96] with casual portraiture revealing a smiling artist in his atelier. A Gumby rubber figure introduces a book on Cy Twombly, a Charlie Brown doll sits on a shelf. There is paint here and there—bits of bright colors on the table, floor, music amplifier, and lamp. A somewhat cluttered wall resembles an orderly bulletin board of pinningsA: folk motifs, dolls, cards, and toys. These elements provide an indication of his character and a peek into his world.

This book is primarily targeted for reading by the general public rather than a professional audience. The language, snapshot photography and layout design, as well as the book’s physical characteristics are all designed with this audience in mind. However, academics may also be interested in the “back stories” and insights that offer personal glimpses of the people behind the books. In these sections, the illustrators contemplate their lives and offer their philosophical views. The interview questions are not about credentials or academic backgrounds. Rather, they focus on ways in which individual illustrators have established the foundations upon which they have honed their skills. Some are full time creators of picture books whereas others do other types of illustration work, or design work as well.

The book is...


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