For a couple of years now, Paris' Centre Pompidou has organised a series of conferences and exhibitions about comic books around the world. This conference with Seiichi Hayashi, which took place on February 1st, 2010, was special for two reasons: firstly it celebrated the French publishing (by Cornelius) of his graphic novel Red Colored Elegy (originally printed 1970-71) and secondly, it was also a great opportunity for the museum and the author to bring more exposure to the history of the alternative/avant-garde manga scene of the 1970s.
Below is a transcript of my notes from the Q&A conducted with Hayashi. (Please keep in mind that this is only a translation from notes taken in French of a live/immediate translation from Japanese to French; whilst not a verbatim transcript, the core of the interview is there)
(here, in an unexpected and shocking move, someone asked the lady-translator to give up her seat for translator n°2 to replace her)
The core of the magazine’s concept was Sanpei Shirato (whose work was influenced by the marxist ideology), and the student movements considered Garo as their spokeperson - or at least were all fans of the magazine - even though the magazine didn't intend to be political. They recognized themselves in it. So Garo was a very important medium for the youth of the 1960s. There were other medias that evolved at the same time, like for example the development of the "folk song" movement in music. They all have in common that they allowed young people to express themselves, wether or not they were professionals. The revolution that Garo started, although it was less obvious, belongs to the same idea: we wanted to find new ways to express ourselves.
Why did you bring your stories to Garo?
Garo was the only magazine that was allowing... well, that was asking readers to submit their original works. It challenged my imagination and it made me want to go further than they had, to create more.
Your first story is rejected, so you send another one...
That's right, but it was Sanpei Shirato's fault! (he laughs) No, my story was too long. Even though the magazine needed stories, mine was a bit too long to be published - it would have been unfair for the other artists!
You second story, which is shorter, is then published and you start writing regularly for the magazine...
Yes. I had been a bit hurt that my story had been rejected, but they had told me that if I could write a shorter story, they would publish it. Although there were so many stories sent to the magazine that they still made me wait a whole year before publishing me! (he smiles)
Then Garo decided to publish issues entirely dedicated to an author, which influenced you strongly.
We can see this decision to do avant-garde in your work; your outlook turned toward the Nouvelle Vague, with deconstructed, cut and pasted elements.
It is important to point out that Red Colored Elegy was published a few months after the end of the student protests, which ended when the students dramatically sang the Internationale and said that it was the end of an era, before leaving the (previously occupied) University of Tokyo. At that time a famous screenwriter said "Somewhere, in a hidden place, a boy and a girl were falling in love". It was about how the little personal love story was intertwined to History.
This is your longest story. Did you think it would be that long when you began it?
You leave Garo in 1972 and you devote yourself to illustration...
In 1974, one of my drawings was selected by a confectioner for and advertisement campaign that was very successful. At that time, people said that my drawings were influenced by impressionism. They didn't link my work as a manga artist and those drawings. They didn't realise it was from the same person, while to me it was very natural, not at all a break from my earlier work.