Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Seiichi Hayashi's Q&A at the Centre Pompidou, February 2010

English edition cover (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008)

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)
Seiichi Hayashi (on the right, manga-reading-style) and translator n°2

What was your first contact with comic books? What memories do you have of that time?

In 1963-1964 I was working in an animation movies team for TV, although it wasn’t called animation at that time. Then one day one of my collegues came up with the magazine Garo. It strongly impressed me, as it offered manga for adults, with was completely new. At that time manga was only aimed at children and suddenly this magazine changed all that. People discovered that it could be used as a new mode of expression.

Note from the organizer of the venue :
At that time, manga (meaning “whimsical images”) was only for children, but little by little a new form of comic books writing called “gekiga” (meaning “dramatic images”) was created for adults. So there was an opposition between the manga for children and the gekiga for adults.

Gekiga was then popularized by Garo, which was a monthly magazine mainly created in order to publish Sanpei Shirato’s work. But it also gave the opportunity for many other authors of gekiga to get their work published and discovered. It was the first time that manga wasn’t only reserved for children but could be read by teenagers or adults. It was a shock for many people and a huge change in the world of manga. It was very exciting.

Another thing that was special about the magazine Garo was its artists. Other magazines only published professional/established artists, but Garo was the first magazine to ask its readers to send their stories and to publish them. So I sent my own stories and my work was picked up by the magazine.
These new authors increased the level of realism and completely changed the style of the magazine and of manga in general. It was a huge scandal – people were shocked and considered some manga to be too “avant-garde”. A month after Garo began, I was asked to do an interview for the Hasaki newspaper. The title of the article was “Some Manga That We Don’t Understand”.

(here, in an unexpected and shocking move, someone asked the lady-translator to give up her seat for translator n°2 to replace her)

Garo's first cover : "The Legend of Kamui" by Sanpei Shirato (September 1964)

At the same time, there were student protests in Japan - like in almost any other industrialized nation during the late 60s. It was also at that time that Red Colored Elegy was published. Garo was part of this movement...

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)

Garo decided to publish issues entirely dedicated to an author, which influenced you strongly.

Indeed the magazine was doing more than just publishing stories that were depicting real life. It regarded comics as an art. And it was precisely what people couldn't accept, that comic books could be an art.

It encourages you to go further in your expression/art in manga...

After being published in Garo (we were 22 or 23 years old), me and other artists got many opportunities : working for TV or for the radio. By taking part to this and using other medias we got the means to express this phenomenon that was common to all the young people of our time.

We can notice Yoshiharu Tsuge's influence in your work...

I wasn't exactly influenced by him ; it was more like an emulation between us. If Tsuge was taking a step further in the avant-garde, then I wanted to do more.

Extract from Red Colored Elegy

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.

Comic books and music weren't the only media evolving at that time, cinema was too. For example there was an avant-garde theater called the Art and Theater Guild which was broadcasting almost unheard-of foreign movies. So all the young people at that time have had the chance to see the Nouvelle Vague movies of Louis Malle or Jean-Luc Godard, and those love stories (like The Lovers) - which we didn't always fully understand because we were so young - strongly influenced us from a visual point-of-view. Their narrative composition was also especially interesting to us: to cut the story so it wouldn't seem so simple - as in Breathless.

There are a few references to that time (the student protests and the opposition to the US-Japan Security Treaty), especially at the beginning of Red Colored Elegy, where we can see a portrait of Nixon for example, or a bomber. Then those references disappear further on in the book. Why?

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?

Until I wrote Red Colored Elegy I was only writing short stories, which were approximatively 20 pages long. Then I had the project of trying to write a longer story. A way to achieve this aim was to serialize it, with episodes ending with the words "to be followed" (Red Colored Elegy was published this way in Garo, from 1970-71). It was interesting for me to create a story in which each episode would make the reader want to read more.

It's the same thing for all authors; When an author begins a story, he has a vague idea of the direction in which he wants the story to evolve, but he doesn't know for sure. It's the same about characters. At first you have an idea of their personalities and then they begin to drift away and to have a life of their own. Did I have a precise idea of what the end was going to be? No. For an author it's impossible to know the end before having written it. Although if a story doesn't have an end it is a failure for the author; it means he wasn't able to find it.

Red Colored Elegy ended in 1971, and a few months later another of Garo's popular serials came to an end, thus marking the end of an era for the magazine, then more popular than ever. In the following two decades, the production gradually slowed down until 1991. When you left Garo, did you feel it was the end of an era?

At that time, the student protests were over and the energy of that era diminished until it finally disappeared.

An example of Seiichi Hayashi's illustration work (for the company Daiso)

You leave
Garo in 1972 and you devote yourself to illustration...

It is important to differentiate between the era that was ending (which was losing its energy), and what was happening to me at that time. I had a lot of work opportunities, on TV or in newspapers where I was asked to write articles. We had begun as comic book artists/drawers and we had ended up working on TV. This era was coming to an end but it also was a good time for me.

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.

You then had a long career as an illustrator for 40 years. How do you feel about your work being translated and published abroad today?

My carreer as an illustrator became so demanding that I wrote fewer and fewer comics (PH45, in the late 80s, and then The Goldfish Never Dies (French title), which were published in a little-known magazine called Comic Baku), while I used to write a story per month when I was working at Garo.

My career as an illustrator was very successful. There hasn't been a day since the 80s when a company hasn't asked me to draw a logo or an ad campaign for them. The young generation from the 90s almost completely ignores the fact that I did manga. For them I am just an illustrator who draws little girls for sweets packages. But there are still some fans left, a few, who haven't forgotten me and wish I would still write manga.

Recently some people on the Internet, from Europe and North America, began to talk about the Japanese comic books history during the 60s and about Garo. And that's when my name comes up. Japanese young people are getting interested too and are trying to make this movement and that era more well-known. We're beginning to consider comic books as an art, and Japanese comic books begin to be interested in its own history. Then a French publisher and an American publisher came and asked to publish my book. And that's when I realised that people were really interested in this era and in my work, and that this work could reach foreign readers.

Is Red Colored Elegy the testimony of a "lost generation" of the 60s? What do you think about modern Japanese manga?

As soon as that story was published, people began to asociate the "red" of the title with revolutionary ideas and it was also typically linked with the protests and communism, etc. Although the color red firstly represents blood, and blood relationships, family relationships ; and secondly it symbolizes the passion and the love between the two main characters. While she has to take care of her parents, who wish she would marry and have children, he has to take care of his mother after his father dies. Both have to take care of their parents rather than live their love and their youth (freely). So the red is more like the background of this love story and mainly symbolizes family.

About the similarity between the young people of my generation and the young people of today: Red Colored Elegy was republished in Japan a few years ago, and it is no accident, they have much in common.

French edition signed by the author at BD Spirit (Paris) on 01/02/10


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