In the final of our three interviews to celebrate the Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations An Van Camp, Curator of Dutch and Flemish drawings and prints, interviews the up-and-coming manga artist Nakamura Hikaru. Her series Saint Onisan follows the adventures of Jesus and Buddha as two young men on their gap year in Japan and has already garnered a cult following.
Combining metaphysical dilemmas with playful humour, this manga sees the two divine beings confronted with the problems of everyday life in suburban Tokyo. Individual episodes see them negotiating the Tokyo Metro during rush hour and exploring how Christmas is celebrated in Japan. In this interview, Nakamura Hikaru talks about her inspiration for the series, the effect digital technology has had on her work, and the possibility of Jesus and Buddha visiting the British Museum.
An Van Camp: Can you tell us how you came up with the concept of a young Buddha and Jesus sharing a flat in Tokyo?
Nakamura Hikaru: I was asked to create a four-page manga using an inspirational figure for Morning 2 in August 2006. I immediately thought about Jesus Christ. But realised it would be best to depict him with another figure having fun in Tokyo. I did not want a disciple, so Buddha came to mind. I believed this manga would be a one off, so I just enjoyed creating it. I chose Tachikawa (a suburb of Tokyo) as I am from a rather rural Shizuoka and my older sister went to university in Tachikawa. For me Tachikawa was the big city.
An: What has been the reaction to your manga in Japan?
Nakamura Hikaru: I have had surprisingly positive reactions to my manga. Most letters are from religious specialists, university professors, Buddhist priests and Christian clergy. I have also had requests to use my manga in universities for teaching purposes. The readership seems quite broad judging from the letters from young adults to people in their sixties.
An: How do you create your story lines? What is your inspiration?
Nakamura Hikaru: I plan everything out seasonally and also through yearly events, such as Christmas or Halloween. I think about what would surprise them about what they saw occurring in Japan and how they would interpret what was occurring around them.
An: Will Buddha and Jesus visit the British Museum?
Nakamura Hikaru: They would of course like to but they have no funds at the moment to do so sadly. Perhaps if they win the lottery…
An: How does technology affect the way that you create your manga?
Nakamura Hikaru: Recently technology has made a big difference in the creation of my manga. For the first eleven volumes I drew each individual sheet and when colour was needed I scanned the sheets to the computer and coloured them by hand. But from volume twelve onward I create the manga entirely on a tablet or computer. This is because the G pen has become much more sensitive and easy to use. There is no smudging and mistakes can be redrawn. The resolution is amazing and even small marks can come out crisply in print. In addition the whole process is in fact much quicker.
The Asahi Shimbun Display Manga now: three generations is on display in Room 3 at the British Museum until 15 November 2016. Supported by The Asahi Shimbun.
The cover illustration for volume 7 of Saint Oniisan is on display in the Mitsubishi Corporation Galleries from October 2015 until April 2016.