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Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

Manga and Anime

Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

AIPT sat down with one of manga’s most expressive creators.

Eldo Yoshimizu is a celebrated contemporary artist and sculptor. Known for his expressive use of shape and space, Yoshimizu’s work has been exhibited in the likes of Tokyo, New York, Busan, and Paris. In 2016, Yoshimizu brought his unique talent to manga, with his breakout hit Ryuko, a story that follows the eponymous leader of a criminal organization and the web of mysteries surrounding her mother’s death. Since then, Yoshimizu has published the second volume of Ryoku and even collaborated with French writer Benoist Simmat on Gamma Draconis. This past spring, Yoshimizu released his most ground-breaking piece yet, Hen Kai Pan, which explores themes of spirituality and ecology.

In a short number of years, Yoshimizu has created three distinct titles, united by emotion-driven storytelling and striking visuals. Certainly, in a Yoshimizu book, each page feels like a work of art, in every sense of the word. Earlier this month, AIPT writer Alexandra Iciek met up with Yoshimizu at Titan Comics HQ to discuss his work, covering his career as a contemporary artist, his inspirations as a storyteller, and much more.

Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

From Hen Kai Pan. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

AIPT: Before entering the manga world, you were a renowned sculptor. What prompted you to start creating manga?  

Eldo Yoshimizu: As a sculptor, I was making minimalist art. It wasn’t really accessible to ordinary people. I was using 3D computer art and looking at a monitor every single day. I was a little bit bored and fed up with working in that kind of environment and I liked to watch films afterward

Watching films can make you cry and they can also make you excited. The next day, when I would talk to a friend about the film I had watched, I could talk about the actors and the scenes very easily. It is easy to share how you feel about films and share that artistic experience with your friends. With art, you can share those feelings with other artists and professionals in the industry; however, with most people, they will just say “wow, how beautiful”, or “that’s very wonderful”. So, with storytelling-based art, I felt a bit jealous. I wanted to deal with actual ‘human stories’.

Eldo Yoshimizu

From Ryuko: Volume Two. Courtesy of Titan Comics

But filmmaking often has a tight schedule and there is a budget. It includes a lot of teamwork. I did not want to do that. I thought that doing manga may be more doable for me. The good thing about contemporary art is that you can actually provide different perspectives and make the audience think. Making and reading manga makes this process more accessible.

AIPT: So, would you say that manga- a form of sequential art- has allowed you to work between contemporary art and film? 

EY: That’s actually spot on! Hen Kai Pan has that meaning especially, for me.

AIPT: The character of Ryuko first appeared in your art galleries and eventually she made her way into your manga. With Hen Kai Pan, did you similarly conceive of the visual narrative first, or the written one?

Same as when I make contemporary art, I came up with the concept for Hen Kai Pan first. As I began structuring the story, I would make some art that established key visual scenes.

Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

From Ryuko Volume One. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

AIPT: So, sort of like storyboarding?

EY: Yes — in Japanese art we call it ‘name’ (ネーム). I actually write scenes in my Muji notebook. Then I will sometimes swap these scenes around, or get rid of or add a few. I make sure that the structure of the story is there, and then start writing. I go into the detail later.

May I explain something you haven’t asked me?

AIPT: Of course!

EY: The characters in this book are real people.

With Mistress Pemajunge, they are a person living in the Himalayas. My ex-wife provided me with the photos.

Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

From Hen Kai Pan. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

I found this reference for Honga in a newspaper article. I think it was the Washington Post. He was campaigning against the Trump administration building the wall on the US-Mexico border. This was not just a human issue, but an issue for the animals which had been affected by human intervention in the area. In Hen Kai Pan, the spirit Xu Fu (in the form of a pronghorn), magically transports the US President from one side of the border to the other. Here, I wanted to add extra irony and comment on the then-president Donald Trump. Trump wanted to divide countries and stop people from coming into the country. But here, he is transferred by the forces of nature across the border.

Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

From Hen Kai Pan. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

When I spoke to my reference for Honga on Facebook, I talked about the people trying to support those trying to cross the border into the US. Specifically, those who were leaving water bottles around the desert. My initial plan, when I was speaking to this guy, was that Honga would be placing these water bottles down in the story. When I got a reply from him, he pointed out that he doesn’t do that! So, I changed it so that the character would be clearing up rubbish left around the border. Overall, I am glad that I could include the lives of American indigenous people in one of my stories.

Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

From Hen Kai Pan. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

AIPT: Did you also use photographic references for scenes and backgrounds as well as people?

EY: Yes. For a scene in the book set in Madagascar, I found a really nice photo. However, I couldn’t really use it without the photographer’s permission. It was taken by a photographer who is involved in environmental activism. I credit his name in the book- Patricio Robles Gil. I emailed him and he explained that usually, you must pay to use the photos. He explained that in this case, however, I could use his photo as a reference for free. It surprised me how many people were willing to help me make this book. I was able to build relationships with a lot of people.

Eldo Yoshimizu on accessing art, making manga, and transcending borders

From Hen Kai Pan. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

AIPT: Across your books, characters from different political, cultural, and national identities will work together across state lines for a common goal or good. What motivates you to use this borderless perspective in your work, and how do you think it is relevant in today’s world?

EY: I think one of the main problems in today’s world is division. From the perspective of the astronaut, the earth is just one sphere with a very thin atmosphere. Humankind is just one tiny family. I wanted to take that different point of view in Hen Kai Pan, that is why I referenced the astronaut. I don’t want to just take this matter as fantasy- I wanted to make it more real.

AIPT: For Gamma Draconis you teamed up with French journalist Benoist Simmat. What was it like collaborating with another author? Did it change your usual artistic process?

EY: When I received feedback about Ryuko, some readers said that they struggled to understand what was happening on some pages because of the artwork. As an artist on Gamma Draconis, I tried to make scenes more understandable. I used so many close-ups and researched a lot of the backgrounds used. It really helped me to change my approach and use more references for backgrounds. For example, this scene in King’s Cross Saint Pancras has a lot of detail. Doing the art for this book really helped me and changed leading up to Hen Kai Pan.

Eldo Yoshimizu

From Gamma Draconis. Courtesy of Titan Comics.

AIPT: In both Hen Kai Pan and Gamma Draconis, there exists underlining themes of transhumanism and occultism. Is this commonality intentional, and if so- is it something you would like to peruse further in your work?

I don’t think I’m going to make another series for Hen Kai Pan. I want to back the beginning- the ‘ground level’, so to speak. I want to focus on the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. I have started to work on the next volume Ryuko, and it will include themes about what is going on in Hong Kong. These students are being suppressed and abducted by the police authorities, and I am really angry about that. This became my motivation to begin Ryuko: Volume 2, which Titan has just told me that they will publish. So, stay tuned!

You can visit Eldo Yoshimizu’s website here.


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