Manga is familiar to all Japanese, and it has also become a part of their culture they are proud of sharing. Eico Hanamura started her career as a manga artist in 1958 and is much loved as a pioneer of girls comics in manga culture. Many of you will remember from your childhood seeing the painting of a girl with big bright eyes and long eyelashes. Eico has been working as a manga artist for half a century and is still energetic about exhibiting her works in France, or collaborating with crafts people. Today, PingMag will mainly cover her early period of works, and reveal Eico’s childlike cute self by interviewing her.
Written by Chiemi
Translated by Yuki Sakai
Did you always want to become a manga artist?
Originally, I went to Joshibi University of Art and Design, as I admired melancholic and expressive art by the likes of Takehisa Yumeji and Junichi Nakahara, but did not think of becoming a manga artist at all.
Then why did you become a manga artist?
I got married and then moved to an apartment in Osaka. I often went downstairs to a book rental shop on the ground floor to get some books. One day, I told the owner — who was a manga artist for rental books — that I studied painting at Joshibi University and showed my paintings. All of a sudden he said, “You should draw manga.” Even though I told him I wasn’t sure, since I hadn’t read manga before, I got interested in manga. I liked making plots, and so finally I managed to draw a manga story by following someone’s examples. The book rental shop owner kindly brought my manga to a publishing company, Kinryusha, in Osaka, and came back with a manuscript fee right away. I was happy to get that money, so I treated some friends. Some of the staff from the publishing company said, “We wonder if this lady really wants to continue drawing manga.” I thought I could do it again, that I could get an extra allowance by drawing manga. (laughs)
You started your career rather casually, didn’t you?
Yes, indeed. However, I still did not mean to be a manga artist. (laughs) From that point, I was assigned to draw manga for rental books every month. Some people complained about my manga, saying things like “too many eyelashes” and “the way she draws is not manga style!” Most girls manga had a simple line drawing style at that time, and I was the first manga artist who drew so many eyelashes. Fortunately, the publishing company liked my new style and so I found myself regularly assigned to draw manga for them.
Staff from the Kobunsha publishing company in Tokyo — they used to publish a magazine for girls, “Shoujo” — came to Osaka to recruit three of us one day: me, Kazuo Umezu, and Yukiko Tani. The publishing company for rental books told us that going to a magazine company can make your paid guarantees rise, but they did not let us go. None of us moved to the magazine company, as we enjoyed drawing manga freely for rental books.
After I went back to Tokyo, girls comic publishing company Nakayoshi asked me to draw manga for them. But still, I felt it was unlikely that I would become a comic artist. (laughs)
A rental book, “Sorrow of Love,” serialized in “Margaret,” from the Shueisha publishing company.
How long ago was this?
It was almost 45 years ago, but I was still hoping to draw paintings like Takehisa Yumeji, so I brought my works to the editorial department at the “Jogakusei no Tomo” comic magazine. The chief editor made me an offer to draw illustrations. So I went to Nakayoshi to decline their offer. Then again, the chief editor at Nakayoshi said to me, “You are retrograding, the age of manga has come. You should draw manga.” Since I was honest and simple, I basically just answered, “Yes, I will do so.” (laughs)
Don’t you think that was rather quick?
Right. (laughs) Soon after, I started to draw manga at Nakayoshi they made a “Nakayoshi Book” as a supplement, that showed my work. I was adapting masterpieces into manga for early elementary school girls. The first issue was “Jacqueline Kennedy” and the second one was “Mary Poppins.” I was honored to draw “Twenty Four Eyes ,” the French movie “Forbidden Games,” etc. Shortly after, “Shoujo Friend” at Shougakukan and “Margaret” increasingly requested me to draw manga for them. At the time, “Princess Knight” by Osamu Tezuka at Nakayoshi was popular, and my manga was also in the same issue.
Isn’t it hard to remake masterpieces into manga, in terms of the story length?
You have to feel which pages are unnecessary, and just slashing them is important or else it will be a nightmare if you have too many pages.
How was it to add illustrations to stories that originally didn’t have any?
During my school days, there were not so many books with colorful illustrations, so I loved reading my parents’ literary works, and then draw illustrations for the stories with my own explanations. When I read interesting stories, I’d try to imagine the characters’ reaction or their facial expression depending on the scene, and the pictures just came up.
Like a film director.
The other day, I gave a lecture at Tokyo Polytechnic University, and someone said to me, “It’s similar to the inspiration that film directors have when they read good stories, to feel like making films out of them,” and I thought so too. I love making original stories first and then adding illustrations, but I’ve got so many masterpieces — like Osamu Dazai‘s works — that I want to remake for manga. I know, I’m pretty greedy. (laughs)
What do you keep in mind when you remake masterpieces into manga?
I always try to make it interesting and tempting for kids who are reading it for the first time, more than just following the original story.
It is very important for kids in Japan, as they sometimes learn history through manga. By the way, you have been popular in France recently. How did you come to exhibit your works in France?
When I was presented a prize by The Japan Cartoonists Association, a guest from the French Embassy saw my original drawings on display and asked me about buying them. I could not sell it, as it was an original copy, but my friends and acquaintances said to me, “foreigners like French people seem to be interested in your illustrations.” That’s why I have been hoping to have opportunities for showing my works abroad.
My daughter one day found some of my original drawings from the 60s that had been abandoned. The drawings still had fresh colors, as I guess the quality of the paper at that time was very good. Then, with some great timing of an offer by a friend, I exhibited only one of my old works at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts (SNBA) in Paris at the end of 2006. Joining outstanding oil paintings and other great art works, my manga looked so different, I was so embarrassed. (laughs) However, after that I was officially invited for the SNBA in 2007 by the Japanese ambassador in France.
What was the audience reaction in France?
Free brochures that I brought for the guests at the opening reception party were gone instantly, and then young ladies and older gentlemen who got the brochures held them out to ask me for my autograph. Various people would come up and stand next to me, without saying anything, to take photos. One of the board members would come to the venue and give me hugs and kisses on the cheek, saying “I love your illustrations!” every time she saw me. It was a very enthusiastic welcome and I was so pleased.
Collaborative products with some manufacturers from Tokyo’s Sumida ward were displayed and on sale at a well-established department store in Paris, Le Bon Marché, this summer. How did that happen?
At the same time as last year’s SNBA, our collaborative works with an Ikazaki washi manufacturer in Shikoku were displayed in a small shop in Paris, and someone working in editorial at ELLE magazine saw it by chance and told the shop keeper, “I’d like to buy this illustration.” Then, the person went to see my works at the SNBA exhibition in the Musée du Louvre. That person was in charge of planning a collaborative exhibition with Chisato Tsumori and the Rika-chan doll at Le Bon Marché, and loved 60s fashion and Japan.
That doesn’t sound like it could happen by chance.
Yes, it was so amazing. (laughs) After having met the person from ELLE magazine, products that were printed with my old art works were printed and picked up to sell at a kids fair, held during the “back to school” season at Le Bon Marché. When we reached the topic of what products we would actually sell there, a staff introduced me to a domestic t-shirt manufacturer, KUME Co., Ltd. Mr. Kume took me to his Sumida ward office, and their Chamber of Commerce and Industry asked local manufacturers to present my goods in Paris by using skills and knowledge found in Sumida ward.
Everything happened so quickly!
It was not only great to be able to achieve that at a well-established department store like Le Bon Marché, but the collaborative products and the provided venue were also fantastic! The sophisticated staff in Paris kindly prepared kids outfits that were inspired by my manga, displaying them next to our products at the venue, which turned out to be really a wonderful fair.
A very charming lady, Eico Hanamura. If you ever get a chance to meet her, you will surely be enveloped by her warm personality. (Photo: Hisako Yanagihara)
Could you leave us with a message for all of our readers who are seeing your illustrations for the first time?
Everything that happened in Paris this past summer hasn’t hit me yet, but I am very grateful if you enjoy my illustrations. I would love to have the opportunity to keep showing both adorable illustrations of children and lyrical paintings in different countries.
Thank you, Ms. Eico Hanamura! We hope you will keep attracting people all over the world with your beautiful works!
[Info] KUME Co., Ltd. worked on collaborations with Eico Hanamura, and has been introduced at PingMag’s sister site, PingMag MAKE (the article is here). Also, our online shop, shopPingMag, sells collaborative products and t-shirts designed by Eico Hanamura. Please stop by and have a look!