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Hokusai: A Graphic Biography

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A stunning visual biography of one of Japan's most famous historical artists, this book beautifully illustrates the story of Katsushika Hokusai. Enter the world of Katsushika Hokusai – the enigmatic creator of Japanese art's all-time most iconic image. This vivid graphic biography tells the story of Hokusai's intriguing life and pioneering works, details the fascinating his A stunning visual biography of one of Japan's most famous historical artists, this book beautifully illustrates the story of Katsushika Hokusai. Enter the world of Katsushika Hokusai – the enigmatic creator of Japanese art's all-time most iconic image. This vivid graphic biography tells the story of Hokusai's intriguing life and pioneering works, details the fascinating historical context of Edo-era Japan, and explains how Hokusai forged an image of his country that still resonates across the world today. Telling the story of both his eccentric (and incredibly productive) life – while simultaneously painting a fascination picture of his wider cultural legacy, this book is ideal for both those new to Hokusai's work – and his biggest fans. Those who enjoyed Basquiat: A Graphic Novel by Paolo Parisi or Pollock Confidential: A Graphic Novel by Onofrio Catacchio should look at this too.


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A stunning visual biography of one of Japan's most famous historical artists, this book beautifully illustrates the story of Katsushika Hokusai. Enter the world of Katsushika Hokusai – the enigmatic creator of Japanese art's all-time most iconic image. This vivid graphic biography tells the story of Hokusai's intriguing life and pioneering works, details the fascinating his A stunning visual biography of one of Japan's most famous historical artists, this book beautifully illustrates the story of Katsushika Hokusai. Enter the world of Katsushika Hokusai – the enigmatic creator of Japanese art's all-time most iconic image. This vivid graphic biography tells the story of Hokusai's intriguing life and pioneering works, details the fascinating historical context of Edo-era Japan, and explains how Hokusai forged an image of his country that still resonates across the world today. Telling the story of both his eccentric (and incredibly productive) life – while simultaneously painting a fascination picture of his wider cultural legacy, this book is ideal for both those new to Hokusai's work – and his biggest fans. Those who enjoyed Basquiat: A Graphic Novel by Paolo Parisi or Pollock Confidential: A Graphic Novel by Onofrio Catacchio should look at this too.

30 review for Hokusai: A Graphic Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    Hokusai referred to himself as “an old man mad about painting.” One of his most famous works and a favorite of mine is the “Great Wave off Kanagawa”, which was made from a wood block print in 1830 and can be found in museums worldwide. In 1760, Hokusai was born in Edo (now Tokyo), which was the home of the Shogun who governed Japan. Hokusai became a widow with three children. After working several years for others, he became his own master with the freedom to pursue other works and ever-changing Hokusai referred to himself as “an old man mad about painting.” One of his most famous works and a favorite of mine is the “Great Wave off Kanagawa”, which was made from a wood block print in 1830 and can be found in museums worldwide. In 1760, Hokusai was born in Edo (now Tokyo), which was the home of the Shogun who governed Japan. Hokusai became a widow with three children. After working several years for others, he became his own master with the freedom to pursue other works and ever-changing styles. A prolific artist he created “satirical pamphlets”, “illustrated postcards”, wood block and silkscreen paintings and prints, manga, erotic art, and manuals of people, landscapes, mythologies, nature, animals, and more. He painted a Buddha portrait approximately 200 square meters (2,153 square feet) to two flying birds on a grain of rice. Hokusai constantly adapted in pursuit of perfection believing he never achieved it when he died at age 89. His work influenced many French impressionist painters, including Renoir, Monet, Degas, and Van Gogh once Japan opened its borders a few years after his death. The illustrations were beautiful except for too much gray around the eyes. However, I found the transitions choppy (maybe because of the translation from the Italian), too much historical information detracted from the story (unnecessary to include the Japanese Calendar system, art schools, etc.), and the conversations and quotes seem unrealistic (yet I understand that the authors relied on his own words and those who knew him). I was better able to understand this book, because I had recently read another book about his life albeit a child’s picture book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mary Helene

    I finished reading the text but then upon reading the afterword, a whole new perspective opened up and I went back and reread the text. (In answer to the implicit question asked, I think it was the chicken story.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elly Lonon

    You can tell it's a translation (some of the wording is a little clunky) but the art is gorgeous and I learned gobs! You can tell it's a translation (some of the wording is a little clunky) but the art is gorgeous and I learned gobs!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    This review was originally posted on my blog at: https://www.stuartellisgorman.com/blo.... More years ago than I care to reflect upon, I was recommended a graphic novel called Logicomix which examined the developments and debates in mathematics and logic that dominated the early twentieth century through the lens of the life of famous philosopher Bertrand Russell. Logicomix narrative was multi-layered, intermixing the story of the writing of the book itself with the life of Russell and his conte This review was originally posted on my blog at: https://www.stuartellisgorman.com/blo.... More years ago than I care to reflect upon, I was recommended a graphic novel called Logicomix which examined the developments and debates in mathematics and logic that dominated the early twentieth century through the lens of the life of famous philosopher Bertrand Russell. Logicomix narrative was multi-layered, intermixing the story of the writing of the book itself with the life of Russell and his contemporaries, and even tying in ancient Greek tragedy in a rather unexpected way. It really convinced me that graphic novels could not only be entertaining but also highly informative and great pieces of scholarship in their own right. Logicomix does a better job explaining Gödel’s contribution to logic than many books I’ve read. My past experience with Logicomix meant that I was intrigued when I was given a copy of Hokusai: A Graphic Biography by Giuseppe Latanza and Francesco Matteuzzi for my birthday. I’m a big fan of Hokusai’s work – seeing some of his original prints on my trip to Japan in 2019 was a highlight even if we were unable to make time to visit the Hokusai Museum in Tokyo. I also had an idea that his life was a bit…eccentric to put it mildly, so this promised to be an interesting read. It also brought to mind the anime film Miss Hokusai which adapted vignettes from a manga about the life and artistic career of Hokusai’s most famous daughter, Katsushika Ōi. Unlike Miss Hokusai, Hokusai: A Graphic Biography is a western production intended for a European and North American audience rather than a Japanese one. This is made very clear by the choice to intersperse the story of Hokusai and his life with pages of text explaining Edo era Japan for the uninitiated. Like the film adaptation of Miss Hokusai, Hokusai: A Graphic Biography is more a series of vignettes and short anecdotes about Hokusai’s life rather than a straightforward biography. It is broadly chronological and covers the main phases in Hokusai’s artistic career but focuses more on moments of change or significant achievements rather than looking at his day-to-day existence. It also largely ignores his personal life; we get a brief mention of the death of his first wife, but his subsequent marriages are entirely unmentioned. One of his (in the story nameless) daughters plays a role in a scene later in his life, but the artistic career of his daughter Ōi, including her time apprenticing with him, along with the lives of any of his numerous other children are absent from the narrative. Arguably these aspects are not central to the book’s focus of exploring the artistic career of Hokusai. This would hardly be the first work to focus primarily on Hokusai’s art over his personal life, but I would have preferred to learn more about Hokusai the person as well as the artist. Hokusai: A Graphic Biography went up several steps in my opinion based on the quality of its Afterword, which is not something I can usually say. In those two pages the authors explain how difficult it was to piece together the life of Hokusai. While the artist was an ardent self-promoter and left significant autobiographical information behind, he was also a deeply unreliable narrator of his own life and many of his stories are fantastical and lack corroboration from other sources. This makes it very difficult to piece together a “true” history of Hokusai – and this is possibly why so many accounts prefer to just focus on the art and his career and leave aside the thornier issues of interpreting his life outside of his work. I do wish this was somewhere in the main text instead of relegated to an Afterword. It was far more interesting than the straightforward account of Japanese history that separated the chapters about Hokusai. The pages describing Edo era Japan are largely fine – nothing revelatory or historiographically ground-breaking, but then you wouldn’t really expect that in a graphic novel for general readers. I saw a few popular myths/exaggerations about Edo era Japan scattered throughout the text but nothing particularly egregious. For the most part these are fine, they didn’t wow me but for people who aren’t already familiar with the subject they will be a useful introduction. The place where Hokusai: A Graphic Biography really shines is in the art. Giuseppe Latanza’s artwork is phenomenal. It draws inspiration from Hokusai’s work but is also distinctly its own thing. As you would want from a graphic novel biography, the visual element is vital to the story told in the book. Perhaps this is why I didn’t like the historical explainers as much – they were often largely devoid of art. I was a little disappointed to see that some of the art is reused in a few places, but I can also appreciate that drawing something like this must have been very time consuming and a little light re-use cannot be entirely condemned. I would have just preferred more art, as should be clear by this stage. The only other fault I could find is that I would have liked it if they tried to include more dramatic compositions – the framing of the characters can be a bit too straightforward. I really like a panel late in the book that intersperses modern era Tokyo with classic Edo, and I wish the art took a little more effort to push the limits of what is possible in the medium. That said, that is personal preference and I’m sure a weirder artistic take would put some people off as well! Overall, I liked Hokusai: A Graphic Biography even if it didn’t wow me the same way Logicomix did. I will still continue to periodically check out how graphic novels are helping us to understand history, because I think it is a method that has great potential and is often underutilised. Arguably there is no better way to tell the story of the life and career of a famous artist than through a visual medium, and in that regard Hokusai: A Graphic Biography is a great little read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Dale H

    This is a beautifully illustrated biography of the Japanese artist Hokusai. Unfortunately, I didn't learn much more than I did reading the heavily illustrated Taschen book a couple of months ago. There's just not that much solid information out there about him. Still, I'm glad to add this to my library. This is a beautifully illustrated biography of the Japanese artist Hokusai. Unfortunately, I didn't learn much more than I did reading the heavily illustrated Taschen book a couple of months ago. There's just not that much solid information out there about him. Still, I'm glad to add this to my library.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Leiki Fae

    It was a nice book, but I think it only serves to whet the appetite if you want to learn more about Hokusai and ukiyo-e. I appreciated the connections drawn to the Impressionists and other aspects of Japan's place in the world and how it was rapidly changing around that time. It would be okay for older kids, but Hokusai did make some spicy prints and there are a few examples of them inside. It was a nice book, but I think it only serves to whet the appetite if you want to learn more about Hokusai and ukiyo-e. I appreciated the connections drawn to the Impressionists and other aspects of Japan's place in the world and how it was rapidly changing around that time. It would be okay for older kids, but Hokusai did make some spicy prints and there are a few examples of them inside.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Donovan

    The Western interpretation of an Eastern story is pretty graceless, possibly because of the translation. The illustrations are.... pretty Western. They made an attempt at telling the story of an extraordinary artist, as well as to educate Western culture about some key aspects of Japanese art history, but during the delivery the whole thing was made rather flat.

  8. 4 out of 5

    P.H. Wilson

    Real rating: 5.7/10 Nice book, but it has very little content and is meant more for people who do not know Hokusai or Japanese art. Multiple pages that have no more than a dozen to 2 dozen words. Very sparse. I would not recommend it to anyone other than maybe young teens.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Meyer

    dt. Hokusai: Die Seele Japans entdecken

  10. 4 out of 5

    Fabio Zacà

    A great novel for a great painter.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brenna

    A very basic overview of Hokusai and Japanese culture as it related to that time. Nothing particularly special, but interesting enough overall.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  13. 4 out of 5

    Maria

  14. 5 out of 5

    Chiara Sandonà

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gabriela

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  18. 4 out of 5

    Diane Henry

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Metz

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn Edgett

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Saltarella

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gabrielle M. Cardinal

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matt Gillard

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lou

  26. 4 out of 5

    Georgy Charyev

  27. 5 out of 5

    Alphie

  28. 5 out of 5

    Highland G

  29. 5 out of 5

    David Hilton

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alex

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