by Chris MaGee
Here's a heads up about a really interesting article posted over at the online edition of the L.A. Times. Written by Liesl Bradner as part of its ongoing Hero Complex column that reports on stories of interest to all us film geeks out there it takes a look at classic superheroes. Not Batman, Superman, and Spiderman though. Nope, think more along the lines of Golden Bat, Pale Rider, and Prince Gamma. Never heard of these superheroes? Well, you're excused because they don't originate at any comic book publisher like Marvel of DC. These heroes who first appeared in Japan as early as the 1930's got introduced to kids via the tradition of kamishibai, or "paper drama" storytelling.
We ran a brief article on kamishibai here on the blog back in February (read it here), but for anyone who didn't get a chance to check it out kamishibai was a storytelling tradition that flourished in Japan between the 1920's through to the 1950's in which gaito kamishibaiya or kamishibai storytellers would travel through cities and towns with portable stages fixed on their bicycles. They'd set up shop, sell treats, and use their stage to display painted boards like a story book and narrate them for gangs of delighted kids. It's easy to see how these storytellers represented the prototype for today's manga and anime, especially seeing that folks like "Gegege no Kitaro" creator Shigeru Mizuki got his start in the business illustrating the kamishibai story boards.
The L.A. Times article coincides with a fascinating new book by Eric P. Nash titled “Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater.” published by Abrams ComicArts. It traces the history of kamishibai, its superheroes and how they developed into today's modern manga and eventually anime. Make sure to check out the article at the link above, and for anyone interested in getting a more in depth look at kamishibai you can find Nash's book here.