The One That Got Away

Manga Kamishibai, by Eric P. Nash

Manga Kamishibai, by Eric P. Nash

Being an writer isn’t unalloyed pleasure: there are frustrations, quite aside from the expected and predictable ones like low income, the negative effects of sitting on your backside all day, and people asking “Why don’t you have a proper job?” And one of them is the fact that sometimes, someone has the same brilliant idea as you do, and gets it out there first.

One of the projects I’ve been pitching, for over a year now, is a book on kamishibai and its links with manga. British publishers wouldn’t buy it, and now Eric P. Nash has beaten me to it. Manga Kamishibai will be out this autumn. Ironically, the publishers, Abrams ComicArts, are also bringing out my Tezuka book.

Nobody could study postwar manga and fail to realise the importance of Japan’s street theatre in its development. Kamishibai was a bridge between the benshi narrators of silent film and the “cinematic comics” that wowed young Tezuka fans during the American Occupation. It was also almost entirely abandoned after television took hold, hanging on by its fingernails and only just surviving until Japan realised that its street arts and mass popular culture were treasures as valuable as classical theatre or painting.

Kamishibai has been gaining ground in the English-speaking world through its use in elementary education. In Japan, it’s also been reborn in the workplace as a presentation tool. Last year the first professional kamishibai performances in the UK took place when Yassan (Yasuno Yuushi) toured with his apprentice and enchanted audiences of all ages. A British website, www. kamishibai.org,  has been set up to act as a focus for kamishibai performers and fans, and kamishibai is starting to feature at events and festivals in the UK as well as across the USA and Europe.

So I was right – there is a market for a book on kamishibai – and someone else has written it. From everything I’ve seen so far, it looks as if Nash has done a great job. Maybe his book will prime the pump for another one in a year or two, and maybe this time I won’t miss the boat!

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