Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama

From translator Frederik L. Schodt's website:


Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama was born on January 9, 1885, in Neu, a little village in Tottori Prefecture, western Japan. In 1904, at the age of nineteen, he sailed to San Francisco, where there was a growing community of Japanese immigrants, many of whom were shosei, or young student-workers.


Kiyama was a talented artist, and while working at a variety of jobs he attended the San Francisco Art Institute. He excelled at life-drawing and painting, and between 1915 and 1920 won several awards and mentions. He also won a scholarship from the New York Art Students League and exhibited his work several times in San Francisco. An April 20, 1920, article in the San Francisco Bulletin reported on an exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts, and described Kiyama's work as follows: "[His no. 115], Old Wagon Shed, is a solidly modeled, well balanced and vigorously colored design, and his 114, Old House at North Beach, in room 15, in soft green and gray, is quietly effective."


Many of Kiyama's works survive today and are occasionally exhibited in the Yonago City Art Museum in Tottori Prefecture. He has a considerable reputation in the area of his birth, not as a cartoonist, but as an example of an early local artist who mastered Western art techniques.


Kiyama lived in San Francisco off and on until 1937, eventually opening his own art studio at 1901 Sutter Street, in nihonmachi, or "Japantown." It was a period of intense discrimination and agitation against Asian, and particularly Japanese, immigrants.


In 1937, Kiyama returned temporarily to his homeland. While he was there, war broke out between the United States andJapan. Unable to return to San Francisco, Kiyama taught art at a local high school in Neu, and continued painting. Henry Kiyama died on April 24, 1951, at the age of sixty-six. Cartooning was but a small part of his life, but the comic book he created in San Francisco may ultimately ensure his lasting fame.


Between February 13 and 15, 1927, Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama held an exhibit of his work at the Kinmon Gakuen [Golden Gate Institute] in San Francisco. In addition to his drawings and paintings, he displayed what was titled Manga Hokubei Iminshi, or "A Manga North American Immigrant History." A cartoon work consisting of 52 episodes, it depicted the lives of Kiyama and three friends in San Francisco between 1904 and around 1924.


Drawing in the style of newspaper comic strips then popular in America, Kiyama hoped to have his work serialized in a local news-paper. He was unable to do so. At 104 pages his work was too long, and probably too documentary in nature. Rather than a newspaper comic strip, Kiyama had really created the material for a "comic book."


In 1931, while visiting in Japan, Kiyama finally had his work printed. He brought it back with him to San Francisco, where he self-published it under the title of Manga Yonin Shosei, or "The Four Students Manga." It came with forewords and accolades by prominent local people, including the consul general of Japan. It is one of the first modern-format comic books ever published in the United States, especially with all-new material and a documentary, autobiographical theme.


Around 1980, Frederik L. Schodt came across a copy of Kiyama's work in a library in Berkeley, California. In 1997 he began translating it, and in October 1998 it was published by Stone Bridge Press (Berkeley, California), retitled The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco,1904-1924.


Kiyama's comic was handwritten in Meiji-period Japanese, but whenever other ethnic groups appear in the story they speak in their native language. Thus the European Americans speak English (somewhat fractured in Kiyama's rendition) and the Chinese denizens of San Francisco who occasionally appear speak Cantonese. In the Stone Bridge Press English edition, every effort has been made to preserve the flavor of Kiyama's unique multilingual style, and to remain faithful to his story. Kiyama's hand-lettered English text is left as-is, and for contrast his Japanese text has been rendered into typeset lowercase English using a turn-of-the-century font. Where Japanese puns are untranslatable, English equivalents have been substituted. In some places Kiyama's panels have been "flipped" to preserve the flow of English left-to-right logic. The Stone Bridge Press English edition of Kiyama's work comes with an introduction and extensive historical notes. The book was a finalist for the USA Pen/West translation award.

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