SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (13)
August 12, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite unfinished masterworks, legendary obscurities and cherished almost-weres.
Every once in a while, several fringe interests intersect.
The second comic I ever drew was Gratuitous Ninja. I wanted to experiment with the storytelling form I’d seen in comics like Arzach; I didn’t want to waste time on plot or exposition. A child of the eighties, I’d been touched by Japanese soft power, and the ninja figured heavily in my childhood imagination. So I took this silent, frenetic figure as my foil. As the years passed there seemed to be something inherently radical about this icon and my comics reflected this. Shortly after, I discovered a manga-ka who’d done it way before me in a comic called Kamui Den.
Shirato Sanpei’s Kamui Den frames nihilistic class critique in a hyperviolent ninja epic. I’ve been marginally obsessed with Shirato for eight or so years now, and yet still know very little about him and have actually read very little of his work. I’d seen it many times before recognizing it. Viz’s English translation of Kamui Gaiden had been some of the first manga I’d ever seen on a comic book shelf. Once I randomly attended an exhibition of Garo (a comics magazine he founded) at the Center for Book Arts in Manhattan; at the time I had no idea who he was, but was struck by his images. Finally, about eight years ago, Thomas Ragon, a friend of mine and editor at Dargaud, showed me a copy of Kamui Den and it all fell into place. In the coming years I’d piece together a sparse history of Shirato Sanpei, the son of working-class radicals, who would launch the geki ga genre and cultivate a nascent manga avant-garde with Garo. For some reason, very little of Shirato’s work has been translated into English.
Why can’t we have nice things? I have my ideas.
In the early aughts, on a visit to Tokyo, while my girlfriend at the time got her hair coifed into a Chaka Khan halo, I wandered around Shimokitazawa for hours, browsing through used bookstores and thrift shops. I think this is where I found the book 100 Poster Masterpieces from Underground Theater. I was hip to Tadanori Yokō, but this book really stoked my curiosity and contextualized his work alongside that of his peers. Researching Tadanori, I discovered he’d starred in a film about a couple kids’ political and sexual awakening called Diary of a Shinjuku Thief. Its director, Oshima Nagisa, was famous (or infamous) for the politically radical and sexually explicit In the Realm of the Senses and I was marginally familiar with him because of the Western production Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Oshima also experimented (once!) with editing manga into cinema with Ninja Bugei chō, an adaptation of Shirato Sanpei’s Kamui Den.
Now you won’t find a decent English translation of Ninja Bugei chō anywhere, though you can watch it in its entirety on the internet. The US seems to have slept on Oshima and Shirato. Shirato Sanpei’s voice, in particular, has only made it here in bits and pieces. Even so little was enough to spark my imagination; I continue to make work in dialogue with what I think he might have said.
I guess I should’ve taken my Japanese studies more seriously.
SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: SERIES INTRODUCTION by Adam McGovern | Luc Sante on WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | Peggy Nelson on THE CURSE OF QUIXOTE | Adrienne Crew on POOR DEVIL | Bishakh Som on KATE BUSH BOOTLEGS | Douglas Wolk on BIG NUMBERS #3 | Devin McKinney on THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA | Mandy Keifetz on BACKFIRE | Heather Quinlan on TRANSITIONAL DISNEY | Michael Grasso on STEELY DAN’S 2nd ARRANGEMENT | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons on THE GREAT MOVIE RIDE | Josh Glenn on LE HIBOU PHILOSOPHE | Lynn Peril on 70, GIRLS, 70 | Ron Wimberly on SHIRATO SANPEI | Holly Interlandi on LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT |Stan Chou on TYRAEL’S MIGHT | Nikhil Singh on JOURNEY TO IXTLAN | Brian Lozano on BLOWN BANNER | Adam McGovern on THE LEON SUITES | Sajan Saini on BRISCO COUNTY | Heather Kapplow on LORD OF LIGHT | Greg Rowland on SOLARNAUTS | Christopher-Rashee Stevenson on FLEDGLING | Crystal Durant on TURN-ON | Ran Xia on BYRON’S FRAGMENT | Carolyn Raship on BURNT BRONTË.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | PAGE EDGES | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.