Give me Doujinshi or give me Death!
Ever feel like you’re losing the faith? Like whatever you thought you were is gone, and the only way to retrieve it is by heading back across an obstacle course marked by the many monuments of your success? HUH?
OK, how about this then. Mass production and distribution ensure the artist is known and consumed by the world, which is good. But these flows require a large industry which is interested in profit above all, which is whatever. In order to maximize profit these industries avoid risk and water down artistic production, which is bad. So the artist must starve in the streets, which sucks. Or s/he must sell out, which is terrible. Tell you what, this paragraph is terrible.
Doujinshi are good, m’kay? Because, they’re all about freedom, and freedom’s good, m’kay? The artist gets to use all the modern printing technology to bypass big corporations. Mm, uuh, he relies on word of mouth through the Internet, which is good. Except viruses, which are bad, m’kay? Don’t spread those viruses around, children…
OK, I suck. Let me try a visual approach. Please look at this image.
This one will do nicely. It comes from the Tsukasa Bullet 2001 doujinshi. I don’t want to get into the story or the plot (if you’re interested you’d do well look to look here). I simply want to introduce these three great representatives of DOUJIN POWER.
On the left we have a kappa. Now, a kappa is a water sprite in Japanese folklore. Originally they’re mean-spirited and downright dangerous critters, but the pop culture has transformed them into cute, loveable plush dolls. Every girl not rich enough to entertain notions of getting a pony is gonna want one of these:
Jun Tsukasa’s depiction of a kappa slashes through the pop culture and brings the critter back to its evil roots! This is doujin power.
Now look at the dude on the right. Tsukasa has officially stated that this is a fish character that he started drawing in high school. We could spend all day debating back and forth whether this looks like a fish or is just plain fishy, but the fact that the artists gets to transform his back-of-the-notebook doodling dreams into reality is doujin power.
What about the fat thing in the middle? The legend of the Daruma doll will teach you the rich and long tradition of this figure. Finally! A respectable character and a Zen master to boot! But read the kanji on the Daruma, it says: TSUKASA. So the artist is casting himself as a Daruma doll with a mean kappa and Mr. Fish from high school. This is what I’m talking about when I say: DOUJIN POWER.
Let me bring up the example of Yoshitoshi ABe. You know that he’s at the top of the anime game with the character design for series like Haibane Renmei and Serial Experiments Lain to his credit, not to mention his contribution to the Robot artbooks (a Book of Kells for the 21st century) and his own books like Gaisokyu. But ABe keeps up a steady stream of doujinshi as well.
Imagine what would happen if Mr. ABe walked up to anyone in the industry and said: “Uhh, I got an idea for a project…” They’d be whipping out a fancy pen and forcing him to sign a nice contract and all his thoughts away on the spot.
But ABe knows what to do. He starts by quietly publishing his doujinshi, and building up a fanbase for it. Then, when the industry hears about it they’ll get him that animation contract, but by this point the story and designs will be pretty much set and the purity of his work won’t be as compromised. Ecco Haibane Renmei. [This is my interpretation of what’s going on, anyway]
In the intro to his doujin artbook Ryutai, ABe speaks out on the problems involved in working with the industry. Deadlines are a big problem (Jun Tsukasa is constantly complaining about deadlines too).
ABe writes: “Since I cannot take a break to let the creative urges well up in me, I can only assemble the illustrations within the bounds of what’s technically feasible; in the end that ‘ABe element’ begins to disappear little by little […] Perhaps this signals I’m being unfaithful to my art.”
Ryutai (流体) means fluid, and in this work ABe draws with complete freedom. Darkness dominates, so instead of losing his religion the artist can engage in a bit of nightswimming. It deserves a quiet night 🙂 after all.
Funny thing is, without deadlines, ABe did this whole book in under a week (more pics here). That is some major DOUJIN POWER!