Japanese Tea Ceremony

I had the pleasure of experiencing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony a few weeks ago at Vancouver’s Nitobe Memorial Garden. The ceremony took place at a tea house located in the garden called Ichobo-an.

01“Ichibo” in Japanese means “one view”. Whereas the experience of the garden was meant to symbolize a journey through life from birth to death, the tea house offers a perfect view of the garden – a view of the journey of life from birth through death! Here’s what the view looks like from Ichobo-an.

02

 We got to the ceremony relatively late, so we ended up getting a terrific view of the back of the tea master’s head.

01

Everything in the ceremony had a symbolic meaning, from the decorations of the interiors to the tools and cups to the gestures of the tea master and the participants. There was a very particular way that you had to turn the tea cup before slurping the tea.

02

The Japanese ladies serving the tea were very sweet.

04Here’s a look at a couple of other participants at the tea ceremony.

03Lastly, when in Rome… here are some drawings done at the Nitobe Garden.

03 04 05

Well, that wraps it up for the Haikucomics related blog posts! I hope that the blog posts have increased your appreciation for the comics, and vice versa. It definitely was enjoyable for me making them. 🙂

Making an Imprint

And so the time has come to crank out some pages for Haikucomics! With my pen and ink and watercolour one by one the panels for A Beloved Wife, a Bow, a White Bird were given birth to, but something didn’t feel quite right. As I began to sense a stagnancy in my drawings, I told myself it was time to try something new. Stemmed from my already existing admiration for ukiyo-e artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige and fueled by a newfound appreciation for the Japanese culture, I decided I would try out numerous printmaking methods.

Here’s my first experiment with relief printing – a linoleum block print (later accented with watercolour).

I guess it was an interesting picture, but it didn’t have the look and feeling I was going for, so I thought I’d better seek technical help from professionals. A friend of mine referred me to a prestigious printmaking studio called Malaspina – turns out there’s a lithography workshop coming up, so there I went grinding that stone!

My stone is all ready!

Caught in a moment of meditation?

As Limp Bizkit would say – Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’!

First test print ever – tadah!

Here’s the best picture our instructor Julie McIntyre I could find. Many thanks to Julie!

Here’s print 1/8 from the edition.

I went back in with watercolours with one of the prints for a double page spread in A Beloved Wife, a Bow, a White Bird. This proved to be a pivotal panel in the comic that set the tone for the rest of the panels.

Other printing endeavours were also documented: monotype prints, linoleum block reliefs, I even painted on real leafs and pressed them against the page!

First I cut off the shapes I want printed.

Then I painted them black with india ink.

I used a stump to make sure the ink was thoroughly transferred onto the page. The last step was to peel it off. In general, incorporating printmaking methods has given the process an element of slight uncertainty, which made the final images look more alive and natural.

Here’s another mono print using a different medium. Try to spot the panels with these prints as you read A Beloved Wife, a Bow, a White Bird!

And so A Beloved Wife, a Bow, a White Bird is finally completed! You may also have realized that the Store section of the website has been updated with an edition of 8 lithograph prints I made at Malaspina, along with the artist’s proof which was used for the comic.

Next time we will wrap up the series of blog entries on Haikucomics. Stay tuned!

Draw, Draw, Draw!

So far on Haikucomics, we have covered the motivation for this project, chosen the folklore that the story will be based on, and learned to incorporate elements of haiku in the comic medium. Now that all the ingredients have been laid out, it’s time to start cooking! The marathon of sketching and thumbnailing began as I alternated between working in the studio and drawing on location, intertwined with frequent visits to the library.

The sketches started in the summer of 2011 on a drawing trip to San Francisco, during a visit to the Japanese Tea Garden at the Golden Gate Park.

After returning to Vancouver, I found out that we have a Japanese garden in our city as well! Needless to say I was thrilled to take advantage of the Nitobe Garden at University of British Columbia.

The most difficult part was trying to figure out to what new direction I’d take the old folklore. On this, I meditated for months.

At one point I put a snake and a hare in the story to symbolize the early stages of the protagonist’s spiritual journey.

At another point the whole comic was one loonnnggg scroll – an idea I’m still quite fond of.

While drawing at the Nitobe Garden, the many visitors there with their fancy professional cameras gave me the idea that the main character should be a photographer, with his camera symbolizing the bow, since both items require the act of ‘shooting’. Plus, what’s a better symbol for memory (of his lost wife) than a camera?

After many many rounds of sketches and thumbnails, A Beloved Wife, a Bow, a White Bird finally began to look like the way it does today.

Having read and learned about haiku poetry, I decided to mimic its signature 17-syllable format by making the comic 17 pages long, with a break at the fifth and twelfth page, and a stylistic change after the twelfth page acting as the ‘cut’ in haiku poems.

With the pagination and thumbnails laid out, the next step is to focus and execute! Next time on Haikucomics I will show off some things I did that makes this project a little different from other comics in the execution process. Stay tuned!

Haiku + Comics = Haikucomics!

After taking a crash course in the art of haiku poetry, it was then time to try to make my own haiku poem! I took myself to Vancouver’s Nitobe Japanese Garden for inspiration. One of the things I like best about this place is how it looks so vastly different during different seasons of the year. This makes the garden the perfect place to compose a haiku poem, which typically includes a seasonal theme.

Leafs mostly green

Reflected in the pond…

Hmm… it appears that seven words into my poetry career, I have encountered my first writer’s block. Submerged in deep thoughts, I was unpleasantly disturbed by loud noises of children laughing and hollering. A lady was walking by with her two boys of roughly four and five as the kids shouted excitedly at the sight of the koi fish in the pond: “Owange, mommy, look – owange!” Orange? Yes, that’s it! Orange! What genius!

Leafs mostly green

Reflected in the pond –

And orange fish!

And there it was, my first haiku poem! A little off on the syllable count, but I think I represented the haiku spirit pretty well for a first timer, and that’s what’s important! Now that I have composed my first haiku poem, it’s time to start translating haiku into comics.

 

For starters, here are some thumbnails that represent the attempt to translate the 5-7-5 haiku rhythm and the “cut” that happens at the fifth or twelfth syllable into the language of comics (refer here for a quick refresher):

Using these thumbnails, I went to work at the Japanese Garden as I tried to translate the haiku I composed earlier into comics, with pictures and words:

Viola – “Haikucomics!” And here’s one more:

At this point I felt almost ready to begin work on A Beloved Wife, a Bird, a White Bow. Stay tuned to find out what happened next!

Haiku 101

And so, finally the time has come to introduce the haiku part of Haikucomics! If you haven’t read The Beloved Wife, a Bow, a White Bird or the last two blog entries, I recommend going ahead and taking a quick look here, you will enjoy this entry that much more!

*Here’s an example of Japanese master artist Hokusai‘s attempt at illustrating a haiku.

Haiku Philosophy

Haiku is an art form arguably most representative of the Japanese culture. Like many other Japanese art forms, haiku poems are characterized by a minimalist approach and Zen influences.

Konomichiya ikuhitonashini akinokure

—–

None is traveling

Here along this way but I

This autumn evening[i]

                                                           – Matsu Basho

Eastern philosophy studier Alan Watts puts it as well as anybody could have: “…a good haiku is a pebble thrown into the pool of the listener’s mind, evoking associations out of the richness of his own memory.”[ii] While the lack of adjectives and subjectivity open the poem up for the reader’s interpretation, the simplicity and short length of haiku have greatly helped its popularity by making itself accessible to the lesser educated.

Haiku Form

The topic of haiku has been studied and detailed in in-depth writings by both Japanese and foreign scholars. From my crash course research I gathered that the art form has had a long history and many previous iterations. Haiku as we know it today, thus, is a result of a series of effort by many poets to modify, tweak, develop, and perfect it. Even since then haiku has withstood and endured waves of effort to further alter it, and managed to come out the other end unchanged. Here are some of the elements that constitute a standard, orthodox haiku poem.

leaf

Seasonal theme – The inclusion of a seasonal theme is arguably the most definitive qualities of traditional haiku poetry. In the example above, the season was autumn as it was bluntly stated in the poem. However, in some haiku poems the seasonal themes are not as obvious. For example, the cicada is a symbol for summer, since their singing is audible during the summer. These terms that signify the season in a haiku poem are called “kigo”. Scholars and researchers have collected and organized all of the kigo into a list, and such list is called “saijiki”.

Length and Rhythm – After hundreds of years of efforts to perfect the art form, considering elements such as dynamics, symmetry / asymmetry, rhythm, and harmony, Japanese poets eventually arrived at their golden ratio. Most haiku poems are composed of seventeen syllables, broken down into a 5-7-5 rhythm. In fact, the magic numbers 5 and 7 (syllables) have been used heavily in many previous iterations of Japanese poetry. Just like any rule, there are always exceptions. Some haiku poems have one or two less syllables, and some have one or two more. Note that in the example given above, even though the English translation had 18 syllables, the original Japanese version is an orthodox 17-syllable haiku.

Cut

Dynamic – In traditional haiku poems, there comes a “cut”, usually at the fifth or twelfth syllable, that breaks the poem into two parts, creating a dynamic, a relationship, a juxtaposition between two elements. To a comic artist this is GOLD because this means that haiku, like comics, is a medium of juxtaposition! In the example given, the cut happens at the twelfth syllable, separating the first two lines from the last. The way haiku poets construct their poems reminds me of a little something by a guy named Mark Rothko:

Well, now that we’ve learned the essential elements of haiku, it’s time to go out and practice! The next blog entry will document my first attempts at creating a haiku and translating it into comics. Stay tuned!


[i] Watts, Alan W., The Way of Zen, Pantheon, New York, 1957

[ii] Translated by Kenneth Yasuda, who is notoriously know for his efforts to maintain elements of the form (number of syllables, rhythm, etc.) in his haiku translations.

The Folklore

In case if you missed it, the last blog update included a new featured project Haikucomics, as well as a little write up and illustration about how the project came to be.

Once I found the motivation to make a new comic, the next question became “what story am I going to tell?” Immediately a story that I once read in an anthology of Japanese folklores came to mind. It went something like this (click to enlarge):

Of course, the original story was written much more elegantly. You may find it at your local library if you looked for this book.

The Western reader may be confused at first. I know I definitely was thrown off by the bizarre structure and unexplained details. What’s the wife’s motivation for leaving? What kind of history do the lovers have? What’s the significance of the bow? The bird? And who the HECK was this “human” that the bird turned into? And as Western storytelling convention advocates, if you put a bow in the first act

Yet, despite my inability to break down and analyze the story, I found myself remembering and thinking of it from time to time, and each time I do, the story’s charm has but intensified. In an attempt to solve the mysteries of the story’s magical appeal, I started at something relatively tangible – the symbols.

 

The Bow

I opened my dictionary of symbols looking for “bow” and hit jackpot. The bow is a very rich symbol, playing important roles particularly in the Greek, Indian, Japanese, and Chinese cultures. It was said that in Japanese folklores, the bow and arrow together form the symbol for love, thus explaining the significance of the arrow-less bow in the story. Not surprisingly, the tandem also projects a strong “phallic-ness”, illustrated by the word “stroke” in the original story, which I have made the point to preserve in my comic translation. Furthermore, the bow has been known to symbolize the sublimation of desire towards spiritual perfection.

 

The White Bird

The white bird is really two symbols disguised in one. Come to think of it, in a story that didn’t give any details of anything, it was strange that the color of the bird was so particular. We all know that white is a symbol for purity, what we may not know, however, it that it’s also a dual symbol for beginning and end, and thus the concept of death and rebirth.

The bird, on the other hand, is deemed symbol of the link between Heaven and Earth because of its ability to fly, which interestingly corresponds to the pointing-upward-bow.

 —-

After reading about the symbols, I have come to an initial analysis of the story: the protagonist’s relationship with the bow is a metaphor for his inner journey through the mourning stages, taking him from the state of sorrow through to that of acceptance, and finally bringing him to reconcile and embrace the memories of his lost love, through the process elevating his frustrated lust towards divine love. As our hero completes this process and his need for the bow diminishes, the bow turned itself into a white bird, symbolizing the protagonist’s spiritual success, as well as the end and beginning of chapters in his life. Meanwhile, that the bird turned into a person implies the death and reincarnation of the beloved wife.

I had always enjoyed the weirdness, the atmosphere, and the colourful symbols of this story, but at this point I realized that another reason I liked it so much was precisely the vagueness and the left out details that open the story up for the readers’ own imagination and interpretation. While simultaneously reading up on the art form of haiku, I came across such a quote: “The haiku that reveals seventy to eighty percent of its subject is good. Those that reveal fifty to sixty percent we never tire of.”* As I read it my eyes lit up and I knew what I needed to focus on next!

 

*Kenneth Yasuda, The Japanese Haiku, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1957, p.6

**The symbol book I referred to is called The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chavalier and Alain Gheerbrant, translated from French by John Buchanan-Brown, first published by Penguin in1962.

The Birth of Haikucomics

For as long as I could remember I have been watching a star through my window. I saw it twinkle and I saw it shimmer. I watched it as the constellations told me stories; I watched it as the seasons went by. I saw it shining through my window and lighting up my room, and then I saw it fading away. As the story comes to an end, I knew it was time to say goodbye.

On March 11, 2011, a great disaster struck the Land of the Rising Sun. A monstrous earthquake befell the northeast coast of Japan and triggered a tsunami that would render Godzila a mere puny lizard in comparison. From nuclear bomb to earthquakes and tsunamis, in a land not unfamiliar with disasters, the Japanese citizens were once again confronted to cope with heartbreak. It was then time for them to say goodbye.

Whether it’s husband, wife, child, parent, friend, or lover, whether it’s a breakup, the departure for a journey, or even death – a goodbye is a goodbye. I was curious how the Japanese people said their goodbyes, as a nation and as individuals. And so as the rising sun erased the evanescing star from my sky, I thought I’d make a comic in hope that through the process I could create bonds with other souls experiencing the loss of their loved ones, thus the project Haikucomics was given birth to.

It has been in the works for quite some time, and today I am pleased to present to you the main feature of this project – A Beloved Wife, a Bow, a White Bird. I do hope you find it enjoyable.

-Dino