ARTBOOK SPOTLIGHT: Kazuo Umezu Prints 21

I’ve talked about the magazine 21st Century Prints/Prints 21 before, when I featured the Moyoco Anno issue. I haven’t found out that much more about it since, but I don’t think they make a habit of featuring manga artists. Though this month is a feature on GeGeGe no Kitaro’s Shigeru Mizuki, possibly keeping with a Halloween theme, or something. I don’t know.

This issue is from February 2010, and features horror artist Kazuo Umezu. He’s quite famous, not only as a manga artist but also as a personality in Japan. Several of his works have been translated into English. I talked about Cat-Eyed Boy earlier today, but you could also pick up Scary Books, Orochi, Drifting Classroom (highly recommended, and the only one of his long series published here), and Reptilia, the oldest shoujo manga volume to be published in English as of yet.

I am inordinately fond of Kazuo Umezu, both because he draws really great manga series and because I love that he retired and then decided he would make a name for himself being an eccentric old man. Everything he does is spectacular, and he loves being a celebrity. This magazine only really scratches the surface.

Red and white is sort of his thing (especially the striped shirts), as is that hand gesture that disappears into the logo at the top. It’s from Makoto-chan, his comedy series, and doesn’t really mean anything, though the word “gwashi!” is usually yelled when it is shown. He usually uses a cardboard cutout when he throws it (since moving your fingers like that is nigh impossible), and one is included for your personal use just inside the cover.

The Umezu coverage is fairly comprehensive, and runs to almost 100 of the magazine’s 120 pages. Several pages of his full-color manga illustrations are featured first. It focuses on some of his old material, which you can check out in this other post where I talk about Umezu (scroll down a bit).

Here’s one from Cat-Eyed Boy, specifically the Meatball Monster, a story that’s included in Cat-Eyed Boy volume 2, something I just read.

This one’s from Orochi, which was also published in English. I only vaguely recall the plot, which involved the main character being a kind of “watcher” to the bad situations that went down. The English audience only saw the last volume, the “Blood” segment. I’m not sure what’s up with the pointing, but Umezu draws people pointing a lot.

There were also a couple illustrations from Drifting Classroom, which, while that series is amazing, the color illustrations weren’t that remarkable, so I’ve omitted them.

I’m not familiar with Baptism, the series that this illustration comes from, but as scared as that girl looks, she’s having a great day compared to most children featured in Umezu series.

There were several rather amazing illustrations from a series called “My Name is Shingo,” featuring a young girl and boy in several fantastic, non-horrific situations. I think the boy is a robot and the girl is the daughter of the man who made him, but past that, I have no idea what the series is about. All the art I’ve seen from it looks more surreal than it does monstrous, which might make it a bit of a departure from Umezu’s usual themes. I’d love to see it.

Then there’s a section that discusses a new Umezu project, which involves his artwork being turned into Ukiyo-e style prints. There’s several pages that showcase all the pieces in the set, and an in-depth look at the process that’s used to make them. I believe these are available to buy (in limited quantities), and there was a gallery show featuring them sometime this year. This may be the reason Umezu showed up in Prints 21, actually. The work ranges from horror to comedy, and most of them are based on his manga characters. It’s a pretty good cross-section. Also, the prints are entirely hand-made, using real wooden printing blocks. It’s pretty fascinating stuff.

Here’s where things start to break down. This is a double-page spread, featuring a real Rolling Stone cover and a Kazuo Umezu mockup, followed by, I kid you not, a feature called “Heaven Dialogue”, which is a 4-page interview between Michael Jackson and Kazuo Umezu, presumably post-mortem. I can’t read any of it, but I shed tears nightly wishing I could.

Next, we see several pages of photo collages featuring floor plans and images from around Kazuo Umezu’s new house, the exterior of which is painted with his famous red-and-white stripes. There are several articles you can read about Umezu’s house, all of them worth your time. Here’s one, which is in Japanese, but has a bunch of photos to look at. The article is actually written by Kentaro Takekuma, the artist for “Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga.” I posted these photos specifically for the outside view and the bedroom view, where we can see Umezu’s closet full of red-and-white striped apparel and the fact he seems to keep a cubbyhole full of shrink-wrapped rubber chickens, if you can make it out in this scan.

This is followed by six pages of photographic dance diagrams of Umezu in front of a rather amazing stained glass window in his house. No comment from me could really do justice to this feature. I could be completely wrong, but I think this stained glass window (which is definitely real, you can see the light fading as the photo shoot went on) is based on an illustration from the first work he ever did, here. The design isn’t exactly the same, but it’s definitely the same two kids in the same pose on the real thing.

Next is a lengthy feature on Umezu’s band. The article also includes photos of Umezu cross-dressing in public with his bandmates, but I felt cruel and didn’t scan them.

Then, a feature called “All Day Long of God,” which, as far as I can tell, is just following Umezu around on a day about town and to a couple functions. I like his hat.

We move on to a couple timelines that show us the history of the adaptations of Umezu’s work and of Umezu’s appearances in film and television. This is a couple pages long, and I’m not super-clear on the distinctions between the timelines.

Next is a section that I didn’t scan, since it didn’t have any Umezu-centric images, but it talks about all the various media and whatnot that inspire Umezu. His movie selections are unsurprising (some classics, but also Omen, Psycho, Little Shop of Horrors, The Exorcist, the Twilight Zone), but there are some surprises in his tastes in music (the Osmond Family, Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets, and of course Michael Jackson), and apparently he’s a big fan of Charlie Chaplin. Favorite artists include H.R. Geiger and Salvador Dali, favorite comics and animation include Sazae-san and Heidi (just… what).

Next, we see a two-page personal timeline. I only scanned one page of it because I wanted to show some of the more normal and older photos of Umezu. He has a tendency to… pose and do strange things in most recent photos of him, which is why I love him, but it’s interesting to see his relatively normal photos, too.

There’s a merchandise feature. This page is mostly Makoto-chan dolls, but I liked that one was dressed as Umezu. I also like that you can buy a keychain of his house. Most of the merchandise is Makoto-chan centric, but there’s also a small section on the… monster toys that Umezu designed.

In case you haven’t had enough timelines, here’s another 4-pager featuring all of Umezu’s work. This is the first page of it, but I liked the random selection of covers featured in the margin on this page. Chicken George, Makoto-chan, Shingo, and all their friends.

The coverage continues with an Umezu Encyclopedia, an article that I’m pretty sure is about the book about his house, and another article that I’m unsure of. It’s a pretty amazing collection of information on Umezu, even for someone who doesn’t speak Japanese. It’s still in print, and you can still pick it up, though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Amazon Japan. The last 20 or so pages of the magazine cover other things which include some weird pink loli photos called “Metamorphosis Nowadays” and drawings by Tadanobu Asano.

Happy Halloween, y’all. If that’s not enough Kazz for you, here’s my favorite video in the world, Kazuo Umezu singing Paul Anka’s You Are My Destiny.


One Comment on “ARTBOOK SPOTLIGHT: Kazuo Umezu Prints 21”

  1. Laughs…Wish I could read “Heaven Dialogue”, myself….This is the first time I heard of it…..Hmmm …Dunno , if it’s anything like his “Thriller” send up I imagine it’s witty….Umezu’s Thriller video was on “Youtube” but it’s been removed ..:(


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