Sunday, July 21, 2013

Terra Form

With a recent run at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in, uh, Kyoto, I thought this would be a pretty decent time to talk about Katsuya Terada; an artist I have long admired, and whose most recent book, Katsuya Terada 10 TEN-Ten Year Retrospective, just showed up on my doorstep.  As a companion to his recent exhibit (that unfortunately, I wasn't able to get to), the book acts as a kind of omnibus of his work in the past, let's say ten years.  Though not as expansive as the still-fresh feeling Genga artbook from Katsuhiro Otomo (you really need to hold that book in your hands to grasp it's weight; no pun intended), this book is still a wonderful introduction to Terada's work for the uninitiated, especially for the price and availability (though not accounting for import prices once this book is gone, TEN is still much easier to find overseas than many of his previous works).
Born in Okayama, Japan, Katuya Terada's first work recognizable to foreign audiences would probably be his illustrations for Nintendo Power Magazine.  Though I'm not sure if he was ever properly credited in the magazine, fans of his work now can easily go through so many of the back-issues (well, as easily as you can get your hands on 80s-era back-issues of Nintendo Power) and recognize his work immediately.  He employed many of the same techniques then as he often does now, using minimal line work and color to illustrate scenes that the games could only imply, and his domination of space and anatomy imbues such simple and effortless looking drawings with a weight and depth as unique and unmistakable as anything he has done in even the past ten years.  That isn't to say that he doesn't have a diverse body of work; in fact, though instantly recognizable as any of his work is, his range as an illustrator is surprising.  He is just as comfortable, it seems, crafting intricately detailed, digitally-painted fantasy illustrations as he is with clean-line or hatched, black and white ink drawings.
In addition to his Nintendo Power contributions, Terada has also contributed designs for several other videogames and anime productions, including a special edition strategy guide for Dragon Warrior and promotional materials for the Detective Saburo Jinguji series.  Most famously, Terra contributed character designs and promo illustrations for Blade: The Last Vampire, an excellent anime production from 2000 directed by industry veteran, Hiroyuki Kitakubo (not to be confused with the series, Blood + and Blood-C, or the 2009 live-action remake).

Even his sketchbooks delight, and it is no wonder that he has also given himself the alias, Rakugakingu (ラクガキング), meaning graffiti, sketch, or doodle king; Rakugakingu is also the name of an artbook he released in 2002, totaling 1000 pages taken from his sketchbooks.  The pages of Rakugakingu are thin and translucent, and being able to see through them gives this voluminous tome the feel of a real life sketchbook, and it's great to see the design of the book reflect the contents within.  In a recent interview, Terra commented on the book, saying, "Even when I did Rakugakingu, I thought, well it's just scribbles so it need to be 1000 pages.  We're charging money so it needs to feel worth it".  His attitude towards what he feels comfortable charging money for is reflected in his output of work, and his books often exhibit some kind of interesting design or value to them; whether it's a collectable, durable cardboard sleeve and packaging justifying it's sum, or just keeping the book price low through smaller size and multiple printing techniques, his printed material is always as much of value as it is entertaining (again, it would have been nice for TEN to have been a larger production, a la Genga, but for the price this book was released at, making it available to a wider audience that may have missed some of his previous artbooks was obviously the key issue going to print).

One of my favorite releases of his so far was 2008's Viva Il Ciclissimo, a two volume, joint project between Terada and Katsuhiro Otomo (who has to be mentioned on this blog at least once per post, apparently), centered on the Giro d’Italia cycling tour.  The first (hardback) book is centered around the tour itself, filled with beautiful illustrations from both artists, chronicling not only the tour itself, but some really wonderful moments of imaginative daydreaming that only the two of them could create.  Both artists being avid cycling enthusiasts, the second (softcover) book is full of sketches and ideas, and the looseness of the presentation is fun and exciting to look through, and it keeps the reader pouring over each single drawing, eagerly in anticipation of what awaits them on the next page; and while the first volume is split in two, giving each auteur equal measure (as well as their own opposing covers), the second is a mishmash of ideas, even including Hiroyuki Kitakubo, properly illustrating the enthusiasm many Japanese illustrators have for professional cycling (who knew?).  There was even a neat little cycling bag featuring an illustration by Terada thrown in with the early limited edition printings of this book.

Though I'm not really as much of a fan of his comic works than I am of his illustrations, I would be remiss if I didn't mention his Monkey King series, published by Dark Horse in the US.  While I don't realy dislike it, what I enjoy in illustrations is not always what I enjoy in comics, and his ultra-detailed digital illustrations don't work for me as much; my feelings are much the same for guys like Alex Ross, who, although are great painters and draftsmen, just use too many colors on a page and it always appears as if they worked on a painting, and then made it fit onto a page with other paintings; they lose the sense of flow a page should have, and while each individual painting is great, they have only managed to fit more than one on a page and I find it incredibly difficult to focus on any real action (basically, one has to readjust what their looking at in each panel).

I know this article seems a little fragmented or less focused than some previous posts, but to be honest, that is kind of Katsuya Terada.  The man has managed to be incredibly prolific while also being in so many different illustration fields.  I wish, in a way, that this article was purely images, but even then, it is hard to grasp the full picture of what Terra is capable of.  The most I can recommend is that if you are interested in his work, or you find anything of his striking, find his work.  He has more out there than even I am aware of, and he always surprises me with something I never knew existed.  He has a wide range of interests, and he does a wonderful job of taking advantage of his position to include those interests in his work, so I find it hard to believe that there is someone out there that can't appreciate his work on some level.

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