Research projects

Manga in the Making

Professor Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere

An evolved descendant of comic strips, manga (the Japanese term for graphic novels) today has become a powerful, and highly popular, visual medium to explore complex ideas, tap into current issues, and attract today’s youth or those just young at heart all with a light touch. The visual narratives in what might be described as pictograms with written language cover a multitude of topics; historical epics, adventure tales, science fiction, biographies and even detective stories. It is in fact the background of a topical detective story in manga format transposed into a museum exhibition that demonstrates precisely the success of the collaboration between the Sainsbury Institute and the British Museum involving Japanese artists.

In 2006, Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere had the opportunity to visit the well-known manga artist Hoshino Yukinobu (b. 1954) in Hokkaido where he conceives and draws his series of compelling manga. She persuaded him to come to the British Museum with the thought that he might find inspiration for another adventure of his popular detective Professor Munakata. Surprisingly, as the artist had been only briefly out of Japan and was quite busy with his rigorous schedule of creating and drawing manga for Big Comic (Shogakukan, Inc), he came to visit the British Museum and view some of its vast collections to see if he could find inspiration for a full-length manga. Hoshino made two separate visits to the British Museum, the last with his son, and as a result created a highly intricate and graphically accurate manga in which the intrepid Professor Munakata with the help of Chrystal Caryatid foils the attempts of robbers to steal Stonehenge, the Rosetta stone and other priceless relics in the British Museum.

This adventure was first published in serial form in Big Comic over 10 issues published by Shogakukan, and then it was published in two volumes in the Professor Munakata series. The English version Professor Munakata’s British Adventure published by the British Museum Press in 2011 and 5000 copies were sold within the first few months. The Asahi Shimbun Room 3 exhibition exhibit titled ‘Professor Munakata’s Adventures in the British Museum’ from 5 November 2009 to 3 January 2010 was a surprising success and attracted many visitors. Another small exhibition in the part of Room 91 which displayed Hoshino’s drawings and revealed the process of his creating the exhibition from 7 February to 30 May was another success, revealing the interest not only in the medium but in the actual processes employed in creating manga. The facilities, the curatorial help and financial backing of the British Museum allowed this project with the Sainsbury Institute’s support to become both a compelling book and two exhibitions.

At the time of release, an article was published in New Scientist, and Professor Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere did a BBC radio interview. You can also see an article in The Economist.