Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is This 1801 Scroll A Comic Book?

Just ran into this while surfing randomly online. It's a scroll from Japan dated 1801 recounting a story called the Ooishi Hyoroku Monogatari.

What is the story about? Heroes and weird villains.

Look at some samples (the complete scroll here):

Is this a type of comic book? Why or why not?

(via Pink Tentacle)


  1. Sure it is.
    Sequential art is as old as language.
    If you, like me, see cave paintings as sequential art, of course.

  2. At the risk of arguing how you define a genre:

    No. The story is an illustrated fable; rather than a story told with sequential art work.

  3. how could it not be?
    the artificial limits placed on what a comic is or should be by the floppy periodical makes my head spin.

  4. Yes. Even without being able to read the text, the pictures tell a story.

    Cool find, too. Thanks.

  5. Well... does it feature sequential illustration?

    Otherwise, it might just be an illustrated story.

    I would research the history of modern manga (not to be confused with Hokusai's manga) and see what existed before World War II.

  6. Of course it is. Scrolls like this are widely considered the first Manga, and credited as such in Lit. Classes in Japan.

  7. Anonymous9:30 PM

    Yeah, in technical terms that's called narrative figure painting.
    The Chinese have been doing it for centuries, and obviously the Japanese too. I studied a bunch of it and drew a whole book in a similar style (but adapted to the comics format). It's a fun style to draw in, but kind of constrictive too.

    You should check out some Russian Lubok or Lubki prints. They're also kind of similar to comics in that they were massed produced and used pictures and words to tell stories.

  8. If I could actually read it, I would give an unqualified answer. But since I can't, I'm going to give it a qualified, "Yes, it is a comic book." Or at least a comic.

    It depends on the relationship between the text copy and the art and if the art is intended to be sequential. Just from looking at it and puzzling over it, I think if it were printed and bound in magazine form, a lot of people would probably say it's a comic book.

    Also, I have a liberal definition of what constitutes a comic book. So that might skew my perspective on it. I think different formats should be acceptable in comic book art and we shouldn't be locked into something overly standardized. Give creators room to experiment. And if they draw inspiration from something like this 200 year old scroll, the I say comics as a medium can only benefit.

    New visual languages, even ones based on old ones... kudasai!

  9. The basic nature of Kanji means that the words themselves can be considered comics. Granted it's a hyper-stylized form of iconography that has mutated into a written language, but its roots are in communicating written ideas through the use of sequential images.

    Think of all the grammatical rules any language has and apply them to the way we transition panels in comics and stage art and lettering to be read from left to right and top to bottom (in the more competent comics, anyway). Our rules for storytelling are our grammar. The Japanese language has its own grammar as well. And when it’s written in Kanji...what’s the real difference? It’s more practical for communication, sure. And it’s simplified compared to the way similar objects and concepts are presented in comics.

    The exception would be the hiragana symbols used in the text. They represent syllables and are an entirely different type of writing system embedded in Japanese. But I’m at work, with limited time to make the strongest argument, and I’m willing to gloss over them to quickly make my point.

    So, even if you ignore the illustrations, it is still comics because the writing system itself is comics. This is just an example of one form of comics used to tell a story in its own medium. Very meta-textual, yes, but appropriately so.

  10. Only Scott McCloud knows for sure.

  11. It seems like a terribly transparent grasp for respectability to call it a comic book.

  12. "I think Heiroglyphics are really an ancient comic strip about a character named Sphynxie."

    Good quote, and pretty much sums up what I think on this subject. Y'know, minus the more humorous elements.

  13. Anonymous10:32 PM

    Here's another similar narrative scroll. It tells the story of the Mongol invasion of Japan. The oldest version of this scroll is from the late 13th century. It's pretty neat.