Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Weird Wild East

The posts over on Garen Ewing’s blog and Sarah McIntyre's blog about the Royal Academy's Kuniyoshi exhibition (till June 7, don't miss it) gives me an excuse to show another of Russ Nicholson’s great illustrations for the Fabled Lands series. This was from Lords of the Rising Sun and I had specifically asked Russ to let himself be influenced by Kuniyoshi.

The scene illustrated is where the hero falls asleep and is asked by a queen to help her black-&-yellow liveried retainers fight off a dragon that has entered the castle. When the hero wakes, he is told by his friend that he missed the extraordinary sight of a snake trying to enter a beehive and being driven away by the swarm. In the jagged pattern of the samurai coats you can see Kuniyoshi’s design for the livery of the 47 Ronin.

Kuniyoshi himself had a marvellous ability to convey movement and drama. His heroes skate down roofs and tiles go flying. They grapple – sometimes underwater – and sinewy limbs entwine. Beams of magical force fling characters bodily through the air. Warriors are caught mid-leap in images that could be stills from a
King Hu movie.

And the monsters..! Massive earth spiders, grinning demons, smoky flying things that look like aborted foetuses. Kuniyoshi was depicting the famous actors of his day, but he didn’t leave them becalmed on a wooden stage – he put them in a $150 million SFX blockbuster. When I say he was the 19th century
Gene Colan, that’s not me being lowbrow; I like to think Kuniyoshi would see it as the highest praise.

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