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Akiko Higashimura

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 2)

Akiko Higashimura continues her manga memoir immediately after Volume 1 ends. She is in her last exam to try and get into one last art school. Afterwards, she is so sure she failed since she was so distracted by Sensei’s last phone call. However, she gets an acceptance letter from the last school: she got into Kanazawa! Once she’s all moved and settled in, she goofs off like a typical college student would. She feels like she can’t create like she could in Sensei’s classroom. On her trip home for summer break, he sets her straight, and she manages to create all three paintings for her joint review. It’s a very important presentation and critique of your work by your professors in front of your peers. Can she pass the joint review and continue art school? If she does, can she get her act together for the next year?
 
Not gonna lie, I spent most of this book wanting to smack some sense into Akiko. It felt like we went through the first volume, but in reverse. We see how hard she worked to get into art school, only to see her revert back to her old ways and goof off again in college. We get more insight into her and Sensei’s relationship, and while it’s clear that at the time of writing she regrets her actions… it was just cringey to read. I really hope some situations and feelings were exaggerated for dramatic effect.
 
At the same time, I was having hardcore flashbacks of my undergrad college days in the art program, and of my senior thesis in particular. The meticulously detailed environments of the art school and studios made me smell the clay, the paint, the turpentine, the gesso, fresh dust off the sandpaper. It’s very nostalgic and incredibly sad for me. Those halcyon days are long gone for me.
 
The main draw continues to be Akiko and Sensei’s relationship, as well as (for me at least) the reminder of living as an artist. Looking forward to the next volume.
 
– Kathleen
 
Higasimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 2). 2019.

Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1)

Akiko Higashimura, manga artist best known for her work on Princess Jellyfish, shares the beginnings of her artist’s journey in the first volume of this manga memoir. She starts her story during high school, where we see her big dreams and ambitions of being a shojo (young adult romance) manga artist! … But her not-so-good grades. Still, Akiko loves to draw, thinks herself pretty good at it, and is sure she can get into art school on talent alone. That is, until her friend Futami reminds her that it’ll take more work than that, as Japan’s college applications are very competitive and demanding. She invites Akiko to come to an art class with her, taught by an independent teacher named Hidaka Kenzou. Akiko quickly learns that Hidaka-sensei is VERY demanding, even harsh. Can she put up with him long enough to take her college exams and get into art school?

I found this memoir very refreshing for a couple of reasons. First, it seems I am becoming a bit more open-minded to manga after all =) It’s always touching to see creators publish personal memoirs in the format they are most familiar with; it makes the story feel more immediate and intimate. Though the art is a little more realistic and less in the stylized manga style, visual tropes of manga (angry veins, sweat drops, sparkling backgrounds) are still found.

Second, and maybe most important to me, this manga shows how HARD it is to be an artist! It’s hard work! Akiko shows us this through her schedule with Hidaka, his insistence that they keep a log of the time they spend on each drawing, as well as her own character development. As a teenager, she thought she could coast by on talent, but it takes significant time and effort to hone her craft, which is 100% the case, against many assumptions people have of art and artists. As an artist myself, reading this gave me vivid flashbacks of undergrad: long hours sitting or standing in the same spot in the studio, hauling art supplies and projects up 3-4 flights of stairs, nursing various aches and pains in my dorm afterwards. The result? I’m a much better artist than I was before.

I got the impression that this manga is just as much an ode to Hidaka as it is documenting Akiko’s journey. They have an interesting relationship. Though Hidaka is harsh, he is honest and a realist, which tempers Akiko’s teenage idealism and arrogance. She obviously looks back on him with admiration and fondness. I’m fascinated to see how their journey together unfolds.

-Kathleen

Higashimura, Akiko. Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey (Vol. 1). 2019.

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