Shu is the Paul Auster of manga. With his deep knowledge of literature, he charges his comics with a sometimes sad and often funny look into city life.
MC: What is your relationship to Tokyo?
SK: I grew up in Tokyo and left here for the US in 1990. I loathed Tokyo during the Bubble. I began missing Tokyo around 2003, largely because I had a lot of opportunities to talk about the history of Tokyo in my college lectures. Also, I rediscovered Ozu’s movies (interestingly, through Wim Wenders); his movies ignited my love for Tokyo. My partner Jared Braiterman, a design anthropologist, and I moved to the city in 2008.
MC: When and why did you start drawing the city?
SK: Actually, when I draw, I make the environment look anonymous and fictional. It may resemble Tokyo or San Francisco though. For this assignment, I had to make the cityscape recognizable as Tokyo, and at first, I thought, “What a pain.” I was in San Francisco when I got this assignment, and that added another pressure. But luckily, my partner Jared Braiterman is also a photographer and has documented his life in Tokyo for nearly six years (www.tokyogreenspace.com). Without his photos, I could not have finished this piece.
MC: How do you combine drawing with your work?
SK: Currently, I am preparing a series of small drawings and woodcut prints for self-publishing. I love drawing plants, so every plate contains a lot of them. Each drawing is a dream-like garden, where everything is connected, fluid.
MC: What is it you tried to achieve with your drawings of Tokyo?
SK: I wanted to magnify the beauty of this city. This is my way of thanking the city. Werner Herzog once said Tokyo was deprived of any beauty, but he was wrong. This city has its own beauty that no other cities can offer. Also, this piece is dedicated to Jared, who has created this beautiful balcony garden.
MC: Tell us about the place that you have selected.
SK: This balcony is our Tokyo apartment. A little street with shops on the second page is Shin Koenji, where Coffee Amp is located. I go there everyday to draw and read.
MC: What’s your favorite Tokyo place?
SK: Nakano Broadway, an oddly inspiring space.
MC: Who is a reference for your work or is there someone whose work you particularly admire?
SK: I admire David Hockney and Jean “Moebius” Giraud. Also, old religious illustrations and antique botanical illustrations inspire me.
MC: Did drawing change your life and if it did can you explain us in what way?
SK: Drawing allows me to connect seemingly unrelated things. For example, I draw cats and paper planes on the same surface, and they are instantly connected. Literally, drawing can cut across time and space. This just amazes me.
Shu Kuge is an artist who was born in Tokyo. After having worked at a post office for five years, he moved to the US in 1990. He has lived in NYC, Santa Barbara, Berkeley, State College, and since 2008, he and his partner have been dividing their time between Tokyo and San Francisco. From 2003 to 2007 he taught Comparative Literature at Penn State. Currently, Shu is making woodcut prints for self-publishing. Many images are inspired by Tokyo and San Francisco.
www.instagram.com/shukuge | @skugecomics