If you love manga and you can put it into art, there’s a Honolulu group who wants to hear from you. MangaBento, a self-described “anything-goes gathering of artists and art lovers,” is getting ready for its annual exhibit and is seeking art submissions.
Manga is a form of Japanese comics (different from anime, which is animation), and manga artists are called mangaka. MangaBento is a manga fan club which welcomes all ages and skill levels to learn, draw, and share ideas with like-minded folk who like Japan, manga, anime, and their derivatives: cosplay, doujinshi, computer art, gaming, and similar pursuits.
“The lines between manga and anime are very blurry as one often results in the development of the other. A manga is easily used as a storyboard for a movie. Live action movies and games are common spinoffs,” elaborates club organizer Devin Oishi.
“We’re called MangaBento because bento lunches are casual, there’s an assortment of offerings in each box, and it’s tasty – all things we strive to be,” says Oishi. He says the youngest club member is a high school sophomore (though in the past, they’ve had middle schoolers), and the oldest is in her seventies.
If you don’t know about manga, blogger Jason S. Yadao, whose website OtakuOhana.com is dedicated to this genre, gives some perspective: “I’d say it’s pretty big for that and its animated counterpart, anime. There was an anime feature, ‘Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale,’ that had two screenings [in March] at Consolidated Ward and Kapolei, and Regal Dole Cannery. From what I’ve heard, those auditoriums were either sold out or pretty close to doing so for those screenings. And Kawaii Kon’s announced attendance numbers keep going up every year — from a shade under 2,000 in 2005 to around 11,000 last year. I feel like there’s been a pretty healthy appetite for Japanese pop culture in Hawaii since the Kikaida boom in the ’70s, really.”
With those numbers, it would seem like MangaBento is one of many such groups, but Yadao says, “The thing I’ve noticed about what I call the otaku art community – the artists who draw a lot of their inspiration from anime and manga – is that a lot of them tend to keep to themselves or operate in tight circles of friends. It’s difficult to keep track of them unless you actually know them; they’ll do their own thing on DeviantArt or social media or whatever, maybe emerge with a table selling their work in the Artist Alley at Kawaii Kon or one of the other conventions around town or on another island throughout the year, and then disappear back into their art bubbles to start the cycle over again.
MangaBento’s different. They publicize their meetings. They have an art show every year on the second floor of the Honolulu Museum of Art School that I love attending to see what they’ve come up with. They’ve partnered with Kawaii Kon at the Honolulu Festival for quite some time now as well. Other than Comic Jam Hawaii – whose members operate on a wider comic art scale – and the Hawaiian Comic Book Alliance – again, more general comics, and mostly people looking to self-publish, at that – I’m not really aware of any art-focused groups like this out there, and certainly not one that focuses more on the anime/manga-inspired end of the spectrum. And I love that they’ve put themselves out there year after year for this long.”
“Manga Bento is among the local groups out there that are passionately helping to teach and raise the next generation of Hawaii manga artists. Besides teaching and cultivating drawing skills, they also bring in speakers to teach the cultural and historical background of manga,” says University of Hawaii – West Oahu’s associate professor of history Dr. Jayson Chun, who has been one of those speakers. His specialty is modern Japanese history and Asian media studies, and he’s taught courses on Japanese anime and manga cultural studies.
Dr. Chun continues, “I once came in to one of their sessions as a supposed academic expert to lecture about vocaloids, and was schooled by a middle school student who knew far more about the subject. That’s how passionate their members are.”
The group was founded in 2003 by Ayumi Sugimoto, who wanted to offer a “how to” workshop teaching the technical skills of drawing manga. In 2004, it started doing art and cosplay contests. In 2008, it had its first of what would become an annual art show. “The exhibits are the culmination of our year,” says Oishi.
Sugimoto moved back to Japan for work, but left some of the club originals, namely Oishi, at the helm. He begrudgingly admits he heads up most of the events or fields most of the inquiries.
Yadao admires, “For MangaBento to have the staying power that it’s had is pretty remarkable to me, particularly given the short-attention-span busy culture of today. I mean, this is a group that’s remained together in some form since my first Kawaii Kon preview article back in 2005! (I think they’ve been at every one since, too.)”
This year’s show is at the Honolulu Museum of Art School from June 1 to 18. You can submit “[a]nything related to manga and anime or their derivatives: drawings, paintings, photos, sculptures, handmade costumes, handmade dolls or doll clothing, handmade stuffed animals,” the website details (https://devinoishi.wixsite.com/mangabento/exhibits-and-events).
For the 2017 show, the art should ideally reflect the Eat, Draw, Relax theme. Also, because it’s at an art school where young children attend, the work must not be stronger than PG-rated.
Oishi is careful to tell interested artists, “There is a general ‘anything goes’ attitude towards the theme. I encourage people to take inspiration from their favorite art, shows, or games and develop their own ideas in their own medium. Of course fan art is still welcome, but it’s not a requirement.” Don’t feel, he says, “the need to submit work that is a drawing copied from an anime or manga.”
He encouraged my nine-year-old daughter, who loves to make art, to submit a piece. He invited me, too, and I have no formal art training!
I may give it a go. Bucket list: have work shown at art exhibit- check. (Unmentioned sidebar: friend is show curator; unfair advantage.) (Just kidding. They accept anything that’s appropriate.)
Aside from the free summer show, MangaBento appears at events or hosts workshops. It recently had a booth at this spring’s Honolulu Festival, offering “make and take” crafts like how to make a manga mask or a photo booth cutout.
Oishi estimates each time the club appears at a festival, about 200 to 500 people visit and play– mostly grade school children, but recent participants included one of the premiere kendo instructors from Japan and a science professor.
Twice a month, MangaBento also has regular meetings. “We at MangaBento provide a place for artists to share ideas, create work, and learn new skills. We can introduce you to the basic tools and techniques used by artists, but it is up to you to develop and train yourself as an artist,” says the website.
What that means, Oishi clarifies, is that you can learn technical craftsmanship skills and different ways to use art tools, have lively discussions about games/ fandom/ anime/ manga, prepare for events, practice your drawing and get mentorship and feedback, design costumes, or enjoy simple companionship. The meetings used to be very structured, he recalls, but now the agenda flows organically depending on what mangaka want when they arrive.
There are a few veteran artists in the group, so they’re able to offer advice in things like drawing, inking, and toning. “How to use pens or erasers in an unconventional way, or how to do specific things like create screentone. That’s a technique stemming from the days of black-and-white printing, in which you use black dots to create shades of grey. You adjust the size and spacing of the dots to make it seem darker or lighter,” explains Oishi.
Like the menu assortment referenced in its name, sometimes MangaBento meet ups focus on other things. “People have brought their sewing machine, fabric, glue guns, and accessories to the meetings and made costumes. Or, some members are in school and they bring their homework so they can work on it while being around their friends,” Oishi says, adding a funny observation that 99 percent of the time, the subject is physics.
None of this is about money. You don’t have to pay to play in any of the MangaBento events or meetings. It does take Oishi’s time, as the principal contact, but he says it’s worth it to keep the passion alive. “Like all my art, I do this to tell a story and to teach. Teaching is an extension of making your own art. You’re transferring your knowledge to someone else,” he sums up.
Dr. Chun puts it best: “What Manga Bento does is a labor of love. They devote their time and effort to helping to grow the Hawaii manga community.”
2017 MangaBento “Eat, Draw, Relax” exhibit:
Art entries: Submit your work for consideration at one of the May meetings
Show dates: June 1 – 18
Location: Honolulu Museum of Art School’s Mezzanine Gallery, 1111 Victoria St.
MangaBento’s monthly meeting schedule:
Most 2nd & 4th Sundays, 1 – 4 p.m.
Honolulu Museum of Art School, 1111 Victoria St.
Check MangaBento’s website for full details on the exhibit or any other events, and any updated schedule changes (including meeting times): https://devinoishi.wixsite.com/mangabento/eat-draw-relax. Facebook: MangaBento.