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Shin'ichi Sakamoto: “I'm trying to change the way we look at the role of women in society”

Special envoy to Angoulême.

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Shin'ichi Sakamoto: “I'm trying to change the way we look at the role of women in society”

Special envoy to Angoulême

His distinguished suit and very chic bow tie did not go unnoticed at the 51st Angoulême International Comics Festival at the end of January. Alongside Moto Hagio and Hiroaki Samura, Shin’ichi Sakamoto was one of three Japanese cartoonists honored with an exhibition. Dracula: immersion in darkness offered to discover emblematic scenes from his new manga,

Born in 1972, Shin'ichi Sakamoto began his career in fighting manga for teenagers before delving deeper into his stories as his personal tastes and his outlook on society evolved. In France, he is best known for two series published by Delcourt: one devoted to mountaineering, the excellent Ascension (17 volumes), and the flamboyant biography of a family of executioners before and during the French Revolution, the Innocent saga. (21 volumes). In the latter, the splendor of the sets and costumes contrasts with the misery of the people and the horror of the public executions. Why so much violence? “I try to describe pain in a sincere way, it makes life more palpable,” the author replied calmly during his master class in Angoulême.

Also read: The BD box: Ascension or the quest of a lifetime

Tormented from within but magnified in theatrical postures, his characters leave a lasting impression on the eyes and the mind, especially since the mangaka demonstrates indisputable anatomical virtuosity; no one draws lips like him! Very attentive to the “choice of words” and their layout, the Japanese dandy assumes the influence of his wife, a shôjo designer, these “mangas for girls”, often focused on introspection and the painting of feelings.

LE FIGARO. - You went to discover your exhibition at the Guez-de-Balzac chapel in Angoulême. What inspired you?

Shin’ichi SAKAMOTO. - This kind of event is unique and very special, in a completely European atmosphere. This is something I couldn't experience in Japan. I really felt like I was entering my own manga.

How did Bram Stoker's Dracula, which inspired your

19th century London saw the appearance of many new devices such as typewriters, Kodak cameras... It's a new life ahead, with new values, and I think that corresponds to what we live today: things are moving very quickly. I wanted to keep this atmosphere in my manga. In Bram Stoker's novel, there is also talk of a cholera epidemic affecting London. It was the same situation that we experienced with Covid, when everyone was cloistered at home.

What elements of the novel did you want to keep for the character of Dracula?

My first memories of Dracula go back to the discovery of the 1950s film with Christopher Lee (The Nightmare of Dracula by Terence Fisher, Editor's note), where the vampire was a very elegant count, in a suit with a large cape... But that's not not how he is represented in the novel: we see him appear all in black but there is never any question of a cape. Coppola's is the closest to the original novel. My goal was to start from Bram Stocker's Dracula, the original one, by adding some pretty spectacular arrangements. One of the big challenges I set myself was to destroy the image that readers already have of Dracula.

We discover him transforming into a wolf, a bat, a fog and even an astonishing plant creature...

In the novel, the count changes form, and it was in my desire to remain faithful to what Bram Stoker had written. In addition, I wanted to emphasize the subjectivity of the different characters: we never know if their testimonies tell reality or lies. We thus maintain uncertainty about the nature of Dracula.

The main role of

Manga is not made to please specific readers but rather to express what I think is right as an author. Looking at what does not work in society, in daily life, leads me to question preconceived ideas, the necessary changes and to include these questions in my mangas. Concerning women, I try to change our view of their role in society.

In the Innocent saga, many of your characters, like Saint-Just and Napoleon, are androgynous. Should we see a message on the question of gender or is it an aesthetic pleasure?

Both aspects are important. The question of genres is a source of inspiration and energy for my mangas. People who have not been able to express themselves for a long time can now make their voices heard. Around me, several people came out and explained to me that this was the only way for them to live. People who transcend gender have always been there, this is nothing new. By representing them in my mangas, I hope to make our society more tolerant and easier for them to live in. From an aesthetic point of view, I try, through their appearance, to transcribe their soul.

Also read: The BD box: Bram Stoker's Dracula reinvented by Georges Bess

Your portrayal of life at the court of Versailles in Innocent Rouge sometimes turns comical and comical exaggerated, particularly with Jeanne de Valois and Marie-Antoinette. Did you want a little fantasy?

It was partly to break the “dark” atmosphere but also because I get bored quite quickly if the tone of the story is always the same. I find it interesting to introduce slightly anachronistic elements. This is one of the freedoms that manga brings.

Your style borrows certain codes from shoujo, “manga for girls”. Have you been the assistant of a shoujo author?

No, but my wife is an author of shoujo manga! Since we were very young, we have exchanged ideas about the manga we like: I was more focused on shônen ("mangas for boys", Editor's note) and she talked to me about shôjo... That's how it is. born my rather hybrid style. Among the particularities of shoujo that I have included in my mangas, there is the integration of monologues, attention to the choice of words and their arrangement within the page. I got a lot of advice from my wife on this subject.

You began your career in action manga, very far from your current production in terms of graphics, tone, universe. Was it a pragmatic choice to try your hand at it, while waiting to acquire the freedom to build the mangas you dreamed of?

One of the major differences between the manga I drew until my twenties and the ones I draw today is that my desires have changed. When I was young, I drew manga with strong characters, who had a lot of muscles because I thought that it was with the strength of your fists that you could change things. By meeting my wife and starting a home with children, I realized that physical strength was not necessary. Today, it is more through the prism of strength of will that I approach things.

With the move to digital drawing for Ascension, what has changed in the way you work?

The digital tool has evolved enormously. Today, there is almost no delay between the moment you place the stylus on the tablet and the moment the line appears. But one thing I miss: when you draw digitally, irregular lines or errors are corrected automatically. The differences in traits that could appear by chance no longer exist and that’s a shame. But I won't go back: digital is much more practical and suitable.

Most of your manga are written by screenwriters or inspired by books. Have you ever wanted to create a universe from scratch, a totally original and personal work?

I would like a completely original work, but I trust my instinct and the “feeling” of the moment. So if I find a work that I want to adapt, I will do it again.

Many thanks to Kim Bedenne and Yuka Tanaka for the French-Japanese interpreting.

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