With an international audience hungry for Junko Mizuno’s graceful images of hellish honeys, it’s no wonder that the young artist is looking to the West.
While her manga books, exhibitions and commercial illustrations are largely overlooked in Japan, art lovers in America and all over Europe are smitten by the scenes of debauched depravity that feature twisted heroines whose outfits would make pop-temptress Kumi Koda blush.
Mizuno, aged 34, is sweet and unassuming on the surface, although she assures us of a hidden temper more akin to that of her characters. Her latest exhibition, “Tender Succubus,” opened on Oct. 6 at Nucleus in Los Angeles, casting her alongside Mizna Wada and Alayna Magnan, two other female artists known for their naughty imagery. The show precedes a move to San Francisco, where Mizuno plans to make her home among the thriving art scene.
Her artwork comes hand-in -hand with other freelance jobs: When we spoke at a cafe in her neighborhood of Kugayama a few weeks before the “Tender Succubus” opening, Mizuno had just completed designs for a U.S. toy brand and for a giant 3-D octopus, which was to be used as an installation by Italian fashion label Fornarina at a recent show in Milan.
Tell us about “Tender Succubus.”
Mizna Wada also draws girls. Hers are more like characters, with round faces . . . more simple than mine. And Alayna Magnan, a young American artist, draws a lot of sexy Hollywood girls. So I guess it’s about sexy women, with horror or Halloween themes. Scary sexy girls! Now I’m painting on paper. I’m going to do three or five on canvas, and hopefully some pen drawings.
Do you prefer manga or art shows?
I’m serious about both. It’s funny, when I’m painting I want to make comics, and when I’m doing comics I feel like doing more paintings.
Your characters are often very risque. How important is sex to your art?
It’s not the most important thing. I think my art is about life and death, and that includes sex and also food. People ask me why I draw so much food, and I wonder why other artists don’t, because it’s one of the most important things. You eat twice or three times a day, but some comics don’t have food in them at all, which feels very unnatural.
Why do you think you’ve had more success in the West than Japan?
Trends change very fast in Japan. Also, there is a very clear line between manga and fine art here, but I’m in the middle. Comic fans don’t take me as a genuine mangaka, but people who like fine art don’t take me as a genuine artist.
And in the West?
They don’t care. If they think it’s good, they like it, and once they are fans, they will always be fans. At my book-signings in the West I see many different kinds of people — people who like fine art, comics, music. There are men, women, girls and boys, it’s very mixed.
Who were you a fan of growing up?
I used to be a fan of The Spice Girls. It was fun because they were not so popular in Japan, so I had to read about them in English magazines. I like being a fan of something; I used to be a big fan of the anime “Sailor Moon,” and I spent so much money on buying toys from eBay. I knew I was stupid, but I enjoyed being stupid.
Why do you think manga is such an important part of Japanese culture?
When I was growing up manga was the main part of my life. I read normal girls’ manga. My generation are the children of the baby-boom generation, so there were many products aimed at kids. Inside there were things you could make, such as dolls and toys made of paper. They had budgets to get better artists, and naturally the quality was better.
Lately, girls’ comics are getting very sleazy, almost like porn. That’s what I hate about Japan: the idea is the younger the better. People like girls to be helpless, stupid and just sexy. It’s kind of scary.
Is that why your characters tend to be sexy but feisty?
Yeah, I think so. I don’t think too much when I draw, but it does reflect my frustration. I look childish and people expect me to be soft inside, but I’m not. I’m very aggressive. I think making art keeps me from being violent (laughs).
So what would happen if someone took away all your materials right now?
I think I’d get really violent. When I was 7 or 8, I was making a very beautiful paper doll at school. I was looking at it, and this boy came up to me and took it and tore it up. I cried. And then I told the other girls to hold him, and I hit his nose with my elbow over and over until he started to bleed. It was funny; after that he started to respect me. He even invited me to his birthday party (laughs).
When was the last time you did something like that?
That was the most violent thing I ever did in my life. But there was this guy walking toward me once in Ikebukuro, and as we passed he grabbed my breasts. So I ran after him with a bag of potatoes I’d just bought and hit him with it! He was very surprised. Molesters never expect me to fight back.
“Tender Succubus” runs till Oct. 27 at Nucleus, 30 West Main Street, Alhambra, California; open Mon.-Thurs. 12 noon-9 p.m. and Fri.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. For more information visit www.gallerynucleus.com
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