Illustrating History

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by Sherrie Negrea | Illustration by Akiko Shimojima

Award-winning manga artist Akiko Shimojima ’00 brings Japanese history to life with her comics. From Tokyo, she credits Geneseo with helping her find her calling.

After Akiko Shimojima ’00 won an international award for her illustration of the graphic novel “Secrets of the Ninja” last year, among the first people she told were Kenneth Kallio, her former psychology professor and now associate provost at SUNY Geneseo, and Suzy Boor, director of donor relations at the College.

“Dr. Kallio is one of the few people who knows most of my comics, and Suzy has kept one of my small illustrations for 10 years,” says Shimojima, who draws in a style known as manga, a Japanese art form that originated in the 19th century. “It was natural for me to tell them about my happy news.”

The first English graphic novel she illustrated, “47 Ronin,” recounts the tale of a band of samurai in the 18th century who avenge the death of their master. She has since illustrated several published graphic novels. “Secrets of the Ninja” is a historically accurate story of ninja Sabro Nagata, who is teaching his son, Hisaaki Nagata, the secret weapons, tactics and values of the ninja. It won the bronze prize at the 10th Japan International MANGA Award Ceremony. Established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, the award celebrates manga artists and helps promote the art form throughout the world.

Shimojima, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, remains deeply connected to Geneseo, despite living 7,000 miles away in Tokyo. The distance has not diminished her loyalty to the College, where, she says, she first believed she could become an artist.

Although Shimojima had taken art courses since elementary school, it wasn’t until she enrolled in basic drawing and oil painting at Geneseo that she began to feel confident as an artist. “My professors praised me a lot and even recommended that I major in art,” she recalls.

When she returned to Japan in 2001, Shimojima was drawn to the qualities of manga, which combined her passion for art and books. While teaching digital comics at a vocational school, Shimojima began working as a manga illustrator with writers whose books focus on Japanese historical figures.

For each book she illustrates, Shimojima does extensive research on the battles and the leading warriors. “We are not making fantasy stories,” she says. “The facts and the details are necessary.”

Shimojima is now working on the graphic novel “Satsuma Rebellion.” Also, she has some ideas of her own about illustrating horror and mystery stories related to Japanese folklore. “If I make them,” she promises, “of course, I will send them to Geneseo.”

Author: geneseoscene

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