Born of the Floating World: A Brief Exploration of the Japanese Graphic Narrative


Hokusai's Manga

Illustrated talk with Japanese Scholar Dev Avidon
Date: Thursday, October 6th
Time: 8:00 PM
Admission: $5

Presented by Morbid Anatomy and Oxberry Pegs

In 1988, the anime adaptation of Otomo Katsuhiro’s perennial serialized manga Akira was released in Japan, shattering domestic attendance records for an animated film. Shortly thereafter, its distributor presented it to George Lucas and Steven Spielberg as the ideal anime for English-language adaptation.  The two dismissed it offhand, deeming the very concept of a cerebral, macabre, challenging animated film as “completely unmarketable” in the United States. Animation in America was the sole purview of children, they reckoned, and throughout the 90s, those few anime that were adapted for the American market were heavily edited to remove any and all controversy or ‘adult’ themes, thus rendering them safe for Saturday mornings. In 2001, however, Disney took a chance, bringing a largely faithful, unedited translation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away to theaters. It was an astounding success, enjoying uniform critical acclaim and record profits for a foreign animated film, and sparking an unprecedented interest in anime and manga in America.

A decade later, with anime and manga’s popularity in the United States at an all time high, Dev Avidon will present a brief history and overview of the two forms, and examine their provenance in 17th and 18th century Japanese pictorial narratives such as the Kibyoshi – arguably the first graphic novel in human history. What spawned anime and manga as media, and what defines them? How did their visual and narrative tropes and themes evolve from both a Japanese cultural tradition dating back as early as the 9th century, and a cross-pollination and interplay with Western art and animation styles during the 19th and 20th centuries? And how can we, as American viewers, reconcile our preconceptions of the ‘cartoon’ and ‘comic book’ with the realities of two artistic forms that, collectively, account for over half of all visual media produced in Japan annually?

Dev Avidon is a Brooklyn-based jazz composer/singer, sound engineer, small business owner and Japanese scholar. During his time in the Government and East Asian Languages and Civilizations departments at Harvard University he specialized in Japanese neo-nationalism and Japanese popular art, from the ukiyo-e and kibyoshi forms of the Edo period through the modern day Neopop and Superflat movements. His thesis for the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies at Harvard University, Allegories of the Empty Center: A study of Modern Japanese Nationalism explores how Japanese neo-nationalism as exemplified in cultural movements such as Superflat problematizes the core tenets of modern nationalist theory. He also played an instrumental role in the founding and cataloging of the anime and manga collections at the Harvard Yenching Library. A well-published author and scholar, Dev Avidon’s current focus is on his upcoming sophomore album, Tears of Men, and melding the hard science of audio technology with the clean lines of Japanese aesthetic design and the artwork of master jewelers with his line of audiophile cables for Frost Audio, a boutique audio company he owns and co-founded in 2010. Visit him at or

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