Manga's superstar plots British Museum capers

November 12, 2009

Professor Munakata, professor of folklore at Toa Bunka University in Japan, prefers to avoid "the petty turf wars and power struggles of academia", and often finds himself isolated as a result.

But by freeing himself from the trials and tribulations of university life, he is able to devote his time to investigating history and folklore, sometimes accompanied on these jaunts by his wide-eyed niece Taki.

Created in 1990 by Hoshino Yukinobu using a felt-tip brush, Professor Munakata's distinctive cape and bowler hat have made him one of the best-known characters in the Japanese comic book genre known as manga (literally translated as "images run riot").

Millions buy the fortnightly stories of his exploits in the magazine Big Comic or catch up with them in Japan's popular manga cafes.

Yet until now they have largely been set in Japan and available only in Japanese.

Last year, however, Mr Hoshino came to visit the British Museum and made three preliminary ink drawings depicting his intrepid professor's encounters with a number of celebrated treasures.

These were the Rosetta Stone, a huge Easter Island statue, a helmet once worn by a samurai and another taken from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk.

When Mr Hoshino returns next year, he plans to use these and other iconic objects as the basis for nine full-scale adventures to be set among the galleries of the museum, which will be published in an English translation as well as in Japanese.

He also hopes to use the medium of manga to explore the contrasts and similarities between the British and Japanese cultures.

In the meantime, the museum has mounted an exhibition of his work.

The exhibition, which will be accompanied by a series of talks, runs until 3 January 2010, and features drawings from Professor Munakata's earlier adventures alongside the new illustrations.

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