Bower Museum’s newest exhibition features the evolution of Asian comics

03_Ide Chikae_Viva! Volleyball
Viva! Volleyball by Ide Chikae. Illustration courtesy of Kelly Radomske

Through an arch resembling Japanese architecture and murals of the popular manga character Astro Boy lies a journey filled with artwork from several Asian countries.

Inside, murals and display cases filled with comics containing propaganda, fantasy and storytelling guide visitors through an immersive experience. 

First displayed as a pop-up exhibition at bread shops and comic centers in England,  Asian Comics: Evolution of an Art Form made its U.S. debut at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana on March 9. 

The riveting curation by longtime British comics journalist Paul Gravett presents about 400 multimedia art from 20 different countries through a chronologically organized experience that range from ancient comic books, interactive activities and video walls of Asian comics in films. 

“The exhibition is intriguing and it’s interesting to see the timeline of how art changes,” said attendee Edison San. 

The first display case introduces historical manga –comics that originate from Japan– by different authors, including Kikuo Nakajima’s 1937 masterpiece Hinomaru Hatanosuke to Hikaru Mutsuki’s Deep Gray: Love Destiny from 2007. 

“It’s amazing that these comics show so much about the art form and its ancient roots,” said Bowers Museum Docent Pauline Cole.

As guests stroll along the red and black-themed walkway they are led through different sections of the exhibition that articulate specific genres of comics.Artwork from countries including Japan, India, the Philippines, and South Korea. 

“The layout gives you a trip around the globe,” said Kelly Radomske, vice president of external affairs of the Bowers Museum. 

After being introduced to the manga section, other themes including fables propaganda, conflicts, storytelling and censorship are shown throughout the exhibit. 

For those not interested in the graphic images displayed in the separate room, the display cases continue with storytelling that eventually lead to the history of how Asian comics were turned into films. 

Throughout the exhibition, attendees can engage with interactive activities designed to stoke their creativity.

At the drawing station, visitors can express their own artistry by following an infographic tutorial on how to recreate different eyes, mouths and expressions for animated characters. 

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“The drawing station will bring people in,” said attendee Gemmy Le. “I like how it lets people put their own take on the drawings from the comics and make their own.” 

The activities progress as a large screen with a projected robot and a motion-detecting mat draws the attention of people passing through. As guests stand on a large black mat with the word “start” in the center, the robot on the screen mimics the individual’s every move. 

After doing as many dance moves for the robot to copy and experimenting with various facial features at the drawing station, visitors are shown a large video wall furnishing the wall near the exit. 

The video wall contains nine different screens with movies and shows from different Asian countries which were created based on the comic book stories shown throughout the exhibition. 

“I grew up in the Philippines so I was shocked to see some of my favorite movies appear in the museum,” said attendee Cheng De Jesus. “I have never seen my culture and interests being spotlighted in an attraction like this.”

The wall of films ties together the exhibition because attendees are able to see the history of the comics come to life, adding a narrative thread to the artwork. 

“The exhibition is something that you cannot get anywhere else,” said Radomske. “The artwork connects to all audiences.”

When exiting through a hole in the wall acting as a portal to the real world, you can glimpse the new visitors as they enter the same arch you did. The journey through the immersive experience begins for another. 


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