Jiro Matsumoto, Cocaine, and the Lightness of Being

So this week I read Jiro Matsumoto’s Velveteen & Mandala, put out by those purveyors of excellent taste in manga, vertical press.  I am starting to get to the point where I will just start buying whatever manga they bring out sight unseen, because their track record in bringing comics by artists that I adore is that strong.


Jiro Matsumoto is a guy I’ve known about for awhile, and I had read some of Velveteen & Mandala before–but this was the first time I really sat down and committed to finishing one of his works.  I have also pawed through Freesia and the City of Honests and Heretics–more interested in the latter than the former.  I have mostly been trying to steer into stuff that he’s been doing post-Velveteen & Mandala, because I think there’s a maturation of his art style in that book which is where it pivots into something I am super super interested in.  Freesia and Tropical Citron are the two earlier works I have at least looked through, and both though appealing, lack this new found punch of the later work he’s been doing.  Or I guess–the work he’s been doing now.


To that end, rather than discuss Velveteen & Mandala like a normal sane person would do, I am going to talk about this book Jyoshikohei that he did starting in 2010.


Jyoshikohei is a manga about these mechs that look like high school girls and fight other giant girl mechs.  It’s sort of like Attack of the Titans, but written by a maniac with a schoolgirl fetish.  Actually the whole women who are giant mechs thing is probably a whole subgenre and there’s probably some kind of fancy name for it in Japan.  Regardless.  I don’t really care about any of that.

THIS, is what I care about.  What strikes me most about Jiro Matsumoto and the main reason I’m starting get obsessed with his work is this particular kind of tension in his images.  The tension between the heavily rendered figure and the barely rendered background.  What is beautiful to me about this choice is that it tilts the weight of the image so totally onto the character–because they literally have more lines on them.  And by not following suit with the background buildings and structures–his comics have a lightness and an agility that other comics don’t.  It would be a completely different, and decidedly less dynamic image in the above situation if he had hit those buildings with heavier inks, more hatching, and heavy shadows and greytones.  By frontloading all of the values of the page onto his characters it gives them a primacy on the page that is really exciting.

Plus there is an airiness to the buildings now.  They look even more fragile by comparison.  Like they are almost held together with wiring and good intentions.  I really love this kind of method for drawing architecture, because I think sometimes the rendering we do on architecture to make it seem more real–strips away the beauty of it’s shape and form.

Take this Schiele sketch of some houses.  There is something captured here about the essense of these buildings, and their shape.  There is also a stronger sense of their relationship to light, even with less direction given through heavy rendering.  Negative space is a beautiful way to depict space.

The fallout from these more delicate buildings, is that when Matsumoto starts blowing them up–the way they warp and bend as they fall down or explode–creates this insanely violent, jaggedy, shrapnel kind of destruction.

And then when later in the book the buildings get hit with blood:

The effect becomes much more dramatic.  Also this technique lends itself to a much easier expression of curvilinear perspectives, which allows for a more dynamic and alien aesthetic.  


To that end, Matsumoto’s sense of pose for his characters, and the angles he chooses to draw his characters from, creates this wonderfully severe comic.

That lean in the top left panel, creating this really cool sideways glance out of the corner of the character’s eye is really beautiful.  As is the framing of the bottom two panels.  This is how you create cool on the page.  Also note how he is moving in and out in terms of his values between background and character, panel from panel.  The bottom right panel really pops because it has that stark blank, white background, and the character now has adopted the shadow which was used in the previous horizontal panel above it.  And then the next panel right next to it, you’re back to that greytone background.  So he’s created this framing mechanism with his values, that are working directionally with the panel’s construction, and allowing him to really pop that image right off the page.  I mean the girl’s head also slightly comes out of the panel–which if you notice, it’s the only moment on the page where the image is breaking the panel.  So that one panel has the entire page titled into creating it’s effect.  It’s the kind of thing that is a part of the magic of actually reading a comic.


Taken on it’s own, like if I just cut that image out of it’s page–the image doesn’t have quite it’s same quality.  But within the context of the magic of your imagination and how your mind perceives the connection between images–it is stunning.

We can see a similar effect on this page, where that top left panel almost seems to hang in time, because of that grey background.  He has also grouped the top section of panels and put them just a little bit over the bottom section, which is something I talked about a bit with Rob Liefeld’s X-Force comics awhile back.  It creates a kind of spatial distortion on the page–and allows for a certain kind of weird concurrence to happen in your reading.  It’s like how when you have two windows open on your desktop(a reference that will date this entire article in five years)–they are both running concurrently–but one is running in the background.  Your eye is drawn to the top window–but the bottom window is still happening, and you still perceive it.  But it s in a different place.  You wouldn’t get this effect without that slight hanging down of the top part of the page over the bottom.

So then when Matsumoto drops a page like this, where none of the panels overlap–the rhythm really hits a cool spot.

Also note in the top panel the lean he’s given that girl and the angled bend of the building–the suggestion of a cityscape without the actual cityscape.  That angled horizon.  It slides you right down the page.

Everything in his comics leans and bends, and angles down and around the page.  His composition comes at you violently and spins you in all kinds of crazy directions.

And then his jittery line itself–which, is the type of line you draw enough times, people start to wonder about your sanity, and your drug habits.  The anxiety and freneticism of his line particularly in his work from 2009 and up, is incredible.  I have talked about this often, because it’s a common thread in the kind of lines I’m drawn to–but these are the kind of lines which project a psychosis.  These lines are more personal, but they aren’t warm lines.  They are defensive, and guarded, and it is almost as if they can barely sit long enough to depict the figure that they are depicting.  With Schiele his art has an almost disturbing sexuality to it for people, simply because of the line.  Matsumoto is in this territory.  In some ways, there is more of a madness here than a Taiyo Matsumoto comic, which is almost more stately and refined in it’s line.  This is maybe more in line with what you see maybe Giannis Milogiannis in his art here in the west.  Or maybe early Jamie Hewlett?    Even then those comparison aren’t really that accurate because I don’t think any of them have this kind of madness in their line.  It’s more a shared cousinhood of technique perhaps, rather than mindset.  Though Hewlett is probably close to that.  I mean Nihei has some of these techniques, and Q Hayashida as well–but it comes across way differently here.  With Hayashida and Milogiannis there is almost a kind of grime sometimes that comes across.  This isn’t grime.

Sienkiewicz is who I think of really.  Even though obviously this isn’t nearly as experimental as coked out 80s Sienkewicz comics.  What is really weird though is with some panels and layouts of Matsumoto–I think Peanuts, and I really don’t know why.  There is sometimes this way he draws–like in the above panel the way those shoes are done, and the way the pilot is drawn crying there and then the hills in the background–maybe it’s not peanuts–but newspaper comics in general.  LIke there’s a krazy katness there–like where Matsumoto has broken slightly from one thing, and bent into this other territory of fucked up innocence and simplicity or something.  And not in a chibi kind of way.  But in a Ignatz kind of way.  I haven’t figured out what exactly is causing that weird juxtaposition.

Really it may be as simple as saying that it is a side-effect of the simplified way that he draws elements on the page.


These last two pages are from Velveteen & Mandala.  They maybe speak to what I’m talking about.


Anyways.  Yeah.  Jiro Matsumoto.  I like him a lot.  Go buy Velveteen & Mandala.  It’s a beautifully weird book.  It’s like a Based Dogtooth.  Plus if you buy it, maybe Vertical will bring even more of his work over.  Plus it is only one edition, so you’re not committing to like a 40 book never ending series.  It’s like 350 pages of self-contained comic goodness.

There is not a comic that burns things down in a better looking way.  Matsumoto is literally playing with fire.

  1. Velveteen & Mandala is supurp, my favorite thing i’ve read from vertical press. Need more Jiro Matsumoto.

  2. argy said:

    Fun fact, jyoshikohei was under Kojima’s radar a couple of years ago.

  3. Darkly said:

    Where did you get the manga? The joshi Kouhei one, I can only find the first volumen but nothing else T^T I need to read it all !!

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