In the land between cute and grotesque, adorable and horrifying lives the artwork of Junko Mizuno. Mizuno-sensei's fantastical illustrations show the influence of Hello Kitty and early 1970's shojo manga, as well as Japanese horror films, Western fairy tales and erotica, for a look that is unmistakably hers alone.
Mizuno-sensei's images can be seen in a variety of mediums. In addition to her manga stories published by both VIZ Media (her twisted take on the classic fairytales, Cinderalla, Hansel and Gretel, Princess Mermaid) and Last Gasp (Pure Trance and her latest release, Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu), you can find Mizuno's touch on limited edition toys, clothing and fine art paintings and prints that are featured in galleries all over the world.
Her latest manga release, Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu was originally serialized in seinen manga monthly Comic Beam magazine, and at three volumes, it's one of Mizuno-sensei's longer stories. This sci-fi-fantasy fable features a little green alien fluff ball named Pelu that travels to Earth in search of true love. But as Pelu goes from town to town, he meets lots of tragic women and screwed-up men in wildly dysfunctional relationships. After a while, Pelu starts to wonder, is his quest for love fated to end in failure?
Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Mizuno-sensei has recently relocated to San Francisco, California, a manga-friendly city if there ever was one. To celebrate the publication of the first volume of Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, New People: The Store hosted a signing event, that found this soft-spoken young woman posing for photos and autographing a variety of books, toys, tees and even a Junko-designed skateboard deck for a diverse array of fans.
After the signing, I sat down with Mizuno-sensei and talked about her artistic influences, the origins of the retro-melodrama of Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, and her current art projects in the works, including a magical girl story with a twisted twist.
ARTISTIC ROOTS OF MIZUNO MANGA: ART NOUVEAU, EROTICA AND...?
Q: So, what do you think about New People Center opening? It's a landmark event for manga, anime and Japanese pop culture in the US -- What are your impressions upon seeing something like this open in America?
Junko Mizuno: I haven't been to all of the floors of New People yet, but I think it's exciting. I've known about this project for a long time. I am excited that it's finally open.
Q: I've been a fan of your work for a while, but not everyone who reads this interview may know about your artwork. How would you describe your aesthetic or the influences in your manga?
Junko Mizuno: That's very difficult. Usually I don't want to describe my style in words because it feels like limiting myself. So it's just my style, but it's obvious I was heavily influenced by Japanese cute culture, like Sanrio, but I was also influenced by many different kinds of art, from Western countries…
Q: Such as...?
Junko Mizuno: Such as Aubrey Beardsley (Art Nouveau illustrator) for example... I have such a long list but Aubrey Beardsley and Eric Stanton (American erotica illustrator) come to mind; lots of different people. My art is kind of a mixture of everything that I like. I think it will keep changing in the future. So it's hard to describe in words.
Q: So what kind of themes do you most like to explore in your artwork? What kind of message are you hoping to share with readers and viewers?
Junko Mizuno: I never try to send messages to people through my comics. I just want people to take it, however they want. I just try to enjoy making what I enjoy.
'70s FLASHBACK: PELU MEETS TORA-SAN AND MOJAKO SINGING ENKA KARAOKE
Q: So, in your latest manga release Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, Pelu is a little round alien who wanders from place to place looking for love. How did you come up with that story?
Junko Mizuno: I first drew this story a long time ago. But I remember two things when I worked on the design. While I was designing the creature, I based it on a character called Moja-ko. It's by the author of Doraemon, Fujio Fujiko. It's a somewhat obscure work of his; it's more for mature readers. In it, there's a little round creature from another planet. It's a very fun story.
[NOTE: Moja-ko is also known as Mojacko. Check out Anime News Network's profile of Mojacko]
So the design was inspired by this little creature and the story was inspired by Tora-san.
Q: Tora-san? You mean those Japanese movies from the 1970's - 1980's featuring that guy with the hat who goes from place to place?
[NOTE: The Tora-san movies starring Kiyoshi Atsumi started in 1969 with Otoko wa Tsurai Yo (It's Tough Being a Man) and was followed by 47 sequels produced over 26 years. The Tora-san films make up one of the longest-running series of movies ever created. See Pop-Cult.com's description of "Tora-san: Our Lovable Tramp."]
Junko Mizuno: Right! You know in the story, Tora-san always goes to different places in Japan. He falls in love with beautiful women everywhere he goes, but he's always unlucky in love. That's one of the inspirations for Pelu. (laughs)
Q: How funny! It would have never occurred to me to make that connection -- but now that you mention it, it totally makes sense.
Junko Mizuno: Pure Trance and my fairy-tale stories like Cinderalla, they're very Western stories. They're not very Japanese; they're all fantasy and western-style fairy tales. For Pelu I wanted to do something that had kind of like 1970s Japanese theme.
Q: That's true -- there's lots of over-the-top melodrama in Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu, just as there is in the movies, manga and TV shows from that era.
Junko Mizuno: Yeah, so the stories are deliberately corny and funny. (laughs) I was inspired by these melodramas for housewives.
Q: I was wondering about that! As I read the stories in Pelu, I thought, "Wow. All of these characters are in these horrible relationships." (laughs)