Everyone has someone that they look up to. Someone who so excels in a given field that you can’t help but wish there was a machine that could transfer talent like an infusion of blood. As far as I’m concerned, in the field of drawing and illustration, that person would be Yoshitaka Amano. He has an ethereal yet detailed way of drawing that I envy, creating some of my favorite images. I first became aware of his work from his character design work for Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy 3 in the US), which was incorporated into the manual. It immediately drew me in and influenced my perception of the world created within the game in a way that I had not experienced with other games or illustrations. For lack of better description, Amano’s work is like looking through the eyes of an Efreet, Djinn, or Genie: a magical overlay to a very real world. A recent collaboration between Amano and author Neil Gaiman continues this trend, in the most delightful way possible.
The Dream Hunters is a supplementary story that takes place under the aegis of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series of comics and graphic novels. While considered a graphic novel, it is not done in the traditional “comic” style, but rather is written as a prose story, with a full page illustration for each page of text. The story itself is a retelling of an old Japanese myth about a monk and a fox, and the relationship that develops between them. Amano manages to capture the mood and magical, dreamlike nature of the story in a fashion that seems exactly and absolutely the correct way, and the very notion of it being illustrated in any other way would be intrinsically inaccurate and wrong.
That’s not to say that Amano’s style is the answer to everything. Other styles have their own merit of their own accord; it just so happens that in these circumstance, his style works well with the piece. It is a style that is most suited to the fantastic, the mystical, and the spiritual (really, aren’t these the same thing?), which is very much the nature of The Dream Hunters. I suppose what I am trying to say by this is that I am not claiming that Amano is the greatest artist of all time, that I would not elevate him above other masters (such as Da Vinci), but I WOULD place him in that same master category, and his particular style is one that I would like to adopt in my own work. I’m not sure if that notion is in some way silly or hypocritical to my belief that an individuals particular artistic style is at least partially developed through their personality, but I would certainly like to believe that it is not contradictory to include the desire to incorporate a particular style into your own work as well. (There is some credence to this, in my opinion, based on my observation of artists such as Fred Gallagher, who blends japanese manga style with american animation influences to create a style that is uniquely his own. You can see what I mean in his online manga comic, http://www.megatokyo.com.)
While I enjoyed the entire book, there were some pieces that particularly leapt out at me. One that immediately comes to mind is the cover itself. The particular edition I have (there are several variations) is a metallic gold background, with the Sandman (very pale skin, black hair, black clothing, wrapped in a cloak) in the center of the image with a full moon in the background. Flowers are growing out of his cloak, and a raven is perched on his shoulder. Various creatures (a serpent, a fox, and several baku — dream eaters from japanese mythology) are faint in the background. Immediately in front of the Sandman is a beautiful woman, prone, floating/falling in the air (her clothing is draped downward as if she were floating or being carried, but her hair is pulled forward as if she were falling from a great height… the physics of a dream world is a marvelous thing). The overall composition is very direct and appealing.
Another piece I particularly enjoyed was about two thirds of the way through the book, when the monk travels to the King of Dreams (the Sandman), and is stopped at the door by an itsumade, which is a mythical beast loosely akin to a gryphon: “a monstrous bird, with a head like a lion’s, sharp teeth, a snake’s tail, and huge wings.” (90) Amano’s depiction of this creature was remarkable, both in the size and scope of the creature compared to the dimunitive monk, and in the blending of its traits into a believable creature. It literally fills the page with swirling color and shape, evoking wonderment at getting to see such a beast.
The final image I’d like to point out in particular is also somewhat epic in scope. It is when the fox meets the King of Dreams for the first time, where the Sandman takes the form of a giant black fox, who speaks to her from the top of a mountain. The image is very dark, yet still detailed, and does a masterful job at depicting just how much the fox is dwarfed by her surroundings.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book, and would happily recommend it to anyone, both for the art and for the story. Neil and Yoshitaka put together a fantastic piece of work, and I look forward to seeing more (in the afterword, Amano mentions that this is just the beginning of his plans with Gaiman… the notion of another collaboration is more than enough to make me giddy with anticipation). I intend to continue to examine Yoshitaka Amano’s work during this semester, in the hopes of learning a bit about how he achieves what he does in his work.
Gaiman, Neil; Amano, Yoshitaka. The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. New York: DC Comics, 1999.