The William Blake Blog

Global Blake: David Smith
David Smith explores some of the ways in which Blake's multimodal prophecies align twentieth-century Japanese manga.

Blake’s reception in and influence on Japanese artists and poets has been admirably addressed in The Reception of Blake in the Orient, among other works, though the focus of criticism mainly lingers on the impact of Blake’s poetic and cosmological structures on twentieth century writers and poets like Muneyoshi Yanagi, Yoshiro Nagayo, and Oe Kenzaburo. The above quote came from Nagayo’s effusive appreciation to Blake’s art that first appeared in the 1910s thanks to the Shirakaba Group’s magazine (1914) and exhibit (1915). 

Likewise, Blake’s impact on comics and graphic novels has received attention from various critics. Roger Whitson brings Blake and Alan Moore into conversation via Moore’s popular and influential graphic novel Watchmen. Blakean references appear both explicitly and implicitly in numerous other graphic narratives ranging from Dr. Strange to Spawn. Robert Petersen in his book Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels : A History of Graphic Narratives cites Blake as “the forerunner of a new kind of publication, the art book…[that] were themselves works of art which could be distributed among a wider audience.” 

What has received less attention is the possible linkage between Blake’s multimodal illuminated prophecies and manga, the uniquely Japanese form of comics that rose to prominence in the twentieth century. My argument holds that elements of Blake’s texts resonated with tenets of Japanese aesthetics and culture that appear in manga texts in the twentieth century and beyond. Blake’s use of ambiguity, kairotic and synchronic time, and transformation during times of immense cultural upheaval may have informed manga as much as post-war American comics. Blake’s ability to present compelling and complex visual-verbal composite texts that straddle high- and low-brow culture, and his introduction to a new generation of Japanese artists at the cusp of the modern rise of manga suggest the genre’s indebtedness to the English artisan and a new way to engage with these multimodal texts.

David Smith teaches English and Interdisciplinary Studies at Baylor University, where he received his doctorate in Romantic literature. His dissertation discussed Blake’s multimodal messianism in his early prophecies, and his research explores the intersection of religion, ecopoetics, and aesthetics during the Romantic era. He has authored papers on Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge, respectively, as well as Gothic literature.