Meet the Artists
Jed Henry is an illustrator, lifelong gamer, Japanophile, and all-around nerd. He grew up copying art from game manuals, and years later, eventually got a degree in animation. He now works full time on Japanese prints. Jed lived in Tokyo for 2 years, and proudly speaks Japanese at about a 4-year-old level. Jed divides his time between drawing, his family, and scheming how to move back to Japan.
Dave Bull has been in Tokyo since before Jed was born (!) having gone there to learn what he could about the craft of traditional woodblock printmaking, and has been making his living at it for nearly 25 years now. For most of that time, he worked as a solo craftsman (carving, printing, self-publishing), but for the past couple of years has been working with younger people to train them in the techniques, under the umbrella of his Mokuhankan publishing venture.
I first emailed Dave in 2010. My query probably sounded like a lot of comments he gets – something to the effect of, “I want your life. I want to be you. Can I come to Japan and meet you?” Surprisingly, Dave got back to me very quickly. He was courteous, despite my stalker-ish professions of hero worship. He even called me on the phone one day, and listened to my aspirations as an artist. We threw some collaborative ideas around, but nothing really materialized from that first contact.
Then in April of 2012, I came up with the Ukiyo-e Heroes project. Dave quickly saw possibilities in my designs, and immediately offered to make our first print – 'Rickshaw Cart'. He jumped right in and began work, even though we weren't quite sure how to sell them.
Since that first step, we've gained the support of a wonderful fan community. Their enthusiasm has allowed us to expand that first design into a whole series of handmade woodblock prints.
Not only are we making fun, meaningful art. We're also working to save the Japanese woodblock community in a very real way. Through print sales, Dave has been able to pay a workshop full of apprentices, and even employ seasoned masters in the craft! Our goal is to pump vitality back into this art form, by giving it modern appeal, while maintaining its ancient traditions. And it's working!
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Old and New
For hundreds of years, Japanese woodblock printmakers worked in a thriving popular art scene. Their prints depicted heroes, villains and monsters, spanning every genre from satire, to romance, to horror. It was all part of Ukiyo, or Floating World culture. Inventive and fast-paced, Ukiyo culture was the big movement of its day. That tradition has continued through the centuries, down to our modern day, where Japan is still known for its vibrant creativity. This heritage is especially evident in Japan's video game industry. Boss fights. Invulnerable heroes. Holy swords. Even the classic double-jump can be traced back to medieval Japanese legends.
Long story short: the Japanese games we love are just the new chapter in an ancient, enduring culture.
To celebrate Japan's contribution to video games, illustrator Jed Henry has taken his favorite game characters, and returned them to the ukiyo-e style. Modern costuming has been traded for the medieval, but the essence of each character remains, proving that you can't take the Ukiyo out of these modern pop icons.