Master Class: Yasuhiro Nightow (康弘内藤)
Master Class is a new series of articles I’m going to be writing about artists I consider to be the best of the best of the best. I will be analyzing their art techniques, major works, influences, and what you can learn from their art. I’m starting out with Yasuhiro Nightow, for no reason other than he has had one of the most significant impacts on my art.
The first cover to the animated version of Trigun (pictured right) may be one of the biggest reasons I’m drawing. I’m not sure what drew my eye to it, but it may have been the dynamic lines, phenomenal coloring, juxtaposition of triangular shapes, and well as the way his revolver divides the image. Or it may have been the premise: a man, worth 60 Billion Double Dollars, dead or alive, wanders the desert from town to town rarely drawing his gun, but demolishing every town he visits. A veritable force majeure with a pistol. I was in.
The first manga in Japanese I ever got my hands on was the first few volumes of Trigun and Trigun Maximum. They hadn’t been published in the US yet, and I’d never imagined Japan was a place you could actually go to and be, so these books were like treasures from the holy land. The art was brilliant. Vivid blacks and whites, phenomenal crosshatching, and remarkably inventive weapons.
Oh the weapons. At the time I was a huge fan of Robert Rodriguez, and his schtick of hiding guns into household items. Guitar case? Gun. Guitar? Gun. To this day I’m not sure that this could get out of hand. Rodriguez’ hidden weapons were like jerry rigged Mexican version of James Bond’s gadgets:hyper cool and ultra lethal. The versatility of hidden weapons was not lost on Yas. Not in the least bit.
The title of Trigun comes from the fact that Vash has three guns, despite only seeming to carry around one. His pistol is the obvious first: a revolver with a story in and of itself. The second is his robotic machine gun left arm, and the third is ‘Angel Arms’, a nuclear class organic weapon that his revolver transforms into. Much of this sounds like adolescent power fantasies, butohmygodit’ssocoolyouhavetocheckitout.
Yas is a rare breed of artist: A Japanese manga author who not only reads, but incorporates western comic techniques into his style. In the ever more inbreeding style of manga, he saw fit to incorporate take a risk on an unconventional style. Legend has it that Nightow began avidly collecting toys after seeing toys for the first Batman film. His influences are transparent, with Mike Mignola’s black and white juxtaposition being the most obvious takeaway.
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, with his ever-flowing, ever-ripped cape is another obvious influence. In the early volumes, Vash is constantly perched atop something, his long red jacket flowing into the night sky. Once you sink into the story, these poses seem like preposterously out of character, as Vash is either acting like an imbecile to play off his dark past, or he’s, well, literally combating his dark past.I don’t know where he finds the time to brood.
Pay attention to the crosshatching: by crosshatching into the highlight area (the white areas where light would reflect the most), he gives his characters a more rugged appearance. The manga art style is far more decidedly feminine than its western counterpart, and by crosshatching Yas balances the scales. The mix of Mignola and McFarlane with contemporary (1995-era) manga influences creates a wholly unique style.
As for Yas’ Japanese influences, the most notable and significant influence would have to be Akira Toriyama (明鳥山）of Dragon ball fame. Toriyama loves drawing airplanes, and various militia vehicles, and I suspect its just because he gets to draw loads of rivets. But Toriyama’s early works had him crosshatching not in long lines, but in short concise lines.
Yas’ biggest homage to Toriyama’s influence on his work is the gag cover for volume 14 of Trigun, where he pays tribute to this Dr. Slump image. By the time Yas had reached volume 14, his art style had shifted drastically from a more rounder, circular style to a more jagged, sharp, and triangular style.
His mastery of triangles and incorporation of western art styles is what sets him apart from the thousands of other manga artists in Japan. If you are new to Yasuhiro Nightow, I suggest picking up Trigun Maximum Volume 1. The Trigun animation handles the source material much more maturely, so keep that in mind if you decide to continue reading Trigun. In my opinion, the manga seems to sputter out of control before dragging on for a few volumes, but the art never ceases to amaze me. Yas’ mix of ink splatters, dynamic motion, and high contrast stylistic imagery is a constant source of inspiration for me.
His western influences also serve to help him stand out in a sea of me-too manga authors. I also highly recommend checking out the animation Gungrave, which Yas did character designs for. If Martin Scorcese were born in Japan and couldn’t shake loose of his heritage, Gungrave might just be what he would cook up.