“I was always interested in manga, ever since I was a little girl,” says pioneering manga superstar Erica Sakurazawa, talking about how she got her start. “When grew older, however, it felt like there weren’t very many types of manga that were targeted towards me. At the time, most female manga were published for little girls, there were only a few that were for meant for adult women. I wanted to create something in which I would be interested, which is why the themes in my stories are geared towards adult women.”

Sakurazawa is the creator of the seminal 1996 manga Love Vibes, pages from which are in the exhibition Modern Love: 20th Century Japanese Erotic Art. She was in town to give a talk in the Doris Duke Theatre last Wednesday about her work and career.  Known for slice-of-life stories about modern-day relationships, whether between young lesbians,  a little girl and her hard-drinking mother, or a guy and an angel (he grows wings when they kiss). Now that Sakurazawa is married with children, her newest series, Terrific!, is about an aspiring interior designer.

Her intimate look at the relationship at the heart of Love Vibes isn’t a risqué cartoon. The cultural and historical significance of her work—along with the rest of the art on view in Modern Love—is impossible to ignore. Despite the efforts of the Japanese government, Japanese erotic art continued to flourish in the 20th century through ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), photography, painting, sculpture, and the graphic novels known as manga.

“The stories of [Erica Sakurazawa], rooted in the life experiences of people she knows, navigate the turbulent realm of human relationships with a sense of intimacy and emotional honesty,” explains Robert F. Lange Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art Stephen Salel. “Her imagery has the delicate, minimalist touch of a courtroom sketch artist, as if she were documenting the events of people’s lives as they unfold. We feel emotionally bound to her characters as they wrestle with the moral ambiguity of the crises they face, and we respond with irrepressible empathy.”

A love triangle forms

A love triangle forms

On Sunday, Sakurazawa held a manga master class for select students at our Art School. Look out for a future post about that, as well as a video featuring Sakurazawa herself introducing Love Vibes in the gallery. In the meantime, you can see a copy of Love Vibes, as well as a translated interactive digital version, in Modern Love.

Learn more about the exhibition