History & Heritage: My Day with Fred L. Schodt

Earlier this month, Fred Schodt (translator of The Four Immigrants Manga) guided me on a tour of Henry Kiyama's San Francisco. One of the most intriguing qualities of Henry Kiyama's The Four Immigrants Manga is how faithful he was in his portrayal of San Francisco (and beyond) as the backdrop for the comics. So Fred took me to see sights both familiar and new. The Call Building (now Central Tower), Cliff House & Seal Rock, the Golden Gate Park Bandshell are all portrayed in the book, and it was fun to consider what these locations meant to the city in Kiyama's day. We also stopped by locations that, while not depicted in the work, are important to the book's existence - places like Kiyama's publishing studio and the old location of the SF Art Institute where he studied. Fred was full of insight and stories all along the way, much more than I can recount here. He will be giving a talk about the book later this year, and I highly recommend you attend if you want to learn more about it!

Perhaps the most poignant part of the day, though, was when we stopped by Fred's office and he showed me his original 1931 printing of The Four Immigrants Manga. I had been meaning to schedule a meeting with the Rare Books Librarian at UC Berkeley's East Asian Library in order to see their copy, but suddenly I didn't need to!  It was fascinating to flip through the eighty-year-old book and see the original handwritten Japanese characters. I began to imagine how Kiyama must have felt when the book went to press and he held his first copy. That, in turn, made me think what Fred might have felt when he held the finished translation for the first time. That, in turn, made me think what it might feel like when my musical adaptation finally gets produced.

This made me aware of a sort of writer's heritage that comes with adapting Four Immigrants for the stage. In some ways, this is the heritage that most deeply connects me to the project (moreso than the Asian-American connection, though that is by no means insignificant). The desire to capture a moment in a creative way and to share that with the world is something Kiyama, Fred and I all share. That is something I want to honor as I continue working on The Four Immigrants Manga musical project. I am thankful to Fred for taking the time that day to show me around Kiyama's San Francisco, and I am thankful to Henry Kiyama for his novel decision to create this incomparable, autobiographical comic book.

 An original copy of  The Four Immigrants Manga  - beside a photo of Henry Kiyama and under a photo of Astro Boy. (Frederik L. Schodt is the translator of the English-version of the  Astro Boy  manga series.)

An original copy of The Four Immigrants Manga - beside a photo of Henry Kiyama and under a photo of Astro Boy. (Frederik L. Schodt is the translator of the English-version of the Astro Boy manga series.)

Posted on May 21, 2014 .