Sometimes the internet delivers on its promise and you find a joyous, rare and free delight. I can’t remember where I found the link to Kodomo no kuni but I feel the need to pass it on.
Drawn from a Japanese magazine called Kodomo no kuni (Children’s Country or Children’s Land) for children that was published in the 1920s and 1930s, this website presents over 90 illustrations and you’d be hard pressed to find a bad one. These illustrations are so delicate, exquisitely drawn and coloured it makes my breath hitch to look at them.
There is something about illustration, when it is good, that takes you to a deeper place in your imagination. More intimate and self-effacing than painting, illustration is not about grand gestures; rather it plays a supportive role to the text, teasing-out narratives and possibilities. Words are good, words and images are better.
The images from Kodomo no kuni are very much of their time. The 1930s was the tail end of a reclamation of illustration-as-art that had begun in the late 19th century. From Aubrey Beardsley and Arthur Rackham through to Eric Ravilious, England in particular had a fondness for colouring the pages of its books. Not being familiar with Japanese developments, it is interesting to me to see these illustrations of the same period. There are hints of Paul Klee and nods and winks to rarefied European fashion magazines like Gazette du Bon Ton with their flat, graphic imagery and block colouring.
The website itself is rather nice too, simple enough, with an emphasis on the images, reproduced nice and large. There is an English translation and some information on the artists. To top it off, there are even some children’s songs to listen to, completing the Blyton-esque experience. This can’t have been a magazine for your everyday urchin. So far (so good) away from Cbeebies.