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In 1993, Franois Place's The Last Giants was universally acclaimed a work of great, if heartbreaking, originality. In this recent effort, he brings to life the immortal Japanese illustrator and printmaker Hokusai. And just as he made real the land of the giants, so he brings the reader into the swirling and vibrant world of Tokyo. Trained early as an engraver, Hokusai studied under the master Sunsho, producing illustrated volumes of verse. His first manga volume followed in 1814, after he abandoned the traditional style of engraving to perfect the technique of the colored woodcut, in what many consider his greatest work, The 36 Views of Mt Fuji. His life was unsettled, his marriages uncertain, and his business affairs irregular, but his energy was boundless. He left for posterity thousands of sketches and drawings, illustrated books and prints, saying just before he died in 1889 If heaven gives me ten more years (or even an extension of five), I shall certainly become a true artist.
The exuberance of his life is marvelously conveyed in Place's tribute to an artist who clearly ranks among his heroes. Both have the same genius for draughtsmanship, the perfectly defined, energetic stroke, the subtle wash. We see the humor and pathos of Hokusai's life, recorded through the eyes of a young apprentice. This is a lovely book by an artist and writer we consider among the very best of his generation.