Interview with Japanese Manga Artist, Junko Mizuno, a Champion of Food and Womanhood

Junko Mizuno returns with her fourth and final food themed show, The Last Course: Junko Mizuno’s Food Obsession 4, showing exclusively at the Gallery Nucleus.

Having grown up in Tokyo, Junko Mizuno is a self-taught artist recognized for her unique visual iconography of powerful and often sexy women.

Motivated by the pure pleasure of creating art, she celebrates the power of women and creates a universe of them, full of energy, both positive and negative.

We had the opportunity to interview the talented artist where she shared what inspires her eccentric artwork, and how her love for food inspired her current exhibition – The Last Course: Junko Mizuno’s Food Obsession 4.

Tell us about your background and the road that led you to become a Manga Artist (Mangaka).

I was born in Japan in 1973, got into drawing when I was two and already wanted to become a professional manga artist when I was three. I was influenced by Japanese entertainment for kids such as manga, anime, toys and merchandise with cute characters like Hello Kitty and kept creating whenever I found the time.

What I did at the time was making magazines with comics, stories, fake ads, fake recipes etc. and had my older sister buy it from me for the money I made out of paper. When I was around 13 or 14, I found out about  Aubrey Beardsley’s art at a bookstore, was blown away by his style and started exploring different art styles from different cultures and eras which led me to create a new art style that was pretty similar to my current one. When I was around 23, this hand-made zine I made with the new art style caught the attention of some magazine editors, they started giving me jobs and my professional artist career finally began.

Could you describe your drawing style?

Like I mentioned above, my art style is based on Japanese pop culture from the ’70s and ’80s but it’s mixed with different things. My sources of inspiration include fetish art, folk art, religious art, psychedelic art, pin-up art, advertising art, vintage toys, fashion, comic, food, nature, movies, TV shows, video games, etc. Almost everything that surrounds me influences my art and my art style keeps evolving every day.

Has art always been an outlet for expressing yourself?

Yes, I’ve been making art since I was two so creating is as natural as eating or sleeping for me. I just don’t know how not to do it.

Your beautiful work “celebrates the power of women and creates a universe of them, full of energy, both positive and negative.” Who were your women role models growing up? And who do you admire today?

As a kid, I always admired the women/girl characters with special power in comics and TV shows even though they were villains sometimes. There are a lot of women artists I respect but just to name one, it would be Niki de Saint Phalle. The way she depicts women’s energy is very empowering and the fact that she’s self-taught encourages me as I also never had any formal art education. But I have soooo many women I respect and admire that it’s impossible to name them all here.

What do you think are some major differences between Japanese animation and American animation?

I’m the person who keeps watching my favorites repeatedly so I’m not an expert on the entire anime scene. To me, the colors they use look very different. American animation seems to have very vivid colors while Japanese people tend to prefer muted colors. I used to think that the characters in American animation looked much more mature but it may not be the case anymore as I see many artists here are influenced by Japanese ‘cute’ character design recently.

Do you identify with or have a close personal connection with any of your characters?

Most of my characters inherit my own traits more or less which is natural as I am the creator. But Pelu, the main character from my graphic novel Little Fluffy Gigolo PELU may be the one I identify with the most. He is a small, round, fluffy alien who comes to earth and looks for his bride but is always being laughed at or used. Like him, I was always frustrated by how people treated me like a little animal and laughed at me for my short height and childish face.

We read that a handful of objects have been produced from your designs. Tell us about some of your past work and collaborations. Are there any projects that you feel are your biggest accomplishments?

I enjoy working with different people on different projects. It feels refreshing as it gives me the chance to learn new things and motivates me to try something new. I was surprised when I got an offer from IKEA to make a design for their artist glass figure series. It felt surreal to see my stuff sold at such major stores like them. Designing gig posters is fun because I’m basically allowed to do whatever I want to as long as I put the band name and show info correctly in the design.

As I’m a toy collector, designing toys is also really fun. It’s a long and difficult process but the excitement I feel when I see the actual product makes me want to design more. Making comics, painting and drawing are the main things that I’m passionate about but I’m happy and proud of all the things that I’ve done.

Congratulations on your upcoming show “The Last Course: Junko Mizuno’s Food Obsession 4” at Gallery Nucleus! Can you share your inspiration behind the theme?

Food has been one of my obsessions since I was a kid and it was not only about eating. I would get excited when I found food in comics or animations, I would go crazy about food-shaped toys, loved making food drawings or making food out of clay etc.

So creating a series of food-themed art was always one of my dream projects. I started the series, Junko Mizuno’s Food Obsession when I had the chance to do a solo show in Toronto in 2012. There are no serious messages in the pieces in the series. It’s simply about appreciating and celebrating food and the joy of free imagination.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs?

I think the important thing is to be honest with yourself, find what you really want to do and enjoy the process of achieving goals.

A question we ask all of our interviewees – what is your interpretation of a Raw Femme?

This is probably a silly answer but the image that popped into my mind when I first heard Raw Femme was women happily eating raw fish which is my favorite food. They are enjoying the food and just being

The show is running at the gallery until September 24, 2022 and will still be available for viewing on the website after that. Attendees indulged in unique food pairings on opening night, enjoying specific dishes that accompanied each of Junko’s paintings as she introduced them.

Prints, pins, books, and special embroidered napkins are available in store and on the Gallery Nucleus website. Support!