By Izumi Hansen
Northwest Asian Weekly
Stationed between the aisles of ceramics and produce at Uwajimaya and the shelves of comic books in Kinokuniya Book Store, local artists and illustrators are showcasing their work in what will become a regular indoor artist alley.
On Oct. 25, six artists sold their artwork at the second Kinokuniya and Uwajimaya artist alley.
Behind table displays of their prints, buttons, pouches, keychains, and booklets, artists sold creations and talked with customers.
“I always really loved Kino, so being able to sell here was a lot of fun,” said Diane Nguyen, a student at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment in Seattle. Nguyen displayed her art, which consisted of fan art of anime and manga, at both artist alleys.
At her first alley, a mother came by and said her daughter was interested in anime and manga. “She bought something for her daughter because she was getting good grades and I thought it was really cute,” Nguyen said.
Yasu Kawamura, a concept artist and part-time employee at Kinokuniya, pitched the idea of a one-day artist alley to Seattle Kinokuniya General Manager Shigekazu Watanabe, after Watanabe asked for ideas to involve the bookstore’s community and to better use the bookstore space.
Kawamura took the idea from artist alleys at Emerald City Comicon and Sakura-con, where he had sold artwork and networked with other artists.
“A lot of the stuff inside the store is manga and anime, and I have a lot of friends who draw manga and anime,” Kawamura said. “I thought it would be cool to showcase their works and show that they exist.”
Watanabe said that Kinokuniya’s physical bookstore was a promotional space for Asian culture. Seattle has many artists inspired by Asian culture, so it’s important for Kinokuniya to contribute to that community.
Kinokuniya held its first artist alley in September, followed by a second alley in October. The second alley was held with Uwajimaya, which lent space for the artists between the food court and cash registers.
“It’s a good way to get exposure to a different audience,” said artist Rhodora Jacob. “It’s hard to find a place where you can show your own style.”
Jacob worked in gaming at Google before deciding to become an independent artist. She started selling at smaller fan conventions, such as Rose City Comic Con in Portland last year, as well as local art shows and galleries.
She said acquiring a table at the larger conventions can be difficult due its popularity. She appreciated the opportunity from Kinokuniya.
Kawamura noted that along with providing the artists exposure, the alley has created friendships among the artists.
Alexis Andersen, who attends five to six fan conventions in the Pacific Northwest every year, sees the alley as a positive event for the local Asian-interest community. While she hasn’t attended the alley, she likes the idea of an alley at a popular location for anime and manga fans.
“It gives Kinokuniya more of a touch with the community,” she said. “Seeing the talent of everyone who’s in that sort of culture—it’s encouraging.”
The Seattle Kinokuniya recently began holding more events, like the artist alley, for customers, including a workshop for the mini building toy nanoblock last month.
Along with including local fan-made merchandise, Kinokuniya also began selling Japanese fan-made merchandise of anime and manga series earlier this year. These products, such as doujinshi (fan-drawn comics), are difficult to buy in the United States. Adding Japanese fan-made products received positive reception from the local anime and manga community.
“I want this store to be the spot for young people who are interested in Japanese animation,” Watanabe said.
Although most of the artists are inspired by Asian and Western pop culture, Kawamura said any artist is welcome to sell at the alley. Kawamura currently maintains the Facebook group “Seattle Kinokuniya Artist Alley” for artists interested in participating.
Kawamura said the artists will vote on the alley’s frequency, but hopes to have one every three months. He also wants to expand the alley to 15 artists each cycle. Kawamura and Watanabe are hoping to collaborate with local Japanese-culture conventions as the alley develops. (end)
Izumi Hansen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.