‘The Inker’s Shadow’ Shines a Fresh Light on a Young Artist’s Coming of Age

August 31, 2015 • Entertainment, Homepage Feature, In-depth

Allen Say on his first visit to Knott’s Berry Farm in August 1953. Photo courtesy of Scholastic Press
Say’s latest graphic novel is a companion to the Sibert Honor book “Drawing From Memory.”

Say’s latest graphic novel is a companion to the Sibert Honor book “Drawing From Memory.”

By P.C. Staff

Author-illustrator Allen Say is expected to release his newest book “The Inker’s Shadow,” a coming-of-age autobiography and biography centered around his experience with discrimination and self-discovery, on Sept. 29. Say’s previous children’s book offerings include the Robert F. Sibert Honor winner “Drawing From Memory” and the Caldecott Medal winner“The Boy of the Three-Year Nap.”

His newest effort is the only nonpicture book Say has ever done. “Inker’s Shadow” tells the story of the author’s formative years in Japan when he served as an apprentice to Noro Shinpei. At the time, Shinpei was a post-war master cartoonist in Japan who taught Say about art and often made him draw copies of Michelangelo’s “David” and visit Vincent Van Gogh exhibitions.

“The Inker’s Shadow” follows Say’s character to an American military academy in Southern California, where he experiences discrimination among the cadets and teachers, all the while echoing his life-long love for art.
“For this book, I picked out some of the episodes that are still floating in my head and arranged them into a story about my first years in America,” Say wrote in his author’s note. “It’s a patchwork of memories, and memories are unreliable, so I am calling this work of fiction made of real people and places I knew.”

Allen SaySay was born in Yokohama in 1937 to a Korean father raised by a British family in Shanghai and a Japanese American mother born in California. According to an article from the Oregonian/OregonLive, Say lived with his mother and his mother’s uncle at a home near Tabuse, Japan. Say’s parents divorced when he was 8, and he found himself living with his grandmother until he was 12. When his father remarried, Say was given the opportunity to move to the United States.

Hesitant and unsure, Say made the move with assistance from his father after speaking with Shinpei about the decision. He was placed in a military academy for young boys in Glendora, Calif., where orange groves blanketed the city with a population of around 5,000 and one movie house. While in the military academy, Say learned to carry elementary conversations in English, explaining to his classmates that trains existed in Japan. After a year in the military academy, Say left to attend Citrus Union High School in nearby Azusa, Calif., and he moved into a hotel in order to continue his education at the school.

Say as a cadet private wearing his shooting metals in October 1953 .

Say as a cadet private wearing his shooting metals in October 1953 .

During high school, Say worked to make $12-$15 a week to cover his rent, which was $8.50 a week. Every four to five months, his mother would send a check for $30 even when Say didn’t ask for money. It was a fortune for Say that ultimately funded his dream for art, as he often used the money to purchase more paint than food at times.

School wasn’t difficult for Say, besides English, and he would frequently cut class to paint and draw in the junior college art room. His hunger and passion for art only grew.

“The Inker’s Shadow” began for Say as he reflected on his beginnings at Citrus High School, finding his yearbook online and paying tribute to his art teacher, Laura Swope, and the school’s principal, Nelson Price.Upon graduating from Citrus High School, Say went on to study three years at Aoyama Gakuin, Tokyo; one year at Chouinard Art Institute; one year at Los Angeles Art Center School; two years at University of California, Berkeley; and one year at San Francisco Art Institute.

“We parted after my graduation, each of us going our separate ways,” Say wrote about his memories of those who touched his life from Citrus High School. “I still wonder what my life would have been without them. ‘Would I be an artist today?’ Before I could thank them again, they were gone. I know they would have waved away my thanks and said they were only doing their job. A job that changed lives.”

“The Inker’s Shadow” will be available at booksellers on Sept. 29 for $19.99. Visit www.scholastic.com for more information or call (800) 724-6527, ext. 4.

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