Game Front 1-on-1: ‘Ukiyo-e Heroes’ Creator Jed Henry

Game Front 1-on-1 is a continuing series featuring interviews with and personality profiles on a variety of people in the vast and diverse community of gaming, including creative fans, passionate players, amateur developers and everyone in between.

Ukiyo-e Heroes is a series of woodblock prints that depicts video game characters in the style of traditional Japanese woodblock printing, better known as ukiyo-e, a term which translates literally into “pictures of the floating world.”

If you’ve ever watched Mad Men, the painting in Bertram Cooper’s office is a well known Japanese ukiyo-e print called The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, which depicts a woman having sex with an octopus. Simply put, the medium has always catered to the fantastical. Video games should be no exception.

To that end, illustrator Jed Henry put together a series of ukiyo-e depicting a host of classic video game characters, lovingly rendered in the traditional Japanese style. His artwork was published on a large scale last year when he launched a successful Kickstarter for “Ukiyo-e Heroes” with printer Dave Bull. He humbly described the Kickstarter as a “parody art project.”

I got in touch with Henry to talk about his artwork and how the whole project came about.

For our readers unfamiliar with the art form, could you tell us a little about ukiyo-e?

“Ukiyo-e was a popular art movement in premodern Japan. It often depicted landscapes, famous actors, historical and fictional heroes, and images of Edo’s nightlife.”

Where’d you learn how to do ukiyo-e? It’s not exactly as commonplace as digital illustration and oil paints.

“I’m still learning, and don’t claim to be proficient yet. But just like apprentices used to do in the old days, I copy from other artists. I memorize their use of line, and how they design images. I especially love to mimic a 19th century artist named Yoshitoshi. His work is absolutely amazing to me.”

Can you tell us a little about what it is you do when you’re not making artistic video game tributes?

“I also illustrate children’s books, and think up other hair-brained projects. I’m currently toying with the idea of a mobile game.”

Besides your work with woodblock printing, what other forms do you work with?

“My children’s book style is obviously very different from my Japanese woodblock style. If you look up “Jed Henry” on amazon, you’ll see examples of that style.”

Your Kickstarter for Ukiyo-e Heroes (which you ran with David Bull) was one of the most popular projects on the platform. What’s your experience with Kickstarter been like?

“Kickstarter has changed my life, along with hundreds of other people. It’s an amazing way to make creative ideas into reality, and I’ll be eternally grateful to them for this service. They’ve made the world a much better place for creative people.”

Have you any plans to continue the Ukiyo-e Heroes series, perhaps with modern game characters?

“Absolutely! I’m limiting my subject matter to only Japanese games, but that still leaves a huge range of possible subjects.”

I totally missed out on the Kickstarter back when you had it going. Is there any place I can buy more woodblock prints and giclées?

“No worries!  Dave is still producing woodblock prints. You can view them at ukiyoeheroes.com.”


Read more of Ian Miles Cheong’s work here, and follow him and Game Front on Twitter: @stillgray and @gamefrontcom.

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