Hiroyuki Sugahara was born in 1959 in Fukui Prefecture. He graduated from Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, where he majored in philosophy. Securing employment with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, he was assigned to a post in Nagoya in the Radio Regulatory Bureau. About two years later he was awarded a prize for the best new writer of manga, Japan's elaborately illustrated and widely read comic magazines and books, by a manga magazine, and he went on to become a full-time comic strip writer. Today, at 41, he still resides in Nagoya with his wife and child, and he publishes his strips in weekly and monthly magazines and also writes essays. He is known for the dimension of philosophy he adds to comics.
Hiroyuki Sugahara spices up comics with a touch of philosophy. This can be seen in the titles of the comic books he has published, which often contain somewhat elusive philosophical terms. Feeling Metaphysical and Pathology of Nonexistence 101 provide examples. It is also evident in the titles of many of the strips in his books, such as "Lonely Stone Buddha" and "A Nonexistent-like Taxi." Thumbing through the pages with the sneaking suspicion that he may have chosen the medium of comics to explain philosophy to you, you enter a world filled with surreal mirth and down-to-earth jokes. The very gap between somewhat elusive titles and punch lines that make you laugh out loud is sometimes quite stunning. "In high school I acquired a liking for the philosophical works of people like [René] Descartes and [Immanuel] Kant," Sugahara relates. "Sometimes they were really hard to figure out, and I'd spend hours just deciphering a few lines. And even after all that I'd have only a faint idea of what they were talking about. Still, for me that was quite enjoyable. So I majored in philosophy in college." "Then, when I began thinking about becoming a comic strip writer, I saw I might be able to develop a style of my own by drawing on what I had picked up from philosophy. Mainly I do four-panel strips, and even when I don't have a real punch line but just end with some philosophical-sounding expression, readers take over from there, figuring there must be some hidden deeper meaning and setting off on a search." The principal character in many of his strips starts off seeming just like one of the ordinary "salary men" or "office ladies" found all over Japan, but by the time you get to the fourth panel this run-of-the-mill wage earner has become a denizen of an absurd, surrealistic world of laughter. An example is his "Man Who Became a Business Card," one of his early works. The enigmatic story starts off with a weary middle-aged office worker who one day is transformed into a business card. On seeing what has happened to himself, he grumbles, "I get it now. The individual I thought of as me didn't exist from the beginning. All that exists is my title and name as a company man." But the confrontation with his surreal self does not keep him down for long. "Put the other way around, though, won't that title and name get me anywhere I want to go? Hey, I'm an elite guy in a blue-chip corporation!" It would appear that the genesis of this philosophical jokester who makes a motif of the pathos of the office worker was Sugahara's own experience as a civil servant. "Somewhere in there--in the emptiness of a daily life of getting to work every morning and staying until five, in the vexations of the human relations in the workplace--I sense there's something that resonates with philosophy. Maybe it makes you ask just what disillusionment with life is all about. The starting point of my strips is the idea of encapsulating in four comical panels the everyday feelings--in a sense, the philosophical feelings--of ordinary working men and women."
(Photos by Tadashi Aizawa, Text by Masaki Yamada)