Akira Rides Again at Alfstad& Editions

Arts & Culture

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY MAR 6, 2020

A new exhibition opens tonight at Alfstad& Editions over in the Rosemary District, celebrating the lasting legacy of Akira, the massively influential Japanese manga published in 1982 and adapted into a similarly groundbreaking animated film in 1988. Featuring a variety of work from local artist M@ Collins, the show highlights not only Akira’s aesthetic impact, but also the lasting emotional impact it had on the artist as a child. “I’m trying to capture the mood, the feel, the little emotional snapshots,” says Collins. “Ultimately, it’s a love letter.” Plus, it gave the artist, who also owns Panku Skateboards, the chance to show off a dying art—screenprinting on skateboards.

Set in a dystopian sci-fi future, Akira takes audiences to the city of Neo-Tokyo, post-apocalypse, falling into authoritarianism and poised on the brink of full societal collapse. The streets are rocked by unrest and home to roving teen gangs that patrol their turf by motorcycle. Meanwhile, the military-controlled government runs experiments on the citizenry, leading to the emergence of powerful psychic forces in the population. For Collins, this had a serious impact. “As a kid growing up in the Cold War, you’re like, ‘That’s probably the future,” he says. “Minus the science fiction stuff.”

And, unlike other dystopian films of the time, such as The Terminator, the story of Akira stayed with Collins. “It wasn’t about the death of humanity, so much as teen angst and feeling less than,” he says. “We all carry something like that with us—that fragility but invincibility at the same time.” 

As Collins grew as an artist, he also grew to appreciate the groundbreaking nature of the animation itself, likening the innovation to that seen during the Golden Age of Disney, with films like Pinocchio. “Akira did a lot of inventive things with their human animation and bike animation,” he says. “No one would even try to do it that way today, because it’s so much easier to do it in 3D.”

Similarly, Collins says, no one these days is really trying to screenprint on skateboards either. Collins thought it would be easy. In the end, it took him four years to figure out.

At the Tribute to Akira exhibition, Collins treats the audience to a wide array of media, including classic screenprints, posters, archival prints from hand-drawn sketches, stickers, t-shirts and even prints on different types of wood and metal. But the skateboard-as-canvas presented a particular challenge, with its warps and curves defying the typical screenprinting process. To make it work, Collins eventually had to build a custom screenprint mesh with a larger grid and about a third of the tension. Then, he had to make his own custom squeegee to match, carving the standard one into three pieces and reassembling it. “It was so hard,” Collins remembers, and it didn’t help that everything in the skateboard industry is still a trade secret. Years of trial-and-error were to follow, but quitting is never an option for the obsessed.

“You always seek that perfect line,” Collins says. “I wanted that perfection.”

Tribute to Akira opens tonight with a reception from 6pm to 9pm. Collins will be in attendance to talk more about Akira, the art and the skateboard industry.

Cartoon of Akira, courtesy of Alfstad& Editions

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