“Influenced by vintage comics like Astro Boy, the pop art of Roy Lichtenstein, and the visual language of skateboarding, Akira Yonekawa’s work has an uncanny way of capturing motion within illustration.”
Yonekawa’s inspiration often comes directly from the sporting news. As he told us, the Kick Your Ass illustration depicts “a team making a counterattack against a strong team and never giving up.” The piece was inspired by Naomi Osaka, the 17-year-old Japanese tennis player who won the US Open Women’s Singles Championship in 2018.
“Her powerful play was shining and I immediately became a fan. I wanted to express how she never gave up in a difficult situation. I also thought it would be fun to depict her as a Japanese basketball player.”
Born and raised in Japan, Yonekawa’s passion for sports originated with sports manga, particularly Tetsuya Chiba’s Ashita no Jô. The manga, known as Joe in English, is focused on the world of boxing, and highlights a prizefighter who challenges the world champion. “I received a lot of influence from this work, which is absolutely reflected in my style,” Yonekawa told us.
Another lasting influence of sport on Yonekawa’s work is the underdog mentality, the emotion that transpires when an athlete overcomes adversity. “I am attracted to the appearance of grabbing glory, while overcoming a dilemma, like Rocky Balboa challenging Apollo in Rocky and Alex Owens receiving an audition to the ballet team in Flashdance.”
When he wasn’t sailing or reading sports manga, Yonekawa was skateboarding. As he told us, “At that time, I was not very interested in the graphics of skateboarding, but I am really fascinated with those graphics now. I really like the graphics of Santa Cruz and Powell Peralta and I especially love the illustrations of Jim Phillips. I also love the free and unique graphic style from new skate brands such as Spectrum Skateboard.” Recently, Yonekawa created the graphics for the NYC-based company The Black Cat Skateboards.
One thing that’s evidenced throughout Yonekawa’s work is how he handles the body in motion. For many years, Yonekawa practiced weight training, which he credits with helping him draw different characters. As he told us, exercise is different for everybody, therefore, “a different individual body is created for each exercise.”