Story: Liz Ohanesian
Photos: Shannon Cottrell
Shojono Tomo tells a good story. Her whimsical, funny tales have appeared in animated shorts, comics, video games, even in drawings that appear on clothing and accessories. The Japanese artist sees beauty in the ordinary, humor in the mundane. She finds her muse in “everyday items and everyday life.” However, the day-to-day world is anything but boring when it’s been touched by Tomo. She once made a video game about a boy and girl whose Valentine’s Day disappointments turned them into zombies. Only if they fell in love with each other could the two return to human form. She also created a cartoon called Fami-less, about a family run diner. The twist is that the mom is a former pro-wrestler.
Her most recent story takes shape in the form of a collaboration with L.A.-based jewelry designer Onch of Onch Movement. The two created a line of necklaces and plush toys based off of their own interpretation of Snow White. Tomo and Onch’s version of the tale takes place in the Pretzel Kingdom, so named for the jewelry designer’s trademark double-twist pretzel necklaces. It involves a witch whose quest to land a prince leads her to transform into the temporarily-doomed Snow White.
Tomo’s penchant for storytelling extends far beyond her art. When we met at Royal/T in Culver City, where she was preparing to debut the Onch Movement collaboration, she recalled anecdotes from her youth with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a young girl, where everyday surroundings seem much larger, much more colorful, then they actually are. It’s fitting that her name translates to “friend of little girls.”
We chatted primarily through an interpreter, although Tomo would occasionally switch from Japanese to English while answering questions. She told us about a “bad trauma” from her childhood, involving a large dog. Tomo grew up primarily in Yamanashi Prefecture, the home of Mount Fuji, in the countryside, where people had cows and planted carrots. There was a man in the neighborhood who wasn’t exactly friendly. Neither were his dogs, apparently, as all five of them ran loose through the roads. Tomo still remembers the name of one the of the dogs, Mary, and how the creature scared her as a young girl. One day, she recalls, Mary’s eyes just “popped out” and the dog died. She likens the image to one of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s Rat Fink designs.
Tomo’s been making art since childhood. She says that her first project was when she emptied out someone else’s drawers and filled them with dirt and flowers. That youthful, rambunctious spirit remains, although, these days, she’s best known for her work in fashion. Her t-shirts, leggings and handbags turn up on the most fashionable girls in Tokyo. Nicki Minaj is a fan too, so much so that she name-checked the artist in Ester Dean’s song “Gimme Money.”
She makes clothing that functions as conceptual art too. Her project, Skinship Barney, consists of shirts worn by two people. Tomo and Onch collaborated on one of these pieces after an epic crafting session in Los Angeles last year. Tomo says that the project was inspired by her relationship with her parents. Onch later adds that the idea is “two people sharing the same skin and loving each other.”