I recently came across a lot of questions on Anime and Manga Stack Exchange by this user who is the
curator of an exhibition on Easter Island in popular culture (http://www.moaiculture.com)
I helped him with an answer but then I too was interested in knowing why are there so many references drawn to this place. Similarly Sci-Fi Comics by Korean Authors frequently refer to Jeju Islands.
A bunch of it's appearances are listed here
My Question primarily are-
When did Easter Island start to become such a frequent participant in Japanese Comics? Are there any historical reasons for it?
Some of my research-
I have found that they appeared in European literature as paintings as early as 1775-1776 (could've been earlier but I have found no evidence of the latter so far). The painting was made by William Hodges who was one of the crew members of James Cook's Second Voyage to the Pacific Ocean.
Early European drawings particularly a 1770 Spanish Map also have these structures. The original manuscript maps of the Spanish expedition are in Naval Museum of Madrid and in The Jack Daulton Collection, USA.
These aim to suggest that European literature was the first one to incorporate the Islands but nowhere were there any mentions of it's early incorporating into Japanese Culture.
Some reasons for it being quite popular are
Easter Island is, geographically, very isolated from the rest of the world. Its remoteness has encouraged the myths. Also, many aspects of the island's history continue to be debated and theorised, allowing for alternative ideas to be proposed.
There is a popular myth that the moai are able to come alive: that they can walk, talk, see, and hear. The humanisation of the moai has been aided by mythical accounts that present the island as uninhabited and abandoned. The human-looking moai fill the gap that remains once the native population has been removed.
Another part of the extraordinary history of Easter Island, are the rongorongo inscriptions, of which only 26 tablets and artefacts exist since many were destroyed through war and fire. They are now scattered around the world's museums and archives, and nearly 150 years since their discovery they remain undeciphered. Considering that rongorongo is not widely known, comics depicting moai often weave the glyphs into the story, where they are discovered as an arcane language inscribed into architecture, at the base of the statues, or as tablets found around the island.