Mild mannered desk jockey.
Possessed abilities no one else had. Saved lives in ways we may never know. When people saw his name there was a strange symbol indicating something was different about him. He could be found in comics, on TV, and on the big screen. He was the hero of his nation. He was a god.
Who was this hero in disguise–this very gifted man?
Osamu Tezuka: The Manga God.
That’s not something we’re accustomed to hearing from Tezuka, but he was referring to post WWII Japan and his introduction to Superman comics. A lot of us don’t think about Japan during those years. I heard one person in an interview talk about how the artists and writers of Manga seem to do so well describing or dwelling in post-apocalyptic worlds and the reason for that is they’ve seen it, and lived in it. They’ve had the bomb dropped on them and their world destroyed, then had to rebuild. It’s not fiction for them.
But out of that world came Manga as we know it. It was a time when movies were not really being made in Japan because there couldn’t be. The country was devastated. Tezuka doesn’t talk about any problems with the American soldiers in occupied Japan, in fact he credits one with his becoming a Manga artist as a career.
“One day, completely in my own style, I was playing Mozart’s Turkish March. All of a sudden a Black soldier entered the room. There was nothing really strange about an American soldier being at the YMCA. He took a sheet of music from the piano, and once I was finished playing began to sing in tenor.
It was something that I had heard before. It was a march. Eventually I realized that it was the aria “This Butterfly Shall Fly No More” from The Marriage of Figaro. To a Mozart piece, he had responded with a Mozart aria. He was a great opera fan, this intellectual Black soldier named Joe. . .
One day, after learning that I liked cartoons when I drew a quick caricature portrait of him, he brought me a mountain of American comic books. It was like the heavens opened and rained manna. There were absolutely no manga materials around at the time. I read through them like a worm, was overjoyed, and copied them obsessively. . .
My friendship with him might have been short, but it became the reason I decided to become a manga artist.”~Osamu Tezuka in an essay on Mozart.
Tezuka was more complex and more talented than people give him credit for. A peace loving man, an earth loving man, and animal loving man. His works had themes of saving worlds on the world itself levels. In the video that he was working on when he passed away and was completed afterwards. The Tale of Osamu Tezuka which shows a version of his life along with his My Son Goku story he had wanted to do for so many years.
But let’s get on to the Manga books. I want to see what art I find. I want to share the lesser known pieces I can find. He’s not just Astro Boy, Princess Knight, and Black Jack. He’s much more than that.
As you look at the images to follow there are things to keep in mind.
- Manga is read from right to left, including pages. That means to look at the right page first and the right panels first.
- Covers of Manga are in color while interiors are normally in black and white. Some might be different lately, and Manhua, Chinese Manga often is color inside.
This is Diary of Ma-Chan from 1946, when Tezuka was 17. Welcome to Tezuka’s first work. Well professionally speaking. Notice how it looks just like anything else you might see anywhere in the world. Not a Manga style we know of anywhere, although this is Manga. Manga isn’t a style like we think of it, it’s Japanese comics. Like Manhua is Chinese comics.
Now I want to show you a 1948 piece called The Mysterious Underground Men. Now this is after the influx of comics through the U.S. soldiers, mostly Disney type books. In the fist I want you to notice the eyes. We’re getting the pie eyed look as it is called, much like Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop. Tezuka has noted he was a fan of Walt Disney and Max Fleischer.
Many critics, mostly younger ones it seems, refer to Tezuka as being a children’s cartoony Manga guy. I think the above shows he could draw anything, he simply drew what he liked. If he had been a huge fan of Superman, would Manga be what it is today?
At the same time he came up with Astro Boy he also came up with The Adventures of Rock, about a planet that had been in the same orbit as earth on the other side of the sun but had now slowed down and eventually became a moon of earth. A boy, the owner of it after his dad the discoverer of it dies, goes to check it out. Notice the eyes, the hands and all. Tezuka has fully developed that early Manga look. This is 1952.
Moving along to 1958 we come to Dr. Thrill. It really should have been called Kenta something or other. Dr. Thrill is, well a doctor, but his name is Shunsaku Ban and his son is Kenta. They end up in a lot of adventures with Kenta’s brain saving them most of the time. Basically Tezuka was hired to create a Manga to go up against a competitor of a magazine for the new young men audience, and he did it.
Compare this interior work to that of Diary of Ma-chan 12 years earlier and you see Tezuka’s cinematic approach being realized. It had already begun in Astro Boy but I like seeing it for a normal, non-powered, person scene.
Now for the transition moment for Tezuka. Swallowing the Earth (1968) has Tezuka moving from the child oriented art and storytelling to more adult content. It’s 20 years after WWII and a young man is sent on a mission to find a mystery woman. He finds her and discovers her secret. Luckily for the world, this young drunk is the only man on earth that can resist the allures used against him. Tezuka felt he was being left behind, perhaps, and this was his answer to some of the others coming out with more adult themed books. Or at least his first attempt. It rambles here and there a bit but that’s because he didn’t know if it was going to be a short series or ongoing so he experimented as he went along.
Check out the art in this shot. Can you image going along reading a Manga with art that was still somewhat cartoon like at times then turning the page and seeing the below shot? I would have spent hours looking the detail.
Giving a different taste of Tezuka is Apollo’s Song (1970) which has a man who is sentenced by Athena to live and die over and over until he knows what love is. Tezuka takes the character through many different genre throughout the series. It sounds like a great ride. One reason I included this is because we see Tezuka’s moving from the more child centered works to those appealing to older people. I found this story interesting in concept.
Now for Barbara (1973). I’ll just tell you, this one is a trip. A writer with some serious sex issues hooks up with a possible goddess and then things get really weird with the occult and some serious stuff. You kind of wonder what he was reading or watching or listening to during this period, first Athena in Apollo’s Song now a Muse?
Perhaps his most sexually charged book I just had to wonder what was going through his mind. Yes, he was inspired by some opera for this one but he had to come up with the story and images. He did go through a dark period where some things got a bit strange. He mentions this in a documentary. Perhaps this was during that period. But I thought it interesting to see Astro Boy twisted and gone awry.One of Tezuka’s medical dramas, and perhaps his most personal, combines fiction and non-fiction about his great-great grandfather, who was the first Army Doctor for Japan, was called A Tree in the Sun (1981-86) was among the last series of his life, he passed away in 1989. I include it for that reason, but also to show a bit of his ancestry, a very long line of doctors, apparently. The detail is great, and the depth of the tale of two totally opposite men and how their stories are woven together seem to make for a great story. I’ll mention two more. We’ve traveled chronologically so far. In part this was to show his art style and storytelling progression. Also you see Tezuka does what he likes along with what is marketable. He pushes himself outside of those comfort zones to improve his abilities. He is a perfect example of an artist/writer. Never be satisfied, always push onward to be better.
First I want to share Princess Knight (1953-56). It was remade in the 1960s. I know you’ve likely heard of it. A princess with the heart of a boy and a heart of a girl. Think about this for a moment. You have a princess born in a land that where the throne can only be inherited by a male. Your parents make you pretend to be a boy to deceive everyone to keep the land out of the hands of the bad guys. You meet a boy you like who thinks you are a boy. It’s looked at as kind of a gender identity book. Where did he come up with this? As a youth he lived next door to members of an all-female theater troupe. All parts were played by men and he often went to see the plays.
Some slam the book who like to see others attempt to use it as a transgender book and point to lesbianism and how it is not a true book about any of that and look at it as a fraud. I don’t think people know what transgender means. In the immortal words of a wise man. “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Now for Phoenix. It begins with in 1954-55. This was Tezuka’s life long work. it didn’t just span this time frame. There were chapters of sorts of Egypt, Greece, Rome. It lasted until 1989, the year of his passing. The series jumps back and forth through time and genres utilizing at times some of Tezuka’s Star System, his popular characters. Some see the progression of the book moving from the past to the future as slowly closing on on the present. but we will never know what his plans were. Below you have the first volume, Dawn, interior art from in 1967. Although he worked on the series in the 1950s this was his first successful go at an actual series. The next image is the final volume called Sun in 1986-1988.
You see the advancement in his art work, but also in his panel layouts. In the first one he breaks the borders, which I like. A little humor there with it all. Then in the second with the slicing of the sward you have the slashing edged panels that add to the imagery.
I love this image from the volume 2, Future, from 1967-1968. Why? Tezuka was a friend of a man known as Moebius. The French comic book artist. I meant to say THE French comic book artist. (The two met in 1982 at an international comic art festival in France.) He did a comic based on a story by Dan O’Bannon written while waiting for the failed attempt at an early 1970s Dune movie. The story ended up as The Long Tomorrow. Look at the second image.
I think there was some influences of sorts. Moebius was a science fiction genius. So there might not be any connection. But artists inspire other artists. But if you look at this scene from Moebius, you see where Ridley Scott got his inspiration for the visuals of the movie Blade Runner with Harrison Ford.
I wish I had the time to draw versions of the images in this article for you but that didn’t happen. Maybe another time.
There are over 700 series that Osamu Tezuka did. This does not include his anime. The following is a somewhat dramatized version of Tezuka’s childhood and then his anime My Son-Goku he was working on when he passed.
When he was passing away we can understand why his final words were those I will leave you with. As they are words I often would like to say to people I know.
“I’m begging you… let me work.”
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