Two years ago (and more) there was a site, started by Bob Holt (a friend of mine), whose stated goal was to “write about good comics”. Like many online projects, even with the best intentions there wasn’t quite enough oomph to keep the site going, and Comicsnob.com faded into black a year ago.
Bob did one thing that would assure his name would be remembered: He conned me into contributing to Comicsnob. Even as his own interests wandered, I was there, reviewing manga—and posting the first proto-charts that eventually ballooned into the monster spreadsheet I use today to track online graphic novel sales (including the manga) and by the time he willingly let the domain slip away to spammers (and I kick myself at least once a month because there was a six-week window when I could have snatched the domain name myself) I had already moved on to my own blog and domain, and even geekier versions of the manga rankings.
Six of these columns were written for Comicsnob.com, as part of my regular column 5by8. I’m including this original attribution, even though the ‘snob no longer exists, because Bob is still a friend of mine and I’m proud of the site the two of us managed to put together—and because I hope at least a few of you remember the original posts (now two years old, but not forgotten). I’ve done some edits and updates for this new presentation, which is only fitting, but I’d like to raise a glass and pour a little malt liquor for my first ‘professional’ gig:
Resquiat in Pace, Comicsnob.com.
From the ashes is born the new phoenix, of course, and I soldier on with my own site and form new relationships—and even in the span of two years, there are newly-coined fans (and those who missed the first post) who can benefit from this research, and who might be interested in the history of the hobby.
This is the first in a seven-part series on the development of American fandom—to the point where today we use the term otaku, we know what it means, we know it’s not complimentary, and we still describe ourselves as otaku anyway.
The Seven Ages of Fan Part I: That Guy Tezuka
Of course, those of the modern generation of fans bear little resemblance to myself (broke, alcoholic, 36 y.o. otaku fanboy loser… hm. actually, I think I’ll put that on a t-shirt) just as the fans of my ilk (which we’ll likely refer to as the Robotech generation in some future post; I was 11 during Robotech’s first run) bear little resemblance to our forebears, the brave pioneers who got hooked on Astro Boy, or Speed Racer, or Battle of the Planets, or Star Blazers, or… well I suppose this is why I am writing up this mess as an ongoing feature.
But as our first column on this topic we won’t yet be looking at these American shores, but rather across the Pacific and back through time, past even Astro Boy, to the dark and dismal days right after the giant buzzkill known as World War II and more importantly back to the dark ages before manga. Back to 1947.
Manga, as a word, predates 1947 by at at least 150 years. Translation is always a tricky science, but the definition I most often see for manga, particularly in regard to the earliest efforts, is ‘whimsical pictures’ ...or dare I say, [*cough*] comics, if one cares to scratch even a millimeter into the etymology of that equivalent English term.
However, 1947 is the date I cite as the origin of manga because of that guy Tezuka and his book Shin Takarajima, most often translated as ‘New Treasure Island’.
New Treasure Island was a cheap one-off targeted to kids, sold not through bookstores, but rather through toy stores. It was an akahon (a ‘red book,’ so named from the garish red ink used on the covers) printed on cheap recycled newsprint rather than the more expensive rice paper used for the ‘real’ comics of the day.
Here’s the thing: as a cheap one-off, it was free from a lot of editorial oversight, so Tezuka could tell the story he wanted. (Then as now, some publishers and editors seem certain that they know better than anyone else what is salable.) Additionally, at roughly 200 pages, it offered the kids some real value for thier lunch money. (also as opposed to the other manga of the day). And even though it was cheaply printed, it was expertly [for the time] done.
Are there other Japanese comics that predate Tezuka? Yes.
Are there manga—that is, extended storylines—that predate Tezuka? Yes.
Were there other artists with cinematic sensibilities making comics in Japan, even as far back as when Osamu was a kid? Well, yeah, actually there were.
Did any of those turkeys sell a million copies?
Now ya see, this is were the deification and installation of Tezuka at the head of the manga-ka pantheon really begins to get some traction. New Treasure Island sold 400,000 copies during it’s first print run, and I’ve seen uncorroborated but plausible sources that indicate that they sold twice that many in subsequent reprints. (over 60 years, in reprints… I’d bet it’s sold two million, easy)
Let me backtrack a half step, and go back to ‘Cinematic sensibilties’. Osamu Tezuka was a movie fan going way back; (if internet sources are to be believed) due to a connection of his father’s, he used to watch movie reels all the time, including Disney and Fleischer Cartoons. Whatever the provenance, it’s hard to argue with the printed record: Tezuka’s work certainly reflects a debt both to the cinematic arts and to western-style animation of the 30s and 40s. We can note the use of a ‘camera’ perspective; with pans and close-ups, panels unfolding in ‘slo-mo’, and a rather definite break with the proscenium arch utilized in so many comics up to this point.
What else can we blame on Tezuka?
Big Eyes. Yep, that was him. Though as I noted in 5by8 #1 [my very first original opinion posted to the web, for those of you following along at home], he borrowed that from American cartoons, so it’s always interesting to hear Americans complain about manga, but not Mickey.
There’s gender-swapping characters, from Metropolis (1949). Someone else may have thought of it, but I think this is the first manga instance in print.
And parallel to this, shonen (or seinen) comics were of course developing: the appearance in 1959 of the two weekly children’s manga magazines, Shonen Magazine and Shonen Sunday, served to firmly establish the sort of manga culture we’re all used to. Just as most manga are serialized today, anthology magazines like these are where they were first printed.
In the meantime, we should note the women comickers of the magnificent 24s (from the 24th year of the Showa Era, alternately known in English as the fabulous 49ers) were just starting to grow up and read comics; as well as the genesis of the first ‘manga’ generation, those lucky fanboys born in 1950. I’m sure we’ll touch on both of these later.
All this is about Japanese comics and fans, though: ‘63 is the date of note for American audiences, and Astro Boy on American TV is where we’ll pick up the column next week.
Further reading and references:Wikipedia: Manga
Matt Thorn—Mangagaku: A History of Manga
Web Japan: Manga
Paul Gravett: Manga
Global License: Manga
Kyoto Manga Museum
wagging the dog
Matt Thorn (see also, as noted above, here) was kind enough to comment on this post at Comicsnob.com, and since his comments added so much to the original post, I politely requested if I could copy said comments here.
Matt is a good guy, he said yes.
Comment from Matt Thorn
March 29, 2007, 9:57 am
A few corrections, if I may.
TAGAWA Suihou’s Norakuro (”Stray Black”), which was serialized from 1931 till 1941 in the boy’s magazine Shounen Club, sold far more copies in its various manifestations than all of Tezuka’s akahon combined, and even in 1950, when Tezuka made the move from the less-than-respectable akahon to the respectable Tokyo-based children’s magazines, Tagawa and his character were far better known in Japan than Tezuka and anything he had made until that date.
“Expertly done”? Well, that’s a subjective matter, but Tezuka never allowed the original version of New Treasure Island to be reprinted. The version included in the Complete Works series is one he drastically redrew many years later. If you want a better idea of Tezuka’s technical skill at the time, find the reproductions of such works as Chiteikoku no kaijin (”The Mystery Men from Beneath the Earth”). His work was crude, and didn’t hold a candle to that of such prewar artists as Tagawa and two of my own favorites, OHSHIRO Noboru and MATSUMOTO Katsuji.
[I had stated that “in 1950, there was Jungle Taitei (aka Kimba), which was the first long-running serial. Today most of what we call manga are serialized in chapters, running for months or years.”—Thorn corrects me below, and following that I’ve removed the comment from the post above.]
Jungle Taitei (”Kimba the White Lion”) was not the first extended serial. Even before Norakuro, mentioned above, there were plenty of hugely popular serials, such as MIYAO Shigeo’s Manga Taroh (1912) and KABASHIMA Shoh-ichi & ODA Shohsei’s Shoh-chan no bouken (”The Adventures of Shoh-chan,” 1923). Even if you limit your definition to long manga with a clear beginning, middle and end (as opposed to episodes that go on and on with no clear end in sight), Ohshiro had the jump on Tezuka by at least ten years, with such works as Kasei Tanken (”Mars Exploration”) and Kisha Ryokou (”A Train Journey”).
[and again, I had asserted “In 1954, Princess Knight, the first Shoujo manga—from Tezamu, and presumably ever (at least according to wiki)—premeired.” I was wrong again.]
First shoujo manga? Nope. Shoujo manga had been around since the late 1920s. In 1934 Matsumoto had done a wonderful “graphic novella” (Nazo no Clover, “The Mysterious Clover”) that was a variation on the Scarlet Pimpernel scenario, in which the protagonist was a young girl. I strongly suspect that Clover was the model for Tezuka’s Sapphire, though I have no evidence beyond superficial resemblance. Matsumoto had another popular shoujo manga serial, the adorable and still-funny-today Kurukuru Kurumi-chan (1938)
The Wikipedia English-language articles about any aspect of manga history, particularly shoujo manga, are wildly wrong, and should be taken with a hefty grain of salt.
My own explanation for Tezuka’s “god” status is that he was the first manga artist to infuse his stories with serious themes that left a lasting impression on readers. What old-school manga artists and editors found shocking about his work was precisely that they were moving and dramatic, were reluctant to draw simplistic distiinctions between good and evil, and did not always have happy endings in which good triumphed over evil. When a very young Tezuka showed New Treasure Island to the famous elder cartoonist SHIMADA Keizoh, Shimada was horrified. “It’s your right to make this sort of thing,” he said, “but I hope it doesn’t catch on.” Of course, it caught on big time, and kids who grew up reading Tezuka, unlike children before them, became hooked on manga and continued to read them well beyond the age when they were expected to “put away childish things.” It was the themes–serious themes about the human condition–that made him a god, not his technical skill or innovation.
Finally, I’m pretty sure I was the one to originally identify the first “manga generation” as being born after 1950, my rationale being that they were the first to grow up reading weekly, rather than monthly, children’s magazines. (To my knowledge, no Japanese manga historian had ever made that clear connection between the first manga generation and the rise of the weekly format.) You can read the original and widely-plagiarized article in which I first made that assertion (publicly, in English) here:
Comment from Matt Blind
March 29, 2007, 2:47 pm
You are, in fact, my source for the phrase “manga generation” and I had planned to cite and or quote your article when referencing those individuals in later columns. (If I get back to Japan—My thought is to focus more on North Amercian fandom, but the series needed to start somewhere.)
Being a lazy blogger, my primary source for quite a few of Tezuka’s “landmarks” was wikipedia; of course I did other reading (as much as one can, on the internet) but fell back on their dates and conclusions.
Obviously, trusting wiki has many problems, and I appreciate the corrections.
I’d refer all our readers to Matt Thorn’s site: while I was merely trying to fill a thousand-word opinion column, he has experience in the field and tackles the issue at hand with more academic rigor (as is evidenced in his comments here). That, and he was one of the sources I’ve read, if not this week for the column, then certainly within the past year. I should have included a link—yet another oversight I’m glad he corrected.
Comment from Matt Thorn
March 29, 2007, 7:24 pm
Thanks, Matt. And please call me Matt. (;) Looking forward to your next column.
About the Author
Matt Blind is a bookseller: that’s his day job, working as an asst. manager at a far-flung outpost of one of the big box chains. He is also a big fan of manga, has been a blogger of one stripe or another since aught-four, drinks too much, and remembers enough discrete math from his classes at Georgia Tech to construct the truly frightening spreadsheet that spits out manga rankings.
Matt maintains his own site at RocketBomber.com where he occasionally posts manga reviews, book retail & publishing news, and commentary on fandom in general—but mostly wastes his time (and yours) with posts on the ever-changing variations and derivatives of the bestseller charts.
When dressed in his ‘civilian’ login, Matt is known as Anime Vice user rocketbomber—so when ‘rocketbomber’ comments below on how excellent this post is, take it with a grain of salt.