8
Jun 08

Comics: A Beginner’s Guide: Osamu Tezuka

The Brown Wedge6 comments • 694 views

Not exactly a style or genre, but this is one guy who is huge enough to need his own entry. In Japan he was called “the god of comics”, and his output and impact is unrivalled anywhere in the world. He produced over 150,000 pages in his life. There are lots of volumes translated into English by now (though only around a tenth of his total). He was a magnificent cartoonist, and his stories are profoundly humanist, even when he was writing about robots.

He’s best known internationally for Astro Boy, which he made into Japan’s first animated TV series (so he’s a giant figure in anime history too). This is aimed at a younger audience, but the inventiveness of the tales, their beautiful execution, and the strong exploration of ideas of what there is of worth in ideas of humanity makes them very enjoyable for adults too.

There are two tremendous, and big, graphic novels translated, and for once the term seems warranted: most comics so termed are at most a couple of hundred pages, and have nowhere near the depth of most novels. Ode To Kirihito is 800 pages long, a kind of medical adventure (Tezuka was a qualified doctor) with horror elements. It’s a work of extraordinary scope and ambition, and is totally gripping. MW is a dark tale of a serial killer.

He produced a fictitious life of the Buddha in eight volumes. I didn’t get to this too quickly, thinking a deadening reverence might render what was already unappealing subject matter (to a devout atheist) uninteresting, but it’s not at all like that. It’s full of his usual kind of inventiveness and wit, and has plenty of added characters, most of them wholly unrealistic, and surprising adventures.

Better still is his Phoenix series, available in 11 volumes. Apart from the odd story spanning two books, the stories are fairly distinct, with different characters in different historic and future eras, linked thematically by the mythical bird, and to a smaller extent by some characters cropping up more than once. This feels like the culmination of the life’s work of a towering genius, someone demonstrating all he knows of the comics form (which is just about everything) and everything he believes about life and the world and humanity. I think this stands as maybe the greatest achievement ever in comic books, and I highly recommend at least sampling it.

None of these are routinely available terribly cheaply, but he seems pretty well represented in libraries. Section on Tezuka on my Japanese Arts website.

Comments

  1. 1
    mike on 9 Jun 2008 #

    Point of info: the most recent album from Steve Hillage’s System 7 was inspired by the Phoenix series, at the suggestion of Tezuka’s daughter.

  2. 2
    Martin Skidmore on 9 Jun 2008 #

    Good grief, he’s still going? I did like the System 7 stuff I heard, long, long ago, much more than his earlier work.

  3. 3
    mike on 9 Jun 2008 #

    Yes, still going… and playing with Gong this coming weekend for the first time since 1975, as it happens.

  4. 4
    a logged out p^nk s lord sukråt wötsit on 9 Jun 2008 #

    why would he not “still be going”?

  5. 5
    Martin Skidmore on 9 Jun 2008 #

    haha, I don’t know – it’s just a long time since I heard that he was making music, so I kind of assumed, not that I’d given it any real thought, that he had retired.

  6. 6
    xyzzzz__ on 6 Aug 2011 #

    http://www.sadlerswells.com/show/Sidi-Larbi-Cherkaoui-TeZukA

    Was reading about Tezuka in connection w/the above.

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