What Was Alternative Manga? What Was Alternative Manga?

Emonogatari in the Age of Comics, 1948-1957

Kojima Gōseki, Assassin of the Ghost Fortress, Omoshiro Book (May 1956), furoku cover.

Staying with the jidaigeki genre, but jumping ahead a few years, let’s turn to Kojima Gōseki (1928-2000). You know him as the artist for famous '70s gekiga like Lone Wolf and Cub and Samurai Executioner. Before teaming up with Koike Kazuo, Kojima was best known for writing and drawing historical romances, mainly for girls, which he had been doing since around 1957. He was not known for his story-telling. He himself was proud only of his draftsmanship. He was lauded both for his naturalistic figures and attention to details of historical dress and coiffures. It was on that reputation that Shirato Sanpei hired Kojima to do the drawings for the first years of The Legend of Kamuy in Garo. In the mid-late '50s, Kojima created at least a couple of emanga, serialized as furoku inserts for major youth monthlies. The one sample I have on hand is titled Assassin of the Ghost Fortress (Onmitsu yūrei jō), from the May 1957 issue of Shūeisha’s Omoshiro Book. The magazine was founded in 1949 to capitalize on Yamakawa Sōji’s popularity.

Kojima Gōseki, Assassin of the Ghost Fortress, Omoshiro Book (May 1956).


The story of Kojima’s emanga, or at least what I have gathered from the single chapter I’ve read, is utterly conventional. There is a boy named Manjirō. He has discovered that he is the son of the shogun Yoshimune. The proof of his birth is an inrō (a lacquer ware tobacco case) designed with a flying dragon. On his way to Edo to claim his heritage, the inrō is stolen, first by a female assassin named Osen and then various other hooded swordsmen and ninja vying for the treasured heirloom. Manjirō has to fight them, as they fight each other, with swords and throwing blades. There are moralizing dialogues about loyalty, friendship, and commitment, straight out of an earlier era’s bildungsroman. The drawing is not inept, but at times gets very awkward, especially with foreshortening. It certainly pales in comparison to the Club-period pen illustrations from which it is derived. Corners are clearly being cut to adapt “illustration” to the multiple panels and publication pace of manga.

Kojima Gōseki, Assassin of the Ghost Fortress, Omoshiro Book (May 1956).

Kojima worked as a kamishibai artist from the late '40s to the mid '50s. One might argue the influence of that medium in an emanga like Ghost Fortress. The influence of manga, however, is much stronger, stronger than in Oka’s White Tiger Mask, concluded three years prior. There are now, for example, a large number of inscribed sound effects. Some of these are rendered poorly, with the interior guidelines accidentally drawn in, as if Kojima inked his pencil lines too quickly or worked directly in ink. There are a number of panels depicting focused details of trees and weapons, as well as a few with nothing but the sound and visual reverberations of physical impact. One rarely sees this in older emonogatari. I don’t believe it appears in Oka’s White Tiger Mask. The humor in Kojima’s emanga also seems derived from manga. In one panel, a swordsman and a boy find themselves suddenly face to face. The swordsman recognizes him, stating, “You are the boy from the last chapter” – the sort of easy reflexive joke Tezuka liked. There is a group of dopey buffoons, figures of comic relief typical in period movies but not (from what I’ve seen) in emonogatari. One runs about with a wood tub stuck over his head. His mates tease him by thumping – “pon pon” – on the top. Later, one of their gang follows the sightline of a swordsman – literally a dotted line stretching like a string in space – to end suddenly in the face of Manjirō’s pet monkey and a question mark. Emonogatari at this late stage seems to be losing its puffed-breasted seriousness, opening up to the laughter and self-referential gags of manga and the movies.

Kojima Gōseki, Assassin of the Ghost Fortress, Omoshiro Book (May 1956).



11 Responses to Emonogatari in the Age of Comics, 1948-1957

  1. Mizuki Shigeru (who as I’m sure you know also worked as a kamishibai illustrator), did a pretty much direct take on Jack Cole’s Plastic Man in the 50’s, along with some more generic looking superhero stuff:

    Early Hakaba no Kitarō looks pretty EC horror comics inflected as well, although I’m not sure if he’s made mention of this anywhere. But it would make sense if he was coming off a run of doing “American” style comics.

  2. Here are some scans of his “Plastic Man” pages. I’m sure someone more familiar with Cole’s work could point out the references:

    And I’m sure if an a Golden Age comics buff got a hold of the Rocketman Collection, they could spot all the riffs.

  3. Sorry, here are the Plastic Man pages.

  4. Dan Mazur says:

    Great article, thanks! What about Fukujiro Yokoi, whose “Fushigina Kuni No Putcha” from 1947 was reissued at some point? I bought a used copy on Amazon, and while and Helen McCarthy describe it as manga, it’s clearly far less comics-like than your examples of emonogatari. The Yokoi book is really text with illustrations (even though the illustrations are cartoony and use word balloons), while the examples in your article, though perhaps not exactly manga, are clearly a form of comics. Do you know the book? Would you include it in the category of emonogatari?

  5. ryanholmberg says:

    I had originally intended a closing section on Mizuki, but then decided to save it for another time. It’s a big topic and I first want to do some source-searching myself. As far as I know, his late 50s work was never labeled “emonogatari” despite the resemblance to things that were. In addition to horror and superhero stuff in his kashihon work, there’s also some Bugs Bunny and Heckle and Jeckle. In one, Bugs Bunny does some Plastic Man bendies.

    One of my mentors in Japan, Natsume Fusanosuke, spotted a direct swipe after browsing Greg Sadowski’s horror collection.
    I have been ordering reprints like mad for the university in Tokyo (Gakushuin) where Natsume teaches, and where I am now stationed, with the hope that more of these sightings will occur. It’s the kind of research that depends on serendipity, and the more eyes on the material the better.

  6. I figured he must have seen American horror comics, but I didn’t know he was swiping panels/character designs. That’s great. The liberalness of his influences is probably what made much of his work standout from his peers, fixated as they were on Tezuka. Where else could you find someone synthesizing Bob Powell and Kawanabe Kyōsai?

    Columbia University has a copy of the Rocketman collection, if you can find someone with more knowledge of Golden Age comics to take a look at it.

    Look forward to your piece on Mizuki. Do you plan on discussing his relationship with Tsuge?

  7. David Simpson says:

    The drawings of Tarzan by Toyoda Minoru in Here Comes Shonen Tarzan look to me as if they were inspired by Morgyn The Mighty as drawn by Dudley D Watkins, who appeared both in illustrated text form and in comic strips published by Scottish publisher D C Thomson.

    The first few illustrations at show the resemblance I’m thinkling of.

    You can easily find more by Googling Morgyn The Mighty.

    If you want to contact people far more knowledgeable about Scottish comics than I am, go to where you can register, then post queries to any of the discussion boards

  8. ryanholmberg says:

    Thanks for this. You’re right. The resemblance is strong. From what I gather online, Morgyn the Mighty was in The Rover in the 1950s, so imagine if Toyoda Minoru had seen the title, it would have been there. Which would mean that British comics were also making their way into Japan.

    After a writing this piece, I started reading more emonogatari of this type. It seems this particular sort of Tarzan-type Toyoda was working with had already been established by someone named Abe Wasuke, who was a disciple of Yamakawa Soji, and also one of the original designers of Godzilla. Not Tarzan, but on Abe and emonogatari, if you read Japanese, see here:
    and here:

  9. ryanholmberg says:

    Just looking at it, I would call “Putcha” emonogatari, because of the alternation of image and text, regardless of the drawing style. However, looking in the reprint edition I have, come chapter six, Yokoi begins to put “serial manga” (“rensai manga”) in the title panel. Which suggests, I suppose, that drawing style more than layout or image-text balance signified manga versus emonogatari. But then in chapter nineteen, he changes it to “serial manga narrative” (“rensai manga monogatari”). When the “Fushigina” series ends, and the “Bokenji Putcha” begins, he keeps this “serial manga monogatari” label. I imagine this means he thought of the work as both manga and emonogatari, something in between the two. Throughout, however, despite this changing labeling, the style of the work has remained essentially the same. He’s hunting for a proper name and it seems he settled on “manga monogatari.” I guess this “manga monogatari” would be the inverse — cartoon drawing in emonogatari format — of the “emanga” I was talking about — illustrational drawing in manga / comics format.

    Thanks for drawing my attention to this. Clearly something that needs to be factored in.

  10. I am loving these articles, and I hope they will eventually be reprinted in a book format. I’ve briefly touched on this period myself in the ongoing articles for the new edition of the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction, particularly:

    Considering that Komatsuzaki drew for a magazine that billed itself as “E-Monogatari”, I would say that that was as good a term as any in Japanese for the type of material he produced.

  11. Joe McCulloch says:

    Hello from the future! Who would suspect that in 2015, Sōji Yamakawa’s early ’50s work Shōnen Kenya would be available in (Japanese-only) digital format? It was serialized in a newspaper, and looks to adhere to a very traditional emonogatari format. Oops, looks like the robots have topped off the electrogas in my hovercar – see you soon!

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