What Was Alternative Manga? What Was Alternative Manga?

Emonogatari in the Age of Comics, 1948-1957

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (June 1957), furoku cover.

The comics world to which Kojima was making concessions is on full display in other emanga from the same period. There is a curious habit of publishers in this period to continue using the name “emonogatari” for works that would be unhesitatingly called “comics” a few years later, or in a different country. The heavier use of text, the shaped panels, and the naturalistic drawings clearly marked them as something other than “manga.” It was also for this reason that both American comics in translation and direct Japanese adaptations of American comics were called “emonogatari” rather than “manga.” When Durango Kid, for example, was translated for Manga King in 1953, it was titled an “emonogatari.” The same seems to have been common at least for other Westerns, and I imagine it was so for other categories of comics, probably excepting those of the Disney, Popeye, and cartoon-derived variety. The name was also applied to what might be called “ten-cent manga.”

Let’s look at two examples. The original emonogatari hero, Tarzan, popularized by Yamakawa Sōji during the Occupation, also appeared in mid 50s emanga. I have two issues of Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan (Shōnen taazan wa yuku), a furoku serial for Shōnen Gahō in 1957. It is a real treat. The writer, Yamada Akamaro, I only know that he wrote a book about the Sōka Gakkai in 1965. Toyoda Minoru, the artist, illustrated kashihon covers and a number of other emonogatari. The cover of Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan names the Kobe Daimaru Department Store as sponsor, and a radio version on Radio Kobe. It’s a testament to Yamakawa’s popularity in the early postwar years that a Tarzan story could still get such support in the late 50s, even if only in a middle-sized city like Kobe. On the booklet’s spine, it reads “thrilling emonogatari” (“tsūkai emonogatari”).

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (June 1957).

This Tarzan, in addition to being able to talk to the animals, carries a diamond ring and a mirror that tell him useful things and show him places far in space and time. He is accompanied by a Japanese-looking shōnen named (like in the original Tarzan stories) simply Boy. In the chapters I have, Tarzan and Boy are in the Himalayas, chasing two tomb raider-types named Map and Popo looking for an icon of gold. It is buried somewhere in the mountain-top “Land of Labyrinth,” where people (the Labi tribe) live in holes in the ground. Tarzan and his entourage go through the usual hassles with the natives (who look like your stereotypical African natives, despite this being “India”) before coming up against an even larger trouble: the Gonmos. He turns out to be a King Kong. By August 1957, Tarzan has not yet figured out how to subdue him. “I’ll dig a hole in his brain,” he says while straddling the Gonmos’ neck, pulling his dagger, “that’s the only way to kill him.” But then gets tossed to the ground.

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (August 1957).

None of this has any recognizable Japanese features. Until it turns out that the Gonmos is related to Godzilla. “Because of hydrogen bomb tests, radioactive snow has fallen on the top of the Himalayas. This is what has driven the Gonmos down from his mountain home,” explains a safari-suited white man to turbaned concerned locals. “We must tell the world to put a stop to testing.” The air force (the pilots are white but the planes have the Indian national flag on their side) is called out to stop the Gonmos, but fails. Some are foiled by the Kong’s breathing fire. Others are smashed with his fist.

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (June 1957).

If anyone has thoughts about Toyoda’s stylistic influences here, please share. To me, it almost looks like a less busy version of post-Weirdo R. Crumb, but of course that’s decades later. They look somewhat like Moe Gollub’s covers for Dell Comics in 1949 – which seems a plausible influence at least given the year – but the modeling, musculature, and facial features are quite different. At any rate, this is not a style that I’ve seen elsewhere in fifties manga or emonogatari. There are other fat-bodied figures (like those by Yoshida Tatsuo), but none done with the same roundness or the same stubbly touch. Some of the motifs seem straight from the Hal Foster-era strips, like the natives’ cat-skin headdress and claw necklace. Again, any thoughts on the story and art would be most welcome. It’s entirely possible that this is an original rendition of the standard motif of Tarzan and Boy’s adventures in lost civilizations against violent native populations and ape-man beasts. But I’d be curious to know what comes from where, and potentially what Tarzan comics or stories Yamada and Toyoda had on hand. I haven’t had the chance to go through the originals myself.



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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