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Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The Case of New Treasure Island

It is not uncommon to read descriptions of New Treasure Island as done in a “Disney style” or generally in an American style. What this means is not always clear, but those terms are generally attached to the characters’ four fingers or to the rounded line work. It is likewise acknowledged that the Long John Silver character Bowarl was inspired by Black Pete, but Black Pete from which Disney product specifically no one has cared to explore. For such a famous manga, New Treasure Island is astoundingly under-studied. Some have argued that the manga’s framing and paneling techniques grew out of cinematic devices in prewar manga, but here too discourse is general and – given how completely unlike New Treasure Island is to anything else before it – rather unconvincing. Its art history only really begins to come together once specific sources are identified, but not even concrete comparisons with Disney animation exist.

A “Disney style” manga about Treasure Island: if American comic books were not so invisible to those who write on manga, someone would have put one and one together a long time ago. If general similarity between the covers of Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold and Tezuka and Sakai’s book only hints that maybe there is more to the shared treasure hunt motif, then the back cover of the Dell One Shot suggests strongly that this X does mark the spot, for almost the same map appears in the hands of the Japanese ship captain at the beginning of New Treasure Island.

 

If that does not convince, then how about the detail of the Skeleton Tree, there on the Pirate Gold treasure map and appearing again inside as the final signpost in Donald’s treasure hunt. He reads from the cut-out portion of the map tattooed on Yellow Beak’s chest, “Yuh sight through the left eye of that skull, see two crossed bones and there’s the treasure!” No one reads instructions off of anyone’s body in New Treasure Island, but they do find a Skeleton Tree and use it, by looking through the skull mounted on its upper reaches, to locate the cave in which the treasure is supposed to have been buried. No Skeleton Tree appears in the original Stevenson novel; Sakai and Tezuka transplanted it from Disney’s Pirate Gold.

 

And then, less convincing singly, but believable once lined up together, are the following.

 

 

Disney-school “squashing” has been lessened, but the basic form of humor is the same.

 

 

An attempt to mimic Disney-style caricature in expression, though the result is less explosive. Tezuka would master this in the years to come, particularly after the late 40s. His “Disney style” is often described in terms of how he drew characters, but over-the-top expression and a certain variety of slapstick was just as important a part of his American inheritance.

Furthermore, Sakai and Tezuka seem to have mined Pirate Gold for how to stage unfamiliar actions.

 

 

As for characters, it appears that the Japanese artists were attracted primarily to Pirate Gold’s two stars, most obviously Black Pete. None of his colleagues match the drama of his expressions, the momentum of his movements, or his sheer physical presence. His fat belly and scruffy unshaved mug swallow entire panels whole. It is clear that the Bowarl character in the Tezuka “star system” originally came from this particular Black Pete. The artists even thought enough to preserve his name, entrusting it to another character, the kid protagonist Pete.

 

 

Donald Duck also caught their eye. As noted above, his gestures are mimicked when Bowarl opens the chest. The ship captain dresses and sometimes moves just like Donald. His sailor’s jacket, with its buttons and sleeve stripes, as well as his bowtie, have been taken from the duck. His eyes are shaped in similar high-arching lines. And now his hands and gestures of surprise and anticipation, as well as his look of consternation, begin to look like the duck’s. Tezuka might be remembered for the stiff poses and expressions of limited animation, but in his manga he was fully immersed in Disney’s character animation, at least as earlier as New Treasure Island.

 

 

The entire sequence in which Pete first shows the map to his uncle appears to be modeled on the tavern scene at the beginning of Pirate Gold, with the peering of Black Pete in through the window, the sudden guest at the door, and then the scheming Black Pete outside. One can see the resemblance in the eyes and the tilt of the face, and then in another panel the way the arms are crossed. Moreover, each occurs at the same point in their respective stories.

 

 

How to dramatize the pirate takeover seems also to have been learned from Barks and Hannah.

 

 

There are a few other panels for which one could argue a connection, but the above handful is the strongest. They do not make for a case of heavy-handed copying; Sakai and Tezuka have integrated these motifs and compositions into something truly distinctive. Still the debt is not trivial. In fact, if one pulls back a little, I think an even more fundamental relation comes into view.

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2 Responses to Manga Finds Pirate Gold: The Case of New Treasure Island

  1. Pingback: MangaBlog — Let’s read manga!

  2. KUMI Kaoru says:

    I’m impressed with your insightful argument. Why not try to write a book on this subject? When you decide to do it, e-mail me. — a Japanese translator/anime historian.

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