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Tezuka Osamu Outwits the Phantom Blot: The Case of New Treasure Island cont’d

If you don’t read Japanese, or if you haven’t read Japanese-language histories of manga, then you have only an inkling of just how high a pedestal the first two pages of New Treasure Island (Shin takarajima, 1946-47) have been placed upon. It reaches to the stars.

Sakai Shichima and Tezuka Osamu, New Treasure Island (1946-47).

This is in large part due to good publicity. Tezuka’s acolytes, many of whom themselves are demigods in the manga pantheon, have sung paeans to this spread. Frequently reproduced is the scene in Abiko Motō’s autobiographical Manga Road (Manga michi, 1970-72) showing he and Fujimoto Hiroshi (the other half of the Fujiko Fujio duo) when they first read New Treasure Island in 1947 after swiping it from a local shop (translations rough here and throughout).

Abiko Motō, Manga Road (1970-72), showing first contact with New Treasure Island.

New Treasure Island . . . the title’s in English!! Too cool! Tezuka Osamushi . . . Osamushi . . . What a strange name . . . The two boys opened the book that they had taken without asking, and received an awesome shock!!

Stunned, eyes riveted, their faces aglow, and beads of cold sweat trickling down their brows, you would think they had witnessed a nuclear bomb test. Abiko subsequently explains that his and Fujimoto’s first step as cartoonists entailed copying the entire book, all one-hundred-and-ninety pages of it.

In the prose version of Abiko’s autobiography (1975-76), the event was recounted like this.

I will never forget when I first saw the book New Treasure Island when I was a second year middle school student in 1947. . . Looking back at it now, I can see that my destiny was decided by picking up this book.

When I opened to the main text, the shock was so great that I almost blacked out. At the top of the right page of the spread, there was the small title “To the Sea of Adventures,” and beneath it a boy in a cap driving a sports car from right to left. . . . I had never seen such a manga. Two pages with nothing but driving. What was so exciting about it? I felt this biological pleasure as if it was myself in that car speeding toward the wharf. . . . This was of course just cartoons printed and fixed on paper, but still the car was going at such speed. It was like watching a movie!

That’s right, this is a movie. It is a movie drawn on paper. No! Wait a minute. It’s not a movie after all. Then, what is it!?

Abiko was not the first to propound the greatness of New Treasure Island. Ishinomori Shōtarō, his colleague in the legendary Tokiwasō group, also wrote of the manga in his best-selling How to Become a Manga Artist (Shōnen no tame no mangaka nyūmon) of 1965.

Sakai Shichima and Tezuka Osamu, New Treasure Island (1946-47), cover.

Just after the war, to think of it, there was nothing but akahon books with poor quality paper and poor quality printing. Even so my heart would flutter as I read them on my walk home from school and beneath the futon covers at home. . . .

It was just then that Tezuka Osamu published New Treasure Island in Osaka.

It was so fresh it took your breath away. I became a fan at once, and began hunting around for nothing but Tezuka manga.

To think of it, it was my encounter with New Treasure Island that led to me becoming a manga artist.

There are similar anecdotes besides from other famous artists, writers, and critics. Many of them pin the image’s novelty and impact on its opening scene’s “cinematic” qualities. As a result, the one-hundred-and-ninety-one-page manga is basically known as its first two pages.

Other features of Tezuka’s work – characterization, tragedy, science fiction fantasy, narrative scale and complexity, elastic animation of action – had a much greater impact on postwar manga as a whole. Even within Occupation-era akahon, while there are legions of jungle and island adventures made under the influence of New Treasure Island, many of which lift whole scenes from Tezuka and Shichima, Pete’s driving does not seem to have been regarded as singularly captivating. (For one sample, see here.) Though I haven’t done a count, from browsing hundreds of akahon in the Gordon W. Prange Collection at the University of Maryland, the struggle on deck in the storm, the castaway raft sequence, Bowarl’s battle with the shark, and Tarzan’s rescue of Pete and his dog from the waterfall appear to have been copied about as often.

Nonetheless it is these first pages of New Treasure Island that have been ensconced as the most important, the most revolutionary. This has had the unfortunate effect of narrowing analysis of an undoubtedly galvanizing manga almost entirely toward discussion of its “cinematic” effects, a tendency which reflects the rise of gekiga in the 60s as much as the actual shape of Tezuka’s influence. Still, given these pages’ fame, it is worth asking again . . .

Where did they come from?

(Continued)


15 Responses to Tezuka Osamu Outwits the Phantom Blot: The Case of New Treasure Island cont’d

  1. Mike Rhode says:

    Another good one, Ryan. It appears the subcontinent is agreeing with you. I look forward to a book of these some day.

  2. ryanholmberg says:

    I meant to thank Kristy Valenti, Mike Rhode, and especially Rodrigo Baeza for facilitating the Disney-side research for this article. Thank you!

  3. Zeparu says:

    Brilliant article, again! What I love about your writing is that it’s not only highly illuminating about early manga history, but it’s also a fascinating read, like a good mystery story, and extremely well written. That’s really rare in academic writing. It’s always great to see people emphasize the “story” in “history”. Well, I’d buy your book on manga history if you ever put one together!

    One question: Was Sakai a noticable force in Japanese manga after he split up with Tezuka? You wrote he “was erased from manga history”, but was he publishing and gaining reception at all? If his later work built on what you believe he braught to “New Treasure Island”, that would of course highly support your argument.

  4. ryanholmberg says:

    Sakai remained active and fairly productive as a manga author until the early 50s. Once the akahon book market was usurped by monthly magazines and rental kashihon books, he worked mainly as a kamishibai artist, experiencing fair success. He had regular work as well from newspapers. Building on the performances he used to do for American GIs, he appeared occasionally on Osaka TV doing caricature portraits. Things went downhill in the 60s.

    His post-New Treasure Island work of the late 40s and early 50s is interesting. A few books are sea/pirate/island adventures, clearly trying to mine the popularity of New Treasure Island. Many times they are in that key frame style, but it’s hard to say on that basis that therefore the idea was his. But yes, as you say, Sakai’s immediate post-Tezuka work is a topic I need to research at some point.

    From a taste of his work from a slightly later period, see this Western manga by Sakai I posted in a previous article:
    http://www.tcj.com/the-aomushi-showa-manga-library/4/

  5. Excellent piece, Ryan! I do have two comments I’d like to hear your thoughts on.
    1) Is Tezuka difficult to dislodge from his manga no kami-sama status not just because of how critics have set up his work as the origin of both so-called story manga and the “cinematic style” but also because of how those artists who rebelled against him or developed away from him are dependent upon his status in order to establish their own antagonism/development? I’m thinking especially of Tatsumi’s rather fawning depiction of Tezuka in _Gekiga hyouryuu_, but also how Itou in _Tezuka izu deddo_ both rejects the traditional arguments for Tezuka’s deification but accidentally re-establishes it as a result of his whole theory of the kyara and its supposed history.
    2) Isn’t Tezuka’s reputation as dependent on his prolific output as his “invention” of story manga?

  6. BK Munn says:

    ironic how the Disney comic artists Barks and Gottfredson almost had a greater impact in Europe and Japan, especially if they can be credited with inspiring graphic-novel length storytelling in manga –some wonderful research and connecting of dots here

  7. patrick ford says:

    BK, The trouble is, in American comics people tend to see things through an economic prism. In other words for the majority of people American comic books are Marvel comic books, just because Marvel is the Wal-Mart of comics.
    Barks was a huge influence on Crumb, and many other cartoonists outside the Merry Marching Society. But in the U.S. people most often think in economic terms so the large number of so called “alternative” creators who constantly mention Barks are not important as compared to the 40,000 copies sold of the most recent BATMAN, or the much larger success of an AVENGERS movie. Barks is just small change in that world.

  8. ryanholmberg says:

    1) I generally agree with what you are saying. When it comes to the passage from Tezuka to Tatsumi, however, history has simplified things by leaving out many intermediary figures, notably the judo manga artist Fukui Eiichi, whose popularity rivaled Tezuka’s in the early 50s, and Matsumoto Masahiko, Tatsumi’s close colleague at Hinomaru bunko (the Osaka kashihon publisher), who was a bigger fan of Fukui’s rather than Tezuka’s work, and to whom Tatsumi’s visual innovations owe a great deal. If I were to write “An Origin of Gekiga” essay, that would be my line of attack, and my way of de-centering Tezuka, at least on the matter of “cinematics.”
    2) Certainly being prolific helped. But part of the reason he was prolific (other than an ability to draw and come up with ideas quickly) was that he was popular and everyone wanted to publish his work, and turn into TV serials and merch. Without that gigantic popularity and reach, volume alone would not have had the influence.

  9. Hy Resolution says:

    “Kalle Anka & C:o”, the contemporary Swedish equivalent of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, sells 80,000 copies.
    Per week.

    The publishers claim 550,000 readers for every weekly issue.

    It’s not all Barks, of course, but part of that house was certainly built by Carl.

  10. ryanholmberg says:

    Since people seem interested in how Barks and Gottfredson’s work itself moved around the world, here is my sketchy understanding of the formal distribution of Disney comics themselves in early postwar Japan.

    A number of the Dell Disney titles of the late 40s were translated into Japanese around 1950, overlapping with the deal between Daiei and Disney. Some of these were published like American-style comic books, basically Japanese editions of the Dell books, though I haven’t done a direct comparison to say if they are identical. I have also seen (and own) a number of other Mickey and Donald comics arranged as monochrome strips and published together with other American material (Felix, Tuffy) in horizontal booklets with titles like “Amerika manga” in the late 40s. Occupation authorities were apparently working with American newspaper syndicates to disseminate this material, before private deals like that between Daiei-Disney. In the 50s, there are also some interesting renditions of Disney comics, published in hardcover, sold retail but also lent through kashihon outlets. The art in most of these stinks, but the early ones from around 1953 are really beautiful. They are all from the publisher Tomo Book, which had a deal with Disney.

    Tezuka’s use of Disney at the time of New Treasure Island is piecemeal. But between 1948 and roughly 1953, when he is seriously trying to emulate Disney comics and movies, there is this entire formal Disney industry beginning to grow in Japan.

  11. Ryan, you’re the greatest. Formal close reading + historical analysis of attribution = comics scholarship gold.

  12. Mike Hunter says:

    Indeed so! On-target compliments, richly deserved…

  13. Pingback: Comic books as investments; the ‘Latino-ness’ of DC’s Vibe | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  14. ryanholmberg says:

    Thank you. Keeps me fueled. But what I really want is one of the American mob to take me to task for spotty comics and animation history. The Japan side I can handle. I publish these cross-national pieces here partially as a cry for help with the American side. If there is one community in this world that can provide a “peer review” worth the name on the matter of comics history, it should be TCJ.

  15. Hello Ryan,

    Your article is a fantastic read. With a friend, Erwin Dejasse, we worked on the influence of animation on the belgian autors: Franquin, Peyo and Morris (“Morris, Franquin, Peyo et le dessin animé” 2005). Like americans of the time, they mixed animated cartoon and comic books because they were influence by “Felix”, “Popeye” and “Mickey”. All characters that were popular in cinema and newspapers. They started their comic book career in 1946, under american “occupation”, and similarities with “The Treasure Island” of Sakai and Tesuka are great. At the same time Albert Uderzo was also working in that veine, so was André Rigal, Erik, Mouminoux, Bob de Moor, Ray Goossens etc. the same can be said in Holland with Toonder and in Argentina with Quinterno. Mass culture is a global phenomon since Topffer, it is silly to limit creations to frontiers that commerce/exchange has reduced to symbols long ago.

    As for the “cinematik” aspect, i think the great strenght of Disney was to import the live action cutting and feel with his cartoon characters. “Snow White” completly blurs the lines between live-action cinema and image per image animation. Hence the confusion to young (and old) spectators! Propaganda during the war have also mixed live-film (documentary) with animation (fiction and schematic explanations).

    By helping us better understand one’s role in the creation of Treasure Island, the special qualities of Tezuka Osamu are much more respected than the usual propaganda granting him all talents. In Europe we are lacking good facts and real informations about japanese pre-Tezuka créations.Thank you again for your article!

    If you send me a adress i will gladly send a copy of our book.
    Philippe Capart

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