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

It is important to note that when Sakai’s name first comes up in Tezuka’s diary, it is as a former animator. “I liked Sakai Shichima’s drawings the best,” he wrote on June 21, 1946, after attending his first Kansai Manga Man Club meeting. “Just as I thought, Sakai used to work on animation.” He saw the animator in the cartoonist. Manga eiga (“manga movies”) became one of their favorite topics of conversation. No specific titles or artists are named. Given their mutual interests, it’s hard to imagine that Disney didn’t come up. Some scenes in New Treasure Island are based directly on old Mickey films, as I will show in a future essay on the adaptation of small-gauge filmstrips in early postwar akahon. For now, let me demonstrate how the mutual interest in “animated Disney” can be motivated in a different way.

Carl Barks and Jack Hannah, Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold (Dell, 1942).

In the literature on New Treasure Island, the terms “cinematic” and “Disney style” are used frequently. Traditionally the two are considered separately: simulated camera work and editing, on the one hand, Disney-esque stylized characters, on the other. But as I argued previously, once you factor in the influence of American comics, it becomes clear that the two went together, at least in the case of New Treasure Island. One of the comics that underwrote the manga, after all, was Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold, a Disney comic based on abandoned animation storyboards.

So the question of authorship should not be which of the two collaborators was more likely to experiment with a “Disney style” side by side with “cinematic techniques.” But rather who was more likely, in 1946, to have experimented with these two as an indivisible pair? Was it the young cinephile who had explored both but independently in his practice works of 1945-46? Who, to my knowledge, never spoke of Disney and the “cinematic” in the same breath? Or could it have been the practiced animator, who not only had actually made animated movies, but animated movies influenced in multiple ways by the popular black and white Mickey Mouse films of the late 20s and early 30s?

A number of writers have described the first pages of New Treasure Island as more precisely in a “storyboard style” rather than a generally cinematic style. But the matter is left at that, as if all storyboards were the same. When it comes to describing what’s inside the frame, terms like “close-up” and “changing perspectives” are commonly used, with little attempt to anchor the vocabulary to any specific precedents. Furthermore, it is conventional to speak of the entire spread as innovative. Indeed nothing like it exists in contemporary manga. However, it is important to see that there is something very old about this sequence, and it is precisely this retrograde element that I think points back beyond the Occupation, beyond Tezuka’s wartime work, and into the vocabulary of early 30s animation, which is to say, Sakai and not Tezuka’s world. The new side, meanwhile, comes from neither movies nor animation directly, nor even older manga, but instead from American comics, which was probably serving, as I will explain below, as a surrogate for problems in the animation of movement. Put simply, my sense is that the dynamic representation of Pete’s driving stems not from formal sensibilities inspired by cinema, but rather from problem-solving in animation.

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

There are four panels on the first two pages, each showing Pete driving his roadster from a different angle. The first two show him driving at oblique angles to the picture plane, subtly toward in the first panel, more sharply away in the second. The second two panels show him driving at right angles to the picture plane, first directly towards the reader, and then parallel. Eight o’clock, ten o’clock, six o’clock, nine o’clock – the variety is deliberate, and bespeaks a certain kind of strategy for getting drawings to move.

It is well known that diagonal movement is a tricky problem in animation. When an object moves away from the picture plane at any angle, the animator has to attend carefully to continuous changes in foreshortening. This is also the case in movement directly towards or away from the picture plane, but the hassle of foreshortening in that case can be short-circuited by “looping” both the background and the cel, but at different rates so that the background appears to run like a treadmill beneath the cel figure. Even the casual watcher of old animation should recognize the common use of this device.

Left: New Treasure Island (1946-47). Right: Murata Yasuji (director, animator) and Tagawa Suihō (character, story), Norakuro Second Class Private (1933).

As a practicing animator in the mid 30s, Sakai of course knew this trick. He had used looped vehicular scenes of a similar sort in Ninja Fireball Kid in 1934-35. It is probable that Tezuka also knew them through theatrical screenings or his small-gauge film collection. Strict perpendicular movement toward the picture plane, requiring foreshortening, was also common in that era. It was one of the common jokes in the early Mickey shorts, with mooing cow udders or Minnie’s screaming mouth barreling toward or away from the viewer. Sakai used this too in Ninja Fireball Kid. Nonetheless, the opening sequence of New Treasure Island has few markings of humor, so I think it more apt to think of the third panel as a frame from a head-on loop.

Top Left: Mickey's Choo Choo (1929); Bottom Left: Traffic Troubles (1931); Top and Bottom Right: Sakai Shichima, Ninja Fireball Kid (Edo Chapter, 1935).

In the third and fourth panels, one thus has vectors associated primarily with animation of the 20s and early 30s. It is for this reason I call them “old.” Considering their relative ease of representation in animation, one might prefer to call them “elementary” or “conservative.” Regardless, they belong to a specific era of formal thinking about how to draw movement, and specifically how to do so within animation. It is telling that, in the 1000-plus pages Tezuka drew prior to New Treasure Island (published and unpublished), rarely does one find any kind of direct movement toward (or away from) the picture plane. And even more rarely is it designed to bear down on the viewer. Here is a possible exception.

Tezuka Osamu, Old Man's Treasure Island (1945-46).

Lateral movement is common as early as 1945, but strict perpendicular movement does not become a regular feature until later in the 40s. Looking at his wartime juvenilia, one gets the sense that Tezuka’s “cinematic” thinking was largely determined by live action film, the movement of figures through space captured by a stationary camera, and the building of narrative through the montage of fragmentary shots. One might make an argument for precedents in Tezuka’s wartime work for the first, second, and fourth panels in New Treasure Island. But the third is fairly alien to his working method at the time. It is too old-fashioned, I think, to have been conceived by Tezuka.

Tezuka Osamu, Bacteria of Terror (1945).

If the right angle is the vector of animation, so to speak, then what is the diagonal? It could also be animation, of course, because diagonal movement does exist in the medium, though handled sparingly and often awkwardly by most studios until the late 30s. But in the somewhat archaic thinking of the designer of these pages, I think the diagonal was seen as a fascinating “problem,” a vexing element that requires exceptional skill and practice, and an attraction worthy of replicating, multiplying, and placing front and center once mastered. Young Tezuka loved the diagonal, with characters typically looking out over the reader’s shoulders, and rarely eye to eye. But when it comes to moving vehicles and figures, the diagonal perspective is either rendered in a kind of orthographic space in which foreshortening is not an issue. On one occasion in The Ghost Man (1945), the result broadly evokes the opening scene of New Treasure Island.

Tezuka Osamu, The Ghost Man (1945).


Tezuka Osamu, Until the Day of Victory (1945).

Or more typically the diagonal is coupled, not with an image of the same object from another angle, but with a countershot showing where the moving object is headed or what its operator sees. Again, this is essentially a cinematic approach, focused as it is on visual narration through editing. The first pages of New Treasure Island, on the other hand, suggest instead a fixation with the dynamic portrayal of movement itself. Changing perspectives are designed to increase the sense of movement. Their primary function is not narrative.

More than once, Tezuka claimed that the “cinematic” element of New Treasure Island stemmed directly from his experiments with adapted camera work during the war. If this is already doubtful from a purely empirical comparison – nothing like Pete’s driving or the river crossing appear in his previous work – it becomes simply unbelievable once we learn that Disney comics provided the primary model for the dynamic diagonal in that manga. It is appropriate that they should have come from Disney comics, for these comics have a stronger relationship than most to the art of animation.

I do not doubt that Tezuka’s wartime “cinematism” was a major force behind New Treasure Island and the way Disney comics were adapted within that manga. What I do question is the widely-held assumption that his was the only artistic intelligence at work.

Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (Dell, 1941).

It turns out that not only the first two panels, but also the horizontal fourth, and further most of the panels on the next three pages, have been swiped from Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot. Though originally a newspaper continuity in 1939, one assumes that Sakai and/or Tezuka knew this work instead through its reformatting as the very first Mickey Mouse One Shot from Dell, published in 1941. It is curious that both this comic book and Pirate Gold were four-five years old by the time they were processed in New Treasure Island. Were old comics being brought into Japan after the war, after circulating elsewhere (at bases, on ships) during the fighting? Were the early Dell Disney comics being reprinted after the war?

By the time of The Phantom Blot, Mickey has fully shed his adolescence and bumpkin roots. He is wise as well as clever. He is bratty rather than nasty. He lives in the ‘burbs. He no longer drives a lemon, yet as his tree-ramming in The Phantom Blot shows, he is not to be trusted behind the wheel even when the baby purrs. He takes on villains that might still be mass entertainment clichés, but now they are clichés of contemporary social bearing. Such is the case with the Blot, a rendition of the old shadow men of the pulps and the movies – “always togged out to look solid, dead black, with only his eyes showin’,” in the words of Gottfredson’s Police Chief O’Hara – but as a foreign spy also an expression of anxieties concerning conditions in fascist Europe.

Who the Blot is, however, is beside the point. And that is because he himself does not appear in New Treasure Island. It is Mickey that has been appropriated. He zips around in his car often during the story, usually while chasing or being chased by the Blot. Mainly these are the scenes that Sakai and/or Tezuka have used.

Left: New Treasure Island (1946-47). Right: Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (Dell, 1941).

Of the first six pages and sixteen panels of New Treasure Island, nine of them have definitely been inspired by The Phantom Blot, with one or two additional panels possibly generally so. Of the first four pages and ten panels, all but two are not derived from that source. Of the first two pages and four panels, only the panel discussed above comes from elsewhere. And tellingly, on the same page that the Blot-based panels phase out, those from Pirate Gold begin. If Hello Manga greeted children with the most elementary English salutation (Haro!), New Treasure Island does so with a Disney parade. If Hello Manga taught children how to spell Japanese words in Roman (American English) alphabet, New Treasure Island tried to reconstruct manga for the American age on the basis of Disney building blocks. Disney was the A-B-C of this new American manga.

The first panel of New Treasure Island comes from a sequence in which Mickey is tearing away from some locals after swiping one of their cameras, a clue to the Blot’s activities. Most of the rest comes from the comics’ finale, and primarily from a single two-page spread. Mickey has escaped from the Blot’s imprisonment, and is now hurtling in his car to the harbor, where the Blot hurries to exit the country on a seaplane. From this single two-page spread, Sakai and/or Tezuka have taken compositions or motifs from five panels, showing Mickey driving and jumping from his car, trailing behind the Blot’s speedboat on a surfboard-type thing, and then leaping to catch the wheel of the Blot’s seaplane as it lifts into the air.

Left: New Treasure Island (1946-47). Right: Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (Dell, 1941).

Left: New Treasure Island (1946-47). Right: Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (Dell, 1941).

There are changes: the style of the car, the surfboard for a speedboat (which Mickey obtains also in the original, just in a different scene), the seaplane’s tire for a ship’s rope. The drawing has become broader. The key change, however, is the layout. Gottfredson’s irregular 2x3 layout has been simplified and regularized for the strict 1x3 of New Treasure Island – an old template, dominant in children’s manga since at least the early 30s, and which would largely disappear in the late 40s with the eclipse of akahon’s golden age and the ascendancy of the varied layouts of 40s American comics.

Left: New Treasure Island (1946-47). Right: Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (Dell, 1941).

In addition to the famed vehicular action, Sakai and/or Tezuka have borrowed some of Mickey’s facial expressions (transposed to the first panel of New Treasure Island) and distinct body poses (Pete kneels on the wharf as Mickey does on the surfboard in the bottom left panel). How Pete runs on the wharf, and how he jumps into his speedboat, have been derived from elsewhere in The Phantom Blot, from scenes showing Mickey running through a secret underground passage and jumping from the sidecar of a motorcycle. Note the attention to detail: Mickey’s distinctive backward cupping hand reappearing upon Pete.

Left: New Treasure Island (1946-47). Right: Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (Dell, 1941).

Once again, as was the case with Pirate Gold, we can see here that “Disney style” encompasses a whole system of expression, from how characters move and hold their bodies, and how they express emotion and the stereotype of rounded contours and deleted digits, to even the holy grail of “cinematic” techniques. Which is to say, “Disney style” meant nothing less than making comics in American Japan. If New Treasure Island was at the cutting-edge of various formal developments in the medium, it was also at the avant-garde of a wider project of cultural assimilation.


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:

  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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