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

Given the prominence of “cinematic techniques” as a theme in manga historiography, one is urged to ask the following. How indebted was Gottfredson to the movies or animation?

Like Carl Barks and Jack Hannah (the artists of Pirate Gold), Gottfredson was also an ex-animator. While joining the Disney Studio in late 1929 on the strength of the cartooning he had done for dailies and trade journals in his hometown of Salt Lake City, he was hired as an inbetweener. But this job seems to have lasted just four months. When the acting artists on the Mickey Mouse comic strip quit, Gottfredson was asked to pinch-hit. “By now I had become very interested in animation,” said the artist to comics historian Thomas Andrae, “and told Walt I’d rather stay in it. So Walt asked me to take over the strip for two weeks until he found another artist to do it. Nothing further was ever said about it, and I continued to draw the Mickey daily for 45 years – until my retirement in October 1975.”

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

How does Gottfredson’s animation experience bear upon the present inquiry? Certainly he renders the car and Mickey’s movements on principles of squash, stretch, and follow-through. Critic Ōtsuka Eiji once pointed out that the landscape in the second panel of New Treasure Island is curved in a manner typical of backgrounds in Disney animation. It is also so in the corresponding “Stickleville – Here I come!” panel in The Phantom Blot. When it comes to the specific issue of “cinematic techniques,” by the late 30s the language of cinematic camera work and editing techniques had become common in American cartooning, and the uses to which they are put in The Phantom Blot do not strike me as exceptional. What’s special about Gottfredson’s drawing is how he animates bodies from within, not how he frames them from without.

If, in contrast, Gottfredson’s “camera work” looks novel in New Treasure Island, it is not so much because such techniques themselves were new in Japanese comics – that they predate the Occupation has been repeatedly demonstrated in recent manga studies – but rather because of their peculiar framing within the traditional 1×3 grid, whereas in previous manga “cinematic” breakdowns generally called for subdividing the standard horizontal rectangle into smaller, sometimes irregular quadrilaterals. If one champion of New Treasure Island described the opening pages as “widescreen,” it is due to this effect: the placement of cinematic action in an older non-cinematic template. One can easily imagine how this combination might appeal to a former animator like Sakai. He has here, with the aid of American comics, been able to “storyboard” a sequence he could only dream of animating because of the difficulties of rendering movement at oblique angles. What declares “animation” more than the pseudo-storyboard, however, is the frontal driving scene – which appears nowhere in The Phantom Blot, as it does not appear anywhere in Tezuka’s wartime work. It signifies that the artist regards Gottfredson’s artwork in relationship, not to cinema, but to animation. I think Sakai was more likely to make this association.

A fair deal of Gottfredson’s voluminous output was available in Japan, first via the David McKay Company editions of the 30s, and then via Dell’s repackaging as comic books beginning in the early 40s, imported via the Occupation. There is a bizarre and rich history to be told (another day) of the Mouseman’s impact on Japanese comics in the early and mid 1930s. Tezuka is on record for having read as a child the finest of the derivative works: Shaka Bontarō’s Mickey’s Show (Mikkii no katsuyaku, 1934). But it seems that even late in life, while professing admiration for Gottfredson’s artwork, Tezuka did not make the connection between the Mickey manga he had read as a kid and the artist he admired as a middle-aged veteran. It is also unclear to what extent he knew that he had copied Gottfredson’s work during the Occupation, pulling for example from “Island in the Sky” (1936-37; Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, 1940) in Streamline Case (Ryūsenkei jiken, 1948) and – a coincidence? – from The Phantom Blot in New World Lulu (Shin sekai ruruu, 1950-52).

Left: Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse Outwits the Phantom Blot (Dell, 1941). Right: Tezuka Osamu, New World Lulu (1950-52).

He certainly could not have known at the time whose legacy he was inheriting, for Gottfredson’s name was not made public until the late 1960s. Did he realize it in retrospect? Did he later recognize that Gottfredson’s work also underwrote the opening pages of New Treasure Island? Was he even aware while creating New Treasure Island of the general fact that Disney comics underwrote many of its key sequences?

How could he not have been?

Consider that not only in general composition, panel sequencing, and basic motifs does New Treasure Island follow The Phantom Blot, but also in the smallest details of how the car is stylized (slightly older in model, interestingly, another sign of an older mind), how the landscape is shaped, how the house in the background of the third panel is constructed, and how Pete’s body moves. For the artwork to have ended up like this, Disney-fied down to the stroke, it is very likely that Gottfredson was referenced at all stages of drawing: basic breakdown, pencils, and inks. Which is to say, however one decides to hair-split the drawing credits, both Sakai and Tezuka must have been looking at The Phantom Blot.

Also consider that, while there’s debate about who drew New Treasure Island itself, consensus is that Sakai drew the book’s cover. Nishigami Haruo and Osaka Tokio both state this was the case. Even a basic familiarity with the two artists’ styles indicates Sakai’s hand. Since this cover was inspired by that of Pirate Gold, as I argued last time, would it be too much to assume that at the very least Sakai had a hand in introducing other Disney comics into New Treasure Island? And if he introduced them, then probably issued at least direction to Tezuka in how exploit the economy and design of Disney comics to improve upon his cinematic 1×3 experiments? He had directed and drawn a number of animated films after all.

Old guard and the upstart split in the end. Tezuka vowed in March 1947 never to speak to Sakai again after disagreement over copyright and royalties. But as artists they shared much: an interest in animation, an interest in American comic books, and – as expressed on the first pages of New Treasure Island – interest in how the two might go together.

In numerous articles and interviews, Tezuka was exacting about what movie, what prewar American cartoonist, what prewar manga book he got this or that idea for manga in the late 40s and 50s. This giant of cartooning also had an elephant’s memory.

How could he have forgotten this?


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.

    • 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/

  4. 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?

    • 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.

  5. 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

    • 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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

    • Mike Hunter says:

      Indeed so! On-target compliments, richly deserved…

      • 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.

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

  10. 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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