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Tezuka Osamu & The Rectification of Mickey

The problem posed on the cover of Manga College boils down to a question of "the copy." The Mickey on the board is a copy. The rodent on the floor is also a copy. But they are clearly not of same sort, nor are they equal.

Tezuka Osamu, pirate editions from the late 40s and 50s. Source:

About the akahon culture of the copy, Tezuka made a number of unfavorable comments over the course of his life. It was a milieu he knew intimately, being on the receiving end of its lax attitudes toward originality, copyright, and production values on repeated occasions. He saw his books circulate in pirate editions, for which he received not a sen. He also saw single figures, single panels, full pages, and multi-page spreads of his reappearing in books by artists whose names were half not-real and whose publishers lasted but a few seasons. His also saw his characters, a little wonky and bulbous at first but soon smoothed and tightened, turned soggy and scratchy after being put through the wash. There was not much Tezuka could do about this. He might have at least taken comfort in the fact that the proliferation of pseudo-Tezukas was a sign that the real one – himself – was giantly popular.

He was just as powerless at first against another aspect of akahon copy culture. In Japanese printing, there is a process called kakihan, literally “drawn plates.” In the face of limited printing plant after the war, middle-of-the-road Japanese publishers did not have the option of paying for the photographic processing of artwork. Thus there were men, it seems typically employed by the print shops themselves, whose job it was to transfer the drawings to the plates manually. The process was labor intensive and required skill. It was essentially a combination of tracing and etching. One first put a sheet of paraffin or celluloid over the artwork. The image was thus traced with a sharp tool, leaving a shallow trench in the paraffin. Red pigment was worked into the etched lines. A zinc plate was then pressed face to face against the tracing, transferring the line work in red upon the plate in reverse. Next, a brush dipped in oil-based ink was used to go over the red lines, on the way trying to recreate some of the touch of the original. Gum arabic was applied thinly across the entire plate. The plate was washed lightly with soap and water, the gum arabic washing away from the areas covered in oil-based ink. Sulfuric acid was applied, eating away at the exposed line work, thus creating an intaglio printing plate. This process seems to have been prevalent in akahon publishing until around 1950.

Tezuka Osamu & Sakai Shichima, New Treasure Island (January 1947).

Tezuka despised kakihan. He hated what it did to his artwork. He complained about its denaturing of quality and personality on multiple occasions, both in how-to manga from the tail end of the akahon era and then in later decades on almost every occasion when one of his akahon titles was reissued. A notorious perfectionist, he thought the degradation severe enough to substantially or entirely redraw the art for many of these later editions. Most famous in this regard is his breakthrough work, New Treasure Island (January 1947), which Tezuka redrew from scratch when it was finally reissued in 1984. In the afterword to that edition, Tezuka wrote the following about reproduction values in postwar Osaka akahon publishing.

The technique of kakihan was, to be frank, the pits. The plate-maker in charge copied my work without even trying, losing the nuance of the lines, resulting in an image far from the original. The worst cases led to a loss of a foot, or the addition of an extra eyeball beneath a set of laughing eyes . . . these sorts of blatant mistakes.

The result was still an “embarrassment” to Tezuka in the 80s. And it took another twenty years after his death in 1989 for New Treasure Island to be finally issued in its original adulterated form.

No one will never really know how close or far kakihan processing took the published New Treasure Island from the original. Most of the original artwork from this period no longer exists, not just for that work but for many. What has survived has so thanks to conscientious publishers, like Tōkōdō, who generally held to higher production values. Degradation, as a result, is thus not too great in many of the cases in which concrete comparisons can be made. Otherwise, scholars have been left to measure the effects of kakihan through stylistic comparisons between printed pages and random samples of unused artwork. And while writers like Noguchi Fumio have joined Tezuka in bemoaning the results, in many cases the differences seem trivial: a pie-eye filled solid, loss of stroke variation, the simplification of hatching, lines overlapping where they should not. In some cases, the plate-makers added small details, like an extra bolt in a turbine. Sometimes they took away a fingernail or a lick of hair. I am showing here one of the more convincing comparisons, the original artwork and printed kakihan version of a page from Tezuka’s The World One Thousand Years Later (August 1948), which despite being from Tōkōdō shows definite though far-from-appalling change.

Tezuka Osamu, The World One Thousand Years Later (August 1948), right: published kakihan edition, left: original artwork. Source: Noguchi Fumio, Tezuka Osamu no Shintakarajima (2007).

The kakihan effect can also be seen between pages of the same work. When he read Lost World (December 1948) as a child, Matsumoto Reiji reportedly thought Tezuka Osamu was a duo. One engraver did the first volume, and another the second.

Tezuka Osamu, Lost World (December 1948), right: page from vol. 1, left: page from vol. 2. Source: Noguchi Fumio, Tezuka Osamu no Shintakarajima (2007).

There are a couple of basic lessons to be learned from this. In some cases, kakihan might have killed an artist’s touch, but being a manual process it could also add the plate-maker’s own. Ostensibly the ideal of plate processing should be the invisibility of the plate-maker. The problem with kakihan was that the plate-maker’s handiwork was too visible. For the author, this would be particularly evident. Seeing a kakihan edition was like seeing one’s work through someone else’s copy. The problem with kakihan, though usually thought of as a printing process, was that it was too much a form of drawing. The conceptual line between production and reproduction was thus not always clear in akahon culture. One could speak about the print shop while showing the artist’s studio. One could speak about printing while showing drawing. And because both generated manual copies that went against the artist’s desires, there was a family resemblance between kakihan and plagiarism. After all, the process used to transfer original artwork could also easily be used to generate pirate editions of work in print. The Meowsketeers comic I treated in "An Introduction to Akahon" was likely a pirated kakihan edition of the Izumi Mikio original, made not from the artwork but the book. Kakihan was rarely so awful. Still, amongst the many pirate editions of Tezuka’s books, I suspect there are similar monstrosities.


16 Responses to Tezuka Osamu & The Rectification of Mickey

  1. Dash Shaw says:

    More evidence to support my crackpot theory that Floyd Gottfredson is the true father of Tezuka’s comics work — Fred Patten in “Watching Anime, Reading Manga” wrote Tezuka was really into Gottfredson. Look at those Gottfredson Mickey pages next to early Tezuka! He’s clinging to the Mickey character (like in that Cartoon College cover) specifically because of Gottfredson’s work here I think… Anyway, I’m nuts — great post as always!

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  3. Fascinating stuff. The Katō Paper Company’s Mickey Mouse with Tom (of Tom and Jerry) is actually a partial redraw of John Stanley’s Tom and Jerry in Dell’s Our Gang 17 (1945), with Mickey and Minnie inserted into the Jerry and Tuffy roles.

  4. ryanholmberg says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    @Dash. Gottfredson certainly, working on the specifics now of what Tezuka was looking at (which I am sure anyone reading TCJ could do better and faster than I will be able to). Pretty sure he owned a copy of the Japanese edition of the Better Little Book “Mickey Mouse and the Stolen Jewels.” But also evidence that he was reading and taking from Disney Four Color titles regardless of the artist. Got a Barks & Tezuka essay in the oven (July?). Maybe I can get your eye for style on specific Tezuka images in future posts.
    @ David. Thank you for that identification. Trying to create a picture of the types of comics floating around in Japan after the war — and more generally a non-isolationist history of mid-century manga — so every little piece helps.

  5. Jeet Heer says:

    @Ryan Holmberg. Have your read John Dower’s Embracing Defeat (about post-war Japan). There’s an interesting discussion there about how the American occupying forces used comics to reshape Japanese culture.

  6. ryanholmberg says:

    I have read Dower. I will re-check, but I seem to remember that being mainly about Blondie and the “American way of life.” In addition to that kind of formal and directed importations, what I want to also try to capture is the more random, amorphous, and relatively non-ideological (or accidentally ideological) channel of the comic book-reading GI stationed in Japan during the Occupation, and also after (I have seen evidence of post-1952 Dick Sprang Batman and 3D comics in early Tatsumi Yoshihiro and Saito Takao).

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  9. Kumi Kaoru says:

    Hello, Mr. Holmberg. I’m sorry I didn’t join your lecture last Wednesday since I’m living in a town 500 km away from Tokyo. I deeply regretted I should have when I read a report about your wonderful talk in Natsume’s blog.

    >Is it significant that just the previous year, Daiei Film Co. President Nagata Masaichi had signed a personal deal with Walt Disney to be the studio’s sole licensing agent in Japan, thereby bringing to Japan the first official Mickeys in bulk in well over a decade?

    This is quoted from my humble talk last year in Natsume’s course, right? I remeber someone Gaijin boy asked me why Nagata was allowed to claim him to be the agent of Walt Disney Company for merchandising in Japan instead of claiming his company Daiei to be so. I suppose ‘personal deal’ is not an adequate term in this context. After all, he succeeded in making contracts with Disney Co *on behalf of Daiei*. the largest film studio (at least he claimed so in Hollywood) in Japan.

    I read your astounding essays in Comic Journal. Are there any plans for future translation of them into Japanese? I’m quite interested since I knew you’re going to write a studing book on Japanese comics in the future. For your information, I’m now translating a book by a former Walt Disney animator…

  10. Kumi Kaoru says:

    P.S. I heard Ono-sensei questioned one of your theories; he said it is questionable Disney comics published American domestically in 1942 has been circlated in Osaka soon after the war. I think it is very high possibility, because Tezuka had got acquainted with an American solder by chance in 1946 when he was a student in Osaka University and the GI (African American) provided the young Japanese with a pile of American comics when he found him skilful in portrait drawing. (See Tezuka’s essay _Watashi no Mozart_) Hope this helps.

  11. Sandra Battle says:

    I wanted know if this was Prof. Holmberg who taught Art History at CSI. If so, just wanted to say howdy!

  12. Lorna says:

    This is a very interesting article; it has inspired me to write my third year manga coursework on how America influenced Japanese Manga. I was wondering if anyone might be able to help me out with any further resources regarding ‘Mickey-like’ characters in early manga?

  13. Ryan Holmberg says:

    If you read Japanese, see Otsuka Eiji, Mikkii no shoshiki (2013). See also the New Treasure Island articles on TCJ by me, and my article on the same in the forthcoming Phantom Blot volume in Fantagraphics’ Gottfredson series. Beyond that, I think you will have to do some serious collecting and archival research of your own. I will hopefully be writing more on the subject down the line.

  14. Lorna says:

    Thankyou very much. I am afraid I do not speak Japanese; which does make the research a little harder. But, I will have a look at the other articles that you suggest.
    Thankyou very much for getting back to me.
    All the best!

  15. Ryan Holmberg says:

    If you don’t read Japanese, a few of Otsuka Eiji’s essays have been translated in Mechademia. Recently out, and most relevant for the present topic, is “An Unholy Alliance of Eisenstein and Disney” (Mechademia vol. 8, 2013), which I think has major flaws as far as manga history goes but will get you thinking on the subject. You might also want to look in Frederik Schodt’s Astro Boy Essays and Marc Steinberg’s Anime’s Media Mix. I also forgot to mention the two Ten Cent Manga books I did: Sugiura Shigeru’s Last of the Mohicans, and Tezuka’s The Mysterious Underground Men. There’s some “how America influenced Japanese Manga” in the Hayashi Seiichi Gold Pollen book as well.

  16. Ryan Wasson says:

    @RyanHolmberg, we spoke once before briefly about your Rockabilly Pomp Skull. I asked if you’d be willing to draw another one for me, I thought I rememebred you saying you would. Do you recall this? I do leatherwork. Please email. Thanks so much, I’ve been trying to find your contact I hope you see this!

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