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Tezuka Osamu & The Rectification of Mickey

Possibly the earliest complaint Tezuka lodged in print against kakihan was in Manga College, the cover of which I showed at the beginning of this text. This narrativized manga-about-manga includes two demonstrations of kakihan degradation. The first shows the queen at a ball. She and her kingdom have been cursed with elephant features, but that’s beside the point. Tezuka shows her embarrassed at the ball once and then once more again in two near identical panels. Professor Manga then appears to explain that what one is seeing here is the difference between a drawing reproduced using photographic versus kakihan processing. The lines of the latter are less fluid, more jerky. The queen has only one eye filled in. The background dancers disintegrate into an impression of lines. The fine hatch work on the floor has become loose, thick, and uneven. On the next page, Professor explains that, when creating something for photographic processing, do not apply the color directly to the artwork, because the camera will end up reading the colors as black. However, for something that is going to be processed via kakihan, it is okay to color directly, at least technically speaking. In practice, the engraver might end up merging the color with line work creating a muddled mess. It is appropriate that Tezuka should use stereotypes of beauty and glamor for these demonstrations: a queen, a prince, a princess. The better to emphasize that kakihan makes ugly.

Tezuka Osamu, Manga College (August 1950), kakihan lesson (image from Kōdansha bunko edition, 2009).

Strictly speaking, the visual comparison Tezuka makes in Manga College between photographic and kakihan processing is false. The kakihan effect is simulated. Printing-wise, both pages were processed photographically. On the right side is a drawing Tezuka drew to look like an original Tezuka drawing, and on the left is one that he drew to look like a bad copy of himself, probably with the aid of tracing. Poor drawing is standing in for poor publishing. But also, the properly Tezuka-like Tezuka image is being pitted against the un-Tezuka-like Tezuka. In other words, it is not just a matter of photography versus kakihan, but authorship versus copy. Style is also implied: tight drawing is the look of authorship, while loose drawing is that of the copy. Does that mean that a clean copy somehow cancels out its status of being a copy by virtue of being clean? Returning to Manga College’s cover: Is the Professor’s rendition of Mickey justifiable as a copy because it is deft, while the rodent’s image of Tezuka not because it’s poor?

A few years later, Tezuka would return to the problematics introduced on the cover of Manga College. The next time he complained in print about the afflictions of manual reproduction was in a chapter of his Manga Classroom, serialized in the monthly Manga Shōnen between 1952 and 1954. This chapter is from 1953. He has adapted the lesson in a telling way: the victim of kakihan is now simultaneously Mickey and himself.

Tezuka Osamu, Manga Classroom (1952-54), kakihan lesson (1953).

First, Tezuka describes the difference between traditional press and offset printing. The former creates sharp lines but uneven blacks, the latter thicker lines but cleaner blacks. The real problem in bookmaking occurs in the technology chosen to makes the plates. “The cheap way is by kakihan, where the plate-maker puts a sheet celluloid on top of the artwork and copies it. More advanced is photographing the art cleanly and passing the film on to the plate-makers.” Two versions of Mickey Mouse are used to demonstrate the respective results. Again, there is the slip between kakihan and intentionally poor drawing: on the right a clumsily drawn Mickey with broken and overshot lines, on the left Mickey with contours smooth and composition balanced. There is also a significant sleight of hand. Neither the original Mickey held up by the professor nor its photographic copy is really a Disney Mickey. Each is only Tezuka’s skillful but nonetheless manual rendition. Tezuka’s own hand is made “photographic.” His copy is presented as original.

This identification of Tezuka with Disney is reiterated in the final panel of the lesson, where two kids are shown at a bookstand. “What is this? Usually this author’s work is good but in this book it looks like crap.” Kakihan, Tezuka explains, is usually to blame. Considering how often Tezuka’s own manga were subject to manual plate-making, it is more than likely that he was thinking of his own work in the hands of these chagrined children. But considering the panel sequence, the reader of Manga Classroom is led to identify with the children’s disappointment through an image of an ugly Mickey. Why the confusion? Why the substitutions?

First, why Mickey? Tezuka could have used any character, known or fabricated, as long as it was well-drawn, to illustrate the demerits of kakihan. Yet he chose Mickey. Why should the degradation of the Disney icon be symbolic of akahon production values in general? Why should Tezuka take Mickey’s degradation as if personally, or at least comparable to his own experiences in akahon publishing? Having recently stepped out of akahon and into Tokyo magazines, why should Tezuka in 1950 and again in 1953, upon reflecting where manga had been and where it was going, see two different Mickeys?

(Continued)


15 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.

    • 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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  8. 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.

    BTW
    >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…

  9. 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.

  10. Sandra Battle says:

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

  11. 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?
    Thanks!

    • 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.

      • 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!

  12. 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.

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