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Tezuka Osamu & The Rectification of Mickey

How might degraded Mickeys and degraded Tezukas go together? Tezuka had loved Mickey Mouse since childhood. As an artist who respected Disney, it would be easy to argue that he sympathized with Mickey’s fate in akahon simply as a fan. But the connection can also be made otherwise, and without projecting into Tezuka’s mind. Evidence exists in print.

Nishioka Eiji, The Strange Man from Underground (early 1950s), cover.

This might be an isolated example. But take Nishioka Eiji’s The Strange Man from Underground (Chitei no kaijin), undated and with no publication information, and the artist’s name might also be made-up, but from the format and content I would guess it is from 1953 or so. The book is made to look like something from Enomoto Hōreikan, but the quality suggests an imitator. The title already signifies Tezuka, having removed just one kanji character from his famous The Strange Man from the Underground Country (Chitei kuni no kaijin), the science fiction adventure from 1948 introducing Michio the talking and feeling rabbit, often upheld as the first tragic manga character. This pickpocket “pocket manga” has plucked a few plot features from the same Tezuka book: the classical American fantasy magazine-type tadpole-like life-forms living secretly underground, the young boy who breaks into their fortress to reclaim blueprints of top secret technology. The bushy-bearded professor that accompanies him comes instead from Tezuka’s The World One Thousand Years Later, another science fiction story from 1948, this one about time travel.

Nishioka Eiji, The Strange Man from Underground (early 1950s).

One thing Tezuka repeatedly complained about regarding kakihan was that it killed style particularly at the level of line work. He described the results as lacking “the nuance of my drawn lines” and “made of lines that would repulse the eyes.” It was indeed a process that tended to reduce drawings to schema. That look – even lines describing steady contours enclosing flat figures – became part of akahon style. The drawings in The Strange Man from Underground are rendered in an exaggerated version of that general style. One might want to see them as simply poor copies of Tezuka figures, and certainly they lack the dynamism of the originals. But part of their lifelessness comes I suspect from the fact that “deadness” was sometimes the look of Tezuka’s work in the years when kakihan-processing and kakihan-pirating dominated.

Nishioka Eiji, The Strange Man from Underground (early 1950s).

And what is on the back cover of this sub-Tezuka?

Nishioka Eiji, The Strange Man from Underground (early 1950s), back cover.

Mickey Mouse, standing at an easel painting the alphabetic transliteration of the Japanized English of “Pocket Manga,” as if he was responsible for this work of art, with a slightly surer hand than his scrawny brother on the cover of Manga College. Mickey’s presence here might signify nothing more than his status as an icon of cartoon laughter. But given also his twenty-year entrenchment in a culture of open use and abuse, and what’s going on inside this poketto manga’s covers, Mickey could very well be here as a spokesman of appropriation.

For his love of Disney, for his respect of Disney, for his own subjection to theft and battery in akahon, for his knowledge that Disney had gone through the same . . . these seem reasons enough for Tezuka to take Mickey’s misfortunes as his own in the early 50s. But the truth is that there was more: in 1951, Tezuka had begun working – so to speak – for Disney. That story, one piece in the larger story of Tezuka’s emulation of Disney, another time.

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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