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What Was Alternative Manga? What Was Alternative Manga?

The Fukui Ei’ichi Incident and the Prehistory of Komaga-Gekiga

Tezuka Osamu (right) and Fukui Ei'ichi (left), in the offices of Manga Shōnen, early 1950s.

Tezuka Osamu (right) and Fukui Ei’ichi (left), in the offices of Manga Shōnen, early 1950s.

Though generous to his fans, and generally warm with his peers, Tezuka Osamu (1928-89) was not above letting professional jealousy get the best of him. The first time this trait reared its head in public was in 1953, when, in a series about comics-making and comics aesthetics for Manga Shōnen, the new prince of manga took a swipe at his foremost competitor, Fukui Ei’ichi (1921-54), who was older than him by seven years.

The series in question, Manga Classroom (Manga kyōshitsu), had begun serialization the previous year. It was partially modeled after Manga College (Manga daigaku), the best-selling tutorial Tezuka had created in 1950 for the Osaka publisher Tōkōdō.

Manga Shōnen (November 1952), cover by Ōtsuki Sadao and Nagata Toshio showing Tezuka Osamu doll in diorama.

Manga Shōnen (November 1952), cover by Ōtsuki Sadao and Nagata Toshio showing Tezuka Osamu doll in diorama.

After dominating the Osaka akahon market, Tezuka had only recently begun working for Tokyo magazines. The legendary Jungle Emperor (Janguru taitei, 1950-54), published in the same Manga Shōnen, was one of his first such serials. Manga Shōnen was famous not only as the home to this proto-Lion King title, but also as a venue to which young cartoonists could submit short four-panel work for review by Tezuka or the magazine’s editors or other contributing artists. Select submissions received critique within the magazine’s pages. The best received a small pin badge as award. Amongst the youngsters who got sucked into a life of cartooning through this exchange were Ishinomori Shōtarō, Akatsuka Fujio, both halves of Fujiko Fujio, Tatsumi Yoshihiro, and Sakurai Shōichi.

Manga Classroom was designed to support and expand this fan-amateur world’s sphere of influence. It offered simple instruction about such basics as what pen to use, how to structure jokes, how to express emotion, how to express movement, and how to apply color. It also provided jocular commentary on the aesthetics of comics in the four-panel and especially the extended breakdown formats. Sometimes submitted cartoons appeared directly in the series’ pages. This was not necessarily a blessing. Professor Anything and Everything (Nandemokandemo hakase), Tezuka’s avatar and narrator for the series, might praise your work for its good drawing or clear structure. But more likely, your ham-fistedness would be upheld as an example of how not to cartoon.

Kids were in no position to fight back. When Professor Anything and Everything turned his attention to the work of other professionals, however, he courted trouble. Stiff prewar comics and contemporary adult manga (meaning, not porn, but wiry multi-panel comics for men’s humor magazines) receive repeated joshing. So on occasion do Tezuka’s peers within children’s manga. Manga Shōnen was far from a best seller. But given its status amongst discriminating amateur cartoonists, Tezuka knew, as others knew, that whatever he said in Manga Classroom, the kids were sure to pay attention to. It was the perfect place for Tezuka to build allegiances, in other words. It was also the perfect place to make enemies.

Such was the so-called Fukui Ei’ichi Incident. By turns silly and tragic, this famous episode in the history of early postwar manga marks an important juncture in the evolution of Japanese comics form. It also provides crystal example of how manga’s new hero was no angel.

Tezuka Osamu, Manga Classroom, in Manga Shōnen (circa autumn 1953).

Tezuka Osamu, Manga Classroom, in Manga Shōnen (circa autumn 1953).

The inflammatory segment of Manga Classroom was titled “New Modes of Expression” (“Atarashii hyōgen”). Published in Manga Shōnen in the autumn of 1953, it opens with the Professor striding across the page, demonstrating what manga used to look like back before the war, how “like on a theatre stage . . . manga characters simply walked entered and exited from one side [of the panel] to the other.” He adds, “Ain’t that boring, kids?”

The Professor then states, in what has become standard explanation of postwar manga’s development, that what guided cartoonists toward new and more dynamic sensibilities was the movies. The main such techniques included: the close-up of faces, stylized details of feet, tilted ground planes, images of pure darkness, and super-planar effects inspired by 3D movies. Amongst “new modes of expression,” the Professor also lists reflexive slapstick jokes about the representational conventions of comics, slow filmstrip-like breakdowns, isolated shorthand drawings of sky and clouds, and “pictures that don’t make any sense,” which are represented by a panel filled with whirling speed-lines.

“But kids,” says the Professor, while depicted in extreme frog’s eye view distortion, “beware of copying these kind of pictures.” With an editor and an assistant peering over his shoulder, the Professor then states what he thinks is the root problem. “In most cases this style was simply devised as a dishonest way for cartoonists to quickly and carelessly dash together something like a bessatsu furoku.” He is referring to the 32 to 128-page insert premiums that artists took on for extra money on top of their monthly serial obligations, more on which below. “If the goal is only to increase the page count, it would be better just to draw fewer pages. On that note, let me close this month’s manga classroom with just these two pages.”

Tezuka Osamu, Manga Classroom, in Manga Shōnen (circa autumn 1953).

Tezuka Osamu, Manga Classroom, in Manga Shōnen (circa autumn 1953).

Though Tezuka could hardly have known it at the time, what we are seeing here is a line being drawn in the historical sand between the type of compressed and animated cartooning that Tezuka had been practicing, and the breakdown-oriented comics that, a few years hence, would come to dominate the field under the name of gekiga. Tellingly, the preceding chapters of Manga Classroom detail Disney-style personification of animals, plants, and inanimate objects, and the inner workings of animated movies. Stuck in between is a story about how the Professor became a professional cartoonist, which is unsurprisingly very close to Tezuka’s own. Presumably, the newness of “new expressions” is to be judged by their departure from the Japanized Disney tradition that Tezuka represented.

In 1953, the future fashioners of that new language (Matsumoto Masahiko, Tatsumi Yoshihiro, and Saitō Takao main amongst them) were still teenagers and had only begun toying with cartooning. The artists Tezuka names in Manga Classroom as practitioners of “new modes of expression” belong to a previous generation, born in the 1920s and 30s. They had sundry professional experiences as animators, illustrators, and editors, and had recently emerged as the leading lights of children’s comics. Named are: Fukui Ei’ichi, Baba Noboru, Ushio Sōji, Takano Yoshiteru, and (unable to pass up an opportunity for a self-deprecating joke) Tezuka Osamu himself.

The Professor does not say which artist employs which techniques. Use of these “new expressions” was widely shared. Many of the techniques were, in fact, most strongly associated with Tezuka’s own work, a point to keep in mind for what follows. But the three panels that receive the most flippant treatment – the “sequences like this” showing the same face in increasing close-up, the panel with “nothing but sky or clouds or smoke,” and the FX-filled “pictures that don’t make any sense” – would have been immediately identifiable by any reader at the time, whether young fan or fellow professional. They come from a manga that had, much to Tezuka’s chagrin, recently dethroned him as the industry’s top-selling author: Fukui Ei’ichi’s judo series Igaguri kun (1952-54).

Fukui Ei'ichi, Igaguri kun (1952-54).

Fukui Ei’ichi, Igaguri kun (1952-54).

Throughout Manga Classroom, the Professor repeatedly instructs kids, overtly or subtly, to draw like Tezuka. Now he is warning them, none too subtly, against drawing too much like Tezuka’s competition.

The competition took note.

(cont’d)


6 Responses to The Fukui Ei’ichi Incident and the Prehistory of Komaga-Gekiga

  1. spencer sturdevant says:

    Thank you! What a incredibly fascinating article.

  2. Michael lomon says:

    Always great to add a bit of humanising detail when it comes to Tezuka. If the documentary accompanying Helen McCarthy’s book is to be taken on face value, Tezuka pretty much kanzume’d himself throughout the 80’s. Very much enjoying these features!

  3. Z says:

    It took me a while to read this but with Europe being on fire like that it’s really hard focusing on anything right now.
    Anyway, thank you once more for a brilliant and enlightening piece on manga history! Your articles are well researched and thought-provoking yet also just a great read. What strikes me most is that they also are emotionally engaging. You’re not just a good reseacher but also a good storyteller. You make manga history come alive by throwing some light on how it must have felt being a mangaka in these times, not just on how their manga looked and worked like. I hope these articles will build into a book some time and I’m sure as hell gonna buy it.

    Just one question on kanzume: Even if your article indicates the studio system put an end to kanzume, I don’t feel it put an end to artist overwork and damaged health in the manga industry at all. Assistants predominantly seem to allow more for constantly increasing sophistication in artwork detail than decreasing working hours. There’s talk about mangaka in weekly magazines been burned-out at the end of their 30s. Magazines are constantly replacing their artists with fresh blood that can keep up with the immense physical stress.

    Do you know if there’s any discussion in Japan on physical (and psychological) damages resulting from life as mangaka? I have a feeling that it’s pretty much a no-go territory for manga discourse, though I was surprised that BAKUMAN actually adressed the issue a few times. So I wonder. Are there any studies on life expectancy of mangaka and typical health risks? Any critique of industry practices?

    The reason I’m asking is that I have friends who are mangaka here in Germany and I can see the toll it takes on them physically and also psychologically. We don’t have the strict editorial supervision as in Japan, but since no mangaka (oder comics artists in general) can live from their work here it usually means having additional jobs to survive, no money to pay assistants, so often 16-18 hour work days and no weekends and almost no public recognition beyond a small but quite healthy fan scene. And then we need to try to compete with the technical standards of professional Japanese mainstream manga licensed here. All local mangaka here are under 35, so we lack any experience with long-term health consequences from working as mangaka.

    I think knowing a little more what working on manga can do to your body and mind would be helpful to international artists because I feel following our Japanese idols artistically all the way comes with a price and too few people know about this. Well, I don’t want to lay the responsibility on you but maybe you know someone who knows someone who can write something about this…

    Anyway, I’m looking foward to your any of your future articles. Please keep up the great work!

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  5. Ryan Holmberg says:

    You are right. Once the studio system was instituted, workloads increased manifold. Ishinomori Shotaro wrote somewhere that the average lifespan of cartoonists of his generation was comparatively short, though I have never seen anything substantiating that with data. I don’t know of any studies of this subject off-hand, though you do find complaints here and there about the burn-out factor. Maybe something already exists, but if it doesn’t it would indeed be a good essay for someone to write. You have to remember that Japanese men are notorious lushes and chain-smokers, so there are other factors too.

    I had started writing something on labor problems in the animation industry in the late 50s and 60s, in relationship to my research on Hayashi Seiichi, who worked at Toei in the early 60s. As I have heard buzz about a new edition of Red Colored Elegy, maybe it’s time soon to put that essay together . . . though it still won’t answer your question about the comics industry.

  6. Korey says:

    Incredible essay. This column never fails to intrigue me or feel relevant. Keep it up!

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