Features

Emonogatari in the Age of Comics, 1948-1957

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (June 1957), furoku cover.

The comics world to which Kojima was making concessions is on full display in other emanga from the same period. There is a curious habit of publishers in this period to continue using the name “emonogatari” for works that would be unhesitatingly called “comics” a few years later, or in a different country. The heavier use of text, the shaped panels, and the naturalistic drawings clearly marked them as something other than “manga.” It was also for this reason that both American comics in translation and direct Japanese adaptations of American comics were called “emonogatari” rather than “manga.” When Durango Kid, for example, was translated for Manga King in 1953, it was titled an “emonogatari.” The same seems to have been common at least for other Westerns, and I imagine it was so for other categories of comics, probably excepting those of the Disney, Popeye, and cartoon-derived variety. The name was also applied to what might be called “ten-cent manga.”

Let’s look at two examples. The original emonogatari hero, Tarzan, popularized by Yamakawa Sōji during the Occupation, also appeared in mid 50s emanga. I have two issues of Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan (Shōnen taazan wa yuku), a furoku serial for Shōnen Gahō in 1957. It is a real treat. The writer, Yamada Akamaro, I only know that he wrote a book about the Sōka Gakkai in 1965. Toyoda Minoru, the artist, illustrated kashihon covers and a number of other emonogatari. The cover of Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan names the Kobe Daimaru Department Store as sponsor, and a radio version on Radio Kobe. It’s a testament to Yamakawa’s popularity in the early postwar years that a Tarzan story could still get such support in the late 50s, even if only in a middle-sized city like Kobe. On the booklet’s spine, it reads “thrilling emonogatari” (“tsūkai emonogatari”).

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (June 1957).

This Tarzan, in addition to being able to talk to the animals, carries a diamond ring and a mirror that tell him useful things and show him places far in space and time. He is accompanied by a Japanese-looking shōnen named (like in the original Tarzan stories) simply Boy. In the chapters I have, Tarzan and Boy are in the Himalayas, chasing two tomb raider-types named Map and Popo looking for an icon of gold. It is buried somewhere in the mountain-top “Land of Labyrinth,” where people (the Labi tribe) live in holes in the ground. Tarzan and his entourage go through the usual hassles with the natives (who look like your stereotypical African natives, despite this being “India”) before coming up against an even larger trouble: the Gonmos. He turns out to be a King Kong. By August 1957, Tarzan has not yet figured out how to subdue him. “I’ll dig a hole in his brain,” he says while straddling the Gonmos’ neck, pulling his dagger, “that’s the only way to kill him.” But then gets tossed to the ground.

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (August 1957).

None of this has any recognizable Japanese features. Until it turns out that the Gonmos is related to Godzilla. “Because of hydrogen bomb tests, radioactive snow has fallen on the top of the Himalayas. This is what has driven the Gonmos down from his mountain home,” explains a safari-suited white man to turbaned concerned locals. “We must tell the world to put a stop to testing.” The air force (the pilots are white but the planes have the Indian national flag on their side) is called out to stop the Gonmos, but fails. Some are foiled by the Kong’s breathing fire. Others are smashed with his fist.

Toyoda Minoru (art) & Yamada Akamaro (story), Here Comes Shōnen Tarzan, Shōnen Gahō (June 1957).

If anyone has thoughts about Toyoda’s stylistic influences here, please share. To me, it almost looks like a less busy version of post-Weirdo R. Crumb, but of course that’s decades later. They look somewhat like Moe Gollub’s covers for Dell Comics in 1949 – which seems a plausible influence at least given the year – but the modeling, musculature, and facial features are quite different. At any rate, this is not a style that I’ve seen elsewhere in fifties manga or emonogatari. There are other fat-bodied figures (like those by Yoshida Tatsuo), but none done with the same roundness or the same stubbly touch. Some of the motifs seem straight from the Hal Foster-era strips, like the natives’ cat-skin headdress and claw necklace. Again, any thoughts on the story and art would be most welcome. It’s entirely possible that this is an original rendition of the standard motif of Tarzan and Boy’s adventures in lost civilizations against violent native populations and ape-man beasts. But I’d be curious to know what comes from where, and potentially what Tarzan comics or stories Yamada and Toyoda had on hand. I haven’t had the chance to go through the originals myself.

(Continued)