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: tezukaosamu.net/jp/museum.

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.