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?