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.