Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Note on The God of Comics

God of Comics: Osamu Tezuka and the Creation of Post-World War II Manga by Natsu Onoda Power

This is not the big biography of Tezuka that I want to read. But it has a great deal of value. Readers of Tezuka's work in English, as voluminous as it is, actually have only experienced the tip of the iceberg from this insanely prolific yet undeniably creative artist. If you've read Buddha, Black Jack, perhaps some Astro Boy, Ode to Kirihito, Apollo's Song, or Phoenix (among others), you may be at a point where you want to know more abou the creator of these series than you can get from the various brief online biographies.

This is where God of Comics is useful. It gives an outline of Tezuka's life and help in understanding where he was coming from with his work. Here are some interesting tidbits I learned. In 1973, Tezuka was considered washed up, even though he was still highly respected for his earlier achievements. The editor of Shonen Champion offered Tezuka 5 weeks in his magazine because he felt sorry for Tezuka. He thought this would be Tezuka's last hurrah before retirement. Tezuka produced Black Jack--one of his most popular, most enduring works.

One way Tezuka was able to produce so much was through reusing his characters. This was not done in the "continuity" sense of American comics, but in a theatrical sense. He has a repertoire of actors that he can slot into a variety of roles. This is the "star system" in Tezuka's work. So a "star" may play a hero in one comic, or a villain in another. The characters names and personalities will change according to the role. In this way, they are less like "stars" and more like familiar character actors.

These are representative of the suggestive facts laid out in God of Comics. The Black Jack story implies drama in Tezuka's career which is scarcely touched on. The explanation of the "star system" tells us that a critical biography of Tezuka would be no simple matter of close reading of the stories. But these things may have to wait for a really big biography.

This is not to put God of Comics down. I found it very useful in deepening my understanding of Tezuka and his work.

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