Practitioners 52: Osamu Tezuka

Kyoto station is a monolithic, grand and impressive structure, latticed with metal and steel pillars in a gun grey cathedral to industrialism and travel. It is impressive to say the least. Outside, however is a small camera stall looking out over the main entrance. On top of it is an icon as famous, if not potentially more famous and certainly more recognisable across Japan than the enormous building behind him. His name is Astroboy, and in terms of fame and influence he matches up to any celluloid mouse. Built from the premise of cheerful, less gritty story telling – Astroboy’s creator is considered the instigator of the ‘Golden Age of Manga’. The name of the man who brought hope to Japan after the Second World War through a new age in Manga is Osamu Tezuka.

Born Tezuka Osamu on November 3, 1928 Tezuka was a Japanese cartoonist, manga artist, animator, producer, activist and – at one time – medical doctor, though he never practiced medicine. Born in Osaka prefecture, he is best known as the creator of Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion and Black Jack.

He is often known as the ‘Godfather of Anime’ and enjoys the reputation as the Japanese Walt Disney. Inspired very much by his namesake, Tezuka adapted much of the western idealism of Disney to the Japanese Manga, transferring ideas seamlessly that still now permeate modern Manga. Though his creations have moved far beyond the initial inspirations that spawned them.

Starting to draw comics in his second year of elementary school, he found a bug named ‘Osamushi’ in his fifth year. Fascinated by the similarity to his own name he adopted it as a pen name. He came to realise that he could use Manga as a way to convince people to care for the world. After World War II and the devastation that Japan itself had suffered during the conflict, Tezuka created his first piece of work – at the age of 17 – Diary of Machan and Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island). These works launched the Golden Age of Manga. Their popularity and style offering people a new – and popular – way of reading Manga.

As a young boy Tezuka was very ill, his arms swelling up. The following treatment led him to want to become a doctor. He continued to draw as he studied medicine at Osaka University and obtained his medical degree. He arrived at a cross roads – familiar to almost all creatives when they try to decide which path to follow. Ahead of him a potentially lucrative career as a doctor, for which he was now almost fully qualified, or alternatively the life of a comic artist, not considered a particularly rewarding job. He turned to his mother for advice who replied “You should work doing the thing you like most of all.”

Tezuka graduated from Osaka University, having gained his Medical degree but would never practice medicine. He would however use his medical knowledge to enrich his sci-fi manga, such as Black Jack.

His creations include Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu in Japan, literally translated to “Iron-armed Atom”), Black Jack, Princess Knight, Phoenix (Hi no Tori in Japan), Kimba the White Lion, Adolf and Buddha. His “life’s work” was Phoenix — a story of life and death that he began in the 1950s and continued until his death.
In January 1965, Tezuka received a letter from Stanley Kubrick, who had watched Astro Boy and wanted to invite Tezuka to be the art director of his next movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Tezuka could not afford to leave his studio for an entire year to live in England, so he refused the invitation. Though he could not work on it, he loved the movie, and would play its soundtrack at maximum volume in his studio to keep him awake during the long nights of work.

Tezuka headed the animation production studio Mushi Production (“Bug Production”), which pioneered TV animation in Japan. The name of the studio derives from one of the kanji (虫 – Japanese reading: mushi, English meaning: bug,insect) used to write his name, bringing that quiet day discovering a bug bearing his name back firmly to his present day. Robust, tenacious and built for purpose ‘Bug’ productions continued to produce innovative and fascinating projects.

Many young manga artists once lived in the apartment where Tezuka lived, Tokiwa-sō. (As the suffix -sō indicates, this was probably a small, inexpensive apartment.) The residents included Shotaro Ishinomori (Cyborg 009, Kamen Rider) ; Fujio Akatsuka (known as the Gag Manga King; also influenced by western work, namely Buster Keaton and MAD magazine); and Abiko Motou and Hiroshi Fujimoto (who worked together under the pen name Fujiko Fujio and created the long-running series Doraemon, the main character of which is officially recognised as a cultural icon of modern Japan – much like Astroboy). All these men opted to live close to the starting point of the great master. Hard to think of an equivalent today for western artists though perhaps the difference is more cultural. Never-the-less the influence of Tezuka was undeniable and clear in order to inspire these men to wish to see the same views and follow so closely in his personal path.

Thanks to his prolific output, pioneering techniques and innovative redefinition of genres Tezuka earned himself incredible titles such as ‘the father of Manga’, ‘the god of comics’ and ‘kamisama (Japanese for spirit or natural force) of manga’.

Tezuka is known for his imaginative stories and stylized Japanese adaptations of western literature. He loved reading novels and watching films that came from the West. Tezuka’s early works included manga versions of Disney movies such as Bambi. His work, like that of other manga creators, was sometimes gritty and violent. However, he stayed away from graphic violence in some titles such as Astro Boy.

The distinctive “large eyes” style of Japanese animation was invented by Tezuka, drawing inspirations on cartoons of the time such as Betty Boop and Walt Disney’s Bambi and Mickey Mouse. His productivity is awesome in it’s scale – certainly dwarfing almost all modern artists, the Complete Manga Works of Tezuka Osamu (手塚治虫漫画全集, published in Japan) comprises some 400 volumes, over 80,000 pages; even considering this, it is not comprehensive. His complete portfolio includes over 700 manga with more than 150,000 pages. However, the vast majority of his work has never been translated from the original Japanese – which has led to a lack of fame in the west that other creators such as Kazuo Koike, Goseki Kojima and Katsuhiro Otomo have enjoyed.

Tezuka died of stomach cancer on February 9, 1989, at the age of 60. His death came about one month after the death of Hirohito, the Shōwa Emperor of Japan. In an afterword written by Takayuki Matsutani, president of Mushi Productions, that was published in Viz Media’s English language release of the Hi no Tori manga, it is said that his last words were, “I’m begging you, let me work!”

The city of Takarazuka, Hyōgo, where Tezuka grew up, opened a museum in his memory.
Stamps were issued in his honor in 1997. Also, beginning in 2003 the Japanese toy company Kaiyodo began manufacturing a series of figurines of Tezuka’s creations, including Princess Knight, Unico, the Phoenix, Dororo, Marvelous Melmo, Ambassador Magma and many others. To date three series of the figurines have been released. A separate Astro Boy series of figurines has also been issued, and continuing popularity for fans throughout Japan are annual Tezuka calendars with some of Tezuka’s most famous artwork.

His legacy has continued to be honored among Manga artists and animators and many artists including Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball), and Kazuki Takahashi (Yu-Gi-Oh!) have cited Tezuka an inspiration for their works.

Far reaching influences: Vampires (1966 -67 and 1968 -69) by Osamu Tezuka reveals parallel styles seen in Warner Bros and Disney, and even the later chapters of Jeff Smith's Bone.

Anywhere that the mark of modern manga and anime are found globally started with the stroke of Tezuka’s pen in post-war Japan. His intention was to spread joy. He has also spread images of science fiction worlds unimaginable in the west, although many are violent and malevolent they have moved millions and all carry the ‘wide-eyed’ innocence of Osamu Tezuka. An unknown legend in the west – he is partially responsible for almost half the design and artistic influence visible in modern comics and animation. East and West. Though these things are hard to quantify his intention to ‘spread joy’ through manga is still being achieved. Shelves and shelves of manga on every subject imaginable find their way to millions of Japanese readers every day. And every page carries a little bit of the joy Tezuka hoped for. Just a little ‘bug’ in the corner of every panel.

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Practitioners 49: Jack Kirby (Part 3)

In November 1961 The Fantastic Four #1 hit the newsstands across America. The story of four uniquely powered individuals related to each other as relatives, in friendship and purpose, revolutionised the industry. Although clearly reminiscent of hundreds of Sci-fi books before this had a comparative naturalism to it that hadn’t been seen before blended with a cosmic purview informed by boundless imagination. It was powered by Marvel Editor-in-chief Stan Lee and seasoned comics artist Jack Kirby.

For almost a decade, Kirby provided Marvel’s house style, co-creating with Stan Lee many of the Marvel characters and designing their visual motifs. At Lee’s request he often provided ‘new-to-marvel artists ‘breakdown’ layouts, over which they would pencil in order to become acquainted with the Marvel look. As artist Gil Kane described:

‘Jack was the single most influential figure in the turnaround in Marvel’s fortunes from the time he rejoined the company … It wasn’t merely that Jack conceived most of the characters that are being done, but … Jack’s point of view and philosophy of drawing became the governing philosophy of the entire publishing company and, beyond the publishing company, of the entire field … [Marvel took] Jack and use[d] him as a primer. They would get artists … and they taught them the ABCs, which amounted to learning Jack Kirby. … Jack was like the Holy Scripture and they simply had to follow him without deviation. That’s what was told to me … It was how they taught everyone to reconcile all those opposing attitudes to one single master point of view.’

Highlights from the House of Ideas other than the Fantastic Four include: Thor, the Hulk, Iron Man, the original X-Men, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Doom, Galactus, Uatu the Watcher, Magneto, Ego the Living Planet, the Inhumans and their hidden city Attilan and the Black Panther – comic’s first black superhero – and his African nation Wakanda. Last year and 2010 Thor, Iron Man and the X-Men grossed worldwide ($1,425,062,845) One Billion, four hundred and twenty five million, sixty two thousand, eight hundred and forty five dollars (A combination of $623,933,331 for Iron Man 2, $448,512,824 for Thor and $352,616,690 for X-Men: First Class). This was begun by two men, one of which was Jack Kirby. They cemented the concepts so clearly that while developed, the core values remain. All of them have the best writers, directors and actors vying to be a small part in the development of these ideas formed 51 years ago. Decades of the most talented artists have looked to Kirby for inspiration. His ideas as only presented more clearly, barely changed from the original concept design – perhaps drawn, in one case, on a table in Brooklyn many years before – with thoughts of war he hadn’t yet been called on to fight in his mind.

In March 1964, Simon and Kirby’s Captain America was also incorporated into Marvel, Kirby approving Lee’s idea of partially remaking the characters as a man out of his time and regretting the death of his partner. The suit returned almost exactly as it had been 23 years before. Last year, Captain America made $368,608,363 at the box office as Kirby’s suit stepped, again almost unchanged close to 70 years after the day it was designed on the back of Chris Evans.

In 1968 and 1969, Joe Simon was involved in litigation with Marvel Comics over the ownership of Captain America, initiated by Marvel after Simon registered the copyright renewal for Captain America in his own name. According to Simon, Kirby agreed to support the company in the litigation and, as part of a deal Kirby made with publisher Martin Goodman, signed over to Marvel any rights he might have had to the character.

Kirby continued to push the industries boundaries, devising photo collage covers and interiors reminiscent of ’80s artists in England playing with sellotape and photocopiers. Developing new drawing techniques such as the method of depicting energy fields known as ‘Kirbydots’ and other experiments. Able to handle high detail, explosive composition, emotion, perspective, conceptualisation and design – it was Kirby’s sense of scale that blows many artists away. Alien engines dwarf figures in certain panels, coils, springs and rivets collected together in such ways that they seem to be an optical illusion. Perspective twists in some of his environments such as Mr Fantastic’s lab in a way that somehow bends the eye. Many generations of artists have dismissed Kirby as dated or unsophisticated until presented with his depictions of machinery and the Silver Surfer.

A character of incredible simplicity, divinity and … just … cool. The concept of a humanoid riding the waves of space at incredible speeds highlights the natural beauty and associations with divine advancement incorporating the universe around it and the increased simplicity it brings. But none of that is said. But all of it is inherent. A perfectly formed, universally accessible character made even more interesting by Stan Lee by being a good man acting as herald to a being of unimaginable power. Again, the genius of the character is that it is a perfect template that can be adapted into anyone’s style. Much like any Kirby character you can mention. The simplicity and intuitive details he applies are often so universal that they are only more interesting with each new reinterpretation. While Iron Man had to inevitably change as technology developed, Thor still carries the same Hammer and wears the same white riveted top, Captain America still has his Red, White and Blue, the star on his chest and the skull cap design applied to him in the newest incarnation, the Ultimates, by Bryan Hitch is a throwback to Kirby’s original design, Hulk remains Green (as he was in his second appearance) and even had a Grey countenance as Peter David’s Joe Fixit in the ’90s – a nod to the original design. Black Panther, Magneto, The Inhumans and Attilan have also only ever been refined – never redesigned. This is the testament to the lasting influence of Kirby. Even the X-Men have retained the yellow and blue of their original uniforms for more than 45 years. Somehow Kirby just knew. Wiser than the rest of us what he put down on paper worked and generations of artists have never cracked how to improve on his original designs.

Yet, Kirby grew increasingly unhappy at Marvel. The reasons given for this included resentment over Stan Lee’s increasing media prominence, a lack of full creative control, anger over breaches of perceived promises by publisher Martin Goodman and at Marvel specifically for lack of credit for his story plotting, character creations and co-creations. He began to both script and draw some secondary features for Marvel, such as “The Inhumans” in Amazing Adventures, as well as horror stories for the anthology title Chamber of Darkness, and received full credit for doing so; but he eventually left the company in 1970 for rival DC Comics, under editorial director Carmine Infantino.

Spending nearly two years trying to negotiate a three year contract with the option of staying on a further two additional years. In 1970, at the age of 53, Kirby joined DC and immediately started creating a ‘Fourth World’. A trilogy of New Titles – New Gods, Mister Miracle and The Forever People. He took on Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen because the series was without a stable creative team and he didn’t want to be responsible for losing anyone their job. The central villain of the Fourth World, Darkseid, and some other Fourth World concepts appeared in the pages of Jimmy Olsen before being launched as their own series, giving greater exposure to potential buyers. Jack Kirby remained an incredibly shrewd operator, still demonstrating the guile and forward thinking that is expected of great creative directors. Though here he was without a company, working as he had always wanted to. As a creative.

Kirby had a lasting effect on DC too, leaving characters that have recurred or consistently remained in the DC Universe, though not as centrally as the Marvel Universe. These included OMAC (seen in the Final Crisis crossover of 2009), Kamandi, The Demon, The Losers, Dingbats of Danger Street, Kobra and together with old partner Joe Simon for one last time, a new incarnation of the Sandman.

But it had to be said that rather than Kirby having Marvel blood in his veins, Marvel ran on Kirby Engine Oil and the company would always have taken him back. In 1975, Stan Lee used a Fantastic Four discussion panel to announce that Kirby was returning to Marvel. Ever the showman, Lee wrote in his monthly article ‘Stan Lee’s Soapbox’ that “I mentioned that I had a special announcement to make. As I started telling about Jack’s return, to a totally incredulous audience, everyone’s head started to snap around as Kirby himself came waltzin’ down the aisle to join us on the rostrum! You can imagine how it felt clownin’ around with the co-creator of most of Marvel’s greatest strips once more.”

Back at Marvel, Kirby both wrote and drew Captain America and created the series The Eternals, which featured a race of inscrutable alien giants, the Celestials, whose behind-the-scenes intervention in primordial humanity would eventually become a core element of Marvel Universe continuity. Kirby’s other Marvel creations in this period include Devil Dinosaur, Machine Man, and an adaptation and expansion of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as an abortive attempt to do the same for the classic television series, The Prisoner. He also wrote and drew Black Panther and did numerous covers across the line.

Still dissatisfied with Marvel’s treatment of him and with the companies refusal to provide health and other employment benefits, Kirby sadly left Marvel to work in animation. In that field, he did designs for Turbo Teen, Thundarr the Barbarian and other animated television series. He also worked on The Fantastic Four cartoon show, reuniting him with scriptwriter Stan Lee. He illustrated an adaptation of the Walt Disney movie The Black Hole for Walt Disney’s Treasury of Classic Tales syndicated comic strip in 1979-80.

In the early 1980s, Pacific Comics, a new, non-newsstand comic book publisher, made a then-groundbreaking deal with Kirby to publish a creator-owned series Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers, and a six-issue mini-series called Silver Star which was collected in hardcover format in 2007. This, together with similar actions by other independent comics publishers as Eclipse Comics (where Kirby co-created Destroyer Duck in a benefit comic-book series published to help Steve Gerber fight a legal case versus Marvel), helped establish a precedent to end the monopoly of the work for hire system, wherein comics creators, even freelancers, had owned no rights to characters they created.
Though estranged from Marvel, Kirby continued to do periodic work for DC Comics during the 1980s, including a brief revival of his “Fourth World” saga in the 1984 and 1985 Super Powers mini-series and the 1985 graphic novel The Hunger Dogs. And in 1987, under much industry pressure, Marvel finally returned much of Kirby’s original art to him.
Kirby also retained ownership of characters used by Topps Comics beginning in 1993, for a set of series in what the company dubbed “The Kirbyverse”. These titles were derived mainly from designs and concepts that Kirby had kept in his files, some intended initially for the by-then-defunct Pacific Comics, and then licensed to Topps for what would become the “Jack Kirby’s Secret City Saga” mythos. Marvel posthumously published a “lost” Kirby/Lee Fantastic Four story, Fantastic Four: The Lost Adventure (April 2008), with unused pages Kirby had originally drawn for Fantastic Four 108 (March 1971).
On February 6, 1994, Kirby died at age 76 of heart failure in his Thousand Oaks, California home. He was buried at the Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, Westlake Village, California.

Kirby’s legacy is enormous. Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis crossover hinged on Kirby’s Fourth World – specifically Darkseid himself – inflicting themselves on Earth, Captain America still leads the Avengers / Ultimates in colours picked out for him by a man he could have fought in the war with. The Hulk continues to smash, the Surfer continues to glide through the Marvel Universe. Artists around the world look to Kirby’s example of steadfast, unfussy iconography, simple, effective design and dizzying compositions. A generation of Marvel artists were trained by him. But more important than that, Jacob Kurtzberg of Suffolk Street, New York City built dreams others could build upon while simply building his own. He has influenced and inspired thousands of creatives (including this one) and built a House of Ideas that millions of people continue to enjoy. Kirby is a true legend to those who know, possibly the greatest comic book artist who ever lived. Responsible for the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Mr Fantastic, Invisible Woman, the Thing and The Human Torch. If they existed, all of them would have visited the grave of Jack Kirby. The Hulk would have stood in the rain over Kirby’s resting place, a giant over a small guy’s crypt and simply said ‘Goodbye Dad’. With that, the broad shouldered goliath would turn and launch himself up into the sky, disappearing into the distance. If Kirby, lying where he was could see it he’d have thought ‘Good angle, but perhaps it could be just a little tighter…’