Tezuka: The Marvel of Manga

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The artist TEZUKA Osamu

TEZUKA Osamu created a revolution in comics and animation. Born in 1928 in Toyonaka, in Osaka, Japan, he was raised in the nearby city of Takarazuka. From a very early age he loved to draw (and loved to collect insects so much that he later incorporated the ideogram for 'insect' into his first name as a pen name). When he was eighteen, and enrolled in university as a medical student, he made his debut as a cartoonist with a four panel newspaper comic strip titled Ma-chan's Diary. Not too long thereafter, paperback compilations of his longer stories, with titles such as New Treasure Island, Lost World and Next World, became smash hits, selling what was then unthinkable for comics - over 400,000 copies each - and making him nationally famous.

Although Tezuka eventually received his physician's license, he chose to devote his life to manga and anime rather than practise medicine. In doing so he brought an unusually creative and educated mind to both fields. In comics in particular, he pioneered long narratives of hundreds, even thousands of pages, bringing 'cinematic' art styles and novelistic plots to the medium. By 1950 he had firmly established his position as the leading comics artist of his day when he serialised his now-classic work, Jungle Emperor, (aka Kimba the White Lion), in the monthly magazine, Manga Shonen. Then, in 1952, he began serializing Mighty Atom in the young boys' monthly Shonen. Mighty Atom, which later became known to Americans as 'Astro Boy', continued until 1968, becoming one of Tezuka's most popular and famous works.

Tezuka did not stop with Atom, however. He began turning out one hit after another with Princess Knight in 1953, Ambassador Magma and W3 ('Amazing 3') in 1965, Vampire in 1966 and Dororo in 1967. In 1967 he also began drawing what he called his 'life work' - The Phoenix - and creating comics target at a more adult audience. 

Remarkably Tezuka continued creating comics with powerful, original themes throughout his long career. Some of his best know later work include Ode to Kirihiti, 1970; A History of Birdmen, 1971; A Hundred Tales, 1971; Ayako, 1972; Black Jack and Buddha, 1973; MW, 1976; A Tree in the Sun, 1981; Tell Adolph, 1983; Ludwig B, 1987 and Neo Faust,1988. Tezuka continued creating and drawing comics until he died on 9 February 1989.

On 10 February 1989, the day after Tezuka passed away, Japan's Asahi newspaper explained the contribution of this great artist as follows:

"Foreign visitors to Japan often find it difficult to understand why Japanese people like comics so much. For example, they often reportedly find it odd to see grown men and women engrossed in weekly comic magazines on the trains during commute hours. One explanation for the popularity of comics in Japan, however, is that Japan had Osamu Tezuka, whereas other nations did not. Without Dr. Tezuka, the post war explosion in comics in Japan would have been inconceivable."


Astro boy

TEZUKA Osamu (Japanese 1928-89) Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atomu) title page for Mystery Man of the Blast Furnace, 1961, Shonen, published by Kobunsha, gouache, 34.3x23cm © Tezuka Productions