Who's to judge Tezuka's rivals?
Today's post is a translation of a post I made to my Japanese blog a year ago. I think it's relevant to my post of a few days ago. (Names are in Japanese order, surname first.)
One thing I noticed is that in any given issue in which Tezuka Osamu appears, his manga is not necessarily the best in that issue. Quite the contrary, I couldn't help wondering, "How can it be that these awesome artists are completely forgotten today?"
(I know everyone is sick of my "Tezuka was not God" lecture, so I won't be picking at flaws in Tezuka's work today.)
Today what I want to do is look at some artists who have became lost in the shadow of history.
First, let's compare two works in the pages of the March 1959 issue of Ribbon.
The first piece that caught my eye was an episode of a ballet manga by Tezuka titled Akebono-san ("Miss Daybreak").
The color splash page is clever and cute.
Let's look at the content.
Yep. This looks pretty par for Tezuka's work at the time. The right page has loads of text and the panels are just sort of stuffed in there, which was standard operating procedure in the manga of 1959, but the left page is more interesting.
Yet that seems like a peculiar way to use your biggest panel on the page. That thing in the lower left corner looks like a lord's topknot from a samurai manga, but on second look it's a street light.
And check out the puffs of smoke that mark the heroine's path. That's straight out of prewar manga. You see it a lot in Norakuro.
Miss Daybreak, don't tell me you walked all the way here on your knees!? Are you on a pilgrimage or something? Did you lose a bet?
Okay, let's look at the next piece. I turned to this page and let out an involuntary "Whoa!"
Lead Private Eye, Momoko, by Suzuki Mitsuaki.
Come to think of it, I recently saw an ad for a new hardcover edition of this. I didn't realize it was this old.
To be honest, my image of Suzuki was "that guy who wrote that book on how to draw shōjo manga back in the 1980s using a really old-fashioned drawing style." (←Ouch.)
But look at this gorgeous splash page. This was cutting edge in 1959.
The cross-hatching is clean.
The lines are clean.
The stylization is cute.
As I'm paging through this, I start to think...
"This is way better than the Tezuka manga I was just looking at."
Full disclosure: On this day I didn't have time to carefully read these stories, so my judgement is based almost entirely on the art and how the artists make use of the page. I am not assessing the stories here.
I am impressed.
Suzuki's lines are beautiful.
He's really good at showing the story.
And it's all as cute as can be.
Afterwards I checked and learned he was 23 years-old at the time.
(Tezuka was 30 at the time.)
This makes we want to see pages of his original art.
As soon as I got home, I ordered the new hardcover edition.
Look how thick they are!
I'm a slow reader in any language, so I've only read a bit, but I think the quality is really solid for the times.
Of course, the fact that fans petitioned fukkan.com to revive this work suggests that Suzuki is not exactly a "forgotten" artist, but I still think he deserves more attention than he's received.
Still, history has been kinder to him than it has to these next two artists.
Two of the best manga I saw this day were Kanzaki Akira's Midori's Great Plain (story by Kawauchi Kōhan) and Nishina Kimiko's Mother's Secret (idea by Moriyama Yū).
First Midori's Great Plain.
Unfortunately, I only photographed the splash page and the "story so far" portion. I should've taken more pictures!
But this is enough to demonstrate his ability as an illustrator and his sense of composition.
There aren't many cartoonists who can draw a horse well.
There's usually something out of whack.
Not that this horse is flawless.
Its front legs seem small compared to the back legs.
And it's in such a frenzy it has only one leg touching the ground.
And the heroine seems to be sitting precariously far to the left.
But it's a more or less convincing drawing and it has a certain impact.
And in the panel above the "story so far" text, each of the three faces has its own wonderfully clear expression.
And, as with Suzuki, the lines are clean.
(I basically like pretty pictures, so apologies to those who think pictures are secondary to story.)
In the case of Mother's Secret, not only did I just shoot the splash page and "story so far" portion, the splash page came out badly blurred, so I had to dig up a cover illustration from the same series by the same artist.
And the mother's expression is nicely drawn.
But do a search for either of these artists' names (神崎あきら & 西奈貴美子), and you won't find much.
To be specific, despite the fact that she drew a fair number of manga, you won't find anything written about Nishina.
And Kanzaki seems to have only drawn two or three manga.
But why? They're both really good!
Pondering this question led me to another question.
"Just how were these artists, including Tezuka, assessed at the time?"
But wait. The situation was completely different from the situation today. Was there really anything like the kind of "assessment" we would find today?
Needless to say, there were no "manga critics" in those days.
There was no such thing as "manga criticism."
Look at these tables of content.
Shōjo Book gives the names of the artists, but Ribbon doesn't.
The readers of this period were elementary school girls.
(Junior high school girls did not, as a rule, read manga in the 1950s, with the exception of rental manga. Someday I'll have to write about rental manga.)
Would the readers have even looked at the artists' names?
I can't imagine a child saying to another, "I prefer Tezuka Osamu's work to Suzuki Mitsuaki's."
A child's "assessment" of a manga would be "Like," "Don't like," "Don't care either way,"
(I think that's true today as well.)
There was no such thing as a trade paperback at the time, so there are no sales figures from which to glean popularity.
The only assessment that existed at the time was that of editors.
And virtually all of the editors of the time were men.
Who was the first to say, "Tezuka Osamu is the God of Manga and he's fundamentally different from the others," and when did he say it?
One thing I can say with some certainty is that the Baby Boomer manga critics (who would have been elementary school children in the period I'm talking about, and who are all men) praised the artists who worked in the boys' magazines they read while growing up.
And the artists they praised were all men. (But I must point out that the late Yonezawa Yoshihiro, mentioned in my previous post, seriously studied girls' manga and offered much praise for women artists.)
Chiba created truly wonderful shōjo manga, but were Yokoyama's shōjo manga really that great?
I don't think so.
There were plenty of artists working in shōjo manga who were better than Yokoyama, yet we never hear about them.
So why did these critics go on and on about Yokoyama (and Chiba)? Because those artists went on to become hugely successful in shōnen (boys') manga.
What I'm trying to say is that the conventional wisdom of manga history that we accept as "historical truth" was born from male-centering prejudices and is not an undistorted reflection of the situation at the time.
Listening to the stories of the editors of the time might provide a more accurate picture, but those editors were contemptuous of shōjo manga at the time, and it's possible that their recollections have been distorted by subsequent events.
What I'd like to do is talk to the readers of the time.
Those women should be in their early sixties today.
Next time I go to the Manga Museum, I'd like to take about eight such women with me and look over these old magazines together.