In Search of How Manga Became Art

Manga is one of the elements of Japanese art that is world-famous. But why is it that this form of pop culture could become as sublime as art and be a medium that above all stands for Japan? The answer to this question could be found in ‘The Power of Manga: Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori’ exhibition that ran at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo until early September.

Connecting the work of Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori to social changes and their connections with fellow manga-ka, the exhibition showed the how the mass culture that is manga expanded beyond its confines to become art. Many people will feel like they have seen these manga artists’ work somewhere before when they look at it, such is the extent to which their art styles have permeated our senses and lives both in Japan and overseas.

‘The Power of Art’ was held until September 8th at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and now will be touring to the Osaka Museum of History, Miyagi Museum of Art and two other venues around Japan from November until next spring.

Tezuka is the “god” of manga while Ishinomori is the “king”. Their oeuvres are big enough for them to both have their own museums. They are manga-ka we look up to. So why is it necessary now to make an exhibition that showcases their work at the same time? Because they and their circle of comic book artists created the foundations of manga art.

Shunji Suzuki of NHK Promotion, which organized the exhibition, told us: “Both Tezuka and Ishinomori were creators who made manga art itself. The people who came after then developed this and manga became an ingrained part of society.” The exhibition also wanted to put their manga in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, a venue that mainly hosts art exhibitions, and then to re-interpret both manga-ka’s work from the contexts of modern art and pop art.

tezuka-ishinomori01© Tezuka Productions, © Ishinomori Pro

Most of the exhibits were original drawings and artworks related to Ishinomori and Tezuka, selected by Tezuka Productions and Ishinomori Pro as examples where you can see link between the two manga-ka. There are many interesting exhibits, such as Tezuka’s ‘Astro Boy’, for which Ishinomori was a temporary assistant when still a high school student. Divided into a prologue and four parts, you could see how manga style and its scope evolved within the context of Japan’s economic growth.

The first part looked at how the two met. Tezuka was working as a manga-ka from early on while Ishinomori ran a dojinshi called ‘A Drop of Ink’ in Miyagi prefecture. Ishinomori contributed to a manga magazine at the time called Manga Shonen and his talents were recognised by Tezuka.

tezuka-ishinomori02Shotaro Ishinomori’s ‘A Drop of Ink’ (Bokuju itteki)

tezuka-ishinomori03The exhibition also features episodes from when Ishinomori worked as a temporary assistant on Tezuka’s manuscripts while still a high school student.

The second part of the exhibition looked at how manga exploded, summarizing the era in which as Japan’s economy moved forward Tezuka and Ishinomori expanded their activities from monthly magazines to weeklies, TV magazines and educational magazines. With the 1964 Tokyo Olympics more and more households owned televisions, thus ushering in the age of TV anime. Manga like ‘Atom Boy’, ‘Princess Knight’ and ‘Cyborg 009′ were adapted into TV anime series and we start to see media crossover. Merchandising rights were sold to toy manufacturers in order to secure the budget for ‘Atom Boy’.

tezuka-ishinomori04You could enjoy both original drawings and anime at the exhibition.

tezuka-ishinomori05The anime series of ‘Atom Boy’ took the lead in character toys and merchandising.

The first manga-ka to really create original stories and TV shows for children is said to be Ishinomori and his ‘Kamen Rider’ series. From Ishinomori’s plan colors were already being used to separate the various heroes.

tezuka-ishinomori06Heroes were already being separated by color in Ishinomori’s design plans.

The works amassed in the first two parts then turn into the third part’s “essence of power duel”. Divided into themes of “life”, “war and peace” and “women”, typical scenes are selected from each manga-ka’s oeuvre and exhibited in cases or on the walls. “So that even people who don’t know Tezuka and Ishinomori’s work can enjoy the exhibition, we picked out their characteristic style and stories,” says Shunji Suzuki. By looking at their respective themes you can see how their drawing style differs, along with what they share.

tezuka-ishinomori07This section exhibited typical scenes from both manga-ka’s work under the theme of science.

tezuka-ishinomori08The “filmic art”-themed section is also a must.

What we can see from these exhibits is that today’s manga techniques and the foundations of the industry were laid by Tezuka, Ishinomori and their associates. Based on the manga up till then, they introduced techniques from areas outside manga, such as cinema and theatre. Sound effects, crowd scenes, shadows, close-ups, daring compositing — many of the techniques now taken for granted in contemporary story manga were first attempted by Tezuka et al during the dawn of manga.

tezuka-ishinomori09Manga cells from ‘Shin Takarajima’ (New Treasure Island), which famously used cinematic techniques.

The same applies to how the manga industry and tie-up merchandising developed, such as character toys and comics that came with special giveaways. The rise of new media like video and game software also supported this.

tezuka-ishinomori10Ishinomori’s ‘Sabu and Ichi’s Detective Stories’ was sold as a deluxe version with special giveaways.

The two manga-ka were very much aware of each other’s manga and style. Look at the original drawings chronologically and you can see how in Ishinomori’s early period his way of drawing was similar to Tezuka’s, but then gradually developed into his own original style.

tezuka-ishinomori11Ishinomori’s style in his early dojinshi ‘A Drop of Ink’ (left)

tezuka-ishinomori12And this is his later ‘Kojiki: Manga nihon no koten’. You can see how Ishinomori has made a style of his own.

However, it could also be said that there is a slight difference in their attitudes towards manga. Tezuka was always aware of being the bellwether while Ishinomori was free to act in the path first opened up by Tezuka. “For Tezuka, who gained recognition for manga culture in the world, the successors who followed after him were rivals. On the other hand, Ishinomori was having lots of fun with his manga,” says Suzuki.

tezuka-ishinomori13Osamu Tezuki

tezuka-ishinomori14Shotaro Ishinomori Photo: © Ishinomori Pro

Another thing the exhibition teaches us is how the two manga-ka held great esteem for cinema and classical music, which were the big forms of entertainment in their day. In the first part you can see black and white footage from films released in Japan just after the war, such as ‘Fort Apache’ (1948) and ‘The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). The exhibition also features a reconstruction of Ishinomori’s room at the Tokiwa-so (the apartment in which Tezuka and others lived), on the floor of which there are countless LPs and an 8mm camera. After all, Ishinomori also directed some of the ‘Kamen Rider’ TV series.

tezuka-ishinomori15A reconstruction of Ishinomori’s room at the Tokiwa-so. Note all the LPs.

Needless to say there is also commentary on Tezuka’s cinematic style. Shunji Suzuki tells us that “during the war there was little entertainment for kids so Tezuka wanted to put what was exciting about films into a paper medium that could be held in your hand.” These experiments impressed other kids at the time and it led to Tezuka becoming a manga-ka.

tezuka-ishinomori16Homages also further expanded the world of manga.

Where did the “power of manga” they built up ultimately arrive at? The answer can be found in the fourth part of the exhibition which features homages and works that pay tribute to Tezuka and Ishinomori. the “god” and the “king” created so many long and short manga during their lives. From ‘Atom Boy’ to ‘Kimba the White Lion’, ‘Kamen Rider’, and ‘Black Jack’ and ‘Hotel’ for older kids, manga-ka and younger artists at the time came into contact with Tezuka and Ishinomori’s work and were influenced by it.

We also cannot overlook their influence on non-manga artists either, such as Kengo Nakamura. He has developed a new art form by using the style of character-drawing that Tezuka used for crowd scenes. Tomoko Fukushi, meanwhile, is an artist who uses the composition and grammar of manga, such as cells and onomatopoeia.

tezuka-ishinomori17Popular idol grop Momoiro Clover Z transformed themselves into characters from ‘Cyborg 009′.

I would also like to add another example of something that is indebted to Tezuka and Ishinomori — ‘Pacific Rim’, the Hollywood blockbuster that was released this summer. I don’t know if the director has directly seen Japanese manga or anime, but with its “Kaiju” monsters attacking human society, and humans specially chosen to fight them by piloting giant robots powered by nuclear reactors, the movie was very reminiscent of the the worlds of Tezuka and Ishinomori.

The two manga-ka’s production companies (Tezuka Productions and Ishinomori Pro) are also well disposed towards these tributes and so have won approval from many artists. “They thought that the reason why the occupation of the manga-ka exists today is thanks to Tezuka and Ishinomori,” says Shunji Suzuki. In the past we have seens a lot of homages in all kinds of places. But that they are now here exhibited in the same space as the originals is proof of how manga culture has expanded its ambit to another level.

The direction of the exhibition was also shaped by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which happened on March 11th, 2011, when the event was in the planning stages. Forced to consider just what they could do after that disaster, the organizers saw how Shonen Jump was being read and passed round at Miyagi prefecture book stores and the Ishinomori Manga Museum in badly hit Ishinomaki City in Miyagi — and that manga had the power to brighten up people’s lives. “That’s why we chose the title of the exhibition, to emphasize that in Japan there is manga,” says Suzuki.

tezuka-ishinomori18 Manga also contributed to helping out the disaster zones in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Manga was set into our DNA by Tezuka and Ishinomori. This couldn’t have been done by just one genius, nor by just an average Joe. This exhibition showed us that manga-ka and manga fans are still very much in the laps of these two great comic book artists.

‘The Power of Manga: Osamu Tezuka and Shotaro Ishinomori’
November 15th, 2013 to January 5th, 2014
Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History
January 5th to March 10th, 2014
Osaka Museum of History
March 21st to May 19th, 2014
Yamanashi Prefectural Museum
May 31st to July 27th, 2014
Miyagi Museum of Art