Thursday, 17 November 2011


Osamu Tezuka is one of the greats of graphic storytelling. Not to have read anything by him is akin to not having read anything by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Moebius, Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, Will Eisner, Frank Miller, etc. Tezuka makes you see the form in a completely new way just as Akira Kurosawa (film), Hayao Miyazaki (animation) and Haruki Murakami (contemporary fiction) do. He is that important.

Tezuka (1928-1989) was an astonishingly prolific writer/artist. His dying words were, apparently, “I beg you, let me work.” He died aged 61, still at the height of his powers, but leaving a vast legacy behind. Although known at the time only as a cult figure to western audiences, he was honoured in Japan where he was accorded the nickname “The God of Manga” for his influence on and contribution to this uniquely Japanese form of graphic storytelling.

His work is enormous in scope ranging from fairly simple children’s adventures to his dark adult-orientated work of the 1970’s, not forgetting his masterpiece, the playfully philosophical multi-volume series Buddha.  But for all the range of work , it is always recognisable as that of the same person. Even in his children’s books there is an underlying compassion, open-mindedness, and empathy for humanity and all our foibles. Even his most famous creation, the exhuberant series of adventures about the child-robot Astro Boy (aka Mighty Atom), is a parable about racism. Yet Tezuka never openly preaches, he lays down his work for the reader to take away what they will.
Note: the book itself is black & white

Which brings me, finally, to Princess Knight, an early work originally published in serial form 1953-56 and then revised and republished 1963-66. Vertical, the publisher who has, and still is, re-issuing many of Tezuka’s finest works state on the blurb that “Princess Knight mixes themes of gender identity and politics with classic shojo-style illustration to create a charming proto-feminist masterpiece…” Wow! Now while this is actually true, it doesn’t make it doesn’t exactly make it sound suitable for children. In fact this is an all-ages fantasy , originally aimed at children (particularly girls) but does possess a certain charm for the older reader.  Vertical, however, are clearly aiming this at an adult audience.

Accidentally given a boy’s heart as well as a girl as a result of the angel Tink (who looks like a young boy) Sapphire has to pretend to be a boy because of the rules of primogeniture in order to stop a nasty person taking the crown. Tink is sent by God to Earth to get the boy’s heart but ends up protecting Sapphire.  I may as well quote again from the blurb otherwise I’d only be paraphrasing it anyway. “Filled with narrow escapes, treacherous, courtiers, dashing pirates, meddlesome witches, magical transformations and cinema-worthy displays of derring-do…” It could almost be the full-length feminist cartoon that Disney never made, though they did rip off Tezuka’s Jungle Emperor when they made The Lion King. Vol.2 is to be published in January and I’ve already ordered it.

But, when you buy your copy, do share it with a child under ten, or, better yet, buy them their own. It’s too good to keep to yourself.

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