My trip to Lewes yesterday was to visit my publishers, Ilex Press, at their new offices, a rather elegant Georgian building just around the corner from the Victorian artisans’ workshop they used to occupy. Lewes is a lovely town, with a long and honourable history of radical dissent and independent action. (It also has the wildest bonfire parties in England each November.)
I went to plan new projects and discuss the promotion for existing ones. My next book, Manga Cross Stitch, is due out in June in the UK and September in the USA, and October sees the US and UK launch of The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga.
I’ve been working on the Tezuka book, on and off, for about four years now, and selling it to a publisher took far longer than actually writing the book. Twenty years after his death, Tezuka is still one of the most influential figures in Japanese comics and animation, and in the wider field of general pop culture: a true 20th century icon. He’s also one of the most inventive SF writers of his generation, a gifted designer and illustrator and a true visionary. Yet as far as the English-speaking world is concerned, and despite the valiant efforts of individuals like Frederik L. Schodt and publishers like Vertical, he’s still, at best, “the guy who did Astro Boy.” Or “the guy who did Kimba.”
Of course, most of us would consider that a pretty good ‘at best’. Astro Boy and Kimba have influenced the dreams of children all over the world. There are scientists making life-changing discoveries in Japan who might never have become scientists if they hadn’t been entranced by Astro Boy. But Tezuka was so much more than that.
People who don’t know his work assume that he was all about cute little robots and Disneyesque animals. (Ironically, in 1994 many anime and manga fans accused Disney of making its animals a little too Tezukaeqsue in The Lion King.) Yet from early on in his career, his work embraced dark, subverted worlds and dangerous visions, skirting the censorship of Occupied Japan to raise issues like sex slavery, starvation and discrimination through the deceptively innocuous medium of the comic book. He was also a scientist, an environmentalist and a lifelong opponent of any form of discrimination. Accusations that he was a racist are, frankly, based in such wilful ignorance as to be risible. An examination of his work – even the tiny amount available in English – shows that he was no such thing.
Aside from all his talents, the thing that struck me most while I was researching the book is how good Tezuka seemed to be at the art of living. As well as redefining the postwar Japanese comics and animation industries, making experimental animation, producing inventive commercial illustration and design work, writing a long shelf of essays, movie journalism, prose fiction and children’s books, and serving on committees and juries for many comics organisations and film festivals, Tezuka lived life to the full. He was a beloved husband, father and friend, a bon viveur who played the piano or accordion at a party and often took his staff to the movies. He loved cosplay, theatricals and good times. I was especially touched by the tributes paid to him by Frederik L. Schodt and Fred Patten, who were his good friends, and by a family snap of his son, then aged about four, curled up alongside Dad on the studio floor while he worked. He was only alive for sixty years, but it’s no exaggeration to say that he didn’t waste a minute of the time he was given.
Tezuka was as human and fallible as anyone. He could be grouchy and bad-tempered, and he suffered from depression, so the records of the times he snapped at staff and friends are no surprise: but nobody seems to have held it against him. I feel as if I’ve spent four years getting to know a gifted, loveable man. Even though I’m excited about the book and can’t wait for it to see daylight, I’m going to miss spending every day with Tezuka. He was really good company.
You can order the book now from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.