Unknown In English 5: Fukujiro Yokoi

Fukujiro Yokoi’s name cropped up in my research on pre-war and wartime manga for my book on Osamu Tezuka. He was evidently a great influence on Tezuka, and on other creators, yet I could find virtually no information in European languages apart from a brief entry on lambiek.net. His name crops up in a few other European sources, usually noting his influence on Tezuka and occasionally mentioning his Tarzan manga. There’s a small entry in Maurice Horn’s 1976 World Encyclopedia of Comics, but it’s hardly a complete picture of a very influential career.

Yokoi’s importance to the history of manga is immense. His work is a vital thread in the ties that bind the nineteenth-century immigrant artists who taught Western art and comic styles to the first generation of manga-makers and animators, and the post-war artists led by Tezuka who would reshape the manga industry.

Hirata's book, available on Amazon Japan

Luckily, interest in prewar and wartime manga is growing in Japan, and Yokoi’s work is highly regarded. In 2005, Shogo Hirata wrote a book entitled Japan’s Leonardo da Vinci: Osamu Tezuka and 6 Men. It’s packed with illustrations and information on postwar artists and writers “following in the footsteps of Leonardo do Vinci” – envisioning the future through creativity and imagination.

Yokoi is one of the six writers and artists placed alongside Tezuka. The others are Juzo Unno, Soji Yamakawa, Shigeru Komatsuzaki, Shigeru Sugiura, and Takeo Nagamatsu. An exhibition at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in 2008 confirmed Yokoi’s significance.

In 2007 Isao Shimizu wrote a book devoted solely to Yokoi. The subtitle makes his importance clear: Postwar Manga Frontrunner Fukujiro Yokoi: Even Osamu Tezuka Acknowledged His Miraculous Manga-Making Genius. (Sengo manga no top runner Yokoi Fukujiro –  Tezuka Osamu mo hirefushita tensai mangaka no kiseki, 2007, pub. Rinsen Shoten.)

Snippets of information on Starblazers.com, in interviews with Leiji Matsumoto, reveal that Yokoi was one of Matsumoto’s childhood favourite comic artists. The creator of Captain Harlock and Space Battleship Yamato was influenced by his illustration techniques and admired his pen-and-ink style.

Puchar in the Land of Marvels, modern collected edition

Yokoi’s seminal manga Puchar in the Land of Marvels (Fushigi no kuni no Puchar) has been hailed as the first Japanese comic to show convincing images of a concrete future society. It commenced publication in July 1946: after years of hardship and deprivation, here at last was a fresh vision of the future. With Adventure Boy Puchar (Bokenji Puchar), it influenced not only Leiji Matsumoto and Osamu Tezuka, but a whole generation of Japanese children who went on to consume – and create – science fiction comics.

Perry on the cover of Manga Club magazine

Its influence on Tezuka’s Astro Boy (Tetsuwan Atom) was profound, both in terms of the general science fiction/future society background and of actual story details. It features a scientist who makes a robot boy called Perry for a woman who has lost her son in a road accident. Perry was one of the prototypes for Astro Boy.

Yokoi was born in Minato-ku, Tokyo, on 25 September 1912. His father, a tailor, died when he was two years old, and the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 deprived him of his home. He was adopted by his paternal grandfather. In 1930, aged 18, and with only an elementary education, he went to work at the Jiji Shinpo newspaper company in the type-casting foundry.

There he met Rakuten Kitazawa, a political cartoonist on the paper and manga’s earliest superstar. Kitazawa was one of the fathers of Japan’s contemporary manga industry, and an international celebrity. He had learned comic art from Australian Frank A. Nankivell, founded and published two manga magazines, and received the Legion d’Honneur at an exhibition of his work in Paris in 1929. During his time at Tokyo Puck magazine he had trained a young cartoonist named Hekoten Shimokawa, who as Oten Shimokawa made the first anime in 1917. He was approaching retirement from Jiji Shinpo, but would continue to encourage and train young artists and animators even after he retired in 1932.

Yokoi became one of Kitazawa’s disciples, and began producing comics and illustrations. In 1932 he left his job to work full-time as an artist. By October 1933 he was  a contributor to Kodansha’s long-established Boys Club magazine, which had been founded in 1914 (and incidentally survived the war, finally folding in 1962.) In 1938-39 he illustrated a long-running military novel by Sadakazu Muto for Boys Club. He also provided illustrations for a wide range of titles including New WomanModern Japan and Youth, including stories by sci-fi writer Juzo Unno, another influence on Tezuka.

He even had a character named after him: star artist Ryuichi Yokoyama named the perky, cheeky hero of his four-panel comic strip Fuku-chan after Yokoi. The strip started running in 1936; it was one of the young Tezuka’s favourite comics, and inspired some of his early works. (It was animated for TV in 1982, and in 1986 Tezuka paid tribute to his childhood favourite in a 4-panel comic entitled Fuku-chan in the 21st Century, created for a Yokoyama exhibition in Tokyu’s Shibuya department store.)

In 1936 Yokoi got married. He and his wife had a son before he was called up for military service and sent to the Pacific front in 1941. He contracted tuberculosis and malaria in the Philippines, and became so ill that he was sent back to Japan around May 1942. It was difficult for comic artists to work during the war years; the Government controlled both the limited supply of paper and the one surviving manga magazine, and only comics acceptable to the authorities could be printed. Still, Yokoi managed to get some work into print, perhaps helped by his connection with Kitazawa, who headed the Government-sponsored manga artists’ association. In 1941 Animal Support Corps (Yokusan Butai) made its debut, and Fireball Kan Chan (Hinotama Kan Chan) appeared in 1944, its story foreshadowing some of the science fiction elements that would be developed further in Puchar in the Land of Marvels.

When peace came in 1945, Yokoi threw himself into making comics. Shuttling between Akashi, where his wife and family had taken refuge during the wartime bombardment, and Tokyo, he made comics for adults as well as children; his Tomo-chan series in Friend magazine (1946-48) involved the child protagonist in adventures with animals and the natural world, but he also tackled post-war inequality and deprivation in grown-up comics including Homeless People (Ie naki hitobito) and The Unemployed (Shoki naki hitobito.)

On one of his visits to Kansai he was introduced to the young Tezuka, who loved Puchar in the Land of Marvels and Tarzan Adventure (Boken Tarzan.) In 1971, in his autobiographical comic Shut Your Mouth (Dotsuitare,) Tezuka recalled how Yokoi gave his teenage self some frank advice, telling him not to rely too much on gags and shocks, and encouraged him to move to Tokyo and hone his talents further.

The two artists would later appear in the same magazine – Manga Artist – in January 1948, Yokoi providing the cover and Tezuka an interior illustration. By then, Yokoi’s income, topped up by royalties from Tarzan and other popular manga, had increased to the level where he could buy a family home in Tokyo. One of his works, Bokkuri-Boy’s Adventure (Bokkuri boya no boken), was filmed in 1947, and another, Oh! Citizens (O! Shiminshokun), directed by Yuzo Kawashima, in 1948. But sadly, he didn’t live to enjoy the fruits of success for very long.

Yokoi’s career came to a tragic end on 5 December 1948, when he died of tuberculosis, a legacy from his war service. He had created around 25 titles and scores of illustrations. His Puchar series was still unfinished in Shonen Club magazine, and was completed by Tetsuo Ogawa. His Tarzan comics also continued to be published after his death, into the mid-1950s. Thanks to his vision of a future packed with adventure and opportunity, his works helped to shape modern manga.

2 thoughts on “Unknown In English 5: Fukujiro Yokoi

  1. Pingback: Buried Treasure: the Yamato Picture Story | CosmoDNA

  2. Pingback: Manga 60 years | Part 3c | MJMK's ACG

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s