Sunday, December 15, 2013

GO, Mighty Atom!

And then there came the day, way back in November, when we were done with Batman Year One. I put aside my stack of Batman books and got out The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga.

Astro Boy could totally beat Batman in a fight.
I got the Tezuka book on sale a few years ago, for super cheap. It's a nice book, with a full-color overview of Tezuka's work, but I mainly got it because of the DVD that came with it. The DVD is a documentary about Tezuka that was made for Japanese television.

Since it's Japanese, the documentary takes for granted that the viewer has some idea who Tezuka is. If you're not Japanese, I think it's hard to grasp how influential he was. He redefined the very nature of comics in Japan (AKA manga), inspiring generations of artists who came after him. I can't really get into much more detail than that, because I don't know a whole lot about manga, but I do know that Tezuka is a top-notch, grade-A, world-class, all-time-master cartoonist, up there with Moebius and Barks and Kirby. And, like Kirby, he was absurdly prolific, so any attempt to sum up his life's work in a few paragraphs is doomed to fail. I won't even try; I'll just mention that Osamu Tezuka's most famous character is Astro Boy (AKA Tetsuwan Atom), the kid with spiky hair shown on the cover up there. He's a lovable robot boy. The Astro Boy comics are all-ages fun science fiction adventures, drawn in a slick cartoony style, with an underlying anti-war message.

The TV documentary was made in the last year of Tezuka's life, though you wouldn't know it by watching him--in the movie, Tezuka is constantly moving, constantly working. It's shocking how much he works. Even though he has a huge, beautiful house, we learn that he spends about five days a week at his studio, a small, mostly-empty apartment. He sits at a desk and he draws for hours, stares into space, naps on the floor for awhile, eats some noodles, and draws some more.

This is where I show movies.
There's a scene where Tezuka is planning on going to France for an awards ceremony. He has a deadline to make, and has to draw a ridiculous number of pages before he can leave. He pushes back his flight, until it's the last minute, and he has to get in a cab to the airport. The cab stops; he asks when the plane is scheduled to take off, stays in the cab, and draws until he absolutely has to leave. He hands the pages over to someone, an assistant or an editor, and promises to fax the remaining pages once he gets to France.

When you think about a top-notch, grade-A, world-class artist at the end of his or her life, you normally imagine them relaxing, reflecting on the work they have done, and enjoying their success. You don't imagine this sort of manic pace. It's both an inspiration that he works so hard, even at the end of his life, and a reminder that even the most legendary cartoonist still has deadlines to make and bills to pay.

Even though Tezuka is always struggling to keep up with an endless series of deadlines--and even though he has to leave a party at an animation convention to go back to his hotel room to draw a few more pages, and he tells an interview "I'm in hell"--at the very end, he says that he has been drawing comics for 40 years and he hopes to keep doing it for another 40. When you realize that he died later that year, it's heartbreaking.

After we watched the documentary, I passed out Tezuka comics for the students to look at. I have a friend who went crazy buying Osamu Tezuka graphic novels, buying multiple copies of each one as it came out, who later gave me a massive pile of Tezuka books. It was a generous gift, and because of it I was able to assign each student their own book to look at, which is something I can't do for any other artist. Thanks, Matt!

And that's what we did for two days in November. I sure did get behind on this blog. Which would be okay if I wasn't doing anything different from what I blogged about the first time I taught this class, two years ago. But I did do something new this year, and it was very exciting. Just wait, and I will tell you all about it.

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