Manga, Genre and Osamu Tezuka in Words Without Borders

Yani Mentzas makes some interesting points about how one should view the work of Manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka, and how in general the graphic novel should be approached when trying to make it more serious.

Narrative comics can mature in two diverging ways: either by jettisoning the juvenile framework in favor of standards borrowed from realism, or by staying within the framework to analyze and foreground its themes, especially the controlling one, “that which exceeds man.” My personal preference is against the former path, which leads to comics that give an impression of wanting to be art, cinema, or literature rather than comics and that indeed seem only the more shame-faced the better they are. I believe the latter is the royal road of intelligent comics in that it sees the merits of cartooning’s openness to caricature, acceptance of absurdity, and unflagging curiosity about that which exceeds man.

I’m not sure I agree completely but he does have a point. However, I think there is a mistake in equating the medium, pictures and words, with the genre, superhero or fantastic stories. Having tried to read Charles Burns’ Black Hole, a richly drawn work, I couldn’t stand the fantasy element. On the other hand, Shortcomings a fine graphic novel is so chatty perhaps it would have been better as a play.

He does make an interesting point about the transition to or the search for more serious work. A market does need to develop for everything:

What’s more striking in fact is the comparable paucity of these elements in the early oeuvre of the master who’d eventually come to employ them so deftly. We could attribute this difference to the fact that aging tends to inculcate a greater interest in spirituality, but Tezuka’s mature phase began when he was in his forties, which is hardly old. The better answer has to do with intended readership; to simplify a little but not much, in his early period before 1970 Tezuka wrote for children, while he had grownups in mind after the seventies due to an immense demographic shift in manga buying.

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