Black Jack Vol 1 – A Review

I continue to read graphic novels because I think I’ll find some gold in them, and occasionally I do as with the work of Joe Sacco. Lately I’ve been trying Manga, and except for the work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi in Good Bye I have been disappointed. Black Jack, Vol. 1was not an exception. Although Osamu Tezuka is a pioneer and master of the form, I found his work, or perhaps it is just the form, lacking much depth.For those who don’t know, Black Jack is a mysterious doctor who doesn’t have a license but is the greatest doctor on earth and can save patients in complicated surgeries all by himself. While the concept itself is not bad, in execution the mysterious doctor flies in for the life saving surgery just at the right moment not only to save a life, but to give someone his due. The stories are formulaic: someone is ill or injured; they deny they need help or denied help; Black Jack shows up and offers to save the ill person and against everyone’s wishes he succeeds to everyone’s amazement. Black Jack pretends to be a selfish man, but in reality he has a heart of gold. While Black Jack does play with themes of health and the power of science, the stories are not particullarly long lasting and are emphemoral like so much pulp. I hold out hope that Manga will truely be interesting, and will in the words of Yani Mentzas will “stay within the framework [of Manga]to analyze and foreground its themes, especially the controlling one, that which exceeds man.”

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.