Good Grief! Another History of Comics? Part 4


We continue our journey through the history of comics. Here are part one, part two, and part three.

Made in Japan

Sazae-san by Machiko Hasegawa

It’s considered that the roots of manga stretch back to the 12th century. Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga are a set of four scrolls from the 12th century depicting frollicking humans and animals (in one of the first instances of funny anthropomorphized animals). During the Edo period (1603-1867) several books of pictures were created.

The word “manga” first gained prominence in the late 18th century with the publication of such works as Santō Kyōden’s picturebook Shiji no yukikai (1798), and in the early 19th century with such works as Aikawa Minwa’s Manga hyakujo (1814) and the celebrated Hokusai Manga books (1814–1834) containing his assorted sketches. Kitazawa Rakuten (1876–1955) first used the word in the modern sense.

Kitazawa Rakuten (aka Kitazawa Yasuji) is often considered the father of manga. He drew many editorial cartoons and comic strips. His editorials appeared in Jiji Shimpō and Tokyo Puck but he is best known for his comic strips that ran in Jiji Manga. Some of his most popular and influential manga were:

Tagosaku to Mokubē no Tōkyō-Kenbutsu (Tagosaku and Mokube’s Sightseeing in Tokyo, 1902) The story of two country yokels on a sightseeing trip in Tokyo. A funny fish-out-of-water comic.

Tagosaku to Mokubē no Tōkyō-Kenbutsu (Tagosaku and Mokube's Sightseeing in Tokyo)
Tagosaku to Mokubē no Tōkyō-Kenbutsu by Kitazawa Rakuten

Chame to Dekobō (Chame and Dekobo, 1915) featured two mischievous boys, similar to the Katzenjammer Kids in Japan. The characters Chame and Dekobo appeared as dolls and on playing cards in one of the first examples of character merchandising in Japan.

Tonda Haneko Jō (Miss Haneko Tonda, 1928) is about a tomboyish girl, Haneko Tonda. Haneko was the first girl protagonist in manga.

After the war during the Allied occupation manga saw a rebirth with the success of two creators, Machiko Hasegawa and Osamu Tezuka. They helped establish the modern manga.

Osamu Tezuka is often called the godfather of manga. Machiko Hasegawa can be considered the godmother. One of the very first female manga artists she created Sazae-san in 1946. It ran for 42 years. It also appeared as the longest running television animated series (even The Simpsons hasn’t come close). Hasegawa was a very modern liberated woman. Her manga portrayed a very different Japanese family than the one prior to the war. Women were supposed to be demure and obedient as Confucius put forth. Sazae-san is strong-willed and faces the world with joyful pluck. Hasegawa was also a business woman who published Sazae-san books with her older sister through their company Shimaisha Publishing Company.

Shin Takarajima
Shin Takarajima by Osamu Tezuka

The afore-mentioned godfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka created the long-running international hit, Mighty Atom or Astro Boy as he is known in America in 1952. Before that Tezuka had success with Shin Takarajima (The New Treasure Island). It was an instant success and helped start the golden age of manga. He followed it up with The Strange Voyage of Dr. Tiger and The Mysterious Dr. Koronko. Soon after this his first masterpieces saw publication: the sci fi trilogy of Lost World, Metropolis and Next World. Then came his first major success Jungle Emperor Leo.

A note about the manga/anime style of large eyes. It has its roots in shōjo magazine illustrations from the 19th and early 20th century. Tezuka was heavily influenced by Disney animation as a young boy in particular Bambi (which he saw over 80 times) with its large eyes. The popularity of Tezuka’s work helped influence many manga artists.

Tales to Warp Young Minds

Haunt of Fear, EC Comics
Haunt of Fear, EC Comics

After the war, superhero comics were on the wane. Briefly crime comics came into vogue but the star genre from the late 40’s to 1954 was horror.

Scary stories had been part of sequential storytelling for hundreds of years. In Japan the Gaki Zoshi (Hungry Ghosts) scroll from the 12th century, for example. In American comics (continuing on from the pulps) horror had been present early on but in small quantities compared to superheroes and humor.

Prize Comics (aka Crestwood Publications, aka Feature Publications) created the first ongoing horror series within their flagship title, Prize Comics, in 1940 with New Adventures of Frankenstein. The monster terrorized 1930’s New York City until later on becoming entwined with Prize Comic’s superheroes and then fighting Nazis himself. (The series was cancelled a few years later then revived as a better known humor comic.) Prize would later publish Black Magic, a horror anthology, from 1950 to 1961. Prize would also hold the distinction of publishing the first romance comic Young Romance.

There were adaptations of classic horror stories like Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but the first outright title to showcase horror was Avon’s Eerie in 1946. It only had one issue until 1951 when it was restarted with another Eerie #1. After 17 issue it was renamed as Strange Worlds, a science fiction anthology.

Eerie, Avon Comics
Eerie, Avon Comics

American Comics Group published the first true ongoing horror anthology, Adventures into the Unknown, in 1948. Unlike others of its ilk it survived until 1967.

Then arose EC.

Entertaining Comics (previously Educational Comics), better known as EC Comics, published a variety of genres like crime, humor, romance, western but then in 1950 Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear were released. They were lurid, graphic, gruesome, gory and kids loved them.

And that was the problem.

The Spectre of Dr. Evil…Uh, Wertham, Dr. Wertham

Dr. Frederic Wertham
Dr. Frederic Wertham

There had been criticisms of comics since the introduction of Superman. Concerns about violence and sex, writing and visual quality, even the choice of colors, were voiced (Sterling North’s anti-comics editorial in 1940, A National Disgrace). Then Dr. Frederic Wertham wrote Seduction of the Innocent.

Wertham was a distinguished psychiatrist. A progressive he fought against racist policies in the psychiatric community. His work was cited during reformations of various multiple segregation statutes. However, his ideas and theories around media for children, in particular comic books, were flawed to say the least.

He asserted that comic books caused youth to become delinquents. A bold statement with little factual data to back it up, mainly relying on anecdotes and specious observations. For example he stated that 95% of children in reform school read comics therefore comics cause juvenile delinquency. At the time 95% of all children read comics. It was irrelevant. Stan Lee said: “[Wertham] said things that impressed the public, and it was like shouting fire in a theater, but there was little scientific validity to it. And yet because he had the name doctor people took what he said seriously, and it started a whole crusade against comics.”

The results of his “crusade” lead to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. While the subcommittee didn’t give a ruling they did threaten to regulate the industry unless something was done. The Comics Code Authority was hatched.

The journey continues with Part 5. Be sure to read Stela’s comics on you deice.

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