Jun 11, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Artists #1: Osamu Tezuka

Welcome to the final installment of the top 10 most influential artists of all time! Click here for the archive!

Our number one influential artist is Osamu Tezuka!

Why Is He Influential?

You know what I said about the last three guys on this list, and how they affected comics? Well, it all applies to Osamu Tezuka and his influence on manga.

Before anyone gets angry out there, let me clear something up. Manga is just another word for comics. As a Filipino, where komiks is just another word for comics, and where komiks sees a natural blend of both comics and manga, I can see, I think in a sharper way, how the two schools of sequential art and graphic storytelling are coming together more and more as the years go by. Stay tuned for a blog post about it in the near future, but for now, this is enough: This blog and this list do not discriminate on the grounds of where the comic was published; if it tells stories words and pictures in an interdependent fashion (that should disqualify storybooks), it's comics.

On this list, we've had the father of underground comics. We've had the King of Comics. We've had its Spirit. We've had the guy who pioneered animation. In Japan, they have Osamu Tezuka, the God of Manga. In addition to Osamu Tezuka inventing manga, Tezuka also invented anime. There is no one working in comics or animation in Japan that he did not influence, and to talk about the influence of Osamu Tezuka on comics is to talk about the influence of manga and anime in Western comics, which is significantly more considerable than the other way around.

When it comes to manga, Tezuka invented the whole bag of tricks. He took the big eyes from Walt Disney, but everything else was his. Everyone knows of the expressive, cartoony style - of the same philosophy that Will Eisner utilized - that the Japanese artists are famous (and at the time, notorious) for using, but he also used a realistic style for backgrounds, introducing a very strong sense of place and utilizing the masking effect that people like Winsor McCay did long since it had stopped being used in American comics:

He also utilized what is known as subjective motion, in which the backgrounds are distorted to show motion.


The backgrounds could also be distorted just to show emotion as well:

Without format constraints as hampering as those in American comics, Tezuka utilized wordless panels to truly set a scene. The technique would have never worked in the American market, in which a story typically had to be told in anywhere from 7 to 22 pages. It is this technique that has given way to the trend of decompression (milking a scene for all its emotional value before jumping to the next point in the plot) prevalent today in comics both Western and Eastern.

All of these techniques, as Scott McCloud points out, brought an amplified sense of reader participation, the feeling of being a part of the story, rather than just a spectator. It is this quality, McCloud asserts, that contributed to its success - and widespread acceptance - in Japan and in North America (and, I would add, the rest of the world). It is because of this quality, this widespread success, that Osamu Tezuka tops this list.

Let it also not be forgotten that Osamu Tezuka invented a wide variety of comics in a wide variety of genres, with characters showing a wide variety of body types and facial structures. From the lighthearted Mighty Atom (or Astro Boy) to the more adult Buddha to the samurai comic Dororo, Tezuka's output, so wide and varied, could not give way to just a generation of imitators, for no one could imitate Tezuka in full. Anyone merely imitating Tezuka had to actually pick which work of Tezuka's to imitate. I don't think we can say that about anyone else on this list (or, frankly, anyone else, period. Jack Kirby is the only exception I can think of, and even then, his influence on superheroes far outdid everything else he ever did that it's not really true).

Osamu Tezuka is widely considered the Walt  Disney of Japan. I would also call him its Eisner, Kirby, and McCay all rolled into one. And because of the widespread success of manga in Japan and the rest of the world, and its influence in American comics, I find it hard to justify that the number one spot on this list should go to anyone other than Osamu Tezuka.

What Works Of His Should I Read?

It really depends on which genre you want to read, but for lighthearted kids' fare, there's Mighty Atom (known stateside as Astro Boy):

For girls, or those more looking into girls' stories, there's Princess Knight:

And for those who may want to look for something controversial, you can see his take on the life of the Buddha:

And there are so many more - Tezuka was so prolific. But this should be a good start.

Where Can I See His Influence?

That Osamu Tezuka is the only manga artist on this list is telling. Manga is unlike American comics in that in American comics, you've got, say, Alex Ross, who built off of what was done by Bill Sienkewicz and George Perez, who themselves went into different directions while both building off of what was done by Neal Adams and Jim Steranko, who themselves went into different directions while both building off what was done by Will Eisner and Jack Kirby. There is a root of the tree, and different branches. When it comes to manga, Osamu Tezuka is that tree. He invented practically the entire bag of tricks that to this day, Japanese artists still turn to his bag of tricks. As you can see from current manga products, the influence of Osamu Tezuka is prevalent and clear through anyone who has ever made a comic (or animation) in Japan, from the most exaggerated product like Pokemon to the subtler and more adult ones like Ghost In The Shell.

But as for the influence of manga on American comics, the permeation began in the 1980s, with people like Frank Miller utilizing such techniques in Daredevil:

And really boomed in the late 90s with people like Joe Madureira, of Uncanny X-Men (who was pretty influential himself in terms of selling a manga-Western hybrid style of art):

And J.Scott Campbell, of Gen13:

Even writers have incorporated manga's techniques into their scripts. Brian Michael Bendis, of Ultimate Spider-Man, is very guilty of using decompression.

And his artist on the strip, Mark Bagley, uses manga-inspired methods despite maintaining a Western style of figure drawing:

And why shouldn't he? Just because it worked first in one place doesn't mean that other places can't use the same technique!

And of course, these are just a few examples. The influence of manga on American comics is so prevalent, and so much more significant than the influence of American comics on manga. And when you talk about the influence of manga - or of anime for that matter - you are invariably talking about the influence of Osamu Tezuka.

Where Can I Officially Find Him Online?

The official Osamu Tezuka Web site is right here.


steven m. said...

very well explained. was never a fan of manga, but you're right, this guy's influence is everywhere. more than ever, western animation and comics are employing techniques and styles that are conspicuously japanese. i'm curious though about what western comic book artists think about mr. tezuka. thoughts?

Duy Tano said...

Hi Steven,

I'm not exactly what you'd call a manga fan either, and until recently, I'd have looked on that entire section of comics with scorn. It was only when I read McCloud's books over and over again that I would really start to get it. Still not the biggest fan of the style, but I'm warmer to it now.

But yes, when I was researching the article, I really, really, really, really wanted to make Will Eisner no. 1, but I just couldn't justify it after weighing it all out.

I've seen interviews with Steve Skroce and Geof Darrow (not very surprising - both are manga disciples) about how great they think Tezuka is. Darrow in particular thinks that Tezuka's had an influence on everyone. I tend to disagree - maybe everyone in Japan and every artist who debuted in the last ten years, but he certainly did not have an influence on the other nine people on my list!

But like I said, in American comics, Will Eisner built off of George Herriman, Jack Kirby built off of Will Eisner, Jim Steranko built off of Will Eisner and Jack Kirby, as did Neal Adams, albeit in a different direction. In Japan, everyone built off of Tezuka. And now, American comics are also building off of Tezuka.

So Tezuka wins, even if making Eisner number 2 breaks my heart a bit.

Olivier Agustin said...

I've been a fan of tezuka for a lng time, although i cannot say i am too much of an avid reader of his work. I am more interested in his concepts, storyboard and writing. Methinks he's been into steam punk way before the term was actually coined. :D

Duy Tano said...

I think so too. Tezuka was just as influential in anime as he was in manga. The only one who can say that of the Western artists is Winsor McCay, who even Walt Disney admitted was the most important person in terms of animation.

Tezuka's concepts and genres were so wide and varied. Shonen manga (for girls)? He did it. Samurais. He did it. Steampunk? He did it. Cybernetics? He did it. Random comics about Buddha? He did it. Only Jack Kirby ever had as wide an output of the Westerners.

I do notice that among Filipinos - and I think it's because we read the Western way - anime is easier to take to than manga. So when it comes to concepts, storyboards, and writing, Tezuka's influence is just as obvious there.

Olivier Agustin said...

Shounen (for boys, from the actual translation, little men) and Shoujo (little women).

Well, at that time, Anime and Manga were more widely accepted in the European front, than in the US (with US companies that have the notion, at that time, that US products were superior). It was not until Macross came that Japanese animation was to make its debut, but this was repackaged and rewritten to be Robotech.

The Gobots and the Transformers were the ones that really broke through in the US together with Voltron (but then, these were borrowed styles from the Japanese and packaged as American). I'm not sure about GI Joe, which was released by Hasbro together with Transformers. :D

Duy Tano said...

I stand corrected! Thank you, sir.

Yep, American and Japanese comics developed completely separately, and now the styles are mixing. I DO think that American style is influencing anime (not sure about manga), but not greatly so. And of course, you have things like Spirited Away that combines American, European, and Japanese sensibilities.

Interestingly, you know what started the whole "Big giant robot" craze in Japan? It was a Japanese adaptation of Spider-Man!

RaceForTaste said...

another great post! I actually own the Buddha series you have over there!

Although I really wanted Eistner to be #1 too :-(

Dev said...

Can't it be a tie with Eisner and Tezuka for #1? They're just both fantastic geniuses inspiring world-over!

BTW, do you know that Disney's Lion King was ripped off from Tezuka's 'Kimba The White Lion'? Check out this link here, it'll blow your mind away:

Duy Tano said...

I would think Lion King was more a ripoff of Hamlet to start, but didn't Disney get in trouble for Treasure Planet too?

Eric Breaux said...

Look at this http://geek-news.mtv.com/.../uploads/geek/2013/07/Tezuka.jpg, then contrast with these http://images2.fanpop.com/.../Shonen-Jump-shonen-jump...,http://disneysite.org/disneypic/disney-lupin-5.jpg,http://fc06.deviantart.net/.../hayao_miyazaki_style...,http://manga.tv/.../all-every-shonen-jump-heroes...,http://livedoor.blogimg.jp/gundam2ch/imgs/f/d/fdf157a8.jpg and then try to make the case that Disney/Tezuka had any influence on anime's visual style. Here's some direct contrasts just to further cement the point http://4.bp.blogspot.com/.../s1600/Pluto-Comparaison.jpg,http://fc04.deviantart.net/.../kingdom_hearts_2_wallpaper... There are at least as many anime without big eyes as there are with big eyes. Anime is not by default the "big eyes" look that a surprising number of people ignorantly believe it to be, and obviously has absolutely no resemblance to any Tezuka/Disney style.

Duy Tano said...

Tezuka drew big eyes, which was an offshoot of his influence with Disney. I didn't say that every anime artist drew big eyes, but that they were famous for doing so. Sorry if that was unclear.

Eric Breaux said...

Eh, my listening skills can be off sometimes.

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