In his final post in this series, Yani Mentzas takes us back to his childhood memories of Tezuka and talks about how public (and private) perceptions of the author’s work have evolved over the years. —Editors
While the perception that comics are mainstream in Japan is true to an extent, the case must not be overstated. There does exist a bias against the form. In general, it’s considered less edifying—less suitable, say, for the shelves of a public library. “Reading comics all the time” is something a parent would scold a child about; it’s somehow not the same as “reading books all the time,” even if the books are entertainment fare like Harry Potter. Certain manga, however, tend to pass the test, Tezuka’s works being the prime example.
My first encounter with Black Jack, and for that matter Tezuka, was at a library—a municipal one in Kobe, Japan, where I grew up. Although it had a large stock, the manga selection was quite limited. There was no shortage of works by Tezuka, however, and I borrowed and read even MW, a dark masterpiece about a bisexual serial killer, when I was only as little as the work’s villain-hero is when we first meet him.
Most Japanese people my age (I’m in my mid-thirties) seem to have first encountered the God of Manga at a library, too. In their case, Black Jack was often one of the only two manga available at their school library, the other being the Hiroshima survival story Barefoot Gen. I didn’t attend a Japanese school, and if I did, I probably wouldn’t have encountered Tezuka’s mature works, like the aforementioned MW, or Ode to Kirihito, at an inappropriate age, which I’m glad I did; I’d taken to going to the city library because the one at the American school I attended didn’t carry any Japanese books, let alone manga. The comics in the zines that all of us bought and read were fine, more than fine, but Tezuka’s works struck me as being on a different plane altogether, even back then in my early years when I couldn’t care less what anyone’s “place” in “manga history” was.
While Tezuka was always one of my favorite authors in any medium, it wasn’t until high school that he ensconced himself at the very top. What happened was that, in 1987, Black Jack and Buddha started being reissued in deluxe editions, in hardcover. You need to remember what I wrote at the beginning of this post about manga’s status in Japan to fathom the impact of this; the form simply hadn’t been considered worthy of such treatment. Although it was quite an investment for a teenager, I purchased the volumes religiously.
It was hardly my first, or even second or third, run with Black Jack, but I was now appraising that series in particular in light of all the great literature I was being exposed to in school. I still remember how surprised and ashamed I felt when I found myself thinking that, yes, Tezuka was indeed on a par with the world’s best.
I, too, had been a snob about manga after all. The deluxe treatment had finally jolted me out of a bias I’d unconsciously nurtured despite the sheer joy, and more, that Tezuka had always given me.
Vertical’s English edition of Black Jack is modeled on that historic 1987 reissue, and I’d be pleased if it had the same effect on a few youths here. I certainly do hope they’ll be able to find it in their school libraries.
Yani Mentzas is the Editorial Director and Executive Vice President of Vertical, Inc., publisher of Osamu Tezuka’s graphic novel masterpiece Black Jack
Other posts by Yani Mentzas in this series: