~by Helen McCarthy
2010 Harvey Award Winner
The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga by Helen McCarthy has been sitting on my shelf since it won the 2010 Harvey Award for Best American Edition of Foreign Material. I had flipped through it several times but had never read the book in its entirety. Since February 2012's Manga Moveable Feast focused on Tezuka and his works, it seemed an appropriate time to finally get around to doing so. The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a handsome volume published by Abrams ComicArts in 2009. It's large red cover with the iconic Astro Boy is instantly recognizable. Also included with the book is "The Secret of Creation," a behind-the-scenes DVD documentary of Tezuka at work. The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a combination of biography, art book, and catalog of major works printed in full color. Katsuhiro Otomo, the creator of the Akira manga and anime, wrote the foreword. Although Tezuka is a very important figure in manga, I actually knew very little about him and his work, so I was looking forward to reading The Art of Osamu Tezuka.
Osamu Tezuka was born on November 3, 1928 in Toyonaka to his parents Yutaka and Fumiko. Growing up in Takarazuka with his two younger siblings Hiroshi and Minako, Tezuka's parents encouraged the creativity and imaginations of their children. Tezuka became an accomplished artist at a very young age. He attended medical school with the intention of becoming a doctor, but abandoned the pursuit with his family's blessing when he realized it would mean giving up what he really loved--storytelling and art. Eventually moving to Tokyo, Tezuka became a very successful and very prolific mangaka, one of the first to coordinate teams of assistants to manage huge workloads. He also became involved with animation and founded his own studio, constantly experimenting with new techniques and developing innovative ways to produce shows more quickly and cost effectively. On February 9, 1989, Tezuka died of stomach cancer at the age of sixty, leaving behind a lasting legacy that has influenced generations.
After a brief preface, the first chapter of The Art of Osamu Tezuka follows Tezuka's family history and early life. Tezuka's "star system" is explained in the second chapter, something I never quite understood until now. Basically, Tezuka had a set of characters that he would use like actors, who would sometimes portray themselves and sometimes take on other, often typecast, roles. In chapters three through seven, McCarthy takes a look at Tezuka's career and life decade by decade, beginning with the 1940s and ending with the 1980s, particularly noting developing themes and influences. Each of these chapters includes a section devoted to the major works that began their release in that decade. The only thing unfortunate about this is that some series with multiple iterations, like Astro Boy, end up appearing in several chapters without much cross-reference. The final two chapters are devoted to Tezuka's unfinished works and his lasting influence, respectively. Also included in The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a bibliography, an index, and a list of works by Tezuka that as of 2009 had been translated into English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German.
The Art of Osamu Tezuka consists of numerous mostly self-contained summaries and short essays, generally only a page or so in length, accompanied by hundreds of images. The book is structured in such a way that readers can either peruse the volume from beginning to end, providing a comprehensive synopsis of Tezuka and his work, or simply pick and choose subjects, titles, or images that interest them without causing too much confusion. Compared to his total output, very little of Tezuka's work is currently available in English. I knew the man was prolific, but I had no concept of just how astoundingly prolific he was until reading The Art of Osamu Tezuka. I also didn't realize that he would revisit already completed works, often rewriting or redrawing them for later editions and republication. The Art of Osamu Tezuka is a fantastic introduction to Tezuka and a wonderful overview of his career, making the volume very easy to recommend.