A few years ago, when I was starting to get seriously interested in comics, I read Dreamland Japan, by Frederick Schodt. One of its main points was that a huge advantage Japanese comics had over American comics was that Osamu Tezuka was Japanese. And I was willing to believe it – the guy had apparently written huge numbers of comics series, some less serious (Astro Boy, for example), some more serious (Phoenix, Adolf, for example), all excellent in their own way.
So I started reading all the Tezuka in print in English. At the time, that was only a couple of volumes of Black Jack and all five volumes of Adolf. So I read them. The thing is, I didn’t like Black Jack very much. I thought Adolf was pretty good, but for World War II-inspired comics, I’ll take Maus any day.
I was then pleased (and quite surprised) to see a volume of Phoenix appear in English. Finally, I thought, Tezuka’s masterpiece – now I’ll see what I was missing, right? Well, no – better than Black Jack, sure, but there are lots of books out there that I like a lot more. Maybe it will grow on me (and, to be fair, I’ve enjoyed the next couple of volumes more than the first), but either I’m missing something or he’s just not to my taste.
For whatever reason, though, I kept on looking for more Tezuka books. So when Astro Boy started appearing in English, I bought the first few volumes. And they’re great! It’s a series about a robot superhero, it’s a lot of fun to read. It’s wonderfully humane (hmm, is that why I like Zot so much? Or is that really a dominant characteristic of Zot?) and the story lines vary enough that I’ve read 12 volumes so far and have no desire to stop.
Like I said above, I was surprised to see Phoenix out in English. I know (and am very glad) Japanese culture is more and more popular in the US these days, but I still thought Phoenix was bit too fringy to appear in this country, since it didn’t seem to me to be the sort of thing that the youth of America would read. But I was really surprised to see Buddha come out in English: Phoenix had the advantage of being labeled as Tezuka’s masterpiece, and I would have thought that Buddha‘s topic would make it even less likely to appear in this country.
Buddha is amazing. I love the plot. I love the characters. (Many of which are, of course, canonical, but Tezuka added a lot, including, if memory serves me well, the entire first volume.) As with Astro Boy, it’s wonderfully humane. The drawings are great, including some of the most beautiful scenery that I’ve ever seen in a comic book (simultaneously emphasizing its epic scope and its meditative nature), the aspect-to-aspect transitions are used to great effect (lots of the examples in Understanding Comics are taken from Buddha).
Now is an excellent time to be alive.
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