Gekiga at the Cartoon Museum

Jonathan Clements visits an exhibition of manga’s pioneers

Matsumoto

Helen McCarthy’s 2009 Tezuka season at the Barbican introduced London’s literati to the “God of Manga”, but talk at its opening had already turned to the question of what was next. Tezuka was acknowledged universally as the medium’s greatest pioneer, but he was also a fervent self-publicist, and continues to enjoy a legacy managed by an impressively pro-active company that bears his name. What about everybody else, particularly outside the realm of boys’ comics…? Hundreds of artists laboured in his shadow, a shadow that has arguably lengthened through the years as others’ legacy diminishes through attrition – one thinks of Mitsuteru Yokoyama, dead in a house fire that presumably wiped out most of his papers, or Shotaro Ishinomori, tarred with the brush of sentai shows abroad, and whose museum in Ishinomaki was washed out for months by the 2011 tsunami.

Running upstairs at London’s Cartoon Museum until 29th November, Gekiga: Alternative Manga From Japan charts the evolution of truly adult comics, both in terms of content and style, in the post-war period. The emphasis is on the scene that arose around Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Masahiko Matsumoto and Takao Saito in the 1950s as they fought to escape from the cartoony images that pervaded what was then still a kids’ market.

Their successes, including Tatsumi’s Drifting Life, are on display here, along with glimpses of hits-of-the-day like the famous Star of the Giants and the entirely forgotten Turkish Bath Guy, the latter of which sits insouciantly on the cusp between a cartoony look and a sexy subject.

The inattentive visitor can all too easily wander in at the deep end of the 1960s, rather than what I presume to be the actual start on the far side of the gallery, which is the still-cartoony 1950s. Part of the problem faced by the organisers is anchoring the visitor in the context of the post-war industry, when few of the subjects are known in English, and few of the panels are immediately comprehensible to non-Japanese speakers. A somewhat confusing chart attempts to map out the graphic progress of adult manga from New Treasure Island in 1947 to Akira in the 1980s, but it begins with a massive onslaught of arrows invoking the influence of Osamu Tezuka on absolutely everybody. One wonders, as ever, how much of this is diligent lip service to a prevailing belief – books like Go Ito’s Tezuka is Dead have challenged the Tezuka-led assumption that Tezuka is everything. But the Gekiga exhibition is a welcome part of that ongoing exercise in manga discourse, showing what else was going on in the field during a time that many manga histories gloss over. It offers a persuasive account of the vibrant, multi-nuclear medium that flourished after Tezuka’s New Treasure Island showed Japan what comics were truly capable of. Original manga pages are on display, some with the sketch lines still intact and neatly glued repairs and letterings that are invisible on the printed photomechanical transfers.

The curators have also not shied away from the means that manga artists used to actually pay the bills when manga was not a goldmine, including film posters by Seiichi Hayashi, drawn in a beautifully evocative style – one wonders what the chances are of getting a whole exhibition of those, as they would look nice on many a manga-fans wall.

The Gekiga exhibition is certainly worth the price of admission, not just for the glimpse it affords of entire fields as-yet unplumbed in manga studies, but because the £7 entrance fee also buys access to the much larger WW1 cartoon exhibition downstairs (closes 20th October), which ended up occupying me for twice as long.

Attack On Titan The Final Season Trailer Revealed

Attack On Titan The Final Season Trailer Revealed

A brand-new trailer has just landed for the Final Season of Attack on Titan! MAPPA, the studio behind Granblue Fantasy Season 2, Zombie Land Saga, and more recently, Listeners, will be taking the helm for this final epic season. Check out the trailer:   About...

What is a Devil Fruit?

What is a Devil Fruit?

Despite the scary name, Devil Fruit isn’t the fruit of the Devil. They are mystical fruits that, when eaten, grant you incredible abilities. The downside? You lose the ability to swim, which is fairly fatal if you’re sailing the blue seas! There are three types of...

Manga UK release That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime this week!

Manga UK release That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime this week!

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: Season One Part Two Champion of monsters Rimuru Tempest ends the orc war and earns the esteemed title as Slime Chancellor. As his blobbiness presides over a newfound nation, he’s got more work to do than give names and kick...

Who are the Straw Hat Pirates?

Who are the Straw Hat Pirates?

The Straw Hat Pirates, The Straw Hats, The Mugiwara Pirates, The Straw Hat Crew. There are several names that the main pirate band of One Piece go by as they continue their quest to find the fabled One Piece and ascend into Pirate legend! But who exactly is this well...

Welcome to One Piece

Welcome to One Piece

One Piece is one of the longest-running anime and manga series of all time, and it’s one that continuously shocks, surprises, and delights fans from all over the world. If you’re looking to set sail into the East Blue, then here’s all you have to know to begin your...

One Piece Pirate crews to look out for!

One Piece Pirate crews to look out for!

In their quest to find the legendary One Piece, the Straw Hat Pirates come face to face with some of the most infamous pirate crews to ever sail the Blue Sea! Some crews help Luffy and his sea fairing cohorts while others are out for his blood. Here are some of the...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This