Osamu Tezuka was a prolific Japanese cartoonist, both a manga artist and animator, and formally a medical doctor. Anyone who has heard his name mentioned has likely heard him described with titles such as “God of Manga” or “Father of Manga”. Indeed, he is widely considered by most to be the pioneer of manga and anime in its current form. In essence, he was like “Walt Disney, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Tim Burton, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan all rolled into one incredibly prolific creator” as Helen McCarthy, author of The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga, puts it. He is widely considered as one of the most, if not the most influential person in manga. Over his 40 year career, he has created more than 700 volumes of manga totaling over 150 000 pages in total, and was a source of inspiration for many. He has created manga for both young boys and girls, as well as manga aimed at an adult audience. His work has explored a very wide and diverse set of themes, including social and political themes, as well as themes about life and death, and human nature.
Astro Boy is widely considered to be his most famous work. Though aimed at children, the series explored various political and social issues such as racism and intolerance. It was first published in 1952 until 1968, totaling 23 volumes, and garnering an animated television series in 1963. The animated series is considered by most to be the first major animated television series in Japan, essentially the first in a medium now termed as “anime”. Additionally, the television series was subsequently remade in 1980 and 2003. Since it’s release, Astro Boy has become a cultural icon in Japan, and is one of the most influential of Tezuka’s work.
Among Tezuka’s other more notable works are Princess Knight and Kimba the White Lion, both of which were intended for a younger audience. Both series have enjoyed considerable success, with Princess Knight being well received in Japan among younger girls, and Kimba the White Lion enjoying massive popularity worldwide. Tezuka’s more mature works include Black Jack, Message to Adolf, and Buddha, all of which have received critical acclaim from many in the community. In particular Message to Adolf, and especially Buddha, have received numerous accolades with Message to Adolf winning a Kodansha Manga Award in 1986, and Buddha winning Eisner Awards in 2004 and 2005 for best foreign work. Additionally, he worked on a manga entitled Phoenix, which served as his life’s work until his death in 1989. Though Phoenix was never finished as a result of Tezuka’s death, it remains one of Tezuka’s most highly lauded works, having explored the meaning of life and death, as well as issues of morality.
Tezuka’s time in animation was spent at Mushi Production, a studio he personally created as a rival to Toei Animation, where he previously worked. At Mushi Production, Tezuka helped pioneer animation in Japan. The studio released many successful anime series, much of which consisted of adaptations of Tezuka’s own manga including Astro Boy, as well as Kimba the White Lion and Princess Knight. Other well known series produced by the studio included Ashita no Joe and Dororo, as well as adult oriented animated films like 1001 Nights, Cleopatra, and Kanashimi no Belladonna (Belladona of Sadness). The studio went bankrupt in 1968 due to financial difficulties, with Tezuka having already left to start Tezuka Productions. A new Mush Production company was created in 1977, a company which continues to operate even today
Looking at any of one of Tezuka’s drawings, one will notice the strong similarities they share with Disney artwork. Indeed, Walt Disney served as a major influence for Tezuka, who grew up watching movies like Bambi and Snow White. He was particularly enamored with Mickey Mouse, which served as the model for many of his characters stylistically. Additionally, it should be noted that the characteristic large eyes of characters in anime and manga is largely a result of Osamu Tezuka’s artistic style, which was directly inspired by characters such as Betty Boop and Bambi. Tezuka had such a fascination with Disney artwork that he spent much of his early days trying to copy and perfectly emulate Disney’s style, often using a Pathé Baby home projector to help him reference Disney films. In addition to referencing Disney films, he also heavily referenced Disney comics published by Dell as well as domestically produced Disney books. In particular, Tezuka has cited the strong influence that cartoonists like Carl Barks had on him, and many have pointed out the strong similarities that Tezuka’s art has to Barks. The Disney style of art was particularly prominent in Tezuka’s work between 1947 until 1963, and it was not until after this period that Tezuka moved away from the Disney style and towards his own.
However, Disney works were not the only source of inspiration for Tezuka. He was influenced by American comic authors such as George McManus and Milt Gross, with Bringing Up Father and He Done Her Wrong being comics he had read translated in Japanese. Tezuka was also influenced by American superhero comics, with Superman serving as the inspiration for his creation of Astro Boy. He has also cited his interests other superhero characters like Batman, Captain Marvel, Dick Tracy, and Plastic Man.
Anyone interested in picking up any of Tezuka’s work can find many of them in many book stores, translated into English and published by Vertical. In particular, Buddha, Message to Adolf, Black Jack, and Princess Knight among others, have been released by Vertical. Works like Phoenix and Astro Boy are no longer released by their North American license holders, making them harder to track down. As well, a fuller biography of the God of Manga can be found in the previously mentioned The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga.