Last Gasp Hopes to Bring the Lessons of ‘Barefoot Gen’ to Schools and Libraries Via Kickstarter
The Barefoot Gen for Schools and Libraries Kickstarter is a two-pronged attack on complacency — three, if you count the example it sets in itself. Aiming to 1) get classic comic literature into classrooms and 2) educate American children about the tragedy in their nation’s debt to Japan, Last Gasp is running a campaign to print four thousand hardcover copies of Nakazawa Kenji’s Barefoot Gen. Nakazawa lived through the devastation of Hiroshima in 1945, and thirty years later he turned his experiences into a story about a little boy who lives an ordinary life — and then keeps on living, when all ordinariness disappears, and his peers and family fall victim to atomic warfare.
Hardcover seems like a strange choice for a manga headed for pre- and early-teen school libraries. Kids have smaller hands than adults, and on the whole, limited wrist strength — Barefoot Gen will have to be a chunky book, as it was originally published over twelve years, and in Japanese publication tends to run to ten volumes. Last Gasp plan to portion it into four volumes, and it’s unclear how the 4000 copies will be split between those volumes. Is it one thousand copies of each volume? Surely not, as everybody will want to begin with volume one, but not everybody will be able to stretch their pledges to cover all four volumes. Perhaps it depends entirely on what is ordered.
If you have an interest in mid-century manga, or tokusatsu television shows and film, Barefoot Gen is a story that sheds a lot of light --- too much light --- on an event that shaped a lot of the popular stories, and popular mangaka, of the time. Everybody knows that Godzilla is an A-Bomb metaphor. But how much to you actually contend with the meaning of that iconography? How much consideration do we give to a cultural game-changer of atomic scale? Barefoot Gen isn't a nice story, but it is intended to teach, and not just in schools.
Getting comics into schools is a huge boon for education. Not only does a book like Barefoot Gen tell the leaders of the future the price of long-range war, but comic books generally are proven to be vitally important tools in the wider literacy landscape.
Kids like comics! Children who don’t want to read because they don’t know how to read, are enticed by comic books. Not every child, but more than none. And the more comics we see in school libraries, the less stigma we’ll see reproduced as these kids get older. There are children out there with touch-and-go literacy, touch-and-go interest in developing their reading and writing skills, and with deep, deep needs for a means to process tragedy, horror and loss.
Raina Telgemeier, reigning queen of comics outreach (and comics sales), has a short strip on the campaign page detailing her own childhood experience of reading Barefoot Gen. That alone should convince you of the good this Kickstarter could do! Don’t we need another Raina? You could help hundreds of them happen.
You can read about and support the Kickstarter campaign here, and pledge to have copies of Barefoot Gen sent to you or to a school or library of Last Gasp's choice. The campaign runs until Thursday 10 September with a target of $36,000.
If you’re in the mood to prime yourself for classic manga while you’re waiting for your pledge to be fulfilled, Yamada Tengo directed a trilogy of live adaptations in the late seventies, Madhouse put out two 80s anime features, and Fuji TV made their own drama adaptation in 2007 — all of these are well worth checking out if you can track them down.
Nakazawa’s novel, 2008’s Barefoot Gen Will Never Forget Hiroshima, and his autobiographical manga short I Saw It, are also available (the latter as a perk on the Kickstarter page). Nakazawa himself passed away in 2012.