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Tatsumi Remembers When Manga Was for Kids

Indie manga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi has earned acclaim in the States for his bleak, heartbreaking post-WWII works like “Good-Bye” and “Abandon the Old in Tokyo” that go into some pretty dark, broken places in the human spirit.

I’d always seen manga as cross-cultural comics that weren’t subject to “aren’t they for kids?” stereotype, but in an interview with Chris Randle at the recent Toronto Comics Art Festival 2009, Tatsumi had some very interesting comments about the reaction to his gritty, post-war work:

The parents were really up in arms about these bad books. Manga at that time was different than it is now. It was friendly manga, so little kids could read it too… Even if a person’s head was cut off and fell to the ground there was no blood, nothing came out. Like an onion [Tatsumi chuckles]. Even if the head was separated from the body it looked like the head was still alive… You couldn’t really say that would have a bad influence on kids. So we came in and took a bat to the whole thing. We did more realistic work…

When you’re drawing a work like that, of course you’re going to see blood. If you compare that manga with the children’s
manga up to that point, they just couldn’t forgive – they wouldn’t accept that kind of manga. The [parent-teacher associations] were like, “let’s just not buy it.” A lot of them sprung up all over Japan to boycott the work.

Sound familiar?

At least it’s nice to know that the resistance comics has faced in mainstream society as an all-ages medium isn’t unique to the United States. Of course, Japan has a different moral attitude towards nudity and sexuality, and never suffered from the creative Black Death that was the Comics Code, but the fact that manga in Japan is now incredibly omnivorous, with content ranging across all genres and age groups, still gives me a certain amount of hope for the future.

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