There are a lot of comic book creators who could be considered "the greats." They're the ones who helped to shape genres, whose stories resonate decades after they were published, or who produced staggering amounts of high-quality work that inspired fans and creators alike. Among those, there are the rare creators who did all that and more, the ones who belong to a tier that goes beyond just "great." They're the ones who have defined the medium as a whole, the ones who make it impossible to imagine a world of comics without them.

Osamu Tezuka, born this day in 1928, is one of those. In a career that spanned 44 years and sparked the Golden Age of Japanese comics and a revolution in animation, he influenced Japanese culture on an unimaginable scale, and gave fans all over the world a very good reason to call him the God of Manga.

 

 

Tezuka's most enduring creation came to life in 1952, when Tetsuwan Atom --- known in America as Astro Boy --- made its first appearance in Shonen Kobunsha and kicked off a worldwide phenomenon. If those 23 volumes --- and the many animated shows, movies and adaptations --- were the only thing that he'd done, it would still be a remarkable achievement. There's an incredible universal appeal to those stories, the blend of dynamic, all-ages action with thought provoking themes that tackled everything form the loyalty of animals to whether we were truly happy with advancements in technology to the idea of whether it was right to use advanced robots as servants rather than treating them as humans. Those are questions that remain relevant, and Tezuka's Astro Boy stories hold up today more often than not.

So yes, Astro Boy alone is an incredible achievement, and the stories that it inspired --- like Naoki Urasawa's Pluto, a re-telling of The Strongest Robot In the World that adds a new kind of depth to the original --- show how powerful Tezuka's legacy is, even over two decades after his death.

But of course, Astro Boy wasn't the only thing he did. From the time that he became a professional manga creator --- after graduating with a degree in medicine that he would later put to good use in Black Jack, the story of an underground surgeon --- until his death in 1989, Tezuka would produce over 150,000 pages of manga. For comparison, the legendarily prolific Jack Kirby, another member of that grand pantheon that goes beyond the greats, produced only a tenth of that amount during his time at Marvel.

But even more amazing than the volume of pages --- and almost as amazing as their quality --- would be the breadth of his work. Tezuka was never bound to a single genre, moving from the sci-fi action of Astro Boy or Black Jack to the funny-animal adventure of Kimba the White Lion or Unico to the horror of Alabaster to the bawdy comedy of Don Dracula to the long-running and compelling historical biography of Buddha --- and that's only scratching the surface of what he did.

 

Tezuka at his desk, via JapanTimes.co.jp

 

Tezuka remained a vital creative force all the way up to his death from stomach cancer --- after delivering his legendary last words, "I am begging you, let me work!" --- and the influence of his massive library of titles is still felt today. But despite the worldwide success of titles like Astro Boy, a large amount of his work remains unknown in America.

But in a way, that's exciting. For us, there are still "new" Tezuka projects to find just over the horizon, full of the wonder and adventure that marked his career.