Seen by many as the grandfather of manga, Osamu Tezuka was one of the most influential artists in Japanese popular culture, creating some of Japan’s most iconic and instantly recognizable characters, including Black Jack, Phoenix, Atom (or Astroboy) and Kimba the white lion…first penned decades before Disney’s very own lion cub, Simba.
Born on November 3rd, 1928, Osamu was the eldest son in a family of three. Growing up, he was a messy looking child who seemed an easy target for schoolyard bullies, who would call him ガシャガシャ頭 (Gashagasha Atama), making fun of his scruffy hair. But it seems for all of his torment at school, he had a very loving family and his mother, more than anyone else in his life, natured and fueled his creativity. Later in life, Osamu would tell of how his mother would create fantastic stories, which helped comfort him from the tough times he was having at school. Although this undoubtedly helped spark his imagination, Osamu himself stated that one of the biggest influences on his work was the theatre group his mother took him to.
Takarazuka Revue was an all female theatre troupe, which started back in 1913. They would mainly concentrate on lively musicals, with flamboyant costumes and make-up decorating the beautiful actresses, who would act out romantic scenarios and take on both the female and male roles. Although these performances were seen as targeted towards a female audience, Osamu reveled in them and their colorful, loud and emotional performances can clearly been seen in his most famous works.
He started drawing in the second grade and not only impressed his classmates, but created an alias that stuck with him until he died in 1989. Originally, his name was the rather common name, 治 (Osamu), but after finding a beetle as a child, known as 治虫 (Osamushi), he adopted the name as it so closely resembled his own (although he merely changed the kanji, not adding the “shi” sound to his name).
Much like Akira Kurosawa, Osamu was a humanist and had very conflicting views as a young man towards the Second World War. As the war ended and Japan was occupied by Allied forces, he put together his first professional work, a four strip comic series known as The Diary of Ma-chan, which was first published in 1946, when Osamu was a mere 17 years old. There were 73 of the comic strips in total, and they followed the everyday adventures of a young girl, Ma-Chan, a young boy Ton-Chan, her father, mother, teacher and a University student. Although it may seem extremely simple by today’s standards, Ma-Chan and Osamu’s next work 新宝島 (New Treasure Island), are said to be the two comics that started the early manga craze and the foundations on which the multi-million dollar industry was built.
As he approached his twenties, Osamu faced a fork in the road; although he had ambitions of becoming a man of medicine (following a childhood memory of being treated by a kindly doctor), with the success of his earlier work and the passion he had for drawing, he didn’t know if he should take the path towards a career he respected, or one he loved. Again, turning to his mother, she was as supportive as ever, telling him that as a doctor, he would surely be a wealthy man in a position to help others, but he should choose the career that would truly make him happy. Although he obtained his medical degree from Osaka University, he only used his medical and scientific expertise to enrich his manga, most notably the sci-fi adventure, Black Jack.
Osamu went from strength to strength as an animator, landing a job with the animation giant, Toei Animation; but when his contract ended in 1961, he took a bold step and set up a rival studio, Mushi Production or 虫プロダクション, which took the “bug” or “虫” from his name. Giving Osamu absolute freedom, the studio became a true pioneer in Japanese animation, with the likes of Astroboy rubbing shoulders with the cartoon boxing legend Ashita no Joe (あしたのジョー) and many other staples in traditional Japanese anime series’.
Stepping down as the director in 1968, Osamu set up another studio, Tezuka Productions the same year, taking with him his own creations (which perhaps led to Mushi Production declaring bankruptcy in 1971). To this day, Osamu’s son, Makoto Tezuka partially owns the studio and still thrives to bring his father’s work to new audiences.
Revered to this day, still being as famous as the legendary characters he created, it is easy to see why Osamu Tezuka is known by many as “漫画の神様” or, The God of Manga.