Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on May 2010
Each year in late July, the movers and shakers of the comics industry gather for the largest and oldest convention of its kind in the US: Comic-Con International. Highlighting the event are the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which celebrate the best that the art form has to offer.
This year, the Eisners have a distinctly foreign flavor. Nominated in the category of Best Comics-Related Book is an unprepossessing, 50-something Englishwoman who has written a comprehensive work on a seminal Japanese manga-ka.
Helen McCarthy’s The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga features never-before-seen images from Tezuka’s life and work and offers an exhaustive biography of the doctor and teacher who became one of the best-known pop culture figures in Japan. McCarthy, the author of several previous books on Japanese illustration and animation, was surprised to discover how little information was available in English about the subject.
“He was a gifted illustrator, designer, essayist, writer—he had so many talents,” she tells Metropolis. “And the range of his influence, far outside the arts and entertainment, makes him one of the most important figures in 20th-century Japanese popular culture. Yet in the English-speaking world, very few people knew his name, and even those who did thought of him simply as the guy who made Astro Boy… I wanted people to have some idea of the sheer magnitude of the man and his work.”
McCarthy might not fit the typical image of a manga fan, but she was smitten with the genre from day one.
“In 1981, I started going out with an illustrator who had seen manga and anime in Spain the year before and brought some toys and comics back to Britain,” she recalls. “I was just as intrigued as he was by their narrative energy and dynamic visual grammar, so we tried to get some more information. We found that there was nothing at all in English, apart from a few tiny references in animation and comics encyclopedias, and some of those were quite patronizing and dismissive. [So] I decided to write about anime and manga.”
For her work in promoting Japanese culture, the Japan Foundation honored McCarthy with a Japan Festival Award in 1997. Although the author seems a little uncomfortable with the title of “cultural ambassador,” she’d like to encourage comic-loving tourists to see more of what the country has to offer.
“I’d love to work with tour companies to develop specific anime and manga-related tours that would also take in elements of Japan’s history and culture newcomers might otherwise miss. Western fans go to Tokyo and Kyoto, but not many travel to see the beautiful Akita landscape that inspired Tsurikichi Sanpei, or visit Kyushu, where the great Machiko Hasegawa did her early works and created Sazae-san.”
When asked about the Eisner nomination, McCarthy offered words of praise to her design and editorial teams at Ilex Press and Abrams ComicArts, but also singled out Tezuka Productions, which is run by Tezuka’s son Makoto.
“They did everything they possibly could to help me and make the book valid. They never once tried to influence my writing or the approach I chose to take, but they were always there to check facts and dates and provide information, as well as those fabulous images. If every studio was as helpful and generous to writers, there would be a huge flood of books on Japan’s great artists!
“[Winning an Eisner Award] would confirm I’d done something worthy of Tezuka-sensei,” McCarthy concludes. “Of course, the other books on the nomination list are all very good indeed, so I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed!”
Winners will be announced at Comic-Con 2010, which takes place July 22-25 in San Diego. See www.comic-con.org for details. For more information about Helen McCarthy or her books, see www.helenmccarthy.org. McCarthy blogs at helenmccarthy.wordpress.com.