Monday, December 7, 2015



The comics and anime world lost another of its pioneers and grand old gentlemen last week when manga-kaShigeru Mizuki passed away aged 93. A titan of his field in his native Japan, where he pioneered yokai (folklore monsters and ghosts) manga and played a huge role in the development ofgekiga (dramatic pictures) manga, he will no doubt be largely remembered for the hugely popular GeGeGe no Kitaro series about a 300 year old monster boy and his eyeball father who face all manner of Japanese yokai­. Sadly, it’s only in the last few years that Mizuki managed to get some serious attention from English readers thanks to Drawn & Quarterly translating and releasing his work Stateside in huge, handsomely designed editions.

D & Q’s 2011 release of Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths (1973) was my first Mizuki work. Initially I found the incongruity between the super realistic backgrounds and the highly caricatured people who populated them slightly jarring, but it wasn’t long before Mizuki’s “fictionionalized memoir” of his time in WWII (during which, in real life, he lost an arm) won me over with its sympathetic portrayal of soldiers stuck fighting in the pacific amidst disease, despair and fatality. The chirpiness of his goofy, big-mouthed everyman characters somehow drive home the horrors of war even harder with their cartoonish appearance. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is an incredible work, a classic of the war comics genre and a fine example of comics as capital-L Literature, worthy of its 2012 Eisner win for Best US Edition of International Material – Asia.

NonNonBa (1978) followed, this time mixing semi-autobiography with yokaiin a Japan on the verge of massive change. Young Shige, standing in for the author, is captivated by a local elderly lady’s tales of the monsters of folklore and finds his considerable troubles eased by her company and his ever-expanding knowledge of an ancient spirit world. In this video, Mizuki talks of yokai with a twinkle in his eye, describing how under the lights of modern Japan, a land transformed from the Edo period in which they thrived, the yokai simply “can’t survive.” 

D&Q released a hefty Kitaro book in 2013 (from works created between 1967-69), with more to come starting next year, compiling some of the monster boy’s finest adventures and showcasing Mizuki’s gifts at creating an endless amount of startling, humorously designed yokai for Kitaro to both team with and face off against.The volume’s highlights include “The Great Yokai War” in which Kitaro recruits a gang of yokai to take on Western monsters including Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula and the werewolf, “Creature From The Deep” in which Kitaro is transformed into a massive, hairy kaiju “bent on destroying Tokyo” and forced to fight a giant robot (one of the first such stories apparently) and a terrific yokai glossary.

Shigeru Mizuki’s Hitler came out only several weeks ago. It’s an absorbing read, told with Mizuki’s signature juxtaposition between the cartoonishness of his figures and the realism of his backgrounds as well as displaying some serious intent in creating a biographical portrait of the dictator with substance and depth. Following Adolf Hitler from failed artist sleeping on benches, to draft dodger to WWI Iron Cross winning war hero to fuehrer to suicide, this is an expansive and thorough exploration of Hitler’s life, populated with so many people that a two page cast of characters kicks the whole thing off. Ambitious in scale, Hitler is also impressive in its visual transformation of Adolf from scruffy vagrant to deluded, crazy-eyed politician with Mizuki’s excellent narration both illuminating the changes in the man and carrying the fact-filled, history driven narrative rapidly onwards with succinct little gems like: “Hitler transforms beyond the dreams of the artist. The writer’s pen is his true power, not the painter’s brush.”

Covering Japanese history from 1926-1989, Mizuki’s four-volume (1988-89) sits on my shelf, all 2000-odd pages of it, long earmarked for a Christmas 2015 reading. It took D&Q a few years to bring the whole series to print but even on a cursory flip through it’s clearly worth the wait to absorb in one long stretch with Mizuki again mixing history and biography in this epic project.

Hopefully, I’m not the only one who will take some time these upcoming holidays to reflect upon the amount of work Mizuki created, the range and surface of which I’ve barely scraped here, work that won major Japanese, French and American awards. His characters are cultural institutions and, as evidenced by The Mizuki Shigeru Road in Mizuki’s hometown of Sakaiminato (in Tottori Prefecture), tourist hotspots. He leaves behind a legacy as large as his output.


No webcomic this week, in its place is this adorable little article on how much Shigeru Mizuki loved junk food. Hopefully, we’ll see at least some of If You Go Ahead and Eat, You’ll Be Happy – The Daily Healthy Life of The Mizuki Brothers (discussed within) sooner rather than later. “In the end, when it’s your time to go, you die,” Mizuki says. “When it’s your time to live, you live. It all comes from the genes you got from your parents.”


Lots of GeGeGeno Kitaro videos to choose from, including a fully subtitled but awful looking live action movie from 2008, but in the end I went with this one, the opening to the ‘60s anime, in lovely black and white and subtitled for your convenience. A fitting testimony to the longevity and deep cultural penetration of Mizuki’s work, this video also showcases the cutesiness of Mizuki’s character design and the atmospherics of his settings.

Rest in peace, Shigeru-sensei.

See you next week. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you’ll likely never read. He’s the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory ( You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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