Pulp Fictions, Manga Edition: Osamu Tezuka’s ‘Astro Boy’ and Taiyo Matsumoto’s ‘Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White’


Comics come out on Wednesday, and so does Richard Gehr’s Pulp Fictions.

Astro Boy
Osamu Tezuka
Dark Horse

Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White
Taiyo Matsumoto
Viz Media

Osama Tezuka’s series “Tetsuwan Atom” (AKA “Astro Boy”) and Taiyo Matsumoto’s “Black & White” represent manga’s alpha and omega—at least in my admittedly limited exposure to the form.

My state still alters at the memory of “Funnel to the Future,” a black-and-white Astro Boy TV episode I probably first saw in 1964. More accurately titled “The World in Five Hundred Thousand Years” in Japan, the episode introduced me to ideas about possible futures and robot-dominated worlds I wouldn’t ponder again until discovering Isaac Asimov’s epic Foundation Trilogy a few years later.

For all its awesomeness, “Funnel to the Future” was but a single episode of a 193-show run drawn from the manga strip “Tetsuwan Atom,” or (i.e., “Mighty Atom”) that manga godfather Tezuka drew from 1951 to 1968. Reprinted sporadically over the years, Japanese publisher Akita Shoten eventually released a 23-volume collection, and the first two volumes of Dark Horse Manga’s translation were recently released as a single 400-page book.

The collection eschews chronology. Tezuka drew introductions to the 1975 Japanese edition, and the first two volumes present stories from the early ’60s rather than 1951. As impure as that approach might appear, Tezuka’s first-person interventions shed light on the serious questions – e.g., Why do we create robots? What does it mean to be human? What is acceptable in comics? – he explored in his visually dashing, narratively engrossing, and yet often rather slapstick manga.

Created, and then rejected, by a scientist as a substitute for his dead son, the rocket-powered Astro Boy was a Candide-like figure in a world peppered with scientists, magicians, police, and aliens both good and evil. Equally idolized and feared, Astro Boy is undoubtedly the spiritual anime ancestor of Black and White, the feral, flying, and fighting yin-yang child antiheroes of Taiyo Matsumoto’s magnificent Black & White (serialized in Japan’s Weekly Big Comic Spirits in 1993-94).

As with Astro Boy, I first encountered Black and White onscreen, in Michael Arias’s faithfully translated 2006 anime feature, Tekkonkinkreet. And this weekend I belatedly got around to reading Tekkon Kinkreet: Black & White, Viz Media’s 624-page translation of Matsumoto’s masterpiece. Sorry I waited. As realist as Will Eisner and as surreal as Hayao Miyazaki, Matsumoto sets Tekkon Kinkreet in a gritty yet magical Treasure Town, a dangerous and funky neighborhood now turning into a sterile Atlantic Yards sort of place. The ultraviolent Black and his naïve and childish sidekick, White, Treasure Town’s Dickensian protectors, are being slowly driven insane by the Serpent, an evil developer, and his minions. Action and tears ensue.

Matsumoto’s art has a swirling, organic vitality. His lines vibrate in your peripheral vision with the shamanistic aura of cave paintings. While both Astro Boy and Tekkon Kinkreet deal with the analog future, Matsumoto’s VERSION is by far the more threatening. (Tezuka would of course go on to create far subtler characters.) Astro Boy’s eyes were big and bright and wide open; Black and White’s are scarred, cut, bruised, and squinty. Watch the skies for them.

Do you have “The 50 Things That Every Comics Collection Truly Needs”? Me neither. I have most of them, though, and this Comics Reporter feature makes for a stylish wish list. But hey, where’s Robert Williams…Rick Griffin…Kim DeitchGrant Morrison…Jim Steranko…?