We always vaguely knew that Osamu Tezuka was the father of manga. After all, he created Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. But recent translations of Tezuka’s more “adult” manga, like Phoenix, Buddha, Adolf and Ode to Kirihito, have boosted Tezuka’s reputation in the English-speaking world. Such scope–in theme, setting, genre! Such bravura cartooning! And what the hell was he on when he drew Kirihito, that delirious mix of medical drama, Christian imagery and people turning into dogs (not to mention the woman who bakes herself in a giant pancake)?
Now that we’re starting to see a lot more of Tezuka’s adult work in English, it’s a good time to look back at some of his…not-so-adult work. Such as the 1948 oddity Lost World, translated and published by Dark Horse in 2003. Here are some of the plot elements that make up Lost World. A secret spy-ring. A Dr Moreau-style laboratory, with dozens of anthropomorphized talking critters. Plants in the shape of people. A trip to outer space, and the eponymous lost world. Dinosaur fights. All this, plus Mustachio!
(For the non-cognoscenti: Mustachio is a private detective who recurs throughout Tezuka’s work, including Astro Boy and Buddha. He has a big moustache; hence the name.)
It’s all a bit of a mess, in other words, a hodge-podge of a stew that’s been whipped through a blender and then mixed up some more. The plot revolves around a “planet” that roams through the universe, occasionally getting closer to Earth. (That sounds more like a comet than a planet, but who’s to quibble?) When meteors from the planet are found to possess miraculous powers, an expedition is launched to recover more.
And that’s about as much of the plot as you need to know, really. There’s no point in reading Lost World for the story, cobbled together as it obviously is from half a dozen sources that the young Tezuka must have liked. Tezuka was 20 at the time it was first published, and he says in an afterword that Lost World was originally created even earlier.
You can, however, enjoy Lost World for the cartooning, and for the hints of future Tezuka motifs. Tezuka is a long way from his later style, and shows a heavy influence from Disney and Western comic strips of the 1930s. The Silly Symphonies, in particular, inform the way he draws the humans and dinosaurs. But even if Tezuka’s draughtmanship has a ways to go before developing into his own distinctive style, he already shows a strong sense for panel composition and how to pace a scene.
Better still is the impression you get from Lost World of a young artist at the start of his career, already determined to tell his own kind of stories. In his later manga “for kids”, Tezuka didn’t pull his thematic punches. His Astro Boy stories, for instance, often end tragically, with robots destroyed through human folly, cruelty, greed or indifference. Lost World doesn’t skimp on the harsh life lessons, either. Given that this is a fast-paced sci-fi adventure story with funny animals, there’s a lot of death. And not all of it heroic.
So the next time you want to pontificate learnedly on the first serious graphic novel, don’t forget about Tezuka. Biff! Pow! Manga aren’t just for kids any more, even when they are.
Recommended: An interesting and worthy piece of juvenilia if you’re already into Tezuka, but not as your first exposure
IYL: Tezuka’s other work (duh).
The skinny: Lost World, Osamu Tezuka, Dark Horse 2003. $17.95, 248 pages