What Did I Learn?
Today’s review is on Astro Boy by Osamu Tezuka, specifically Dark Horse’s Volume 1 and 2 compilation. The original twenty years of Astro Boy comics appear to have been published between 1951 to 1981 but were only part of what Tezuka was able to publish. This particular book has 6 stories in 414 pages, plus the introduction and other pages.
Much of this book’s introduction can be found on its wikipedia entry, although that entry is very stilted, like you’ve been forced to read the book’s three page introduction in just one breath. However, the wiki entry goes on to add the total publishing calendar, including video games, films, manga and anime (in which is claimed that Astro Boy was the first anime shown outside Japan.)
One thing the entry does not mention is that Astro Boy was created in the time before Japan had the reputation for science and technology that it does today. Tezuka was a non-practicing Doctor imagining how science, robots and medicine would advance and what the results on society and the individual would be. I have to say that it doesn’t read as quaint or even as a product of the time other than the straightforward nature of how the stories are told – in McCloud’s terms, all the transitions were action to action.
The introduction went on at length about the names of the characters. Astro Boy was originally called “Mighty Atom” in Japanese and some of the names were plays on words that didn’t translate easily to English. They tried to work in these little side jokes where they could but I must have overlooked them because I never saw them. Perhaps they might have stood out if I had seen other versions of Astro Boy besides the 2009 movie. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything important.
Much was made in the introduction about the layouts. They ranged from two to eleven panels, with some being in grey scale. (It is explained that the first three pages of manga comics are typically colored and these were reproduced in black and white.) I had heard the layouts were extraordinarily well done, which is part of the reason I bought the book. The action is always clear, though I felt like the action was always just barely contained within each panel. He also drew both explosions and clouds so effortlessly that I can’t even describe it and color is purely optional.
What’s funny is there are some tangents and border breaks in places I wouldn’t think to recommend. I guess that’s where someone with talent and skill can go beyond the rules of thumb that we accept now. Tezuka was truly a master of using strong blacks to lead the eye around the page. Sometimes he used them to stop your eye, sometimes to highlight an area and sometimes to point your eyes in the way they needed to go for story flow.
In order to keep audiences from getting too worked up over the story events, sometimes silly characters were thrown in to remind the reader that this is a story. And there were some comics with preludes where Tezuka draws himself leading into the story, often with a silly bit thrown in. It’s a nice touch and I don’t know why that’s not more standard to do this even in non-humorous comics. The closest thing I can think of is Stan Lee’s soapbox feature that he used to do in Marvel Comics or some artists that do blog posts about their current comic.
The story begins when Doctor Boyton’s son Toby died in a car accident. Astro Boy is an exact match for Toby, built by Doctor Boyton. And was originally called Toby by his “father”. Doctor Boyton wanted to keep him a secret but he became a hero. He became embroiled in various adventures, of which six are contained in this volume.
What Did I Learn?
Astro Boy is a classic and definitely worth being exposed to, even if it’s just at your local library. For example, some comics are held back from their full potential when done in black and white but not Astro Boy. It didn’t need color, nor did I even think about color as an option while reading it. Sometimes, a comic just has all the right parts in the right amounts and it comes along at the right time.
I don’t have a book link, but you can also watch some of the early 2000’s anime episodes on Hulu, if you’d like.