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November 8, 2013

Festivals Extra: On Last Evening's Osamu Tezuka Lecture By Roland Kelts At Japan Society

I attended an hour-long presentation on the life and influence of Osamu Tezuka at the Japan Society in New York City Thursday evening. The event was moderated by Katie Skelly in support of Roland Kelts, who authored the 2007 book Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.. That is a book I remember but maybe didn't read... I have some memory issues now. That book was certainly a prominent effort during the cultural moment when the sustained success of translated manga and anime in the US gave additional weight to the task of understanding the fundamental movers and players in the culture that was making an impression on our own.

imageI sat next to the cartoonist Sophia Wiedeman and behind Paul Karasik -- Sam Alden was also in attendance, although I didn't see him until after the event. I'm sure there were other comics-makers though. It was very full -- I'd say about 75 people, but I am horrible at that. I'd say it was ahead of their estimations because they added three rows of chairs as the presentation got underway. What was impressive is that this was a ticketed, paid event, and the Japan Society is over on the East Side and is not something you just stop by on the way to something else, unless you're some sort of diplomat or translator. I hereby apologize for not including New York more prominently in the great comics cities discussions.

The reason I'm mentioning in a full report rather than a graph or two in the forthcoming CAB weekend report is that it was a really good version of that kind of event -- both Karasik and I were struck by this. It was certainly something that allowed for a quick primer on Tezuka and his accomplishments. If you're in the arts and ever need more suicide fodder than usual, pull up a basic biography of that guy and mark your age against his at certain milestones. What was noteworthy, though, is that information was presented in a way that I got something out of it, too, or at least was reintroduced to certain critical notions about one of the great comics-makers of the 20th Century: that he was fascinated by issues of dichotomy within bodies, that his stories rarely ended happily, that his method of deconstructing action stood in stark contrast to North American compression and overlapping, and that part of his move into gekiga was fueled by healthy ego and a desire to compete with younger comics-makers on their own terms.

Too frequently in comics we assume everything divides neatly into categories of that which is fit to be consumed by folks not into comics, and then a kind of sweaty over obsessive inside baseball that we all love but that is almost impenetrable to anyone else. I think the danger in that is we assume that any sort of sophisticated or even specific analysis has to fall into the impenetrable camp when it's not absolutely lowest common denominator slow-speech. But that's never true, and audiences of all kinds that aren't naturally inclined to get deep into comics can understand them and what they do in non-insulting, straight-forward terms. It was nice to be reminded, and I want to read Kelts' book now.
posted 8:30 am PST | Permalink

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