I think the weather in July makes people horny.
Last year, I posted a partial translation of a discussion between legendary manga-ka Go Nagai and Monkey Punch. It was from the online magazine Moura ("Total Coverage"), an online portal of content culled from various Kodansha magazines.
This time, I've translated Moura's discussion between Go Nagai and yokai master Shigeru Mizuki, creator of the "Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro" series. Conducted in 2002 when Mizuki was 80, it's a really fascinating look into the "kashi-bon" manga scene -- a now-extinct industry of shops that rented (rather than sold) comic books in the '50s and early '60s, just before weekly and monthly manga magazines debuted. Check it out after the jump.
Nagai: Our paths have crossed at industry parties many times, but I remember this one time a manga magazine editor invited me to have dinner together with you. At one point the topic came up about you being someone who would eat anything. How as a kid you'd tried eating glass, how you'd shimmied up a flagpole to try taking a bite out of the gold ornament at the top. (Laughs)
Mizuki: That gold ball sure looked tasty. (Laughs)
Nagai: So I've always thought you might be a yokai yourself. (Laughs)
Mizuki: Really? (Laughs) Well, I can tell you that when I was a kid, I believed that there were always yokai lurking in dark places. Because my grandmother told me yokai stories all the time. So I was really afraid of the dark. We didn't have electricity back then. The roads were dark. When night fell, you stayed in your home.
Nagai: People imagine all sorts of things in the darkness, so I've always thought that people had better imaginations back then. Even I, when I was a kid, would imagine I saw monsters and things in the darkness, and when you start imagining them you really start seeing them!
Mizuki: These days, we have magazines and television, and the world is such a busy place. Modern-day yokai are different from yokai in times of old. Old yokai always lived in the darkness, just as they had since long, long ago. But now we have all this electric lighting and stuff, so they don't come out anymore.
Nagai: So electricity basically wiped the yokai out.
Mizuki: That's right! Before electricity, we used paper lanterns at night, but you know, those lanterns are scary! Old and worn out ones really felt yokai-like to me. (Laughs) The progress of civilization has resulted in a lot of wonderful things, but it has a boring side, too. These days, you can eat candy whenever you want.... (Laughs)
Nagai: I read your autobiography, Born a Yokai, and if I recall it said that your start as a manga artist came when you living in an apartment right after the war, and were approached by someone who asked you to start doing kami-shibai (translator's note: a now-archaic artform in which traveling storytellers entertained kids with illustrated cards).
Mizuki: When the war ended, they brought me back from the South Pacific. I knew I had to get a job or I wouldn't be able to eat, but if it was possible I really wanted to do something I enjoyed. And what I liked to do was draw. I'm the type who can't stand doing things they don't like.
Nagai: I have a memory from my childhood of this crazy kami-shibai where a Martian was riding this octopus-robot. That story had to be one of yours, right?
Mizuki: I had a lot of fun drawing that one with the Martian.
Nagai: So it was yours! It was right around 1948 or '49. I still remember it to this day.
Mizuki: Everyone was poor back then, and so everyone saw kami-shibai as the main way for kids to enjoy themselves. When the economy started improving a little, that was the beginning of the kashi-bon (rental comic) era. They really exploded in number, the kashi-bon shops.
Nagai: That was when I grew up, during the kashi-bon era. On my way home from elementary school I'd always stop at the kashi-bon shop. I'd read a ton of them but always rent just one. That's how I spent my time.
Mizuki: That was a savage industry, kashi-bon. A lot of book illustrators tried their hands at it, but most of them didn't even get a shot at a second or third title, they'd get sacked after their first. Because it hadn't sold.
Nagai: Really? Wow.
Mizuki: See, the kashi-bon companies didn't really "get" manga themselves. So they'd hire anyone to do a title, but if it didn't sell, they got the axe. 60, 70 percent of the artists' careers began and ended with one book. When you'd go in for an interview with these companies, if you needed money to live on you had to have finished pages with you and ready to go. You had to work your ass off, you were always hungry. Actually, the lives of the artists were often more interesting than the stories. (Laughs) It was tragic, it was comic, it was pitiful, and it was crazy. I mean Japan was so poor, a lot of people were starving.
Nagai: And that was when you made your debut. Rocketman was a hit, and you started putting out one book after another. What were kashi-bon, about a hundred pages? Drawing a hundred pages back then must have been hard.
Mizuki: This will sound strange, but there arenât many people who can construct a plot. A lot of guys were great artists but couldn't come up with stories. So their books didn't sell and they got fired.
Nagai: I borrowed "Rocketman" as a kid. My memories were hazy, but it's been reissued and so I was able to read a copy of it. It's science fiction, but you can already see it has the beginnings of a yokai manga. I realized that you can see the origins of "Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro" right there in "Rocketman."
Mizuki: Well, both "Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro" and "Akuma-Kun" started as kashi-bon.
Nagai: There was another kashi-bon of yours called "Jigoku" (Hell) that I really loved. It was really shocking. With demons chopping up humans in hell. The scenes were brutal but your style of illustration is so humorous, and somehow that made it even scarier!
Mizuki: Anyway, once the weekly manga magazines came around, the kashi-bon shops disappeared in the blink of an eye. They were everywhere -- I'd never have expected to see them go so quickly. That was the power of the weekly magazines.
Nagai: That was around 1963 - 1964. When the kashi-bon shops disappeared. By the time I made my debut they were pretty much gone. But you made the transition into weekly manga magazines very quickly, as I recall.
Mizuki: It seems someone from Kodansha had read my kashi-bon, and they asked me to draw for their magazine. And so I was finally able to start living like a human being. (Laughs) Until that point, I'd been living day to day, never knowing if or when I'd be fired. With kashi-bon, you never knew where you'd be a month down the road. Hell, the kashi-bon companies themselves never knew where they'd be two or three months down the road! (Laughs)
Nagai: The kashi-bon version of Kitaro was really scary, with Medama-Oyaji dropping right out of his eye socket! But the "Shonen Magazine" version, he was made a lot cuter. (Laughs)
Mizuki: They wouldn't let me use "Hakaba" (graveyard) in the title, so I said "fine, I'll make it 'Ge Ge Ge' instead." (Laughs) They said it was too scary-sounding, "graveyard." Kitaro sold well, and so I was finally able to start drawing in the course of a normal lifestyle. Even still, you couldn't let your guard down for a minute in that world. (Laughs)
Nagai: And now you've been at it for fifty years! (Laughs)
Mizuki: When I started drawing for weekly magazines, my financial situation finally eased up, but the workload sure didn't. (Laughs) I hate all-nighters, but with the weeklies, I'd inevitably have to pull two or three every single week. The whole reason the publishers were putting out weeklies instead of monthlies is because they figured they could make four times the profit that way.
Nagai: I guess you can, when you put it that way! (Laughs)
Mizuki: I had my hands full with the weekly work, let me tell you. I was tired. Really, honestly tired. And no vacations. The editor would come for the art right before the deadline. You had to have a strong constitution. In the end only healthy people were able to survive.
Nagai: And in spite of those conditions your art is incredible, with all the pointillist detail. Your assistants must have been crying! (Laughs) Actually, I debuted in Shonen Magazine at the same time you were being serialized. I was only doing comedy manga at the time, but you were doing the "Daikaiju" (Great Sea Monster) story arc in Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro, and I remember absolutely loving it. Changing the subject, what are your memories of "Akuma-Kun"?
Mizuki: That stemmed from me wanting to draw yokai from foreign countries. With me, it's always about yokai, but this time I wanted to do something with a different feel from "Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro."
Nagai: I've always been interested in devils, and because you had already drawn Professor Faust and pentagrams, when I started drawing devil-related comics I knew I'd have to do it in a different way. I wasn't directly influenced by your work, but I knew I had to avoid covering the same ground you had (Laughs) and try a different approach. Sometimes I wonder how Akuma-Kun might have turned out if I'd been doing it. You really changed the character of Mephisto in comparison to how you'd done him in the kashi-bon days, right?
Mizuki: I've forgotten half of what happened with Akuma-Kun. (Laughs) I drew it back in 1965.
Nagai: So now youâre only remembering the happy things. (Laughs) So was doing weekly comic work easier for you since you'd built up such a stable of characters and stories during the kashi-bon years?
Mizuki: I suppose it was a little, but you really had to keep churning out ideas all the time; I never had time for myself. I tell you, weekly manga work is like climbing a mountain with a heavy load on your back. (Laughs) If a story stops being interesting and those readers' postcards stop coming in, it's all over... My entire life was focused on coming up with new ideas. I had a little financial security but I didn't have much emotional security. Because you canât always draw what you like.
Nagai: These days the number of weekly magazines has increased and so have the number of super-niche titles, and there's a much freer atmosphere, sort of like the kashi-bon manga days. Weekly magazines have restrictions as to content, but now there are more chances to be able to do something really different.
Mizuki: I see.
Nagai: I'd like to change the subject a bit. Ever since your experience in the Pacific war, you've liked the South Pacific.
Mizuki: That's true. What I like is the weather. There's no winter so you don't need to prepare as much; all you have to worry about is getting enough to eat that day. The natural cycles of warming and cooling protect everything. If you eat something that doesn't taste good, you don't worry about it; you can sleep when you like, it's like "natural loafing." You don't have to slave your life away like here in Japan.
Nagai: That sounds great, very easygoing.
Mizuki: It's an easygoing life. When I was down South, they called sex "pusu-pusu." Pusu-pusu in the fields in the afternoon, pusu-pusu when you were working. (Laughs) It was hot so they did it outdoors. Not that I saw a lot of that or anything. (Laughs) And I guess people do that in Japan too. (Laughs) I think the weather in July makes people horny. Always made me wonder why there isn't a population explosion down there. (Laughs) Maybe it's too hot. I like the heat, and right when we were sent back to Japan, the locals were all telling me to stay. I had a house, a field, even a bride lined up.
Nagai: Maybe you should've stayed! (Laughs)
Mizuki: Every time I'd see my friends they'd be passionate about telling me to stay. So I made a decision not to go back. When I talked to the Army, they said "Sure, fine, but you should go home and see your father and your mother's faces again first." (Laughs) And when I returned, Macarthur had occupied Japan, and there wasn't any going back. But I always had plans to return...