Manga: An Illustrated History

I took a class called History of the Book in Fall 2018, which taught printing and book construction history using examples from the MSU Library Rare Books and Special Collections. The final project was to choose a topic you were interested in and find a way to research it using the RBSC as primary sources, and then write a paper about its history. As a Japanese major, I naturally chose Japanese history.

MSU RBSC has a huge collection of comics and graphic novels, including some from Japan. I was thrilled to discover this as I’ve always enjoyed reading manga, and I thought that looking at the rise of the manga industry as a reflection of Japan’s postwar history would be fascinating. And it certainly was!

I loved researching this project, from finding old and obscure manga in the library catalogue, to studying said manga for provenance, to translating pieces of it, to doing secondary research and writing it all up. I was truly proud of the final product.

I wasn’t the only one who thought it was pretty cool—I won third place (tied) in the 2019 S. C. Lee Best Undergraduate Paper Contest.

Below is an excerpt:

Quote: There is a definite evolution in art style from the earlier stories to the later ones, and both are very different from current manga style. Works from the 40s and 50s, such as ​Sazae-san and ​Manga Daigaku, look a lot like Western cartoons. Sazae-san’s design, especially in the early years, brings to mind Olive Oyl from​ Popeye. They have similarly skinny arms and legs, short dark hair, and simplistic faces​. Some of the anthropomorphic animal characters in ​Daigaku resemble Mickey Mouse and other Disney properties. This makes sense, because although narrative art had existed in Japan for hundred of years, the genre that took shape in the postwar period drew heavily on American and European comics. Japanese comic artists were aware of foreign characters as early as the 1930s, as evidenced by an illustration published by the New Cartoon Faction Group called “A New Year’s Party for the World’s Most Popular Comic Characters.” Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, and Popeye are some of the properties pictured.

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