Ever wondered how cartoon books moved from being simple entertainment for kids to being a leading 21st century art form? Well, it began with the manga movement in Japan in the 1950’s, led by the creative genius of Osamu Tezuka, the ‘God of Manga’, creator of Astro Boy, and Machiko Hasegawa, who created the massively popular cartoon character Sazae-san. But there was a darker strand of manga too, one that was born in the harsh days that followed the Japanese defeat in the Second World War, known as gekiga. The story of gekiga is told in an exhibition of original magazines at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury.
Gekiga artists reached adulthood in the hardship and deprivation of post-war Japan, with only a wartime childhood to look back on. They wanted their manga to reflect this new world, so they began to draw gekiga (which means dramatic pictures), a form of manga that showed violence and the grim reality of their lives in an emotionally dark and starkly realistic way.
They were led by artists such as Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Masahiko Matsumoto and Takao Saito and took their direction from films like Seven Samurai and Tokyo Story.
In the 1950’s their moody gangster, detective, mystery and ghost stories were printed in new collections with titles such as Kage (Shadow), Machi (City) and Meiro (Labyrinth).
In the 1960s gekiga became associated with student protest groups opposed to the US-Japan Security Treaty. In 1964 the magazine Garo was founded, which published stories which were visually or thematically too challenging for the mainstream market and often had unresolved or ambiguous endings.
Seiichi Hayashi was one of Garo’s most popular experimental artists. He was also commissioned to draw film posters, like the one on the left in this picture, for the 1975 film, Withered Grass.
By the 1980s gekiga had become integrated back into mainstream manga, but its influence is still lives on in the darkness of modern graphic novels.
This is the first time that original drawings of gekiga have been exhibited in Europe.
The Cartoon Museum on Little Russell Street continues until 29th November. The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10:30am to 5:30pm, Sunday 12 to 5:.30pm. Entrance is £7 for adults.