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Shigeru Mizuki’s ‘Kitaro’ is Ge-Ge-Ge-great comics

KITARO.coverSince 2011, Drawn and Quarterly has published three major Shigeru Mizuki books. The first was Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, a semi-autobiographical comic about Japanese soldiers in a bizarre, existential crisis at the end of World War II, when it was pretty clear they were defeated: continue to fight to the death anyway, or be put to death by their own leaders. The second was NonNonBa, a childhood memoir about the artist’s relationship with his grandmother, and the interest in the yokai of Japanese folklore that became central to the artist’s long life of work.

The third and latest is Kitaro, a 400-page collection of 1967-1969 stories from  Mizuki’s Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro manga. Of the three, it’s the book that is definitely the least interesting to talk about, and perhaps has the least literary value, being a more straightforward genre work focused more on entertainment than wrestling with the big issues of national identity that the two previous releases.

It;s also the most fun and easy to read, however, and it bears an important, even foundational, place in the story of Mizuki’s life’s work: This is his signature work, the reason Mizuki is so famous, so beloved and so influential.

And he is influential. Like Osamu Tezuka in manga and Jack Kirby in American superhero comics, even newer or  younger readers who might never have heard of those men or never read a single one of their works nevertheless unknowingly enjoy works by artists they influenced. In his introduction to the collection, Matt Alt not only situates Mizuki with a place of honor in the centuries-long history of yokai study and celebration, he also partially credits Mizuki’s comics with paving the way for Pokemon.

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Exclusive Preview | Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro

Having released his World War II indictment Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths in 2011, and his compelling childhood memoir Nonnonba in 2012, Drawn & Quarterly will publish Shigeru Mizuki’s most beloved and best-known work, Kitaro, for the first time in North America in 2013.

Created in 1959, Mizuki’s Kitaro, known in Japan as GeGeGe no Kitaro, follows the adventures of a centuries-old little boy who — well, I think the D&Q press release says it best:

Meet Kitaro. He’s just like any other boy, except for a few small differences: he only has one eye, his hair is as an antenna that senses paranormal activity, his geta sandals are jet-powered, and he can blend in to his surroundings like a chameleon. Oh, and he’s a three hundred and fifty year old yokāi (spirit monster). With all the offbeat humor and a delightful cast of characters, Kitaro is a light-hearted romp where the bad guys always get what’s coming to them.

Kitaro is not only incredibly popular in its native country but something of a native landmark, so its release on these shores (the book comes out in February) is noteworthy. As part of Robot 6′s anniversary celebration, the folks at Drawn & Quarterly were kind enough to share a sample story from this upcoming volume, Monster Night Game:

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