Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reprint This! 11. Jungle Emperor

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected two dozen titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One title that's probably more overdue than any other is JUNGLE EMPEROR, one of Osamu Tezuka's earliest comics. It ran in the pages of Manga Shonen from 1950-54. A decade later, Tezuka's company produced a television adaptation, Japan's first color animated series. The show, distributed in America by Fred Ladd's company and retitled Kimba the White Lion, was a worldwide success and has prompted several sequel series, films and remakes, but, bizarrely, the original comic has never been collected in English.

Jungle Emperor is the story of a lion named Leo, who is briefly raised by humans and whose father created a safe haven for all animals in the jungle. The cub Leo wants to expand the territory to embrace human culture as well, and wishes for peace for all creatures. Naturally, he finds opposition, both from other animals who challenge his claim to the region, and from humans who bring their squabbles into his kingdom.

I certainly know less about Jungle Emperor than anything else on the Reprint This! list, since I've only flipped through copies of Japanese editions of the comics. I'm more familiar with the TV series, both the original but more so the second series, which was shown on the old CBN network in the 1980s under the name Leo the Lion. It's a truly excellent series, full of heart and optimism. The action and the comedy bits also work very well, but Tezuka's hope for a peaceful world shines in every reflective moment.

Anyway, in Japan, Jungle Emperor was a massive success and has been reprinted many times over the last fifty years, but no American company has licensed the rights to the comics. This is uninformed speculation, but I think that an American publisher like Viz would like to cross-promote any comic series that did appear with the cartoon series, which is already available via a small video company called The Right Stuf. Anyway, while we're holding out for Viz to give Tezuka's Black Jack another try, perhaps Dark Horse, who have published several volumes of Astro Boy, might like to give this one another look. Alternately, Vertical has published several other Tezuka volumes in the US, including Buddha, Apollo's Song and Ode to Kirihito. I think it's a winner in the right hands, so I hope somebody takes a chance on it.

(And while I'm thinking about it, I'd also like to see English editions of Ambassador Magma and Wonder 3, now, please.)

Special thanks to Dave Merrill for sending me these wonderful scans. Most appreciated!

(Originally posted September 18, 2007, 06:00 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

(edited to add: Publisher's Weekly had already interviewed Ioannis Mentzas of Vertical about Tezuka's work, and this series was mentioned, before this article appeared. Click to visit.)

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