Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reprint This! 1970s giant robot comics, generally

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 several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

If you were to make a guess at the history of Japanese comics based on what gets sold at your local Barnes & Noble, you'd probably be forgiven for guessing that this nation's industry started around the time Dragon Ball was running, because very little material from the 1960s and 1970s has been successfully sold here. What little that we have got is very good stuff - for example, Vertical has, as I've mentioned from time to time, been releasing a fair amount of Osamu Tezuka comics in very nice editions - but I would argue that it's very hard to get an honest assessment of the medium when so little of the stuff aimed at kids in the 1970s has made its way to our shores.

Honestly, just about every Japanese title that I enjoy started life as a comic and was quickly sold to television producers for an animated adaptation. But there are plenty of instances where the reverse was true. In the 1970s, many of the big names in Japanese comics were hired by production companies to develop TV properties, which were later turned into tie-in comics by those artists and their studios. Actual research on this subject in a format that I can access (and read) is kind of thin on the ground, you'll understand, but it looks like most of Shotaro Ishinomori's 1970s output went this route, as did Reiji Matsumoto's Danguard Ace, and a whole pile of unbelievably entertaining cartoons created by Go Nagai.

Nagai's UFO Robo Gurendaiza was possibly, to my mind, the very best of these. Sold throughout the world under the names Grandizer and Goldrake, this is a big, goofball, hugely enjoyable cartoon about a fellow, called, depending on the translation, Duke Freed or possibly Orion Quest, who pilots a giant robot to save humanity from space aliens, who attack Earth with a new beastial-looking robot each week. The evil aliens are led by a spectacular villain whose face periodically splits in half and then a five-inch high woman steps forward to cackle at her underlings. I'm sorry, but that's just about the greatest villain ever.

The cartoon ran for three seasons and left behind a pile of wonderfully fun merchandising, ranging from Mattel/Popy's beautiful two-foot tall plastic robot down to four-inch die-cast jobs and coloring books, and a comic adaptation churned out by Nagai and his studio, which I believe ran for one year in the pages of a monthly anthology title and was collected in three digests in 1976-77.

Admittedly, Gurendaiza might not be the best example for "new old comics for kids." There's an eye-popping bit in the first volume where the stereotypical potato-headed perv fantasizes about turning into a wolf and ravishing the comely young farm lass who only has eyes for Duke. I'm not sure how that'd play in Peoria. But even accepting that these are tie-in comics produced under contract to accompany a TV cartoon, this is still really fun stuff, vibrant, weird and exciting.

That said, if we're honest, a lot of those clunky old shows really are old and clunky. The nostalgia factor for Mazinger and Getta Robo and Gaiking and Danguard Ace and Raideen and Combattler and Voltes V and Fighting General Daimos and all those others is fueled by the merchandising more than anything else. Maybe the comic adaptations are good and maybe they aren't, but I'm telling you, children under ten still love this stuff absolutely. You give my kids two of those big Popy robots - sold in the US as "Shogun Warriors" - and they'll batter each other for hours, just like millions of Japanese kids were doing thirty years ago. Give 'em some good comics to go along with 'em and you might as well be printing your own money. So how about it, Viz? Feel like making some cash off some old school stuff now that Dr. Slump is coming to an end?

(Originally posted August 12, 2008, 13:39 at hipsterdad's livejournal.)

No comments:

Post a Comment