Holmberg, Ryan. 2016. “Pro-Nuclear Manga: The Seventies and Eighties.” The Comics Journal. 26 Feb. http://www.tcj.com/pro-nuclear-manga-the-seventies-and-eighties/.

Editor’s note: We invited art and comics historian and The Comics Journal’s “What was alternative manga” columnist Ryan Holmberg to introduce the historical genre of twentieth century “pro-nuclear” manga. These visual sources may be useful to encourage the study of the diverse ways cartooning related to Japan’s nuclear culture. They may help to bridge linguistic barriers and are suitable for multiple classroom settings. 

A large number of past manga works relating to Japan’s conflicted history with the atom have resurfaced since 2011. Among the most informative are strips and stories drawn by artists with direct contact with the nuclear industry. “Pro-Nuclear Manga: The Seventies and Eighties” examines a group of newspaper ads from the mid 1970s to the late 1990s that were either drawn by well-known cartoonists (like Toriyama Akira and Matsumoto Leiji) or broadly relate to the aesthetics of manga/anime merchandising and children’s book aesthetics. This article marks the first in a series that I am writing about pro-nuclear manga in Japan from the 1960s to recent years. The eventual series will cover works little known even inside Japan, although presently, my research focuses on items that scholars, experts, and others have cited repeatedly since the 1980s as examples of how the nuclear industry uses its capital to package knowledge and control Japanese mass media. Special attention is given to the anti-nuclear work of Katsumata Susumu, who had the curious distinction of rising within the world of literary comics in the late ’60s and ’70s while studying toward a graduate degree in nuclear physics.

Analysis of these manga should provide teachers with a means to encourage students to consider how ordinary Japanese people learned about the science and sentiments of the nuclear power industry. A guided study of the manga should consider that not only had opposition to nuclear power been fairly strong in Japanese popular culture in the 1980s, but also that some cartoonists had lent their skills and popularity to promoting the nuclear power industry. The latter came in the form of newspaper ads, single volume manga books commissioned by the industry, and displays at information centers on the campuses of nuclear plants. All of these may also provide useful visual aids in teaching about the history of power and print in Japan.

Ryan Holmberg, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Culture

Article: Pro-Nuclear Manga: The Seventies and Eighties (2016)
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