SWALLOWING THE EARTH • Osamu Tezuka • DMP (2009) • Shogakukan (Big Comic, 1968-1969) • 1 volume • Seinen Adventure Drama • 18+ (infrequent language, violence, nudity, sex)
In 1942, an American G.I. dies in captivity at Guadalcanal, clutching a photo of an impossibly beautiful woman and raving about an ancient city in the jungle ruled by Zephyrus, a seductive blonde queen. Twenty years later, the Japanese soldiers who heard the G.I.’s story discover evidence that Zephyrus is real and staying in a hotel room in Tokyo, and the tale spins into a bizarre web of blowup-doll women, deranged millionaires, improbable semi-science fiction technology and the evil queen’s vengeful vow “to destroy money…to make chaos of law and morality…and to seek revenge on men!” This rambling megastory from Osamu Tezuka’s middle period (after Astro Boy, before his “adult” works) feels, at times, poorly tied together. From a tropical cliffhanger complete with questionable period caricatures of Pacific Islanders, African-Americans and big-nosed white women to an apocalyptic, but equally caricatural, social satire on 1968’s social ills (race relations, “the collapse of the family in modern society”), Swallowing the Earth spends most of its middle part on inconsistent side stories about minor characters; as translator Frederik Schodt explains in his excellent foreword, one of Tezuka’s weaknesses was that he often tried to cram in too much. The swings between cartoon and serious are sudden as usual for Tezuka, as in a scene when machine guns massacre a crowd of protestors, only for the bullet wounds to be drawn on the corpses like cartoon swiss cheese. In the end, the plot is too almost too haphazard and unlikely to work, but the rock of the story is the often-offscreen main character Gohonmatsu, a tough, handsome, innocently boozy young galoot of a longshoreman who alone is able to resist the lures of wealth and Zephyrus’ charms (”I got no interest in women!…My dream is to drink all the liquor on earth…like I can swallow the whole earth!”). Fred Schodt compares to Gohonmatsu to the early 20th-century newspaper strip character Li’l Abner, and the comparison is dead-on; the mix of silliness, sexism, slapstick action and ambitious themes gives the feeling of a period pulp adventure struggling for legitimacy, not really successfully, but at least to the entertainment of readers. Tezuka’s artwork, not his most realistic or detailed, flowers with a pop-art use of bold silhouettes, heavy contrast and shape repetition; if he were drawing it today, it might be done with vector illustration software.
Today’s winner is Jasmine S. of Oregon. Congratulations, Jasmine! And now for a photo of one of our previous winners:
This photo of Jason C. shows him enjoying his manga booty, “The World of Narue” and “Samurai Commando.” Unfortunately, CPM (peace be upon them) never finished publishing “Narue” before they went out of business, but the existing four volumes are pretty solid love-com stuff. Hope you like it, and I’ll send you some more manga soon!