Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Hey folks! Today's post is something a little different than usual-- a guest post by Ryan Holmberg, who as many of you know was the curator of Garo Manga: The First Decade (1964-1973) show earlier this year and is currently a postdoc in Contemporary Art.

This is a group research project of sorts, as he's looking for our help (and the help of the greater comics/mangasphere) to dig up details about the American reaction to the translated works of Koike Kazuo. I'll let him take it away below, and please add your thoughts/links/contributions in the comments. Some answers to these questions may be in interview with Frank Miller and Dark Horse editors, along with books by Paul Gravett or Frederik Schodt. But I also I know there are lots of other writings from the 80s and 90s, along with personal anecdotes, that can fill in the details. Thanks in advance!

(Frank Miller/Lynn Varley's cover to the first issue of First Comics' run of Lone Wolf & Cub. Check out the complete covers from those floppy issues)

From Ryan Holmberg:

A colleague of mine in Tokyo is currently writing about the famous manga script writer Koike Kazuo of "Lone Wolf and Cub" and "Crying Freeman" fame. He recently asked me some questions about the reception and reputation of Koike Kazuo in North America. Having first come into contact with his work in Japan, I was not sure how to answer. So on his behalf, and to satisfy my own curiosity, I wonder if readers of Same Hat might be able to share some facts or general impressions or anecdotes? The more specific people can be about dates and places et cetera, the more helpful it would be.

First, does anyone know the history of how Koike's work came to be translated in the United States? Is there an industry back story of any note? Also, any thoughts about what kind of audience his work was initially marketed to – age-wise, reading taste-wise, et cetera? Was there any substantial critical response at the time?

Second, Frank Miller's admiration of Koike Kazuo is well-known. I wonder if anyone could flesh out the details of that, and the various ways in which it shaped Miller's work, or how Miller was involved in popularizing Koike's work? I am aware that Miller/Varley did covers for Lone Wolf and Cub, and the impact on Ronin and Sin City…but I am wondering if anyone might be able to expand on that.

Third, it seems the status of writers is much lower than that of artists when it comes to comics in North America. Do you think this might also be the case for Koike? In other words, do people first think of Kojima Goseki and Ikegami Ryoichi when the titles of Koike's work come up?

Last, in the early 70s, Koike was writing a Japanese version of the "Hulk" for Bokura Magazine. It has never been collected, and probably never will be because of copyright issues. My colleague is wondering whether, in North America, at the time of "Lone Wolf and Cub's" release, would it have had the same readership as the Hulk? He’s trying again to get a sense of if the readership of Koike's work in Japan overlaps with that elsewhere?

Sorry for the many and lengthy questions. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

(Lone Wolf & Cub board game by Mayfair Games, 1989. Cover by Grendel artist Matt Wagner)

UPDATE: Received this update from Ryan Holmberg:

Thanks for this treasure trove of information. It's amazingly helpful and much much more than I had hoped for. I apologize for not being active on the posting myself. On the one hand, I couldn't be of much use as my contact with Koike's work has been almost entirely in Japan. Also, I have been too buried in circa 1960 "hardboiled" manga the past few weeks -- essentially the breeding ground for Koike-type gekiga. Maybe I can return the favor in a week or so with some gems from that world. Again, thank you thank you

[From Ryan: Covers from Bokura Magazine, 1971]


Anonymous said...

I remember buying these when they came out in the 80s. Like American comic geeks everywhere, I adored Frank Miller, and gleefully bought anything he was associated with.

If I recall correctly, the first couple issues went into multiple printings, and was popular among comic book geeks that went to speciality stores. A very small subset of the American population, to be sure!

I remember liking the stories at the time. Did it inspire me to hunt down other things by the same artist? No. I think 13-year-old me was disappointed that the intensity (and gorgeous color) of Frank's covers weren't matched by the story within.

Daryl Surat said...

As it turns out, Kazuo Koike's reception in America is something I've been following for a while:

I'll take a stab at giving an abridged answer to question 1. First, I want Ryan's colleague to understand that among the vast majority of people who would call themselves "manga fans" in the United States, the name Kazuo Koike is almost completely unknown in 2010. They have never heard of him. His recognition in America comes almost entirely from older American comicbook fans who primarily know about Lone Wolf and Cub by way of Frank Miller (as you know); Koike's subsequent works--even the subsequent ones he did with Goseki Kojima--are not nearly as well-received. The only manga fans in the US that know who Koike is and write about him with any regularity tend to be older comicbook fans and current/former employees of US publishers of Koike's work.

Like most early manga releases in America, Koike's work was targeted to the same adult male (20s and up) demographic that American superhero comics are targeted to. Per this blog post's links, Lone Wolf and Cub was released by First Comics in 1987 via a format similar to traditional American comicbooks (reversed artwork, fewer pages, etc). This specific title was chosen for a couple of reasons. One: it was as you say an influence on Frank Miller's Ronin and Daredevil. Two: an edited-together version of the first few Lone Wolf and Cub films known as Shogun Assassin had been made for America years prior which developed an underground following in conjunction with interest in ninja. I cannot cite any "substantial" critical response, but interest in LWaC faded over time.

In late 1989 (October?) Viz Comics started releasing Crying Freeman. Again, the primary audience was direct market US comicbook readers (male adults) so artwork was reversed, sound effects retouched, and releases were done in single-issue US comicbook format followed later by "graphic novel" compilations. The title was chosen not because of Koike as the author but Ryoichi Ikegami as the artist. His less cartoon-like, more anatomical approach to drawing characters more closely resembled the approach taken by several US comicbook artists of the time, and Viz had previously been publishing another work of his, Mai the Psychic Girl, since 1987. Sanctuary by Koike/Ikegami followed in 1992. Critical response to these works often praised the artwork and "eroticism" factor of the storylines, which were taken relatively seriously. (Today, the general critic consensus is that their plotlines are laughably convoluted, the stories are excessively demeaning to women particularly regarding the treatment of rape, etc). Both were released in graphic novel format, but print runs were relatively low and the books went out of print fairly fast.

In 2001 ComicsOne released two other Koike/Ikegami comics: Offered and Wounded Man. By then the audience for "manga" in the US had become established and was younger/more female than the usual US comics readership. Neither comic was well-received critically or commercially. In 2002, the final issue of the manga magazine Pulp (published by Viz and staffed by many involved with the prior Viz Koike manga releases) featured extensive coverage of Koike, such as this:

Also featured was a parody "interview" with the main character of Wounded Man in which the responses consisted of particularly outrageous quotations from the comic:

The tones of these articles are indicative of what little critical reception that Kazuo Koike's non-Lone Wolf and Cub work receives in the United States. Lone Wolf and Cub is Dark Horse Comics' most successful manga release of all time. This interest or critical acclaim does not carry over to anything else he has written.

Daryl Surat said...

Double-posted because I got an error message saying the comment was too long...

I'll skip question 2 as my Frank Miller knowledge isn't sufficiently in-depth.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, artists took higher priority over writers among US comicbook fans. Today, authors get higher billing because US comicbook fans tend to value the writer more. In the case of manga, the author and artist are generally the same, but most manga fans cannot tell you the author of their favorite title. Few Naruto fans can name Masashi Kishimoto, for instance, but they are younger than the seinen target demographic of Kazuo Koike's work.

Therefore, when the titles of Koike's works come up, most people simply have no idea what you're talking about. Those that do think first and foremost of Kazuo Koike, not the artist. Even I cannot remember off the top of my head who drew Lady Snowblood or The Color of Rage. But I'll never forget that Koike wrote them.

There is 0% chance that a Kazuo Koike-penned version of the Incredible Hulk would have anywhere near the same readership as the "regular" Incredible Hulk. In America, there is a very strong divide between "fans of American comicbooks" and "fans of manga" at the consumer level. Among bloggers this is less noticeable, but many fans of full-color US superhero comics strongly reject the black-and-white, right-to-left reading Japanese comicbooks. Marvel experimented with releasing the Ryoichi Ikegami Spider-Man in America, and it was not well-received among Spider-Man fans. The reason is not because of the artist or author, but because the Spider-Man of that comic was not "Peter Parker"; he was a different character entirely with different relationships, villains, and so on. US manga expert and Kazuo Koike enthusiast (also involved with Viz manga) Jason Thompson wrote about its reception here:

I talked with Jason about Crying Freeman and Koike in general here:

In short, while I legitimately enjoy Kazuo Koike and try and get as much of his work as I can, the material he writes is for an audience of manga readers that simply does not exist in America in any significant amount. He may be the most respected living manga author in Japan, but virtually nobody in America knows who he is. Most who do know do not like him, writing him off as a chauvinist lunatic and perhaps only recommending his work for "ironic" entertainment, particularly his titles which take place in America. The fans of Lone Wolf and Cub disapprove strongly of the much more lurid sexual content found in his other period works such as Samurai Executioner ("Kubikiri Asa"), Path of the Assassin ("Hanzo no Mon"), Lady Snowblood ("Shirayuki Hime"), Bohachi Bushido, Hanzo the Razor, and so on. I consider it a small miracle that Dark Horse Comics, the only manga publisher that currently releases his work in America, continues to occasionally do so. Sadly, I'll probably never see a US edition of AIUEO Boy.

Anonymous said...

PULP magazine devoted much of its September 2000 issue (Vol. 4, No. 9) to the history of Lone Wolf & Cub in America, including the First Comics release, the Dark Horse release, and the English-dubbed "Shogun Assassin" film through which most Americans first got exposed to the story before the manga's release here.


Emilio ( said...

I had to double check to make sure, but the author of the most excellent Road to Perdition graphic novel (on which the movie was based) went so far as to call it "an American twist on Lone Wolf and Cub" in the book's foreward. Begun in 1994 but not completed until 1998, the author makes specific mention of the fact that the graphic novel was originally "serialized in three issues in a compact format reminiscent of digest-size Japanese manga."

Perhaps this information might be indicative of the waves Kazuo Koike specifically and the manga boom generally was capable of making in the comics industry back then. Quite a marked difference from the influence it has now.

Rodrigo Baeza said...

Some stuff I remember:

One of the "Shogun Assassin" movies based on "Lone Wolf and Cub" was reviewed in the 1970's by Chris Claremont in an issue of Marvel's "Deadly Hands of Kung Fu".

Another American series inspired by "Lone Wolf and Cub" is Matt Wagner's "Grendel: War Child" from 1992. (Wagner did several "Lone Wolf" covers for First Comics in the 1980's).

Frank Miller has told the story of how he discovered Lone Wolf:

"I first discovered Lone Wolf and Cub when I was first starting out and felt that it ripped away all this glummery that had covered up comic books. It was a girlfriend of mine at the time, Laurie Sutton, who was an editor at DC Comics, who turned me onto it. He father worked in the oil industry and he brought a copy of it back from Japan to give to Laurie, who gave it to me and my mind exploded, so I had to hunt the rest down. Basically I went to Japan and gathered them all. I was in my early twenties and I came back from there full of vim and vigor that I was going to steal this stuff and also, I wanted to make sure that it was published in the United States because it was the best graphic novel I’d ever seen and nobody had seen it. It would inspire quite a change in American comics. So I struck a deal with First Publishing that I would draw the covers with Lynn Varley painting them if they would publish them and they did: they published 12 issues. That was the beginning of manga being recognized by the United States. It was way overdue."

Yukiko Forever! said...

I'm kind of offended (offended by way of principles, it's not personal) by some of the elitist sentiments expressed at the beginning of Daryl Surat's long post. It may be that Kazuo Koike is largely ignored by the manga reading public (I myself have only read bits and pieces of Samurai Executioner) but I doubt that they are in anyway ignorant to him. Since I was very young (probably 13-15 I'd say; I'm 20 now) his works have popped up regularly, not only in second hand book stores, but in Barnes & Noble and Books a Million (I live in Chattanooga). I have seen Shogun Assassin (the live action movie adaptation of Lone Wolf and Cub) and I loved it. I believe what you were trying to express is that the aesthetic sympathies of the American manga reading public are more concerned with Naruto and the like than actually being unaware. I'd also like to note that I grew up on Toonami; I hadn't read even one American comic until this past summer, but I had read and seen the titles above for years. Its a problem in marketing politics and the history of promotion for Japanimation in this country, not some hip conspiracy.

Ryan S said...

@Anon: Thanks for the interesting story! I was only 5 or 6 when it first came out in the States, so it predates my manga history a bit. It wouldn't be until MIXXZINE that I was fully activated, though Miller loomed large in my early-90s pantheon of dark superhero creators.

@Darly: Dude! I am sure Ryan H will chime in in a bit, but this is an exceptional wealth of details/links/info... many thanks for typing all that up and sharing! I do see a number of different generational splits between different waves of manga fans, most notable the way manga was first marketing along SF/action comics and later marketed as "manga"-- an entity unto itself.

Thanks again for the great links.

@Carl: Thanks for stopping by-- I was hoping that you and Jason T would make a visit for the Pulp perspective. My Pulp back issues get spotty around June 2000 and I checked and see I don't have the Sept issue. It's awesome to hear a lot of this leg work has been done and written, and I'll recommend Ryan H track down a copy for his colleague.

@Emilio: How interested! I wouldn't immediately make the Road to Perdition connection, but its fascinating to hear the ways that Koike influenced american/european cartoonists--- feels like a very different one than the arrow of influence that Tezuka had via Scott McCloud and others.

@Rodrigo: Very cool stuff, I really appreciate the details there! I didn't know until this week the Matt Wagner / Koike connection, but now that I've heard it, it all makes a lot of sense in terms of aspects of Grendel :) High-five for digging up that Miller quote too!

@Yukiko Forever!: Interesting comments-- I know you and I have talked about the generational differences. Seems like a distinction between chalking it up to marketing/visibility of his works and the simple fact that the demographics of "manga readers" has changed and broadened a lot since 1987. I can imagine how Lone Wolf & Cub would have more resonance in the late 80s when "manga fans" were predominantly (though not entirely) dudes into Science Fiction, space, swords and action. Now LW&C (to me) teems less singular within the manga available in English, and more of a genre story, though no less incredible. Just a few thoughts of the top of my head, I think there's more to be said/discussed.

rest of you:
IF YOU HAVE MORE THOUGHTS, LINKS, ANECDOTES, please continue to share! I'm loving these "early manga days" discussions :)

Yukiko Forever! said...

Well, my comment was mainly to dispel any sentiment like "among the vast majority of people who would call themselves 'manga fans' in the United States, the name Kazuo Koike is almost completely unknown in 2010." While I do believe he is ignored, and that is a sad fact, I also know for a fact that his works are, or at least were for a time, right up snug next to the likes of Naruto, Inuyasha, and Dragonball Z on the shelves of stores like Barnes and Noble.

I'm not entirely sure that it was more resonant due to comments like Anon's first: "did it inspire me to hunt down other things by the same artist? No." While I didn't quite seek out more Koike when I first read Samurai Executioner I do believe that seeing its art work and realizing the historical accuracy that Koike is famous for was a turning point in my manga reading. It wasn't immediately after that that I started reading more serious works, but when I did I remembered Samurai Executioner and the impact it had had on me, and I believe that that experience (as vivid as it still is) was a big factor in my turning. Also I mentioned that I saw Shogun Assassin. Of course knowing that Lone Wolf & Cub was its basis and knowing that that was by the same author as Samurai Executioner was a big deal as well, and that too was before I started taking manga for seriously (or at any rate right at about the same time).

Yukiko Forever! said...

I just think that the fact that me--a 20 year old who grew up on Pokemon and Toonami--knowing who Kazuo Koike was, up front, without having to be informed by you all here, and having long valued childhood memories of his work(s) speaks for itself. He isn't marketed right maybe, but he's still available to those who would seek him out (even in my generation) and you don't even have to get on the internet to find his stuff like so many other great artists. A lot of my generation is really just starting to come into its own. We didn't have the same opportunities with -quality- magazines (at least not that I had ever heard of growing up) and so its just now as the internet has started to grow ever increasingly public places like Same Hat and scanlations groups that we have had exposure to a lot of great, but also historical, works. Koike is the exception though. He has been there since I was at least 13, if not younger.

Yukiko Forever! said...

I think I'm becoming less and less constructive to the topic at hand though. I've said my peace and now I'll quietly watch the rest of the wisdom unfold. ;)

Jason Thompson said...

I can't add much to what other people have said, but when I wrote about LW&C for Pulp and The Comics Journal, I found an incredibly useful article in which Frank Miller dual-interviewed Goseki Kojima and Kazuo Koike in the now-defunct "Comics Interview" magazine #52 (1987). It was presumably promotion for the American release of LW&C, and it's a great little interview, with Miller reverently asking lots of good questions, and sort of pressing on them with the eternal question "Why can't American comics be accepted as serious literature the way Japanese comics are?" (Kojima's response, I believe, is something like "You have to keep trying!" ;) )

Back around 2001, I left many messages on Frank Miller's answering machine asking if I could interview him about LW&C for PULP, but he never called me back. I think some Dark Horse staff interviewed him and asked his opinion of it (as part of a much bigger interview) a few years later.

My feelings are that the array of factors which led to LW&C's acceptance in American mainstream comics circles were a little perfect storm. The movies were cult hits, Frank Miller just kept going on and on in interviews about how much he loved LW&C, he drew the covers for the books, and so on. I love LW&C too, but it wouldn't have been nearly as popular in America without Miller's endorsement, and frustratingly, that popularity never crossed over in any significant form to Koike's other works. Ryoichi Ikegami also had a little window of popularity among mainstream US comics fans in the '90s due to the 'seriousness' and the realistic artwork (and in fact, Miller was interested in writing a script for Ikegami to draw at one point in the mid-90s, but Viz was never able to make it happen, possibly because Ikegami wasn't interested enough... I'm not really sure why it fell through). But no other work ever recaptured LW&C's success among the American comic cognoscenti, and it certainly didn't lead to Koike himself becoming a big name in American comics, sadly.

Unknown said...

Dear All.
Thanks for this treasure trove of information. It's amazingly helpful and much much more than I had hoped for. I apologize for not being active on the posting myself. On the one hand, I couldn't be of much use as my contact with Koike's work has been almost entirely in Japan. Also, I have been too buried in circa 1960 "hardboiled" manga the past few weeks -- essentially the breeding ground for Koike-type gekiga. Maybe I can return the favor in a week or so with some gems from that world.
Again, thank you thank you

Unknown said...

By the way, the two Bokura Magazine covers posted above show the Hulk from 1971, a title Koike scripted. Thought they might interest those here.