Monday, May 7, 2012

Dare To Be Stupid

Here's a Transformers comic I did for fun. I occasionally have to get these things out of my system because I am an overgrown man-child. You can also find this comic at the IDW Transformers Mosaic Deviant Art page. This was done in the spirit of the old cartoon, complete with hokey dialogue.

For a long time (long, long after I became an artsy-fartsy comic dude) I held onto the dream of doing The Best Transformers Comic Book Ever. It's hard to say why such a thing would matter. I think it has something to do with seeing the icons of your childhood constantly being raped before your eyes and wanting to right that injustice somehow. But the whole thing is really a lost cause. I am totally, totally through with the dream of taking a franchise and "doing it right". So, no, there will be no Transformers graphic novel  from me at any point in the future. Sorry.  Doing this one page was enough for me. I'm not saying I won't do another comic with giant robots in it, but if I do it'll be some kind of weird thing that could only have come from my brain.

So what I'm gonna' do here is switch gears for the next few posts and talk about giant robots. That's right, the month of May is GIANT ROBOT month! This is a massive post so keep reading if you want to get into some hardcore nerd shit!

The Super Robot genre is something that has only been lightly touched on in the US. What I'm going to do is provide a history of the genre, showing how it led to the Transformers and focusing on it's place within comics, which is where the genre originated. After that I'll do posts discussing the meaning of existence or something.

There are all kinds precedents of giant robots in popular culture dating back to ancient times- some of which I'll get to later. But the Super Robot genre as we know it belongs to Japan. Still, it's worth noting that giant robots were a staple of  the US pulps from the 30's and 40's. Here's a very Transformers-esque giant robot from Amazing Stories.

Giant robots started appearing in Japanese manga around the same time. Readers of Manga! Manga! might be familiar with this image: The Science Warrior Appears in New York by Ruichi Yokoyama, dated 1943.
 Yokoyama was the creator of Fuku-chan, the longest running Japanese newspaper strip of all time.

Like every other manga genre, the Super Robot genre really began with Osamu Tezuka, in this case within the pages of Astro Boy. In fact, in the 1957 story Crucifix Island Tezuka provides an origin for transforming robots. Here it is (sorry about the blurriness of some of the scans):
Tezuka always wed his high-concept stories for children with high-minded ideals. The "lesson" behind the transforming robot was to be satisfied with who you are.

In the 1960 story Space Snow Leopard Tezuka gives an origin to another staple of the Super Robot genre; the combining (or gestalt) robot. This eventually led to robots like Voltron. Like many of his ideas, the inspiration came from nature.

Another Astro Boy story worth mentioning is The Greatest Robot on Earth from 1964, which is probably one of the greatest robot stories on earth. It was the inspiration for Naoki Urasawa's critically acclaimed Pluto (personally, I vastly prefer Tezuka's original story).  Those of you who have read Pluto and NOT read the Tezuka version need to correct that mistake immediately. The opening spread promises a tale of epic proportions.

In 1965 Tezuka went on to create his own transforming giant robot hero; Ambassador Magma.
Magma had a wife and kid and they all transformed into rockets. The villian was a charismatic shapeshifter who changed into a giant lizard and had a fondness for children. A live-action show was imported to the US in the early 70's as The Space Giants. Here's Magma (called Goldarr) and his wife Mol.

If we step back to 1956 we have the debut of Mitsuteru Yokoyama's Tetsujin 28 Go, familiar to US audiences as Gigantor.
I absolutely love the simplicity of Yokoyama's style (which is diametrically opposed to my own). No one would dream of using such a spare style to draw giant robots today. While most stories of the genre take place in eloborate sci-fi settings, Yokoyama's world had a sort of Noirish feel, taking place in urban settings, with police and detectives. His storytelling has a clarity that transends language barriers.

Katsuhiro Otomo has described Akira as almost a modern retelling of Tetsujin 28 Go, with numerous references throughout including Kaneda, the hero of both comics, Tetsuo Shima- named after the title robot and the scientist who created him, and of course, number 28- the number of Akira.

In 1967 Mitsuteru Yokoyama created Giant Robo which, like Magma, was imported to the US as a live-action show called Johnny Socko and His Flying Robot. The character has since become an icon of the genre itself.

In 1976 came Mars which was retooled years later as Godmars and further retooled in the US as Mighty Orbots, both of which I'll get to later.
The artwork in Mars is a bit more detailed than his previous work (likely due to the help of assistants) and is quite beautiful.

So there you have it. A quick look at two of the early pioneers of the Super Robot genre- Osamu Tezuka and Mitsuteru Yokoyama. In my next post I'll be focusing on the King of the Super Robot genre- Go Nagai!


  1. Though not actually a robot, Magma is just a beautiful, metallic giant forged from gold. However, he does transform into a rocket.

  2. There is also a 1993 OVA with an English dub which is as hilarious as that of the original Space Giants.

    1. Haha,I have a couple episodes of that OVA, haven't watched Space Giants yet tho'. These characters are so at home in the period they were created, I find it a little jarring when they update it to the current decade. My biggest complaint in the OVA was Goa, who was really charismatic in the manga but reduced to a generic "don't fail me- take over the world" villain in the anime. But it's filled with Tezuka references. It's interesting to see the lead character from Adolf side by side with Magma. And yeah, Magma is a pretty unorthodox "robot" (dig that giant mane of hair!)

  3. Almost all the names were changed for the USA version called Space Giants. Goa was Rodak, Magma was Goldar, Atsuya Sekita was Kita, the Earth Wizard was Methusan, the Murakami family was the Mura family, Moru was Silvar, and the Modoki Men were Lugo Men. Gam remained the only one whose name went unchanged.