Tank Tankuro is one of the first robots ever to appear in Japanese comics and may be the first manga "superhero." First published in 1934, Tank Tankuro was one of the most famous manga characters at the time. The comic by Gajo Sakamoto is famous for its innovative and captivating adventure stories full of surrealism, nonsense, innocence, absurdity, and eccentricity. Lost in the turmoil of WWII, this hidden gem has been unearthed by Presspop Gallery. It is now available as a full color, deluxe hard cover with slipcase, beautifully designed by Chris Ware!
"I considered it a pleasant diversion and a distinct honor working on the cover design of Tank Tankuro," said Ware. "Sakamoto's pages seemed wonderfully energetic, almost willfully naive and playful, yet also strangely dire, given their overriding military theme. The immediate Western association I saw was with cartoonist Milt Gross, of the so-called 'screwball' school whose work captured the slam-bang of vaudeville, Yiddish humor and never took itself seriously, while at the same time getting at some of the common frustrations and societal anger that 'higher arts' don't necessarily directly address. Gross's frenetic, loopy pen style is analogous somewhat to Sakamoto's, and I get the same sort of feeling of hectic happiness when looking at their work."
TANK TANKURO'S ANTI-WAR MESSAGE: Under pressure from the militaristic Japanese government of the '30s, Sakamoto was forced to create what appears to be a pro-war comic. However, at a time when creative freedom was deeply at risk, Sakamoto used the pages as a silent anti-war protest, expressing his feelings in the playful, free-spirit of Tankuro himself.
Tank Tankuro influenced a great many manga artists, such as Shigeru Sugiura, Osamu Tezuka, Fujiko Fujio and more, and is the cornerstone from which many masterpieces of manga art would spring. Tankuro became the archetype for various Japanese manga heroes that were to follow. In the story, Tankuro fights the villain Kuro Kabuto (lit. "Black Hat"), who attacks Japan. Kuro Kabuto is famous among Japanese sci-fi fans who believe he resembles Darth Vader of Star Wars.
ESSAYS: How I Created Tank Tankuro; Memories of My Father, Gajo Sakamoto; Gajo Sakamoto Biography; The Forgotten History of Japanese Comics Before Osamu Tezuka and Tank Tankuro's Maverick World.
Gajo Sakamoto was born Masaki Sakamoto on December 1, 1895, in Itsukaichi-shi, Nishitama-gun (present-day Akiruno-shi), Tokyo. After studying painting for 5 years at a private art institute, the Kawabata Painting School, he followed the advice of famed cartoonist Ippei Okamoto and pursued a career as a professional manga artist. While working at several newspapers, he ran comic strips and contributed cartoons for newspapers, magazines, and comic anthologies. With Shigewo Miyawo and others, Sakamoto helped form the Doshin Manga-kai manga artists' group. In January 1934, he started the serialization of Tank Tankuro in Yonen Club (from the Dainippon Yubenkai Kodansha publishing company), which made him a popular artist. The manga was published as a book in October 1935, and the Yonen Club serial lasted until December 1936. Other works from this period included Hora-gai Hora-taro and Janken Pon-chan. In 1939, Sakamoto served as a part-time employee for the government's public relations department in Manchuria (Northeastern part of China) but returned home a year after Japan's defeat. After his return, he continued his active career as a manga artist, working on titles such as Gara-gara Sensei, Bari-bari Hakase, and Genkotsu Osho as well as new stories for Tank Tankuro. Around this time, Sakamoto also became interested in the art of suiboku-ga or nan-ga (ink-and-wash painting) and studied Zen Buddhism. In 1956, the same year as the marriage of his first daughter, Sakamoto ended his career as a manga artist to devote himself entirely to Buddhism and suiboku-ga. In 1969, he received an award for his distinguished service to children's culture from the Japan Children's Writers' Association. He died on August 8, 1973, at 77 years of age.