by Mike Goba
[The Rose #6, November 1987]

Osamu Tezuka, 60, creator of the Astro Boy character and series, as well as other comic strips and animated cartoons, lectured at the Lincoln Center University of Hartford, Connecticut, on September 21, 1987 for three hours, an hour over the expected length.

A full hall, nearly 2/3 Japanese, watched four short Tezuka films (Male, Jumping, In the Beginning (Noah's Ark), and Broken Down Film). The audience also listened as Tezuka explained the creativity that went into Astro Boy, why the Japanese love comics and cartoons so much, and the meaning cartoons have for him and the world.

In a scientific lab, a doctor, Toby his son, and associates try to create the ultimate robot. Toby leaves after another failure of the test and is killed in an accident with a hypercar. Toby is reincarnated by his father as Astro Boy, a super-android with incredible power. Tezuka wanted to create a family show with an interesting enough plot for mother, father, and child. 26 years ago, Astro Boy was first broadcast on NBC.

"How Western he looks," Tezuka commented. "I've always been filled with Western ideas. Astro Boy's hair was like my hair. On the bus, my hair would dry standing up. I looked at myself in the mirror and laughed, creating Astro Boy's sticky spiked hair."

Astro Boy's hair also resembles Mickey Mouse's ears. As a youth, Tezuka loved Mickey Mouse and was inspired by Walt Disney. Tezuka actually met Disney one year before Disney's death. "I think Western because I grew up loving Western animation," Tezuka said. Other influences on Tezuka were Betty Boop and The Keystone Kops.

"You'll discover that lots of people young and even my age reading big, fat comic books. College students and older people read on subways. In libraries, comics are part of the stock. One might think the Japanese are mad about comics," Tezuka said.

"Is it because Japanese are into having their intelligence played with? I believe another reason is because Japanese in ancient times enjoyed a good time. Folk tales and stories were always comical. Japanese have always been a fun loving group."

Tezuka tells the story of how it has taken a long time for the Japanese to be able to openly express their humor. "The samurai had authority under the Shogun and were able to do away with anyone who didn't show them respect. A commoner bowed or he might lose his life. So comical people would never tell jokes in the presence of the samurai, suppressing comical intelligence. So the comic writers of 300 years ago would hide their art form. In the Kabuki theater, there are always jokes lampooning samurai."

"After the overthrow of the Shogun, the military, just as the samurai before them, strictly prohibited jokes about them. During the war, there was no way to tell jokes, and Japan became a country of comically ill-matured people. They enjoy joking among themselves but find it hard to communicate with other cultures."

Tezuka ended the lecture with his thoughts on how animation can be related to the interaction of peace between nations. "Cartoons are actually signs of the times," Tezuka explained, "universally understood by the young and old alike. Cartoons are not art as much as a universal language. It is wonderful that we have cartoons to communicate with in a universal way. It is my hope cartoons will go beyond itself and create freeing of intercultural relations."