- Toward a Theory of "Artist Manga":Manga Self-Consciousness and the Transforming Figure of the Artist
The Artist Novel and the Artist Manga
The year following the release of Tezuka Osamu's New Treasure Island (1947, Shin takarajima) saw the publication of Dazai Osamu's No Longer Human (1948, Ningen shikkaku). Dazai's novel takes the form of the notebooks of a man who "never managed to become anything more impressive than an unknown, second-rate cartoonist employed by the cheapest magazines," all the while dreaming of becoming a painter. Told that his "composition is still not worth a damn"—criticism that was frequently hurled toward Tezuka as well—the man nonetheless continues to draw formulaic manga with titles like "The Adventures of Ota and Kinta" and "High Priest Nonki" to pay for his drinking habit, even as he sheds tears over the exceeding loneliness of his recollections of home.1 No Longer Human is illustrative of the narrative formula known as the Kunstlerroman, or "artist novel," wherein a young man who aspires to become an artist is either seduced by the city and the market only to be left discouraged and anguished, or alternatively sacrifices his life to his art without fully grasping the depths of his circumstances. The Kunstlerroman made its timely appearance in the wake of the flourishing of Romanticism in [End Page 155] the nineteenth century, a period marked by the development of ideas of self-actualization and social discord thematized in forms like the bildungsroman. The desire to express oneself in artistic work that challenges the demands of society[—which often resulted in anguish, resignation, cynicism, and clarity of vision[—broadly solicited readers' sympathies in a modern society wherein commercialization had seemingly rendered everything subject to the whims of the laws of supply and demand.
This image of the artist is also intimately related to the rising status of the emergent genre of the novel. The "author" of the novel is granted the authority to describe the interiority of an artist, effectively endowing it with a presumed sense of authenticity. Romain Rolland's Vie de Beethoven (1903, Life of Beethoven) or William Somerset Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence (1919), with a story modeled on the life of Paul Gauguin, are just a few excellent examples. In addition, the theme of the genius toiling in obscurity in an attic, in the vein of the Van Gogh myth, arguably falls under this category as well. Through the invocation of painters or composers as practitioners of sister arts, the idealized novelist can be presented as a similar figure even as the novelist's narrativization of the artist's interiority and conflicts creates the appearance of something superior to the mere surface of painting or music. Furthermore, with fictions that make use of novelists or poets as protagonists, making up quotations from their supposed "masterpieces" would be difficult to do with any persuasive power. But with painting or music, indirect descriptions of the artists' work can sufficiently produce this effect. In effect, the ease of creating a narrative as metaphor or myth provides another rationale for the artist novel's popularization.
Another variation of the artist novel makes use of an ensemble cast. In these works, it is generally the impoverished artistic group that takes center stage. Prototypical texts include Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème (1896) as well as its source text, Scènes de la vie de bohème (1849) by Henri Murger, whose highly magnetic narratives were subsequently imitated and repeated in reality.2 From out of these ensemble texts also emerged a subspecies of commercial novel that cynically depicts these collectives in inevitably flattering terms. George Gissing's New Grub Street (1891) is one example. Needless to say, it is not at all unusual that the writing of such autobiographical works led to the development of strategies for active self-fashioning and self-presentation.3 Indeed, the representative poets of the nineteenth century English Romantics[—Wordsworth, Shelley, Byron, and Keats[—wrote autobiographical poems that made protagonists out of poets who were mere projections of themselves. These too emphasized the privilege and authenticity of poetry...