11th Century – Toba Sojo, a painter-priest who created animal scroll paintings which, though without word balloons or sound effects, showed a progression of events. Scroll was unrolled right to left and tradition of reading manga right to left has continued.
18th Century – “yellow cover books” (aka Kibyoshi) satirized Japanese political figures and were popular when not banned.
1853 – Commodore Perry opened up Japan to the West in 1853. An influx of foreigners followed along with introduction of European and American-style comics.
1857 – Charles Wirgman, British Journalist, published “The Japan Punch”, a magazine designed to be similar to a popular British humour publication.
Both magazines were intended for non-Japanese people living in Japan, but the humour and art in the magazines caught attention of native Japanese readers and artists. The style (known as Ponchi-e / punch-style pictures) began appearing in Japanese work as they were inspired by the Western-style comics. Evolution began towards the modern manga style that is a mix of east-west.
1887 – George Bigot, a french art teacher, started a magazine called Toba-e.
19th Century – Katsushika Hokusai, artist and printmaker. Made iconic woodblock prints. Also first artist to use the term “manga” which, along with “playful sketches” is how he described his humorous artwork. The humorous sketches he made were initially intended for his students to copy but instead ended up distrubuted through Japan, known as the Hokusai Manga.
20th Century – Rakuten Kitazawa embraced East-West style and created popular comics, including Tagosaku to Mokube no Tokyo Kenbutsu (Tagosaku and Mokube’s sightseeing in Tokyo), inspired by The Yellow Kid (Richard Felton Outcault) and The Katzenjammer Kids (Rudolph Dirks)
1905 – Rakuten Kitazawa founded magazine that showcased Japanese cartoonists (Tokyo Puck).
Kitazawa is considered the founding father of modern manga. Another early pioneer is Ippei Okamoto (creator of Hito no Issho / A life of a man). He was also the founder of Nippon Mangakai, which was the first Japanese cartoonist society. These artists and many others in this period used the excitement and anxiety the Japanese people felt as their nation left behind feudal days to become a modern industrial society in their artwork.
1915 – Shonen Club magazine for boys inspired by Western comics.
1923 – Shojo Club magazine for girls inspired by Western comics.
1930’s – Before 1930’s these magazines included illustrated stories, photo features and light-hearted fun intended for young readers. By 1930’s, reflecting the coming war, the same magazines promoted heroic tales of Japanese soldiers, showing it’s characters holding guns and getting ready for battle. Popular manga characters, e.g. Suiho Tagawa’s Norakuro / Black Stray (a dog) was also seen taking arms in order to instill value of sacrifice on home front and valor on the battlefield to very young readers. The term “Ganbatte” translating to “do your best” was considered a ‘rallying cry’ for manga created during the period to reflect the people of Japan preparing for the war ahead.
1937 – Cartoonists were required to join a government-supported trade organisation “Shin Nippon Mangaka Kyokai” / “The New Cartoonists Association of Japan” in order to be published in Manga Magazine—the only comics magazine to continue regular publication despite wartime paper shortages. Mangaka not fighting, working or banned from creating their manga, drew art that followed governmental guidelines. During this time the manga was focused on propaganda, making light of the situation and demonizing the enemy / glorifying bravery on the battlefield. Manga, with the ability to transcend language / cultural barriers was considered a perfect medium for propaganda. One artist, Ryuichi Yokoyama, creator of Fuku-Chan / Little Fuku, was sent to war zone specifically to create comics in the service of the Japanese military.
Manga also featured in the war, partially due to Taro Yashima, an artist who left Japan to resettle in America, creating the comic Unganaizo / The Unlucky Soldier which was a story about a peasent soldier who died in the service of corrupt leaders. The comic could often be found on the corpses of Japanese soldiers in the battlefield which seemed to show how the book could affect the spirit of those that read it.
Post 1945 – After the war most restrictions on art were lifted, freeing manga artists to tell a variety of stories rather than just propaganda based. During this time a pioneering female mangaka, Machiko Hasegawa, made her appearance in a male-dominated field with the creation of Sazae-San, a humorous four-panel comic strip about family life. Shortages / economic trouble after the war meant toys / comics became a luxury many children could not afford. Manga remained affordable and accessible due to Kami-Shibai / Paper plays, which were a portable picture theatre brought by travelling storytellers who’d bring traditional sweets to sell and narrate stories based on images they drew on cardboard. Many big manga artists made their debut as Kami-Shibai illustrators. This came to an end with the introduction of television in the 1950’s.
1948 – 1950 – With prices rising hardback manga became too expensive for most readers. Due to this came the invention of a low-cost alternative called Akabon / Red Books. These used red ink to add tone to black and white printing, were cheap to print and pocket sized, costing 10-50 yen, sold in lots of places / small shops which made them easily accessible. They also gave several struggling artists an opportunity, one of whom was Osamu Tezuka, a big figure in the manga world.