Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

I read a lot of comic books. There’s an endless stream of them going across my desk and it’s all too tempting to take one or two home to read. But I’m still pretty new to manga. I've read a fair number of them -- I feel like I have to if I’m going to have any sense of what to buy for the library -- but, generally speaking, manga are really different from American comics in a lot of subtle ways that can leave me a little lost and bewildered. In Chel’s review of A Bride’s Story she mentioned that some manga read right to left, and that’s really just the tip of the iceberg. Manga developed separately from American comics and have their own aesthetics of pacing, characterization, and art. Several years ago, when I was trying to give myself a crash course manga introduction, I plowed through several series by manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka. Of these, Buddha was by far my favorite. As such, I was thrilled when two group members suggested the series for this month’s Graphic Content reading group.

Buddha, as you might have guessed from the title, tells the story of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, the man whose teachings form the basis for Buddhism (I’m hesitant to call it a biography due to all the story elements Tezuka introduces). To sum up eight volumes in a single sentence: a long time ago, all across the Indian subcontinent, lots of people are really unhappy due to famine and a tyrannical caste system until the prince Siddhartha is born and grows up to attain enlightenment and help others do the same. Put that way, it sounds pretty straightforward, but the first volume of the series Kapilavastu, the one we’re reading for the discussion group, is full of killer tigers, backflipping horses, extras cracking jokes about the book’s cheap printing, and a character who gets so mad he tears the panels apart and smashes them to bits. All this silliness and crazy action does a great job of creating balance with weighty (and sometimes wordy) explanations of ancient Indian society and spirituality. The mix will seem pretty familiar if you were a fan of the cartoon series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both works move readily between action, comedy, drama, and philosophy in a way that sounds implausible but is actually quite effective. 

Buddha came late in Tezuka’s career and shows the confidence of a mature artist, not afraid to dive into a weighty subject (or to let that subject take the backseat to cheap gag or author’s cameo now and then). It’s a series I’m always happy to recommend to someone knew to manga and one I look forward to discussing at our graphic novel reading group. If you’d like to join us, there’s still plenty of time time to grab a copy of the book at the Circulation Desk and meet us on the Mezzanine at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12.

~ Andrew, Adult Services

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