If I won the Euro Millions, I’d bring back British comics by brute force – by starting my own publishing company producing an Amalgamated Press-style range of weeklies, monthlies and annuals aimed at all age groups, and starting my own chain of newsagents / corner shops with the express purpose of selling them (for £1 an issue as I wouldn’t charge myself shelf rental fees!). As a mere side project I’d build a vast museum dedicated to the history of comics of all nations, from early experimental magazines for children right up to the gift shop selling the latest issues of titles from all around the world (even in languages very few visitors to the museum will be able to read, like Kyrgyz).
But as I haven’t won the Euro Millions, and maybe only buy one ticket a year, I’ll just have to relegate myself to collecting items for the museum one by one and displaying them here.
King – Volume 15 (Shōwa 14 / 1939), issue 3 (March).
Rather unassuming cover. Horizontal Japanese was read right-to-left at the time, but is left-to-right (キング) today.
King was first published in Taishō 13 (1924) and was a monthly of about 520 pages. In common with British adventure comics of the same era, it was mostly illustrated text stories with a few comedy strips and articles. Judging from the illustrations, the text stories were mostly serious, but some were comedy. The illustrations themselves are in either line or wash, and are almost entirely black and white. A few of the comedy strips have light colour tones, and a photo article near the front has the photos reproduced in a strange blue/green tint. Unlike a lot of British comics of the era, it’s absolutely awash with adverts, and even has a couple of colour insert “postcards” with ads on them.
Like several Japanese comics today, the issue opens with colour pages, however these are just illustrations and plates, rather than strips. There’s a large fold-out section at the front (with ads on the back of the flaps – cram ’em in!) with nice illustrations along the top, matching the theme of the cover. This appears to be the contents page, or at least the lines all end with numbers.
If each vertical line is one story / article, it would appear there’s credits too!
Then there’s a wonderful full-colour plate, the title of which appears to be “parting from the breast”. The woman seems to be stopping her baby breastfeeding so that he can be given a Japanese flag, at a train station. Before I translated the title I assumed it was a picture of a welcoming ceremony for army medical officers coming home from the front. Anyway, in the 19th and early 20th centuries the Penny Dreadfuls, as well as papers like Chums and Chatterbox, would give away free full-colour plates occasionally. This one is actually printed on the pages themselves, I wonder if every issue included a painting?
A 520 page wedge of 75 year old paper can’t be folded right back for decent photos, mind you.
Following this is “Celebrity Success Album”, which has pictures of men at home with their children or reading big scrolls. I think the big scrolls may be awards from the Emperor, or maybe university degrees. According to my dictionary the word used for “Success” in the title means “Success in life”, so perhaps it’s showing readers the comfortable home life they can have if they work hard.
Had to hold the pages open with a torch. I normally use a really heavy weight, but didn’t want to damage this, it’s very possibly the only one in Europe!
Following this is another article, called something like “Situation Photo Sketch Report”. Basically news photos. The only news in Japan at that time was their battle to establish an area of influence in Manchuria, in northern China. They called this Manchuko, and it was unpopular with most of the Chinese people, and also with the other colonial powers who had already established their own areas of influence there. Guerrilla attacks on Japanese soldiers led to escalating reprisals on both sides, which resulted in what is euphemistically called “The Manchurian Incident” (because war was never formally declared).
The air force parading over Tokyo, with Mount Fuji in the distance
Northern China can be very cold! Though to us Commando readers we only really imagine imperial Japan fighting in steaming jungles.
After these articles we come to the first set of comic strips, of which there’s several ‘batches’, most of the strips are only single pages of 5 panels, often numbered (though that wasn’t unheard of in British comics at the time). From the artwork and overuse of a small katakana TSU, a ‘sound extender’ for making screams and shouts, at the end of each line, I gather they are all comedy. Most appear to revolve around family life and naughty children doing the unexpected.
This one appears to be about a sumo wrestler?
Mischevious kid doing… something.
Of course, most of the issue is filled with the text stories. These are in two or three “columns”, which are horizontal, as the writing is read vertically. Each story is introduced with a large picture accompanying the title, and has other illustrations throughout. Some, on their first full page of text, have a large amount of writing in a box. This is presumably a “story so far” section for serials. Others don’t have this, so the comic must have had a mixture of both complete stories and serials, just like British contemporaries such as Detective Weekly and Thriller.
There appears to be two basic kinds of stories, those set in the Edo period, when Japan was all samurai and ninja and isolated from the world, and those set in modern times. Romantic stories appear to be set in both periods, while other modern stories look like they’re about detectives, comedy or war. The stories set in the past look like they’re all quests to satisfy ones honour, fighting loyally for your lord and so on.
The most obvious detective story is Hiyauban Tantei Jitsu Wa Shifu, two of the characters (Jitsu and Shifu) appear to be obsolete in modern Japanese (the Wa is “speak” or “story”, and may be in a compound with either or both). Hiyauban Tantei means “Reputation Detective Work”. The story seems to revolve around a house burning down and the masked detective investigating, finding a glove near the crime scene. Later on a submarine is involved!
There’s also a war story, from the illustrations it appears to be about base camp life / wounded soldiers in hospital, rather than battle. Or maybe the illustrators just didn’t draw a battle scene. It’s actually pretty short, and is called Two Soldiers. Now that I look it actually appears to be a bedtime story told to a kid!
He’s not a ghost, it was the flash!
A more general adventure story is called Chikahi No Hayashi. Hayashi is “Forest”, but it’s spelt with wierd kanji (Chinese characters with both a sound and a meaning) here. Chikahi is “Vow”, so the story may be called Vow in the Forest. Either way it appears to involve a man and woman walking about in a forest and witnessing at least one murder.
As well as grim and grimy stories like that, there appears to be more light hearted, comedy ones. You can usually tell by the illustrations. In the Edwardian period Union Jack would often use a certain artist when they did a comedy story, for instance in Butler and Page Boy from 1905/6.
Moving on to the historical stories, which all appear to be set in the Edo / Tokugawa Shogunate period. This was a span of around 250 years in which Japan was isolated from the world, any foreigners (with the exception of, apparently, some “Mexicans” from the very early history of “Mexico”, which was actually just a Spanish colony at the time) who went there would be killed, and it was also punishable by death to try and build an ocean-going ship. During this period the Emperor lived in the capital, Kyoto, but was powerless while the Shogun, the real ruler (though technically the Emperor was still called the ruler) lived in Edo, or Tokyo. At the time Japan was at peace with itself, and most people worked as farmers, merchants or artists. But it was still a highly-stratified, class-based society with the samurai as protectors of their feudal lords, and upholders of the law. Of course, the Shōwa Nationalist period was awash with stories harking back to this day of a “Japanese Japan” with a strict code of honour and everybody knowing their place.
…even though “Bushido” as we know it today was actually invented in the 19th century, and was heavily inspired by the honour code of British Victorian gentlemen.
Another historical story, with fantastic illustrations, is Wori Zuru Hi Henge. I can’t make head nor tail of the title, one of the kanji is fantastically complicated and has probably been taken out of use. Words I can work out are “Crane” (as in the bird) and “Transform / Become”. Mind you it’s possible part of the title is somebody’s name.
There’s also historical comedy stories. Or at least this is the universal image for “toothache”, “you made those rock cakes out of real rocks” or “I’ve found the sixpence in the Christmas pudding!”.
Oh, and also apparently revolvers and guys able to quickly draw and shoot them were not unknown in the Edo period. News to me.
King also contains plenty of articles, with a greater or lesser degree of illustration. This one appears to be “moral lessons” of some kind. The first image (top right) is probably about showing reverence to the Emperor. On the next page there’s a guy giving up his train seat for a wounded soldier, and a crowd seeing the marching soldiers off from a temple.
Bit o colour again
There’s also an article which appears to be about religious observances, which at the time was “State Shinto”, a nationalised version of the indigenous Japanese religion. At the time they’d even banned Buddhism as “foreign”, even though it had been in Japan well over 1000 years by then!
There’s also what appears to be profiles of historical figures, with ukiyo-e style pictures or paintings.
There’s also, inevitably, articles about the army, with pictures (and probably profiles) of soldiers, as well as photos of actions and equipment.
There’s also some profiles of more modern figures. Most of them Japanese, but there’s also a picture of a future ally…
I make a policy of not going on about the adverts in old comics, mainly because people who have apparently never heard of inflation constantly waffle on about how Corgi cars used to “only” cost 2¾p, and other such nonsense. But I’ll make an exception here, mainly because a lot of the ads have really good artwork.
This one appears to be about becoming a railwayman or sailor. They’re the same style, no doubt the railways were nationalised at the time. Both ads have a box saying “Nippon Daiichi”, which is either “Japan’s best” or “Japan is best”.
The well-known Japanese love of photography is evident, that camera looks years ahead of ones I see advertised in British comics of the same time. There’s also a nice quack remedy – a magnetic headband?
This appears to be an advert for an upcoming story, or perhaps a seperately-published book. The big characters roughly translate as “Flame of Battle”.
And here’s one of the coloured postcards, advertising face cream. Another one advertises Club “dentrifice”, which appears to be the name they used for powdered toothpaste at the time.
The back cover has an advert with a baby – just like the Pears Soap ads which graced the back of The Boys Friend Library for many years. It also has a small English section with the US copyright notice, date and issue number.
Aand finally, here’s an image of King next to some more modern Japanese comics – Boys’ Monthly Magazine, and the weeklies Morning and Shonen Jump. It’s page size is a bit smaller, but then again it was mostly text. A much better comparison would, of course, be to the text story paper Lynx Library. But that’s still in a box on a ship somewhere!
EDIT: When I originally wrote this post I thought King was basically “The Shonen Jump of the 30’s” (though, of course, mostly text stories). But later learned that it was actually aimed at an adult audience (adults of the time though, so it’s not full of t*ts and innards). It’s probably closer in style to British magazines of the 1900’s – WW1, such as The Penny Pictorial (which I have the first volume of, and will one day review!)
Curtis Hoffman, who lives in Japan and who runs a great blog about mangæ, has made a series of 3 posts about King. It was the first Japanese magazine to sell a million copies, and was the subject of a museum exhibition in late 2009: