Land of the Rising Son

scrappyjapan

I’ve been meaning to post the above image for a while now. It was brought to my attention by wondrous cartoonist/friend of Scrappy Milton Knight, and shows Scrappy on a battlefield, wearing a Japanese army helmet, with a Japanese flag and a tank in the background.

Or at least that sure is what it seems to depict. I did a quadruple take when I saw Milton share the picture on Facebook, and started asking myself questions. Was that definitely Scrappy? Was he even known in Japan? Was this some sort of piece of Axis propaganda? (The Little Theatre, the final Scrappy cartoon, was released in February 1941, depriving the character of the chance of fighting on our side.)

Milton told me that he didn’t know anything about the art, and found it on Pinterest. That led me to do a little research…and I found the following images, also on Pinterest.

risingson4

risingson3

risingson2

Maybe these aren’t of Scrappy. But it doesn’t seem like a crazy supposition that whoever drew them could have seen Scrappy and drawn inspiration from the character. (According to the Pinterest postings, these are 1930s postcards, which places them in the Scrappy era.)

Way back when I started Scrappyland, someone who visited the site called Scrappy “the ungodly love-child of Mickey Mouse and Astro Boy.” That’s not a bad gut reaction, and as it indicates, Scrappy looks rather like a proto-anime character. Seeing these 1930s Japanese drawings led me to wonder: Is it possible that anime characters look like Scrappy because they’re drawn in a style directly influenced by Scrappy?

Having wondered that, I next wondered whether Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s comics and animation genius and the creator of Tetsuwan Atomu (aka Astro Boy) was a Scrappy fan. That led me to a fascinating 2012 Comics Journal article by Ryan Holmberg about Tezuka’s American influences. As Holmberg recounts, the artist frequently spoke about his love of American cartooning, in the form of Disney animation, Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, Dick Tracy, and other creations.

Holmberg’s piece doesn’t mention Scrappy. But it does discuss an early (1946) Tezuka character, Little Ma. Here are some images of him from the Holmberg article.

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littlema2

And here’s Pete, a character from New Treasure Island (1947), a seminal Tezuka comic, which Holmberg discusses in another article that argues that it was influenced by Disney comics by Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson.

littlemachan-car

Based on this imagery, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Tezuka may have known of Scrappy, and the character may have influenced his early work, as did Disney comics. (D. Wolfe, a Holmberg commenter, said the same thing.) Nothing odd about Tezuka not mentioning Scrappy in interviews–at the time of Tezuka’s death in 1989, the character was even more forgotten than he is now.

Exactly what form Tezuka might have seen Scrappy in, I don’t know. He spoke of his father’s home-movie projector, and perhaps some Scrappy reels somehow made their way from the U.S. to Japan. But if Tezuka was a Scrappy fan, then Scrappy isn’t the love child of Mickey Mouse and Atom Boy; Atom Boy is the love child of Scrappy and Mickey Mouse.

Any theories? Am I hallucinating?

2 comments to Land of the Rising Son

  • theorbys

    I don’t think you are hallucinating. I have long believed Scrappy was an influence on Tezuka in that of all the characters of American comics and cartoons Scrappy is the one closest to Japanese sensibility. It seems to me at least that Japanese manga/animation much prefers humans over (funny) animals and a simple, vivid design like Scrappy’s (and Scrappy’s friends’) was perfect for many characters like Astro Boy or Pete. It could be a case of parallel evolution, but the simplest solution is that Tezuka saw them, even if like almost everyone else he was more impressed by the awesome, deserved, aura of Disney. Gottfredson and Barks may have influenced him because their story telling was so marvelous.

    I believe Scrappy was a major influence on Astro Boy and however unsung, it may be his biggest and most enduring claim to fame.

  • Milton Knight

    Japan’s movie audiences loved America’s cartoons, and they were what the animators learned from. The US cartoons got around. The Japanese animators often traced American scenes for their own productions! Here’s one (in silent form) that appears influenced by the Color Rhapsodies style, and the beanstalk climbing shot is traced from a Koko cartoon!
    https://youtu.be/z_1oksXrzww

    I did an article on this very subject for Jerry Beck’s blog:
    http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/toons-of-the-orient-3-east-steals-west/

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