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Komatsuzaki Shigeru

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Artist, Author.

(1915-2001) Japanese illustrator (see Illustration) and author, whose lurid images dominated sf publishing in Japan in the 1950s, before resurgent Cinema and the new media of Television and Manga changed the shape of the genre.

His first published work comprised illustrations for the serial "Shirogitsune Kidan" ["Mystery of the White Fox"] (1938 Otaru Shinbun), and he was still a teenager when he began drawing military hardware for the mechanical journal Kikaika. He shot to prominence when World War Two made such images paramount in popular consciousness, although he lost all his personal pre-war archives in a 1945 air raid. In the immediate post-war period, Komatsuzaki created stories that sold largely on the basis of large, double-page tableaux, with relatively minor textual content. Squarely aimed at a Young Adult audience, his stories offered technicolor Disasters and exciting Inventions, with the touching subtext that however bad life might be for Japan's youth, things were sure to get better. Typical of this attitude is "Daini no Sekai" ["Second World"] (October 1952-January 1955 Shōnen), the Near Future tale of a strapping teenage engineer who dimly remembers once being a lonely, hungry war orphan.

Komatsuzaki seems to have illustrated a reprint of Shunrō Oshikawa's Kaitei Gunkan ["Submarine Warship"] (1900) for the magazine Omoshiro Book in 1952-1953. He followed this with his own Kaitei Ōkoku ["Undersea Kingdom"] (October 1954-December 1955 Omoshiro Book), which appears to have also run as the keynote story in its own magazine Kaiyō Kagaku E-Monogatari Kaitei Ōkoku ["Marine Science Picture Stories: Undersea Kingdom"] (1953-1955). In it, a plane carrying forty-five passengers crashes at sea and is rescued by an eccentric aristocrat, the Marquis Horne, in his secret nuclear submarine the Atomfish. The travellers are soon embroiled in the machinations of the queen of a Lost World Under the Sea.

Komatsuzaki worked as a production designer on several Japanese films, including Chikyū Bōeigun (1957; vt The Mysterians; vt Earth Defense Force), and Uchū Daisensō (1959; vt Battle in Outer Space, 1960 US). He also designed vessels and monsters for the film Kaitei Gunkan ["Submarine Warship"] (1963; vt Atragon, 1965 US), and was retroactively credited with part of the original story. The screenwriter, Shinichi Sekizawa, seems to have had only the haziest memories of his childhood reading of Kaitei Gunkan and Kaitei Ōkoku, and, perhaps inadvertently at first, based his script on a combination of both stories.

Although cited by many later manga artists as a strong inspiration, Komatsuzaki was unwilling to turn his hand to comics. As the manga boom took hold and the likes of Osamu Tezuka became the entertainers of a new generation, Komatsuzaki stuck to single-image paintings, chiefly as the artist of hundreds of dramatic box illustrations for plastic model kits. Hence, he became an invisible contributor to the image in Japan of franchises as diverse as Thunderbirds (1965-1966) and Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980), and many military model kits exported abroad in the 1960s and 1970s. His last published illustrations, for a CD Tie to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (see Metal Gear), appeared some 70 years after his debut. A fire at his home in 1995 destroyed much of his remaining archives.

His influence continues as the centenary of his birth approaches, with the Anime series Project Blue: Chikyū SOS (2006), based on his "Chikyū SOS" ["Earth SOS"] (August 1948-October 1951 Bōken Katsugeki Bunko, later renamed Shōnen Gahō). [JonC]

Shigeru Komatsuzaki

born Tokyo: 14 February 1915

died 7 December 2001

works (selected)


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