Manga Studies #9: Studying Garo, the magazine by Léopold Dahan

13 Jul

The monthly manga magazine Garo (published by Seirindō 1964–2002) has gained a certain visibility outside of Japan throughout the past few years: more and more of its authors have been translated and recognized, exhibitions are being held [1] and articles released, even in non-specialized magazines.[2] While Garo authors and their work attract increasing attention outside of Japan, the magazine itself doesn’t seem to be a popular topic within manga studies despite – or precisely because of – its link to the so-called “alternative manga” (Asagawa 2015), the 1960s counterculture, the rise of a new readership and its role as an aesthetic forerunner during its first decade of existence. Bearing this in mind, this column will try to give an overview of the sources currently available on the magazine itself, identify those which can be used as proper academic references and demonstrate the possibilities afforded by studying the magazine itself, going beyond the focus on its authors.

As one begins to make preparatory research on Garo, the first thing that becomes evident is, aside from a few anthologies or anniversary publications,[3] there is a lack of books dedicated to the magazine itself, whether in Japanese or Western languages. There does not even exist a contextualization of the magazine within postwar manga culture. So, where to begin studying the magazine itself? Apparently, by consulting non-Japanese sources. Béatrice Maréchal was one of the first to have taken an academic approach to Garo and several of its representative authors. Her article “Garo, magazine rebelle” published in Angoulême’s magazine 9e Art (2004) and her essay on one of the most well-known Garo authors, Tsuge Yoshiharu,[4] in a special issue of The Comics Journal (2005) were pioneering works in which she compared the Garo authors to the watakushi shōsetsu (“I-Novel”) of modern Japanese literature. Maréchal has not produced academic work since shortly after the defence of her PhD thesis, “Myself as in oneself: narrating the self in comics – The Japanese founders” in 2005, but Ryan Holmberg, an art historian, who chose Garo for his PhD (2007), is still writing about related issues, for example in his column for The Comics Journal Online, “What was alternative manga?”. Another non-Japanese researcher worthy of note is anthropologist Tom Gill. Due to his professional interest in outsiders in Japanese society, he has published a number of meticulously researched essays on Garo authors, especially Tsuge Yoshiharu, following in Maréchal’s footsteps (Gill 2011a, 2011b, 2014). The work of these three critics provides a good jumping-off point for academic endeavors, but there also exist a limited number of Japanese publications.

The keyword “Garo” only shows three results in the Japanese Society for Studies on Cartoons and Comics (Kani, 2009, 2011; Shimamura, 2013). Furthermore, these articles are not about Garo itself, but rather Garo-related authors. Apart from these, most texts on Garo in Japanese are prefaces, afterwords, paragraphs or small chapters in manga histories. In a nutshell, the magazine is almost always presented as follows: Created by editor Nagai Katsuichi and artist Shirato Sanpei as a publication site for the latter’s new long-running series Kamui-den (1964-1971), Garo’s non-commercial approach and unconstrained editorial policy provided the breeding-ground for numerous highly original manga artists (such as the frequently cited Tsuge Yoshiharu), giving rise to a new manga readership, university students. Such writings are usually historical and synoptic (Kure 1997 [1986]: 150-176; Takeuchi 1995: 104-120; Ishiko 1988: 342-350; Yoshimura 2008: 131-134), although approaches that emphasise the 1960s and the 70s are also available (Ishiko 1994 [1975]: 126 -127; Tsurumi 1987, 1991: 63-70; Takano 2002; Sakurai 2015: 188-197). Sakurai’s recent book, for example, is well informed, which makes it a reliable reference to anyone studying post-war manga, kashihon [rental comics] and gekiga. The only available volumes exclusively dedicated to Garo are based on accounts from contributors (Nagai et al. 1984; Aihara et al. 1991; Gondo 1993). Garo Mandala by Aihara et al. contains a very valuable list of all the authors, essayists included, and their publications by date from the first issue to June 1991. This exhaustive list was created on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the magazine (Ono & Shimizu 2014), but the essays that are included in the same book are mainly personal impressions and subjective accounts, as has been  characteristic of manga criticism in Japan (Berndt 2014).

Whereas literature dedicated to Garo, the magazine, is scarce in Japanese, this is not the case for Garo-related authors of the “first decade”, namely Shirato Sanpei, Mizuki Shigeru, Takita Yū, Sasaki Maki, and Tsuge Yoshiharu. All have at least one book dedicated to them, which inevitably touches on the magazine in part. Sometimes such publications contain original approaches, as for example the biography of Takita Yū by Menjō (2006). To my knowledge, Menjō, an art school professor specializing in “entertaining” or popular literature, is the first to suggest a realistic print-run number for Garo’s Golden Age of around 50,000 copies (2006: 174). This significantly deviates from the inflated 80,000 copies proposed by Nagai in his autobiography, which number has subsequently been reused in even the most reliable materials (Maréchal 2004; Holmberg 2010; Leblanc 2013). The abundance of publications on Garo authors is somewhat surprising as authorism is more developed in American and European approaches to manga than in Japan. Here, Garo occupies a very special position: in contrast to other kinds of manga, it hasn’t yet been approached from the angle of Media Studies, which is typically the preeminent tendency in Japanese manga discourse. That is to say, an approach to Garo as a “media in the sense of a set of practices which interrelate artists, editors and readers, and are tied but not limited to technical medium and the cultural industry” (Berndt 2014) is still virgin territory, even though Media Studies could be the most promising way to approach the magazine, leading to a redefinition of its position in post-war manga on fresh ground. For example, ties between the editor, the artists and the readers can be observed in the readers’ column. Often sharply critical, letters gave an influential feedback to the authors (being, for example, one of the reasons why Tsuge stopped drawing new stories for two years[5]). Examination of the magazine also reveals that Garo aimed at a readership evolution from kids to students, which can be considered as an early sign of the forthcoming rise of seinen [youth] manga from the 1970s onwards. Regarding the cultural industry it is interesting to note that Garo and Garo-related authors have created bridges and crossovers to other media, especially within the counterculture: Shirato’s manga Ninja Bugeichō was adapted by director Ōshima Nagisa into an animation-like film, Hayashi Seiichi created posters for underground theater troupes and musicians; and Mangashugi (Manga-ism), the first magazine dedicated to manga criticism (although resembling a dōjinshi [fanzine] in terms of diffusion) was motivated mainly by a desire to write about Garo authors.

Against this backdrop, the question remains as to why Garo and its authors aren’t subjected to the familiar Media Studies approach. It may be a simple lack of interest, or possibly a symptom of the fact that non-commercial manga aren’t “manga” enough for Manga Studies. Some authors actually exclude Garo from manga history. Frederick Schodt, for example, mentions Garo only once in his seminal monograph Manga! Manga! Manga: The World of Japanese Comics – “Garo a now-famous comic magazine that has often featured non-conformist artists” (1983: 150) – and he does not include it in the index. His use of the past tense in this reference speaks for itself. In 1983, the year when his book first appeared, Garo’s Golden Age was already over, and the magazine itself looked back on its past: Nagai’s autobiography was published in 1982 and the first Garo anthology in 1984, establishing the magazine as patrimony. If Garo played an important role, it is likely to have been during the first decade of its existence (Holmberg 2010). This was also pointed out by Paul Gravett, whose richly illustrated book Manga, 60 years of Japanese Comics is unfortunately one example of a superficial and non-critical approach to manga in general and to Garo in particular. It contains a number of factual errors, for example: Tsuge started working for Garo in 1965, but not as an assistant to Mizuki (Gravett 2004: 132); Sasaki Maki is not a woman (Gravett 2004: 139), and Garo is not likely to have reached its highest circulation in 1971 (although this is subject to debate[6]). Gravett is not unusual in making these mistakes; Petersen, for example, misspells Tsuge Yoshiharu’s name as Tsuge Yoshiharo (2002: 179).

The recently published Comics, a Global History is also problematic. It devotes one chapter to “Garo and Alternative Manga” (Mazur & Danner 2014: 79-87) for the sake of completeness, but this chapter doesn’t contain anything new and doesn’t specify the meaning of “alternative” either. The dichotomous scheme between “alternative” and “mainstream” is far more nuanced in Japan than it is in Europe and America, where those two notions are often regarded as mutually exclusive. With respect to Garo, it is noteworthy that Mizuki was publishing in a mainstream magazine released by publisher Shōgakukan when drawing for Garo, while Shirato was working for the commercial publisher Kōbunsha. The notion of “alternative” in relation to manga, along with a detailed examination of the non-Japanese discourse of “alternative manga”, would be a rewarding research subject. The huge gap between Japanese-language discourse and the rest of the world in regard to the notion of “alternative” in general and Garo in particular is also evident in the case of Tatsumi Yoshihiro. He contributed to the magazine at a rather late point in time and contributed relatively little – around six short stories a year from February 1970 to January 1975. While outside of Japan he is appreciated as the “godfather of gekiga” and reviewed in the mainstream press, in Japan he is not widely known. Ironically, his death was first announced on Paul Gravett’s website and well relayed (for example, on the homepage of the digital edition of the French daily journal Le Monde), but the information was not confirmed in Japanese sources until a few days later, and even then did not make the front pages. Another example of reverse-importing is manga monthly Ax’s April 2015 issue which commemorates Tatsumi. It includes an article by Asakawa, but not a newly written one; it was initially published in 2005 on the request from the Korean comics magazine, Sai Comics, before finally becoming available in Japanese ten years later (Asakawa 2015).

It is also interesting to note the different approaches taken in non-Japanese writings on Garo, and to consider the potential cross-cutting approaches they contain. In Jean-Marie Bouissou’s Manga, History and World of Japanese Comics, one of the mostly widely referenced books on manga in French, Garo is quoted in the part on manga history, but not in the one on the 1960s, as one might expect. Under the title “From Apogee to Decline: 1990-” (Bouissou, 2010: 119-120), Garo is introduced as a representative of a “second sector” that as of now has disappeared, but that previously revitalized the mainstream manga scene, i.e. the “first sector”. This approach – in addition to the fact that Garo refused the buyout offer by Shōgakukan in 1967, which eventually led to the launch of the commercial seinen magazine Big Comics (Nagai 1982: 239-243) – suggests a meaningful starting point for Garo studies: the industy’s past may help enlighten its present. Bouissou touches also briefly on Garo author Tsuge in the very last section of his book, called “So many genres”, indirectly referencing Maréchal when he calls him a creator of “watakushi manga” (I-comics): “Tsuge is the creator of a genre that didn’t appear in American comics before the late seventies, when it was named the graphic novel.” (Bouissou 2010: 353). A question remains a to the extent to which Tsuge can pass as the originator of autobiographical comics, and this presents another interesting lead. It is noteworthy that Kure Tomofusa, a well-known Japanese critic, omits Tsuge in his comprehensive monograph, in the part is dedicated to manga artists, though admittedly he does write about Mizuki and Shirato (Kure 1997 [1986]: 231-238).

Thus, due to the lack of solid references and clear conceptions, the academic literature about Garo remains incomplete. Rather than simply regretting this current state, we can actually try to draw conclusions from it. One is that the necessary groundwork it is yet to be done. A key element for understanding the birth, rise and influence of Garo magazine and to define its “alternative” identity, is the need to dig out its roots in kashihon manga (rental comics) and gekiga. For instance, the three original “pillars” of the magazine – Shirato, Mizuki and Tsuge, as well as the editor, Nagai, were actually kashihon manga veterans. Solid knowledge of the kashihon manga market and its authors is vital for the study of Garo, as is kamishibai (paper theater) (Tsurumi, 1991: 63-70). Fortunately, there are a lot of materials on kashihon manga in Japanese (which is also paradoxical, given the scarcity of the primary sources), and this field of studies seems to be particularly vivid, as indicated by the productivity of research groups such as Kashihon manga Kenkyūkai. The latter’s papers often deal with gekiga and other early “alternative manga,” executing a certain academic meticulousness. Kashihon manga and gekiga authors prepared the ground for Garo’s birth, and their influence is an indispensable part of Garo’s DNA. Early gekiga were created for rental libraries, and although they tried to get rid of humor and lightness in tone, they were still destined for kids. Nagai was a kashihon manga editor before launching Garo, and this is likely the reason why “junior magazine” is written on the cover of the first 20 issues of the magazine. In the beginning, Garo had clear educational goals, coupled with antiwar orientations and government criticism. This highly interesting fact is rarely mentioned, except by Ryan Holmberg (2010) and Claude Leblanc (2013). This leads us to the issue of access to the material. For the main part, the literature on Garo (at least in Western languages) is based on preexisting essays and not on primary sources. This partly explains the similarities and the reiteration of clichés.

As demonstrated above, currently available sources on Garo are not scarce, but nevertheless they do not meet the requirements of academic research, which might be inevitable given that these are often written by critics rather than trained academics, and if by academics, then not by manga specialists. Although there is plenty of literature dedicated to Garo authors in Japanese, the magazine’s role, place, and legacy is yet to be discussed. At the same time, the role of Garo seems to be overrated outside Japan: it is often oversimplified as an influential “avant-garde alternative” magazine. This column is a call for deconstruction, an invitation to reconsider and rewrite Garo’s history from the start, including background studies on kashihon manga and gekiga, and considering the industry of the mainstream manga magazines, since the birth of the magazine was the result of a long genesis and its rise closely linked to the socio-cultural context of the 60s and 70s. It goes without saying that access to the primary source, the magazine itself, is imperative if anyone is to confirm, or deny, that “Garo represented the first true, concerted movement toward comics as a medium of personal expression and creative freedom anywhere in the world” (Mazur & Danner 2014: 16).

Work Cited

Aihara, Koji et al., 1991. Garo Mandara [Garo Mandala], Tokyo: Tbs-Britannica.

Asakawa, Mitsuhiro, 2015. Tatsumi Yoshihiro to nihon no shoki orutanatibu manga shīn [Tatsumi Yoshihiro and the beginning of the Japanese alternative manga scene], in Ax, vol. 104, pp. 23-32.

Berndt, Jaqueline, 2014. “Manga Studies #1: Introduction,” in Comics Forum, web:

Bouissou, Jean-Marie, 2010. Manga, histoire et univers de la bande dessinée japonaise [Manga, History and World of Japanese Comics], Arles: Philippe Piquier

Ishiko, Jun, 1988. Nihon mangashi [History of Japanese comics], Tokyo: Gendai kyōyō bunko.

Ishiko, Junzō, 1994 [1975], Sengo mangashi nōto [Notes on postwar manga history], Tokyo: Kinokuniya shoten.

Gill, Tom.

——2011a. “The Incident at Nishibeta Village: A Classic Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge from the Garo Years”, in International Journal of Comic Art, vol. 13, spring, pp. 475-489.

——2011b. “Fetuses in the Sewer”, web:

——2014. “‘Chiko,’ ‘A View of the Seaside,’ and ‘Mister Ben of the Igloo’: Visual and Verbal Narrative Technique in Three Classic Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge”, web:

Gondō, Susumu, 1993. Garo o kizuita hitobito [Those who built Garo], Tokyo: Holp Shuppan

Gravett, Paul, 2004. Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics. London: Laurence King Publishing

Holmberg, Ryan.

——2007. Paper megaphone: “Garo” manga, 1964—1971, PhD thesis, Yale University.

——2010. Garo Manga: The First Decade 1964-1973,, New York: Center for Book Arts.

Kani, Yōsuke.

——2009. “Sasaki Maki o meguru gensetsu” [An analysis of discourse concerning Maki Sasaki], in Manga Kenkyū, no. 15, pp. 28-53.

——2011. “Garo jidai no Tsuge Yoshiharu – Mangashugi o chūshin to shita dōjidai gensetsu no bunseki” [Tsuge Yoshiharu in the days of Garo: an analysis of contemporary discourse on the example of the magazine Mangashugi], in Manga Kenkyū, vol. 17, pp. 8-33.

Kure, Tomofusa 1997 [1986]. Gendai manga no zentaizō [Overview of contemporary manga], Tokyo: Futaba bunko.

Leblanc, Claude, 2013. Garo 1964-1974: Une histoire dans l’histoire [Garo 1964-1974, A History inside History], held from 22 March to 25 March 2013, Paris. Re-used in ManGaro/Heta-Uma exhibition, 17 October 2014 to 1st March 2015, Marseille.

Maréchal, Béatrice.

——1999. “Les paysages de Tsuge Yoshiharu” [Tsuge Yoshiharu’s landscapes], in Daruma, vol. 5, Arles: Philippe Picquier.

—— 2004. “Garo, magazine rebelle [Garo, rebellious magazine], in 9e Art, no 10, Centre national de la bande dessinée et de l’image, pp. 48-53.

—— 2005. “On Top of the Mountain: The Influential Manga of Yoshiharu Tsuge,” in The Comics Journal Special Edition, vol. 5, pp. 22–28.

——2005. Moi tel qu’en soi-même : le moi narratif dans la bande-dessinée : les fondateurs japonais [Myself as in onself : narrating the self in comics : the Japanese founders], PhD thesis (Linguistic sciences), EHESS, Paris.

Mazure, Dan & Alexander Danner, 2014. Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present, London: Thames & Hudson.

Menjō, Tsuyoshi, 2006. Nukeraremasu ka: Watakushi mangaka, Takita Yū [Can you get out? Takita Yū, mangaka of the self], Tokyo: Kawade Shobō Shinsha.

Nagai, Katsuichi.

——1982. Garo henshūchō [Garo’s Editor-in-Chief], Tokyo: Chikuma Books.

——et al., 1984. Garo Nijūnenshi mokusei morutaru no oūkoku [Garo, 20years history of the Kingdom of the Wood Mortar], Tokyo: Seirindō.

Odaira, Namihei, ed., 2014. “Manga, la révolution Garo” [Manga, Garo’s revolution], in Zoom Japan, vol. 43, Ilyfunet: Paris, web:

Ono, Kōsei & Masashi Shimizu, 2014. Garo to iu jidai [The time of Garo], Tokyo: Seirindō.

Petersen, Robert S., 2002. Comics, manga, and graphic novels, Santa Barbara: Praeger.

Sakurai, Tetsuya, 2015. Haikyo no zankyō, sengo manga no genzō [Echoes from the ruins, in pursuit of the origins of Japanese postwar manga], Tokyo: NTT.

Schodt, Frederick, (1988) [1983]. Manga! Manga!: The World of Japanese Comics, New York: Kodansha International.

Shimamura, Masari. 2013. “Heta” na wake – Late 70’s-Early 80’s Garo, renzoku to danzetsu” [“Heta” na wake, Late 70’s-Early 80’s Garo, Continuity and rupture], in Sankakuboshi, vol. 2, Gakushūin University, Tokyo, n.pag.

Shirato, Sanpei et al., 2012. Garo/COM 1964-1970, Tokyo: Kōdansha.

Takano, Shinzō, 2002. Tsuge Yoshiharu 1968, Tokyo: Chikuma bunko.

Takeuchi, Osamu, 1995. Sengo Manga gojūnen-shi [50 Years of Post-war Manga History], Tokyo: Chikuma Library.

Tsuge Yoshiharu, 2000. Nejishiki Tsuge Yoshiharu sakuhinshū [Screw-style: anthology of Tsuge Yoshiharu works], Tokyo: Seirinkōgeisha.

Tsurumi, Shunsuke.

—— 1987. Cultural History of Postwar Japan, Londres: Routledge.

—— 1991. Manga no dokusha to shite [As a Reader of Manga], Tokyo: Chikuma shobō.

Yoshimura, Kazuma, ed., 2008. Manga no kyōkasho [Manga’s Course Book], Kyoto: Rinsen shoten.

[1] Holmberg, 2010; Leblanc, 2013, 2014.

[2] See for example Odaira, 2014.

[3] All in Japanese. See for example Nagai,, 1984; Gondō, 1993; Shirato,, 2012; Ono & Shimizu, 2014.

[4] Japanese names in this essay are presented in the Japanese style: Surname first, given name last.

[5] Tsuge, 2000 : 446

[6] Nagai claims that Garo circulation first reached 80000 copies by the end of 1966 (Nagai, 1982: 236).

Léopold Dahan is a research student at Kyoto Seika University, Japan. He earned his M.A.s at Paris Diderot University in France in Japan Studies. His researches are dedicated to “alternative” and avant-garde in relation to manga, and comic’s media specific narration possibilities, focusing on the 50’s-70. He also translate manga and write for the French comics magazine KABOOM

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