Drawing on history: Tagawa Suihō and early Japanese manga culture

Max V Dionisio, University of Pennsylvania


While much research in English has been conducted on famous Japanese cartoonists, or mangaka, of the mid- to late twentieth century, very little attention has been paid to the artists whose cartoon strips or serialized stories peppered the newspapers and children's magazines of the early twentieth century. In particular, our knowledge of Japanese cartoons published before and during the Pacific War (1937-1945) is limited. This dissertation seeks to fill this gap with an in-depth look at Tagawa Suihō, a prolific cartoonist of Japan's prewar and early World War II years. Using biographical and textual analysis, this study reveals a complex personal and professional history that must be taken into consideration when reading Tagawa's most popular work, Norakuro, written between 1931 and 1941. Serialized in Kōdansha's children's magazine Shōnen Kurabu, the story revolves around the adventures of a stray black mutt named Norakuro who joins an army of dogs. Norakuro's popularity reached a fever pitch during its initial publication. Subsequent attempts at reviving the franchise met with varying levels of success. Although the cartoon was primarily humorous in tone, scholars have criticized it as being overly propagandistic in its depiction of the dog army conquering and subjugating other animal cities and countries. However, we can dismiss such criticism. Tagawa served as a member of the Japanese army in Manchuria in 1920 and detested every moment spent in the military. Upon his return he enrolled in the Nihon Bijutsu Senmon Gakkō, where he joined the Dadaist movement MAVO and became involved with the group's radical anarchist faction. After graduating he found work as a rakugo writer and later as a cartoonist. After the Norakuro series ended, Tagawa expanded his writing career, covering a diverse range of topics that included the necessity for post occupation rearmament, or saigunbi ; the role of children's manga in early education; and the unspoken difficulties surrounding the Japanese cartooning profession.

Subject Area

Asian literature|History

Recommended Citation

Dionisio, Max V, "Drawing on history: Tagawa Suihō and early Japanese manga culture" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3271741.