Shigeru Mizuki was born in Sakaiminato, a seaside town on the north coast of Honshu in 1922. A middle child, he was drifting a bit, spending a lot of his time drawing and listening to stories told by the village elders. Then, in 1942 he was drafted into the Imperial Army. He wound up in Papua New Guinea, a soldier in the jungle, suffering from malaria and observing all the horrors of war. He lost his left arm – he was left-handed – in an Allied bombing raid and wound up a prisoner of war on the island.
After the war, he taught himself to use his right hand to write and to draw. For ten years he worked in a movie theater while he perfected his skills and completed his first artistic work, the comic book Rocketman. Two years later he published GeGeGe no Kitarō , a classic manga that made him famous. Since 1959, the year GeGeGe came out, Mizuki has made his living as a writer and artist, writing several books as well as manga.
Manga – literally ‘whimsical drawings’ – go back to 18th century Japan, but began to flourish really in the late 19th. Even the legendary Hokusai published a collection of manga.
His home town of Sakaiminato honored him with a street not only named for him, but lined with bronze statues of his characters. And while his drawing is light and appealing, his stories are dark, filled with the tales of yokai that he heard as a child. Yokai means demons, spirits or monsters and Mizuki has created quite a few, including Kitaro, the yokai-boy who is the hero of his best-selling manga. Kitaro is the last surviving member of the Ghost Tribe; he tries to create peace between the yokai and humans. His father – Daddy Eyeball, in English – was a ghost, but has dwindled down to just an eyeball.
And so on and so forth. There is a GeGeGe no Kitaro live action film, video game and anime. A dubbed English version called ‘Kitaro’s Graveyard Gang’ is also available, but by and large Mizuki’s work has never been translated.
A great selection of photos of Sakaiminato’s homage to its famous native son – who is 88 today – can be found here.