Graphic novels about slackers and twentysomethings are well and good, but every once in a while, you yearn for something more than just "everyday life". Every once in a while, you want graphic novels about Big Ideas. About History. And Politics. And Spirituality.
Osamu Tezuka was already known as the Father of Manga, the Japanese Disney, having created Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. He had created manga in almost every imaginable genre and age group, and never let age slow him down. It was late in his life and career that he decided to create an 8,000-page graphic novel about the life of Buddha, now translated into a series of 400-page books.
Buddha is the founder of Buddhism, the philosophy and religion older than Judeo-Christianity, and Tezuka sets out to chart his birth, life and death, showing his journey from neophyte prince to wandering ascetic trying to understand his own and man's place in the cycle of Life.
The first volume was a prologue in which the hero hadn't even been born yet. Now the second volume starts the story proper, which sees Prince Siddhartha born into a life of leisure and privilege. Even early in his life, Siddhartha comes to witness the unfairness of the caste system, which exerts harsh penalties on those born of low castes, like the tragedy of his first love, the bandit-warrior girl who paid the price for their relationship. That and the venal power games between the warlords out to seize each other's lands and riches eventually leads Siddhartha to forsake his life as a prince and take to the road on a pilgrimage to find the true meaning of life, and what place pain and suffering has in it.
Tezuka sets out to create a densely-populated world of people from virtually every walk of the caste system that would, directly or not, come to be affected by Buddha. All of them display contradictions and paradoxes, as well as full emotional lives that prevent us from seeing them in purely black or white terms. Even the most ruthless warlord has a capacity for love and despair, the lowliest slave capable of the grandest deeds or the most tragic failure. And Tezuka renders them all in his deceptively simple cartoon line that makes their emotions instantly recognisable. It looks like a children's storybook, but its depths run deeper than most rivers.
This is one of the great achievements of the comics medium, a masterpiece by one of the greats.
Adi Tantimedh is a screenwriter and filmmaker who writes comics when he has the time. He has recently completed JLA: The Age of Wonder for DC Comics, and written and directed Open House, a short film for Studio FP in Italy. His current projects include the forthcoming Blackshirt for Moonstone Books, Anna Passenger, a novel being serialised on Opi8.com, and various film and television projects.