Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) was devoutly experimental, conceptualizing and producing circulated comics for every conceivable genre and demographic, frequently inventing subgenres when unsatisfied with what the market had to offer. Tezuka's early post-war works are well documented in their influence of the eventual diversity of fantasy, sci-fi, and adventure cartooning. But his published efforts for older readers have proved just as compelling, accounting in part for the birth, rise, and success of character drama for women and social commentary for a general adult readership.
In Swallowing the Earth, Tezuka introduces readers to Zephyrus, a mythical enchantress. According to WWII legend, Zephyrus occupied the South Pacific and captivating every man who saw her (eventually driving those same men to their destruction). The only thing known about this woman was that both her allure and her power was irresistible.
Now winding the clock twenty years into the future, Asia's economy has kicked back into gear and tales are circulating of the bold enchantress having resurfacing (this time in Japan).
Zephyrus starts replicating her dangerous grip on the male population in modern Japan as she had once done during the war. It is here that Tezuka's character study begins: into the picture comes a businessman whose fortunes are dithering with the corrosion of his patriarchy; and also a wild drunkard whose addiction to liquor makes him immune to Zephyrus' advances. Swallowing the Earth is a single-volume work (520+ pages) and enlists Tezuka's trademark, impish visual style to invoke as much sexual comedy as it does science fiction. Historically, the manga's innocent visual style has successfully queried the value of an indifference to beauty, if at the cost of all the social, economic, and moral obligations otherwise taken for granted by an advanced culture.
Barbara is also on Digital Manga's radar (and has been for quite a while now). Last year, the publisher used Kickstarter, an online project funding operation, to successfully raise finances for the re-license of Swallowing the Earth. Through fan donations, Digital Manga is digging deep into the back catalogue of Tezuka Productions to bring fans some original titles that have long been out of reach.
The triumphant acquisition of Swallowing the Earth prompted a second Kickstarter campaign for Barbara earlier this year. Not only was this newer campaign successful, Digital Manga more than doubled (+262%) the initial funds necessary ($6,500) to license and translate the 430+ pages of manga art, for domestic retail and digital release.
According to the publisher, more information will be forthcoming regarding updates to the translation and production process of the manga. Barbara is perhaps one of Osamu Tezuka's most strikingly adult and subjective productions. The story follows a conflicted novelist whose impossible genius is matched only by his phenomenal (delusional) sexual decadence.
Yosuke Mikura is haunted by a jealous ego, defiant enemies, and all other personifications of socio-political paranoia reserved for those of superb fame and talent.
Mikura is often on the edge of sanity, knowingly, and struggles to comprehend where the line between madness and non-madness lies. Then he stumbles across Barbara, a "drunken, foul-smelling hippie chick [in] a Shikjuku gutter." Is Barbara his muse? The young woman can ease his delusions, shed light on his shadowy ego, and sometimes lull to sleep his extraordinarily violent outbreaks. But then again, the woman has a past, and Mikura's arrogance and curiosity leads him in the direction of dark cults, murderous voodoo, and sadomasochism.
Barbara is a complex and unflinching observation of human obsession and the terrible and tortured choices individuals must make in the face of doubt. It goes without saying that Barbara is a work for adult readers; the comic has a markedly psychologically darker edge than all of Tezuka's other works of note. The manga does not yet have a projected retail date from Digital Manga.
(sources: Digital Manga, Tezuka in English online)