Ten Cent Manga: Last of the Mohicans

Writer / Artist
Ten Cent Manga: Last of the Mohicans
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: Picturebox inc - 978-0-9851595-6-6
  • Release date: 1953
  • English language release date: 2013
  • UPC: 9780985159566
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

There’s a belief that Japanese comics began with Osamu Tezuka in the years following the end of World War II – and indeed in most ways that assessment is reasonable. However, as the superbly informative article bolstering this superb and timely translation attests, there has been a thriving manga business operating in Japan since the 1930s, and one of its greatest proponents was artist and author Shigeru Sugiura.

This superb black and white hardback volume re-presents one of his greatest triumphs as the initial volume in a proposed series of “Ten-Cent Manga” collections translated and edited by Ryan Holmberg. They’re intended to highlight lost works displaying not simply indigenous Japanese virtuosity but also the influence of cross-cultural contact and pollination with other countries such as America.

In his erudite and lavishly illustrated essay and appreciation, Holmberg describes in fascinating and forensic detail the origins of the project, the state of play in Japan pre-and-post World War II and Sugiura’s absorbing life and career. He began as a jobbing strip cartoonist yet elevated himself to the status of Psychedelic, Surrealist Pop Art icon – one utterly addicted to American movies and comics.

Also included is an article by the artist himself, written in 1988 and describing his lifelong passion for and debt of influence to American cinema. Although scholarly and revelatory, the articles pale beside the sheer exuberant energy and B-movie bravura of James Fenimore Cooper’s text.

Sugiura very loosely adapted Last of the Mohicans in 1953 for a line of books presenting world classics of literature in comics form, albeit not exactly in any form recognisable to literary purists.In 1973 he was refining and re-releasing his classic tales when the 1953 Mohicans was slyly reworked as a wry pastiche.

This is not your teacher’s Last of the Mohicans. Sugiura’s update forms the majority of this chronicle; a fast-paced story of non-stop adventure, greed, pride, tragedy and wacky humour where both the heroic frontiersman Leatherstocking and noble savage Chingachgook are re-imagined as bold young lads in bad times. Their desperate quest is punctuated with weirdly clashing moments of slapstick, creative anachronism, cross-cultural in-jokes and plain outright peculiarity.

We’re introduced to Hawkeye, “La Carabine Kid”, a young colonial scout and spy for the British. The Empire is at war with the French for possession of the New World, and the Kid and his companions have suffered many reverses at the brutal hands of the Mingos. They are a tribe allied to France and responsible for reducing the mighty Mohicans to two survivors, these being Chief Chinga and his son Uncas.

The plot thickens when the Mingo Chief and his manic son Magua threaten to abduct the daughters of British Colonel Munro, in an attempt to force the soldier to surrender his command East Fort to the French.

It all works impossibly well. Sheer graphic escapism, spectacular storytelling and a truly different view of a time-honoured masterpiece make this an unmissable treat for all lovers of world comics.