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  • Crime and Punishment

    Posted on May 20th, 2011 keving 6 comments

    Some kids will do anything to avoid reading books. It’s understandable. Writing a book report on Oliver Twist is no fun at all; watching Oliver! on VHS is. (Voice of experience here. I think. I can’t remember the details, except that I got like a C- in the end.)

    One can therefore see why a novel like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a book that tends to wind up on Japanese school summer reading lists all the time, was targeted for manga-ization. What’s perhaps more surprising is that this isn’t a recent thing — Osamu Tezuka, the original manga gentleman, did it in 1953.


    Raskolnikov, the hero, goes over the reasoning in his mind for killing his pawnbroker and stealing her money. These sorts of panel layouts really weren't something you saw in US comics during the '50s. That sort of expression didn't happen for a bit longer.

    Tezuka’s Tsumi to Batsu is a bit of an abridged version of the original. It’s about a third as many pages and cuts out pretty much everything except the juiciest events — the ones Tezuka was safe depicting in a book meant for little children, at least. Although it features a lot of originality in the storytelling (the climactic scene, with Raskolnikov coming to terms with himself in the midst of a hopelessly crowded Petersburg public square, is particularly memorable), the book was not a great success. It turned out to be the last one-off book Tezuka ever wrote, subsequently devoting his full attention to running manga like Jungle Emperor.

    His heart wasn’t really in it anyway, one could say. He only wrote it because Osaka-based publisher Tokodo asked him to — the second manga-ification he did after Goethe’s Faust in 1952. No, really, they tried to make Faust into a kid’s manga nearly sixty years ago.

    Faust sold surprisingly well, maybe because it was such a rare thing,” Tezuka wrote in 1978. “Crime and Punishment came next, but by that time, I was finally just beginning to get a few regular gigs at magazines and I found it hard to find the time to write one-off properties like this one any longer. The book wound up taking a year to produce, and the results didn’t sell nearly as well when published. I think that’s because the story’s main themes are too hard to encapsulate and there really just isn’t enough action. However, I don’t think I received nearly as many compliments from kids and adults for any other comic I had written at that point, which was odd to me. It’s such a poorly-drawn piece of work, but simply having Crime and Punishment in manga form was such an adventure to people. I think they were thankful for the experiment more than anything else.”

    Like with a lot of other things, it turned out Tezuka was just ahead of his time. Like with Classics Illustrated in the US, there was a major boom in late-’50s Japan for comic adaptations of classics like Tom Sawyer and The Three Musketeers, most of them of low quality done on the cheap by no-name children’s book artists. By then, though, Tezuka’s reputation as the hottest manga writer in the country was already well cemented.



    6 responses to “Crime and Punishment” RSS icon

    • Nice post! Although I have the impression that somehow I got your blog feed mixed up with let’s anime.

    • I had no idea that these works of literature were transformed into manga nearly 60 years ago. Crazy.

      What are we going to find out next?

      Was Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Nausea” turned into a manga as well?

    • Sweet. I wonder if you’ve ever checked out Crime and Punishment: A Falsified Romance, a ten volume retelling of the story set in modern day Japan. It just wrapped up the other week.

      There was also East Press’ series of manga retelling the classics, most infamously Mein Kampf, but they also did the Brothers Karamazov. That was done by uncredited no-name artists though.

    • It’s crazy to think that they tried to adapt in comic format for children books as Faust or Crime and Punishment.
      Adaption from books were always common in comics industry but usually the subjects were always books geared towards children/teen ( like for example Hugo Pratt’s Treasure Island ).

      What I always found funny about the title of this book is that there isn’t really that much of crime and punishment in the entire book ( just the beginning and the end ).

      A more apt name would have been Between Crime and Punishment.

    • Thanks for your clarification. I like to make out the print Martha

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