• Kyodo


A comic book published in September 1948 and kept at a library in the United Sates was recently confirmed as the debut work of famed science fiction novelist Sakyo Komatsu, who died three years ago.

A digital copy of the cartoon, titled “Kaijin Sukereton Hakase” (“The Secret of Skeleton”), published in Osaka under the author’s real name, Minoru Komatsu, when he was a high school student, was discovered this spring in the digital collection of the National Diet Library.

Ken Ogawa, 49, a Tokyo-based collector of Komatsu’s work, discovered the book, which is owned by the University of Maryland, in the Diet library database and the novelist’s official rights-managing body, Komatsu Sakyo Library, recently confirmed its authenticity.

The original comic book is in the Gordon W. Prange Collection of the University of Maryland, which features a number of publications collected throughout Japan by the General Headquarters of the occupying Allied Forces for censorship purposes between 1945 and 1949.

The National Diet Library started publishing the digital data of the collection last year and 8,100 works of children’s literature, including Komatsu’s piece, became available in March.

The 64-page comic book is 18 cm by 13 cm in size and is about a detective trying to stop Dr. Sukereton, who attempts to sink Japan with his earthquake-triggering machine. It concludes with the detective’s words that “science should not be abused.”

Themes such as science and earthquakes were used by Komatsu throughout his career, including his 1973 best-selling novel “Nippon Chimbotsu” (“Japan Sinks”).

“This work could not be delivered by anybody but Mr. Komatsu as it shows his original theme, story and plots,” said Reiji Matsumoto, a cartoonist and Komatsu’s longtime friend. “His first step toward a science fiction writer can be found here.”

Komatsu may not have even been aware that this piece was published, a researcher on comics said.

Inspired by cartoonist Osamu Tezuka’s work in 1947, Komatsu started out producing cartoons but soon focused on writing novels when he realized he could not be as good as Tezuka, according to Komatsu’s memoir.

Komatsu was born in 1931 in Osaka, and died of pneumonia in July 2011.