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Arts & Culture

Japanese Illustrator Shigeru Mizuki Dies At 93

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

And now a remembrance of an iconic comic book artist in Japan. Shigeru Mizuki was known for drawing a little boy with a shaggy haircut and one eye, a little boy who is also a ghost. The character is hugely popular in Japan. Mizuki brought this and other ghosts to life in his comics, and he died yesterday at the age of 93. NPR's Andrew Limbong reports.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Let's start the story during World War II. Shigeru Mizuki was a young guy unwillingly drafted into the Japanese army.

ZACK DAVISSON: He was a terrible soldier.

LIMBONG: This is Zack Davisson. He translated Mizuki's work into English.

DAVISSON: By all means, he should have died.

LIMBONG: Mizuki got malaria in what's now Papa New Guinea. Then the hospital he was staying at was bombed and he lost his left arm, the arm he'd been drawing with all his life. Fast forward a couple decades and he's in his 40s. He's relearned how to draw and is publishing a beloved comic book series called "GeGeGe No Kitaro." That inspired more comics, plus toys and TV cartoons, like this one from 1968.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GEGEGE NO KITARO")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Japanese).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Speaking Japanese).

LIMBONG: Here's Kitaro, who is a ghost, arguing with his ghouly buddies. They live among people, which was a theme Mizuki explored in his work.

DAVISSON: He had a profound spiritual belief. He deeply believed in this invisible world that surrounded us.

LIMBONG: As his career progressed, he paid more attention to the human world as well. He put out huge tones on decades of Japanese history, gripping autobiographical accounts of the war and even a book about Hitler. He showed his audience the horrors of battle, and at the same time he give his monsters real feelings.

DAVISSON: They have very human desires. They have very base wants and needs.

LIMBONG: Wants and needs that we all have and that Mizuki used to remind his readers of their own humanity. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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