“Thunderbird 1” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1964)

Artist Spotlight: The Art of Shigeru Komatsuzaki

Following up on our item on new Thunderbirds-inspired art from Vice Press, here’s some classic Gerry Anderson art, images by Shigeru Komatsuzaki, most originally created as box art for Japanese model kits.

Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1915 – 2001) should need no introduction to fans of Thunderbirds and UFO. He’s known in Japan as a giant in science fiction illustration, whose career arc began during the early-postwar years, its artistic and commercial pinnacle coinciding with Japan’s rise as an economic superpower.

“Frog Car” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1961)
“Frog Car” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1961)
“Space Colony” by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1980)
“Space Colony” by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1980)

Komatsuzaki got his start illustrating novels serialised in newspapers and later moved on to paintings used in children’s magazines and other media, particularly model kit box art for companies such as IMAI.

“Thunderbird 1” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1964)
“Thunderbird 1” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1964)
“Thunderbird 2” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1964)
“Thunderbird 2” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1964)
“Thunderbird 3” art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki
“Thunderbird 3” art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki
“Zero X” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1967)
“Zero X” box art by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1967)
“UFO - SHADO Mobile” by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1970s)
“UFO – SHADO Mobile” by Shigeru Komatsuzaki (1970s)

His Thunderbirds work is hugely popular, so it’s no surprise Modiphius Entertainment used his work for their Thunderbirds Co-Operative Board Game release back in 2016.

Some of it has also recently been released under license as postcards and more in Japan as part of a short exhibition of Komatsuzaki’s work at Animanga Zingaro in Tokyo, which closes this week.

Shigeru Komatsuzaki Exhibition at Animanga Zingaro, Tokyo, 2019
Shigeru Komatsuzaki Exhibition at Animanga Zingaro, Tokyo, 2019
Shigeru Komatsuzaki Exhibition at Animanga Zingaro, Tokyo, 2019 - Related Merchandise
Shigeru Komatsuzaki Exhibition at Animanga Zingaro, Tokyo, 2019 – Related Merchandise

Among the principal motifs of his works were warrior tales, aircraft and warships, as well as superheroes, robots and other futuristic designs – all of which helped fire the imaginations of both children and adults alike, inspiring generations of Japanese with dreams of a better future.

Sadly, almost all of his pre-World War Two work, including his personal collection, was lost to wartime firebombing and the paper used for domestic printing for a decade after the war was done on the most perishable of paper.

His entry on the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction site and a picture-led item on the Belated Nerd web site note a fire at Komatsuzaki’s home in 1995 destroyed much of his remaining archives.

Bandai Box Art CollectionReleased in 2009, the Bandai Box Art Collection features a lot of his art, although you may also have to go digging on eBay for offers on some of the Japanese postcard sets, of check out US specialist bookshops such as Rare Japanese Books.

downthetubes contributor and editor Jeremy Briggs also recommends tracking down a book that’s sometimes described in English as Thunderbirds Illustrations, published by Okura Publishing in 2002.

Thunderbirds Illustrations, published by Okura Publishing in 2002
Thunderbirds Illustrations, published by Okura Publishing in 2002

This Japanese language large softcover 112-page book  only has “Carlton Thunderbirds” in English on its cover (and little else other than copyrights in English inside) and covers all of Shigeru’s Gerry Anderson work.

I’ve found copies on Amazon.com and eBay – prices vary.

The Tokyo Fuji Art Museum has previously hosted an exhibition of his work, which featured someone hundred items, including original paintings, illustrations and writings, and early works as an artist-in-training of traditional Japanese paintings.

Most of the Museum’s web site is in Japanese, but it might be worth bookmarking it for future reference – or signing up for their newsletter.

WEB LINKS

• Tonari no Zingaro is at Nakano Broadway 4F, 5-52-15 Nakano, Nakano-ku, Tokyo 164-0001 | Web: zingarokk.com/tonarinozingaro

Shigeru Komatsuzaki 2013 Exhibition - Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
Shigeru Komatsuzaki 2013 Exhibition – Tokyo Fuji Art Museum

The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction – Shigeru Komatsuzaki 

The Belated Nerd – Shigeru Komatsuzaki

Pink Tentacle: The Sci-Fi illustrations by Shigeru Komatsuzaki

Shigeru Komatsuzaki books on eBay.co.uk

With thanks to 滝雅也 for alerting me to the exhibition and Jeremy Briggs and Jonathan Clements for additional information and links

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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