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Golgo 13: A record-breaking hero / Exhibition marks 50 yrs of gekiga featuring a lone-wolf sniper

© Takao Saito

A drawing of “Golgo 13”

By Shinji Inoue / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterOSAKA — “Don’t stand behind me” — This is a famous tagline of Golgo 13, a lone-wolf sniper and the protagonist of the eponymous comic series.

Author Takao Saito initially intended to end the work after just 10 episodes. However, the immortal hero has ended up working for quite a long time — “Golgo 13” will mark its 50th anniversary next year.

The 81-year-old artist has been creating “Golgo 13” for the Big Comic manga magazine for men by Shogakukan Inc. since 1968. To celebrate this occasion, a massive exhibition is being held in Osaka.

The exhibition “Takao Saito: Golgo 13” includes 60 drawings from the series, 12 models of guns used by the sniper and images to show the production process. The gun models and most of the drawings have been made available to the public for the first time.

Saito has his workroom in Tokyo. During a recent visit by The Yomiuri Shimbun, the artist showed how he draws Golgo 13 at his desk: On a sheet of white paper, he quickly moved a pen to depict some of the character’s distinctive features, such as thick eyebrows and long sideburns.

“I don’t draw rough sketches,” Saito said. “If I do, I can’t depict the delicate details of his facial expressions how I want.”

“Golgo 13” belongs to gekiga, a genre of manga with serious narratives and dramatic images. In the 1960s, gekiga fascinated adults and young people who were no longer satisfied by manga targeted at children.

Saito had also featured tough adult heroes in his other gekiga works, such as his adaptation of the James Bond film series and “Muyo no Suke,” which follows the eponymous protagonist, a bounty-hunting masterless samurai.

“Golgo 13” became popular for its hard-boiled protagonist and Saito’s realistic depictions of what was happening in the international community from time to time, making it impossible for the gekiga artist to finish it any time soon. The number of publications of the work, including comic books, now exceeds 200 million copies.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Takao Saito at his workroom in Tokyo

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    One of the sections at the exhibition focuses on female characters in “Golgo 13.”

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    A view of the exhibition

  • © Takao Saito

    “Umi e Mukau Eva” (Eva, heading for the sea)

“I can only depict outlaws,” Saito said. “So I’ve tried to forget about the social norms and describe the contradictions and conflicts of human beings. I’ve been free from the common sense and custom of each era in this work, which is probably why I have been able to draw this work for as long as 50 years.”

Saito pioneered a production system under which different people are in charge of such tasks as drawing, story writing and deciding the structure of the storyline.

“Drawing pictures and creating stories are different things and need different talents,” Saito said. “Deciding on how the work should be presented is another talent, similar to the one necessary for film directors. I introduced this division system based on the belief that we can create works of even higher quality by bringing together many different talents.”

To illustrate this approach, the exhibition includes a reproduction of Saito’s workroom and a reception room at his studio, along with a drawing of the studio’s floor plan.

Female characters are an indispensable element of “Golgo 13.” One of the sections of the exhibition is titled “Women” to showcase the portraits of 100 beauties who have appeared in the work. They come from all walks of life, including an intelligence agent and a prostitute.

This section also features an entire episode titled “Umi e Mukau Eva” (Eva, heading for the sea), which describes Golgo 13’s brief relationship with a female assassin. Saito himself wrote its story.

The artist says he actually likes “sentimental worlds,” despite the hard-boiled atmosphere of his gekiga works.

“When I write scripts under pressure, I often choose women as main characters,” he said. “When I have to work without having enough time, my scripts often end up reflecting my preference for sentimentalism.”

Also on display at the exhibition are various materials that his production company has obtained to draw backgrounds as realistically as possible. They include photos taken at the production company’s request around the world.

Today, collecting information is much easier than before thanks to the internet. However, “that means the protagonist doesn’t have to travel, making it hard to create dramatic plots,” Saito said.

The artist said “Golgo 13” is not his project anymore but belongs to “my readers.”

But there is one thing still in his control — how the long-running work ends. “I’d already decided the ending of ‘Golgo 13’ when I started drawing it,” he said. “In this respect, no matter how I create new episodes, they are just side stories [toward the finale].”

“Takao Saito: Golgo 13” runs through Nov. 27 at the Osaka Culturarium at Tempozan in Minato Ward, Osaka. It opens daily from noon to 8 p.m. (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and national holidays). One of the items available at the event’s pop-up shop is a limited edition of a Golgo 13 figure that is 28 centimeters tall and designed by Saito. Visit www.golgo-13.com (in Japanese) for more information.Speech

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