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Takao Saito, 84, Dies; Created a Japanese Comic Book Superstar

“And manga and anime probably never would have become representatives of Japanese culture,” he added.

Takao Saito was born on Nov. 3, 1936, in Wakayama prefecture, south of Osaka. His father worked odd jobs and tried his hand at various artistic pursuits. His mother raised Mr. Saito and his four siblings, making extra money by rolling cigarettes at night.

Mr. Saito showed a talent for art from a young age, but it was a pursuit his mother strongly discouraged; as he recalled in an autobiography, she feared that he would turn out like his father. After finishing middle school he trained as a barber in Osaka and eventually opened a salon with his older sister in the city’s red light district. The work didn’t suit him, however; he was afraid of razors.

He continued drawing on the side, painting movie signboards and selling pornographic drawings to members of the occupation forces stationed in Japan after World War II. Those same G.I’s introduced him to American comics, like Batman and Superman. Movies, especially King Kong, were another major influence.

An early attempt at breaking into the comics industry went poorly: His submission to a boys magazine was rejected by none other than Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s most celebrated manga artist. Mr. Tezuka, he said, told him that his themes and artwork were inappropriate for children.

The criticism only fueled his ambition. By 1955, after two years of work, he published his first comic, the mystery adventure “Baron Air.”

Mr. Saito moved to Tokyo in 1957 and helped establish the short-lived Gekiga Studio, an artists’ collective dedicated to promoting a new style of comic book. In a manifesto, the group rejected the term “manga,” often translated as “whimsical pictures,” as too soft for their vision of an art form that would tell compelling adult tales with a filmmaker’s visual panache.