Manga writer and author Kazuo Koike – best known for his Lone Wolf & Cub series – passed away on April 17 at the age of 82 to pneumonia, his official Twitter account has reported. Koike shared a friendly rivalry with Lupin III creator Monkey Punch, who also passed earlier this week, and nurtured the careers of countless industry legends.
Born in Akita prefecture in 1937, Koike made his debut in Weekly Manga Action with Lone Wolf & Cub in 1970 in collaboration with artist Goseki Kojima. The manga was an instant hit, with its brutal depiction of violence and haunting representations of life in Japan’s medieval era. It ran for six years as a manga but would go on to inspire six successful live-action films and a TV series. Koike’s other major work was Mad Bull 34, which also would go on to inspire a series of super-violent OVAs in the 90s and 00s.
The influence of Lone Wolf & Cub is widespread, remaining not just popular in Japan but also in the West. This was mainly due to the now-defunct First Comics translating and publishing the series in North America on a monthly schedule from 1987 to 1991. Legendary comic artist and writer Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, 300) contributed covers for the English releases at the time. In general, Koike enjoyed a close relationship with the world of western comics over the years, writing a Hulk manga in 1971 and once more contributing a Wolverine story for X-Men: Unlimited in 2003.
Koike often worked in collaboration with others over his long career, especially with his manga where he wrote the story while leaving the artwork to someone else. This collaborative spirit also fed into his own work in nurturing the next generation of mangaka. Koike started up the Gekiga Sonjuku program in 1977 to teach children the basics of manga, and those who graduated from the program include Rumiko Takahashi (Urusei Yatsura, Ranma ½, MAO), Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest series) and Tetsuo Hara (Fist of the North Star). That’s truly an impressive list of alumni.
It’s very possible that, with Koike passing away on April 17, his tweet concerning the passing of fellow mangaka Monkey Punch on April 16 was his final message to the world. In the tweet, Koike expressed his sadness at Monkey Punch’s passing, saying that he considered him a “rival” in their time together at Weekly Action Comics with Lone Wolf & Cub and Lupin III and that he’d “be lonely.”
I can only hope that, if there is indeed something after death, Koike got the chance to meet Monkey Punch once more. We here at OTAQUEST thank Koike for his immeasurable contribution to the world of manga and hope that he can rest in peace.
Anyone interested in learning about the life and work of Kazuo Koike should check out this interview with Dark Horse in 2006.