Keiji Nakazawa was a 6-year-old schoolboy waiting for summer class on Aug. 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, Japan.
He saw a B-29 bomber fly overhead, followed by the flash of white, blue and orange light. An atomic bomb had been dropped by American airmen. Parts of the school had collapsed behind him, serving to protect him from the blast.
The bomb killed his father, brother and sister. His pregnant mother went into premature labor, and a newborn sister died from radiation sickness just days after the blast.
For Nakazawa, chronicling the bomb and its aftermath became his life’s work, and he did it as a celebrated comic book artist and writer. His death from lung cancer in Hiroshima on Dec. 19 was reported in Japanese news accounts. He was 73.
In the 1970s, when comic books were still largely thought of as escapism for the young, Nakazawa’s “Barefoot Gen,” a Japanese manga — a comic book serial — gave its audience an unflinchingly gruesome view of the Hiroshima bombing and a portrait of its survivors struggling for their dignity and humanity amid war.
“Most treatments in (Japanese) film or literature described the bomb’s effects rather obliquely or genteelly,” said Alan Gleason, one of the series’ translators. “Nakazawa blew all of that away with his brutally graphic pictures of what happened.”
Its readers graphically witnessed the devastation of Hiroshima: rivers filled with charred bodies, skeletal survivors with the skin peeling off, and a black rain that sickens everyone it touches.