Comic from Japan: A war manga becomes a hit in Ukraine

Status: 09.01.2023 1:38 p.m

A Japanese manga artist hears about a supposed Ukrainian war hero. He drew the comic “Ghost of Kyiv” about its history – and caused a sensation in Ukraine.

By Kathrin Erdmann, ARD Studio Tokyo

Juko Matsuda is fascinated by war stories. They are the treasure trove for his manga. According to his own statements, the Japanese artist has drawn around 30 of them in recent years and then published them in publishing houses for amateur artists. Looking at his drawing, Matsuda’s interest in the Air Force is obvious.

“In March,” writes Juko Matsuda when asked, “I saw an article entitled ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ and found it interesting because a hero stands against a powerful enemy.” He drew an illustration and posted it on social media. The response was so positive that he decided to draw a whole comic out of it.

Invented war hero

The article that inspired Matsuda’s manga was about a Ukrainian fighter pilot. According to the Ukrainian secret service, the pilot shot down numerous aircraft of the Russian armed forces that had penetrated Ukrainian airspace during the war.

The report appeared shortly after the start of the war in February 2022 and spread across the internet at breakneck speed. But just as quickly, doubts arose about the authenticity of the story, which was apparently fabricated to boost the morale of the Ukrainian troops. In the spring, the Ukrainian Air Force then declared that such an exceptional fighter pilot did not exist.

The Ukrainian Ranok publishing house contacted the manga artist Matsuda with the help of the Ukrainian ambassador to Japan and had 25,000 copies of his comic printed in Ukrainian.


Non-political hobby artist

But that left the Japanese manga artist unimpressed: “I didn’t know if the story was real or not, I just wanted to do something interesting.” What is much more important for him, who does not want to give his age or send a photo: “That the ‘Ghost of Kyiv’ fits well with manga and was an easy story to write.”

And one that could obviously strike a chord with the Ukrainian public, thought the president of the Ukrainian publishing house Ranok. He had seen the first illustration and contacted Matsuda with the help of the Ukrainian ambassador to Japan.

In the first edition, 25,000 copies were printed in Ukrainian and 5000 in English. Bookstores in Ukraine, Poland and Germany that stocked “Spirit of Kyiv” sold it brilliantly. The publishing goal is now a circulation of 100,000 issues.

The artist does not believe that his story could be used as propaganda. “I think Russians could enjoy reading, too,” he says.


“Russians could also enjoy reading”

Hobby artist Matsuda is still “more than amazed” by the success. “I would like to thank everyone involved.” He doesn’t think his story could be used as propaganda. “The content has nothing propaganda about it. I think Russians could also enjoy reading it,” writes the Japanese.

He did not want to position himself politically. On the other hand, he says: “The war in Ukraine could be the Japan of tomorrow. We Japanese are observing it with a new awareness of the crisis.” How he came to this pessimistic assessment remains open.

However, one thing is certain: another, larger work by him about the war in Ukraine will come onto the market in the spring. Maybe Matsuda can make a living from his manga one day. So far that has been impossible for him.

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