Clip-art art history and a cute 1980s manga about assembly language programming

HOW TO マシン語 (How to Mashingo; lit., “How to Machine Language”) is a cute Japanese comic book that teaches readers how to write machine code for Z80 and 6809 CPUs. First published in 1987, this softcover manga would have been intended for those who wanted to learn how to write advanced programs for early Japanese home computers such as the 6809-based Fujitsu FM-7 series or Z80-based MSX and NEC PC-8801. Those of us living stateside might not recognize these computers, but the 6809 and Z80 CPUs were in more familiar computers and game consoles as well. The 6809 appears in Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Color Computer and the Vectrex game console, while the Z80 could be found in a vast number of early personal computers and game systems, including the Nintendo Game Boy, Sega Master System, and the original Pac-Man arcade cabinet.

I came upon this unique book when my pal Brandon sent me an image of the cover, correctly guessing that I’d be interested in it. The cover—aside from being awesome in its own right—reminded me of a well-known piece of Macintosh clip art from the 1980s, which in turn was inspired by ukiyo-e, or Japanese woodblock prints, such as Kinko Echizen by Yoshikiyo Omori, ca. 1700. I’ve put these two images side by side for easy comparison. (OK, there’s your tiny art history lesson for the day!)

In How to Mashingo, readers are taught the basics of assembly language and program flow by a girl named Keiko (K子ちゃん). The first section of the comic book covers the basics, but most of the book is dedicated to Z80-specific and 6809-specific content. CPUs, pinouts, accumulators, program flags, opcodes, and more are all illustrated in a cute and laid-back style spanning nearly 200 pages.

I’ve enjoyed thumbing through this book and picking up on familiar words and concepts from my 6502 programming background. And I absolutely love the illustrations of Keiko: she’s skilled in machine language and seems happy to share her knowledge while looking incredibly stylish in the process. (Note: If you’re interested in picking up a copy of this book, you may be able to find it on Amazon.)

by Rachel Weil on Friday, Sep 11, 2015