I first read Nakazawa's book Barefoot Gen near the beginning of my interest in Japanese culture, back in the 1990s. I knew about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki from school, of course, but we hadn't touched upon how it affected the people involved. So this book came as a bit of an eye-opener, and it also filled in the (huge) gaps in my knowledge of the situation in the Pacific at that time.
The story is such a difficult one to read, because of the scale of suffering, but at the same time it is essential. Nakazawa does not shy away from depicting the patriotic mania that brought Japan to that situation. Nor does he shy away from the effects of the blast on people with some uncomfortable and almost surreal images.
All of these feeling were reawakened when I visited Hiroshima and the museum dedicated to the bombing. Now I've learnt that the author of Barefoot Gen died yesterday. Hearing that reminded me of the impact his work made on me, and it saddens me to learn of his passing.
Until the 90s, the Japanese were seen as the country that made cheap TVs or expensive videogames, or they were "that lot the Americans beat in the war". How much this comic has done to change the views of the public at large, I don't know, but it certainly changed mine and started me off on a journey that's lead me to where I am today.