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News Briefs featuring Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Yoshishiro Tatsumi featured in new documentary

Updated May 2, 2013


"Manga: it's not just for kids anymore"

Randall King
Winnipeg Free Press, 25 April 2013

If your notion of Japanese "manga" comics conjures the apocalyptic teen fantasies found in most western bookstores, this portrait of revered artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi should successfully rock that perception.

Tatsumi, now 76, came of age in postwar Japan with an impulse to draw comics, following in the footsteps of his infirm older brother. That urge transformed over a long career into telling stories anchored firmly in the oft-bitter realities of Japanese life.

Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo chooses to tell Tatsumi's story in the medium of animation, cross-cutting chapters of the author's autobiography, A Drifting Life, with a few of his selected short stories.

And what stories they are:

A disillusioned factory worker loses his job -- and an arm -- and takes the tragic step of attempting to free his pet monkey.

A lonely office manager near retirement is given the opportunity to cheat on his wife.

A bitter, outcast prostitute in postwar Japan has a devastating confrontation with her shamed drunken father.

A failed manga artist becomes obsessed with the pornographic graffiti he finds in a public washroom.

A photographer of the devastation at Hiroshima is driven to murder when one of his presumed-dead photo subjects turns up alive and eager to sully his own erroneously created image of saintly benevolence.

Manga, a term used to describe Japanese comic books for younger readers, proved to be an albatross around the necks of more serious artists, particularly for Tatsumi. (Imagine the indignity Raymond Carver might have felt being placed in the same literary corral as Stephenie Meyer.)

So Tatsumi himself coined the term "Gekiga" as a kind of manifesto to distinguish more serious, adult-oriented material, akin to the divide between comic books and the rise of graphic novels here in the western world.

Khoo's film may not look like a conventional documentary, but it functions to illuminate the junction of a pop medium with high art.

If the film feels less satisfactory as a critical biography, it is not necessarily because Khoo is inclined to skimp on the details of Tatsumi's life, but because he allows for the enduring mystery between life and art.
 
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

          



  Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "Fallen Words" reviewed by Publisher's Weekly

Updated July 25, 2012


Fallen Words

07/02/2012

With each of the eight short stories in Fallen Words, Tatsumi (A Drifting Life, Abandon the Old in Tokyo) shows us the innovation and insight that make him one of the most relevant figures in Japanese comics today. In this work he draws upon the storytelling tradition of rakugo—in which a live storyteller recounts both sides of a conversation—and provides a series of cautionary tales about day-to-day hopes, fears, and petty excesses. What makes these moral fables so enjoyable to read is the humor that the author brings to them; readers can relate to his characters, sympathize with them, and enjoy a chuckle or two as Tatsumi exposes their delightful fallibility. He also elicits a smile in the way he brings about the resolutions to his fables, whether through a quirk of fate (in “The God of Death”) or through a humorous linguistic association (in “Escape of the Sparrows”). As the artist who coined the term gekiga (“dramatic pictures”), but was nonetheless influenced by mainstream manga, Tatsumi’s flat yet expressive drawings always move these short narratives forward without ever feeling unnecessarily distracted by the visual—the results flow as naturally as a rakugo tale. (June)
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Fallen Words




The Comics Journal investigates the publication history of YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI's BLACK BLIZZARD

Updated August 1, 2011


Shimada Kazuo played a small role in the history of Japanese comics - Tatsumi Yoshihiro says he got the basic idea for Black Blizzard of two handcuffed convicts on the run from one of his stories - but not that small. Who was he?

Shimada, before he became a writer of detective fiction, was a reporter for The Manchuria Daily News, the leading newspaper in Japanese colonial Manchuria. He was born in Kyoto in 1907 and raised in Dalian, on the Liaodong Peninsula in northeast China. The Manchuria Daily News, which he joined in 1931, was owned by a subsidiary of the Southern Manchurian Railway, a semi-public enterprise at the forefront of colonial expansion. Over the next ten years, Shimada wrote for various departments, longest as social reporter, posted throughout Manchuria and for a stint in Shanghai, and as correspondent for the Kwantung Army. For his work he traveled widely across Japanese territory, from the Heilongjiang River in the north, to the Malay Peninsula in the South, and Chahar in Mongolia in the west. What he witnessed was not always pleasant. "I have seen most of the ways people can die. For example, someone flattened by a steamroller, and someone's head rammed into their torso by a falling elevator. Many times I have seen bodies in pieces after a plane crash. That was during the war. So I don't really like writing about scenes of death in my own fiction," he says in an interview in 1957. "Do you find it scary?" he's asked. "No. That's why when I read these creepy murder scenes in detective fiction, they always feel fake."

Shimada had no intention of becoming a fiction writer. He had read New Youth (Shinseinen) under orders from his editor, its crime and mystery stories - mainly Japanese and British in translation - assigned to reporters as models of snappy modern prose style. He had published some fiction in Manchuria, but without a thought of making a career of it. In 1945, he was reassigned to Tokyo. When the war ended, and Japan was divested of its colonies, The Manchuria Daily News naturally was liquidated. He was kept on for a time with clerical clean-up work, meanwhile distributing news to worried families about the situation in the former colonies on the continent and helping to find jobs for repatriates. Then in 1946, Shimada found himself without work. It was mainly for the prize money that he submitted a story to The Jewel (Hōseki) that year, a purse he claimed with a short story about Tokyo police detectives who unmask a homicide set up to look like a suicide. He continued to contribute to the magazine during and after the Occupation, and as The Jewel became Japan's leading venue for mystery, detective, and later hardboiled fiction in the '50s, so Shimada became one of the country's top authors in those genres. He published also in many other publications, from Kōdansha's King to short-lived kasutori "pulps" like X, Spider, and Liberal, as well as boys' monthlies like Shōnen Gahō and girls' equivalents like Shojo. In 1951, Shimada won his first major literary prize, for stories from the previous year about crime-cracking newspaper reporters. In the '50s, many of his stories would star detectives from the Tokyo police, then later doctors and lawyers meddling beyond their job descriptions. It seems he never really went in for the private eye.

Shimada was classed as "honkakuha." Meaning "the real deal," as in "true" detective fiction, this term originated as Edogawa Ranpo's name for the Golden Age of British detective writing in the 1920s and '30s. It was used mainly in contrast to spy novels and hardboiled American material. The name fits Shimada partially. In the mid '50s, he recalled being a fan of Conan Doyle and S. S. Van Dine via New Youth while in Manchuria. He came to admire Raymond Chandler, Graham Greene, and William Somerset Maugham after becoming himself a fiction writer. However, the defining influence was clearly his own fifteen years of experience as a journalist. Aside from his reporter protagonists, there is a professional sobriety concerning motives, forensics, and the dead in his writing, always simple and to-the-point, rarely at a fetishistic level of detail. The speed at which he wrote - a story a week, sometimes a night - and the brevity of his style he himself attributed to his newspaper training.

Considering his time in China, it is not surprising that the continent and its peoples appear with fair frequency in Shimada's early fiction, typically in the most unsavory places. Criminals and victims alike are oftentimes linked to drug cartels and black marketeering with roots in China, Singapore, or the South Pacific. The backstage of crime in Shimada's "White Street Slasher" (1950) is a Chinese restaurant in Shinbashi. That the victim had been there earlier in the night the detectives know because of the Chinese food and liquor found by the coroner digested in his guts. More steeped in Japan's colonial past are bars like Rosa, from Shimada's "The Ginza Murder Case" (1950): "On the face it seemed a typical Russian-style cabaret, but if you flipped it over you'd find a miniaturized version of all the vices of the continent," with exotic bar décor from the Caucasus, naked beauties dancing to the music of aging violinists, and heroine and morphine addicts lying around "like raw tuna" in the back. It was "one of those seedy establishments for which Harbin was famous, transplanted as is, peddling voluptuous dreams."

Sometimes the protagonists are hikiagesha, "repatriates" from the continent whose lives have been uprooted and ruined by the war. Such is the case in Shimada's "Black Rainbow" ("Kuroi niji"), first published in King in 1950, then reprinted in a supplementary edition of The Jewel in 1953. The pianist Takiguchi, sent to fight in Manchuria just before the war ends, has spent the last four years in a Russian labor camp in Siberia. Severe frostbite has ruined his fingers and dashed his dreams of musicianship. Days after returning to Tokyo, he is framed for murder. Now he finds himself handcuffed to the gambler Kurokawa, who has his own post-Manchuria misfortunes. He came home from military service after the Manchurian Incident in 1931 to find his wife and daughter gone. As a man with a criminal record, he was treated like dirt in the military: no medals, no promotions, nothing but time in a punishment cell. Everyone back home thought he must be a traitor. Unable to bear the shame, his wife fled with their daughter and returned to her parents.

The story opens with these two ex-soldiers fleeing from the law after a train crash, which itself is described like something Shimada might have seen himself in his time as a reporter - "men and women covered in mud started crawling out of the wreck . . . wriggling around like worms . . . a woman's arm reached out, but stayed stuck straight up into the air, motionless" - and probably inspired by the series of unexplained train derailings in Japan in the summer of 1949, big news at the time as supposed acts of Communist sabotage and Occupation era red-baiting. Similarly, Shimada's pianist would have been understood at the time as a "red repatriate" (akai hikiagesha), one of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese detained by the Russians and indoctrinated with Communist propaganda. A large number returned to Japan in the summer of 1949 and immediately faced the hostility of the moment's strident anti-Communism. The pianist's politics do not come up, but the reputation of "red repatriates" for being "argumentative" probably lurks behind Takiguchi's self-destructiveness - he drinks until he blacks out and buys sex in anger at lost love - just as his wrong arrest and scapegoating is probably informed by the social ostracism of returnee soldiers in postwar Japan. These were not passing issues for Shimada. Once questioned himself by the Counter Intelligence Corps for his involvement with postwar repatriation activities, and someone who probably thought of Manchuria as home, he certainly had a personal interest in the fate of Japan and China in the developing Cold War. While Asia usually appears as little more than exoticizing detailing in his fiction, genuine sympathy for the human remnants of Japan's colonial past (or at least for the repatriated Japanese national) comes out in a story like "Black Rainbow."

In his lifetime, Shimada saw a large number of his stories made into movies and television programs. The greatest flush was in the late 50s and early 60s, most famously Crime Reporter (Jiken kisha), a television series that aired on NHK for eight years between 1958 and 1966. If the Movie Walker site is correct, there are 44 films based on his work just between 1950 and 1966. There are also some manga adaptations. I know of four in which the author is explicitly credited: Takeda Shinpei's version of Shimada's youth murder tale Phantom Daughter (Maboroshi reijō, 1951) for the kashihon publisher Kinransha in the mid '50s, two volumes published by Shūeisha between 1958-59 based on the TV program Crime Reporter, Shirai Toyoshi's serial He Shines his Gun (Kenjū o migaku otoko, 1959) for Hinomaru bunko's Gekiga Magazine beginning in late 1967, and Iwai Shigeo's single-volume The Man who Laughs at the Dark (Yami ni warau otoko, 1963) also for Hinomaru in 1968. Considering Shimada's popularity in general, including his frequent contributions to youth magazines in the early and mid 50s, one suspects that there are more, credited and authorized or neither.

If one digs, such examples do indeed turn up. It's not an adaptation per se, but Egawa Susumu's The Balloon Demon (Fūsenma) for Hinomaru bunko in late 1955 takes both its title and its central spectacle from a Shimada story first published in Omoshiro Club in 1950, then reprinted in The Jewel in 1954. The original version is about a ballet company about to put on a performance called "Carmen's Lovers," starring the half-Japanese half-Spanish Nicolo and the sexy Fumie. As the reporters of the Tokyo Daily News are talking about Fumie's man-eating reputation, there she goes floating outside the window, hanging from red, blue, white, and yellow balloons, with a dagger stuck in her chest. The manga opens with the same scene, but the lady is now a baby carriage, and the perpetrator a kidnapper demanding diamonds as ransom, rather than Shimada's jealous husband - missing an arm and an eye since battle in Burma - and resentful sister-in-law. Egawa's book, starring a tall strapping detective and his young crime-busting sidekick, is a standard Edogawa Ranpo-esque "youth detective league" story. Shimada's erotic brand of scandal would have no place in manga until the 60s.

Egawa does not mention Shimada, but then again the debt is small. This was not always the case. Following leads in A Drifting Life and elsewhere, it turns out that Tatsumi Yoshihiro's Black Blizzard, that famous first full-blown work in the burgeoning language of gekiga from 1956, is an uncredited and unauthorized adaptation of Shimada's above-described "Black Rainbow." It drops the war and the sex, and adds a few dramatic passages, but otherwise the adaptation is near total. Of course, this is not how the history of gekiga has been told. Tatsumi only first admitted being inspired by "some Shimada story" in the early '00s in A Drifting Life. And with every telling of gekiga's genesis, the originality of Black Blizzard seems to get magnified, such that today the mise-en-scène of the book's creation is composed like the worst romantic cliché. However, the fact of the matter goes so far beyond influence that this picture is not only trite but false. When I introduced "Black Rainbow" to Tatsumi this past February, he seemed genuinely surprised as well as grateful. I do not doubt that he simply forgot. Still, for such an important moment in the artist's life, one does wish his memory to have been less imperfect. Shimada died in 1996 without ever knowing how central a role he played in the history of Japanese comics. And were it not for some breadcrumbs dropped in A Drifting Life, that contribution would remain unknown.

So, traditionally how has the story been told?

The publication of Tatsumi's Black Blizzard in November 1956 is an important moment in the history of manga. It is all the more so in the history of rental kashihon manga, in which it is often upheld as the first full-blown work in the burgeoning language of gekiga. It is said to mark a revolutionary turn in Japanese comics, toward something darker, freer in line and brushwork, more expansive in the handling of space, more carefully paced to create a sense of suspense and dramatic tension, more purely visual versus the text and image balance of comics prior.

The first published claims of this sort date back to the late 60s, at the time when Tatsumi and his immediate supporters had begun to wage a small defensive battle against the rising "gekiga boom" - which had lifted a number of former kashihon authors into the riches of mainstream publication, but not Tatsumi, who was for the time left to struggle with self-publishing. The first shot fired was Tatsumi's own Gekiga College, a manifesto of sorts on the aesthetics and history of gekiga self-published by the artist in late 1967. It has been a highly influential book, serving as the basis for most gekiga theory since soon after it appeared, up to the present. It has probably been too influential, for only recently can one find diverging theories of the gekiga aesthetic and histories of its making.

The treatment of Black Blizzard in Gekiga College goes like this. In the summer of 1956, Tatsumi shared with Matsumoto Masahiko and Saitō Takao an apartment and workspace in Saikudani, Osaka. The arrangement had been sponsored by their publisher, Hinomaru bunko, with the idea that cohabitation would facilitate work on the new detective and thriller anthology Shadow, founded in March of that year. While little work got done, a lot of talk happened, increasing Tatsumi's confidence in his ideas regarding the new expressive language of gekiga, which he had begun to explore in works from late 1955 and early 1956. By September, the three artists had gone their separate ways. Soon after returning home, Tatsumi began work on Black Blizzard. It was his first book since February.

Tatsumi completed Black Blizzard in about half a month. Later he would specify twenty days, which he described as about half the time it usually took for a 128-page book. This is how he described his feelings after completing it.

I was confident that this was a new kind of manga. But since to create impact I used a bold 'pen touch,' with many pages in a row without speech balloons (dialogue), I thought my publisher would accuse me of laziness and tell me to redraw it. When I took it to the publisher's office, luckily the boss was out on business, so I left the manuscript on a desk and fled. After that, I avoided the publisher until the book came out.

The immediate response was small, he writes, contrary to his expectations, but four or five years later, Arikawa Ei'ichi (who could have been working at the time for Saitō Pro) told him how "fresh" Black Blizzard had seemed when it first came out. He also provides the following anecdote:

Recently, Asaoka Kōji [an action gekiga author of the 60s, a middle school student in the mid 50s] told me that he was living in Hokkaido at the time, and when he read Black Blizzard he was really impressed. One snowy night, he took the book to a friend's house and they talked about the appearance of a new type of manga the whole night through. When I heard this, it made me really happy.

In an amusing side note, Tatsumi explains that the most immediate impact seems to have been on the book's printer. He said to Tatsumi, "That manga of yours, it really ate up ink. It made all kinda noise. Sheez." - a sidelong recognition of its novel emphasis on blacks. No mention is made of Black Blizzard's sources. One might forgive lapses in memory forty-some years later, at the time of A Drifting Life. But already in 1967, the fact of adaptation has been ignored.

This basic story was imported pretty much whole into Sakurai Shōichi's "The Tale of Gekiga" ("Gekiga fūunroku"), the first full-length narrative history of kashihon manga and the early development of gekiga, serialized in Garo between December 1971 and November 1972. It was revised and republished as a book in 1978. As Tatsumi Yoshihiro's older brother (née Tatsumi Yoshikazu), it is probably not too surprising that, when it comes to Yoshihiro's work, Sakurai closely follows Gekiga College, sometimes to the word.
That year, Black Blizzard was the only book to Tatsumi's name. Within our circle of colleagues, it was highly regarded as the work in which the expressive techniques of gekiga had been perfected. . . What was striking about the manga was its rough touch, its heavy use of black fill, its bold composition, and its page after page without speech, as if the panels just flowed. . . .

As for its impact, Sakurai writes, "Black Blizzard was popular not just amongst those of us at Hakkō [the parent company of publisher Hinomaru bunko], but it also seems to have influenced many aspiring manga authors. From the mouths of those now professionally active, I hear from time to time of the impact that Black Blizzard made." Then he recites the Gekiga College anecdote about Asaoka's snowy night of passionate debate. The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Continued...

 
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A Drifting Life




  BLACK BLIZZARD on About.com's Best New Manga of 2010 list

Updated November 25, 2010


Best New Manga of 2010
21 New Must-Read Manga Released in 2010
By Deb Aoki, About.com Guide

...

Best New Edition of Classic Manga - Black Blizzard

Author and Artist: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Influenced by the pulp novels of Mickey Spillane, Black Blizzard is about a young pianist who has been convicted of murder. While on a train ride to jail, he's handcuffed to a career criminal. The pair escape when their train derails due to an avalanche. While on the run, they describe how their lives were changed by crimes of passion.

Black Blizzard is an early story from Yoshihiro Tatsumi that he described in his memoir A Drifting Life. While not as polished as his later works, this one-shot crackles with youthful energy, cinematic style, and Tatsumi's burning desire to push the boundaries of manga beyond kids stuff.
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Black Blizzard




BLACK BLIZZARD reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated May 12, 2010


Black Blizzard

Penned, paneled, and illustrated in just 20 days by one of the architects of the gekiga (dramatic pictures) movement in Japan, this is a prototypical work of visual pulp fiction. Two convicts escape a
train wreck while handcuffed to each other. As they flee the authorities, it quickly becomes evident that one of them must sacrifice a hand in order for them to escape. Neither is willing; one man is a card shark, the other a pianist. The story and layout of the graphics are simple, and the artwork is even crude at times. With a cinematic use of perspective, intensified via the characters and their circumstances, Tatsumi constructs a thrilling narrative with emotional depth. Originally published in 1956, when Tatsumi was only 21, Black Blizzard was one of his most innovative long-form stories. At the time, the story was forward thinking for comics and exhibited the ability of the visual narrative to act as a reading experience and a
more sophisticated form of entertainment. The story was an achievement for Tatsumi and a cornerstone for the current genre of seinen manga.
Any fan of Tatsumi, crime noir, or art house manga will want a copy of
this. (Apr.)
 

Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

          



  The Star praises BLACK BLIZZARD and RED COLORED ELEGY

Updated May 12, 2010


Stitches in Time

by Rizal Johan

Two underground manga classics have never looked better with Drawn & Quarterly’s reprint treatment.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Seiichi Hayashi. Who are they? The answer: Writers and artists of manga; Japanese graphic novelists; two different generations of pioneering and influential comic book writers/artists.

Back in 1956 and in a spate of creativity, Yoshihiro spent 20 days drawing the 127-page classic, Black Blizzard, which has remained largely out-of-print for decades.


The tale revolves around a fast-paced, cinematic piece of crime-storytelling about a piano player accused of murder and a career criminal cardshark. Handcuffed together, they make a daring escape during a snowstorm and their stories unfold when they seek shelter in a forest ranger’s hut.

Fifteen years later, Seiichi would make a social statement with Red Colored Elegy, a B&W work produced during 1970 and 1971 about an unmarried couple living together, leading melancholic, quiet and desperate lives.

These two very different yet beautiful pieces of work have resurfaced recently thanks to Canadian-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly. The English translations lend an American feel to the books but it feels honest as the language is delivered to suit the tone of the story rather than being a translation for translation’s sake. Indeed, there is a clear attempt to retain as much of the original artwork as possible in both books. Some word balloons, for example, were deliberately not translated on the panel (in some cases, they served as sound effects while in others, it was clear that the original artwork be retained) but mentioned as footnotes instead.

Black Blizzard has an interview with writer/artist Yoshihiro who admits that he feels rather “embarassed” about the attention received by his book. As the older artist looks back at what he did as a young man (he was 21 at the time), he finds it “conflicting” seeing it in print again. Nevertheless, Yoshihiro is grateful that after 50 years, there is still an interest in his work.

Interest in Yoshihiro’s work has steadily accumulated since his visionary short-story collections The Push Man And Other Stories, Abandon The Old In Tokyo, and Good-Bye (all championed by Adrian Tomine of Optic Nerve fame) were reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly. His acclaimed and sprawling memoir A Drifting Life, released last year, has received three nominations at the upcoming Eisner awards in July.

Red Colored Elegy, on the other hand, only has a brief bio on Seiichi at the end but the book itself is clearly semi-autobiographical. The protagonist Ichiro is a struggling comic artist whose creative desire and soul is drained and exhausted by working for a publishing company. The ‘Elegy’ in the title thus laments on the loss of freedom of expression and the rebellious nature of youth which has left the man bent, defeated and wallowing in self pity. Seiichi opens Elegy with a beautiful, heart-wrenching poem of an artist who is trying to find his way through his art and to hopefully, discover himself in the process: “My life is an open book, I live it page by page, For what I don’t know, But like a ghost in the fable, killed for nothing, I give my life to each page I draw.”

Elegy does not have a thriller-style plot like Blizzard. There are fleeting moments of introspection, depression, drunkeness, awkwardness, laughter and uncertainty between Ichiro and his girlfriend Sachiko. They are not revolutionaries or hot-headed heroes but young people trying to live life according to their own terms. Sadly, these terms are not necessarily agreeable between the two either.


From Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s graphic novel Black Blizzard.
Blizzard is a rather straightforward two-fisted crime story of a piano player Susumu who is framed for the murder of a circus ringmaster. As common with the best crime stories, fate plays a big hand here especially when Susumu is handcuffed to a criminal and their lives are intertwined more than they actually know. And it all takes place during the length of an actual blizzard. Oh, and there’s the twist in the end which pieces everything together.

While both books make great additions to your coffeetable, they also offer a glimpse to the past in the evolution of manga and the individuals who took it upon themselves to tell very honest stories, be they in the form of a genre or the abstract but deeply personal journey of adulthood.

More importantly, these books represent a testament to individual expression from a different era. Without the need of editors, assistants and other invisible hands, Yoshihiro and Seiichi made works that were instantly groundbreaking and influential at the same time. And that’s one of the best lessons these books have to offer.
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Featured artists

Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Seiichi Hayashi

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Red Colored Elegy




MARKET DAY, BLACK BLIZZARD, and MASTERPIECE COMICS on the Willamette Week favorites list

Updated April 27, 2010


Collect Them All!
Our six favorite books you’ll find at the Stumptown Comics Festival.

by Casey Jarman and Ben Waterhouse

Think of your favorite comic book or graphic novel. Got it? Now think of the book’s creator(s)—what do they look like?

Unless you’re a comics-industry insider—or the book in question is an autobiographical one—that second question is a little harder to answer. And comic-book creators generally like it that way: Unlike actors or musicians, they work in isolation, and their art gets to speak for itself.

Major conventions, then, can be awkward affairs. But the Stumptown Comics Fest is special. In its intimate space, Stumptown feels more like a farmers market for artists than those ugly events we disparagingly call “Cons.” While special guests (the great Paul Pope and Portland favorite Craig Thompson among them this year) abound, it’s a low-key environment that largely keeps the spotlight off of big-name guests and right where it belongs—on the books.

To honor that workmanlike spirit, we’ve chosen six recent works we’re really excited about. Some of the creators—those marked with the icon—will be on hand at Stumptown. Stay cool about that.

Market Day, James Sturm
A lyrical vignette that feels like Samuel Beckett by way of Hergé, Market Day follows an introspective rug-maker who’s trying to balance dreams and responsibility. Sturm’s bulbous, cartoony lines combine with the book’s muted, sepia-toned color scheme to give it a real sense of mood, and its story—while abbreviated—is strong and relatable.

The 120 Days of Simon, Simon Gärdenfors
The most visually striking in Portland/Georgia imprint Top Shelf’s recent Swedish Invasion series, The 120 Days of Simon follows the artist as he travels throughout his home country. The book’s two-panel page design and deceptively cute South Park-ian artwork make it an easy read, and Gärdenfors—kind of an asshole—proves adept at getting into major trouble wherever he goes.

Black Blizzard, Yoshihiro Tatsumi
If you read Tatsumi’s sprawling, 856-page memoir, A Drifting Life, you’ll remember Black Blizzard as one of his early masterpieces. Amazingly, the Hitchcockian 1956 murder mystery novel holds up—Tatsumi’s protagonists—two runaway convicts attached via handcuffs—may be the focus, but it’s his sprawling backgrounds (of snowstorms, cityscapes and circus tents) that really steal the show.

Stumptown, Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth
An easy sell: Portlanders Rucka (writer of Whiteout) and Southworth’s crime drama follows a gambling-addicted P.I. named Dex as she hunts down criminal scum in picturesque Portland locales, from Old Town to the St. Johns Bridge, rendered with heavy shadows and intense splashes of color.

Mercury, Hope Larson
Larson is one of the most innovative artists working in comics today, but she doesn’t flaunt it: At first glance, her stories of adolescent girls confronting change—she definitely has a theme—are engagingly drawn and pleasing to read. But upon closer examination, her art astonishes—every frame appears to be in motion, right down to the speech bubbles, which seem to fly rather than float. Her new novel tells parallel stories of girls in Nova Scotia in 1859 and the present day, with a spooky supernatural touch.

Masterpiece Comics, R. Sikoryak
One of the weirder projects we’ve read recently, this collection by frequent New Yorker cover illustrator Sikoryak mashes up classic literature and classic comics to delightful effect: Crime and Punishment as a Batman adventure; Metamorphosis as Peanuts; Candide as Ziggy; Waiting for Godot as Beavis and Butt-head. This book’s catnip for comics-loving English majors.

 
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Featured artists

James Sturm
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
R. Sikoryak

           Featured products

Masterpiece Comics
Market Day




  The Comics Reporter reviews BLACK BLIZZARD

Updated April 20, 2010


CR Review: Black Blizzard

by Tom Spurgeon

Black Blizzard was a breakthrough work for its creator, the gekiga master Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and a keystone work for many of his generation of manga creators. As Black Snowstorm, it's featured in prominent fashion in last year's slightly-masked Tatsumi autobiography A Drifting Life, and I can imagine that many folks out there are going to re-read those sections of that book before reading this one. It can't hurt. For me, the memoir provided a reminder of just how startling the general visual approach of Black Blizzard must have been, how potent its combination of mood-setting lines and harsh diagonals must have felt when the eye processed first the deliberate cinematic elements. It's a muscular, immediate comic and must have felt like a punch in the face back when it was first released.

The story of a concert pianist convicted of a murdering a man in a drunken rage, Black Blizzard owes a debt to the physical ingenuity that Alexandre Dumas folded into sections of The Count Of Monte Cristo. Because our hero is attached via handcuffs to a five-time convict with multiple murders on his rap sheet, The Defiant Ones will come to mind, but that movie wouldn't play in Japan for two more years. Tatsumi was young when he created Black Bllizzard, but in an interview with Adrian Tomine in the back of the book he reveals that he wasn't young at all when it came to creating works of this length or in the sheer number of comics pages he had put into publication. The best scenes in Black Blizzard have a physical immediacy that only arises from fundamentally solid cartooning with a corresponding attention to movement: a scene of a flashlight hitting a wall is staged about as cleverly as any similar moment in comics I can remember. The cartoonist acts like the blizzard of the title as a focusing element, keeping our attention on the immediate actions taken by his characters. The world is collapsed into a series of fundamental dilemmas: escape/surrender, freedom/imprisonment, truth/advocacy.

Black Blizzard is a fun but rough work, full of character types and situations entirely too on the nose to reflect the nuances of certain moral questions brought to bear. Perhaps the most unappealing part of the book is the sudden climax and the unlikely twist that follows. It feels manipulative, almost like a professor seizing back control of a classroom discussion that for several moments got way out there. On the other hand, following a lengthy narrative sequence where the maiming of each character is brought into question in order to facilitate a better chance at escape, you're bound to feel let down by just about any third act. That's the heart of the story, anyway: to what extent is the concert pianist willing to sacrifice his own self-identity to have a chance at a life at least somewhat free of the worst depredations he's due. I'll leave it up to your reading to say if he gave the right answer.
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

          



BLACK BLIZZARD reviewed by the A.V. Club

Updated April 13, 2010


COMICS PANEL
April 9, 2010

By Zack Handlen, Jason Heller, Noel Murray, Leonard Pierce, And Tasha Robinson

In 1956, long before he became a manga legend, Yoshihiro Tatsumi was a struggling 21-year-old artist who pumped out graphic novels for Japan’s book-rental market. Too young and hungry to afford a studio full of assistants like the big boys, he single-handedly wrote and drew the 127-page Black Blizzard (Drawn And Quarterly) in a 20-day fever of creativity. That haste is partly what makes the book such a swift, propulsive read: The story of a hardened card shark and a pianist charged with murder but freed by the crash of a prisoner-transport train, Blizzard is a head-spinning blur of hardboiled suspense. The climactic scene—in which the two fugitives, handcuffed together and caught in a tightening dragnet, must play a game of chance to see who will saw the other’s hand off—is as nervy and taut as Mickey Spillane, even though Tatsumi’s art, still in its formative stage, feels necessarily loose and frantic… B
 
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  BLACK BLIZZARD is reviewed by Newsarama

Updated April 6, 2010


Review: Black Blizzard

by J. Caleb Mozzocco

Now this is a strange release.

Publisher Drawn and Quarterly and cartoonist/editor Adrian Tomine have been gradually introducing Western audiences to manga-ka Yoshihiro Tatsumi over the course of the last five years or so, through collections of his short, dark, adult work collected in Abandon the Old in Tokyo, The Pushman and Other Stories and Good-Bye.

Last year they printed his epic autobiography, A Drifting Life, and now comes Black Blizzard, which has so little in common with the work seen in D+Q’s earlier anthologies that you’d be forgiven for thinking it the work of an entirely different artist.

Black Blizzard is a much earlier work, created by a 21-year-old Tatsumi in 1956, and a fairly straight work of genre fiction compared to the literary work we’ve previously seen. It’s a fast-paced, crime melodrama with some extremely obvious twists and turns.

It’s hard to imagine it standing on its own if Tatsumi didn’t go own to do all of the great work that would follow later in his career, or to imagine a North American publisher choosing this to translate and republish as an introduction to the creator’s work. But then, such considerations are merely hypothetical at this point.

This 127-page graphic novel (created in just 20 days!) tells the story of a young pianist arrested for a murder he can’t remember committing, handcuffed by police to a hardened criminal for transfer to prison. When the train they’re riding on is derailed in a horrible accident, the pair find themselves free of police custody, but not of each other, and the young man finds himself dragged out into a snowstorm and forced to go along with an escape attempt, or else lose his hand.

It’s impressive work from an artist so young—and not simply because of how quickly it was created—although it’s far from Tatsumi’s best. (Tatsumi apparently agrees. “Bringing this work out as a book now is like exposing something shameful and private from my past that I’d rather keep hidden from sight,” Tatsumi tells Tomine in a sort of exit interview at the end of the book.)

The renderings can be fairly rough, although Tatsumi was already in command of his great, cinematic storytelling faculties, and his personal design aesthetics were already taking solid shape.

Beyond it’s value as a work of its own however, Black Blizzard is definitely a curiosity Tatsumi fans should seek out, a sort of supplement to Drifting Life (during which Blizzard’s creation is discussed). And for those either curious about or very serious about the history of manga or world comics in general, it’s well worth reading as an example of what the founder of the gekiga school of manga was creating early in his career and/or the sort of comics work possible in 1950’s Japan vs. what was on the spinner racks in the U.S. at the time.
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Black Blizzard




NICOLAS and A DRIFTING LIFE on the American Statesmen's 2009 best of list

Updated January 5, 2010


Drawn in by another world
2009 dazzled with rich, varied graphic novels and comic series

by Joe Gross

What a strange year for comics. By the time the smoke cleared, Disney was buying Marvel Entertainment and Warner Bros. made DC Comics a subsidiary of DC Entertainment, with Paul Levitz stepping down from the publisher position. Zombies and President Barack Obama were the two cover images that seemed to move the most comics (DC's "Blackest Night" was all about heroes coming back from the dead, while every hero from Spider-Man to the Savage Dragon had some face time with the president). The "Watchmen" movie ended up selling millions of copies of the mid-1980s comic series. The archival newspaper strip reprint craze continued unabated with more and better strips in print now than I can remember in more than 25 years of comics fandom. (See "Little Orphan Annie," "Terry and the Pirates," "Dick Tracy" and many more). It still takes only a pencil and paper to create a world.

Here is a baker's dozen of comic series and graphic novels from 2009 that justified the medium's continued, if precarious, existence.

1. 'Asterios Polyp' by David Mazzucchelli (Pantheon). Mazzucchelli has long been regarded as the ultimate cartoonist's cartoonist (even if he did make his bones on "Batman: Year One" and "Daredevil: Born Again," two of the best mainstream story arcs of the 1980s). "Asterios Polyp" was 10 years in the making and, despite its small flaws, is absolutely worth the wait, every page a master class in pure comics - in how to make every page convey an enormous amount of emotional and thematic information.

The story itself is slight, the sort of thing that Updike-fixated MFA students seem to churn out by the week - an architecture professor who has spent most of his life being a terrible man looks for redemption after his life collapses. But the execution is dazzling, a tour de force of color, line and especially space. Subtle, smart and innovative, "Asterios Polyp" is that rarest of graphic novels - a work that rewards as many readings as you care to invest.

2. 'A Drifting Life' by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly). Tatsumi brought literary realism to manga in the 1950s (see also his outstanding books "Good-bye" and "Abandon the Old in Tokyo"). This doorstop is his memoir and the best book (of any kind) about the passion that comics inspire since Dylan Horrocks' still-stunning "Hicksville." Opening with Japan's surrender in 1945, Tatsumi takes us through both his obsession with comics and the seismic cultural changes Japan was undergoing during the 1950s, paralleling Tatsumi's coming-of-age with mangas.

3. 'The Complete Jack Survives' by Jerry Moriarty (Buenaventura Press). A fascinating strip, as perfect a blend of comics and non-narrative painting as you are likely to find. Reading these giant, one-panel strips one after another, you understand why Moriarty's adherents are such fanatics. These strips, loosely based on Moriarty's father, occupy an emotional space all their own with their thick, bold, painterly strokes and everyday moments - these are visual haikus. Perhaps the comic I reread the most this year.

4. 'The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb' by R. Crumb (W.W. Norton) and 'The Wolverton Bible' by Basil Wolverton (Fantagraphics). Two legendary cartoonists tackle the Good Book in completely different ways. Wolverton is coming from a position of faith - if his grotesque illustration of Revelations and Noah's ark prompt you to get saved, his work here is done. Crumb, not a man of religion, turns one of the world's most famous narratives into something that both includes every word of the text yet is pure Crumb. There's nobody else like him.

5. 'Richard Stark's Parker: The Hunter' by Darwyn Cooke and Richard Stark (Idea & Design Works). I had little interest in illustrator Cooke's take on Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake) initially - I like Parker fine in the paperbacks. But you get the impression Cooke lives in this rain-soaked headspace 24/7, that he dreams of black-and-white crime scenes and the noirish world of 1962's in-between days.

6. 'Pluto: Urasawa x Tezuka' by Naoki Urasawa (Viz Media). To understand the scope of Urasawa's accomplishment with this multivolume remake of Osamu Tezuka's "Astro Boy," you first have to understand how important "Astro Boy" is to Japan. For example, Tezuka's nickname is "god of manga" and Astro Boy is a real citizen - Niiza City in Saitama prefecture registered the fictional character as an actual resident. So this is a bit like Urasawa saying, "You know what I should redo? 'The Godfather!'" Yet it works brilliantly, shifting the focus from the boy himself to a culture of robot-human relations and the crime therein. It took nerves of steel to do this at all, and consummate skill to do it right.

7. 'Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days' by Al Columbia (Fantagraphics). More a collection of images than a narrative, it's still something new from one of the most enigmatic and most influential cartoonists of the past 20 years. It's a bit like peeking at J.D. Salinger's notebooks, if his notebooks were pure nightmare fuel.

8. 'The Incredible Hercules' by Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak and various (Marvel Comics); 'Captain America' by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (Marvel Comics); 'Secret Six' by Gail Simone and various (DC Comics); 'Detective Comics' by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams (DC Comics). Here are four of the very best mainstream comics being published today. "Hercules" is a perfect admixture of vintage mythology, sitcom humor, high adventure and punching. "Captain America" is an epic espionage thriller that is easily the equal of anything on the big screen. "Secret Six" turns the classic superhero team into a sick, cynical misfit crew of amoral loons. Rucka's story in "Detective Comics," about the newly minted character Batwoman, is perfectly fine, but Williams' art does four-color backflips, elevating it from "good" to "essential."

9. 'Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary' by Justin Green (McSweeney's). Autobiographical comics didn't exist when Green published this classic tale of Catholic guilt and its intersection with his own obsessive-compulsive disorder, which didn't really exist yet either. This classic - one of the most influential comics story of the past 40 years - has never, ever looked better than it does in this edition.

10. 'You'll Never Know, Book One: A Good and Decent Man' by C. Tyler (Fantagraphics). I didn't mean to push Green and Tyler together, it just happened - which is odd, as much of this excellent book, rendered in Tyler's gestural-yet-commanding style and idiosyncratic color sense, juxtaposes her rocky marriage to Green with her father's service in World War II and the way that his reluctance to discuss the war shaped their lives. A terrific addition to the canon of literature about baby boomers, their parents and their children.

11. 'Nicolas' by Pascal Girard (Drawn and Quarterly). Most good cartooning is knowing what not to draw, knowing the emotional power inherent in those decisions. Girard uses a minimalist style for this debut to chronicle the ongoing impact of his brother's death at age 5. It's only 64 spare pages, but you will not be able to finish it without a box of tissues.

12. 'Scalped' by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera (DC/Vertigo). This ongoing series is a vicious noir set on the fictional Prairie Rose Indian Reservation. "Scalped" falls into the category of comics that are screaming to be made into an HBO series or a movie, a category that way too many books fall into these days (and one that I usually hate). Yet, this thing is a shotgun blast of junky fun, complex and layered and mean.

13. 'Wasteland: The Apocalyptic Edition, Volume 1' by Antony Johnston and Christopher J. Mitten (Oni Press). An oversized, deluxe volume of the first 13 issues of this end-times sci-fi epic. I could read comics this sprawling and nuts - with such widescreen world-building - all day.
 
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Featured artists

Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Pascal Girard

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Nicolas
A Drifting Life




  TATSUMI makes the Japan Times best books of 2009 list

Updated January 5, 2010


David Cozy: Best books of 2009

THE EDOGAWA RAMPO READER, by Edogawa Rampo. Translated by Seth Jacobowitz. Kurodahan Press, 241 pp., $16.00 (paper)

To grasp the achievement of Edogawa Rampo one needs to read both his stories and his essays. Thus Kurodahan Press, in making available this exquisitely edited collection of both fiction and nonfiction, has done readers a great service. Entering the fantastic twists and turns of Rampo's stories, one is soon lost in them the way that, when boys and girls ourselves, we became the characters in the romance or adventure we were reading. The essays are similarly fascinating for the light they throw on an author devoured by many Japanese, but little known in the West.

A DRIFTING LIFE, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Translated by Taro Nettleton. Drawn & Quarterly, 855 pp., $29.95 (paper)

Yoshihiro Tatsumi's account of his journey from schoolboy cartoonist to the center of the Japanese manga industry during its heyday is a fascinating portrait of the artist as a young man. We learn what it was like to work as a manga-ka in the 1950s and '60s, and also how Japan and the world changed during that time. "A Drifting Life" is a substantial tome, but having turned the last of its many pages one is hungry for more. "I've drifted along, demanding an endless dream from gekiga (comics)," Tatsumi concludes his masterpiece, "And I. . . probably. . . always will." Dream on, Mr. Tatsumi.

THE CHINA LOVER, by Ian Buruma. Penguin Press, 2008, 392 pp., $26.95 (hardcover)

Everything from Ian Buruma's pen is worth reading and his second novel is no exception. It is surprising that no one has thought, until now, of basing a historical novel on the life of that chameleon-like actress Yoshiko (aka Shirley) Yamaguchi. Buruma does so with aplomb, giving us a taut narrative that provides all the satisfactions of a page turner, but at the same time is a nuanced look at Japanese and world history, through the lens of Yamaguchi's life, from prewar Manchuria to late 20th-century Beirut.
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A Drifting Life




A DRIFTING LIFE on Pop Candy's top 10 of 2009 list

Updated January 5, 2010


Year in review: My top 10 comics/graphic novels of 2009

by Whitney Matheson

Was it easy choosing my favorite comics of the year? No way. Did I have fun doing it? Heck, yes.

This week's List-Heavy Partytime '09 continues with my top 10 comics/graphic novels of the year. Enjoy, then go spend some money:

10. The Brinkley Girls by Trina Robbins (Fantagraphics, $29.99) -- I don't often choose reprint collections for a list like this, but this beautiful book introduced me to a new heroine: Nell Brinkley, an early 20th century newspaper cartoonist. Her drawings of flappers and glamour gals are sexy, strong and ahead of their time. I can't believe I hadn't seen her work before, but I'm so thrilled to know it now.

9. Society of Unordinary Young Ladies by Algarmi Sigua, art by Joel Sigua (self-published) -- These indie comics star girls from our favorite '80s series (The Facts of Life, Punky Brewster, etc.) as secret agents. Too good to be true.

8. The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell (Little, Brown, $24.99) -- Sandell's unbelievably true memoir of her con-artist father goes down like a (really good) Lifetime movie. It's one of a handful of books I read in one sitting this year.

7. Refresh, Refresh by Danica Novgorodoff, Benjamin Percy and James Ponsoldt, (First Second, $17.99) -- The story of small-town boys growing up with fathers fighting overseas broke my heart, though Novgorodoff's breathtaking watercolors soothed the pain a little.

6. The Eternal Smile: Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim (First Second, $16.95). Each story is fantastic on its own, but whoa! They come together so perfectly and surprisingly that you'll wonder how they did it.

5. I Want You by Lisa Hanawalt (Buenaventura Press, $4.95). The 32-page comic is a little naughty, pretty weird and very hilarious.

4. A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly, $29.95). I spent several weeks getting through this 840-page memoir by the manga artist, but it was worth it to learn more about his life and craft. Now I want to go to Tokyo even more.

3. The Oishinbo series (Viz, $12.99). These wonderful volumes address everything from sushi to sake to vegetables, and they've completely changed the way I think about Japanese cuisine. I love them, and they're a must-read for every foodie.

2. Nine Ways to Disappear by Lilli Carre (Little Otsu, $12.95). This pocket-sized book is certainly for everyone; it contains nine short stories with characters that could easily fit into a Tim Burton film. However, if I had to name my favorite gift to give my ladyfriends in 2009, this would be it.

1. Detroit Metal City, Vol. 1 by Kiminori Wakasugi (Viz, $12.99). It's crass. It's silly. It's just wrong. This manga title may not land on a lot of top 10 lists this year, but it should: It follows the singer of an internationally famous death-metal band who secretly wants to belt out acoustic indie rock. It's one of the most profane comics I've ever read, but the language is so over-the-top, it's absolutely hilarious.


 
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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A Drifting Life




  TATSUMI makes Pop Candy's top 100 list!

Updated January 5, 2010


Pop Candy's Top 100 People of 2009! Part one: 80-100

Who were your favorite pop-culture people this year?

Something tells me those Jon and Kate characters don't make the cut, nor do most of the faces who dominated glossy magazine covers.

Personally, I've always been the most compelled by folks who spend their time making high-quality work and/or shaking up a scene. Each year I round up 100 figures who enriched my year with their writing, acting, music and other contributions to popular culture.

We kick off the annual feature with Nos. 80-100; the second installment will be posted Tuesday.

100. Richard Dunn. Fans of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! have embraced the series' resident senior citizen -- so much so that it was a thrill to see him pop up on The Tonight Show, Parks and Recreation and other places this year. As Dunn proves, you're never too old to become a cult figure.

99. Antonio Ballatore. The winner of HGTV's Design Star is everything this series/network generally ignores: funny, daring, confrontational and heavily tattooed. I'd let him nail pink ducks to my mantelpiece anytime (and no, that's not a euphemism).

98. Paul Scheer. When the comedian displayed a kooky painting of Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse and a polar bear at Comic-Con's Lost panel, many attendees thought he may have downed some bad Dharma Kool-Aid. The bit turned out to be part of one of the show's most intriguing and creative side projects -- and, along with FX's The League, I'm glad it wasn't the only one up Scheer's sleeve.

97. Normund Gentle. Adam Lamwho? David Archuwhata? The real story on this year's American Idol was of a performance artist who challenged every rule of the show. In my heart, he wears the crown (over his signature headband, of course).

96. Sally Potter. The writer/director forged new ground for cinema with Rage, the first film to premiere simultaneously on mobile phones, the Internet, DVD and in theaters. She also persuaded Jude Law to don a black wig, dress and eyeliner -- I'm pretty sure you won't be seeing that in the new Sherlock Holmes movie.

95. Lisa Hanawalt. Some of my favorite drawings of 2009 were created by this artist, author of the funny and mind-bending I Want You. If you crave an image of a cat's head on a human body -- and who doesn't from time to time? -- she delivers like no one else.

94. Bob Einstein. As Marty Funkhouser on Curb Your Enthusiasm, the comedian cranked out more quotable lines and dirty jokes. He also resurrected Super Dave Osborne, his daredevil entertainer extraordinare, for a Spike TV series. With a little luck, Super Dave will live to see 2010.

93. Bronson Pinchot. The actor's blatantly honest, somewhat shocking interview about his former co-stars made us realize Balki is way cooler than we ever suspected. A Pinchot comeback just might pave the way for a nationwide Dance of Joy.

92. Anna Chlumsky. Almost 20 years after charming us in My Girl, she charmed us again in the delightful In the Loop. Isn't it nice when child stars have happy endings for a change?

91. Adam Richman. The host of the Travel Channel's entertaining and addictive Man v. Food probably ate three times your weight in meats and cheeses this year. For this, he deserves a medal. Or, at the very least, some sort of celebratory meat and cheese basket.

90. Bea Arthur. The beloved Golden Girl left a platinum legacy when she passed away in April. From her wit to her voice to her unprecedented caftan collection, she will never be forgotten.

89. Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The 74-year-old manga master shared his compelling life story in the graphic autobiography A Drifting Life. And at a hefty 840 pages, you can believe no grain of rice is left unturned.

88. La Roux. The '80s-influenced musical duo released an exciting self-titled debut, a couple singles that adhere to the brain and perhaps the most impressive achievement of all: an iconic hairstyle.

87. Jon Glaser. With Delocated, the comedian and former Conan writer created one of the oddest and funniest shows in Adult Swim's arsenal. He also started the whole "bandit hat" craze way before Fantastic Mr. Fox came along.

86. Beck. While we didn't get a new album from the artist, he did deliver covers, DJ sets and more extras on his revamped website. The guy never seems to take a vacation, and I'm taking full advantage of it.

85. Erin Karpluk. The Canadian actress acquired some American fans with her role as a time-traveling single lady on SOAPnet's Being Erica. Now, if she wants to win over the Brits, I've got just three words: Doctor Who crossover!

84. Steve Martin. The comedian focused on his musical career with the release of banjo album The Crow and a tour of impressive music venues, including Carnegie Hall. If his wild and crazy years are behind him, this isn't a shabby second act.

83. John Hughes. The filmmaker who helped us get through awkward adolescences left pains in our hearts when he died. While his work lives on, I think many of us regret never writing him a proper thank-you note.

82. Sharlto Copley. In District 9, the South African actor put viewers on the edges of their seats as Wikus, a citizen fighting alien invasion. (Side effect: Several moviegoers haven't touched a prawn since.)

81. Kathleen Turner. The highlight of Californication's third season was watching Turner play sexually charged agent Sue Collini. I'd insert a Sue-ism here, but I can't think of a single line that isn't NSFW.

80. Zach Gilford. No typecasting here: The actor made a graceful, emotional exit on Friday Night Lights before starring in Dare, an edgy indie about a love triangle involving two guys and a girl.
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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A Drifting Life




Word Balloons includes GEORGE SPROTT and A DRIFTING LIFE on their Best graphic novels of '09 list

Updated December 14, 2009


Word Balloons: Best graphic novels of ’09 are innovators

by Mathew Price

The explosion in quality graphic novels continued in 2009. This longer format continues to innovate; any one of these 10 graphic novels might have been the best of the year 10 years ago.

This week, Word Balloons will look at the best graphic-novel format comics released for the first time in the United States in 2009; next week, we’ll look at the best periodical comic-book releases.

1. "Asterios Polyp”: David Mazzuchelli moved from literate superhero crowd-pleasers ("Batman: Year One,” "Daredevil: Born Again”) to more personal independent work ("Rubber Blanket”) and adaptations ("City of Glass”). Now, Mazzuchelli has released perhaps his finest work, a tale of an architect forced to change his world view. Asterios is a "paper architect,” creating brilliant constructions that can never be built. His hubris leads to his fall in a book that can be seen as an updated Greek tragedy.
Each character in the novel has his or her own particular illustrative style and color scheme; Mazzuchelli is using color to convey ideas in a way not attempted by most graphic novelists. The book is all about style, design and visual language, and Mazzuchelli is moving the discussion of all of these forward with "Asterios Polyp.”

2. "George Sprott (1894-1975) ”: Cartoonist Seth is a master of creating nostalgic longings, often for things that didn’t really exist. His examination of the (fictional) life of Canadian broadcaster George Sprott does so, even while exploring the many not-so-great legacies of his title character.

3. "A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge”: Nonfiction comics writer/artist Josh Neufeld follows the lives of six Hurricane Katrina survivors before, during and after the storm.

4. "Parker: The Hunter”: Darwyn Cooke ("The New Frontier”) adapts the first of Donald Westlake’s "Parker” novels, which he wrote under the name Richard Stark. The double-crossed small-time hood Parker is out to get revenge on those who did him wrong, and he does so with explosive consequences. Cooke is the perfect artist to adapt this 60s-era hard-boiled tale.

5. "The Big Kahn”: Writer Neil Kleid and artist Nicolas Cinquegrani create a book that explores identity and second chances. At the funeral of esteemed Rabbi David Kahn, his family discovers he was never Jewish, but an Irish con man. The rabbi’s wife and children must deal with the aftermath and find out what this deception will mean to the family’s legacy.

6. "Scott Pilgrim Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe”: Slacker 24-year-old Scott Pilgrim continues to battle the evil exes of his new girlfriend, Ramona Flowers, in pitched, video-game-style battles. But he also has to face up to his own insecurities and relationship difficulties. Writer-artist Bryan O’Malley’s anime-influenced art continues to improve, and "Scott Pilgrim” maintains its humor in this penultimate volume.

7. "High Moon”: Former Oklahoma resident David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis created this werewolf Western that was one of the first Zuda.com contest winners. Now available in print, "High Moon” Volume 1 collects the first three Web storylines.

8. "Stitches”: Children’s book illustrator David Small’s memoir covers his difficult childhood, where excessive X-rays from his radiologist father led to the young man getting cancer of the throat.

9. "A Drifting Life”: Yoshihiro Tatsumi ("Abandon the Old in Tokyo”) details his post-World War II life in this graphic novel, published for the first time in the U.S. this year, by Drawn and Quarterly.

10. "The Photographer”: This graphic novel pairs Didier Lefevre’s photography with the artwork of Emmanuel Guibert ("Alan’s War”) to tell the story of Lefevre’s journey to Afghanistan in 1986 with Doctors Without Borders.


Read more: http://www.newsok.com/best-graphic-novels-of-09-are-innovators/article/3424054?custom_click=columnist#ixzz0Zg9GzJTW
 
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Seth
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)
A Drifting Life




  MOOMIN 4 AND A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by the School Library Journal

Updated September 1, 2009


TATSUMI, Yoshihiro A Drifting Life tr. from Japanese by Tara Nettleton. illus. by author. 840p. appendix. Drawn & Quarterly 2009. pap. $29.95. ISBN 978-1-897299-74-6. LC number unavailable.

Gr 10 Up–This is a masterfully drafted autobiographical work by the creator of Good-bye (2008) and Abandon the Old in Tokyo (2006, both Drawn & Quarterly). Referring to himself as Hiroshi, Tatsumi begins his story with the surrender of Japan after World War II, when he was 10 years of age, and details the following 15 years of his life. Deeply passionate about manga at a young age, he chronicles the time from his start as an enthusiast to his rise as an influential and celebrated author/illustrator of the format. Although this book centers primarily on Tatsumi’s writing career, the history of manga, influential writers and publications of the time, and the turbulent manga publishing industry, much more is revealed. Family life and dynamics influenced by his parents’ troubled marriage, his father’s financial difficulties, and his friendship and rivalry with his brother are explored, first sexual interests and experiences are considered, and relationships among fellow artists are skillfully portrayed. Historical political and cultural events are introduced throughout the story, giving readers a feel for Japan’s climate and social landscape during the period. Black-ink images in a combination of detailed/realistic panels mixed with cartoon-style artwork enhance the atmosphere and bring the characters to life. This is a captivating autobiography, and one that should have high appeal to those interested in the history of manga and Japanese culture, and followers of Tatsumi’s works.–Lara McAllister, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia



JANSSON, Tove Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip vol. 4. illus. by author. 110p. CIP. Drawn & Quarterly 2009. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-897299-78-4. LC 2008396968.

Gr 10 Up–Generations of children have enjoyed Jansson’s books about Moomin and his family and friends. Lesser known were Jansson’s series of the comic strips for adults–until Drawn & Quarterly began reissuing them in 2006. This fourth volume is, alas, the last in the series chronicling the adventures and misadventures of the hippolike Scandinavian troll, his girlfriend, and his parents. In the first of the five stories in this volume, Moominpapa accidentally builds a time machine and takes his family back to the exciting days of the Wild West. To his dismay, he finds a population of peaceful and law-abiding citizens, corrupt lawmen, and Indians who keep forgetting that they are supposed to act like bloodthirsty savages. Another story has the denizens of Moominvalley giving up their peaceful and happy life to join the rat race, while a third showcases the perils of fame and fortune, including a kitchen full of intimidating appliances. As in the previous volumes, Jansson pokes gentle fun at human foibles while driving home the message that true happiness lies in being yourself. Teens will be attracted by the simple but expressive black-and-white drawings on yellow pages, and perhaps take to heart the precepts: that which glitters may be just glitter, and some dreams are best left as dreams. Libraries that already own the previous three volumes will want to complete their set, while those that have somehow missed purchasing the series will want to do so now.–Sandy Schmitz, Berkeley Public Library, CA


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Chris Oliveros interviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated August 12, 2009


Over at Drawn and Quarterly, publisher Chris Oliveros was on hand to talk with PWCW about gekiga, the “literary” manga genre focused on capturing a gritty sense of reality . On the heels of the success of Tatsumi Yoshihiro's acclaimed manga biography, A Drifting Life, D&Q will publish two more gekiga books this fall, Red Snow by Susumu Katsumata, winner of the Japanese Cartoonists Association Award grand prize in 2006, and the edgy Box Man by contemporary creator Imiri Sakabashira.

“With each passing month we’re discovering more and more gekiga artists, ” Oliveros said. “There’s amazing work out there.” Oliveros compares gekiga to American independent comics. “The themes are similar.” He said. “But it preceded independent comics here [by 30-40 decades]. Here it was [superheroes like] Aquaman.You could see the beginnings of indie comics in the underground comics, but it doesn’t have the subtlety that gekiga has.”
 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Japan Times

Updated July 23, 2009


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Drifting through life; in a good way

By DAVID COZY
A DRIFTING LIFE by Yoshihiro Tatsumi; edited, designed, and lettered by Adrian Tomine; translated by Taro Nettleton. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2009, 855 pp., $29.95 (paper)

When an American journalist, remarking on Yoshihiro Tatsumi's growing popularity in the United States, suggested that the manga master must be similarly well-known in his own country, Tatsumi laughed and explained that there are not, at present, any venues in Japan willing to publish his work. That being the case we must be particularly grateful to his Canadian publisher, Drawn & Quarterly.

Usually when a publisher picks up an arcane foreign artist we are likely to get one example, more or less well chosen, of that artist's work. And then nothing more. Vertical, for example, another enterprising publisher concerned with things Japanese, brought us a single volume by Genichiro Takahashi, one of Japan's most interesting postmodern writers, and then, apparently, lost interest.

Drawn & Quarterly's treatment of Tatsumi couldn't be more different. They committed themselves to bringing out a volume for each year of Tatsumi's career, beginning with 1970. The fourth volume, Tatsumi's manga memoir, "A Drifting Life," appeared this year.

Tatsumi's story of how he grew as a person and an artist is an insider's view of how manga gets made; and because his account is honest, it is not in the slightest bit romantic. Tatsumi seems to have never struggled with parents who wanted him to get a "real job," starved in a garret, been engaged in wild debauchery or, perhaps most remarkably, doubted his talent or his ability to make a living from it.

Thus Tatsumi turns the conventions of the artist's memoir on its head: There's little agony or ecstasy, and only a modest lust for life. Rather, the making of art, and of a career in art, is shown to be — as it most often is — lots of hard work and scrambling. And this, in place of a portrait of an ideal creator, is what Tatsumi gives us. He has not polluted his memoir with romantic melodrama; rather, he has told us, and shown us in appropriately low-key drawings, what it was like to be an artist in his time. This is why his memoir will endure.

Hiroshi Katsumi, as Tatsumi calls the character who stands in for him, is obsessed with the manga he is reading and producing. Fortunately, since no portrait of an artist (or anyone else) can be adequate without an account of the history through which they move, the artist presenting Katsumi's development is able to see beyond his drawing board. He always makes sure that, as we move through Katsumi's life, we understand the historical context of that life.

Thus the book opens with a single large frame filled with people, some in scraps of military uniform, clinging to an overcrowded streetcar. We see immediately that we are in the Occupation years, and indeed this is where, with Katsumi a teenager, the memoir begins.

Such historical snippets recur throughout the memoir and some are essential to understanding the ups and downs of the manga industry. When we read, for example, that in the mid-1950s, "there were still only 300,000 television subscribers nationwide [and that] TV was still beyond the reach of the masses," we see that lack of significant competition accounts, in part, for the popularity of manga at that time.

We know, too, that television won't remain out of the masses' reach for much longer. Tatsumi complicates the frame by filling it with writer Soichi Oya complaining — on TV! — that "television is the intellectual scourge of 100 million Japanese." As tempted as we might be to agree with Oya, we also recall that the same complaint has often been made — though probably not in manga — about manga.

Many of those who fretted about manga were particularly concerned with the effect they imagined such books might have on children. The carping of these guardians of morality had one positive effect: it pushed Tatsumi and like-minded artists to create a new style of manga known as gekiga, which is clearly differentiated in its themes, content, and the style of its drawing from comics intended for kids.

Much of "A Drifting Life" is taken up with Tatsumi's account of the birth of this new kind of cartooning, the tension it creates with publishers, and the spats it gives rise to among the artists. Mostly, though, because Tatsumi is working in gekiga, whose birth he is writing about, "A Drifting Life" turns into an object lesson: How comics (comics, that is, for grownups) without romantic protagonists, without appreciable action and with drawings striking in their simplicity can be more compelling than offerings more childishly baroque.

"I've drifted along demanding an endless dream from gekiga," Katsumi notes in the final frames of "A Drifting Life." Readers will hope he speaks for Tatsumi when he adds "and I probably always will."
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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Honolulu Star Bulletin

Updated July 21, 2009


Anime pioneer still packs punch

By Gary C.W. Chun

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 19, 2009
(Single Page View) | Return to Paginated View

Every month, we set aside a column specifically for our staff manga and anime enthusiasts Jason Yadao and Wilma Jandoc to chime in on the dizzying world of Japanese comics and animation.

But before Jason offers up his musings next week, allow me to introduce you to the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the so-called grandfather of Japanese alternative manga, who took the comic book form to a more adult narrative and cinematic level. With the help of one of the U.S.'s leading alternative creators, Adrian Tomine, Tatsumi's singular work has been gathered in English-language collections by the publisher Drawn and Quarterly. "The Push Man and Other Stories," "Abandon the Old in Tokyo" and "Good-Bye" collect the best of Tatsumi from 1969 to '72, and his epic graphic memoir "A Drifting Life" -- a decade in the making and 850-plus pages -- was released three months ago to wide acclaim.

Surprisingly enough, it was the book that finally brought him overdue recognition in his own home country -- it was awarded the Osama Tezuka Cultural Prize in the grand-prize category. The prizes are handed out on annual basis to manga artists worthy of recognition by the national daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun.

If you're at all a comic book fan, you owe it to yourself to check out these books. To better familiarize yourself with Tatsumi's work, start with any of the collections. They're filled with dark vignettes that usually pit ordinary if troubled men against the crowded and alienating society that was early postwar Japan.

Tatsumi called the realistic work he was doing "gekiga" to differentiate it from the usual run-of-the-mill manga. In his introduction to the "Push Man" book, Tomine wrote that he first discovered Tatsumi's "stories' focus alternated between stretches of mundane daily life and moments of surprising violence and sexuality, and both extremes were equally refreshing and unsettling to me."

The stories are certainly bracing stuff and still pack a punch these many years later. For example, in the story "Occupied," which leads the "Abandon" book, a children's book illustrator coping with a creative block finds newfound inspiration in, of all places, the walls of public restrooms scrawled with sexually crude graffiti.

One of Tatsumi's strongest pieces can be found in "Good-Bye." "Hell" tells the story of a former military photographer who is hailed as a national hero for one shot he took soon after the devastation of Hiroshima. The photo looks like the atomic-blast silhouettes of a young man comforting his mother -- only it's not. He's confronted by a man wracked with lung disease who tells him that it actually depicts a murder, one that he orchestrated. The man threatens the photographer with blackmail to expose the truth. The photographer, in turn, contemplates keeping the potential blackmailer quiet by killing him himself.

In another story in the book, "Just a Man," virility is the overriding theme as an office worker who was a soldier in the war is on the verge of retirement. Because of his infatuation with a younger and attractive co-worker, he's inspired to cheat on his mistrustful wife by first blowing his retirement savings on an equally young bathhouse attendant.

AFTER YOU read these collections, then you're ready to delve into "A Drifting Life." Covering the years just after Japan's wartime surrender in 1945 through the mass student political movement in mid-1960 (including an epilogue set in '95 on the seventh anniversary of the death of, coincidentally enough, Osamu Tezuka), it's a pretty thorough documentation of Tatsumi's life and development as a manga creator.

Tatsumi chooses to call himself Hiroshi in the book, and while "A Drifting Life" works also as a first-person history of manga, the story includes important moments in Japanese culture during that time, as well as his relationship with his older, sickly brother, who also was a manga cartoonist.

In an interview with Publishers Weekly to promote his new book, Tatsumi described gekiga as now being "synonymous with spectacular."

"But I write manga about households and conversations, love affairs, mundane stuff that is not spectacular. I think that's the difference. The term gets used, but really gekiga is more like 'kigeki,' 'tragedy,' so it's more like 'kigekiga,' 'tragedy style.'

"Gekiga to people means sad ending, they think that something violent or awful has to happen, but it doesn't have to be like that. Stylistically, 'geki' means 'theater,' so it's theatrical. It's about setting scenes up and structurally moving from frame to frame so that there is a relation between the very first frame and the very last frame. It's like a screenplay. I've been influenced by film. That's one thing that I'm sure I do well, pacing stories."

And apparently there will be a second volume to "A Drifting Life" somewhere down the line. When asked whether his wife, whom he started dating at the end of the autobiography, will make her appearance in the second volume, Tatsumi said, "Well, of course, there are a lot of fights I can write about."




 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Globe and Mail

Updated June 29, 2009


From Saturday's Books section
A life inside a life inside a life

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a Japanese manga pioneer, attempts to transform the solitary life of the cartoonist into an outsized adventure story

Reviewed by Brad MacKay
Last updated on Saturday, Jun. 27, 2009 05:21AM EDT
With A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro Tatsumi's epic 855-page comics memoir, the legendary Japanese manga master finds himself wading wide-eyed into uncharted waters. It's not the size of this graphic novel that is blazing any trails – cartoonists have attempted sprawling works before, a recent example being Dash Shaw's exhilarating and exhausting Bottomless Belly Button, which, at 720 pages ranks in the medium's heavyweight division. Rather, it's the subject matter.

A Drifting Life, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn & Quarterly, 854 pages, $36.95

In his ambitious new book, collected in English for the first time by Montreal's Drawn and Quarterly, Tatsumi attempts the unheard of: to dramatize the cartoonist's life. In this case, the life of Hiroshi Katsumi, Tatsumi's pseudonymous stand-in, a young man in post-Second World War Japan who quickly becomes obsessed with all things manga. Slowly and steadily, the book chronicles the author's growth as an artist, first as a child prodigy (he was barely a teen when his initial comics saw print), then later as the chief architect of the country's gegika movement; a gritty genre of adult-themed stories that would eventually earn him a reputation as the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics.

While Tatsumi's personal life makes some occasionally memorable guest appearances, the undeniable star of the book is manga; more specifically the cartoonist's all-consuming passion for the medium. Whole chapters are dedicated to his youthful meditations on the inner workings of comics and the bustling manga industry of the 1950s, which inhabits the same pop-culture turf that television would soon occupy.

While it's accepted for artists in other mediums to engage in a bit of creative navel-gazing (writers and directors in particular have done this to great success), it's virtually unheard of in comics. In fact, outside of a small handful of European cartoonists, I'm hard pressed to think of any cartoonists who have allowed themselves such an indulgence. (A very short list would include a single issue of Chester Brown's seminal series Yummy Fur and a three-volume autobiography by Golden Age journeyman artist Dick Ayers.)

“ In one memorable scene, he compares the process of creating a comic to the endorphin rush experienced by marathoners ”

As a whole, most cartoonists don't take themselves seriously, preferring to view their creative process as a more quotidian affair. Chris Ware, the acclaimed Chicago cartoonist behind Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, shared his thoughts about the nature of his profession during a recent appearance at a New York literary festival: “Being a cartoonist is sort of like being a businessman doodling all day. You're not an action painter throwing paint around or going out into the world; you're just sitting pathetically at this table, staring down in a kind of feedback loop.” Tatsumi would beg to differ.

In A Drifting Life, he attempts to transform the solitary life of the cartoonist into an outsized adventure story, and the creative process behind the form into something genuinely exciting. This is the cartoonist as heroic protagonist.

And like any good hero, he has a quest: in this case, to make good comics. From his early “gag” style strips to more significant longer narratives, “Katsumi” is committed to pushing the boundaries of his chosen art form. From a young age, he spends all of his free time making comics; when he isn't, he's reading them or debating their merits with his sickly older brother, whose intense criticism eventually spills over into bitter jealousy.

And like any true hero, he doesn't allow anything to stand in his way – not even beautiful (and willing) women. Instead, his passion is reserved for his profession. In one memorable scene, he compares the process of creating a comic to the endorphin rush experienced by marathoners; in other instances, he depicts himself actually swooning upon completing a strip. Clearly, there's only room for one leading lady in this tale.

But before you dive into the book's many treasures, a couple of caveats: Anyone acquainted with the recent crop of North American graphic novels, or Drawn & Quarterly's handsome translations of Tatsumi's ground-breaking gegika, will probably be disoriented by the artist's approach here. Though the art shares the same confident clean line of his best gegika stories, the characters in A Drifting Life have little in common with the characters in his more famous stories. Tatsumi's protagonist, for example, often reacts to dramatic moments with what appear to be exaggerated emotions; even the quietest of creative breakthroughs are met with Archie-comic expressions (lots of jumping up and down and extraneous exclamation marks) that are common in traditional manga.

It's almost as if the cartoonist, in choosing to recount his role in the history of Japanese comics, purposefully chose to adopt the familiar manga method with which he long ago parted ways. This makes it a true manga memoir, in both content and style.

As well, the pacing of the book's narrative is not without its problems; particularly when it comes to the author's attempts to provide historical context. At the outset, Tatsumi handles this well, such as the opening pages, when he portrays Japan's wartime surrender through the prism of his 10-year-old self. But by about page 400 or so, these one- or two-panel interludes (which include the royal marriage of Prince Akihito or the Japanese debut of Coca-Cola) start to feel clunky and a bit dutiful.

Yet these are largely forgivable flaws in an otherwise superb achievement. For anyone who has been fortunate enough to fall under the spell of Tatsumi's groundbreaking work of the 1960s and '70s, this book will prove a compelling and worthwhile read. And for those brave souls aspiring to become a cartoonist themselves, A Drifting Life will prove to be indispensable.

Brad Mackay is an Ottawa writer and co-founder of the Doug Wright Awards for Canadian cartooning. He also co-edited The Collected Doug Wright: Canada's Master Cartoonist, to which he contributed a biographical essay.

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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Booklist

Updated June 26, 2009


May 1, 2009
A Drifting Life

Veteran manga creator Tatsumi has won belated America acclaim with recent collections of his stories of Japan's outcasts and losers in translation. This much longer book traces his personal and artistic journey from the end of World War II, when, at 10, he discovered manga. It includes his inspirational meeting with his idol, Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka his first professional publication while still in high school; his rapid ascent through the insular world of manga artists; and the frustration with the medium's commercial strictures that spurred his development of the realistic style he dubbed gekiga. En route, he faced standard coming-of-age issues, from familial conflicts to romantic confusion, but here his artistic struggles remain in the forefront. Tatsumi's relatively dispassioante autobiography makes far more placid reading than does his harrowing, intense fiction, and his visual approach, always straightforward and naturalistic, is even simpler in it. His earnest account of living in thrall to art speaks universally, even if its greatest appeal is to manga devotees.

- Gordon Flagg


 

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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Austin Chronicle

Updated June 22, 2009


HOME: MAY 8, 2009: BOOKS
New in Graphic Novels

BY WAYNE ALAN BRENNER

A Drifting Life
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly, 840 pp., $29.95 (paper)
What happened to the popular art form called "manga" in Japan after the Second World War? One of the major things that happened to it was a person, the artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, creator of The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo – recently published by Drawn & Quarterly under the editorial direction of Adrian Tomine. A biography of Tatsumi, young founder of the Children's Manga Association and later instigator of the more adult-oriented gekiga movement in Japanese comics, would make for a fine, personally and historically revealing story ... if only someone of sufficient skill would tackle it. Ah, look: The man's gone and done it himself, in panel after panel of distinctive black and white.
This manga autobiography, A Drifting Life, is the result of a decade's work by the acclaimed artist and is thick with details of his family life, his career in the industry, the industry itself, and the greater cultural milieu in which it all occurred. The book is physically thick, too, the sort of thing even Gojira would have trouble surviving if it were thrown with any force at all. It can be enjoyed as a personal journal, as a tenaciously subjective history of postwar Japan, as an example of how to structure a long-form, pictorial narrative. Or you could never actually read the thing, even though that would be your loss: Just keep it on your coffee table because the cover, crafted by editor Tomine from a single interior panel, is so lovely in its near-monochrome simplicity.

"Wow," thinks our protagonist, seeing his first TV in 1953, "soon we'll be able to watch movies at home. When that happens, manga may be doomed."

Doubtful, ever, when it's as good as this.
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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Malaysian Star

Updated June 15, 2009


Sunday June 14, 2009

Moving memoir
By KITTY SENSEI

A DRIFTING LIFE
Story and art: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly,
834 pages
(ISBN: 978-1897299746)
For ages 18+

A DRIFTING Life is a massive piece of work, not just in terms of size – the book is over 800 pages long, and it’s as heavy as a dumbbell! – but also because of the sheer amount of knowledge contained within its pages. You’ll learn about Japan’s history, culture, and the manga industry, and what it takes to make it as a mangaka in Japan.


This manga, set in post-World War II Japan, seems to be about a young man named Hiroshi Katsumi who dreams of being a mangaka just like his hero Osamu Tezuka (the godfather of manga and creator of Astro Boy).

However, in actual fact, A Drifting Life is a biography of Yoshihiro Tatsumi-sensei, the “grandfather of Japanese alternative comics”, and Hiroshi is his “stand in”. It took Tatsumi 11 years to pen this memoir, but it only covers 15 years of his life, from 1945 to June of 1960.

If not for the introduction at Drawn & Quarterly’s website, drawnandquar terly.com, I wouldn’t have known that I was reading Tatsumi’s life story. What the author did was to treat his past self like a character in a manga, separate from his present self. It is certainly a unique memoir!

It is said that Tatsumi did this in order to be more critical of his past, and there are times when you do squirm at what you’re reading. His awkward brushes with women, for one, is astonishingly and embarrassingly frank.

(Interestingly, although the manga is mostly told in the third person, it sometimes switches to the first person – from Hiroshi’s point of view. It can get a tad confusing.)

If you’re an aspiring mangaka, there’s much you can glean from Tatsumi’s observations about the manga industry from the 1940s to 1950s.

Hiroshi has to overcome many challenges before he can achieve his dreams. Not only must he deal with his jealous brother (who also has similar dreams), he has to work very hard to be noticed in the then fledgling but competitive manga industry.

And as Hiroshi learns about the finer points of manga creation, so will you. You’ll also be inspired by his strong work ethic.

Tatsumi’s art is simple and his characters may look unsophisticated to our modern eyes, but 1940s and 1950s Japan comes to life under his pen. He takes great care to illustrate the events, architecture, and fashion of the era, and since Hiroshi loves movies, manga, and novels, we are also educated about the popular culture of that time.

Oddly, the manga ends in 1960, with a brief epilogue in 1995. That’s a gap of 35 years! The Hiroshi in the epilogue is a different man, and his features are mysteriously obscured, as if to say that he is no longer recognised.

What went on in the 35 years to bring on such a change in Hiroshi? Is this Tatsumi’s lament that despite all his hard work he feels that his contribution is not recognised? Tatsumi doesn’t give you a straightforward answer, but he does leave you thinking about your life’s work – what will you be like 30 years down the road?

A deep, complex and moving memoir. Certainly not the kind of manga you can read in one afternoon!

 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Nichi Bei Times

Updated June 12, 2009


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I Dream of Gekiga
By editor. Posted on Thursday, June 11, 2009.No Comment

Published in the Nichi Bei Times Weekly May 28-June 3, 2009.

A DRIFTING LIFE

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Montreal:
Drawn & Quarterly, 2009, 814 pp., $29.95, paperback)

Reviewed By TOMO HIRAI
Nichi Bei Times Contributor

Post-war Japan was the seed of one of the most burgeoning pop-culture centers in the world, and in 1945, Yoshihiro Tatsumi was beginning what would become a lifelong career in comics from his home in Osaka. In the following 15 years, Tatsumi, along with his circle of comic artist friends and his sickly brother grow up from pre-adolescence to adulthood amid reconstruction and a newly revitalized press culture.

This autobiographical volume of Tatsumi’s life is both personal and impersonal in its presentation. The story is told in the third person, and Tatsumi’s name is changed to Hiroshi Katsuhiro to create a sense of objectivity. Some of the names in his story are consciously changed though some of the biggest names, such as his acquaintance Osamu Tezuka, remain unchanged. Each chapter follows an arc in Hiroshi’s life, both in terms of his growth as a famous artist, and in terms of the political progression of Japan as a nation. The 800-plus page volume weaves a story about Hiroshi’s growth as both a human being and an artist in post-war Japan. The presentation is fitting, for Tatsumi’s rise to fame was as an underground artist and creator of the gekiga, a longer and more dramatic form of cartooning than the regular four panel comics that prevailed in the mass culture in early post-war years.

The memoir also provides insight into Hiroshi’s thoughts about his and his cohort’s work as he matured. From his days as a young child working to publish short comics in magazines to his days as an adult, working professionally for a weekly publication, Hiroshi’s story weaves a complex message of not just his life and the politics of the time, but of Tatsumi’s philosophy of art and presentation for comics.

The book is designed, edited, and lettered by famed Nikkei comic artist, Adrian Tomine and contains an extensive appendix of translations that would have hindered the pages of the comics. The comic thus reads naturally, and stays as true as possible to the original comic pages penned by Tatsumi, though the appendix can be cumbersome.

Overall “A Drifting Life” is a finely-crafted autobiography, different from what most would expect from manga from Japan. Not only does this no frills drama look closely at the mind behind Tatsumi’s world, but also it looks beyond him to focus on everything around him in post-war Japan.
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TCAF event coverage in Now Magazine

Updated May 28, 2009


An impressive trio at TCAF
Seth, Adrian Tomine and Yoshihiro Tatsumi at Toronto Comic Arts Festival
Jay Dart

To kick off the 2009 Toronto Comic Arts Festival, the Authors at Harbourfront Centre series played host to a presentation by three renowned comic book artists, aka cartoonists, aka graphic novelists, aka graphic artists, aka artists.

While it may not be clear what they prefer to be called, one thing that can definitely be said about Adrian Tomine, Seth and Yoshihiro Tatsumi: their collections of bound visual narratives near perfect examples of this popular medium.

drian Tomine (above) began the evening by reading the self-deprecating introduction included in the 10th Anniversary edition of 32 Stories, a compilation of his early work that is being re-released, much to his chagrin, by Drawn & Quarterly after the first printing recently sold out.

Although Tomine explained that he would rather these "quaint artifacts" from his past just disappear, they will continue to be available alongside Optic Nerve, a popular alternative comic series, and his most current novel, Shortcomings.

Guelph-based comic artist, Seth, then took the stage and treated the standing room only crowd to 12 of his own stories relating the life of one humble cartoonist. Seth's unconnected tales took us back to his formative years when he would rush home from school for Charlie Brown, and then eventually Marvel Comics.

Looking back now, he realizes that when he did his own comics featuring the heroes from Marvel, he bridged the gap between his inner and outer realities by drawing his thoughts out in a tangible form, and thus paving the way for his own unique style of biographical tales such George Sprott (1894-1975) which, in 2007, was serialized in New York Times Magazine in 25 installments and is now being released as a stand alone book this Spring.

The rest of his presentation was also filled with more insightful ‘wisbits’ as he shared his experiences writing his weekly comic strips, his thoughts on the poetry of comics, and his days spent isolated in his basement, dedicated to this artform.

Tomine then returned to the stage to interview Yoshihiro Tatsumi (pictured above), one of Japan's most influential comic artists.

Most of the audience were only introduced to his works in 2006 when Drawn & Quaterly, and specifically Tomine, first brought his collections to the West.

During the interview, Tatsumi shared partial stories of how friends and family reacted to being featured in his recent auto-biographical masterpiece, A Drifting Life, and what it was like when he first met his idol.

Tatsumi also related stories of his upbringing in the slums of Osaka and rising to the forefront of the "Gekiga" style of comics – a term that he coined to describe a new style of Japanese comics meaning "dramatic pictures" which opened the medium up to more mature audiences and was adopted by cartoonists who did not want their art being called manga or "irresponsible pictures."

In the end, he also imparted some wisdom for maintaining a long and successful career: take care of the body first, then the mind. So, aspiring graphic artists take note: do some push-ups and run a few laps before inking in those panels!

This event also marked the opening of the exhibition Graphic Novels: The Creation of Art and Narrative which runs until June 21st in Harbourfront Centre’s York Quay Centre and features Canada's Jeff Lemire, Kagan McLeod, Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki, Doug Wright (by Seth) as well as Anke Feuchtenberger (Germany), Emmanuel Guibert (France), Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Japan) and Adrian Tomine (USA).

All pictures by Jay Dart.
 
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Seth
Adrian Tomine
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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A Drifting Life
32 Stories: Special Edition Box Set




  TCAF event writeup in The National Post

Updated May 28, 2009



Tomine, Seth, and Tatsumi talk shop at TCAF
Posted: May 09, 2009, 6:18 PM by Lia Grainger

The 4th annual Toronto Comic Arts Festival opened with a bang last night at Harbourfront Centre, as three legends of the genre captivated a packed house with stories and art. Adrian Tomine spoke about a new edition of his collection 32 Stories, Seth told twelve tales plucked from his long career as a comic book artist, and Yoshihiro Tatsumi discussed his seminal new autobiographical graphic novel A Drifting Life.

It was an inspiring evening. Christopher Butcher, founder and director of TCAF, and owner of The Beguiling – one of the most valuable comic art and graphic novel resources in the country – introduced the evening’s speakers to an enthusiastic audience.

Adrian Tomine, best known for the ongoing comic series Optic Nerve and his recent graphic novel Shortcomings, humbly presented the repackaged version of his first collection 32 Stories. Tomine was painfully self-deprecating, recounting that when his publisher initially told him it was going out of print, his response was “Thank God, finally.” He quickly learned it would be reprinted, and with the aid of a slideshow, Tomine walked the audience through the story of its original creation, painstakingly pointing out what he perceived to be the many ways in which the collection was naïve and amateurish.

At one point, after agonizing over the hideousness of the book’s original dust jacket, Tomine described a dream in which Raymond Carver’s widow comes across the collection in a second-hand bookstore and is horrified. Tomine also noted that actor Keanu Reeves' band Dogstar released a song in the '90s with the unfortunate title, "32 Stories", and proceeded to play the song, accompanied by images of Keanu rocking out. The presentation was understated and hilarious, and though Tomine seemed intent on tearing down his early work, I was left with a strong desire to run to the sales table down the hall and buy a copy of the new edition. It includes several bonuses, including angry letters from now-famous cartoonists and the rejection letter he received upon his first submission of the piece to Drawn & Quarterly, way back in 1993.

Next to take the stage, dressed in an impeccable 1940s pea-green suit and looking very much like one of his characters, was Seth. With work characterized by clean, delicately tapered lines and a deep, muted palette, Seth is best known for his comic Palookaville and graphic novels (though he hates the term) like Wimbledon Green and Clyde Fans. A legend in his own right, Seth’s presentation reaffirmed the reputation he has earned over his long and groundbreaking career. With elegance and panache, Seth told twelve deliberately random stories from his life, and noted the beginning of each new tale with the ringing of a small gold bell. His points, in brief, were:

1. Comics provide a concrete link to a vivid inner reality.
2. Cartooning is a solitary pursuit.
3. Times have changed: in the beginning, it was difficult to be serious in comics.
4. Seth resists technology. When he learned he could Google himself, it was not a good thing.
5. Comics have the rhythm, and require the deliberate decision-making, of poetry.
6. Peanuts comics are haikus.
7. Seth is pretty sure someone stole his theory that “Peanuts comics are haikus.”
8. Seth’s college 3D art teacher was an angry, talented man, and Seth is glad for it.
9. No matter how hard you work, you can’t change your intelligence or your talent; Chris Ware disagrees.
10. Style in comic book art is extremely deliberate, like a pompadour.
11. Comics appear to be silent and still, but they’re not.
12. According to Crumb, “There’s nothing wrong with repeating yourself, so long as you dig a little deeper each time.”

While he spoke, images of his work flashed on the screen behind him. He assured the audience that they were entirely unrelated to what he was saying, and yet at many points the art seemed to unintentionally fit with the words, giving the speech a calming rhythmical cadence that was a pleasure to hear and observe.

The main event was Japanese manga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi is credited with inventing gekiga, a form of manga with complex mature themes designed for adult readers. In a Godzilla t-shirt, blazer and brown driver’s cap, Tatsumi looked cool and relaxed. With the help of a translator, Adrian Tomine interviewed Tatsumi about his new book, A Drifting Life. Tatsumi was animated and forthcoming about his early years, explaining that, “The country was getting rich, but for me and the people in my life, nothing was changing, and I wanted to make work about that, as a form of protest.” Tomine asked several questions about Tatsumi’s relationship with Osamu Tazuka, best known for Astroboy. Tatsumi discussed how their careers had diverged, as Tatsumi tackled darker themes and Tezuka continued with fantasy. When asked if he had any advice for artists, Tatsumi cheekily replied, “I agree with what Seth said. In fact, I really learned a lot from him.”

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival runs until Sunday. For more information visit www.torontocomics.com.
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Seth
Adrian Tomine
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)
A Drifting Life
32 Stories: Special Edition Box Set




A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Time Out New York

Updated May 27, 2009


Time Out New York / Issue 713 : May 28–Jun 3, 2009
The characters in these comics come face-to-face with their own evolutions.
By Evan Narcisse

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s naturalistic, low-key brand of manga runs counter to Japanese cartooning’s most popular overdramatic works. His new memoir, A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95), nimbly parallels his own coming-of-age with that of the art form he’s working in. As a child growing up in the immediate aftermath to WWII, Tatsumi thrills to the playful escapism of manga greats like Osamu Tezuka and takes up the pencil in homage to the Astro Boy creator. The author eschews college for an artistic career and struggles to find his own voice, but still works his way up in the shady, ultracompetitive world of postwar publishing. The book’s most resonant success comes from unveiling an entire cultural history, as Tatsumi goes from adoring fan to exploited professional. Throughout, A Drifting Life reveals how Tatsumi became a great comics artist, all the while mirroring the poignant melodramas of everyday Japanese life.
 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Comics Reporter

Updated May 25, 2009


May 11, 2009
Flipped!: David Welsh On Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life

By David P. Welsh

Some comics are thrilling because of their intricate plots or exhilarating visual style. Some are thrilling because of their precise ability to move me as a reader. Others are thrilling for the mere fact that I'm holding them in my hands. Maybe I need to reconsider my threshold for this sort of thing, but the fact that I can walk into a big chain bookstore and pluck a massive, illustrated autobiography from arguably the defining alternative cartoonist in the history of Japanese comics is thrilling to me.
It's also exciting to see that autobiography, Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life, receive so much positive attention. It's received serious critical examination on National Public Radio and in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. In the past, I would have pointed to those pieces with underdog glee: "They like us! They really like us!" By now this kind of analysis has become regular enough (not routine, but regular) that the glee has modulated to more of an approving nod towards the mainstream outlets: "Glad to see that you're paying attention."

Beyond enjoying the unprecedented variety of comics currently available, it's been fascinating to watch the industry evolution that's made that variety possible. Witnessing that kind of change is also one of the leading pleasures of reading A Drifting Life. While there are dozens of Japanese creators whose lives and careers would provide a fascinating vantage point on the growth of manga, Tatsumi's feels particularly instructive.

Tatsumi's illustrated surrogate, Hiroshi Katsumi, started as so many creators still do, as a young, enthusiastic amateur submitting his comics to fan contests. He and his sickly brother, Okimasa, devour comics and adventure novels as they create their own cartoons. They worship emerging superstar creator Osamu Tezuka for his innovative and energetic storytelling. Success in contests leads to professional work in the rental manga market.
In the wake of World War II, the Japanese were struggling to rebuild. Economic success and discretionary income would come later, and the chance to pay a small fee to enjoy a pile of comics provided needed release. Television was still emerging, and sets were expensive beyond the reach of most Japanese, so movies from the United States and Europe were popular. Katsumi consumed both eagerly. Comics, books and movie provided solace from the difficulties of daily life, and they also fired his imagination and inspired him to consider the possibilities of entertainment. They provided a range of influences and lead Katsumi to think of ways to synthesize them.

Katsumi also demonstrates an entrepreneurial bent early, assembling a cooperative of young comics creators. He gets to meet his idol, Tezuka, and professional opportunities start coming in that move him from four-panel gag strips to longer narratives. His career builds a sort of independent momentum, and he finds great success with gritty crime stories. I think anyone who's started with a passion and turned it into a profession would respond to Katsumi's journey from exuberant amateur to stressed professional.

I think anyone who's ever had a job would respond to the competing demands Katumi faces -- wanting to work steadily and appreciating the regular income, but wanting to advance and be independent, and, most of all, to mature creatively. He wants to take comics to a different place, but that destination hasn't fully resolved itself in his mind, and the market may not welcome his vision for manga. Tatsumi's narrative is chronologically linear, but Katsumi's professional development is much messier. Artistic ambition competes with career maintenance. Commercial realities and publisher antics lead to detours and derailments.

The undercurrent in the book that I find most fascinating is Tatsumi's illustration of the evolution of dissatisfaction. The early scenes of postwar deprivation are about what's lacking in daily life. As Katsumi and Japan become more prosperous and independent, it becomes more about dissatisfaction with what's available, the leisure to complain. The undeniable difficulties of subsistence shift to the more abstract problems of relative abundance. Even Katsumi is uncertain of what he wants his new kind of manga to be, and it's telling that the idea of gekiga, the "dramatic pictures" for which Tatsumi is justly famous, doesn't really resolve itself. It would feel dishonest, a cheat, even, if Tatsumi implied that gekiga sprang fully formed onto the page and into the manga market. (It also leaves ample material for a sequel, though obviously not in a cynical, franchise-building way.)
What's equally clear to me is that Tatsumi wasn't rebelling against commercial comics. In trying to create a new category of realistic storytelling, he wasn't criticizing popular escapism. He was trying to expand the possibilities of the art form. Tatsumi's efforts to define and execute gekiga were entirely consistent with Tezuka's dream of comics for people of every age, station, and interest, not a repudiation of that dream. (And as we all know, Tezuka himself made amazing comics in the gekiga vein like Ode to Kirihito and MW, both available in English courtesy of Vertical.)

For someone who enjoys watching the growing pains of Japanese comics in English translation, A Drifting Life has an extra fascination. It reminds me that evolution takes time and that the comics market in Japan didn't emerge overnight into a cradle-to-grave form of entertainment. It's a useful reminder for those moments when I'm inclined to mutter that there's too little seinen, too little josei, too little whatever circumstances tell me the market is neglecting.
Look at it this way. A Drifting Life recently received the Grand Prize in this year's Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prizes, sharing the honor with Fumi Yoshinaga's Ooku. Viz just solicited the first volume of Ooku in the current Previews catalog from Diamond Comics Distributors. Publishers of all sizes are releasing and announcing exciting, unexpected titles all the time. And as I mentioned before, I was able to walk into a Barnes & Noble and pluck A Drifting Life off of the shelves. It's a good time to love comics from Japan, from the energetically mainstream to the engagingly eclectic, and it's getting better all the time.

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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by the Las Vegas Weekly

Updated May 25, 2009


Thu, May 14, 2009
J. Caleb Mozzocco


Yoshihiro Tatsumi was virtually unknown in the U.S. until 2005, when Drawn and Quarterly began publishing collections of his short works of gekiga, the term he used to differentiate the more adult, literate comics he and his peers were creating in the 1960s from the kids’ comics of the time.

Ironically, his 840-page memoir probably won’t help readers get to know Tatsumi too much better, at least not personally. A Drifting Life isn’t the story of Tatsumi’s personal life (he even gives his stand-in a fictionalized name) so much as it is the story of gekiga—a story that just so happens to coincide with that of the young Tatsumi, the early years of the manga business and medium and post-war Japanese society.

All seemed to be adrift, and if the young artist couldn’t quite seize and direct the path of his life, his art was a different matter entirely.

Four stars
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn and Quarterly, $30.
Amazon: A Drifting Life

 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The National Post

Updated May 21, 2009


His drama, pictured

Japanese artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi created his life's opus even as his very life hung in the balance

Mark Medley, National Post Published: Thursday, May 21, 2009

Before he was a cartoonist, Adrian Tomine was simply a fan of comics. It was then, browsing through a comics shop in his hometown of Sacramento, Calif., in the late 1980s that he came across an unauthorized translation of the work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi entitled Good-Bye and Other Stories, a comic he describes as "one of the handful of books from that era of my life that I've held on to.

"It was just unsettling to me. It was very adult. It was 180 degrees from the Spider-Man comics that I'd grown up reading," Tomine recalls. "Just looking for things that dealt with the drama of real life and aimed to make a darker point about humanity rather than an uplifting one."

Tomine assumed he'd find more work by Tatsumi, but that wasn't the case. "I got impatient," he says. Over the years, he collected original editions, asking friends visiting Japan to bring back any of Tatsumi's books they could find, and since he neither spoke nor read Japanese, he hired someone to translate the comics.

"They ended up being so interesting and so much better than I'd even expected," says Tomine, who by this time was an accomplished cartoonist himself. "It was enough for me to put together a little proposal for Chris Oliveros."

Oliveros, publisher of Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly, had read the same unauthorized book Adrian had discovered years ago, and was intrigued by the idea of bringing Tatsumi to a North American audience. When Tomine visited Japan in 2003, he arranged a meeting with the "fairly reclusive" artist, and over the next several years D&Q released three compilations of his work: The Push Man and Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo and Good-Bye, all designed and edited by Tomine.

While all three books were greeted with acclaim, they were really just a prelude to Tatsumi's latest work, an 855-page graphic memoir called A Drifting Life -- though it is bittersweet that on the release of his life's work Tatsumi is fighting for his life.

On a recent Friday afternoon, Tatsumi could be found on the 38th floor of the Westin Harbour Castle, sitting next to his wife, Eiko, at a table overlooking the Toronto Islands. He was in town for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

"I was supposed to go into the hospital in March but I had this festival," he says through a translator. "Actually, when I go back to Japan I'm going to go into the hospital again."

Dressed in a black Godzilla T-shirt and poor boy cap, Tatsumi appeared to be in great spirits and shape--despite the fact he is fighting cancer --patiently sitting through a slew of interviews over the course of the afternoon as journalists questioned him about his latest work, which explores the genesis of his comic career and his role as the grandfather of gekiga, which translates as "dramatic pictures," as opposed to manga's "irresponsible pictures."

"About 14 years ago, about two years before I started working on this, I was feeling really poor," he says. "I wasn't doing real well. So this editor came to me and said, 'You don't have long to live, right?' I was one of the people who came up with gekiga as a genre of manga, but when he asked me if I would consider writing the story of how gekiga came about ... I really didn't have any desire to write it. I mean, he just said to me -- I kind of got mad at him and sent him on his way because he was telling me I don't have long to live. That's kind of rude! But then I thought about it and I realized that there wasn't really a magazine in Japan where I could write something like this. And then I thought it was a good chance and so I started writing it. That was 14 years ago."

Tatsumi, who was born in Osaka in 1935, envisioned A Drifting Life as a serial lasting two or three years, not 12. But there's much to recount, from his sometimes tempestuous relationship with his brother, Okimasa, to his friendship with legendary manga artist Osamu ( Astro Boy) Tezuka. The book also functions as a social history of postwar Japan.

"It's manga for people who don't necessarily like manga," says TCAF co-founder Christopher Butcher. "You couldn't ask for a better book for people who are really curious about manga and what it's all about ... It's sort of like if all you'd seen of comics was superheroes and someone showed you Seth for the first time and it just blew your mind. That's Yoshihiro Tatsumi."

Tatsumi is currently working on a new collection of stories, to be published in Japan this July, and is planning a new book about a woman searching for her reincarnated lover. He also wants to write a continuation to A Drifting Life. All this work leaves him little time to immerse himself in contemporary manga, whose worldwide popularity has left him bewildered.

"I don't really know much about the world of manga right now," he says. "When I go to Europe or America and look in the stores there's a lot of Japanese manga, right? When I first saw that I was totally surprised. This much manga coming over here? I had no idea."

With the art he helped pioneer achieving worldwide success, he jokes his only regret is not writing something "that could have sold better. If I could have written something that would have sold thousands of copies I'd be rich right now. But in that case I probably wouldn't have come to Toronto.

"I mean, not writing work that sells like that, it's not really a regret, I guess. I've always written for myself. So I guess I don't regret anything. But to speak honestly: I did want some money. I did want to be a rich guy. That's a pity. It's not a huge disaster."

His biggest hope, though, is to prove Tomine, Oliveros and co. made the right choice in bringing his work across the ocean. Says Tatsumi: "I want to be able to repay them somehow. They've done such good things for me."

- A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi is published by Drawn & Quarterly ($36.95).


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Tatsumi interview on Publishers Weekly

Updated May 19, 2009


Tatsumi Talks About A Drifting Life
May 19, 2009
By Kai-Ming Cha

Even before legendary mangaka Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s graphic novel memoir, A Drifting Life, was published by Drawn & Quarterly, it received critical acclaim. Profiled in a number of American publications, the book was also awarded the Osamu Tezuka prize in Japan, gaining Tatsumi recognition in his home country. A guest at the recent PEN World Voices Festival in New York City, Tatsumi was on hand to discuss his creation of the book including his reason for creating an alias to narrate the autobiography (for objectivity he said) and for starting the memoir at the end of World War II. “I believe the real Japan and Japanese life began after the war,” Tatsumi said. “Before that, the people of Japan were slaves to the military and to the Emperor.”

Truly, the end of World War II was the birth of a new Japan and the visceral memories that lingered from a childhood spent experiencing war—the burning bodies, smell of death and stinking corpses—gave way to Tatsumi’s historic life and livelihood in creating manga. PW Comics Week was able talk with Tatsumi during his whirlwind tour of speaking obligations and book signings in New York and ask him once again about manga, the creation of gekiga, the grimly naturalistic style of manga he is credited with creating, and his life as an artist. PWCW contributor Anne Ishii was on hand to translate our questions and Tatsumi’s gracious responses.

PWCW: In A Drifting Life, you write of your time being “sardine canned” in which you depict a variety of manga creators in a “hanging out” atmosphere. Was there a sense of camaraderie? Did you all influence each other’s work?

YT: We were only in the sardine can for two months at a time, so not long enough to translate into influencing each other. But in terms of the lifestyle, some of us—there were three of us, two of us were living separately from our parents for the first time and we got to “spread our wings”. We got to stay up late, we got to sleep in, nobody was bothering us. It was really fun. So that’s why it seems like we were relaxed. But certainly we were working. And the work actually became a sort of chore. It was August and it was really hot. The humidity just dampened all of our work, all of our line-art got smudged, our hands would smudge everything and it got messy. And it also turned into a sort of excuse for [extending deadlines]. Because all of our work was being ruined by the humidity.

PWCW: You spotlight many of your peers who are also became gekiga creators. But you had the most heated debates with your brother, Okimasa.

YT: From the beginning, Okimasa was anti-gekiga and against it in principle. He himself was more into political cartoons. But I was more narrative driven, I was writing story manga. Gradually, Okimasa acknowledged gekiga and learned to accept it. But this whole time I have been defending it, defending what I believed in. Sure, [the debates with Okimasa] influenced me.

PWCW: Does Okimasa still create manga?

YT: After the collapse of the gekiga caucus that we created, he actually gave up manga altogether and entered into a regular career in printing at a print manufacturing plant. He was already extremely physically weak and keeping up with the manga lifestyle was really taking a toll on him. [Manga] requires writing, drawing and revising everyday and to make any money, to make a living, you have do it everyday and he couldn’t keep up.

PWCW: You owned and ran a used-books store for 18 years. Sometimes people would come looking for you, the founder of gekiga, but you would hide in the back.

YT: There were times when people used to come to the store, asking to meet me, but I would hide in the back. My wife would tell them “He’s not here.” Sometimes, I wouldn’t make it [to the back] in time and they would catch me and ask “Are you Mr. Tatsumi?” and I would tell them “No, that’s my brother.”

PWCW: Why did you want to hide?

YT: I was embarrassed. I liked thinking of myself as a successful manga artist, but running the book shop meant that I wasn’t. I was a very proud cartoonist and the thought of being the “comic book artist who doesn’t make enough money and has to run a bookstore” was embarrassing. We closed the bookstore about five years ago.

PWCW: Because you had too much work in comics to do?

YT: No, because we just couldn’t keep up with maintaining it. At one point, while running the store, I was working a lot. I was helping Shigeru Mizuki draw GeGeGe no Kitaro [a popular comic in Japan about a boy who helps humans and ghosts co-exist peacefully] doing approximately two issues per month when it was serialized in Shonen Jump [a weekly manga anthology]. That was quite a bit of work. That was about a year’s worth of work. This was in 1984.
PWCW: Do you still keep in touch with you peers?

YT: I don’t meet with any of them personally, but if there’s a get-together, I go. I’ve never been one to call someone and ask how they’re doing.

PWCW: How did you meet your wife?

YT: She was a waitress at a restaurant. We started dating at the end of A Drifting Life, during the part about the student movement. So she’s not in the book.

PWCW: So she will be in the next issue?

YT: Well of course, there are a lot of fights I can write about.

PWCW: A Drifting Life is over 800 pages long. Can you tell us about the different process for creating long form narrative versus short stories?

YT: With shorter work, it’s more experimental, there’s more elbow room. For longer work, I have to be a lot more calculating. There’s actual math that I have to do. I have to think of the number of pages, I must get to the end and certain things must happen. As for the characters, in short stories, I don’t care what the characters look like. But in a long story, I care. I have to make sure it’s someone that I want to draw over and over again. I have one series that’s over 1000 pages long called “Gold is King.” It’s one of my personal favorites. It’s a comedy about the son of extremely rich parents, who has lots of girlfriends who all fall in love with his money. I was drawing 50 pages per month for six years for this series alone. Before I was doing short stories, I was using gekiga style art. But it was always about making money. I’m a career manga artist. It’s always been about money and fulfilling contracts.

PWCW: You coined the term “gekiga” and started the movement. Did your work influence independent comics artists like Sanpei Shirato (who helped finance and was prominently featured in indie comics magazine GARO)?

YT: I’m pretty sure that my work didn’t influence Sanpei Shirato. Shirato is probably the better gekiga artist. I came up with the term but people began using it because they needed a tag, they stuck it on their work to make it more distinguished. I don’t think my work has directly influenced anyone or what gekiga means or the way it is used.

I thought gekiga had seen its moment in the rental shops. Manga owes itself to the phenomenon of rental shops. This was a time when the Japanese had no disposable income but for five cents, kids could check out 10 comics and could be influenced by 10 totally different styles. It’s because of this economy of comics that everybody was able to read all these different things and that’s why I think that manga is what it is today, because everyone had a chance to read a lot of different manga. The way it worked was much like movie theaters. There was a first run movie theater, a second run movie theater and a third run oldies movie theater. In the same way, there was a first run rental shop with 30,000 books, a second run rental shop with 20,000 books and a third run shop where it was just pieces of paper taped together that used to be comics. But there was a store for everyone. If you couldn’t afford 10 comics at the first run shop, there was the second run shop you could go to.

PWCW: What does gekiga mean to you? How do you define it?

YT: Gekiga is a term people throw around now to describe any manga with violence or eroticism or any spectacle. It’s become synonymous with spectacular. But I write manga about households and conversations, love affairs, mundane stuff that is not spectacular. I think that’s the difference. The term gets used but really gekiga is more like kigeki, “tragedy” so it’s more like kigekiga, “tragedy style.” Gekiga to people means sad ending, they think that something violent or awful has to happen, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Stylistically, geki means “theater” so it’s theatrical, it’s about setting scenes up and structurally moving from frame to frame so that there is a relation between the very first frame and the very last frame. It’s like a screenplay. I’ve been influenced by film. That’s one thing that I’m sure I do well, pacing stories.

PWCW: You were awarded the Osamu Tezuka prize this year in Japan. Now you’re a guest here at the PEN World Voices Festival and at the Toronto Comics Art Festival. How does it feel to be recognized like this?

YT: I actually want to ask the critics, what attracted you to this work? I never meant for this, I never thought it would be talked about like this. I mean, I write about Japanese households. I’ve always been worried—I’ve never understood popularity, it’s something that I’ve struggled with, how to make this appeal to people, how to make people identify [with my work]. It’s always been something I’ve been very insecure about. I don’t read much of other people’s work. Maybe I should. Maybe I’m missing something. I’m learning so much from this experience, from the way people are responding to my work. It’s teaching me a lot. I feel good that I wasn’t wrong. I’ve been on this track for so long and I haven’t been that successful in Japan. But now some people are getting it. It’s very gratifying.

 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The National

Updated May 19, 2009


Gladly drawn boy

A Drifting Life
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn and Quarterly
Dh100

Kai-Ming Cha reads Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s graphic memoir, which tells the intertwined stories of his life, Japan and comic books.

In Sewer, a story by the Japanese mangaka (comic artist) Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a young sewer-cleaner finds an aborted foetus in the rubbish-filled tunnels where he works. He pushes it aside with indifference, but his co-worker searches it and finds a crucifix. “Parents’ last blessings to a child,” he says – then grabs the cross and tosses the tiny corpse back into the water. Later, when the protagonist’s girlfriend has an abortion, he secretly discards the foetus at work, only to have the same co-worker fish it out and search it. “No gold or silver on this one... Come on, let’s get to work.”

This is typical Tatsumi; working-class characters struggling through the bleak, often grotesque, landscape of postwar Japan. Tatsumi uses his characters – men who work with refuse, women in subsidised dating arrangements with American GIs, factory employees who cut off their own limbs to collect workers’ compensation – to sceptically tally the human cost of Japan’s breakneck race to modernise. His work bears little resemblance to most commercial manga (literally “whimsical pictures”), with its tales of romance, Bambi-eyed high school girls, courageous young ninjas, samurai adventure and futuristic weaponry. By focusing on the difficulties of adults in the present, Tatsumi created his own subgenre, which he called gekiga (“dramatic pictures”). It is arguably because of gekiga that manga is so ubiquitous in Japan today (though Tatsumi, a ruthlessly self-effacing man, denies any such influence). Now, in a 834-page graphic memoir, A Drifting Life, Tatsumi recounts the intertwined early years of his life, postwar Japan and manga.

He opens at the end of the Second World War, with the radio broadcast of Emperor Hirohito’s declaration of surrender. Hiroshi Katsumi, Tatsumi’s alter ego, is 10 years old. He watches, eyes wide, while the citizens of Japan bow down, prostrating themselves to their ruler’s voice (which most were hearing for the first time). The youngest boy in a family of four, Tatsumi felt the defeat sharply. His parents’ laundry business shut down and, like most Japanese families, they struggled to make ends meet working odd jobs. By the time Tatsumi was 15, he was making his own living from comics: a testament to his talent and a reflection of the rapid postwar rise of commercial manga.

Before Japan’s defeat, the country’s comics were simple mirrors of western styles: simple, single-panel cartoons in the American Art Deco mode. The content was usually political satire or propaganda. It wasn’t until the American occupation (which brought with it American comics, television shows and films) that comics began developing into the storytelling vehicles that drive the business today. Defeat and subjugation transformed Asia’s former coloniser and superpower into a poor, demoralised nation in need of industry and entertainment. It found both in manga.

The first manga was simple four-panel strips with self-contained plots that ran in the newspapers. Tatsumi loved the medium, and was submitting his own four-panel strips to various funny pages by the time he was 12. His favourite strip was Sazae-san, the popular, serialised story of a young wife who approached the challenges of post-war life (food rations, Occupation forces) with an unflagging sense of humour and optimism.

Tatsumi also loved Osamu Tezuka, now known as the founder of narrative manga. Tezuka’s aesthetic was inspired by Disney movies and Charlie Chaplin; his visual storytelling technique drew more from the cinema than the comics of old. Tatsumi encountered his work in one of Osaka’s immensely popular “book rental” shops. At these commercial lending libraries, which eventually sprang up across the country, patrons could either check books out or read them on the premises. The in-store reading fee was lower than the borrowing fee, and a culture of in-store reading quickly developed, particularly among voracious young readers with limited pocket money.

In response, an Osaka-based publishing industry sprouted to crank out material for this new market. Osaka publishers paid creators next to nothing for their work, but sometimes allowed them significant creative freedom. It was under these conditions that, in 1947, Tezuka published a 200-page manga adventure called New Treasure Island. In an age when food was rationed and most Japanese struggled to keep their homes, New Treasure Island sold 400,000 copies, mostly to rental shops, but also to regular stores. Long-form narrative manga was born.

When he was in junior high, Tatsumi was introduced to Tezuka by a journalist friend. In the scene where they meet, the reader can feel Tatsumi’s nervous admiration of the Godfather of manga; after the unrelenting pessimism of his stories, it is disarming to see Tatsumi display such sincere affection. Soon after they met, Tezuka began mentoring Tatsumi (both Osaka natives, they lived two train stops apart). In lessons at Tezuka’s house – which Tatsumi depicts as a palace rising above the surrounding gates – Tezuka helped Tatsumi with his early work and encouraged him to create long-form manga. (Years later, the gekiga of Tatsumi and his peers would inspire Tezuka to create some of his darkest, most ambitious work.)

Tatsumi wanted to follow Tezuka’s advice, but he stuck with four-panel strips for economic reasons: the old style remained more lucrative for many years, and it was not until high school that Tatsumi sold any long stories. The same was true for his second-oldest brother, Okimasa, also a mangaka. The brothers were close – and rivals in the way only close brothers can be. As children, it was Okimasa – who suffered from pleurisy, most likely caused by tuberculosis – who won awards from manga magazines, despite his lack of stamina.

After some early success, Okimasa gave up manga for health reasons (this is not mentioned in A Drifting Life). But he remained Tatsumi’s strongest supporter – and harshest critic. In the early years, he often had to remind his brother what paid the bills. “Give me a break,” he says when his brother is moving slowly. “Only established writers get writers’ block.” And: “Manga is a business. You can’t treat it as a hobby.” Okimasa was right, but Tatsumi wanted to create something different: “manga that isn’t manga”, comics that applied Tezuka’s cinematic technique to contemporary stories of human hardship – of unemployment, adultery and desperation.

But when Tatsumi and some like-minded mangaka began contributing darker narratives to rental shop magazines, parents were outraged. Manga was still largely geared to and read by children; the fear was that young innocents would be accidentally exposed to adult material. In response, Tatsumi coined the term gekiga and rallied his peers under the banner. Now their work could be set off in a different section of shops. But launching a commercial genre was no easy matter. Tatsumi had to move to Tokyo, away from the dominance of the Osaka rental shop model (which was only flexible to a point). Then he had to coax artists to join him. Publishers had to be cajoled. Somehow, everyone had to get paid. In A Drifting Life, changing manga forever is often portrayed as one big headache.

Tatsumi was soon producing some of his best gekiga (which attracted a small, devoted following, but never made him famous). From the start, he confronted the feelings of isolation, powerlessness and confusion experienced by the factory workers and window washers who facilitated Japan’s post-occupation economic growth without reaping its benefits. In Night Falls Again, a young man moves to Osaka from a farm in the countryside to work in a factory. Modern urban life – in which young woman have jobs, wear their skirts short and speak loosely of sex, and a man might declare his love to a woman in public – mystifies him. It isn’t that he disapproves; he just doesn’t know where it came from, or how to be a part of it. He spends most of his free time alone, drinking and frequenting the red-light district. “I don’t like Osaka,” he eventually confesses to himself. “But I got nowhere to go back to” – the old farm has been sold.

Even this level of verbal expression is rare – most of Tatsumi’s male protagonists say little, and their specific thoughts remain ambiguous from panel to panel (the same is generally true of Katsumi in A Drifting Life). Instead, the artist conveys their alienation by the composition of his frames. The protagonist of Abandon the Old in Tokyo, a rubbish collector, finds himself torn between the demands of his invalid mother and his girlfriend. As he tries to figure out how to be a good son and a good boyfriend at the same time (all the while wondering whether he even wants to be either), Tokyo churns in the background. By the time the story is over, several old buildings that appeared in the beginning have been demolished and replaced with sleek high rises. At work, the rubbish collector sits amidst the detritus of progress: televisions and washing machines, many of them not even broken. “People throw away any old thing,” says a co-worker.

Reading A Drifting Life, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that “Katsumi” is the same artist whose stories contain so much sadness and hostility towards recent Japanese history. Even the aesthetic approach differs from his fiction, which he illustrates in a thick, painterly style, with heavy black backgrounds; in his autobiography, the panels are more spacious, open and light. Part of the book’s relative gentleness surely stems from the fact that it essentially cuts off at 1960, before the harsh era of post-occupation modernity examined in Tatsumi’s most well-known stories. The painful realities that have occupied Tatsumi since he started making gekiga do appear, but mostly in the background. Each chapter opens with a wonderful single-panel illustration that captures the era: an America GI standing over two Japanese men, thrusting his boot forward for a shoe shine; a crowd of people crushed together in a frantic attempt to board a newly-built streetcar.

But more fundamentally, A Drifting Life is unlike Tatsumi’s fiction because it is a story of possibility: of a child discovering his world and craft. In one of the book’s most memorable scenes, Okimasa tears up several pages of Tatsumi’s work. Enraged, Tatsumi runs from the house to a field outside of town. Throwing himself on the ground and gripping the grass, he vows never to draw manga again. But as night falls and the fireflies emerge, he sits up, dry tears on his face, and loses himself in the bright magic of the evening. The vow is soon forgotten.

This feeling of beauty and promise is almost entirely absent from Tatsumi’s non-autobiographical gekiga. Instead there is a nearly unremitting, sometimes barely realistic, darkness – even in the stories set before 1960. In Good-Bye, for example, a young war widow named Mariko lives in a shack on the outskirts of town, where she prostitutes herself to an American GI, Joe. Widows had few opportunities to work after the war, and the government sanctioned “comfort zones” where American soldiers were serviced for a pittance by “fallen women”, who were inevitably disdained by the rest of society. Eventually, Joe leaves Mariko to return to his family in America. Then, in a depraved Tatsumian twist, Mariko seduces her father on one of his frequent visits to extract money from her. As he leaves her shack, his usual expression of self-pity (“It ain’t my fault we lost the war”) is replaced by something harder and more aware. “This is hell,” he says. “It’ll never stop.” The story’s closing panel shows Mariko bringing home another GI.

At the end of A Drifting Life, Tatsumi finds himself caught up in a rowdy street protest against America. The energy startles him. “That’s the element gekiga has forgotten ... anger!” This is surely a forecast of the career to come: the hundreds of unflinching accounts of silent men and bitter women with little joy in their lives. “No!” young Tatsumi exclaims, equally resolved and pained. “I’ll never be done with gekiga!”

Kai-Ming Cha is the manga editor at Publishers Weekly.


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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Boston's Weekly Dig

Updated May 19, 2009


A DRIFTING LIFE
By ERIK ZIEDSES DES PLANTES

YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI

DRAWN & QUARTERLY

4.14.09

Yoshihiro Tatsumi does not have to answer to anyone in his storied career as a manga innovator—which is what makes the 840-page A Drifting Life that much more awe inspiring. Not a page is wasted in the telling of Tatsumi's story, which chronicles his development from young manga enthusiast to constant trendsetter in the field he fell in love with. It is uncompromising—with more characters, business conversations and location changes than a Dostoyevsky novel—yet its simple language and emotional weight offer it a warmth and accessibility that goes beyond being a mere comic. Throughout, Tatsumi finds himself wrestling with several issues: The intersection of passion and business, his inability to start relationships and the constantly changing tides of his industry. As he develops in the post-World War II world, so does the entire nation of Japan. This is Tatsumi's life manifesto, delivered six decades into his career. Definitely worth the wait.
 

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  Tatsumi interviewed by The Toronto Star

Updated May 19, 2009


Just Visiting: Manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Tatsumi, 73, who began a comic book revolution, is here for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The 'godfather of Gekiga' recalls how he began to take a darker view of life in postwar Japan

San Grewal
STAFF REPORTER

n the 1950s, while the North American comic scene was still dominated by the youthful appeal of Superman, Barney Google and The Katzenjammer Kids, a Japanese manga artist named Yoshihiro Tatsumi began a comic revolution.

Now 73, the godfather of the Gekiga (dramatic pictures) movement, which later inspired graphic novels, darker comic books and many of the hugely popular manga titles now sold throughout the world, talked to the Star while in town this weekend for the 2009 Toronto Comic Arts Festival.

Q: What led you away from children's manga to create the darker, more adult-themed Gekiga style back in the mid-'50s?

A: In Japan they weren't really making a lot of films at that time, so I watched a lot of European and American films. I pretty much watched everything from overseas. In American films, the bad guy always gets it in the end and justice wins. It was fun to watch American films, but everything was just so good, though. I thought there weren't very many people that could actually live like that.

In European films, the bad guy wins and justice loses out. That's when I started creating manga, where sometimes the bad wins and the good loses.

Q: What effect did the war with America have on your work?

A: Life wasn't easy, not even 10 years after the war had ended. The citizens were really poor. The majority of Japanese didn't really have proper jobs. Gekiga was an expression of all that, of what it means to be a human being, the joy and the sadness.

Q: How did people in Japan react to your first few Gekiga-style manga books?

A: They definitely had a response. It was unlike any manga up until that period. Back then there was the idea that manga was something that had a good influence on children, so we were condemned by some. Parents were asking what was this that their children brought home. But it was very popular.

Then, until recently, many young people in Japan became more rah-rah, like in America.

But now the mood is darker again. The young, the old, the salary man, most people in Japan don't have a lot of hope for the future.

Q: While in Toronto you will debut the English edition of your 840-page masterwork about your career, A Drifting Life. How do you feel about being commonly referred to as the godfather of adult-styled comics?

A: I don't know about godfather, maybe grandfather. Once it was just father. I don't think I've had that big of an influence. Manga is too big, there are so many choices, genres. Manga has penetrated everything: movies, books, TV, everything.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi appeared last night at a Toronto Comic Arts Festival reception at Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room. He appears over the weekend at festival events at the Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St. For more info, call 416-533-9168 or go to torontocomics.com.
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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The LA Times

Updated May 19, 2009



'A Drifting Life' by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated from the Japanese by Taro Nettleton, edited, designed and lettered by Adrian Tomine
The story of manga, through the eyes of an artist who has lived its entire history.
By Susan Carpenter
May 10, 2009

A Drifting Life

A Graphic Novel-Memoir

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, translated from the Japanese by Taro Nettleton, edited, designed and lettered by Adrian Tomine

Drawn & Quarterly: 856 pp., $29.95 paper

The date: Aug. 15, 1945. The country: Japan. Following a series of nuclear and firebomb attacks that laid waste to dozens of cities and killed hundreds of thousands of civilians, Emperor Hirohito finally announced Japan's surrender in World War II, leaving his subjects to deal with the death and disease of loved ones, the rebuilding of the country's infrastructure and rampant shortages of food and medicine.

They were, to be sure, bleak times. Yet it was this horrific backdrop that set the stage for the creation of what would become a worldwide cultural force just a few decades later -- manga, or Japanese comics. Rising from the ashes of a defeated and disarmed Japan, manga hasn't just been adopted by American culture, it has continued to provide fodder for TV shows, movies, video games and books.

Now a new graphic novel-memoir seeks to shed some light on that era, chronicling the birth of an art form along with the role of one of its star players -- Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn and written by the now 74-year-old legend, the brick-thick memoir "A Drifting Life" is the story of manga as seen through the eyes of an artist who has lived its entire history.

Not coincidentally, "A Drifting Life" begins the same day as Japan's surrender. Tatsumi was just 10 years old, living with his four siblings and two feuding parents in Osaka -- much of which had been wiped out by firebombs earlier that year.

Like many boys his age in a pre-television world, Tatsumi spent his days reading comics. It wasn't long before he was drawing them to escape the grim realities of his daily life, then sending them to the growing catalog of manga magazines that sprang up in the late 1940s and early '50s.

The only place Tatsumi "felt alive was in the realm of imagination." "There was no freedom in reality," the artist writes in a panel that shows nothing but a blank page. "The creative act of making something from nothing allowed him to live in an infinitely free world."

At that time, manga was mostly short-form, consisting of a few panels that featured fanciful cartoonish characters engaged in some sort of gag. And that is exactly what Tatsumi was drawing -- and getting published and paid for -- as a tween and young teenager. The pen-and-ink stylings Tatsumi uses to tell that part of his story, however, are clearly from manga's elder statesman. The clean, orderly style is the work of a fully realized artist who's spent 60 years honing his craft, and "A Drifting Life" represents the "dramatic pictures" (gekiga) for which Tatsumi is best known -- emotional and realistic renderings of a hard-knock life told from an underdog perspective. Rather than jokes and action, the emphasis is on character and narrative.

It was this ahead-of-its-time sensibility that caught the eye of a latter-day artist who shares the same sensibilities -- Adrian Tomine. The driving force behind Tatsumi's relatively recent fame in the U.S., the 34-year-old superstar of contemporary alternative American comics edited and designed "A Drifting Life."

Eleven years in the making, "A Drifting Life" is published by Drawn & Quarterly, which put out Tomine's popular Optic Nerve comics and which, at Tomine's urging, also released Tatsumi's "The Push Man and Other Stories" in 2005 and "Abandon the Old in Tokyo" in 2006. Where the earlier books featured comics from the late '60s and early '70s, "A Drifting Life" is the first Tatsumi book published in the U.S. to feature his more recent work.

As much as the book is a personal take on the formative years of manga, it's also a peek into the artist's creative process and a history lesson that shows how a transitioning postwar culture shaped manga's form and content. Tatsumi's inclusion of Japanese societal touchstones, such as the U.S. testing in the 1950s of the hydrogen bomb in the Pacific and the rise of teenage singing sensation Hibari Misora, are merely artistic representations of cultural influence. On an even deeper level, Tatsumi's entire mode of storytelling was formed by politics, sports, literature and movies.

It was "The Count of Monte Cristo," for example, that led Tatsumi to embrace the sentiment of that book's lead character -- "that all human creation progresses toward simplification and 'simplification' is refinement." It was the rioting of his fellow Japanese against the signing of a security treaty with the U.S. in 1960 that led to Tatsumi's realization that the "dramatic pictures" he was making lacked anger. And it was his reading of American comics in the '50s that taught him that "visuals should be the primary method of expression" and that "dialogue should be as abbreviated as possible."

While much is made of the influence of Mickey Spillane's crime fiction on Tatsumi's hard-boiled content, film may have had an even greater effect. Tatsumi tended to go to the movies whenever he was stuck on a story, and the cinematic techniques he observed often wound up in his comics. The fog in the 1956 French film "People of No Importance," for example, taught Tatsumi that light and shadow could be used to characterize emotion.

Indeed, one of the most striking image sequences in "A Drifting Life" involves a romantic tryst that begins with a hug, progresses to a kiss and ends with a close-up of a pair of shoes and a fallen book bag.

"A Drifting Life" is a beautiful portrait of a dark time during which Tatsumi's artistic experimentation was clearly a guiding light for a fledgling movement. Even at 800-plus pages, it seems to end too soon, stopping in 1960. One can only hope that Tatsumi pens the rest of his illustrious life story.

Carpenter is a Times staff writer.

susan.carpenter@latimes.com

 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Eye Weekly

Updated May 7, 2009


A Drifting Life
Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, 840 pages, $36.95)
BY Chris Randle May 06, 2009 21:05

There is a certain haze surrounding Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and not just in the figurative sense — in the darkness that blankets post-war Japan in his stories about alienated misfits lost in cursed cities. The 73-year-old mangaka was almost unknown on this continent until 2005, when Canada’s Drawn & Quarterly published the first of three volumes collecting his short comics from 1969-72. During one Q&A between Tatsumi and Adrian Tomine, the acclaimed American cartoonist who edited the trilogy, Tatsumi said ambiguously, “Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author’s personality.” Now, D&Q have just published his 840-page memoir A Drifting Life. So who is Yoshihiro Tatsumi?

According to Peter Birkemoe, owner of The Beguiling and co-founder of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival — which, along with Authors at Harbourfront Centre, presents Tatsumi in conversation with Tomine May 8 — the guy “has a much cooler demeanour than one would expect from a 70-something cartoonist…. [Saying he has an] aura akin to a Lou Reed or a Tom Waits would not by any means be a stretch.” (Birkemoe and Tatsumi first met at San Diego Comic Con, Tatsumi’s only previous professional visit to North America.)

But the cartoonist doesn’t just resemble an avant-garde elder. In the mid-’50s he coined the term gekiga, an attempt at drawing a thick line between his own “dramatic pictures” and the more fanciful ones of manga. A Drifting Life chronicles the period leading up to this artistic revelation, but it doesn’t much resemble the dingy hallucinations of vintage gekiga. Its pace is far more stately, its form a different kind of experiment.

Tatsumi began drawing comics professionally as a teenager, a more gifted rival to his sickly, moody brother Okimasa. Tomine tells me that A Drifting Life has a “symphonic” quality — it transitions between the stylized, cartoony young mangaka forming their nascent movement and a wider social history of post-war Japan, rendered photorealistically. Tatsumi draws Godzilla in exacting detail; he relates how his younger self was fascinated by the “cruelty” of Jack Palance, handsomely grizzled in Shane. As Birkemoe says, “You can read this book to get a story of Japan in that period, you can read it to get an artist’s story, or you can read it to get a history of [manga].” (Almost all the peers Tatsumi’s protagonist falls in with have never been documented this extensively in English before, or in some cases at all.)

All these disparate threads eventually converge at the book’s climax, as the cartoonist’s stylized surrogate wanders into photorealistic history — a 1960 demonstration against the ongoing US domination of Japan. The slightly stilted prose throughout much of A Drifting Life gets boiled down by aggrieved passion. “Japan, too, is adrift!” Tatsumi thinks. “That’s the element that gekiga has forgotten… anger!” The crowd surges forward; he stands apart, overcome. “No! I’ll never be done with gekiga!”

That vow wasn’t one of simple triumph. In the brief epilogue, a much older Tatsumi attends a 1995 memorial service for legendary mangaka Osamu Tezuka, who redefined the form a generation before his, providing the younger man with both a mentor to venerate (Tezuka’s appearances here are sometimes iconic) and a template to break. The authorial surrogate slips out early; his face is cross-hatched into obscurity. Sipping coffee, he wonders if that ideal of creative freedom was really worth all the struggles — if autonomy was only isolation.

And in the very last panel, from a subjective perspective, we see Tatsumi set the cup back down. Is he resigned? Newly defiant? Waiting for his drink to cool? What seemed like mere opacity unfurls into agonizing complexity.




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A DRIFTING LIFE reiewed by The Contra Costa Times

Updated May 5, 2009


"A Drifting Life," Yoshiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly, $29.50, 856 pages). Don't be scared off by the bulk of this autobiography. Trust me, it reads like a lightning bolt, whisking you off on a fascinating exploration of a popular and mystifying art form. Tatsumi, one of manga's major talents, illustrates his own life, honing in on his early career as an in-demand contract artist. "Life" ambitiously reveals — perhaps a little too slightly — how outside influences such as the work of other artists, favorite movies, Japan's historical events and family relations inspired Tatsumi's extensive work. But this portrait of an artist as a young man is more intent on showing us the step-by-step evolution of a writer. Just as adroitly, it provides an eye-opening overview of the business and attraction of manga, warts and all. Too bad it wraps up too abruptly and doesn't really dig into his psyche. B
 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by ComicMix

Updated May 5, 2009


Fri May 1, 2009 — by Andrew Wheeler
Manga Friday: A Drifting Life
Yoshihiro Tatsumi's massive memoir of the early days of gekiga

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly, April 2009, $29.99

It’s hard, sometimes impossible, to avoid a tunnel-visioned view of the world – not to have one’s mental map of things resemble that famous Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover, with familiar things reassuringly large and the rest of the world a small, distant blur. And so everything we learn gets filtered through that initial world-view, with each fact setting itself into place like a brick and used as shorthand for huge swaths of that surrounding blur, and a few isolated facts pass for “knowledge” of something far away.

For most of us, the history of manga goes like this: Tezuka sprung, fully-formed, sometime after the war. There were other creators, but hardly anybody can remember any of them. Eventually, the shonen-shojo gulf appeared, in the ‘70s, and real manga history started, with series that we can usually remember and some that we’ve actually read. Maybe we believe that because so very little of the first generation of manga has ever been translated into English, and maybe that’s because most of those stories are utterly ephemeral and best forgotten even by the Japanese. Or maybe not – but how would we know what was good, what the artistic movements, the creators, the publishing lines and magazines were fifty years ago in a country on the other side of the world, in a language where we can’t even tell where words end?

That’s where A Drifting Life comes in. It’s another one of those bricks: isolated, yes. Specific rather than comprehensive, absolutely. Biased, certainly. But it’s the story of those years, of the early days of manga from 1945 through 1960, from a creator who was there, and telling a semi-fictionalized story of a culture, an industry and a time we knew nothing about before.

Drawn & Quarterly has published three books of Tatsumi’s work before this, three collections of his short stories from the 1969-1972 period: The Push Man and Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and Good-Bye. A Drifting Life comes from somewhat later in his career, though how much later isn’t clear. It’s been said that Tatsumi worked on this for more than a decade, and the epilogue – set in 1995 – has the feeling of bringing the story up to the “present day.” So, from that evidence, I surmise that Tatsumi worked on A Drifting Life from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, with serious uncertainty about both ends of that assumption. But it does look like he came to write this memoir long after the events he’s writing about, and probably at least a decade after he created the other stories we’ve seen from him.

Again, we aren’t even sure what we don’t know here; Tatsumi appears to have been a prolific manga-ka for at least thirty years before he got to A Drifting Life, but we simply don’t know enough about his work to put it into any context. It has to stand by itself, that brick that stands for a whole wall. It has hardly any context; it creates the context of the story it tells.

A Drifting Life opens in 1945, following a ten-year-old aspiring manga writer – intriguingly, either Tatsumi always uses the word “write” to describe the creation of manga, or translator Taro Nettleton and editor Adrian Tomine settled on that word at this end – with the transparent name of Hiroshi Katsumi. (I suspect the name was even more transparent in the original kanji.)

In 1945, and for the years immediately afterward, Hiroshi’s going to school and dealing with some family stress rated to his lazy, straying father, but those are just distractions: what’s important in his life is his art…though he doesn’t think of manga as art yet. He just knows he wants, desperately, to be part of that world – like a thousand wannabe writers and artists and poets and dancers and actors everywhere and everywhen. Hiroshi, though, has both the drive and the skills to succeed – his weekly entries into “postcard manga” contests start winning, first occasionally and then regularly.

A Drifting Life moves forward through Hiroshi’s life, as he goes through high school writing manga on the side, punts his college entrance exams, and starts working full-time. He meets many publishers and creators – a few older and more established, like Tezuka himself, and many of his own generation – as he gradually becomes (without ever actually telling the reader so) one of the major lights of the Osaka manga scene by the mid-50s. Katsumi is mostly lucky with his publishers; he doesn’t show any of them trying to cheat or belittle him, though his major Osaka publisher is manipulative and unhappy when he and a few others finally make the big jump to Tokyo.

As one might expect from the title, A Drifting Life is not strongly structured – its fifty or so sixteen-page chapters don’t begin or end cleanly, and the years slide by with little explicit notice of which one is passing. As Katsumi thinks to himself on the last page, “I’ve drifted along, demanding an endless dream from gekiga. And I…probably…always will….”

Gekiga is a word Tatsumi – or here Katsumi – came up with to describe the kind of stories he wanted to tell, to telegraph his higher aims. He and his fellow creators didn’t want to just tell silly stories for children, with Tezuka-esque rounded figures; they wanted to tell crime and detective stories for adults…or at least somewhat older children. Again, I know essentially nothing of the gekiga movement of the ‘50s besides what I read here – I can’t say if their stories were important in the field, or something minor on the edge. But I can tell that these young men were passionate about telling their stories and were willing to work hard to do the things they wanted to do – that’s not proof that they did good work, but it’s an essential prerequisite.

This is the only brick I have, and I’m unsure as to how much weight I can trust it to support. Tatsumi changed his own name here; are his fellow writers similarly changed? I assume – which is not always wise – that he’s using their real names, and the real names of the magazines and publishers of the time. I assume that this brick is a strong one, suitable for supporting a wall or holding up a light to shine on ‘50s manga.

A Drifting Life is captioned, off and on, as Tatsumi provides cultural touchstones – such-and-such going on with the government, which movies were popular that year, and so forth – and tells Katsumi’s story in flat tones, without emotion. The real story, and the passion, comes from the dialogue of Katsumi and the other young writers, but that doesn’t touch the narrating voice, which remains detached and cold, as if viewing these events from so far away that they’re barely discernable.

A Drifting Life is slower and more diffuse than Tatsumi’s short stories; it doesn’t have the devastating punch and clarity of his best short work. But it’s a fascinating look into an industry that the English-speaking world knows very little about, during a time when it was growing and expanding and exploring new voices. And it’s a fine addition to the shelf of stories about young artists coming into their creative strengths. I can only guess as to how much untranslated work by Tatsumi is still sitting in Japan – more than fifty years of it – and wonder at what else we might see out of that blur on the other side of the world.

Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.

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ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO reviewed by The SF Examiner

Updated May 5, 2009


Review: Abandon the Old Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Yoshihiro Tatsumi is often credited as the creator of the term gekiga (meaning “dramatic pictures,”) a Japanese, alternative comic genre Yoshihiro was very quick to distance from its precursor, mainstream manga (a term which translates to “irresponsible pictures.”) This terminological division is often compared to that of graphic novels and comic books, in both cases with the former being classically associated with heavier, more adult content and the latter with light, often sci-fi or fantasy children’s material. After having finished a recently translated edition of Abandon the Old Tokyo, a collection of eight short stories Tatsumi wrote during his prime, I can see why Yoshihiro felt the need to make such a distinction when describing his work—Tatsumi’s writing is definitely not for children or the faint of heart.

Though a quick read, Abandon the Old Tokyo is most certainly not a light one. Its stories provide an unflinchingly honest expose on the private lives of ordinary, working-class men living in the hustle and bustle of Japan’s thriving metropolis that will more often than not leave the reader disquieted, contemplative, morally troubled and a little haunted. Tatsumi’s characters abandon their loved ones, commit unspeakable acts, lose their sense of humanity and spend the rest of their lives mourning it. Though the actions of these lost souls may sometimes seem completely incomprehensible, their provocations and ramifications are often eerily familiar. This makes these stories feel all the more tragically profound and resonant as one watches the personal lives of these painstakingly ordinary, deeply flawed individuals unravel quietly and effortlessly.

One interesting facet of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s characters is his recurring use of visual archetypes. Many of the differently named and circumstanced protagonists, for instance, look more or less the same. There is also a recurring young, beautiful, round-haired female type who appears in many of these stories. While some readers may be willing to dismiss this as artistic laziness, it’s very obvious from Tatsumi’s drawings as a whole that there’s nothing lazy about them. For this reason, I like to believe that Tatsumi’s character types are a purposeful motif in his work which represent not just an average man stuck in differing unusual, unfortunate situations, but rather the average man reacting to the injustices of his surroundings—the hardships and prejudices of his city, his culture, his world.

As the gekiga pioneer, Tatsumi not only influenced an entire generation of alternative manga writers and readers, but even had a profound impact on the mainstream. Concurrent mainstream manga industry titan Osama Tezuka (who you may remember I wrote of as an influence on Scott McCloud’s Zot! a few weeks ago) even adopted many elements of gekiga into his own work, most notably Adolfand Phoenix. Today, thanks to Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work and influence, that era is often hailed as a golden age of manga. So do yourself a favor, and begin at its source.


 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Daily Yomiuri

Updated May 1, 2009


THROUGH OTAKU EYES / Resurgence of angry manga

Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a "forgotten" mangaka of the gekiga style, which uses realistic pictures, has emerged in the international spotlight.

The New York Times reviewed an autobiographical work by Tatsumi in its April 15 Arts section. The long work is Gekiga Hyoryu, which was originally published by Seirin Kogeisha Co. last year and was translated and issued by the Canadian publishing house Drawn & Quarterly as A Drifting Life.

Times reviewer Dwight Garner wrote: "It's a big, fat, greasy tub of salty popcorn for anyone interested (as Americans increasingly are) in the theory and practice of Japanese comics. It's among this genre's signal achievements."

The review concluded: "A book like A Drifting Life is fairly easy to pick apart on a drawing-by-drawing or line-by-line basis. Don't make that mistake. Its pleasures are cumulative; the book has a rolling, rumbling grandeur. It's as if someone had taken a Haruki Murakami novel and drawn, beautifully and comprehensively, in its margins."

The newspaper certainly gave the mangaka great acclaim. Given the popularity or name recognition Tatsumi has in Japan, however, I cannot deny I was somewhat surprised by the Times' rave review. Most of Tatsumi's past works now are difficult to obtain, and there must be a considerable number of people, even among avid manga fans, who do not know his name.

It is true, however, that Tatsumi, 73, made a great contribution to manga history. Tatsumi, who worked for a rental manga service in Osaka, started the new wave of manga with the gekiga style in the late 1950s. Gekiga reached the height of its boom in the early 1970s, making gekiga almost synonymous with manga for a time.

Along with other young rental manga artists, whose works were printed in collections and lent to readers, like video rentals are handled today, Tatsumi founded a group called Gekiga Kobo 50 years ago.

So what is gekiga? According to the main character of Gekiga Hyoryu, it is manga that is not manga, or a new expression of manga that does not rely on laughs or twist endings.

It is hard to imagine from the current style of manga, but manga created before the release of manga giant Osamu Tezuka's Shin Takarajima (New Treasure Island) in 1947 usually stressed humor, as they were intended for children. Even an attack by samurai did not involve any bloodshed, for instance.

It was natural for those who began to draw manga under the strong influence of Shin Takarajima to hope to draw darker, more realistic and dramatic manga. They also were influenced by thriller films, American and European hard-boiled stories and Seicho Matsumoto's mystery novels, which were centered on social issues.

Tatsumi called his works gekiga in the hope bookstores and readers would differentiate his works from conventional manga for children. But it cannot be said that his intentions were clearly understood. Gekiga, with a penchant for such themes as crime, bizarre incidents, violence or decadence, appealed greatly to adolescents, but were labeled "vulgar and sensational" for a long time by "educative" adults. Because of that, gekiga is now almost a dead word in the world of manga.

It is quite difficult to precisely define what gekiga is. Opinion is sharply divided even among mangaka. But it is clear the birth and prosperity of gekiga is deeply related to the bright and dark sides of Japanese society during the period of postwar construction and economic growth. Near the end of Gekiga Hyoryu, Tatsumi realizes the real nature of gekiga lies in the energy of anger trying to destroy something. In other words, gekiga was the adolescence of manga.

There seem to be some connections between three things: the 50th anniversary of the birth of gekiga, the impact of the worst economic downturn since the end of the war, and the high praise for Tatsumi's gekiga overseas.

It's not an exaggeration to say that manga of the modern era is rooted in gekiga in terms of its way of expression. In that respect, gekiga deserves more recognition. It seems to me it is time to see the resurgence of the forgotten energy of anger in manga.

Ishida is a staff writer in the Cultural News Department of The Yomiuri Shimbun specializing in anime and manga.
(May. 1, 2009)
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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by NPR.org

Updated April 30, 2009


Books We Like
by Glen Weldon
Memoir Of A Manga Master

NPR.org, April 24, 2009 · Mangaka, the Japanese term generally reserved for those makers of manga who both write and draw their comics, carries a connotation of craft, experience and personal vision. Manga publishing today is a multibillion-dollar business in Japan, where young and old alike devour digest-sized comic volumes by the metric ton. But even in the industry's early days, becoming a mangaka was never easy, requiring years of apprenticeship or study in a formal manga school.

By any measure, Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a mangaka to be reckoned with. He was there at the start of the manga industry in the late 1940s, and he spent several years churning out comics under crushing deadlines. Soon, however, he began to chafe at the formulaic nature of the manga he was being asked to produce, which were cartoony, fantastical and fueled by an endless succession of gags and punchlines. He sought out other creators who, like him, believed that manga had the potential to explore more realistic, complex and adult themes.

A Drifting Life, Tatsumi's massive, 11-years-in-the-making memoir in comics form, tells the story of that artistic movement. Tatsumi takes great care to show how he and his colleagues were influenced by the political and cultural confusion of a country struggling to rebuild itself after losing a world war.

This absorbing glimpse of a little-seen world might be enough to recommend the book to devotees of comics in general and of manga in particular, who may have more patience than most for the amount of time Tatsumi devotes to the nuts and bolts of literary life: haggling with publishers, commiserating with fellow authors over technique and — especially — the sending and receiving of mail. But A Drifting Life offers something much more universal: a sharply observed exploration of the urge to create, set in a time and place unfamiliar to most Westerners. Call it a portrait of the artist as a young mangaka.

Despite a surfeit of contextualizing historical detail, Tatsumi's focus is a personal one, and A Drifting Life is driven by his singular devotion to manga's potential as a means of storytelling. We watch him struggle to find his voice and experience the flashes of insight that first prompted him to experiment with the medium.

The book's tone is cool and dispassionate, which puts some distance between the reader and the events depicted. Even when Tatsumi details a moment of sudden artistic insight, the epiphanic glow that we might expect from an artist uncovering some essential truth is lacking. That's because Tatsumi chooses to frame such flashes as intellectual rather than emotional milestones. They're mental puzzles to be solved; once he's cracked them, he moves on.

Which is where the title comes in — because Tatsumi is forever moving on. The young artist portrayed in these pages is so consumed by his work that most other aspects of his life — a jealous brother, a drunken father, the older woman to whom he loses his virginity — seem to drift past his worktable like ghosts.

Even at 865 pages, A Drifting Life covers only the early years of Tatsumi's career, ending before he creates the The Push Man, Good-Bye and the other gritty, uncompromising works for which he is internationally known. If you've read any of those dark, highly stylized tales, A Drifting Life's gently humorous tone and decidedly non-experimental approach may surprise you.

But it shouldn't: This is an artist looking back at the beginnings of his career and trying to untangle — for himself and for history — the forces that shaped him into the mangaka he has become. It's a fascinating history lesson for those unfamiliar with manga, an entertaining peek behind the scenes for those who know the form. And for just about anyone, A Drifting Life provides an engrossing tale of how one artist came to know himself and his medium.


 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Paste Magazine

Updated April 30, 2009


Yoshihiro Tatsumi
A Drifting Life [Drawn and Quarterly]
By Mattew Shaer
on April 29, 2009 2:15 PM
Portrait of the mangaka as a young man.

"Cicadas cried incessantly.” These three lonely words appear early in A Drifting Life, Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s masterful new graphic memoir, and flicker across the next few chapters like the fragment of a childhood dream. The year is 1945, and Japan’s emperor has just surrendered to the Allied forces, leaving the country economically battered. In the industrial city of Osaka, a young boy named Hiroshi Katsumi seeks refuge in his collection of manga, Japanese comics with the power to render him “virtually speechless. He’d seen many ‘great works of art’ in exhibitions and catalogs before, but never had he been so moved.” Hiroshi falls asleep every night on a pillow of comic books, while the striated thrum of the cicadas burbles up from the reeds under his window.
The tenor of the first 100 pages of A Drifting Life, with its muted grays and blacks, is a notable departure for the 74-year-old Tatsumi. His best fiction has heretofore been deeply dystopian: A laborer chops off his arm to earn insurance money for a greedy wife, a sewer worker steals valuable jewelry off the corpse of a dead baby, a woman is savaged by a hungry rat. To Tatsumi, traditional comic art was unable to accurately depict the violent realities of post-war Japan, so he turned to the grotesque and the absurd, dubbing his new style gekiga—in Japanese, “dramatic pictures.”

Beginning in 2005, with the help of Brooklyn artist Adrian Tomine, Drawn and Quarterly published three translated collections of Tatsumi’s gekiga work for American audiences. (Japanese comics are read from right to left, so the publisher had to flip the orientation of each page—no small task.) Now comes A Drifting Life—at 840 pages, it’s heavier than anything Tatsumi has ever written before, and more personal.

Katsumi’s story is unmistakably Tatsumi’s own: the crushing poverty of his youth, the tumultuous relationship with his brother, the rigors of the Allied occupation, the schoolyard bullying, the early stirring of talent. By the time he reaches his teens, Katsumi has formed a manga association, and is offloading his comics to a score of local magazines. One strip catches the attention of the legendary artist Osamu Tezuka, and Katsumi is invited to Tezuka’s home on the outskirts of Osaka.

“Stories that capture the minds of children all over Japan,” the boy marvels. “How amazing it must be to be the person creating them.” Under Tezuka’s tutelage, he begins to move away from four-panel works and toward the longer narratives that will characterize his later work. When he leaves for Tokyo to pursue the life of a full-time manga artist, Katsumi loses touch with Tezuka. But the relationship between teacher and student drives much of the emotional sweep of A Drifting Life, which effectively ends at a 1995 seven-year anniversary memorial service for Tezuka. “Time swallows up everyone, without distinction between the genius and ordinary,” Katsumi thinks. “A world of manga without its unparalled genius is a lonely place.”

These murmurs of nostalgia, from a writer nearing the end of his own career, are matched by frames filled with a strikingly lush beauty. Bodies press together in a crowded trolley car, a pair of frogs hides in the long grass near Katsumi’s grammar school, snowflakes coat a copse of flowers, an American jet plane hurtles overhead. When his brother maliciously tears up teenage Katsumi’s work, the young artist runs screaming out of his house and collapses in a nearby field. A murky twilight sets in and, with it, a swarm of fireflies. Katsumi’s face turns up into a broad smile; later, he dances among the ghostly white orbs, lost in a “magical scene.”

On the book’s final page, Katsumi looks back at his life and decides that his greatest memories—of love, friendship and growing old—have become inextricable from the art they helped inspire. “I’ve drifted along,” he sighs, “demanding an endless dream from gekiga. And I probably always will.”

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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Village Voice

Updated April 30, 2009


By Richard Gehr

Pulp Fictions may be on hiatus, but the comics just keep on coming. Here's what's been turning my pages recently:

A Drifting Life
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly

Lauded for his downbeat short works collected in The Push Man and Other Stories and Goodbye, Yoshihiro Tatsumi depicts his early years of (sometimes) bitter struggle as a young manga workhorse in this massive and mesmerizing 855-page autobiography. Tatsumi, born in 1935, conflates his personal struggle to invent gekiga, a cinema-inspired "manga that isn't manga," with Japan's postwar economic recovery and the labor-intensive grind of producing works for the country's insatiable "rental manga" market. Hardly adrift as a creator, Tatsumi applies a lifetime of experience to the ambivalent family and professional relationships that background his unflagging imagination and admirable work ethic. Among its countless graphic delights is Tatsumi's crafty knack for mimicking the creations of many manga peers throughout this sprawling personal epic.
 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Time Out Chicago

Updated April 30, 2009


A Drifting Life
By Jonathan Messinger

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95.

It’s been only a few years since Japanese comics icon Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work made it to our shores, thanks to Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly. And yet, after just a few books from his 50-year career, he drops this brick on us: an 850-page graphic autobiography, tracking his beginning as a mangakan through his life and career.

Born in 1935, Tatsumi entered a bellicose Japan, and his earliest memories find his country searching for an identity after Hiroshima, Hirohito’s surrender, and the dissolution of the military. Tatsumi’s older brother was one of many sick adolescents, largely homebound by pleurisy. And without a structured economy after the war, his father sold repurposed goods from the American military, door-to-door. Tatsumi, only 12 years old, began to draw “postcard comics,” four-panel manga cartoons that he entered into various contests and which began to earn him some steady prize money and growing recognition.

As the book progresses, and Tatsumi’s career takes off against the backdrop of the ever-morphing Japanese culture, he never explicitly makes the connection between his work and the politics of his country (or his family). Like many other manga artists, Tatsumi showcases the exaggerated expressions—the mouths open at impossible angles and the practically planetary eyes—of the genre, but he notably leaves that behind in the most devastating moments. And it’s then when the reader’s jaw drops.


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A DRIFTiNG LIFE reviewed by PopMatters

Updated April 30, 2009


A Drifting Life
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly
April 2009, 840 pages, $29.95
by Jeremy Estes

The sound of cicadas echoes through the pages of A Drifting Life. It’s an electric sound, like the buzz of fluorescent lights. It is a sound with presence, and hearing it one can almost see the army of insects in the trees, on the ground. It’s not a solitary sound, but one of many voices together.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s use of the cicada song—illustrated as a series of thick lines filling the air—provides not only a soundtrack for his development as a young artist in postwar Japan, but also a metaphor for the steady flow of the creative process and the personal and professional static that can block that process.

This mammoth book, which took Tatsumi over a decade to complete, begins after the Japanese surrender in World War II. Hiroshi, Tatsumi’s alter-ego in the book, is a young school boy obsessed with manga. He and his brother Okimasu read and discuss their favorite comics as fans and, eventually, professionals.

They begin their careers while still in grade school, submitting four-panel strips to popular magazines and receiving prizes for their work. Hiroshi’s success doesn’t follow the typical trajectory of a rags-to-riches story with Hiroshi moving from the slums to the big time after a paying his dues, but Tatsumi’s narrative still moves with the ease of a biopic. Along with that comes the trapping of the genre: the jealous sibling, the damaged home life, the crises of confidence.

But if these are facts of life, can they be considered liabilities? It’s all in the presentation, of course, and Tatsumi never dwells on any of these elements long enough to succumb to cliché of mere convention. Instead, these elements serve as the groundwork for Hiroshi’s constant struggle to create art. It’s this struggle which gives Hiroshi’s life its drift.

Later, free from school and working steadily for a variety of publishers, Hiroshi tries to reconcile the artist’s life with a professional career, asking himself while stuck on a story, “What’s the appropriate metaphor for the feeling of working alone without a deadline?” Staring at his drawing board he settles on the image of a man wandering in the desert searching for “an elusive oasis”. That doesn’t quite satisfy Hiroshi—or the reader—but it’s a start.

Hiroshi’s struggle is about coming to terms with his art and finding exactly what it is he’s trying to express, not to mention trying to make a living. He’s already found his mode of expression, and though he still finds joy in reading and creating humor and adventure stories, he finds himself constrained by their conventions. “I want to write a really long story using entirely new narrative techniques,” Hiroshi says. This becomes his mantra through much of the book, but we never see the results of his ambition, at least on the page.

Familiar readers know Tatsumi as the author of Abandon the Old in Tokyo, Good-bye and as a pioneer of gekiga, or dramatic manga. Though the book is not some fractured, multi-linear narrative told from differing perspectives, A Drifting Life is exactly what Hiroshi/Tatsumi set out to create. The scope, detail and physical detail of the book is a massive leap forward from the four-panel gag strips with which Hiroshi began his career.

If we back up just a bit, it becomes clear this entire book is the metaphor which Hiroshi finds so elusive. It is a drifting life, the artist tethered only to his work, with that connection constantly threatened by self-doubt, treadmill-like grind of commercial work and naysayers.

Hiroshi’s older brother, Okimasu, serves as equal parts critic, rival and voice of reason. He is Hiroshi’s artistic conscience and sounding board, asking, “Don’t you think what you call experimental might be self-indulgent?” It’s perhaps the most important lesson Hiroshi learns, but Tatsumi never stops to hammer the point home with bland narration like, “… and that’s when i became an artiste!” Instead, this and every important step in Hiroshi’s development as an artist comes and goes without flash or fanfare. The book the reader holds in his or her hands is evidence of the lessons learned.

Missing from A Drifting Life are the dark elements so prevalent in much of Tatsumi’s other work. Sex and guilt and despair are present, but far removed from Hiroshi’s life. The seeds for these ideas are present, however, in Hiroshi’s infatuation with an attractive restaurant owner and his father’s failures in business. Still, moments of joy, like when Hiroshi physically experiences a snowstorm he is drawing (“The thrill of creation ... I had no idea,” he says) are relatively few. Hiroshi’s primary emotion is frustration, and Tatsumi fills nearly every page with its shadow.

This is a huge work, with dozens of people and places drifting in and out of the story, but there is surprisingly little filler. Every piece works in harmony with the others to create a passionate, moving portrait of an artist coming to terms with his desire to create. It may be just one story among many others, but A Drifting Life is alive with sights and sounds so intense, so real, one would swear they’re coming from right outside in the trees, or from the ground itself.

RATING:8/10
— 29 April 2009
 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Boldtype

Updated April 30, 2009


A Drifting Life
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Published: April 2009
Pages: 840
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Since 2005, comics prodigy Adrian Tomine has been on a mission to bring the manga of his mentor, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, to North American audiences. Earlier collections like The Push Man and Other Stories draw from Tatsumi's manic output during the 1960s and '70s, and focus on a sordid urban world populated by desperate everymen. The latest installment, A Drifting Life, represents a significant change of pace. It's a massive tome — over 800 pages. Tomine designed the English version for the comics imprint Drawn & Quarterly; 11 years in the making, it focuses exclusively on Tatsumi's own life.

Based on the stature of the author, this is fertile ground. Tatsumi spearheaded the "gekiga" movement in Japanese comics, an attempt to mix filmic techniques with bleak realism, in order to capture older readers (not unlike Will Eisner's attempts to legitimize American comics with the mantle of the "graphic novel"). The story itself begins in 1945, with Emperor Hirohito's announcement of Japan's surrender, and ends in 1960, with the ratification of the Japanese-American Security Treaty and the resulting tumult. Alongside this historic era of recovery, Tatsumi traces his own career arc, as he rises from publishing postcard comics in boys' magazines to working for small publishers in Osaka, before moving to Tokyo, beginning the gekiga workshop, and watching its meteoric rise and precipitous fall with the collapse of the rental book market. Tatsumi's story is so tightly bound up with the industry he loved and shaped that A Drifting Life is as much a history of the medium itself as of his experiences with it.

The art in A Drifting Life art is less darkly atmospheric than Tatsumi's earlier works, but it's still quite arresting. The cast of characters he surrounds himself with are mostly other artists with similarly transcendent goals; it's a pleasure to watch them grow up and come into their own. But it's Tastumi's gift for storytelling, always his most important strength, that makes A Drifting Life such an invaluable testament to the rise of a multi-billion dollar industry, and the struggles of those who tried to change it to the core.

- Andy Warner
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A DRIFTING LIFE on The New York Times Best Seller List

Updated April 30, 2009


Graphic Books Best Seller List (Paperback)

3 A DRIFTING LIFE, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95.) This 840-page memoir chronicles family troubles and the evolution of manga from 1945 to 1960.
 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated April 21, 2009


Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A Heroic Life in Manga
By Anne Ishii -- Publishers Weekly, 4/20/2009 5:00:00 PM

Mangaka Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s newly published 800-page autobiographical manga, A Drifting Life, resembles less the comics memoir of a fellow auteur like Harvey Pekar, and more the Homeric legends of Greek myth. And this isn’t just a matter of quantifying the nature of tragedy as defined by these two late blooming comics icons (both world-renowned for their misanthropic characters). Published this month by Drawn & Quarterly, A Drifting Life contains a lion’s share of manga anthropology, making the book an artifact in and of itself. Not only is it the story of Tatsumi’s coming of age as a manga artist and creator of the gritty, awkwardly realistic style of manga known as Gekiga, this book is a detailed history of the development of the manga industry in post-WWII Japan. It’s the story of Tatsumi’s growth as a man and an artist as well as the epic retellling of the growth of a manga culture in Japan.

Just as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey have come to inform so many classics historians of ancient Greek manners and lifestyle, A Drifting Life graphically depicts life in the post-WWII Kansai region of Japan, exactly as it would have been lived by another kind of mythic hero: the manga pioneer. A Drifting Life actually begins with the end of World War II and the dawn of pop culture and entertainment. Milestones in each realm open each episode in the book, clearly demarcated in photorealistic illustrations not typical in Tatsumi’s more symbolist drawing style. Set up against this background, manga heroes of yore stand out in the memoir like a Trojan army, fueled most notably by the Zeus of all manga gods: Osamu Tezuka.

Tezuka is invoked at every turning point of manga history in this memoir, even though his actual interaction with Tatsumi is comparatively limited. This tugboat anchor of a book pays direct homage to Tezuka’s awesome powers, from his first tutelage of “Hiroshi” (as Tatsumi calls himself in the book) as a budding adolescent wannabe manga artist, to a post mortem invocation in the epilogue. The flux of Tezuka’s career arc as a prolific artist, author, editor, teacher, animator and filmmaker, drives the entire manga industry as Tatsumi knows it, and is matched in awe only by the dawn of animation, television, and to some extent, pop music.

Just as in Homer’s Iliad, however, the hero’s journey detailed in Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life, sustains a simultaneous sense of both the heroic and the mundane. If Tezuka is the god of long form manga, Tatsumi makes it clear he is the Achilles of comic strips. Constantly battling his need to support himself with illustration work-for-hire, Hiroshi dreams every single day between boyhood and manhood of drafting something bigger. Much bigger.



By subtly detailing his suffocating lower middle class eternity at home, a publisher’s check for a chintzy comics strip (such as the ones “Hiroshi” writes as a high school student) ends up feeling like the proverbial heel, when for anyone else his age it would have been tantamount to reaching third base. But for Hiroshi, the question remains: if a legendary manga artist draws an amazing graphic novel that never gets published, does the graphic novel exist?

And Hiroshi’s brother Okimasa is always there to answer him.

Okimasa may be one of the most complex comics characters ever written. Appearing regularly in the corners of each manga frame, Okimasa’s sickly creepy look always hints at some dramatic emotional denouement, to the point that when Okimasa proffers generosity or kindness, the reader can’t help but be surprised. A more volatile figure you will not meet. This is sibling rivalry on meth, and deserves a place right next to Castor, Pollux, Cain and Abel, to further this analogy to ancient myth. In one horrifying scene, Okimasa has taken one of Tatsumi/Hiroshi’s first comics manuscripts and ripped it to shreds. Okimasa then comfortably goes to sleep, practically smiling as Hiroshi wails away right in front of him upon discovery of the destroyed work. Many chapters later however, after Hiroshi has become an established cartoonist, Okimasa functions more as a weight-lifting spotter, down to the reverse-psychological taunts (e.g. “What are you, a wimp?”).

In fact, despite war and economic depression, the most palpable narrative tension in this memoir is still in the scenes with Hiroshi’s brother and occasionally his inept father, clearly the prototype for many of Tatsumi’s later anti-heroes. Yet all fraternity is volatile in this book. Even after Katsumi Hiroshi leaves home, people continue to deceive and disappoint him. A Gekiga Workshop he forms in Tokyo dissolves almost as soon as it is formed, and as you feel the last 100 pages of the memoir thin out rapidly thereafter, you wonder if our Achilles will ever win. Does gekiga thrive, in this memoir of its greatest master?

Sing, goddesses, the rage of Achilles, son of Peleus.

Thus begins The Iliad.

Anger!

That’s the element that gekiga has forgotten

Thus ends A Drifting Life.

The tentative last chapter of Tatsumi’s memoir shows our hero marching forth into the anti-Security Treaty demonstrations of 1960, which many contemporary Japanese historians consider the breaking point of the people’s movement (akin to the Berkley and Paris student demonstrations of 1969). This is the last battle at Troy in many senses, except instead of bloodshed, we are left all the rage of a young artist who has gone from unlucky bystander to angry citizen. An epilogue sends us 35 years forward, in media res, to Tezuka’s funeral. Katsumi Hiroshi—our Tatsumi—is no longer angry. He is just tired of it all. He has birthed the legend, the myth of gekiga manga, as author of its greatest examples, and as bard of its history. This may be why heroic legends are left for the storytellers of later generations—heroes can’t write their own conclusions. But Tatsumi has penned a magnificent new historical artifact. It captures the entirety of a nation’s creative spine and leaves its future wide open. Pretty heroic after all.
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A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times

Updated April 20, 2009


Graphic novel roundup, reviewed by Josh Elder

A DRIFTING LIFE

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Drawn & Quarterly, 840 pages, $29.95

A Drifting Life is the slightly fictionalized memoir -- the author changes a few names, most notably his own -- of manga (literal translation: "irresponsible pictures") pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The legendary Japanese cartoonist founded the gekiga (dramatic pictures) movement in the '50s in order to encourage the development of more serious works that catered to adult sensibilities. In keeping with his gekiga philosophy, Tatsumi uses a subdued and naturalistic art style, deliberately eschewing most of the artistic tropes like big eyes and speed lines stereotypically associated with manga here in the States, but his artwork remains just as expressive.

Less an autobiography and more a chronicling of Tatsumi's development as an artist, A Drifting Life details the birth of the gekiga movement as well as providing a unique window into Japan's postwar period cultural renaissance. A Drifting Life is a recommended read for comic literati and mangaphiles both.
 
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  A DRIFTNG LIFE reviewed by the Calgary Herald

Updated April 20, 2009


Portrait of a manga artist as a very young man

By Tous 04-16-2009 COMMENTS(0) Impressions

Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifitng Life is a fat book, three inches thick, that covers just 15-years in the manga master's long, immensely prolific career. With such a substantial anchor, this thinly fictionalized memoir is not likely to drift away.


Portrait of a manga artist as a very young man

By Tous 04-16-2009 COMMENTS(0) Impressions

Filed under: Drawn & Quarterly, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, A Drifting Life

Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifitng Life is a fat book, three inches thick, that covers just 15-years in the manga master's long, immensely prolific career. With such a substantial anchor, this thinly fictionalized memoir is not likely to drift away.

A reader will be happy for the detail that attends the story spun out over 855 pages. It opens a you-are-there window into the early creative life of an innovative artist whose literary graphic novels precede the appearance of the form in North America by 30 years.

Tatsumi has been dubbed the grandfather of alternative manga for adult readers, but his work is only recently becoming known outside of Japan. Three short-story collections by Tatsumi have been published in English by Drawn & Quarterly, and edited by the much younger graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, whose own work clearly has been influenced by Tatsumi.

Dark and disturbing, The Push Man & Other Stories (2005), Abandon the Old in Tokyo (2006) and Good-Bye (2008) are set in urban Japan during the difficult years of the post-war era, following the Second World War, and into the 1970s. A Drifting Life (2009), which covers the years from 1945 to 1960, is based on the now 73-year-old artist's beginnings and has a completely different atmosphere.

A Drifting Life is a portrait of the artist as a young man, a cartoon bildungsroman. It is also a multilayered story with appealing textures.

The story of a boy obsessed with manga is set against the background of the rebirth of manga, Japan's struggles to recover after bombing and defeat, the machinations of the manga publishing industry, and the creation of a new manga style, gekiga (dramatic pictures), which Tatsumi himself invented. But the pace of these pages is not slow.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi's alter ego is Hiroshi Katsumi, an ardent young cartoonist who lives in Osaka, where Tatsumi was born. Under the influence of his older brother, Hiroshi writes his first children's manga at the age of 10. Something of a prodigy, or maybe a nerd, the boy spends most of his time outside of middle school sitting inside the house, writing manga at a desk. Even, or especially, in the summertime.

His downbeat father sells products like soap and paper from door to door, and struggles to make ends meet in the miserable economy. His parents are not getting along, and his fellow-cartoonist brother suffers from pluerisy. Perhaps because of this, and competitive spirit where his brother's prize-winning cartoons are concerned, Hiroshi throws himself into writing manga like one possessed.

His work is published for the first time in 1949, when he is 13. At the sight of his published drawing, which he finds while thumbing through the magazine in a manga rental shop, "Hiroshi felt dizzy and shaky, as if blood was being drawn."

The next year, he founds the groundbreaking Children's Manga Association with six other cartoonists from Kyoto, and they decide to circulate a hand-drawn magazine. A journalist comes to interview Hiroshi and invites him and two CMA members to be part of a roundtable discussion on manga with his hero, the legendary Osama Tezuka. Joining forces with other like-minded artists to create story anthologies is a pattern Hiroshi follows for the next 10 years.

From the very beginning, Hiroshi chafes to write in the long form but the popularity of short-story manga magazines, which begin to sprout up in 1949, pulls him away. Manga begins to replace the earlier "picture story shows," which were presented in street puppet theatres to people who gathered around them. Picture puppet shows were at the height of their popularity in 1949. When television arrives, a little later, TV sets are placed where they can be watched on the street.

The texture of everyday life in Japan during the postwar era and the influence of American pop culture -- Blondie, Walt Disney, an endless stream of Japanese and American movies like Shane, hard-boiled Mickey Spillane and a drafted Elvis -- are fascinating threads to follow in Hiroshi's story. He is very taken with film, especially when he runs out of inspiration. He dreams about depicting cinematic movement within the panels of his cartoons, which would demand that he work in a longer form. Finally, he feels stymied and frustrated, aware that his work is suffering from fast production and tired of the politics of publishing.

One of A Drifting Life's consistent themes is the conflict between an artist's creative desires and the demands of the publishers who are bent on feeding the competitive manga market. The up-and-coming manga artists are under constant pressure to produce, and occasionally cooped up together in apartments that are not unlike sweat shops. The artists are not always paid what their work is worth, yet the publishers dislike having their artists work for anyone else at the same time, and try to prevent them from doing it.

Tatsumi is more understanding of the difficulties of staying in business than he is critical, but Hiroshi finds ways to get around their restrictions, like using a pen name, for example. When pressure and politics become too much, he rebels and forms the Gekiga Workshop, with other artists who want to break away from big-eyed commercial children's manga to write gritty stories with more naturalistic pictures that deal with adult relationships and themes. The artists' main publisher is adamantly opposed.

Hiroshi writes a Gekiga Manifesto, but when the workshop starts fairly quickly to fall apart, he is ready to throw in the towel.

But the end of the book, in 1960, looks forward to a new beginning. Hiroshi at 25 is a little wiser and determined to pursue his vision of gekiga as a new expressive form. Perhaps it is his anchor for a drifting life. Certainly, it is a revolutionary new art form with wide-reaching influence.

A reader can only hope that a sequel to A Drifting Life will soon be in sight somewhere on the horizon.

Adrian Tomine discovered the reclusive Tatsumi, who for many years felt like an outcast in Japan, when the younger artist was 14. About the same time he began to edit the D & Q series, interest in Tatsumi began to revive in other parts of the world. Tatsumi's work has been translated not just into English but also French, Spanish, Swedish and Polish, and his books are being reissued in Japan.

Having him in the canon of literary graphic novels is reason to celebrate.

All photos are courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly, Montreal

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A Drifting Life reviewed by the New York Times

Updated April 17, 2009


Manifesto of a Comic-Book Rebel

By DWIGHT GARNER
Published: April 14, 2009

Underground comics took root in America in the 1960s and ripened with the counterculture; artists like R. Crumb, Kim Deitch and Art Spiegelman discarded the old funny-page formats and themes — beat it, “Blondie” — like so many desiccated cornhusks. In Japan, however, there had already been a comics revolution, and the man at its rowdy vanguard was Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Mr. Tatsumi, born in 1935, came of age alongside Japan’s postwar obsession with manga, serialized black-and-white comics whose characters have a distinctive iconography: big, dewy eyes; tiny mouths; piles of spiky hair. Most manga takes place in a bright alternate universe where it seems as if any problem might be resolved with a cute-off: batting eyelashes at 10 paces.

Mr. Tatsumi began drawing manga as a child, but he quickly rebelled against the form’s aesthetic limitations. Manga was aimed largely at children, and its emotional and intellectual palette was circumscribed. Along with a cohort of young writers and illustrators, Mr. Tatsumi introduced in the late 1950s a bolder form of manga he called “gekiga” — darker, more realistic, often violent. The name stuck. And he became one of Japan’s most important visual artists.

Mr. Tatsumi’s work, long unavailable in English, has begun to be translated and issued by the Canadian publishing house Drawn & Quarterly in an annual series of books edited by the cartoonistAdrian Tomine. Now comes the big kahuna: Mr. Tatsumi’s outsize autobiography, “A Drifting Life.”

It’s a book that manages to be, all at once, an insider’s history of manga, a mordant cultural tour of post-Hiroshima Japan and a scrappy portrait of a struggling artist. It’s a big, fat, greasy tub of salty popcorn for anyone interested (as Americans increasingly are) in the theory and practice of Japanese comics. It’s among this genre’s signal achievements.

Manga, like rock ’n’ roll, is fundamentally a young person’s game. Mr. Tatsumi, 73, was born the same year as Jerry Lee Lewis; “A Drifting Life” was 10 long years in the drafting. But no strain of composition shows in this book’s marathon 855 pages, which chronicle his career from 1945 to 1960, the period of its greatest ferment.

Mr. Tatsumi was, he explains here, a geeky comics genius from the time he was in short pants. He began to draw manga in seventh grade in Osaka. Soon published widely, he formed a groundbreaking group, the Children’s Manga Association. The form’s masters were like gods to him. “Stories that capture the minds of children all over Japan,” his character says to himself. “How amazing it must be to be the person creating them.”

If success came quickly, confidence did not. Mr. Tatsumi’s family was poor. His father, a philanderer, was barely and sometimes shadily employed. Mr. Tatsumi’s mother and his three siblings made do as well as they could. Drawing manga was the author’s ticket to ride.

Once he was finished with school, Mr. Tatsumi began toiling in the cheesy, exploitative and highly competitive field of “rental manga.” These books were grab-bag collections that printed the work of several artists; readers borrowed them from stores and then returned them like video rentals.

Publishing houses cranked out rental manga like so much spicy sausage. To get the work done, publishers sometimes crammed their writers and illustrators into communal apartments for days or weeks at a time. In one scene in “A Drifting Life,” a publisher delivered a watermelon to one such apartment to “keep up your morale.”

Mr. Tatsumi does not deny the pleasures of this kind of quick-and-dirty work. His comics were being devoured by a wide and eager audience, and he was honing his craft. “For this 19-year-old boy with no guarantees for his future,” he writes, “the only place where he felt alive was in the realm of imagination.” There was “no freedom in reality,” he continues, but “any kind of transformation was possible in the imaginary world.”

All along, however, Mr. Tatsumi was also dreaming of something better: experimental work, “manga that isn’t manga.” He became obsessed with movies, both American and Japanese, and took note of their stylized visuals and their cool realism. He wanted to produce narrative comics instead of “manga with wild characters jumping about” or “manga that concerns itself with ‘humor’ and ‘punch lines.’ ”

After watching “Shane,” he was taken with the vividness of Jack Palance’s cruelty. And he fell hard for Mickey Spillane’s hard-boiled phrasings. Mr. Tatsumi drafted a “Gekiga Manifesto” and, along with a group of like-minded artists, started a movement that ultimately changed the face of manga.

As “A Drifting Life” progresses, it becomes clear that Mr. Tatsumi is not content merely to tell his own story — or just the story of gekiga. He charts Japan’s small cultural milestones in the wake of the war. This book begins with a panel depicting Emperor Hirohito’s surrender but soon moves on to topics like Japan’s first domestically manufactured washing machine, its Miss Universe contestants, maritime disasters and taste for Coca-Cola. It’s ground-level pop history.

The rap against graphic novels or memoirs is that they’re a bastard form that guarantees that both the art and the writing will be second-rate. There’s a speck of truth there, to the extent that the relationship between illustration and prose, in long-form comics, is symbiotic: you wouldn’t necessarily want to pry one from the other.

Mr. Tatsumi’s prose has been translated from the Japanese, fluidly, by Taro Nettleton. The occasional banalities of the language are, you suspect, not the translator’s fault. But I wish Mr. Nettleton hadn’t continually saddled Mr. Tatsumi with long-winded verbs like “utilized” instead of simple ones like “used.”

Mr. Tatsumi’s art is more sophisticated, retaining the form’s strange sparkle even at gloomy moments; he definitely does write manga that isn’t quite manga. The genre can be a difficult one in which to portray aging. Mr. Tatsumi looks just about the same here at ages 10 and 25.

A book like “A Drifting Life” is fairly easy to pick apart on a drawing-by-drawing or line-by-line basis. Don’t make that mistake. Its pleasures are cumulative; the book has a rolling, rumbling grandeur. It’s as if someone had taken a Haruki Murakami novel and drawn, beautifully and comprehensively, in its margins.


 
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  Adrian Tomine interviewed in Words Without Borders

Updated April 6, 2009


Dot Lin

An Interview with Adrian Tomine

Over 800 pages and eleven years in the making, A Drifting Life is a monumental achievement and the long-waited autobiography of legendary Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Called the father of gekiga—realistic or mature-themed manga that predated the literary graphic novel movement in the U.S. by decades—Tatsumi was formally introduced to English-language readers with the acclaimed Drawn & Quarterly publications of his short stories: The Push Man and Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and Good-Bye. These stories ranged from dark and haunting depictions of mundane and urban Japanese life to bleak insights into a conflicted nation struggling with post-war recovery and identity.

A Drifting Life encompasses the years from August 1945 to June 1960 and features entirely new work from Tatsumi. The sprawling narrative covers his young adult years in Osaka, his family life, and his beginnings as a manga artist—including the oft mentioned meeting with manga idol and future mentor Tezuka Osamu (Astro Boy). The story also unfolds against a detailed background of social and cultural history, much of it dealing with the years after World War II and the evolution of the Japanese manga industry.

In the 1980s, while still a teenager, American comics artist Adrian Tomine discovered Tatsumi through an unauthorized U.S. release. Tomine had been looking for comics other than the traditional superhero ones, and in the process, found Tatsumi and American figures in the underground comics scene such as Jaime Hernandez and Dan Clowes.

Tatsumi and Tomine are very different artists from different generations, but critics have drawn a few similarities between the two: both started drawing comics professionally as teenagers; both have been known to create character-driven stories of relatively ordinary people; and both received some critical recognition at a young age—Tatsumi with his groundbreaking gekiga (he even coined the term) and Tomine with his popular Optic Nerve comics.

Many years after discovering Tatsumi's comics, Tomine now plays a role in helping to bring Tatsumi's work to English-speaking readers, as he serves as editor and designer for the previously published short-story collections and the new autobiography.

Below, Tomine speaks on Tatsumi's A Drifting Life and his own work in comics:

Dot Lin: How was working with Tatsumi on A Drifting Life different from that with his past works, given its longer length and autobiographical nature?

Adrian Tomine: It was a much more ambitious undertaking, not only because of the sheer length of the book, but also because of the numerous references to actual events, people, places, etc. The book is also something of a cultural history of post-war Japan, and we wanted to be as accurate as possible.

DL: What can readers expect from A Drifting Life?

AT: I think people who are familiar with Tatsumi's earlier work will see A Drifting Life as very much the work of the same artist, but an artist who has matured, progressed, and set new challenges for himself. I was surprised by how he melded his own personal history with that of the manga industry, as well as that of Japan in general.

DL: A Drifting Life incorporates newer work for the first time and it's not necessarily a straight-up autobiography with the stand-in protagonist of Hiroshi—were you and Tatsumi looking to push the boundaries of storytelling or the traditional autobiography in any way?

AT: Well, just to clarify, A Drifting Life is comprised of entirely new work. It's been Tatsumi's main artistic focus for the past eleven years. And as to whether it could be described as "straight-up autobiography," I think the answer is yes. It may be different from some of the autobiographical comics that North American readers have grown accustomed to, but I don't see any aspects of the book that move it out of the realm of autobiography.

DL: Though you've known Tatsumi for a few years, was there a particular part in A Drifting Life that you found especially entertaining or interesting?

AT: I liked seeing that at least at one point in his life, Tatsumi was just as fanatical about comics as I was. And I may be coming at this from a particular angle, but I was interested in any of the specific details about either creating comics or getting them published. On a broader scale, I was just awed by the scope of Tatsumi's story … the way it focuses on the intimate details of his personal life, then pulls back to depict the dynamics of his family, then pulls back to show what the comics industry was like, and then pulls back to talk about larger cultural and historic events in Japan. At least in terms of what's been done in North American autobiographical comics, this is a fairly innovative and novel approach.

DL: Tatsumi has talked about the mentor relationship with Tezuka. What is your working relationship with Tatsumi like?

AT: My working relationship with Tatsumi is friendly and respectful, but there is an inherent distance, both literally and due to the language barrier. I've very much enjoyed the handful of occasions on which we've been able to meet. It is sort of amazing that I've ended up in this position to help expose his work to a broader audience, but I don't see it as any kind of collaboration. At most, I'm merely a very lucky fan, and my contributions to the series are negligible.

DL: You certainly worked hard on Shortcomings, which received critical praise and sparked discussions on race and identity. It came out two years ago and releases in paperback this April 2009. Are you still hearing from readers who agreed or disagreed with the views expressed in it? Have any of the initially strong responses settled down into some sort of consensus of opinion?

AT: Oh sure. I got some of my most polarized responses when Shortcomings first came out, and I'm sure that will continue when I go out into the world again to promote the softcover edition. I don't think there has been any consensus. I'm glad that most of the criticism has to do with the content of the work, not the quality. I sort of expected this kind of response, though. I think that the most frustrating aspect of the book for some people is the lack of clarity in terms of what are the views of the fictional characters, and what are the views of the author.

DL: The new 32 Stories Box Set, also set for April 2009, looks great. Does it bring back memories to see the Optic Nerve minis back in their original form? And what is the story behind that high school photo of you …

AT: Thanks. I think in some ways, maybe out of self-preservation, I've had to distance myself from the contents of those old comics a bit. When I was going over the proofs, I really felt like I was looking at someone else's work. And the story behind the picture? People will have to read my introduction to find out.

DL: Does working with a variety of publication formats—from comics to CD/ book covers to New Yorker illustrations—make the creative process more interesting? Do you actively pursue a variety of projects?

AT: The only two work-related things I've ever actively pursued were getting my comics published by Drawn & Quarterly, and getting my illustrations into the New Yorker. And yes, I think it's useful for me to have a variety of projects going on at once. There are certain jobs that I feel are opportunities to try something new, and other ones where I know I have to give the client exactly what they expect.

DL: Critical acclaim found you at an early age, and in some ways, you have grown up in the public eye as a comics artist. Are you glad things happened the way they did? Any advantages or disadvantages? And given how the comics landscape has changed or stayed the same, do you have any advice for artists starting out today?

AT: I'm very grateful for the way things have worked out for me, and I know a lot it has to do with good luck and good timing. I'm sure that if I'd started out either ten years earlier or ten years later, things would've been much tougher for me. But I do think I was given too much praise too early. It had more to do with the landscape of the industry at the time, and maybe the novelty of my age, too. But trying to develop as an artist is a tough process, and to do it more or less in print has been kind of strange for me.

The two bits of advice I have for an artist starting out today are almost pointless to bring up because no one would ever heed them. But the first is: Start out small. I know it's tempting to take that big book contract the first time it's offered to you, but it might be better to hone your skills in a less ostentatious venue for a bit, then move up to something more ambitious. If you're really good, this route will only make you better, and the opportunities to be published on a bigger scale will still be around. The other bit of advice that comes to mind, which I wish someone had given me when I was younger, is to resist the urge to talk into every microphone that's put in front of you. Say no to as many interviews as you can. Nothing is more important than the quality of the work, and you run a very high risk of saying something that you'll regret for a long time. As I said, I really wish someone had given me this advice!

DL: As teenagers, you discovered Tatsumi when looking for more than traditional superhero comics and Tatsumi started his own work out of the desire for more realistic comics. Have you seen any changes in the comics landscape since then that you like?

AT: That's a huge question! I'm very happy to see comics finally garnering a little bit more respect as an art form in America, and I think it's terrific that as the business has picked up a bit, a wider range of talent is being attracted. It's very inspiring to see the work of new cartoonists and not be able to recognize any of their influences.

DL: Thank you for your time, Adrian. Best of luck to you and Tatsumi, as you both continue to contribute great work to the comics scene.




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A DRIFTNG LIFE reviewed by Newsarama

Updated April 1, 2009


A Drifting Life
Written & Illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Translated by Taro Nettleton
Edited and Designed by Adrian Tomine
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

After publishing three consecutive collections of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s groundbreaking gekiga short stories from the late 1960s and early 1970s, Drawn & Quarterly and Adrian Tomine have shifted gears, bringing us a very recent book. A Drifting Life is not only new, but it’s a massive tonal shift from Tatsumi’s previous American work. No short stories here, readers. This is 840+ pages of Tatsumi’s autobiography.

Honestly, it’s barely even an autobiography in the ways that most readers might expect. You’ll learn virtually nothing about Tatsumi’s personal life – oh, you’ll get to meet his parents and siblings, and witness some of his relationships with them (particularly his brother, a fellow manga creator), but the core of A Drifting Life is really the parallel development of Tatsumi as a manga artist and the growth of the manga industry itself. From the time he started submitting to manga magazines while still a teen until the book’s ending in 1960, when Tatsumi is established in Tokyo, struggling to balance his workload and determined to dedicate himself to developing Gekiga, his own brand of manga for adults, his life is completely and totally intertwined with the artform he so profoundly loves (and, consequently, the industry that promotes it).

It’s not nearly as oppressive as many of the short stories in previous Tatsumi collections; however, A Drifting Life does have some moments of turmoil and struggle. Like our own American comics industry, the manga business had its share of duplicitous dealers during its formative years, and Tatsumi was witness to many of those issues. What sets his telling apart is his ability to humanize every person he encounters along the way. Business people who burn him also provide him with opportunities on other occasions. Tatsumi offers balanced portrayals all around, although you’ll all certainly create your own judgments of their actions.

I’m of two minds about Tatsumi’s decision to change the names of many of the people in his story. Changing many of the players’ names, including his own, Tatsumi makes the story more about the industry and his relationship to it. On the other hand, I often found myself trying to figure out (though my knowledge of manga isn’t strong enough to make my guesses very good) if I could determine who the real people behind the names were. And of course, it’s slightly peculiar when some persons, Osamu Tezuka most notably, are referred to by their actual names. It’s not really a big thing, but it may be slightly distracting to some readers.

Artistically, Tatsumi’s style doesn’t seem to have changed a great deal in nearly forty years since “The Push Man.” His layouts are stronger and the characters more distinct and consistent, but the basic style – the loose, open figures, the cartoony faces and the real-world grounding – remain hallmarks. It’s a more assured look, confident and stronger, but still recognizably Tatsumi.

Previous Yoshihiro Tatsumi books have established the Japanese legend as a powerful and singular comics voice among North American readers, and his magnificent opus A Drifting Life is likely to add another considerable chapter to that building popularity. Readers of manga, of autobiography, of comics history, or of humanity should seek it out right away.

 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Onion AV Club

Updated March 30, 2009


March 26, 2009

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s reputation as a manga pioneer stems from his involvement with the development of the “gekiga” genre, dedicated to more realistic depictions of the trials of everyday existence. For the 800-page epic A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly), the everyday existence Tatsumi depicts is his own, ranging from his boyhood interest in comics to his attempts to make his own name in the profession. It’s a passionate, personal book, lovingly and gorgeously rendered, and it’s informative reading both for fans of Japanese comics and those who’ve always kept manga at arm’s length. All of A Drifting Life’s small cultural details—the book-rental shops, the four-panel-comics contests, the juvenile manga clubs, the controversies over gekiga’s adult content—merge with the story of Tatsumi’s troubled family life and his addiction to western popular culture. A Drifting Life bears some similarities to Will Eisner’s autobiographical graphic novels both in its subject matter and its bluntness, but Tatsumi shows more ambition in trying to show a person and a country in transition. The story is all about developing new models for personal and artistic behavior in the wake of international disgrace. A Drifting Life is as involving and thorough as any prose memoir, while remaining as immediate and concise as the best comics. It is, honestly, one of the most significant works the medium has ever produced… A
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GOODBYE reviewed by The Daily Cross Hatch

Updated March 26, 2009


Good-Bye
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly

yoshirotatsumigoodbycoverMost people in the States—even comics people—don’t know the name Yoshihiro Tatsumi, but they should. Tatsumi is a vastly influential figure in the history of manga, the Japanese comics style that developed in postwar Japan and that has exploded in popularity abroad in the past decade or so; until fairly recently, however, few people here had ever heard of him.

Tatsumi is credited with being the creator of gekiga, comics for adult readers, which contrasted with the manga that was prevalent in the 1950s and ’60s, generally aimed at children. He is, in a sense, the godfather of alternative Japanese comics, and a look at any of his work, much of which is now being repackaged and re-published by Drawn & Quarterly, will instantly tell you why.

Tatsumi wrote about and drew everyday people, a practice that in and of itself carries historical weight, but more than that, he focused on lonely, marginalized everyday people. Reading Good-Bye, D&Q’s third compilation of his selected short stories, makes it immediately clear that Tatsumi’s Japan is not the bright, shiny place we might be tempted to envision. His is a dark Japan, full of confusion, depravity, and despair.

The book has nine tales, which range from intensely sad to kind of bizarre, to outright disturbing. What unites them is a focus on the underbelly of Japan—how all of the characters reside on the fringes of society. Together, the stories paint an affecting picture of a country scarred by the Atomic bomb (even though Tatsumi was writing these more than 20 years after its dropping, in 1971 and ’72) and the darkness it brought, a country still figuring out how to move on. The characters are struggling to live, often both literally and existentially, and in doing so they come to represent something larger than themselves. What they think and feel is more important than the specifics of who they are.
That quality is essential to the success of Tatsumi’s work. The characters in Good-Bye are, by and large, odd, and they do things that readers probably can’t imagine doing (to varying degrees of incomprehensibility). But Tatsumi helps us relate to them by honing in on their emotions—largely through voiceover narration. By letting us see what’s going on inside their heads, he softens the alienation that results from their strange, often disturbing actions. Knowing their thoughts serves as a reminder that we are reading about people who are facing many of the same realities and questions that humans have confronted for ages.

The book’s art is calmer and simpler than that of today’s highly stylized manga, but the stories are also far less action-packed (in some, pretty much nothing happens). They rely instead on psychological drama to engage the reader. Tatsumi uses close ups and interesting, unusual perspectives sometimes, and quite effectively, but for the most part, the art will not blow away anyone who’s read a decent amount of contemporary manga. Of course, if you stop to think about how he was one of the originals, a pioneer in the field, then all of it—the subject matter, the drawing, the story-telling—becomes that much more impressive.

–Jillian Steinhauer

 
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  A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Bookforum

Updated March 12, 2009


The Big Picture
Yoshihiro Tatsumi recounts his role as a comics innovator in Japan
BY JOE MCCULLOCH
April/May
BOOKFORUM

Born in 1935 and a published mangaka before he was out of high school, Yoshihiro Tatsumi has enjoyed a long and prolific career, albeit one unfamiliar to English-speaking readers prior to Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly’s recent efforts to translate his body of short works. Three collections have been produced under the editorship of cartoonist Adrian Tomine: The Push Man and Other Stories (2005), Abandon the Old in Tokyo (2006), and Good-Bye (2008). In each volume, Tatsumi delivers curt, sharp slaps of city angst as his near-identical characters wander hazily through doomed, damned times—usually the ’60s and ’70s (when the works were originally published), but sometimes stretch-ing back to the hell of postwar occupation or becoming unmoored in a nightmare of timeless desire.

This is the stuff of Tatsumi’s gekiga, the term he coined in the mid-’50s to differentiate his “dramatic pictures” from the “whimsical” ones of manga. You don’t hear a lot about gekiga today, and certainly Tatsumi’s strange, disquieting stories don’t fit North Americans’ typical conception of Japanese comics. But while the sho-nen (boy) and sho-jo (girl) series common in American bookstores extend into an intimidating number of volumes, their content is often schematic, so thoroughly vetted for their youth audience that many seem adopted from some hornbook. Much manga targeted at older audiences is published in Japan, but the few such books brought to North America are often subsumed under the general category of youth comics. In that sense, it’s helpful to see manga in the United States today as being akin to the form in ’50s Japan: growing in popularity but firmly a youthful presence, its potential understandable, if only to the devout.

And so, again, comes Tatsumi. A Drifting Life is different from his other Drawn & Quarterly books. It’s a new work, for instance—made over an eleven-year period—and a single, extended narrative, more than eight hundred pages long. It’s also patently autobiographical, despite the artist’s use of the invented name Hiroshi Katsumi for his narrative stand-in. Yet the most obvious departure from those prior books is the tone. Anyone expecting page after page of relentlessly bleak atmosphere and manic despair will be disarmed by the calm, anecdotal means by which the artist relates fifteen years of his life, from August 1945 to June 1960. The narrative is most comparable to stories by the American comics writer Harvey Pekar, who is always front and center in his work, relating events straight from his life (or someone else’s) with little fuss.

Although much longer than the average Pekar comic, A Drifting Life nevertheless feels similar. Reading it is not unlike sitting down with Tatsumi himself and listening to his tale over several hours, savoring aptly placed digressions into popular culture and social landmarks—the start of television broadcasting, the first importation of Coca-Cola—that keep the time line pulsing. His art hasn’t changed much since the short stories of three decades ago, although there’s some stiffness now to his figures, particularly his pretty girls, and the historical nature of the narrative has prompted him to include what appear to be drawn versions of photographs depicting important events and characteristic settings of the time, along with many samples of pertinent period manga he’s redrawn.

But Tatsumi’s style remains a product of the manga scene of midcentury Japan. Even in the darkest stories, the artist’s simplified cartoon characters remind the reader of Tatsumi’s proximity to the reinvention of the art form, a generation before, by Osamu Tezuka, a devotee of Disney and a fan of cinematic framing techniques. Indeed, Tatsumi’s gekiga shorts have always carried both an anxiety of influence and the charge of a response, an eagerness to bite back at the manga that didn’t grow up after the war alongside its fanatic boy readership. In A Drifting Life, the same conflicted attitude is appropriate as an expression of the times depicted and as a way of foreshadowing the mature content Tatsumi would engender. The dreamy progression of images found in those gekiga stories is absent here. After all, this is reality, and Tatsumi is older. And gekiga, no doubt, is not what it used to be.

Chapter by chapter, the story burbles by. This measured flow sometimes produces a dispassionate narrative: A scene in which young Katsumi happens on his father lying beaten in the road has roughly the same space and dramatic impact as when he creates a new comic to submit for prize money. Tellingly, the most suspense in the book’s early chapters comes from a visit to the great Tezuka, first imagined as a looming shadow watching our manga-crazy boy. The impact Tezuka had on Japanese comics was profound, and Tatsumi allows a sequence of his hero sketching to span a lavish page and a half, in which intense close-ups of a blank page become filled with life as Tatsumi’s panels dart to Katsumi’s face, then closer to the page, then his eyes, then the page, until the “magical” experience—as Katsusmi characterizes it—is completed.

Little else receives such intensive treatment, including Katsumi’s close relationship with his ailing brother, Okimasa, also a prospective manga artist and often intensely jealous of Katsumi’s quick success. Their arguments are conveyed with gnashings of teeth and fat dollops of tears, but these are employed only as basic signifiers of feelings and do not provide an affecting sense of emotional sincerity. After a few panels, it’s right on to the next anecdote, emotions cooling as life marches forward.

Yet as dry and disaffected as Tatsumi’s approach can be, the book still fascinates. It is by far the most detailed first-person account of the early days of postwar manga available in English (let alone in manga form), and its purposeful stride through the years makes for brisk reading. Narrative color arrives as Katsumi falls into the business of creating manga aimed at the kashibonya, or book-rental market. (Publishers in the Osaka of Katsumi’s time are practically run out of back rooms.) Soon the artist is making friends with like-minded peers, none of whom will be familiar to most English-language readers—save maybe for Takao Saito, creator of the popular assassin series Golgo 13, first published in 1969— and none of whom possess much individuality in Tatsumi’s narrative, although their presence allows for the reproduction of old-time manga pages, which take up an increasing amount of space in Tatsumi’s own pages.

Naturally, the thrill of the new can’t last forever. Almost as soon as Katsumi and his brother invent gekiga, the former is editing influential anthologies, getting caught up in the machinations between publishers, and acting as point man and treasurer for a group of united artists called Gekiga Workshop, a demanding position that saps his enthusiasm for his own work. Through the din of these events, a grander theme sounds—postwar Japan’s desire for full autonomy, which crests in June 1960 with protests against the American presence in the country. After the close of Katsumi’s story here, Tatsumi would go on to create the short works he’s best known for, and the epic concludes with a sharp hint of what’s to come: Katsumi stuck in a street demonstration against a security treaty with America, eventually shouting along, tears streaming down his face. “Japan, too, is adrift!” he realizes. “That’s the element that gekiga has forgotten . . . anger!” Katsumi is excited and moved yet consumed with a deep loneliness. “No! I’ll never be done with gekiga!”

Yet even that passion cannot persist, as such a methodically drifting book bears out. An epilogue takes us to a 1995 memorial service for Tezuka attended by Katsumi. The postwar dream, embodied in comics by Tezuka, has died. Katsumi slips out early, only to receive a souvenir bag. Among the contents: official “Jungle Emperor Leo” whiskey, melding adult inebriation with Tezuka’s beloved children’s character (known in America as Kimba the White Lion). It’s a telling symbol of how the art form has evolved in Tatsumi’s lifetime—sweet idealism turned to commercial consumption. This book may not draw attention away from other Japanese comics on the shelves, manga or gekiga, but its presence feels curiously necessary.
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GOOD-BYE reviewed by Playback:stl

Updated February 5, 2009


Good-Bye
Written by Jason Green
PLAYBACK:stl
Friday, 30 January 2009

Unpredictable twists and poignant endings abound in this collection of short stories from a forgotten manga master.

You don't have to look far to find discerning comic book readers complaining about the public's misconceptions of comics as nothing but superhero comics and other "kid's stuff." Yet oddly enough, these same people who are frustrated when people can't look past the spandex and capes are usually more than happy to write off manga, the comic book's Japanese twin, as nothing more than the adventures of spiky-haired ninjas on a quest to be the best, or doe-eyed girls swept up in melodramatic romances. To be fair, a big part of that stereotype is because that's what sells here so that's most of what gets translated and published here, but the manga industry offers every bit as much variety as its American counterpart.
The thanks for that variety rests on the shoulders of creators like Yoshihiro Tatsumi, whose development of the adult genre gekiga (which translates as "dramatic pictures," a counterpoint to the term manga's "whimsical pictures") throughout the 1950s, 60s, and 70s kickstarted the idea of comics for adults in that country much like underground comix from creators like R. Crumb did the same in America. It says a lot about the fickleness of audiences that today Tatsumi is virtually unknown in Japan, with even manga scholar Frederik L. Schodt (who wrote this volume's introduction) admitting to knowing little about the influential author.

Fortunately, Drawn & Quarterly isn't willing to let this oversight stand. Following on the release of The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old Tokyo, Good-Bye is the Canadian publisher's third collection of short stories by Tatsumi, featuring material originally published between 1971 and 1972. Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve, Shortcomings) lends a bit of his star power to the proceedings by acting as designer, editor, and letterer of the English language edition.
Tatsumi is a master of the short story format. Allotting only 30 or so pages to each of his stories, he wastes little time in establishing his characters, nailing down their particular quirks and personal tragedies in just a handful of pages. His plots are concise but never trite, with unpredictable twists and poignant endings that encourage reflection and multiple re-readings. The art shares a deceptive simplicity common in works from that era (think Osamu Tezuka), with cartoonishly exaggerated characters, slavishly photo-referenced establishing shots, and grid layouts that allow the reader to breeze from panel to panel.

The opening tale, "Hell," sets the stage perfectly. A young photographer is sent to Hiroshima in the days after the dropping of the atomic bomb. Among the charred corpses, he finds a ghostly silhouette burned into a wall that appears to be a young man rubbing his mother's aching shoulders, his kindness forever enshrined as his final act. Several years later, the picture is being used as part of an anti-nuclear proliferation campaign when the photographer discovers its terrible secret: the image is not that of a mother and her devoted son, but the mother being murdered by one of her son's friends so the son (who survived the atomic bomb's fury) could run off with his inheritance. When the son tries to blackmail the photographer to keep his story secret, the photographer, already haunted by his experiences at Hiroshima, is stretched to the breaking point.

Many of Tatsumi's stories center around men, usually older, and usually feeling emasculated and impotent (both literally and figuratively) by their circumstances: a husband being forced into retirement who would rather blow all his money on women and horse races than see one dime go to his cold fish wife ("Just a Man"), a boy who crossdresses in secret to make up for being forced by his mother and sisters to fill the role of his dead father ("Woman in the Mirror"), the elderly philanthropist who spends his nights with hookers in knee high boots as he dreams of being trampled to death in ecstasy ("Click Click Click"). These stories don't offer a payoff in the traditional sense—the protagonists' problems are never really solved—but instead offer a pointed, poignant view into the human psyche.

Not every chapter packs the same wallop. In "Rash," an elderly man with a mysterious, intermittent rash leaves his family for life in the woods, where he learns to control his sickness and has a chance run-in with a girl after she attempts suicide. In "Night Falls Again," a creepy middle-aged man gets a lap dance, masturbates in a public park, and peeps up girls skirts. Yet neither one seems to go anywhere, offering a wide open ending that lacks the insightfulness that makes Tatsumi's best stories hit home.
Fortunately, Good-Bye hits far more than it misses, and translator Yuji Oniki (no stranger to such material, as a frequent contributor to the pages of the late-90s mature readers manga anthology Pulp) perfectly encapsulates the book's powerful moments. The title story that closes out the collection highlights Tatsumi's strengths as a storyteller, taking just 16 pages to paint a vivid portrait of America's effect on post-War Japan in the tale of an American G.I. and the Japanese lover he leaves behind. The story takes a twist toward the disturbing in its final pages, closing with the girl's father remarking grimly, "This is Hell. It'll never stop." It ends the book as it began, with a feeling that's equal parts unsettling and captivating.
 
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  GOOD-BYE reviewed by Patriot News

Updated November 26, 2008


GRAPHIC LIT
Stereotype aside, manga can appeal to adult readers
Chris Mautner
Friday, October 10, 2008
PATRIOT NEWS

Glancing at the manga shelves in the local book store, it's easy to assume that this art form caters exclusively to teens and kiddies.

That would be a mistaken assumption. While the popular stuff does set its sights on the under-18 crowd, there are plenty of high-quality manga available in English that adults can pick up and read with impunity.
...

"Good-Bye" by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn & Quarterly, 212 pages, $19.95.

This is the third and final volume of Tatsumi's short stories that D&Q is collecting (though they plan to publish his autobiography at a later date). As with the previous books, these are largely bleak, dour tales of people on the fringes of society. The obsessed, poor, and utterly depressed make up Tatsumi's world.

"Good-Bye" might well be the best of the three volumes, mainly because in many of the stories Tatsumi connects his characters' sufferings to larger social and political events, namely the American occupation of Japan and deep poverty the country dealt with after World War II.

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GOOD-BYE reviewed by The Japan Times

Updated November 26, 2008


GOOD-BYE by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Dark reflections of postwar Japan
Yoshihiro Tatsumi takes the reader on an illustrated journey through personal hells
By DAVID COZY
Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008
THE JAPAN TIMES


"Hell" is the title of the opening story in "Good-Bye," the third volume of Drawn & Quarterly's ongoing edition of the work of cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi. "This is hell," the last story in the collection ends. "It'll never stop."

One understands why, as Frederik L. Schodt writes in the introduction to this volume, some view Tatsumi's work as "overly kurai or 'dark' and 'pessimistic.' "

Tatsumi's latest, "Good-Bye" is at least as bleak as the previous entries in the series, but differs from those earlier volumes in that the interchangeable laborers who populated them are giving way to middle managers. This is, perhaps, a reflection of the state of the nation in 1971 and 1972 when the stories in "Good-Bye" originally appeared: The nation's focus has shifted from the drones who labored to rebuild the country's houses, roads, and bridges in the first decades after the war, to the drones who labor in offices in service of the ascendant Japanese economy.

The only thing that might be worse than such work — "countless days at the office staring at documents . . . getting worked up about the smallest error," as one character describes it — is the emptiness one feels at the end of such a hellish working life. Tatsumi gives us, in "Good-Bye," a couple of accounts of the desperation of those who are, or soon will be, redundant. More than in the earlier volumes, though, Tatsumi makes explicit the political context in which these and all of his protagonists suffer.

One of them, for example, approaching retirement — a word that sounds to him like "a death knell" — attempts to rebel against his fate by blowing his savings on prostitutes and at the racetrack. Unsurprisingly, his rebellion is a bust, but just when all seems lost, a beautiful young coworker invites him to dinner. They end up in bed, but when the moment the soon- to-be-retired manager has fantasized about arrives, he finds himself impotent.

The story does not end, however, in embarrassment and rumpled sheets, but instead at Yasukuni Shrine. The top half of the last page of the story finds the protagonist at the shrine looking at a cannon — the symbolism is not subtle — "aimed upward into the darkness." In the frames below that image we find him urinating on the cannon, and then reflecting: "We're both impotent now. You worthless old relic." Tatsumi is thus able to move his story from one man's impotence to that of the nation.

Tatsumi, it seems, does not accept that sacrificing one's all for the company — a way of life common in the '70s, and still far from dead — is a worthwhile existence. In "Hell" he tackles a view perhaps even more common, and certainly riskier to question: the notion that all of those incinerated by atomic bombs were innocent victims. The horror of Hiroshima in the days after the bombing is made palpable by the relative simplicity of Tatsumi's drawings in this strip, and also by the understated descriptions his photographer- protagonist gives of the inferno in which he finds himself: "People were resting inside a burned out tram. When I got closer, though, I discovered they were actually charred corpses."

The photographer wanders on until he stumbles across an image etched onto a wall by the bomb's blast: a son, he takes it to be, massaging his aged mother's back. This image is guaranteed to appeal to the sympathy of all but the most hardhearted, and so it does when the photographer sells his photograph of it to a newspaper some years later.

Up to this point in the story readers may believe that, in the destruction of Hiroshima and the tens of thousands of his countrymen who died there, Tatsumi had found a subject that did not give rise to his generally jaundiced view of humanity, but instead inspired him to produce one more in the long line of artworks designed to remind us that there must be, as the slogan goes, "no more Hiroshimas." The image the photographer has captured turns out not to be what it seems. That those charred by the blast are victims there can be no doubt, and Tatsumi raises none. It is the innocence of those victims, and also of those who document their suffering, that he questions as he reminds us that images can convey lies as easily as truth.

The strips collected in "Good-Bye" were all created for magazines such as the Japanese Playboy and the comics anthology Garo. One is grateful for the space such venues gave to artists as challenging as Tatsumi, but wonder what he would have done liberated from the constraints even the freewheeling Garo must have imposed. Perhaps we will get a chance to find out when Tatsumi's massive autobiography, forthcoming from Drawn & Quarterly, appears.

David Cozy, a writer and literary critic, teaches at Showa Women's University.
 
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  GOOD-BYE reviewed by The Montreal Hour

Updated October 10, 2008


Good-Bye, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Mushroom clouds
Isa Tousignant
MONTREAL HOUR
September 25th, 2008


Unveiling the power of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's political comics

Matsutake mushrooms are an autumn classic in Japan, on par with North America's pumpkins and turning trees. Until the 18th century, their consumption was forbidden outside imperial courts, and today they remain a symbol of luxury. The mushroom is also a phallic symbol so loaded with impropriety that in the 11th century, women in imperial court at Kyoto were forbidden to speak its name.
Drawn & Quarterly's third collection of reprinted work by instrumental Japanese comic artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Good-Bye, is not a book about foraging - at least not literally. Amid the heart-wrenching imagery of its nine stories, though, there rests many a culturally and temporally specific poetic allusion that requires unveiling for full appreciation. One of those secrets is the significance of the last panel of "The Rash," a story featuring a failed husband who isolates himself from his family in the woods, where he develops a rash, gets visited by a mysterious female, and uses a mushroom as a stand-in for his appendage. (I'm still stumped as to the full significance of the rash.)

Good-Bye is a selection of comics Tatsumi created in 1971 and '72, at a time that marked a transition for the artist from the world of rent comics (comics that were literally "rented" by publishers for punctual printings) to magazines. It was an era of enhanced freedom, as Tatsumi tells American comic artist Adrian Tomine in a fascinating interview at the back of the book. For the first time, the Japanese artist could

shed the constraints of his rent work and expand into more socially critical subjects.

One of the most powerful stories in Good-Bye is "Hell," which weaves a murder mystery around post-Hiroshima devastation. As with all his work, Tatsumi adds layer upon layer of rich, thought-provoking themes in this piece: national pride, survival, the inhumanity of war, the tenuous nature of familial ties. Reading it is a singularly engaging, heavy experience. (Oddly, "Hell" first appeared in the Japanese edition of Playboy!)

You'll be left wanting more after this, that's for sure, which is why you'll love me for bearing this news: D&Q is hard at work on their next Tatsumi publication, A Drifting Life, a 820-page autobiographical work set during the tumultuous post-war period. I await it with bated breath.
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GOOD-BYE reviewed in The Tampa Tribune

Updated September 4, 2008


GETAWAY
GRAPHIC TALES
KEVIN WALKER
31 August 2008
Tampa Tribune

Every year, it's the same thing - some of the best releases are graphic novels. And every year, I have to convince people that reading one doesn't make you an overgrown adolescent. Or a moron. I also hear from people who want to know more recommendations, which is always a scary thing, as I can never tell who I might offend if I offer something that might be a bit, ah, too edgy.

My problems aside, today seemed a good day to mention a few graphic novels, as a number of good ones were recently released, or will be in the fall.


"Good-Bye," by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95)

Yoshihiro Tatsumi is one of the greats of Japanese manga, a man who figured out decades ago that a graphic novel could be used as a great medium for writing gritty, literary short stories about the intensely private lives of everyday citizens.

It makes for gripping, if not altogether comfortable, reading. For example, "Just a Man," the second story in this collection, deals in a memorable way with middle age and impotency and somehow makes it a metaphor for Japan itself.

But the one you're most likely to remember is "Hell." It revolves around a Japanese photographer who takes pictures shortly after the atomic bomb destroys Hiroshima. In addition to the charred corpses, there are the "shadow people," people whose silhouettes were burned into buildings from the flash of the bomb.

"I burst into tears when I saw it," the photographer says when he sees the shadows of what appears to be a young child comforting a mother. But when he learns the truth, the story begins a series of twists and turns that show Tatsumi's storytelling mastery.
 

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  GOOD-BYE reviewed by Pop Matters

Updated September 2, 2008


Good-Bye by Yoshohiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly)
Re:Print
the PopMatters books blog
Bookmarks
11 August 2008

Though the two artists would seem to share precious little in artistic style or worldview, if there were a Will Eisner for Japan, Yoshohiro Tatsumi would probably be it. Little known these days in Japan, and even less so here, Tatsumi’s work has nevertheless been slowly eking its way back into view, due to Drawn & Quarterly’s worthy effort to republish his shorter pieces in a series edited by Adrian Tomine. An implacably dark collection of short stories originally published in 1971 and 1972, Good-Bye has more in common with disaffected American urban novelists from the period like Bernard Malamud and John Cheever than the hyped-up sugar candy manga Japan is better known for these days. Each revolving around a different breed of lonely man (one unhealthily obsessed with the Hiroshima bombing, another anxious to enact revenge on a wife he hates), the stories are suffused with anxious, desperate sex and the dehumanizing greyness of the era’s overcrowded and ramshackle cities. While little turns out well for the men and women depicted here, there’s an appreciative humanity to Tatsumi’s work that begs attention
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GOOD-BYE reviewed by The Daily Yomiuri

Updated September 2, 2008


COMICS REVIEW / A third serving of vintage despair from Tatsumi
Tom Baker / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Good-Bye
AUGUST 15, 2008

Drawn and Quarterly, 211 pp, 19.95 dollars

Yoshihiro Tatsumi was still in his 30s when he wrote and drew the nine short manga stories collected in Good-Bye, but three of those stories are about 60-year-old men who feel that their lives are over. Retirement offers them nothing to look forward to, and their careers leave them with nothing to look back on. For some, financial woes, health problems and flagging sexual ability magnify the aimlessness they all feel. "A worthless life," as one puts it.

Welcome to Tatsumi's aggressively bleak world. To judge by his work currently in print in English--The Push Man, a collection of manga from 1969; Abandon the Old in Tokyo, featuring works from 1970; and now Good-Bye, with selections from 1971 and 1972--hopelessness and frustration are major preoccupations. Not only do his characters suffer loneliness and physical hardship, but they are usually bereft of purpose and have their pride trampled into the dirt before their stories are over. There's no point in reading such depressing stuff unless it is done very well.

And Tatsumi does it excellently.

Almost any of his stories could be summarized as a list of bad things happening to unlucky people. But he presents them with more complexity than that, especially in this volume's story "Life is So Sad," about a bar hostess who remains faithful to an unworthy boyfriend during his four-year prison term. The way the story ends, on the eve of the convict's release, raises questions about why she has done what she has done and what she hopes to achieve by it that are likely to linger in your mind long after you've put the book aside.

Although that story is about a woman, Tatsumi writes more often about the sufferings of men, often in the form of sexual anxiety or frustration. That theme becomes more visual in this volume than in the previous two, as phallic symbols suddenly abound.

In "Just a Man," for instance, one of the 60-year-olds mentioned earlier sees a "mighty" cannon at a war memorial as a reminder of "his own youthful vigor." But when that vigor humiliatingly fails, he tearfully reevalutes the cannon as a rusty old relic.

In "Night Falls Again," the unattractive third son of a widow who was forced to sell her farm is barely surviving as a low-paid Osaka factory worker. When he sees the Tsutenkaku Tower standing against the night sky, it seems to mock his inability to find female companionship.

And in "Rash," a phallic mushroom foreshadows how a 60-year-old man who had actually achieved a measure of contentment is about to go and ruin everything for himself.

Also new in this volume are very subtle hints of almost supernatural elements, as when the protagonist of "Sky Burial" is convinced that he is being stalked by a flock of vultures--in downtown Tokyo. Are they real, or is he losing his mind?

Either way, the vultures put him in a position similar to that of other Tatsumi protagonists: He is lost in a crowd, looking around nervously for some unseen menace while thousands of fellow humans press in from every side without noticing his existence.
 
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  WHAT IT IS and GOODBYE reviewed by the Contra Costa Times

Updated July 30, 2008


'What It Is' is a work of true creative genius
By Randy Myers
Contra Costa Times
07/27/2008


Let's get those creative juices flowing. Sounds good, huh? Just how we go about successfully drilling into our imagination oil fields can be tricky, though.

To help us kick-start the process, here is comics writer and artist Lynda Barry. Her book "What It Is" -- a "how-to" guide for those who despise that genre -- has spawned sold-out workshops/readings and inspired hundreds to clear creative blockages.

...

"What It Is," written and illustrated by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, 210 pages). Blinded by writer's block? Snatch up Barry's book, and I guarantee it will four-wheel you out of any creative sinkhole. As inspired as it is inspiring, Barry's scrapbook memoir is a motivational tome that revolutionizes the format of the autobiography and the maligned "how-to" book. It's a genre-shatterer that looks and reads like a crazy patchwork quilt, and gives you the confidence to go out and create. One of the best, most rewarding books I've read -- ever. A

"Good-Bye," written and illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95, 212 pages). I love it when authors take me to very dark and disturbing places. Tatsumi, an influential Japanese cartoonist who is finally getting his day in the spotlight, does just that by exposing the gnarled, disintegrating psyches of men beaten down by their environment and insecurities. In this intense nine-story collection, Tatsumi exhibits a Raymond Carver-like grace as he peers into the emotional toll wrought by seething masculine resentments over war, marriage and retirement. Must reading for those want to be shaken and unsettled. A
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Lynda Barry

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Good-Bye




GOOD-BYE reviewed by The North Adams Transcript

Updated July 9, 2008


Mark of the East
By John E. Mitchell, North Adams Transcript
Article Launched: 07/04/2008 03:03:44 AM EDT

Friday, July 4
Good-Bye by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly)

If Ingmar Bergman were a Japanese Manga creator, he would no doubt have been Yoshihiro Tatsumi. In "Good-Bye," a new collection of Tatsumi's short works from 1971 and 1972, the underbelly of the Japanese psyche is examined in from an intimate and often grim vantage point with masterful results.

Japanese Manga has been the hottest comics trend in the United States, with shelves of the books finding their way into mainstream bookstores and the hands of American teenagers everywhere. Tatsumi, though, is a pioneer of the form and if the current onslaught is mystifying to adults on a number of levels -- from the youthful subject matter to enormity of the titles available -- Tatsumi provides a reference point for the lost, both in chronology and maturity.

In Tatsumi's world, Japan is land of not merely of repression, but of the illusion of repression. Nastiness still abounds and people still act out their coarsest desires, but society turns a blind eye to it, creating the mass delusion that there is nothing wrong. The way Tatsumi tells it, this results in a world of colliding, mournful loners who want and take and hurt.

In "Hell," Tatsumi uses the bombing of Hiroshima as the ultimate indicator of the fraud of Japanese society, with the desire for upright decency being revealed as a compulsion enabled by the country's nostalgia for its own need for honor.

Japanese women are portrayed as being expected to submit to being objects of lust, while being shamed into doing what their society demands of them. In "Life Is So Sad" Akemi is forced to work as a hostess after her abusive boyfriend lands in jail -- but his assumptions about her job push her into fulfilling his worst expectations. In "Good-Bye" Mariko -- branded a slut by her neighbors -- finds herself torn between her American lover and her sleazy father, a conflict that results in a horrible dehumanization of the woman.

Meanwhile, men are desperate and lonely, filled with self loathing due to the expectations of society. In "Just a Man" and "Rash," older men grope for their fantasies and end up with further dark holes in their souls. In "Woman in the Mirror" and "Night Falls Again" the inability of Japanese men to express themselves in a sexual manner is turned inside out on them by the world at large.

Tatsumi's bitter slices of life unwind with a silent grace -- his artwork renders the tragedies with a compassion that never hides the starkness of the emotions portrayed. Tatsumi is spare with dialogue, but it packs a punch when his characters speak, bring the reader to intimate corners as we intrude on the most private -- and sometimes horrible -- moments in their lives.
 
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  GOOD-BYE reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated July 7, 2008


PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
Starred Review.
Good-Bye Yoshihiro Tatsumi.
Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-897299-37-1

Tatsumi has been called the “grandfather of Japanese alternative comics,” and this third collection of his stories shows why. Tatsumi takes on subjects as difficult as the legacy of Hiroshima, incest and the sexual humiliations of postwar Japanese soldiers, yet is never exploitative. Instead, the stories humanize all of the characters involved. Tatsumi excels at depicting honest human reactions to complex situations, and he refuses to rely on a single style of storytelling. The first story, “Hell,” is a brief masterpiece. A freelance photojournalist snaps a picture of one of the infamous Hiroshima shadows—shadows of people burnt into the walls by the intensity of the atomic blast. The shadow appears to be a boy rubbing his mother's back, but years later, the photographer learns the awful truth behind the scene. By contrast, “Just a Man” forgoes the O. Henry twist, instead telling a circular slice-of-life story about the quiet despair of a Japanese salaryman. “Rash,” a brief story of a man afflicted with a psychosomatic skin condition, reads as if Haruki Murakami decided to try his hand at manga. Tatsumi's art is masterful: he switches art styles from cartoony manga to stark realism with ease and is equally adept at depicting graceful motion, grisly suffering and complicated emotion. (July)

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GOOD-BYE reviewed by Metapsychology

Updated June 27, 2008


Metapsychology Online Reviews

Review - Good-Bye
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn and Quarterly, 2008
Review by Christian Perring
Jun 24th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 26)

These nine stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi were originally published in the early 1970s in Japan. They have been translated with English writing replacing the original Japanese, with the images reproduced in mirror image so that the story runs from left to right, rather than right to left in the original. These are dark stories set in post war Japan, with themes the mixture of traditional culture being threatened by Western culture, and people taking comfort in sex. The city is in a state of decay, and it is being modernized. The characters are gloomy and find it difficult to take control of their lives. They seem lost and without purpose, haunted by memories of the Second World War. The stories are distinctive and groundbreaking, especially in their political dimension. The black and white artwork is mostly simple and elegant, but occasionally it is detailed, especially in its depiction of the city. Drawn & Quarterly deserve praise for translating and republishing this work, since it is an important part of the history of comic books.
 
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  ADRIAN TOMINE interviewed about GOODBYE by Newsarama

Updated June 11, 2008


Comics
Adrian Tomine - Editing and Presenting Tatsumi's Goodbye
By Michael C. Lorah
NEWSARAMA
2008-06-10

Just as the American comic market is sometimes thought to be strictly a repository of high adventure, pulp-inspired tales of the fantastic, the Japanese manga industry is often thought to be limited to teen-focused shojo or shonen fantasy. Both sides of the Pacific rim, however, shattered this precept in the late 60s with challenging, socially-aware cartoonists who came to make their market on their country's idea of what comics are capable of accomplishing.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi coined the phrase gekiga - literally "dramatic pictures" - to describe the revolutionary comics he created at the time. Focused on the social messiness of post-World War II Japan, Tatsumi dug into the scarred national identity of a society that was consumed with pulling itself to the level of an international economic power, regardless of the individual cost paid by its citizens.

Good-Bye is the third collection of Tatsumi's early 70s comics, edited and designed by acclaimed cartoonist Adrian Tomine (Shortcomings) and published by Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly.

Adrian Tomine took time to answer questions about Tatsumi's work and impact on the manga field.

Newsarama: Adrian, when did you discover Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work?

Adrian Tomine: I discovered Tatsumi's work when I was a teenager. It was right around the time that I was losing interest in the comics that I'd grown up reading, and was actively seeking out new things. And Tatsumi's comics were unlike any I'd ever seen before.

NRAMA: Good-Bye is the third collection of his work that you've edited. How do you approach that job? Are you selecting which stories to include in the book?

AT: Even though I'm billed as the editor, the process is really a collaborative one, involving Mr. Tatsumi himself, his representatives in Japan, and D+Q publisher Chris Oliveros. I think we all have a hand in the process of selecting stories. The most time-consuming part of my contribution is probably the stage at which I sit down with Yuji Oniki's translation and the original Japanese pages, and make panel-by-panel decisions about everything from how the sound effects should be translated to whether or not a panel needs to be "flopped." Finally, I design and lay out the book, which also presents its own set of challenges. I think the ultimate goal is to arrive at a design which is attractive and eye-catching, but also one in which the emphasis is placed squarely on Mr. Tatsumi's work.

NRAMA: Do you talk to Mr. Tatsumi about which stories will be in each book? How involved is he in the production of each collection?

AT: I think he's involved quite a bit in that he's the one who initially sends us the stories to pick from. I don't know for sure, but I'd imagine that this is like a first round of elimination.

NRAMA: In this book, I expect "Hell" and "Good-bye" to garner the most reaction from American audiences, given their focus, respectively, on the aftermath of Hiroshima's bombing and the presence of Ameican G.I.s in Japan, yet I found the somber daily toil of the other stories more moving in some ways. If a curious reader picks up the book and skims a single story for a first impression, which story captures the tenor of Tatsumi's work best in your opinion?

AT: The story entitled "Good-Bye" is probably Tatsumi's most well-known work, and I think it's a good representation of many of Tatsumi's skills and stylistic tendencies. Considering how short it is, I think it does a number of amazing balancing acts between quotidian details and larger political issues, sympathy and misanthropy, heart-breaking realism and shocking audacity. He certainly has many stories that lean more heavily in a given direction, and I'm sure there will be readers who will gravitate towards those more pure, concentrated examples, but if I wanted to quickly give someone an overview of Tatsumi's work, "Good-Bye" seems like a good place to start.

NRAMA: Adrian, the popular notion of manga in the U.S. seems to be shonen or shojo, with a healthy dollop of fantasy and/or samurai. Do you think that bringing Mr. Tatsumi's work to America is helping to change to the perception of manga, or is it simply a case of bringing good comics to an audience, regardless of their national origin?

AT: I think the last part of your question there is a good way of looking at it. Prior to Tatsumi, D+Q hadn't published any Japanese cartooning, and it wasn't like Chris Oliveros called me up and said, "Hey, I want to try to get in on this whole manga trend. Who do you recommend?" I think we both just have an interest in good comics, regardless of their particular style or origin. But that also doesn't negate the first part of your question. I do think that many Americans have a limited view of what constitutes Japanese cartooning based on what gets translated, so it's great to see an increase in diversity. There seems to be a bunch of upcoming projects that will go even further in terms of this, and I couldn't be happier.

NRAMA: Yeah, I've been loving some of the recent Osamu Tezuka books. These stories in Good-Bye reflect a very desolate time in Japan's history. Reading them is like voyeuring into a very confused, very conflicted time in history, isn't it?

AT: I get the impression that this very quality of Tatsumi's work is what, in many ways, kept the stories from being more widely embraced at the time they were created. He spares no one really, and goes right into some of the darkest areas of the post-War period. And while I think that's a big part of what makes his work so fascinating, it was hard for people to take initially.

NRAMA: What feedback have you received on the last two Tatsumi books you edited, The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo?

AT: We were sort of testing the waters with the first book, so the fact that the series has continued is indicative of its success. I was very gratified to see that the books were selling, and to meet people who had enjoyed them. It was particularly heartening to sit beside Mr. Tatsumi at the San Diego Comic-Con and watch his fans line up, ask for sketches, and bow with respect.

NRAMA: How has Mr. Tatsumi responded to the feedback from American audiences?

AT: We talk about that a little bit in our Q+A at the end of Good-Bye. I think he was honestly surprised and grateful for the warm reception he's received.

NRAMA: Are you still expecting to put out another volume of Mr. Tatsumi's work each year?

AT: The next project that we're working on now is Mr. Tatsumi's massive autobiography-almost a thousand pages of comics-entitled A Drifting Life. Unlike the three books we've published so far, this is current work, and I think fans and cartoonists alike will be awed by the level of ambition and skill with which Mr. Tatsumi is working, this far into his career.

Good-Bye ships in early July, 2008. For more information, visit www.drawnandquarterly.com.
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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GOODBYE and WHAT IT IS reviewed by Newsarama

Updated June 11, 2008


Good-Bye
Written & Illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Edited by Adrian Tomine
Translated by Yuji Oniki
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The third and most recent volume of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's gekiga continues to show a subtlety and emotional nihilism not found in the vast majority of the Japanese comics imported to our shores. Nine short stories, ranging from the shattered remains of Hiroshima in the weeks following the World War II atom bombing to then-modern depictions of the working class's daily turmoil in the early 1970s, bring readers into a less romanticized, bleaker era of Japanese history than is typically seen.

From the opening narrative, "Hell," Tatsumi dives right into the darkness of Japan's post-War psyche. A shadowy embrace, blasted into a wall, of two people stands as a testament to the love and desire to protect that the Japanese felt for one another when the atomic bomb was dropped -- except, what if it wasn't an embrace? What does it mean to the city's identity if somebody can prove that the shadow depicted a far less charitable moment? Emotionally harrowing, "Hell" is one of Tatsumi's best stories.

Other stories deal with the fractured minds of Japanese people, burrowing into protagonists beset by rashes, undone by sexual urges, emotionally dazed by the discovery of a deceased neighbor, conflicted about sexual identity, or wrapped up in serving the various needs of American G.I.s. Few of the stories crescendo in any obvious way: the narrative simply tracks the protagonist from one moment to the next, then moves the reader on to the next tale, leaving the emotional instability of each character to weigh on the reader's mind.

Quiet and subdued, Tatsumi's artwork operates as a voyeuristic level: clean, open cartooning that focuses intently on the characters and emotional beats. The backgrounds are rendered and complete, capturing the moment in time, yet Tatsumi knows when to drop the backgrounds out of a panel to focus on the characters' emotional landscape. With myriad body types and distinct postures --often poor ones-- the characters come across as unique individuals, survivors on whose backs the future of modern Japan is built.

If you don't like manga, or even if you do, but haven't read Yoshihiro Tatsumi's desolate, personal comics, you really owe it to yourself to read one of the most talented practitioners of the most under-represented genre of manga work. Good-Bye is nine soul-searching tales of a country at a crossroads, looking for an identity and struggling to live with its social taboos. It's dark comics, but it's very good comics too.

What It Is
Written & Illustrated by Lynda Barry
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

Lynda Barry's What It Is is her creative autobiography and personal theories on art and its creation. The first 130 pages are spent talking about her life and creative thinking, with particular attention paid to the second-guessing creative people are prone to, as well as positing her own theories on how we channel our creative impulses most effectively.

With so much theoretical content, it's certainly not a book for everybody, but anybody who's ever tried to write or illustrate anything will certain connect with what Barry's trying to say in these pages. Her observations are incredible sharp, cutting directly through the preconceptions of any reader, while the autobiographical content serves to underscore how Barry herself reached the conclusions she's drawn, literally, on the pages of What It Is.

After explaining where she's coming from and the importance of images, capturing the physicality of a memory, sensation, moment, Barry opens up her "Activity Book," a 60-odd page supplement to What It Is's theoretical component - complete with many exercises for would-be authors to use when faced with writer's block or when they're struggling to capture the core of a scene. I can promise that this particular writer will use her suggestions repeatedly.

The book itself is extremely well made. The large hardcover has a hand-made quality, which is continued on every aspect. The pages combine art, collage and hand-written notebook-lined paper passages, all "pasted" up on colored paper. Hand-writing, I should add, is a big part of what Barry's driving at in the book, so the aesthetic supports her thesis as well as working to give the book a distinct graphic tone. Chock full of details, each page is a sensory overload, where Barry doodled into every nook and cranny, letting her brain run free until it captured the essence of each page. It's sometimes challenging: you have to read everything to truly absorb the full context of what's being said, but Barry's intelligent enough to make the effort absolutely worthwhile.

Plenty of comics have tackled the theoretic elements of creativity in the medium, but only Lynda Barry is exploring creativity as a whole - regardless of your chosen medium. How does a mind connect two ideas, play them off one another, set the scene, examine the palpable reality of the situation? Barry understands, and she wants to help readers find out for themselves. What It Is is the textbook of creative thinking.

 
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Lynda Barry

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  GOODBYE reviewed by Booklist

Updated June 11, 2008


BOOKLIST
June 1, 2008
By Gordon Flagg

Good-Bye.
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro (Author) and Tomine, Adrian (Editor)
Jul 2008. 210 p. Drawn & Quarterly, hardcover, $19.95. (9781897299371). 741.5.

The 1971-72 stories in Tomine's third collection of vintage works by revolutionary manga artist Tatsumi portray a society haunted by loss and mired in resignation in the quarter-century following World War II. Although Tatsumi typically depicts malaise-entrapped protagonists without spelling out the social causes of their despondency, several tales here are uncharacteristically political, set just after the war and addressing its actual effect or, more precisely, that of Japan's face-losing defeat on the characters rather than only suggesting it. In the harrowing "Good-Bye," a woman turns to prostitution with American soldiers, while her father heedlessly exploits her situation. In "Hell," a photographer finds his life's meaning in a photo he took in A-bombed Hiroshima but learns the harsh truth behind the image decades later. In other stories, a henpecked man decides to squander his squirreled-away savings on a prostitute, a bar hostess remains faithful to her imprisoned boyfriend, and a retired salaryman suffers a mysterious rash. Tatsumi's mastery of the visual simplicity of classic manga gives a stark power to these devastating, uncompromising pieces.
-Gordon Flagg

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Good-Bye reviewed by ComicMix

Updated May 15, 2008


Manga Friday: Yoshihiro Tatsumi says 'Good-Bye'
More stories from Japan's forgotten master of manga
MAY 2. 2008
COMICMIX

This week, I’m giving over all of Manga Friday to the manga I was most looking forward to this year – a collection of dark, psychological stories from the creator who invented gekiga but who has been almost forgotten at home.

Good-Bye
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi; Translated by Yuji Oniki; Edited by Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly, June 2008, $19.95

This is the third in Drawn & Quarterly’s series of books reprinting Tatsumi’s groundbreaking gekiga stories of forty years ago; this book reprints and translates stories from 1971-72, as The Push Man and Other Stories had stories from 1969 and Abandon the Old in Tokyo drew from 1970. It opens with an introduction by Frederik L. Schodt, author of Manga! Manga!, and ends with a Q&A conversation between Tatsumi and Adrian Tomine, the series editor. You won't be able to find it in stores for about another two months -- though better comics shops will probably let you add it to your pull list, if you ask nicely. (And online booksellers, as usual, are already taking preorders.)

Like Push Man and Abandon, Good-Bye is made up of short stories, most of them originally published in cheap "rental comics" anthologies, distributed through chains of stores throughout Japan. (Though this period also saw Tatsumi finally break through into the much higher-paying magazine market.) The nine stories here range from about fifteen to thirty pages in length, and are mostly set in then-contemporary Japan, with a few flashbacks to the immediate post-war era.

The first story, "Hell," sets the Tatsumi tone right away. An unnamed military photographer -- most of Tatsumi's protagonists are unnamed everymen, and they often have a family resemblance, with the same staring eyes and resigned faces -- remembers arriving in Hiroshima immediately after the atomic bomb, and taking a photo that became famous: the shadow of a young man massaging his mother's back, burned into the stone wall by the blast that killed them. But, since this is a Tatsumi story, it's not that simple -- after the photographer has become famous for that picture, he learns that the real story behind that image is quite different. And so even an attempt to show the horrors of war is twisted into something tawdry and cheap.

Tatsumi's stories are about ordinary people: salarymen at the end of their working lives, introverted young men obsessed with sex, downtrodden hostesses trying to stay true to their incarcerated boyfriends. They're not precisely losers, but none of them are winners. Life has knocked them all around, and just getting through another day is about as much as any of them can hope for.

What makes Tatsumi's '70s work different from the current crop of comics miserabilists is his utter lack of interest in autobiography; his eye is turned outward rather than inward, looking at the world around him and finding something very wrong with it. The same face reappears, perhaps as the same person, perhaps not, making up Tatsumi's repertory company of the urban downtrodden.

I still think the stories in Abandon the Old in Tokyo, particularly "Beloved Monkey" and "The Hole," are the best of Tatsumi's work to be translated, but "Hell" and the title story here are nearly on that level, and as good as anyone's best comics stories. And Good-Bye as a whole is a stunning achievement, a collection of dark, realistic stories from a side of the world we rarely see.

Tatsumi is one of the greats of world comics, a creator with a fearless, unblinking focus on the sadness and pain of ordinary life, and any publication of Tatsumi's work in America is a cause for celebration. But it's doubly exciting to learn, at the very end of this book, that D&Q's next Tatsumi project will be his massive A Drifting Life. I can hardly wait.
 
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  GOOD-BYE reviewed by The Oregonian

Updated April 24, 2008


Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Good-Bye
Posted by Steve Duin,
The Oregonian
April 19, 2008 09:48AM

He's right. It is a big bed. And just ten minutes earlier, his daughter Mariko was on it, pleasuring the American G.I. who's now trapped uncomfortably between them.

And that isn't even close to the most claustrophobic panel of despair that Yoshihiro Tatsumi uncovers in Good-Bye, the latest collection of his gekiga reprints from Drawn & Quarterly.

It's shortly after the war. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the surrender, when the ghostly silhouettes on the walls of abandoned buildings speak of the heaven they've lost and the hell that's still trapped inside them.


Twenty-five years after mushroom clouds, Tatsumi created these desperate stories about the immediate aftershocks of war. Despair is so thick in the air that the men and women find it almost impossible to connect. That sense of alienation rarely makes for a memorable reading experience, but Tatsumi -- who was born in Osaka in 1935 and making a living in comics from the age of 15 on -- has an unerring sense of metaphor and narrative.

There's Akemi, the bar girl who's been faithful for four years to the slob who took her virginity and, later that same night, was arrested and sent to prison. On the night before his release, she takes a docile loser home and begs him to sleep with her on the very sheets on which she lost her innocence, a ritual she hopes will save her from the degradation of life with the man who's coming home to her.

There's Saburo, a month away from his retirement, determined to blow his savings on whores and gambling so that it will not pass on to the wife and child he no longer loves. He is so seeped in bitterness and betrayal that when a young and beautiful office girl, grappling with a panic all her own, arrives at his bed, Saburo's impotence overwhelms him.


And there is the Japanese photographer who arrives in Hiroshima shortly after the bomb. In a back alley he finds, etched on a wall, the tender image of a mother and a child, the son massaging his mother's back, burned into the concrete by the blast that annihilated them. As the years pass, the photograph becomes world famous, the inspiration for poetry, films and statutes, the ultimate statement against atomic warfare.

Only then is the photographer, more famous than he deserves, approached on a city street by a stranger who tells him he got it all wrong. What he found etched on that wall was not a vignette of devotion, but a murder scene. Anxious for a life of leisure, a son had sent his friend to kill his mother, that murderous intent and the Enola Gay arriving in Hiroshima at the same hour.

This is the third collection of Tatsumi's work by Drawn & Quarterly, designed and edited by Adrian Tomine. Most of these stories were written in the early '70s, when Tatsumi was at the top of his game. As Frederik L. Schodt writes in his introduction, "Many Japanese people today probably find Tatsumi's work, with its focus on the underbelly of Japanese society, to be overly kurai, or dark and pessimistic ...


"But he is also a master of the short story format, in an era when long-form, serious manga are dominant. And he has a rare gift, shared by legendary manga artists such as Osamu Tezuka and Yoshiharu Tsuge, among others: he is absolutely original, and he is absolutely fearless in his willingness to examine what it means to be human."

So it is, in "Sky Burial," that Tatsumi writes about the Tibetans who practice sky funerals in the Himalayas, carrying a corpse up the mountain, dismembering it, then calling in the vultures with flutes made of human bones. It's a grisly ritual, as the birds pick the skeleton clean, Tatsumi notes, "but this is how, according to the Tibetans, the dead spirit soars into the sky."

In the post-war Japan of Good-Bye, the vultures are everywhere, and nothing soars beyond their reach.
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Good-Bye




GOOD-BYE reviewed by Andrew Wheeler

Updated April 24, 2008


Good-Bye
reviewed by Andrew Wheeler
ANTICK MUSINGS
04-21-08

Another impressive stack this week, so I'll dive right into it without tormenting any publicists first:

The book that made me happiest when I opened its package this week was Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Good-Bye, third in the series from Drawn & Quarterly reprinting his Japanese comics from the early '70s. Tatsumi was in the forefront of the gegika movement, pushing manga in the direction of more realistic, downbeat stories about modern people's actual lives. The first two books of Tatsumi's from D&Q -- The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo -- were among my favorite books of the past two years, and I wasn't expecting to see this book for review. D&Q will publish it in July; start saving your pennies now.
 
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  THE PUSHMAN AND OTHER STORIES reviewed by Boldtype

Updated August 29, 2007


Review
BOLDTYPE
September 2007

At age 14, bored with the latest superhero editions, the precocious comic artist Adrian Tomine suffered a "crisis of faith." In his introduction to Yoshihiro Tatsumi's The Push Man and Other Stories, Tomine describes how discovering Tatsumi's work "re-ignited my passion for comics." In tribute to his idol, Tomine has edited the first English-language collection of Tatsumi's terse and gritty tales from the late 1960s.

In an illuminating interview with Tomine, Tatsumi reveals that he draws his inspiration from police reports and human-interest pieces in the newspaper. In 1957, while working as a manga publisher, Tatsumi coined the term gekiga to describe comics, including his own, whose brutal realism distinguished them from the fantastical, youth-appealing stories of manga. Tatsumi's timeless, and mordant, portrayal of modern urban life and its sordid underbelly remains strictly for adults.

Limited to eight pages by the men's mag where he originally published, Tatsumi learned to craft economical narratives rendered in drawings as efficient as his characters' abrupt dialogue. Each of these 16 tragic tales, first published in 1969, features a male protagonist with a working-class job — factory employee, mechanic, sewer worker — or no job at all, who is beset with a deep-seated rage. Their wives, lovers, and girlfriends, who work as barmaids, prostitutes, or office clerks, are the frequent victims of male aggression, both from their partners as well as their lecherous employers. In "Black Smoke," an impotent sanitation worker flies into a rage when he spies his unfaithful wife leaving an abortion clinic. As vengeance, he incinerates their apartment while she naps. From a distant hillside, where he ventures to watch the conflagration, he remarks: "It's a filthy city. Everything here is trash. Eventually someone's gotta burn it."

Tatsumi depicts the unnatural conditions of city life and the concomitant degradation of human dignity and morals: rats invade apartments, women discard babies into the sewers, and a man kills another to steal his concubine. The lone bright spot comes in the curious tale "Make-Up," where a married, cross-dressing office employee falls in love with a young trophy wife, who loves him as a woman.
- H.G. Masters
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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The Push Man & Other Stories




ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO in Monday Magazine

Updated August 21, 2007



 
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  THE PUSH MAN reviewed on Sequart.com

Updated May 10, 2007


The Push Man and Other Stories
by Jeff Chon
SEQUART.COM
16 Apr 2007


Just as his friend Osamu Tezuka is the undisputed godfather of manga, Yoshihiro Tatsumi is the godfather of gekiga, it's "alternative" cousin. Tatsumi coined the phrase gekiga, meaning "drama pictures," to set it apart from the more whimsical manga, which loosely translates to "involuntary (or in spite of one's self) pictures." Publishing his work in underground magazines created exclusively for pay libraries, where readers would pay a fee to take these books home, Tatsumi helped usher in the creation of adult-themed comics in Japan and helped more experimental and mature manga gain a foothold in the market. His contributions helped manga become ingrained in the Japanese cultural consciousness, declaring comics aren't just about giant robots and silly animals.

Collected from stories he wrote in 1969, Tatsumi's THE PUSH MAN AND OTHER STORIES is about male rage, specifically, the rage of the post-WWII Japanese male. It belongs in the same category as the works of Tatsumi's literary contemporaries, Nobel Prize laureate Kenzaburo Oe and samurai fetishist Yukio Mishima, who both suffered blows to their pride when the Japanese surrendered after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oe once wrote of listening to the Emperor's surrender on the radio and realizing that the august and god-like Hirohito (whom Oe had feared as a boy) was just a mere mortal who spoke in a human voice, while Mishima lamented the feminization of the Japanese male in (Which he attributed to western influence) until ultimately committing ritual suicide after his failed coup attempt.

The destruction of their old way of life, the rise of western cultural imperialism, and just not fitting into the times they're living in pervade the lives of the men in THE PUSH MAN AND OTHER STORIES. These men are impotent in relation to their women, work shit jobs, and in some cases (such as the handsome young salaryman in the story MAKE-UP) even manhood itself is a bit of a burden. These stories are about men searching not just for meaning, bur for freedom. They are all controlled by others' perceptions of them and each precisely constructed eight-page vignette chronicles the choices they make to break free from their personal Hells. A cuckold rendered impotent by a car accident sets his house on fire while his wife sleeps in order to punish her infidelity. A man who feels trapped by his prostitute girlfriend sets her pet bird free and runs off with another woman. A young sperm donor takes matters into his own hands when his specimens are deemed unworthy. Their choices are always questionable, but they are attempts to form their own realities, to find paths divergent from the bleak ones they currently tread upon.

The fact that the protagonists are all drawn very similarly, that they are variations of the same person, is no accident in itself. The patterns that emerge from these stories are driven home much harder due to the fact that these men are the "same person." From the ex-con who breaks into a U.S. military base to steal a gun because he "wanted something powerful" to the titular character of the book (whose job is to shoehorn the crowd of commuters onto the train by shoving them in), the characters in this collection desperately want to maintain their dignity as men, but find that it's very hard for them to do so. For the most part, the men in these stories are silent, passive participants in their stories. None of them control their own fates, but are victims of them.

What is astounding is that before Tatsumi, stories like this didn't exist in comic book form. He was in a completely different country on another continent and created his own revolution and genre. These stories feel as fresh and current as they most likely did in 1969 and it's hard not to realize the magnitude of this man's accomplishments in light of these facts. Some comics are reprinted for nostalgia and some are reprinted for posterity's sake, but comics like Tatsumi's are reprinted because they demand to be read. So read it.
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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The Push Man & Other Stories




LA Times spotlights Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions

Updated May 1, 2007


Cover me
By Richard Rayner
April 29, 2007
LA TIMES

In 1935, the British publisher Allen Lane visited Agatha Christie in the country and was miffed to discover, while waiting for the train back to London, that there was no decent book to buy at the railway station store. Shortly thereafter, he came up with his own remedy, a new imprint called Penguin, which began publishing paperbacks in the summer of 1935. Within a year, 3 million units had been shipped and a legendary brand had been created.

Book lovers tend to get a little nutty about their Penguins, wistfully eyeing the orange-spined editions of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Moby Dick" they read in college, or coveting the fiendishly tough-to-find Philip K. Dicks in the Penguin "black" SF series.

"We think about it all the time. We talk about it all the time," says Elda Rotor, executive editor of Penguin Classics in New York. "We know what we have here. The question is: How do you keep that going?"

Lane's original formula, of quality books at attractive prices, never goes out of date, although his means of brand identification — make all the books look the same — has long since ceased to work in the marketplace. So what's a publisher to do? For Penguin, one solution was to develop Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, a new line of reissues that includes Jack Kerouac's "The Dharma Bums," Shirley Jackson's "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," and Hans Christian Andersen's "Fairy Tales." Printed on uncoated paper with ragged edges, and featuring introductions by writers like Haruki Murakami, Doris Lessing, Jonathan Lethem, Luc Sante and Eric Schlosser, these are classics the way they ought to be.

Perhaps most striking are the books' covers, which have been done by leading contemporary graphic artists such as Joe Sacco ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"), Roz Chast (Stella Gibbons' "Cold Comfort Farm") and Japanese cartooning legend Yoshiro Tatsumi (Jay Rubin's new translation of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's "Rashomon"). Chester Brown's superb continuity strips for "Lady Chatterley's Lover" make liberal use of a certain four-letter word, pushing the envelope much as Penguin did in the early 1960s, when the British government brought suit to prevent the publication of D.H. Lawrence's rediscovered masterpiece. "We're reaching out to a generation that's more visual," Rotor says. "And hopefully we're saying that these books will matter to you and are modern."

Comics, of course, are an art of compression. But when it comes to cover illustration, that compression has to evoke the larger world of the book. In his design for Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," Frank Miller — yes, that Frank Miller, creator of "Sin City" and "The 300" — frames an upended V-2 rocket knifing downward through a speckled and blackened bomb crater. Once seen, never forgotten. Likewise, Charles Burns' jacket for Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel "The Jungle" features the flayed head of a cow, its single eye looking very much alive and reproachful. These images sock and shock you.

Other jackets offer a denser and more verbal experience. Chris Ware's work for "Candide" is so typically elliptical that you can spend nearly as much time with it as with the novel. For a new and substantially expanded edition of "The Portable Dorothy Parker," the Canadian artist Seth created an illustrated table of contents, then used the inside back flap of the jacket for a funny and tender continuity life. Seth uses low-key art-deco colors, ruby-red and green, to hint at the classic Parker period of the Algonquin Round Table and the early days of the New Yorker. Bits of Parker's poetry are sprinkled throughout the design.

Most often the artists are selected by Penguin art director Paul Buckley, but occasionally authors chose for themselves. Thomas Pynchon said, grandly: "Sure, I'll put 'Gravity's Rainbow' in your series — but you have to get Frank Miller." Amazingly, they did. A second case proved simpler: Paul Auster and Art Spiegelman are friends. Spiegelman's art for Auster's "New York Trilogy" shows a deep and easy familiarity with Manhattan, with the pulp fiction from which this contemporary existential masterpiece emerged and with Auster himself — an ink portrait on the back flap shows a lean and youthful Auster, fountain pen in hand, one eye blanked out by a magnifying glass. Spiegelman weaves this motif throughout, rendering a score of lost eyes staring from the background of the cover. It's a haunting conceit, emerging from the work while concentrating its meaning.

"I truly want the artists to go for it," Buckley says, although sometimes this manifests itself in unexpected ways. Take Daniel Clowes, creator of "Ghost World," who accepted the commission to do Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" just a few months before undergoing open-heart surgery. "I thought the work would resonate," says Clowes. "I began by reading the book very carefully and then waiting around to see which scenes stuck with me most. There were so many I could hardly choose. The descriptions of the creature are so specific — black hair and lips, yellow skin stretched taut over muscles etc. — that I was surprised at how unlike this any of the famous pop-culture versions are."

On the inside flap of the book — which comes out in the fall — Clowes re-creates the famous moment when, by the shores of Lake Leman, Byron, Shelley and Mary Shelley discussed the gothic horror stories they were going to write. Here, Clowes portrays the clueless Mary almost like one of the anxious, dweeby teenagers from his own strips, tweaking the very notion of "Frankenstein" and reviving the story for our wised-up, information-sated age. The effect, through different means of artistic sleight of hand, is repeated again and again throughout the series. Like those original Penguins of 70 years ago, these books will serve as capsules of time, memory and design.

Richard Rayner is the author of several books, most recently the novel "The Devil's Wind." Paperback Writers will appear monthly.
 
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Featured artists

Seth
Chris Ware
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

          



  Aya, We Are On Our Own and Abandon the Old in Tokyo picked for Booklist's top 10 Graphic Novels

Updated March 30, 2007


Top 10 Graphic Novels
Olson, Ray
609 words
15 March 2007
Booklist

Abouet, Marguerite and Oubrerie, Clement
Aya

Oubrerie suffuses Abouet's gently nuanced story with the ambient sunlight of the late-1970s Ivory Coast, where smart young Aya begins to find her way despite less-forward-thinking friends and family.

Katin, Miriam
We Are on Our Own

Animator Katin brings high artistic skills to a first graphic novel recounting her and her mother's escape from Nazi-occupied Budapest and her mother's search for her husband after the war.

Tatsumi, Yoshihiro
Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Tr. by Yuji Oniki. Ed. by Adrian Tomine

Comics-for-adults pioneer Tatsumi's powerful stories characteristically feature weary, emasculated working-class men, often paired with resentful women and typifying those who remain defeated even during the Japanese economic miracle of the 1970s.

Featured artists

Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Miriam Katin
Abouet & Oubrerie

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We Are On Our Own
Abandon The Old In Tokyo
Aya




Abandon The Old In Tokyo reviewed in here

Updated March 19, 2007


Two good comics
Comic book reviews
By Bernard C. Cormier
Published Thursday March 15th, 2007

Next up is Abandon The Old In Tokyo, the second in a series of reprint books representing stories by Japanese writer/illustrator Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The focus of this volume is on material from 1970. It was edited, designed, and lettered by Adrian Tomine. Yuji Oniki was the translator.

As bonus material, the book includes an introduction by Koji Suzuki, the author of the Ring trilogy. It also has an interview with Tatsumi.

The plots/bottom line:

The book contains eight stories. All of them have a hook to them that results in either a disturbing or sad ending... but that depends on point of view.

One of the most memorable sequences is in the story titled Unpaid. In it, a man goes to the "Pet Appreciation Club." Once there, it's obvious (if the reader's imagination is used) that he has sex with a dog that looks like Lassie! The stories do have built-in messages and commentary about society. The best attempt within the book is a story about cosmetic surgery titled The Hole.

Abandon The Old In Tokyo contains nudity and extreme violence.

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly Rating: 3/3
 
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo




  Walt & Skeezix in the New York Times with Joe Matt!

Updated January 18, 2007


The New York Times
Sunday, January 14th, 2007

Art & Design

Comics
See You in the (Restored, Reprinted) Funny Papers

Drawn & Quarterly
Below, a strip from “Walt & Skeezix,” a collection of Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley.”

[image]


By BEN SCHWARTZ
Published: January 14, 2007
LOS ANGELES


A NIGHTMARE,” Joe Matt sighs. “All those years, all that money, all that work. None of which I’ll ever get back.” Mr. Matt, the graphic novelist best known for his absurdly self-centered autobiographical comic “Peepshow,” is sitting in a prefab booth at Daily Donut in Los Feliz, a neighborhood spot favored by quiet elderly customers and infrequent rushes of teenagers seeking afterschool snacks. He is speaking of his quest for the perfect collection of Frank King “Gasoline Alley” comic strips, from 1921 to 1960. Mr. Matt, who owns no home, car, computer or cellphone, estimates he has spent upward of $15,000 on his mission since 1994.

“I found dealers in comics magazines and ordered the years I wanted,” he says. “A year runs about 312 dailies, of which you can get about 290 or more. Times that by 40, at $50 each. And there’s always missing strips. I’d have to order the same year again and again just to get a few missing days. God help you if you drop them, because you have to sort 300 undated strips by story line. Then I found that different papers ran the strip at different sizes, or with better printing presses. It was maddening.”

It’s a habit Mr. Matt has had for some time. He clipped his first strip, a “Li’l Abner,” at the age of 9, in 1972. He now seeks out obscure work with little chance of getting reprinted, and Mr. King is a prime example. His collection forms the bulk of “Walt & Skeezix” (retitled from “Gasoline Alley” for licensing reasons), a decade-long, multivolume reprinting of Mr. King’s complete works published by D&Q (Drawn & Quarterly). (Volume 3 arrives in June.)

Mr. Matt is not unique among collectors. Peter Maresca, whose day job is creative director of GoComics/uClick Mobile, self-published his own collection of “Little Nemo” Sunday tearsheets as “So Many Splendid Sundays.” Fantagraphics’ “Popeye” and “Krazy Kat” series are made possible by the archivist Bill Blackbeard, and IDW’s “Complete Dick Tracy” relies on a legion of fans, since no single run is known to exist.

Their compulsion to own an artist’s every strip — sometimes 15,000 or more — and to clip, preserve and organize them all, has helped rescue a disappearing corner of American popular culture. After decades in which comic-strip syndicates and libraries have been purging themselves of paper archives for microfilm, their collections are often all that’s left.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” said Kim Thompson, co-founder of Fantagraphics, the publisher of popular graphic novels like Daniel Clowes’s “Ghost World.” Fantagraphics began issuing “complete” projects in the 1980s, with multivolume collections of “Popeye” and “Prince Valiant,” and currently with George Herriman’s “Krazy Kat” (as “Krazy & Ignatz,” for licensing reasons), an improved “Popeye” and Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts.”

Mr. Thompson has resorted to making pleas on the Internet for rare strips, and fans turned up what he needed: “Even with ‘Peanuts,’ where Schulz maintained an archive, we have one fan, Marcie — yes, same name as the ‘Peanuts’ character — who compiled a database on her own that lets her plug in the date of any strip, and it tells her wherever that particular strip has ever been reprinted.”

Until recently the market for many of these projects was limited to other collectors, and weak sales doomed some earlier multivolume series like “Little Orphan Annie” in the middle of their runs.

But today’s collections show more commercial promise, thanks in large part to graphic literature successes like “Maus,” “Jimmy Corrigan,” “Ghost World” and “Persepolis.” Fantagraphics says it has sold about 100,000 copies of the first volume of “The Complete Peanuts” since 2004, and it issues new volumes twice a year. The publisher has also sold 10,000 to 16,000 copies each of the first three “Krazy & Ignatz” collections and is issuing an eighth volume next month. “The Complete Dick Tracy” sold out a 7,500-copy printing last October; a second printing is due in late February, with Volume 2 scheduled for April.

“There’s a younger audience that’s grown up during this renaissance in cartooning,” said the cartoonist known as Seth who designs “The Complete Peanuts.” “Probably in their early 20s, they grew up reading, say, ‘Eightball,’ as teenagers. So they’re well prepared for this, and it’s not a big stretch for them to embrace comics history.”

That history is refreshed by today’s top graphic novelists, who design art-book quality presentations, often contribute historical essays and cleverly rework the art into endpapers. Chris Ware, the creator of “Jimmy Corrigan,” designs the “Krazy & Ignatz” and “Walt & Skeezix” series, while Adrian Tomine designs a series of work by the Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Jeet Heer, a historian who edits the Herriman and King sets, said: “They make them seem fresh and alive, not just something of antiquarian interest. Those earlier reprint series — ‘Terry and the Pirates,’ ‘Flash Gordon,’ ‘Prince Valiant’ — appealed largely to men in their 50s and 60s who wanted to relive their boyhood. The new crop of books aren’t being read by people who have a nostalgic memory of first reading them.”

Chris Oliveros, the publisher of D&Q, said: “Artists like Ware and Tomine make it possible to bypass the superhero-dominated comic book shops for the general reading public. We’re introducing this as good work that should have an audience.”

To do so, the work is emphasized, not the kitsch merchandising that the more popular strips often generate. Seth’s “Peanuts” covers are minimal, for example, focusing on the emotions of Schulz’s strips rather than the crowd-pleasing imagery of Snoopy’s Red Baron or Lucy’s psychiatry booth.

“The world of Charles Schulz at the drawing board is an entirely different world from the Charles Schulz in stores, television, theaters or Japan,” said David Michaelis, the author of the forthcoming “Schulz: A Biography.” “What Seth has done is take a diamond out of its old setting, polished it and reset it in a way that makes it sparkle more.

“He’s gone into Schulz, with a camera eye, deeply into the images, and pulled out passages and expanded. That’s not Schulz, that’s Seth. It doesn’t take away. It builds it back up. He’s remaking him. It’s one of the more generous gifts one graphic artist has ever given another.”

Ted Adams of IDW said he hoped to reintroduce readers to the dark, brutal imagination of Chester Gould. “People first asked me, ‘Dick Tracy?’ Why are you reprinting that? It’s so vanilla,’ ” he said. “I think their memories come from the Warren Beatty movie, which I like. But that’s not Gould.”

“This is a 1930s police procedural about a cop who does what it takes,” he continued. “It’s not vanilla. It’s ‘The Shield.’ ”

Physical restoration of the strips is aided greatly by digital technology: missing letters are “cloned” from other word balloons, faded colors balanced and missing backgrounds transposed from similar panels.

“It wouldn’t have been possible 5 to 10 years ago,” Mr. Thompson said. “The results are so much better. Back then we shot photostats from tearsheets and then repainted corrections by hand. Now it’s scanned into the computer and fixed with Photoshop.”

For Mr. Maresca, the self-publisher of his “Little Nemo” collection, it comes down to “the high tech saving the low tech.” He founded Sunday Press Books in his home, restored his own tearsheets using Photoshop and reissued them at original newspaper size. For the first time in a century Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo” appears as intended, in a coffee-table book. It sold out a 5,000-copy print run, and Mr. Maresca plans a similar Frank King Sunday book with Mr. Ware.

Perhaps the best example of the renewed interest in classic cartooning is Mr. King’s “Gasoline Alley,” now renamed “Walt & Skeezix” after its father and son protagonists. Obscure to even devoted comics fans, the strip’s only real selling point today is Mr. King’s storytelling.

The first volume, which has sold over 10,000 copies since 2005, begins in 1921, when Mr. King reluctantly sent his only son off to boarding school. Soon after, he dropped the infant Skeezix on Walt’s doorstep.

“This suggests that the strip is essentially King’s imaginary life with a son who was no longer there,” Mr. Ware says. “King’s strip took the formal structure of the regular, daily appearance of the comic strip and used it as a real-time medium to tell an almost 50-year long story about American middle-class life. Children grow up, get married, go to war, have children of their own and then have grandchildren.”

Surprisingly, Mr. King’s revival has found a dissenter in his No. 1 fan, Mr. Matt. “Kind of a drag, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, I love the books, but where’s my compensation?”

He said he wasn’t talking about the $540 that D&Q paid for his collection, or about credit, although he makes sure in the new “Peepshow” to remind readers who introduced D&Q to Mr. King’s work. No, he sees himself as the victim of an O. Henry-type twist ending, one in which his collecting defeated its own purpose.

“I never intended to put out the books,” Mr. Matt said. “I did it so that I could read Frank King whenever I wanted. I concentrated on him because I thought he’d never be reprinted. I mean, what are the odds? Of course they’re reprinting ‘Peanuts.’ But King? Now anybody can buy one.”
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Featured artists

Joe Matt
Frank King
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo
Walt and Skeezix: 1923-1924 (Volume Two)
Peepshow #14




TATSUMI and HUIZENGA in Time's Top 10 of 2006

Updated January 5, 2007


COMICS
by Andrew D. Arnold


02 of 10

THE PUSHMAN AND OTHER STORIES & ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly)

If you have seen and sampled the abundant supply of translated Japanese comics (a.k.a. manga) and dismissed it as a lot of saucer-eyed schoolgirls and sexualized robots, you need to look at Yoshihiro Tatsumi's two collections of short stories. As different from mainstream manga as Yasujiro Ozu's films are from Godzilla movies, The Pushman and Abandon the Old feature stories about the working class, urban denizens of 1970s Japan. Almost as unknown in Japan as he is in the West, Tatsumi's neo-realist tales feature mechanics, pornographic film projectionists and factory workers who struggle against the dehumanizing effects of a Japan on the cusp of becoming a major economic power. These tales of desperation achieve a poetic sense of despair in Tatsumi's accomplished hands.


07 of 10

CURSES by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly)

A top-ten choice last year [#5 - Or Else] as well as in 2006, Kevin Huizenga continues his very strong body of work by putting out a hardcover collection of short stories titled Curses as well as a pair of comic books (Ganges #1 and Or Else #4). Specializing in stories planted in America's suburban sprawl, Huizenga discovers the magical and cosmological possibilities hidden in plain site of "average" lives. In one story a plastic grocery bag becomes a "magic mask" that protects a young husband when he visits a feathered ogre to help his wife conceive. Another story features the only convincing and sensitive portrait of a conservative, religious-minded "red state" character I have ever seen in the medium.
 
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Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Abandon The Old In Tokyo
Curses




  Abandon The Old in Tokyo featured on The First Post (UK)

Updated December 18, 2006


The First Post
The Online Daily Magazine
December 14, 2006

Melancholic, moving Manga

It's good news that Yoshihiro Tatsumi's groundbreaking work is published in the West for the first time. It's now four decades since the Japanese artist expanded the boundaries of fantasy-dominated Manga by creating gritty and literary short stories that he dubbed "Gekiga" (literally, "dramatic pictures"), and Abandon The Old in Tokyo is a compelling example of his style. Focusing on the private lives of Tokyo's working classes, Tatsumi's tales offer a glimpse in to the period when staunchly-traditional Japan was in conflict with both the pace of post-war modernisation and increasingly liberal sexual mores. Tatsumi's emotionally-raw stories displayed an elegant restraint, to beautiful effect.

-Danny Graydon

Abandon The Old In Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi is published by Drawn and Quarterly, priced £12.99.
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo




YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI featured in Filter Magazine

Updated December 18, 2006


Filter Magazine, Fall 2006

An Inconvenient Life
The comics of Yoshihiro Tatsumi
By Eric Almendral

You’re forgiven, gaijin, for thinking of Japan as a wonderland of giant robots, supernaturally lovestruck teens, cybernetic samurais and sci-fi epics where children routinely save the world using nothing but a pack of trading cards. The tsunami of J-pop culture that’s been crashing onto American shores for the past decade is heavily populated with these mainstays, reinforcing stereotypes of a Hello Kitty-adoring technophiliac Land of the Rising Sun. But the rapid modernization and economic expansion after World War II—back when the U.S. was adept at rebuilding the nations of its defeated enemies—that was the genesis of present-day pop-obsessed Japan also gave birth to a counter-cultural dissent among the manga.

Comics creator Yoshihiro Tatsumi found himself dissatisfied with cheery, cartoon-like characters (i.e. the Disney-influenced Astro Boy) that dominated manga in the late ’60s. “Everyone was drunk with money,” he says (via translator) of that period. “The process of making the wealthy more comfortable led to a powerless underclass who could not stand up for themselves and so they lived their lives in quiet servitude. I see only humanity in those at the dead ends of society.” Tatsumi reacted by publishing gekiga: gritty, realistic stories about disenfranchised members of the working class consumed by a seething anger they’re unable to suppress.

Tatsumi derives his narratives from the depravity that comes with sudden social and sexual freedom: promiscuity, adultery, betrayal, fetishism, misogyny. Frustrated by their own powerlessness, his characters often violently explode, self-destruct or languish in their shame. He renders his almost interchangeable antiheroes in simple ink lines; they’re generic stand-ins for the Japanese “everyman” trying to defy inevitable change. The tales reverberate with their author’s anxieties: “The luxurious, convenient life in urban society is somehow wrong.”

Gekiga predates the oft-abused “graphic novel” label slapped onto serious adult comics since the publication of Maus, but it shares a literary approach with many contemporary ink-slingers such as Seth, Chester Brown, and Chris Ware. Tatsumi’s work—mostly self-published and commercially unsuccessful in his homeland—was largely unrecognized in the English-speaking world until last year. Optic Nerve creator and hipster fave Adrian Tomine (who had been lucky enough to discover a rare translated collection of Tatsumi’s work in the ’80s) sought out Tatsumi and is currently editing a chronological series of anthologies which began with last year’s The Push Man and Other Stories and continues with Abandon the Old in Tokyo. The first volume won instant praise from book critics and comics elites such as Love & Rockets creators Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez.

“I have no awareness of that,” Tatsumi says about his newfound fans. “I’m still poor and though I hear manga is booming, I haven’t noticed. I only wish I’d had the recognition 30 years ago so I could have published as many stories as I’d liked.”
Tatsumi expresses unfamiliarity with the work of most of his American peers but sees a natural kinship with Tomine’s comics. “I feel great anger and sorrow in the quiet actions of his characters,” he says. “It’s very close to what I hoped to accomplish with gekiga.”

The post-war boom is more history than memory for most Japanese, but the 71-year-old Tatsumi continues to produce stories with themes similar to his earlier works. “Even with this computer generation it hasn’t changed a bit,” he says. But he laments mellowing with age. “I’ve always thought I’d have the same passion for comics I did 50 years ago, but the power of the work has diminished,” he remarks, noting the softening of spirit that comes with marriage, children and the slowing of the body. “It’s quite a sad thing.”

Abandon the Old in Tokyo is available in September from Drawn & Quarterly. Many thanks to Aya Masuda for her translation services.
 

Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo




  ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO in the Hour's Gift Guide

Updated December 8, 2006


December 7th, 2006
More books to give!

Abandon the Old in Tokyo, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly), $25.95. Montreal publishers D+Q have embarked on a project that will do the world a service by publishing an annual translated compendium of Tatsumi's comics, each focusing on the highlights of one year of his work. This is this year's, and just like last year's Push Man and Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo initiates anglo readers to a mangaka of incredible magnitude; Tatsumi is among Japan's greatest artists and storytellers, and his vision, as dark as it may be, is a welcome beacon.

(Isa Tousignant)



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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo




The Morning News: Book Digest reviews ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO

Updated November 22, 2006


Book Digest

by Robert Birnbaum


Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, 194 pages)
Referring to Yoshihiro Tatsumi as a Japanese cartooning legend probably will carry small weight with most readers, but it should be sufficient to recognize that he is regarded as having laid the foundations for what is now called the American graphic novel movement—the most famous example of which is Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus. Handsomely printed and designed, Abandon the Old in Tokyo is the second in a projected three-volume series (The Push Man and Other Stories was the first) that spotlights Tokyo’s urban underbelly in the 1960s. Writer Koji Suzuki (The Ring trilogy, Dark Water, and Birthday) introduces this volume:

Tatsumi fans are growing in rank here and abroad now. This is because no one does minor villains and petty villainies of everyday life like him. His characters may be bad or even evil, but they are never “Evil” with a capital “E.” Tatsumi has a knack for presenting offbeat sexual impulses in such a way that they seem utterly—and depressingly—normal. They probably are, too. The sickly veneer on Japanese modernism finally reminds us that these very human accidents of the ego are a ceaseless reality…
 
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo




  Best of 2006 - ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO

Updated November 16, 2006


Yoshihiro Tatsumi's Abandon the Old in Tokyo is #3 on Amazon's top 10 Graphic Novels/Comics of the year!
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo




MOOMIN and ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO in the LA Times

Updated October 20, 2006


October 15, 2006

Opposites attract

By Richard Rayner, Richard Rayner is the author of several books, most recently the novel "The Devil's Wind."


Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Book One
Tove Jansson
Drawn & Quarterly: 96 pp., $19.95

Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly: 194 pp., $19.95


TOVE JANSSON, the Finnish writer, died five years ago at the age of 86. Her best-known creations are the Moomins, a family of hippo-shaped creatures — trolls, she called them — that live in a wooden tower beside a lake in Moominvalley and, with their eccentric friends, have adventures, often involving planet-threatening ecological disasters like floods or comets. Jansson was in some ways the Rachel Carson of the kids-book world, always hip to the big issues. That said, her work is intimate and, though sometimes frightening, finally unthreatening. "Life is like a river. Some sail on it slowly, some quickly, and some capsize," she writes in "Moominvalley in November," one of the eight Moomin novels, which enchant every kid I know who has come in contact with them; her cool, nonchalant wisdom and her alert eye for darkness and danger delight (not to mention educate) adults too.

In Finland, Jansson is a legend, as much a part of daily culture as Nokia, Sibelius and the idlers who congregate outside the state-run liquor stores before the shutters come down on a Saturday afternoon. In Japan, theme parks derive from her fiction. This global fame began not in 1948 with the publication of her breakthrough book, "Finn Family Moomintroll," but in 1953, when a tabloid newspaper, the London Evening News, invited her to create an all-ages Moomin comic strip. This took off immediately and was syndicated worldwide — though not, for some reason, in America. Now, it finally appears here with "Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip — Book One."

That Jansson should have produced a comic is no surprise. She trained as an artist, did her first work as an artist, came from a family of artists. Her mother illustrated books and magazines; her father was the famous sculptor Victor Jansson. She wrote about them in her "adult" book, the wonderful (and ripe for reprinting) "Sculptor's Daughter." Her family was liberal bohemian, but her father's whims ruled the household, leaving her mother to steady a perpetually unstable domestic boat. This dynamic transposes itself into Moominvalley, where Moominpappa, the dilettante, wears a top hat, engages in the never-ending task of writing his memoirs and thinks life "would be even more wonderful if something exciting and awful happened"; Moominmamma sports an apron, is never without her handbag and responds serenely when those exciting, awful things indeed occur.

The four long stories in this volume (which is the first in a series of five books that will eventually collect the strip's entire run) fill in the gaps in the novels' fertile soil. We see the character Moomintroll's friendship with the loyal but occasionally insufferable Sniff, who, Jansson writes in the novel "Comet in Moominland," forever dreams of money and "shiny things that I can hold and stroke and call my own." We see Moomintroll's attempt to drown himself, resulting in a happy reunion with his father and mother, who, years before, thought they'd lost him forever. We see flocks of tiny and threatening Hattifatteners, milling about aimlessly (a chilling and brilliantly funny metaphor for anxiety) — uninvited houseguests that grow, it turns out, from seeds planted by Snufkin, the heroic wanderer.

Snufkin is a much beloved and charismatic figure, but in Jansson's universe, charisma has unexpected consequences. Good deeds might get punished. Bad ones can likewise have unexpected results. This feels true, doesn't it? There's optimism, sure, but always with complexity. Jansson knew the ugly score and yet creates gorgeous butterflies to fly in its face. Her work soars with lightness and speed, and her drawings only echo her writing: delicate but precise, observant yet suggestive. She always knew what to leave unsaid, what to leave to the reader's imagination. In one episode, Moominpappa transplants the family to the French Riviera, in search of gambling and parties through the night. "Do you think there will be a lot of nobility? How about changing our name to De Moomin?" he wonders. What follows is gorgeous, funny, wise and fast — 20 pages that offer more than most full-length Hollywood features.

Jansson was exceptional, an exuberant explorer of emotional independence and interdependence, a liberating force. After all, the traditional Finnish genius is different. Remember Esa-Pekka Salonen's great gag: "A Finnish introvert stares at his own shoes. A Finnish extrovert stares at yours." Shame is important. Embarrassment and repression too. Ritual. It's why Finns feel at home in Japan; the two societies are in many ways similar. When these people get out there, they really get out there, and when they don't, when the steam builds and builds, watch out. You get the melancholy Moominpappa, excited only by the latest disaster and eagerly taking his family to watch. The situation is reminiscent of the bittersweet world of Jansson's compatriots, the renegade filmmakers Aki and Mika Kaurismaki — or the indelible pages of Japanese gekiga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Born in Osaka, Tatsumi grew up in depressed and desolate postwar Japan, and started working in comics while still a teenager in the early 1950s. He coined the term gekiga, literally meaning "dramatic pictures," to distinguish the stark and realistic work he published throughout the 1960s and 1970s from the more commercial aesthetic of manga. "Abandon the Old in Tokyo," edited and designed by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, is the second collection of Tatsumi gekiga to find its way into English. Like its predecessor, "The Push Man and Other Stories," this new collection should come with a health warning: Prepare to be disturbed and blown away. The stuff is remarkable, amazing. Drawing on crime reports and other newspaper stories, Tatsumi deals with life's sour taste when blue-collar guys fail and find themselves in traps. A factory worker loses his arm. A sewer worker's wife has a miscarriage and leaves him. A man abandons his shrewish and sick mother so his girlfriend can move into his apartment. Repression's violent release only makes life worse.

Most of these disasters happen in a superbly realized urban throng and racket (noise actually seems to shake and thunder through many of the frames), although in "The Hole," one of Tatsumi's moon-faced and seemingly passive protagonists makes a rare excursion to the countryside — where he falls into a deep pit and is kept prisoner by a noseless woman with a grudge against men. This tale smacks of a horror that feels both gothic and very contemporary, though on the whole the stories are placed firmly in the underbelly of late 1960s-early 1970s Japanese prosperity. They exude failure and alienation like the stink of cooking oil in a tiny apartment. The style is spare, elliptical and it's sometimes necessary to read two or three times to appreciate the full nightmarish power. But given a richness of visual texture that can at first elude the eye, this is only to the good.

Certain images from Tatsumi's gloomy milieus — a man emerging from the subway, a train roaring through the night, a character walking, alone and seen from the rear, through a darkened alley — inevitably recall the grammar of noir. Still, the overall tone is at once more real and much more desperate. For a literary comparison, think of Georges Simenon at his toughest, or Raymond Carver describing the slow strangulation of dreams and hope. Tatsumi's work is that good, and, like Simenon or Carver, he has immense sympathy for his poor Joes as they go through fate's wringer.

Jansson and Tatsumi: two masters, one from the far north, one from the east; the first joyously focused on life's defiant radiance, the other spelling out the bad luck and grinding cruelty with which that machine otherwise known as the world so often seems to operate. They are, really, flip sides of the same sensibility, point-of-view yin and yang. I like to think that they would have passed each other with a thrilled shock of recognition in the street in Helsinki or Osaka.

The comic book is a genre whose trendy merits are sometimes acclaimed a little too strenuously these days. But not here. Jansson and Tatsumi are the real deal. •
 
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Tove Jansson

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Abandon The Old In Tokyo




  ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO reviewed in Booklist

Updated September 27, 2006


Abandon the Old in Tokyo

1 September 2006
Booklist, 70, Volume 103; Issue 1; ISSN: 00067385

GRAPHIC NOVELS
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro.
Abandon the Old in Tokyo. Ed. by Adrian Tomine. Tr. by Yuji Oniki.
Sept. 2006. 200p. illus.
Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (1-894937-87-2). 741.5.

The stories in editor Tomine's second collection of this groundbreaking comics creator originally appeared in 1970, when Japan had recovered from the psychic setback of World War II and embarked on its "economic miracle." Tatsumi reveals, however, a segment of Japanese society that remained defeated, made up of weary, emasculated, working-class men, often paired with resentful women. In the title story, a frustrated truck driver taking care of his decrepit, demanding mother reaches his limit. In others, a disgraced businessman returns to his deserted office every day, long after the company has gone under, and a burned-out children's manga artist turns his talents to more disreputable pursuits. It's hard not to read an autobiographical element into that last one, related to the fact that Tatsumi combined the words for drama and art to coin a term, gekiga, for his work to set it apart from comics aimed at children. His powerful drawing style depicts the characters with a starkness and simplicity that matches what is presented of their lives and conjures a convincing urban milieu through detailed backdrops. These decades-old tales are unlike anything published in the U.S. before or since, and it's gratifying that America is now finally catching up with Tatsumi's genius.

-Gordon Flagg


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Tatsumi's THE PUSH MAN reviewed on anime site

Updated September 27, 2006


The Push Man and Other Stories
ISBN: 1-896597-85-8
Size: A5
Orientation: Left to Right
Release Date: 09/2005
Review Date: 09/26/2006
Reviewed By: Eduardo M. Chavez

Content: B+
Art: B+
Packaging: A-
Text/Translation: A
Writer/Artist: Tatsumi Yoshihiro
Translated by: Yuji Oniki


Over four decades ago, Yoshihiro Tatsumi expanded the horizons of comics story-telling by using the visual language of manga to tell gritty, literary short stories about the private lives of everyday people. He has been called "the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics" and has influenced generations of cartoonists, but until now, the majority of his work has remained unavailable outside of Japan. The first in a chronological, multi-volume series, The Push Man and Other Stories is an eye-opening introduction to the provocative and profound comics of a modern master.

Packaging:
Outside of the story-telling the strongest point is easily the packaging. Now I know that flipped manga is not acceptable and if this was Ponent Mon or Viz or Dark Horse, I would be ranting about this. However, for D&Q to even pick up a manga title and then to publish it in a stunning hardcover, I could not help but fall in love. The cover says it all. Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama or Nagoya can look like that under the train tracks. It looks Dirty, dark and oh so silent even with the trains running over head. There is something that says drunken lonely nights with a cover like that.

Inside the printing is flawless. The thick paper shows off Tatsumi's inking and panel drops perfectly. This was a time when he was doing much of the work on his own; sometimes cranking out a handful of pages a day. So, I was glad to see that D&Q really took the time to get the alignment and print down right. This title has a little bit on the mangaka as well for an extra.

Artwork:
When I was first introduced to Tatsumi's art I had this strange feeling that his style was very familiar. I was not sure if it was because the mangaka was around for so long or if it was just based on how these designs worked well in the context of gekiga manga. But after I did a bit of research on his history and I found out that he grew up on Tezuka manga (and was a contemporary and friend of his for a while) I quickly realized where that feeling came from. There is a simplicity to both of their designs. But where Tezuka made sure that his leads were very cartoonish, even in his most serious titles, Tatsumi left the caricature for his supporting cast. His leads are as simple; almost always void of detail. They have expressive faces that do not change much but really allow the reader to see into their eyes for emotion. His leads are the everyday man. They were occasionally Tatsumi himself. And they almost always wear the clothes of the working man - jump suits, blue collar shirts and shelve guards.

Tatsumi's stories are generally pretty short but that did not mean that his layout was not impressive. One thing I noticed was that because these stories were socially conscious, Tatsumi always made sure to pay attention to how the scenes played part in every story. The perspective is generally not from the view of the characters. Instead we get an omnipresent look at this depressing cold world. And even though there are often many people around in Tatsumi's stories, somehow he makes it seem so lonely and quiet. (Maybe the lack of dialogue has something to do with that.)

SFX/Text:
The translation is excellent. Dialogue is at a premium here. There can be pages where only a couple words are said. FX are rare also. So what is translated really maintains the poetic nature of Tatsumi's original writings. There is a lot of metaphor there and it comes out well.

Contents: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers) Coming out of the war, Japan under the occupation struggled. People had a hard time making ends meet. Eventually though with development the country began to embark on a path of tremendous growth. Major cities in the west began to develop on the backs a strong working class. While white collar business developed in the downtown areas of Tokyo and Osaka, the rest of the population, the majority of the population was building, constructing and growing the products that were making Japan richer.

Developed on the back of those mainly from the outskirts of big cities, big city saw hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of the working class go through each day. These people were pushed into train and subway cars on their way to work. They hung out in bar districts on the way back. Their lives were what created the wealth that some people saw, but many of these people saw little of the residuals. They had to make do in other ways. Some recycled and they lived off of the remains of others. Others made do looking for excitement in the shadows. And there were many others that just lived in sin altogether. They saw no hope even when prosperity seemed to be everywhere. It was just everywhere else.

The people in the Push Man are people who are lost. They have been lost in the shuffle of a developing nation. Most of them never had opportunities, they were stuck in lives they never choose but they had to live. And because of such, they decided to make their decision on the little things. These little things might seem grand to the reader; more often than not shocking. But in the life of a person who cleans sewers for a living this is nothing. For someone who pushes people into trains or provides body fluids for labs, what they do is anything but significant. What is meaningful might not ever go noticed. Amazing how their lives parallel the socio-economic climate.
Political and social issues have long played critical role in manga storytelling. Satire and parody can be traced back to the pre-WWII times. And while comedy and fantastic adventure titles from that era are more often remembered, there was always a market for mature writing and art.

Tatsumi Yoshihiro grew up among the large working class of Osaka in the post WWII era. It was a time of great development and growth for that already large port city in the southwest. Like major Japanese cities, Osaka was devastated by the war. Bombing destroyed much of the cultural and industrial centers of this city reshaping it into the dense center of industry and commerce it has become now. But as we see in Push Man, it was the quiet work of the labor class that built that city and built modern Japan.

Osaka is considered the center business in Japan. Osaka is also the home of comedy and gastronomy... oh and Bunraku. But its greatness comes from the untold stories.

Tatsumi's Pushman is much like that. Set in the 60's these short stories present the working man's life during a time of tremendous growth and frustration in Japan. Many of these stories show how empty the lives of the working class could have been. Men go to work. They silently push paper, work in factories or toll on our docks or in our sewers. They often go homes to simple lives often wishing for a new life with attainable dreams and hope. They might be married or even have children, but even then some found little passion even in their sex life. Any other life would do - that of a woman, one as a criminal or one all alone. The lack of hope being a faceless person in the crowd while others make money and grow powerful off your back carries this book.

Sexual frustration, crime and mid-life crisis are common themes in these tales. But one can also say that work, alcohol and an unforgiving social class system are just as much causes as major players here as well. That is possibly why Tatsumi called his style of storytelling gekiga. In his comic, he tells the harsh cold sides of day-to-day Japan. Stories that are usually kept under wraps, as they are present a negative almost deviant part of a very personal part of Japanese culture.

Drawn & Quarterly has truly impressed me by their translation and presentation. What really impressed me was the respect they gave this title. Titles like this might often be too much of a risk to take. Is there an audience for older titles? What about titles for mature audiences? What about titles without action, adventure, fantasy or sci-fi elements? Maybe a title like that will not hit the top 10's like many shonen titles, but they felt there is an audience that could appreciate a different perspective. Tatsumi's storytelling has influenced so many artists all over the world and providing readers a chance to experience his unique work (open the world of gekiga manga) should definitely be commended. I just cannot wait for more.
 
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The Push Man & Other Stories




  Abandon the Old reviewed in the Las Vegas Weekly

Updated September 27, 2006


Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Drawn & Quarterly

Old school manga-ka Yoshihiro Tatsumi coined the term "gekiga," which literally translates into "dramatic pictures," to describe the darker, more representational style he and others were inventing at the dawn of the '60s in Japan, about the same time the underground comix scene was exploding on our side of the Pacific. Artist, designer and graphic novelist Adrian Tomine has been introducing Tatsumi's work to American audiences of late, via large, deluxe, hardcover collections, the sort of glamorous treatment usually reserved only for Osamu Tezuka's work.

Last year Drawn & Quarterly released a Tatsumi collection, The Push Man and Other Stories, to great acclaim. It's followed this month by a second volume, Abandon the Old in Tokyo. Collecting eight unconnected short manga stories set in late '60s Japan, it's a nice primer on the work of Tatsumi and what exactly "gekiga" means. But beyond that, it shows the flexibility of manga, since so much of the manga coming into the States tends to be geared toward younger readers and/or broken into obvious genres, like action, fantasy, romantic comedy or horror. Tatsumi's stories, disturbing little human dramas with mundane characters, settings and events (made more disturbing still by their lack of the fantastic) don't fall into any obvious genres, and read something like a Raymond Carver short story starring a Takashi Miike protagonist.

The dark tone of the stories and psychological quirks of the characters are in stark contrast to Tatsumi's loose, cartoony art style, which, like most manga of the period, still showed a heavy influence from Tezuka, who was himself influenced by the Walt Disney animation style.
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This Week in NY reviews ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO

Updated September 21, 2006


ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO: STORIES
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly, September 2006, $19.95)

Yoshihiro Tatsumi follows up last year’s extraordinary THE PUSH MAN AND OTHER STORIES with the even bleaker ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO, illustrated tales again edited and designed by Adrian Tomine (OPTIC NERVE). Writing in a style he calls Gekiga, a more adult kind of manga, Tatsumi delves into the dark depths of 1960s Tokyo, following lurid tales of lonely losers struggling to get by in a cruel world. His protagonists generally look very similar to each other, sort of an everyman doomed to a fateful existence. In the title story, a garbage man is tired of taking care of his elderly mother, leading to a drastic decision. In "The Washer," a window washer watches his daughter in the midst of an illicit affair. In "Beloved Monkey," a factory worker loses his arm and his beloved pet. In "Unpaid," an aging man sells his business but still shows up at work every day, not knowing what else to do with his life. In "The Hole," a man who has lost his way is taken prisoner by a strange woman. Tatsumi’s characters walk through life slowly, usually letting things happen to them, rarely taking action. Downcast and downtrodden, they have nothing left, trapped in Tatsumi’s gloomy black-and-white world. As in THE PUSH MAN, the new book features an interesting discussion between Tomine and Tatsumi in the back, in addition to a brief introduction by Koji Suzuki. We can’t wait for the third volume in this brilliant series.

copyright 2006 by Mark Rifkin and twi-ny.
 
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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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  ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO reviewed in Time Magazine

Updated September 21, 2006


What's Unavoidable, Unmissable and Uncovered This Fall
Asia's hits—and what you might otherwise miss—this season


Monday, Sep. 04, 2006
Drawn to the Dark Side
UNCOVERED: Decades before the graphic novel became trendy, a few Japanese cartoonists were turning out gekiga (dramatic pictures), darkly realistic comic strips that appeared in lowbrow magazines in 1960s Japan. It was a prosperous time for the nation, but viewed through the gimlet eye of gekiga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi, industrialization brought not wealth but alienation and cultural confusion. Nearly 40 years after initial publication, Tatsumi's bizarre, tabloid-inspired manga remains relevant—and this fall, non-Japanese readers will be able to sample the best of it when Abandon the Old in Tokyo, a collection of Tatsumi's work, is published in English. Tatsumi's shell-shocked characters include a truck driver who ditches his invalid mother; a factory worker who loses his arm in an industrial accident, then loses his job, his girlfriend and his pet monkey; and a bankrupt businessman who seeks solace through intimate relations with a dog. And what about that moon-faced young man who appears as the central loser in many of these cartoons? "You could say I projected my anger about the discrimination and inequality rampant in our society through him," said Tatsumi (who is now 71 and still going strong) in a 2006 interview included in the book. An example of early manga as nihilist social commentary, Abandon the Old in Tokyo is a revealing time capsule and a strangely moving portrait of survival in a land where everything is changing.
—By Austin Ramzy

From the Sep. 11, 2006 issue of TIME Asia magazine
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Sequential Tart praises YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI at Comic-Con

Updated September 6, 2006


Features/Article

Comic-Con International 2006

Searching for Yoshihiro Tatsumi
by Kat Avila

I scored special guest Yoshihiro Tatsumi's autograph at Comic-Con International 2006. That made the San Diego convention worth the bother this year. The strange thing is I didn't think it would turn out to be such a big deal. Before the convention, I had e-mailed Drawn & Quarterly about Tatsumi's short story collection, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, second in a three-volume series, which would become first available at Comic-Con. This communication was executed more out of a sense of journalistic commitment, to understand the big manga picture, than as a fan.

But my respect for the "grandfather of alternative manga" grew as I watched him patiently drawing in autograph books for the handful of us at the Drawn & Quarterly booth. Time stopped for a few moments. It was if we were in this protective bubble, briefly shutting out the godzilla noise and confusion of the rest of Comic-Con's Exhibit Hall.

The next day, Saturday, I made sure not to miss the "Spotlight on Yoshihiro Tatsumi" panel. Optic Nerve comic artist Adrian Tomine was both the interviewer and translator. (Tomine was a special guest himself at Comic-Con 2004.)

Additionally a Comic-Con Inkpot Award recipient, Yoshihiro Tatsumi was born in 1935 in Osaka, 10 years prior to Japan's defeat in World War II. He was inspired to draw comics by Astro Boy creator Osamu Tezuka, who became a mentor and a good friend. Tatsumi and Tezuka had talked about coming together to Comic-Con a year or two before Tezuka passed away. Tatsumi was sad they weren't able to be together at this year's convention.

Tatsumi related a story of when he was in seventh grade. Every day they had to sit through a morning address at school. There was this almost perfect kid to whom they never talked. One day this perfect student turned to Tatsumi and asked, "Did you see Sazae-san?" (Sazae-san is the name of Machiko Hasegawa's beloved housewife comic and anime character whose popularity remains strong.) That incident sparked Tatsumi's interest in the power of comics to move people.

Tatsumi is working on an 800-page autobiographical work about the development of his self-characterized "bleak story" gekiga style. He is almost done. A second project is a 200-page work that can't help but include his thoughts about death as he is in his 70s now, but he added that it is certainly not a religious work.

As intelligently and well run as Yoshiro Tatsumi's afternoon panel was, the evening "Spotlight on Yoshitaka Amano" presented by BOOM! Studios was not. Both the interviewer and translator sounded like non-native speakers of English. The questions were difficult to understand at times, and I was wishing for the English adaptation of the translated answers. Cellular phones were ringing. At the end of the panel, the audience rushed Amano at the front, making me recall a scene in Tatsumi's Abandon the Old in Tokyo where a pet monkey is set upon and killed by a gang of zoo monkeys after his well-intentioned but naive master drops him into their pen.

My disappointment with the Amano panel was followed by my bad luck at not being one of the fans whose names were pulled at the Dark Horse Comics booth for either Yoshitaka Amano's or Kazuo Koike's autograph signings. I had brought with me, for signature, writer Neil Gaiman and illustrator Yoshitaka Amano's The Sandman: The Dream Hunters and writer Kazuo Koike's Crying Freeman (art by Ryoichi Ikegami). I went back home, mission unfulfilled.

That made Yoshihiro Tatsumi's autograph and book all the more special. When I go to Comic-Con International next year, I hope I can be surprised by another comic artist who reminds me why I continue to attend conventions. It's the discovery, feeling the excitement over an artist's work that resonates with my life, and turning into a kid again asking for the celebrity autograph.
 

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Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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  Publisher's Weekly Comics Week interviews YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI

Updated August 10, 2006


PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY
COMICS WEEK

TOP STORY

Tatsumi's Long Journey
by Kai-Ming Cha
PW Comics Week -- 8/1/2006

Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a seminal figure in the history of manga who is finally enjoying some fame worldwide. The father of "gekiga," the genre of Japanese comics that deals with mature themes, Tatsumi's short stories of sewer workers, window washers and cross-dressing salarymen reflect the frustration of an underclass set against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing Japan. With a little help from Drawn & Quarterly and a big push from cartoonist Adrian Tomine, Tatsumi's collection The Pushman and Other Stories (already in its second printing) catapulted him into the attention of the American market. This past spring, Tatsumi's work graced the cover and interior of The Paris Review. His second book, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, had record sales at this year's San Diego Comic-con, where Tatsumi made his first American appearance and he and Tomine held a joint signing.

Currently, Tatsumi is working on an 800-page autobiographical graphic novel, A Drifting Life in Gekiga, and has almost 765 pages finished. PWCW sat down with Tatsumi and his translator at this year's San Diego Comic-Con to talk about the birth of manga, the birth of a new genre and the birth of an industry that often required 50 pages a night from its creators.

PW Comics Week: What was the manga industry like in Japan when you first started out?

Yoshihiro Tatsumi: When I started—this was about 1950, I was 15—there was a shortage of paper and few publications were being put out; some magazines, some paperback books, maybe a dozen annually. The books were thin paperbacks. The comics then were targeting children and had slapstick humor. So even with the monthly magazine for kids, only a small portion was dedicated to comics. The rest were serial novels or text-based works. The comics themselves were quite short. An eight-page story was considered a long piece.

PWCW: Was this in Tokyo?

YT: I'm based in Tokyo now, but I was born in Osaka. Osaka had their own distinct publishing industry and their own distribution system based on rental bookstores. [Rental comic shops] originated in Kobe in the immediate postwar period.

PWCW: Like today's manga kissas [cafes where customers pay an hourly fee to read as many as comics they want]?

YT: Similar in a way, but they didn't serve tea. They looked like bookstores. There was a fee for renting them and reading them at home. There was a different fee for reading in the store—half the price for taking them home. There were about 30,000 rental shops nationwide in Japan.

Tezuka Osamu also started in the rental comics scene. [Tezuka is called the godfather of manga, and is credited with applying the now trademark cinematic style to Japanese comics. His works include Astro Boy, Buddha and the girl's comic Princess Knight. His Ode to Kirihito is forthcoming from Vertical Books.] He was still in medical school when he started creating in this field. One of his stories sold 300,000 copies. That exceeded the [copies available at the] rental stores. It was the first time something extended beyond the rental system and reached retail stores.

PWCW: Was Tezuka a mentor to you?

YT: When I was in junior high, I was sending comics work to various magazines and newspapers. One newspaper that looked at my work was interested in running a series, a "genius comics kid" series. They asked me to come in to the office. There was a journalist there and I told him that I was a huge fan of Tezuka's. Tezuka was like a god for me. He created a world of comics that didn't exist before. That journalist knew Tezuka and offered to introduce me to him. That's how I met Tezuka.

When I met Tezuka, I found out that he was my neighbor. He lived about 15 minutes from my home by train. I would frequently go to [his] house and show him what I was working on and get feedback from him.

From that point on, I was greatly influenced by Tezuka's work. Prior to that I was working in single- and four-panel format. After meeting Tezuka, I started working on longer stories. Tezuka actually recommended that I move on to the longer format. Eventually, Tezuka became more known in Tokyo. He was doing more series so he moved to Tokyo. When he left, I had no one to show my work to, so I started bringing my work to the rental shops in Osaka. That really marked my transition to working in the rental comic book field. I was 19 years old.

PWCW: What kind of work did your parents do?

YT: Originally they were in the laundry business. We were living in Tenogi, during the war. The air raids got really bad so we moved to a rural area. (I was in the third grade around then.) Many families moved to a rural area as a group so I was in a temporary school. After the war, my parents did a lot of different jobs. They mainly did sales, going to houses and taking orders and then delivering them.

From the time I was in eighth or ninth grade, I had to make my own way. I had to pay my own tuition and transportation. I was already working professionally out of financial necessity. I was sending out comics to different magazines and papers, winning cash prizes that were awarded for publication. The first rental book comics publication I did is something that I wrote in 11th grade.

PWCW: Did your financial obligations influence your outlook on life or your work?

YT: In Japan at the time, this wasn't a special experience. It was common. Many kids couldn't afford to go to school at all. A lot of kids were absent on the day that tuition was due. This was normal to me. It didn't feel like a burden. I could never afford an umbrella, so days that it rained, I wouldn't go to school. But that was completely normal.

PWCW: How did the rental publishing system work?

YT: The rental stores were separate businesses from the publishers, but the industry had its own distribution system. The stores had some influence over the content—what would be published. But because the publishers of the rental books were quite small operations, I did feel that I had a lot of freedom as to what I could publish. There were no editorial meetings, so I could bring in what ever I wanted and they'd pretty much say okay.

But the rental comics field was mainly targeted toward grade-school students. When you got to high school, you wouldn't read them anymore. Around the time when I was 20 years old, I [started wanting] to make comics that reflected my own interests. I wanted to create a more mature world than one for grade-school students. The work I wanted to create may have been too mature or inappropriate for children.

So, as I became a young man, I started to feel that what was required in comics at that point (humor) seemed frivolous or silly. I became more interested in creating works influenced by detective works and a more realistic world. Before I started making these more mature works, there would never have been a murder scene in comics. I started depicting murder scenes and adults committing murder and having no regrets afterward. [When these were published] there were organizations that began pressuring rental shops to censor [them]. They started policing the material, saying these books were a bad influence on children.

So the word "gekiga" was basically used as a solution for this problem. It was used to clarify that the work my colleagues and I were creating was not for children, and it should be categorized separately and put in a separate place in the rental shop.

PWCW: You coined the term "gekiga" and your work falls into this genre. What kind of "gekiga" work was there in the Japanese market before you began creating it?

YT: There was no "gekiga" prior to me or my colleagues. When I was publishing for the rental shops, I was working with Hinomaru paperbacks. They had a young president who understood me. He was in his 20s and like a brother figure. He was nice and understanding, but never paid me on time. At first, I'd get paid when I submitted my work, but then they switched to a specific payday, and I'd get paid in increments, not all at once. When I went to collect my [check], I would see other people working in the rental book industry, older men in their 30s who had moved on from being candy sellers and sign painters to working in rental comic books.

Out of that group of comics writers who would be there to get paid monthly, there were six or seven of us that became friends. We created a forum to talk about the future of comics, to critique each other's work and talk about Tezuka. There was no future in Osaka. We'd have to move to Tokyo to succeed. So both the comic artists and the publisher [at Hinomaru paperbacks] felt a strong urge to move to the Tokyo-based industry.

PWCW: Is that when you moved?

YT: Around that time, the Osaka publisher was so desperate to get some mainstream recognition, he decided to publish work by a Tokyo cartoonist—political four-panel cartoons. He took on this artist to gain recognition, so he printed many more copies of the comic than he would have for an Osaka artist. But all of the copies were returned, so the company went bankrupt. I knew we couldn't just go to Tokyo and start publishing, so we made a conscious decision to take the "gekiga" imprint, to take this whole movement to the Tokyo industry. In 1957, when I was 22, I moved to Tokyo.

PWCW: How did the Tokyo industry differ from that of Osaka? How many friends moved with you to Tokyo?

YT: Around this time paper became more abundant. Monthly magazines became weekly magazines. Children could afford to buy their own paperbacks. This, combined with the spread of television, destroyed the rental shop industry in a matter of a few years.

So the president of Hinomaru Publishing clearly had some foresight in trying to [hire an artist from Tokyo], but it was the wrong work and he hastened his company's demise. My colleagues and I wanted to follow this one publisher to Tokyo, but it was not possible since he went bankrupt. Most rental publishers went bankrupt.

We felt that "gekiga" was the most useful term to market ourselves. My friends and I thought of ourselves as seven samurais, which corresponded with Kurosawa's Seven Samurais. By the time we moved to Tokyo, it had been a few years since the "gekiga" movement started. At the time, "gekiga" had caused a stir. Almost all the comics publishers [in Tokyo] were putting out "gekiga" comics. So it worked to our advantage.

[The Tokyo publishers] knew about us. We were able to put out works without interference. We didn't have to do any apprenticeships. But about two years after moving to Tokyo, some of my colleagues returned to Osaka to take on different professions and some of them switched over to working in magazines for younger kids. Only four remained working in the "gekiga" style in Tokyo.

The publishing industry in Tokyo was bigger and more official. Our work was subjected to critiques. [Editors and publishers] would tell us to change our work. Those who took the critiques became successful. A lot of the work was for children's magazines. As for myself, I was caught in middle. I didn't become popular but I always had work. I was caught in this in-between place and sort of working and hoping that my magazine work would become popular. Looking back I still feel like I'm still caught in this in-between place.

PWCW: Why is that?

YT: I still feel as if my work doesn't sell that well—not that badly, either—but when I do these interviews, I wonder, why me?

PWCW: Many readers want to read stories that allow them to escape from reality. They enjoy the fantasy element/experience when reading a novel or a comic. What made you want to create stories that reflected the bleak, tragic and twisted facets of everyday life?

YT: In essence, the works were a continuation of my everyday life, my reality, especially the works published in the Drawn & Quarterly books. They're sort of a parallel to "shisosetsu", the "I" novel , a genre in Japan. [Shisosetsu novels use the first-person narrative to reveal the feelings of the protagonist and emphasize individuality.] Something like that. It was a reflection of my own feelings, being caught between success and work. I had a lot of drive to succeed but I was faced with disappointments.

I had a lot of frustration that I wanted to get out in my work, in a way. I wasn't thinking of my readers. In a way, I succumbed to the idea that my works couldn't be a big hit anyway so I might as well create the work that I wanted to create and express what I was feeling.

PWCW: There was a period in your life as a creator when you were producing 50 pages of work per day. What was driving you? I ask because there are stories of manga-ka [artists/writers] being holed up in their rooms working against deadline, with their editor making noodles for them so that they can eat.

YT: In terms of producing the 50 pages per day, it was a matter of necessity. If I didn't meet the deadline, the company would be in debt several hundred thousand yen. So I had no choice. I had four or five assistants working with me. The works from Drawn & Quarterly are works I produced myself. But the assistants varied in speed and skill level (some just drew the lines for the panels), so I had about three good assistants doing work.

The term for the situation you talk about is "sardine canned." That's when an editor is with you to make sure you are working toward the deadline and not sleeping. When I had to [produce] 50 pages a night, I would make them out of sequence. I wasn't thinking of them as 50 pages per day, but as increments. The first few would be color pages, then we would move to the end of the stories for the printer schedule, then the middle, and then it would be assembled. As soon as one section would be done, the editor would take it away, so when I was working on the middle of the story, it was very difficult.

PWCW: Were these short stories? Did you have thumbnail sketches or a script?

YT: I would already have a framework in place. I would have thumbnails of the panels sketched out. I never had the experience of the sardine can. Tezuka worked exclusively in the sardine can. Tezuka produced more pages per day than I did. I heard once, for a magazine, he made a 64-page insert in one day. So 50 pages is not that big of a deal. And even if I made 50 pages in a day, I still had to do 50 pages again the next day.

PWCW: Since you've met Adrian Tomine, how has your relationship changed? Do you think of yourself as a mentor to him?

YT: Well, Adrian says I influenced his work, but when I look at it, I don't think I influenced it. The great thing that Adrian does is he articulates the emotions of his characters, the interiors. Even though the emotions are not shown through the faces, they are [shown] in the story. As for myself, I'm very bad at drawing, unlike Adrian. I strive to create realistic stories but my drawings can never be that realistic. My drawings are still in the comics style. Adrian is an illustrator. His drawing has been perfected.
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The RAFU SHIMPO on TATSUMI

Updated August 4, 2006


The Rafu Shimpo
Los Angeles Japanese Daily News

Promises Kept
By AUDREY SHIOMI
Rafu Staff Writer
Saturday, July 22, 2006

Gekiga cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi heads to San Diego’s Comic-Con convention.

Audrey Shiomi/Rafu Shimpo

Growing up in a dismal post-war society, young Yoshihiro Tatsumi did whatever it took to entertain himself, so as it didn’t cost him anything.

Baseball was out of the question since it required a mitt. Learning music required an instrument. Drawing seemed to be the most practical hobby as it only cost him a pen and paper.

“I wasn’t very good at it. I never even had my work posted on the classroom bulletin board (reserved for only the best students),” manga artist Tatsumi said Thursday evening during a Q&A session with fans at UCLA’s Hammer Museum.

Born Osaka in 1935, Tatsumi went on to influence generations of Japanese cartoonists with what’s described as a more mature brand of cartooning called gekiga, literally meaning “dramatic pictures.”

“Optic Nerve” artist Adrian Tomine was moved as a teenager by Tatsumi’s poignant narratives of life in post-World War II Japan. This week, Tomine accompanies Tatsumi in his inaugural visit to the United States to promote the release of his English-translated manga compilation, “Abandon the Old in Tokyo.”

As well, “Atom Boy” creator Osamu Tezuka was deeply influenced by Tatsumi’s work, despite being seven years his senior. The two artists, in fact, had developed a mutual respect over the decades both as colleagues and as friends.

“I’d found out Tezuka lived close by and so I began visiting him and asking him to critique my work. I was a 7th grader and he was still a college student,” Tatsumi said of one of his first encounters with Japan’s most revered manga artist and animator.

Once, in hopes of attending a comic convention in France, Tatsumi caught wind of a “buy ten, get one free” airfare deal. He devised a plan and wrote to everyone he knew asking if they’d like to buy a ticket. No one replied back, except for Tezuka.

“He said the two of us should go to France together,” Tatsumi said. “When I heard this, I was so excited I became completely distracted from my work.”

Tezuka and Tatsumi eventually met up in France, and over dinner Tezuka told the young artist of an even bigger comic convention held every year in San Diego.

“So we told each other we’d go next time,” he said.
Years passed and Tezuka and Tatsumi crossed paths only on occasion, always to remind the other of their promise. Years later, in 1989, Tezuka died of stomach cancer.

On Thursday evening, Tatsumi described his first trip to Los Angeles like being in heaven. “It’s so much different from Tokyo,” he said.

The following day, Tatsumi and Tomine traveled south for the internationally-renown Comic-Con convention, where they will be signing books and greeting fans this weekend. With an old friend fresh in his thoughts, Tatsumi is sure to enjoy the long-awaited trip.
 
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  The LA TIMES features YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI

Updated July 19, 2006


July 18, 2006

MUSEUMS
Shared perspective
American artist Adrian Tomine talks with Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the ahead-of-his-time Japanese cartoonist who inspired him.

By Scott Timberg, Times Staff Writer

As a lonely, comics-loving teenager in '80s Sacramento, Adrian Tomine went through what he describes as a crisis of faith in the field that had long sustained him. Until, that is, he stumbled on a bootleg printing of a Japanese cartoonist he'd never heard of.

Through smudgy art and bad translations — the text had passed through Spanish on its way to English — this work by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, penned several years before Tomine's birth in a country he'd never visited, spoke to him directly.

"It showed me that manga didn't necessarily have to be about samurais or robots," Tomine, now 32, recalls from his Brooklyn apartment. "I realized that you could use the language of comics to tell very personal, realistic and literary stories."

These tales of Tokyo sanitation workers and alienated blue-collar introverts reminded him of Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez's "Love & Rockets" and the American underground comics of the '60s and '70s. But there was something else about the work that was more minimal, more compact and even darker than the output of R. Crumb or Art Spiegelman. And in emphasizing narrative and character, it seemed years ahead of its time.

Tatsumi created the work despite no formal art training. "I did terribly in art class from grade school to high school," he says, through a translator, from Tokyo. "I have had, and will probably continue to have, a complex about it all my life. Although I did not know exactly what it was, I knew there was 'something' that I wanted to express, and I started drawing very bad doodles. That was the beginning of my career in comics."

Says Tomine: "I always assumed that someone else would take the reins and get proper translations done, especially since book publishers were doing nice reissues of old comics, like 'Peanuts' or original Marvel and DC Comics."

Although Tatsumi was an underground legend in Japan — he's credited with establishing the nation's alternative comics, or gekiga ("dramatic pictures") — his work remained untranslated and unavailable in the U.S.

Almost 20 years later, Tomine, the literary cartoonist who draws "Optic Nerve" and the odd New Yorker cover, persuaded his publisher to bring out the often startlingly bleak work of Tatsumi — who at 71 has five decades of work under his belt. The two will appear at the UCLA Hammer Museum on Wednesday to discuss the project and the state of the art; their conversation continues at Comic-Con International: San Diego on Saturday.

The first Tatsumi volume, 2005's "The Pushman and Other Stories," which collects work from 1969, has been one of Montreal publisher Drawn & Quarterly's bestsellers and is on its way to a second printing. "Abandon the Old in Tokyo," with work from 1970, comes out in the fall. Both were edited, designed and lettered by Tomine.

Tatsumi's good fortune is not unique. "Prior to three or four years ago there were very few translated titles," says Chris Oliveros, D&Q's publisher. "But everything is opening up for graphic novels."

The medium, he says, has come of age: A new comics imprint, First Second, part of Holtzbrinck Publishers, specializes in foreign work, and there's a larger, more sophisticated audience and better distribution.

"Someone could have done this Tatsumi book 10 or 20 years ago," Oliveros says, "but they would only have been able to sell them in comics shops."

Comics' appearance in bookstores has allowed volumes such as Random House's "Persepolis," Marjane Satrapi's chronicle of growing up during the Iranian revolution, and D&Q's "Pyongyang," the tale of a Frenchman's trip into North Korea, to reach a more general audience.

There's certainly more foreign work available, says Kim Thompson, who grew up in Europe reading comics from several nations and now acquires and translates international work for Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books. Changes in technology that make the digital shipping of files cheaper help as well, he says. But he's not sure how long the boom can keep up.

"American comics readers tend to be pretty parochial," says Thompson, who is also Fantagraphics' vice president. "Cartoonists' styles differ from country to country, and even small differences can be confusing for readers." Although he admires a wide range of foreign cartoonists, from the Spaniard Max to the Frenchman Jacques Tardi, the work that does best in the States tends to resemble American comics, like that of the poetic Norwegian cartoonist Jason.

Tatsumi's work, appropriately, was shaped less by other Japanese comics than by local police reports and hard-boiled American novelists. "I was very moved by his descriptions," he says, through a translator, of the work of Mickey Spillane. "For example, in a Spillane novel, a man never merely falls to the floor. Instead, he would write something like, 'The floor rushed up and smacked me in the face.' That sort of writing was an enormous influence on gekiga, through which I was trying to find a new mode of expression."

Tatsumi's setting is unmistakably postwar Japan: During a period of economic and technological growth, he tried to capture those left behind as the country became more urban and anonymous.

And his worldview was irrevocably shaped in childhood by what he calls "the cruel and tragic scenes caused by American air-raid attacks on Japan." But with their Everyman antiheroes and hellish urban locales, their echoes of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Bukowski, his stories could be modern myths, set in any time and place in which individuals suffer and brood.

"It starts out on the precipice of defeat," Tomine says of one of the stories, "and by the end it's complete defeat."

Tatsumi insists he is not an especially dark guy, but his worldview resembles his stories. "It's sad, but when I look at 'life,' I can't help but see right through it and see 'death' behind it."

It's this universal quality, Tomine says, and the fact that Tatsumi's drawing style is generalized and has little detail, that allow Western audiences to empathize with the characters and connect to the work.

Tomine, who can't read Japanese, says his real motivation is to be able to read the work in English. "I'm basically having the same experience as readers do," he says. "Just a little bit in advance."



Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Adrian Tomine

Where: UCLA Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Price: Free
Contact: (310) 443-7000 or www.hammer.ucla.edu

Copyright Los Angeles Times
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TATSUMI'S ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO gets a starred review from PW!

Updated July 19, 2006


Starred Review

Abandon the Old in Tokyo

Yoshihiro Tatsumi, edited by Adrian Tomine. Drawn and Quarterly, $19.95 (200p) ISBN 1-894937-87-2

The second volume of Drawn and Quarterly's ambitious reprinting of selected works by manga master Tatsumi picks up where the first left off. This outing once again showcases Tatsumi's pitch-perfect psychodramas, but this time with stories that are a bit more ambitious and sure-footed. Tatsumi more or less invented his own genre, making compelling manga out of everyday moments that otherwise pass unnoticed. His characters are anonymous faces we pass on the street, and he gives them an unsuspected inner life. In the opening story an artist for children's stories discovers a new, sinister vocation until he's found out. In another story a man is held captive by a woman who blames all men for her own psychological (and physical) scars. And in still another, an old man, once a proud business owner, returns to his derelict office day after day, despite the end of his company. Tatsumi lends all of these characters sympathetic voices through his minimal dialogue and deft line work. No one captures urban Japan quite like Tatsumi—even the streets feel nuanced. This collection of seminal work by a comics master is essential reading for anyone interested in the artistic development of the medium. (Aug.)
 

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  4 D+Q reviews in the KIRKUS SPECIAL GRAPHIC SPOTLIGHT

Updated June 26, 2006


D+Q has 4 reviews in the KIRKUS REVIEWS SPECIAL GRAPHIC SPOTLIGHT

Skibber Bee-Bye
Ron Regé, Jr.
Drawn & Quarterly / July / 1896597963

Skibber Bee~Bye, first issued in 2000 but out of print for three years, is a perfect illustration of the work that made Chris Ware call Ron Regé “one of a handful of cartoonists in the history of the medium to not only reinvent comics to suit his own idiosyncratic impulses and inspirations as an artist, but also to imbue it with his own peculiar, ever changing emotional energy. “With direct, clean illustration that belies the sometimes dark content, Skibber’s a dreamscape in which a shy and lovesick elephant furtively pursues the company of two reclusive mice. With strange, one-eyed fairy-like creatures and treehouse fortresses, magical elements wander through the narrative—primarily visual, with little text—but as it progresses, the innocence of the two mice is degraded by their contact with the real world. “Skibber first existed as a series of unrelated stories I had written,” says Regé. “They all had similar ‘dreamy’ themes and elements in them. I changed the stories around so that I could thread them together into the narrative.” Though Skibber deals with death, violence and self-immolation, the whimsical, almost-childlike quality of the art made the author an apparently perfect fit for Tylenol’s “Ouch!” advertising campaign, launched in 2003. The campaign was an attempt to rebrand and attract younger consumers, in pursuit of whom Tylenol had begun to sponsor extreme-sports competitions and film festivals. They also sought out the best young graphic-novelists, and quickly found Regé. A representative for the campaign met him while buying one of his larger scale images. “The print was fairly violent,” says Regé. “But [it] reflected on the nature of pain and suffering.”

Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Edited by Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly / September / 1894937872

In 2005, Drawn & Quarterly published The Push Man and Other Stories, a collection of short graphic narratives by a relatively unknown Japanese comics creator that reflected the mundane and perverse nature of everyday life in 1960s Tokyo. In 2006, that artist, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, has become a household name in alternative and literary comics. This year, he will grace the pages of the Paris Review and Giant Robot magazine, and will have the second volume of his work published. In Abandon the Old in Tokyo, Tatsumi’s stories are longer and even more unsettling. A few of the narratives, including the title story and Forked Road, end abruptly and evoke the haunting feeling of tragedy. “Tatsumi seems to push himself further in several disparate directions,” says editor Adrian Tomine. “Some stories are more explicitly humorous, some are more explicitly ‘horror’ based, and overall, there’s an increased level of irreverence and daring.” Readers may also be surprised to find elements of manga enmeshed in Tatsumi’s noir sensibility. The book includes an introduction by Koji Suzuki, author of the Japanese horror novel The Ring, who writes, “That the subjects of nostalgia may be ridden with mischief, crime and passion, as they are in these stories, does not make the subjects any less nostalgic.” This fall, readers will have the chance to feel the nostalgia of Tatsumi’s world once again.

My Most Secret Desire
Julie Doucet
Drawn & Quarterly / June / 1896597955

A pioneering female comics artist,Julie Doucet became famous in the late ’80s and early ’90s for her unapologetic portrayals of female sexuality and desire and her explosive,chaotic drawing style. In works like Dirty Plotte (“plotte” is French slang for a part of the female anatomy), and Lift Your Leg, My Fish Is Dead, Doucet blew the sometimes clannish world of male graphic-artists wide open, using material from her own life to examine the female psyche. In My Most Secret Desire, Doucet once again explores her own unconscious for material. It is an unconnected series of hectic dreams Doucet has experienced, in which she turns into a man, gives birth to struggling kittens, goes bra-shopping during the Apocalypse and launched into deep space with only her mother’s cookies to keep her company. “I am not the type of artist who can self-analyze herself,” says Doucet. “I don’t feel I exposed myself too much. There are things I would absolutely never talk about. And I won’t tell you what they are!” This version of My Most Secret Desire is in fact a reworked reissue of a dream journal that was published in 1995, and is being heralded by fans as a triumphant return after a five-year hiatus from comics. “Actually, it is not a break. I quit,” notes Doucet, who’s spent the intervening years working on woodcuts, sculptures and writing. “After 12 years of comics, nothing but comics...The thing is that to be able to live off my comics I had to work quite a lot, so I didn’t have any energy to do anything else, art-wise, not even having a sketchbook. [And] I got very tired of the all-boys crowd.”


We Are On Our Own
Miriam Katin
Drawn & Quarterly / May / 1896597203

The shadow of the Nazi regime darkens the world of Miriam Katin’s elegantly illustrated, captivatingly told memoir. At 63, MTV and Disney animator Katin is a bit older than most graphic-novelists, but she shows an assured maturity in her detailed art and evocative lettering, as she follows the narrator, her younger self. Young Lisa, as she is called in the book, grows up during the Nazi invasion of Budapest. With her father away fighting for the Hungarian army, she and her mother fake their deaths and flee to the countryside, where they disguise themselves as Russian servant with illegitimate child. Even at that young age, Lisa questions how God could allow such horrors. Her iron-willed mother’s determination that her father would find them is as stunning a tribute to love as we have ever seen. “Only when I was about 30 did she tell me all the most difficult parts of the journey,” says the author. “But even then, I was unable to ask her to elaborate. I choked up and just listened. In my head, I was narrating these stories throughout my life, but I am not a writer. Somehow the comic form of telling a story allowed me to express myself.” With rare but powerful full-color scenes depicting how her childhood has affected her life in America, this stunning book is that rare achievement that reveals the potential of the graphic-novel form to be so personal yet universal, despairing and yet ultimately life-affirming.


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RABBLE on WE ARE ON OUR OWN and THE PUSH MAN

Updated June 22, 2006


Progressive books left at your door.

Six fat comics
Graphic, and novel, but not necessarily graphic novels — draw your own conclusions

Even while the big publishing houses get into the “graphic novel” biz in a big way, there are a number of excellent quality comic book publishing houses that have established themselves with consistently high-quality work. Most of these are in France. But one of the world’s finest is Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly. It seems that a staple of contemporary comic-book publishing is the collected works of a long-lost and/or largely ignored master. Much of this type of publishing is a necessary insurgent act of historical recovery that is revising the history of the medium in the interests of promoting comics as an art form that can stand on its own.

One recent important contribution to this is The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005; $25.95) a Japanese artist who has been quietly working at his craft for over 40 years. The pervasive and abundant manga (Japanese comics) tends to eclipse all other forms of comic-book art practiced in Japan. Tatsumi is a hidden treasure. His art is simple sketches; it looks and feels quickly drawn; the settings are dense, urban and industrial. The stories are almost exclusively grim, filled with alienation and despair, stories of working-class people struggling to cope. Tatsumi’s work is a sobering antidote to the hyper-commercialized, mass-produced manga. Curiously, the protagonist in each of the sixteen stories is male which forces one to wonder where the stories of female protagonists are to be found. Hopefully, these are being produced or are being sought out for better attention.

D&Q’s newest title is Miriam Katin’s girlhood memoir We Are On Our Own (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005; $24.95). It is the story of her and her mother’s escape from Nazi-occupied Budapest and their survival on-the-run through rural and war-torn Hungary. It is a characteristically harrowing tale but one that relates the courage and sacrifice of Katin’s mother in keeping them alive. Though their trials were punctuated with occasional kindness, it is a story of war and despair, one that we see, through some flash-forward scenes of Katin as a mother herself, has left her with a lingering scepticism about her religious beliefs. Katin has a soft and expressionistic style of illustration similar to British artist Raymond Briggs that works convincingly to convey this story as a child’s memories. It gives the book a feel of being a children’s story book though a child reading this book is likely to need support in understanding the complexities of this tale.

—chris cavanagh

chris cavanagh is an educator, storyteller, writer, artist and frequent rabble reviewer.
 
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  TATSUMI in the Daily Yomiuri, Osaka, Japan

Updated May 9, 2006


Impotence and despair: Vintage manga about a world of beaten men
Tom Baker / Daily Yomiuri

The Push Man
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Translated by Yuji Oniki
Edited by Adrain Tomine

Drawn and Quarterly, 202 pp, 19.95 dollars


Life is not always about what you read in the newspapers. In 1969, for instance, the papers would have reported on Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and U.S. President Richard Nixon agreeing on Okinawa's return to Japan. There would have been stories about violent student protests, and mentions of Yasunari Kawabata having won the Nobel Prize in Literature the previous December. With memories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics still relatively fresh, preparations were under way for Osaka Expo '70.

But also in 1969, a manga artist named Yoshihiro Tatsumi was busily writing stories about contemporary Japanese men to whom the above events meant nothing. Tatsumi's mostly working-class characters experience the Japan of their day at street level--or below it, in one story about a sewer cleaning man trudging through the twilit underground muck with a rake.

The main concerns of these men in society's lower reaches are paying the bills, getting laid and staving off despair. In each of the 16 stories translated into English in the collection The Push Man--released late last year by Canadian comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly--one or more of those three efforts goes horribly wrong.

Tatsumi's quietly desperate men live alone or with women who appear to be their common-law wives. We rarely if ever see any other family members, and the men rarely if ever have names. Anonymous urban plankton, they even look alike. The secondary characters have a variety of faces, but the protagonists fall into just two physical types.

Most of them are blue-collar workers with stout, bovine physiques, close-cropped hair and no necks to speak of. They have wide faces and round, buttonlike eyes that make them look vaguely like teddy bears. There are also a few low-level white-collar characters mixed in, with narrower faces, pointed chins and fuller, messier heads of hair. These skinny guys often look like boys dressed up in their absent fathers' clothes.

Some of these men do very bad things, but as their immature appearances suggest, they tend not to do them very well. On the whole, they are more sinned against than sinning. The primary emotion they arouse is pity, with horror at the cruelty they perpetrate or suffer coming second.

In one story, a factory worker deliberately thrusts his arm into a stamping machine in the hope of pleasing his woman with the insurance payout. She takes the money, but soon discards her maimed lover in favor of a man who still has all his limbs.

In another story, a garbageman not only discovers that his woman has had an abortion--long after a car-crash injury left him unable to do what it takes to father children--but he is forced by the circumstances of his job to personally, and tearfully, shovel the dead fetus into an incinerator.

In a less gruesome piece, a man living with a prostitute has to scramble into undignified hiding whenever one of her clients comes to visit. The serial cuckold finally wins a small measure of self-respect when he decides to leave her, releasing her pet bird on his way out. But the bird returns to its familiar cage, prompting the woman to confidently predict that her man will soon return to his.

Each of these bleak tales works very well on its own, but female treachery is such a constant element as to make the book as a whole feel misogynistic. Women are depicted as seductive sirens or horrid harridans, and men as their helpless victims--baffled, enslaved and undone by the magnetic power of female sexuality.

Two of the 16 stories appear to break from this pattern, only to reinforce it in the end. In one of them, the most bizarre in the book, a horrifically deformed woman is used as a sex slave by a series of men, making it a rare case in which males achieve the upper hand--albeit by deplorable means. Yet even here male power is illusory, with strong hints that the tortured woman brings inevitable doom to each of her successive masters.

Another story, the only one with anything remotely like a happy ending, involves a milquetoast office clerk living with a bar hostess. He secretly enjoys putting on her kimono and makeup, and when he ventures out in drag one night he soon finds himself propositioned--by a woman. His seducer turns out to be bisexual, and the two enjoy a satisfying fling. In this scene, a man knows contentment for once, but he has achieved it only by sloughing off maleness and experiencing female sexual power from the inside.

The final frame of the story reminds us that he and his newfound lover are each cheating on someone else. Eventually, someone is going to pay a price.

The Push Man, with its focus on 1969, is presented as the first volume in a quixotic effort by American comic book artist and Tatsumi admirer Adrian Tomine to produce a series of books, each showcasing English translations of the artist's work from a particular year. Considering that Tatsumi began his career in the 1950s and is still active today, a complete series would likely need its own bookcase.

Whether or not that comes to pass, The Push Man has literary heft of its own. The often brutal subject matter may turn some readers away, but Tatsumi's stories have an artistic expressiveness, philosophical coherence and dark, emotional weight that is undeniable.

(May 7, 2006)
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured product

The Push Man & Other Stories




Publisher's Weekly on YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI

Updated April 19, 2006


D&Q Readies New Tatsumi Collection

This story originally appeared in PW Comics Week on April 4, 2006

by Calvin Reid

It looks as though 2006 is shaping up as the year of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the pioneering manga-ka whose idiosyncratic and grimly naturalistic manga works had languished in semiobscurity for decades until the publication last fall of The Push Man and other Stories by Drawn & Quarterly. Not only will Tatsumi be honored as a special guest artist at this year’s San Diego Comic-con International, but Japanese horror novelist Koji Suzuki, whose bestselling J-horror novels The Ring and Dark Water have been turned into hit American movies, is writing the introduction to Abandon the Old in Tokyo, a new volume of Tatsumi stories that will be published by Drawn & Quarterly in September 2006.

In addition, his work is featured on the cover of the spring issue of Paris Review and included in the same issue, and his work will also be used on the cover of Penguin Classics’ new edition of Rashomon. Tatsumi also has new editions of his works coming out in Japan and Europe, and he is close to completing an autobiography that will be called A Drifting Life in Gekiga.

Gekiga is the term Tatsumi used for his style of manga—straightforward and realistic stories depicting the grim monotony of Japanese urban working-class life. Tatsumi coined the term in the late 1950s to distinguish his work from commercial Japanese manga. His work is considered a precursor to the American alternative or literary comics movement of the 1980s. Initiated and edited by the American art comics artist Adrian Tomine, The Push Man and Other Stories was the first authorized release of an English edition of Tatsumi’s work. (An unauthorized collection of his work was sporadically available in the 1980s.)

"Pretty good for a cartoonist who was unknown by the North American populace last year," says Drawn & Quarterly publicity director Peggy Burns. She says Push Man was reviewed, "all over the world, from the Japan Times to the Calgary Herald to the Washington Post."

"I always said that Tatsumi's work was manga for the New Yorker set," says Burns. "But the Paris Review will do just fine." Burns says The Push Man was published in September 2005 and sold 7,000 copies by December. D&Q is going back to press on The Push Man and this September, the house will release Abandon the Old in Tokyo in a hardcover with a 12,000-copy first printing. D&Q plans advertising in the pop and fringe culture magazine Giant Robot, which is also preparing an extensive interview with Tatsumi.

Tomine, the author of such critically acclaimed comics works as Summer Blonde and Sleepwalk, initiated the Tatsumi book series and edited the publication of Push Man. He says he is "thrilled" that Tatsumi's work has been discovered by a new generation of readers in and outside of Japan. He said the Paris Review will feature "a portfolio of Tatsumi's art, a sampling of some of his most evocative pages. And the editors chose to run the art untranslated, so it's one of the few places where American readers can see Tatsumi's art in it's original state."

Abandon the Old in Tokyo is also edited by Tomine. "The plan for now is to have each volume in our series represent the best work from one year in Tatsumi's prolific career," says Tomine. The stories in Abandon are from 1970.

"The Push Man was the work of a cartoonist finding his own distinct voice or style,"” says Tomine, "and Abandon is the work of an artist who has achieved a certain level of mastery and is now ready to experiment and push himself." And while some readers found The Push Manto be "fairly dark in tone," Tomine continued, "in some of the Abandon stories, Tatsumi goes much further in that direction. Some go beyond 'gritty realism' and into the realm of gothic horror. In this regard, it's perfect that we were able to get Koji Suzuki to write this book's introduction."

Nevertheless, the stories in Abandon are much more comic. "There is a new level of humor on display, as well as a greater expression of human empathy. There are a couple stories that are extremely comedic and satirical, and several others that will just break your heart," Tomine explains. "The stories in Abandon are much longer and this really allows Tatsumi to bring his characters and settings to life. There are panels in Abandon that are absolutely breathtaking."

Although he has been instrumental in the publication of D&Q's Tatsumi series, Tomine says all credit for the revival of interest in the artist should go to Tatsumi and his works. "I feel like I just got the ball rolling," says Tomine. "I know for a fact that there are many people who bought The Push Man, but have no real interest in my comics. Any success should be attributed to the quality of the work. It's an honor to have helped in some small capacity, but the real reward for me is just being able to finally read more of Tatsumi's amazing stories."
 
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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The Push Man & Other Stories
Abandon The Old In Tokyo




Tatsumi on Rashomon!

Updated April 5, 2006


Tatsumi provides the stunning cover art to the novel RASHOMON by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (and introduction by Haruki Murakani), which is part of the new "Graphic Classics" from Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions.
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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The Push Man & Other Stories
Abandon The Old In Tokyo




Novelist Koji Suzuki to write introduction to ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO

Updated April 5, 2006


Koji Suzuki will be penning the introduction to D+Q's second Yoshihiro Tatsumi volume, ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO, due out this Fall 2006, edited and designed by Adrian Tomine. Suzuki is the best-selling author of the Ring trilogy (Ring, Spiral, Loop), as well as Dark Water and Birthday (all published in America by Vertical). His stories have been the basis for several blockbuster films in both Japan and the United States. He lives in Tokyo.
 
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Abandon The Old In Tokyo




  San Diego Comic-con Invites Yoshihiro Tatsumi as Special Guest

Updated April 5, 2006


The continent's largest pop culture festival, The San Diego Comic-con, has invited Yoshihiro Tatsumi to be a special guest of the convention this July 2007.

More details soon!

Also visit: www.comic-con.org

Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Abandon The Old In Tokyo




Yoshihiro Tatsumi on the cover of the Paris Review

Updated April 5, 2006


Legendary cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi graces the cover of the esteemed literary journal The Paris Review. The journal does an untranslated showcase of upcoming stories from the Fall 2006 collection, ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO.

Spring 2006 issue on stands now.

Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Abandon The Old In Tokyo




  THE PUSH MAN by Yoshihiro Tatsumi makes BOOKLIST'S Top Ten

Updated March 27, 2006


Top 10 Graphic Novels

15 March 2006
Booklist 41
Volume 102; Issue 14

Chosen from the most enthusiastically reviewed in Booklist, March 15, 2005-March 1, 2006.
-Ray Olson


Tatsumi, Yoshihiro. The Push Man and Other Stories. Tr. by Yuji Oniki. 2005.
Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (1-896597-85-8).

The first in a proposed series bringing Tatsumi's work to America showcases his gekiga style in stories of powerless, often sexually impotent men living in quiet frustration, constricted by social propriety-the harbingers of today's most somber graphic novels.


Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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The Push Man & Other Stories




TATSUMI'S PUSH MAN reviewed in the Harrisburg Patriot-News

Updated March 8, 2006


Arts/Leisure
GRAPHIC LIT

5 March 2006


"The Push Man and Other Stories" by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Drawn and Quarterly, 208 pages, $19.95.

Those who think that all manga consists of Japanese schoolgirls with big eyes and spiky hair will be surprised by this collection of bleak, naturalistic tales, the first in what will apparently be an ongoing series of Tatsumi's work.

Highly regarded in Japan, Tatsumi tells stories of down-on-their-luck folks -- pimps, prostitutes and blue-collar workers whose desperation and/or frustration push them headlong into tragedy.

Few of the tales here end happily, but they reflect a social milieu that Westerners can easily identify with. Tatsumi's flat, low- key style goes against the grain of what most folks think of as "manga," but it's no less captivating and, in many cases, much more emotionally rewarding.

-Christopher Mautner
 

Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured product

The Push Man & Other Stories




  TATSUMI'S PUSH MAN reviewed in the Vancouver Courier

Updated February 9, 2006


The Push Man and Other Stories
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Drawn & Quarterly

Here's an odd, but handsomely packaged little book. The Push Man collects stories, in black and white and mostly eight pages in length, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, considered the "grandfather of Japanese alternative comics." According to the introduction by popular alternative comics artist Adrian Tomine, Tatsumi "coined the term gekiga to differentiate his gritty, naturalistic style of cartooning he helped pioneer from that of the more
commercial, youth-oriented manga."

Well, "gritty" is an understatement. The gekiga in The Push Man are almost unrelentingly grim. Almost all depict some poor schmuck ground down by a thankless, often unpleasant job (a sewer worker, a projectionist who shows skinflicks to businessmen) and living with, or married to, even more unpleasant women, almost all of whom turn out to be disloyal golddiggers-or worse.

While the subject matter is repetitive and the art unsophisticated, there is something hypnotic about reading a number of these tales back-to-back. The existential angst of the characters (well, really a variation on the same character), the hopelessness of Tatsumi's street scenes, and the joyless sex attain a kind of dream-logic. It's not a pretty world, but it's a fascinating vision of an ugly one.

In an interview at the end of the book, Tatsumi asks readers to not "interpret these stories as representative of the author's personality." Considering the misanthropic and even misogynistic themes, it's easy to see why, years later, he might say that. Then again, all of these stories are collected from the same year, 1969, with the publisher promising more volumes. It will be interesting to see just how many more variations on existential despair Tatsumi came up with, and whether or not he found answers in his art.

-Shawn Conner

Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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The Push Man & Other Stories




2 D&Q books in the EDMONTON JOURNAL'S Top 5 of 2005

Updated January 3, 2006


Edmonton Journal
Culture, C2
Graphic novels, comics blossomed in '05

Gilbert A. Bouchard
29 December 2005

EDMONTON

This was a great year for graphic novel and comic book aficionados.

Not only did the once marginal art form continue its rapid development as a full-fledged and demanding adult medium, the output was almost daunting, with quality titles flooding the bookstore and comic book shop shelves from a growing stable of publishing houses.

More than just sheer quantity, the medium offered up some impressive quality and an equally impressive range, encompassing everything from edgy fictional offerings like Charles Burns's Black Hole; non-fiction, autobiographical epics like David B.'s Epileptic; and international career-spanning retrospectives like Drawn & Quarterly's collection of work by Japan's Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

In that spirit, the following Top 5 Graphic Novel Roundup for 2005 is offered up to not only reflect the best work of the past year, but to hit a handful of diverse thematic and subject matters in a naturally eclectic art form.

PYONGYANG: A JOURNEY TO NORTH KOREA
by Guy Delise

Drawn & Quarterly, 176 pages, $24.95

Don't let the fact that Pyongyang is Canadian cartoonist Guy Delise's first major anglophone graphic narrative mislead you. This is a wildly sophisticated and artistically engaging work -- a book-length documentation of the artist's professional sojourn in North Korea, where he worked on an animation project with his Korean subcontractors, that's told with great storytelling panache and psychological complexity.

PAUL MOVES OUT
by Michel Rabagliati

Drawn & Quarterly, 120 pages, $25.95

In this second graphic novel of his Paul series (the first was Paul Gets a Job), Michel Rabagliati continues to produce work that does great justice to Canada's rich graphic novel tradition of sensitive autobiographical work produced in a Europeanesque clean-line cartooning style. This work creates an engaging picture of life in Quebec in the early '80s.
 

Featured artists

Michel Rabagliati
Guy Delisle
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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Paul Moves Out
The Push Man & Other Stories
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  PYONGYANG and THE PUSH MAN in the Santa Fe New Mexican

Updated January 3, 2006


PASATIEMPO
DRAWING POWER
ROBERT BENZIKER

23 December 2005
The Santa Fe New Mexican. PA-56


Storytelling through sequential art has been around for centuries. In the early 1500s, the conquistador Hern n Cortez acquired an ancient 36-foot-long manuscript depicting the trials of the Mixtec folk hero 8-Deer Tiger Claw. The French embroidered the Bayeux Tapestry to describe the Norman conquest of 1066. In the 1700s, William Hogarth created popular etchings and paintings like A Harlot's Progress that were intended to be read in sequence as a critique on English society. It was not until the cheap serials of the mid-1900s that comics were considered juvenile superhero punch- outs. That perception has changed with the recent emergence of interest in the graphic-novel form.

With so much product and variety in the world, any attempt to throw a blanket over an entire medium -- or prove that no such blanket exists -- is folly. Graphic novels cannot even be limited to a single art form. They are a marriage between visual art (a stand- alone panel), visual storytelling (panels in sequence), writing, and even music (as the stories are told in beats and rhythm from one panel to the next). This combination can increase the chances of a work being bad. But great art in any medium invents a fully realized, imaginary world and uses it to show us new and wonderful things. Graphic novels have that power as much as any medium.

Perhaps no recent work exemplifies this as much as Paul Pope's 100% (Vertigo, 2005). The book is set in New York City's future -- a run-down place where hovercars fly through row-house canyons. Nothing is shocking anymore in the art world, which bleeds into the strip-club scene while violence permeates everything. Most artists would have used such a setting for a glorified tale of guns, drugs, and hard-nosed action. Pope uses it to tell the story of six people whose lives intersect as they search for love, meaning -- anything to call their own.

In a world so ugly, this search can seem so quixotic that the characters might not realize it when beauty stares them in the face. One character struggles to get financing for his art installation: 100 teakettles all tuned to C major. This book hits its notes with a similar power and clarity. Pope's thick brushstrokes reveal the souls of these characters and this world in a "warts and all" way that feels real and reinforces the themes.

Looking for a space of one's own in an ugly, crowded city is also a major theme in Yoshihiro Tatsumi's The Push Man and Other Stories (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005). The setting is 1960s Tokyo: a place full of rats, aborted fetuses in sewers, and sex slaves hidden in apartments. It's not what comes to mind when thinking of Tokyo, but Tatsumi's work is not typical '60s Japanese art. These stories, reprinted from Tatsumi's 1969 serials, are told in a more Western form of cartooning than Japanese manga, and the pleasing line work contradicts the awful subject matter. Each story begins as a slice of life before sinking into horrific sex and violence as the protagonists' frustrations increase their depravity. The only character to enjoy a happy ending without resorting to violence is the man who comes to terms with his cross-dressing after finding a woman who loves him as a woman. Such sexual proclivities and the violent frustrations of the working class lying just under Japan's polite surface are rarely subjects in Japanese art and make this book compelling.

Guy Delisle's Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (Drawn & Quarterly, 2005) centers on another Asian city concerned with its surface image. With the success of Joe Sacco's Palestine, travel journalism is a growing subgenre of graphic novels and is perfectly suited to the form. An artist keeping a pictorial diary of a trip can let the reader see this world through his or her eyes in an impressionistic way. This is especially handy with a country like North Korea, which is so concerned with appearance that it won't let foreigners photograph its garbage or shantytowns. Delisle, a French animator, documented his trip to Pyongyang to oversee the production of a cartoon (the cels between the beginning and end of a movement in most Western cartoons -- the ones that create the sense of motion -- are mass-produced in Asia). The result is a fascinating and highly personable glimpse at an unfamiliar country whose leader floods the struggling population with propaganda that reinforces his image and blames America's foreign policy for all North Korea's hardships.

Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's The Ultimates 2: Gods and Monsters (Marvel, 2005) is an unlikely book to study America's policies. It stars reimagined versions of Marvel characters, like the Hulk and Captain America, but depicts the conflicts between left-wing and right-wing ideology rather than between heroes and villains. Millar wisely doesn't pass judgment on either viewpoint but objectively holds the ideologies up for us to consider. In this world, America is creating superheroes (or "peoples of mass destruction") to use in pre-emptive strikes in the war on terror. Captain America embodies his country as a man with outdated World War II ideals, who can be a hero as well as a bully to those weaker than himself. Much of the book retells the 1989 TV movie The Trial of the Incredible Hulk; here, the Hulk goes on a rampage, kills hundreds of New Yorkers, and is put on trial. The story examines the morality of the death penalty, the public's thirst for a scapegoat in the face of tragedy, and the impulse to solve violence with violence, all under the guise of an obvious September 11 metaphor. Hitch's detailed, cinematic approach gives the work the feel of a blockbuster movie -- albeit one much smarter than the usual Hollywood production.

Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely also used the cinematic approach to tell a personal and allegorical story with their great WE3 (Vertigo, 2005). In that story the military adopts stray animals, gives them bizarre, buglike armor, and turns them into experimental, living weapons. A sympathetic trainer realizes that her subjects -- a dog, a cat, and a rabbit -- are about to be terminated and frees them. This ultraviolent retelling of The Incredible Journey is done with some of the medium's most innovative artwork (characters sometimes literally jump out of the panels) and with passionate writing from animal-lover Morrison. He gives the animals a crude form of dialogue ("Is Gud Dog?") and writes each one with a distinct personality similar to its true-life behavior. The dog is compassionate and idealistic; the cat is selfish and aggressive; and the rabbit is passive and simple-minded. Together they stay just ahead of the government's attacks and eventually realize their home is gone and they will die. Underlying this science-fiction action is a profound meditation on the value of life -- animal and human -- and as strong a statement for animal rights as any fiction out there.

Not all books need to be so serious. Kiyohiko Azuma's Yotsuba&! series (ADV Manga, 2005) is delightful, often hilarious all-ages manga. Yotsuba is a 5-year-old who moves to a new town with her father and learns about life one remarkable discovery at a time. The books are broken up into 30-page stories for each new revelation, and along the way adults can recognize little quirks from their own youth. Azuma puts the reader on Yotsuba's level and follows the mad logic of a boisterous child as she casually insults adults with her honesty, is confounded by her shortcomings, is terrified of random things like owls, and is overexcited about everything. The panels showing her reactions are even funnier than the dialogue, and every page oozes pure joy. Anyone who is 5, or has ever been 5, will find a lot to smile at in these pages.

Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




PUSH MAN and PYONGYANG in the Japan Times

Updated December 19, 2005


The Japan Times
December 18, 2005

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF
What did you read about Asia this year?

[D&Q mentions:]

THE PUSH MAN AND OTHER STORIES by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly)

PYONGYANG: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

We shouldn't need Scott McCloud to remind us that "the art form . . . known as comics is a vessel which can hold any number of ideas and images," but there do still seem to be readers under the misapprehension that comics are necessarily concerned with men in tights. Two of the best Asia-related books this year demonstrate that comics can, in fact, consider subjects as varied as the gritty urban world of the Japanese working poor featured in Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "The Push Man and Other Stories" and a French-Canadian animator's experiences in the capital of the hermit dictatorship as recorded in Guy Delisle's "Pyongyang." We will notice, too, even if we never get beyond these two offerings, that comics can be structurally quite different from one another. The stories collected in "The Push Man," for example, are mostly austere eight-page vignettes. The constricted form Tatsumi employs, we come to feel, fits perfectly the constricted lives of his characters: a fellow who allows his arm to be severed so his girlfriend can open a bar with the insurance money, for example, or a pimp encaged by the woman who keeps him.

Much more expansive is Delisle's "Pyongyang," which is not a collection of strips but a unified book divided, as a novel would be, into chapters. Neither "Pyongyang" nor "Push Man" will make for cheerful holiday reading, but as North Korea is not only awful, but absurd, Delisle does manage to inject a surprising amount of wit into his illumination of one of our world's darkest corners.
 
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Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Yoshihiro Tatsumi

           Featured products

The Push Man & Other Stories
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)




  TATSUMI'S PUSH MAN in the ASAHI SHIMBUN

Updated December 6, 2005


Asahi Shimbun - Tokyo,Japan
syndicated with the Herald Tribune

LifeStyle/ Weekend Beat/ BOOK REVIEW
12/03/2005
By David Cozy, Contributing Writer

The Push Man and Other Stories
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Translated by Yuji Oniki
Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly Publications
ISBN 1-896597-85-8, 207 pp, $19.95

Comic books are now respected enough that one sees fewer comments by reviewers who claim they don't usually read comics but are willing to praise a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi or Daniel Clowes because of its similarity to literature.

Articles of this sort are patronizing in too many ways to detail here, but one might note that it is difficult to imagine a comic artist pleased to learn his or her work is excellent not on its own terms, as a comic book, but because it approaches what novelists have long been doing. In fact, when comics are successful, it is not because they have moved sufficiently close to literature, but because they are sufficiently good as comics, and as a result of that excellence, offer us pleasure commensurate with the delight we derive from any successful art.

One hopes, therefore, we can soon dispense with the term graphic novel, the pretentious euphemism used by some to finesse the fact that they are reading--and reveling in!--comic books.

The comics collected in Yoshihiro Tatsumi's "The Push Man and Other Stories," mostly eight-page vignettes originally written in 1969 for a young men's magazine called Gekiga-Young, are examples of works that share certain qualities with literature but are, in part because they are comics, significantly different. Tatsumi's vision of urban life is as dark as Bukowski's, his concern with the working poor reminiscent of Raymond Carver's and his portrait of a city as elliptical as Joyce's, but his comics provide an experience distinct from the work of these authors.

The form Tatsumi is working with is, for example, stricter. The eight-page length was, of course, dictated by editors at Gekiga-Young, but formal constraint, whatever its source, in compelling artists to eliminate fat, often gives rise to excellent work, and this is the case here. The limits imposed on Tatsumi's art are appropriate because many of his tales depict the limits life imposes, not only on the lower working class but also on all of us, and also illustrate the eagerness with which we embrace those limits to our freedom. The constricted form Tatsumi was working with, therefore, suits perfectly his characters' constricted lives.

In a tale called "Piranha," for example, a factory worker, denigrated by his bar-hostess girlfriend for not being able to raise the million yen she needs to start her own business, finds a way to get it: He sticks his arm into the drill press at which he works and then collects the insurance payout. The hostess is delighted and tells him not to worry about the amputation, that she will take care of him, but her solicitude is short-lived.

Some of the few words in this story appear on a sign we see the protagonist reading at the end: "WORKERS WANTED / SHEET METAL PLANT / WE HIRE THE DISABLED." The final frame shows him entering the plant, and his return to the factory returns us to the first scenes of the tale, the worker moving, wide-eyed and robotic, amid hellish noise ("KTUNNK KTUNNK ... RRRRRRRRRRRRR"). The disabled worker enjoys his freedom for less than two of the story's eight pages.

Similarly, in "Pimp," the title character grows increasingly dissatisfied with his status as a kept man. Like the factory worker, he takes a decisive step, fleeing with a woman other than the one he is dependent on. Before he goes, he frees the canary that had shared the apartment with him and the woman who kept him. That woman comes home and finds a note that reads "Farewell." As she finishes reading it, the bird returns and reenters its cage. She listens to its chirping and seems to understand: "I see ?Yeah, I understand ?/ It's hard to leave / A place you've grown / so accustomed to." One guesses how the story will end.

It is not only the strict form Tatsumi was working with that sets these comics apart from literature. Also important is the element that sets all comics apart from most literature: the pictures and their arrangement on the page.

Adrian Tomine, in his excellent introduction, remarks on how Tatsumi uses "slightly cartoony characters within realistic backgrounds," and feels that in so doing Tatsumi is capable of "communicating a sense of place and emotion that more photorealistic comics couldn't approach." This is possible because Tatsumi's characters, since they don't look much like anyone, instead look a little like everyone, and these sad trapped everymen become a mirror from which we can't avert our gaze. One is eager to peer again into Tatsumi's compelling glass.
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Featured artist

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

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The Push Man & Other Stories




D&Q titles in the MONTREAL HOUR gift guide

Updated December 6, 2005


Books Front

December 1st, 2005
Books, books, more books for the holidays

Gifts for geeks

Nothing says "I love you" like 250 pages of small print! Here are some books Hour writers enjoyed

[D&Q mentions:]

The Push Man and Other Stories, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn and Quarterly)

The brainchild of renowned comic artist Adrian Tomine, who pens the volume's introduction, this collection of comic strips by Yoshihiro Tatsumi reveals to the English world the heretofore untranslated work of a man known as the grandfather of alternative Japanese comics. The designation is appropriate: Tatsumi, born in 1935 and active in comics for decades, makes quiet, dark biographies of troubled people making their misguided way in an overpopulated and heartless society - fare that could be signed by anyone today, from Joe Sacco to Julie Doucet. The beautifully bound book will be a delightful discovery for anyone into the medium, enveloping the reader in an addictive world of sexual alienation and emotional crippling. (Isa Tousignant)

Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Three, by various artists (Drawn and Quarterly)

If you're looking to introduce someone on your list to the joys of narrative art, then a compendium like this is a great - and inexpensive - place to start. The crème of this third showcase of work by artists published by Drawn and Quarterly is one of my all-time favourite comic creators, Geneviève Elverum (previously Geneviève Castrée), whose transporting vision and deft draftsmanship grow with every passing year. Also included in this collection is work by two Americans (a depressingly lovely comic by L.A.'s Sammy Harkham and an ominous, surreal mystery by Matt Broersma), which all together give a good, wide spanning perspective on what graphic writing can be. (Isa Tousignant)

Baghdad Journal: An Artist in Occupied Iraq, by Steve Mumford (Drawn and Quarterly)

Each one of the many colour plates in this impressive volume is an accomplished work of art that expresses nearly tangibly the warmth, smell and sense of a place in time. Mumford is an New York-based American war artist who produced his journal after four voyages to war-torn Iraq in 2003 and '04. His commentary is fascinating and intensive, if a bit frustratingly objective for those whose political leanings may be more critical. The strength of his perspective rests within his humanizing of all sides of this polarized conflict, from soldier to citizen. Baghdad Journal is a rich read, which, if given as a gift, will provide its recipient with days of intelligent entertainment. (Isa Tousignant)
 
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The Push Man & Other Stories




  GN round-up in the CALGARY HERALD

Updated December 6, 2005


Books & The Arts
3 December 2005

Graphic novels tell tales of collectors and other worlds


The latest graphic novel from Canadian cartoonist Seth, Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World (Drawn and Quarterly, 128 pages, $24.95), is a collection of short stories, pumped out in a mere six months, that add up to a satirical mystery set in the comics world, populated by eccentric collectors, colourful dealers, flunkies, "fanboys," and nerds. It's also a lovely tip of the hat to Chris Ware, author of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (only one of the echoes is in the titles), to whom Seth dedicates this wonderful book. Wimbledon Green might be a time out before Seth's eagerly anticipated Clyde Fans: Book 2, but it adds up to more than the sum of its layered, multi-panel parts in its affectionate send up of an enclosed, idiosyncratic world and what makes collectors tick.

Chris Ware's new book, The Acme Novelty Library (Pantheon, 108 pages, $39,95), is beautiful and engrossing from its scarlet, gold illuminated cover to the last page of the book. Open the door to Ware's world, created by this compendium of mock ads, things to do on rainy afternoon pages and the strips featuring characters that include nerdy collectors Rusty Brown and Chalky White, Quimby the Mouse, Frank Phosphate, Jimmy Corrigan and a masked, middle-aged superhero whose exploits are supernatural, and become immediately engrossed. Put Ware and Seth at the top of your must-have list.

The Push Man by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, edited by graphic novelist Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, 207 pages, $25.95), a collection of short, dark, psychologically loaded stories written 36 years ago by the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics, is gripping reading. The stories are about alienated and often desperate working-class men in a large Japanese city, whose lives are governed by rage, sex and death. The strips, which are unlike anything else around, are bleak social tragedies remarkably undated in style.

A strange but real world created by ideology and politics is explored in Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 184 pages, $24.95). Delisle, a French-Canadian animator worked for a French company in North Korea, where drinking a Coca-Cola became for him an act of defiance in an oppressed society. The story of his visit, his wry observations of this mysterious territory and his experiences as an outsider, are rendered appropriately in shades of grey in a book drawn entirely in pencil.

Nancy Tousley
Calgary Herald

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Seth
Guy Delisle
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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (hardcover)
Wimbledon Green




Washington Square News on TATSUMI TOMINE & SETH

Updated November 15, 2005


Arts and Entertainment: Arts

The comics canon, revisited
Cartoon arts finally gets the recognition it deserves

by Eric Kohn
November 11, 2005

To anyone with average exposure to the funny pages, reading the comics may convey heartwarming memories of Charlie Brown’s childhood musings. Likewise, aficionados of the superhero comic book may fondly recall the noble adventures of Superman, Spiderman and the rest of the costumed crusading gang.

But while other visual art forms have been long recognized by mainstream audiences as advanced modes of expression, adult-oriented comics have been by and large downgraded to a lowly status as special interest fodder for a niche readership.

Still, the creative practice of bringing exagerrated pen-and-ink characters to life has managed to develop into a decidedly mature medium for over a century, ever since “The Yellow Kid” spawned epic ownership feuds between New York newspaper tycoons William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. Radical experimentation with narrative structure and content in comics can be traced through nearly every decade of the past 100 years, from the reclusive hippie sentiments of Robert Crumb in the 1960s to bleak explorations of human suffering in the later work of Will Eisner, who is credited with coining the now-popular term “graphic novel.” In 1992, Art Spiegelman’s Holocaust-themed “Maus” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. No one could argue that the recognition was undeserved simply because the book united pictures with words.

Given its unorthodox history as the progressive underdog of visual art, the key to unlocking the history of comics lies in the exploration of its roots. Earlier this year saw the re-release of selections from Winsor McCay’s pioneering strip “Little Nemo in Slumberland,” an early-20th century creation restored to its full glory in large panel format. And now comes “The Push Man and Other Stories,” the first volume of published works by Japanese cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Although many comic fans associate Japanese cartooning primarily with manga, which generally centers on fantastical adventure stories, Tatsumi’s work operates in an entirely more profound vein. His comics, published in Japanese magazines from the late 1950s and for several decades afterward, influenced numerous Japanese cartoonists in that country’s budding alternative scene. Tatsumi called the dark realistic nature of his work “geikiga.” The stories, generally no longer than eight pages, follow alienated characters struggling to survive amid a troublesome working class that forcibly negates individuality. Not a single story in “The Push Man” features what could be considered a happy ending. Among the grim themes involved are murder, adultery and cross-dressing, which may come as a surprise to American readers, given that the stories were initially published over 30 years ago.

The collection brings Tatsumi’s work to an English-speaking audience for the first time — sort of. Cartoonist Adrian Tomine, 31, whose “Optic Nerve” series grew from an independently published production into major recognition and critical acclaim after a few slim volumes, first encountered a bootleg English translation of a Tatsumi comic during the 1980s, when Tomine was still a teenager. Tomine, who serves as the editor of “The Push Man” as well as upcoming installments in the series, claims in the introduction to the collection that the Tatsumi comic helped him maintain interest in cartooning when mainstream works started to lose their appeal.

Years later, after “Optic Nerve” became a top-selling title for Drawn & Quarterly, Tomine suggested to the alternative comic label the idea of reprinting Tatsumi’s work. While in Japan, Tomine arranged a meeting with Tatsumi. Although the two men required a translator, they recognized their common affinity for a particular brand of off-beat, minimalist storytelling. Though Tomine’s drawings tend to favor a more realistic look than Tatsumi’s curvaceous lines, his work often deals with similarly alienated individuals coping with romantic hardships. His characters tend be young and wistful, so it comes as no surprise that his fanbase is largely made up of similarly aged, like-minded people. But Tomine insists that the cultural gap between his art and Tatsumi’s doesn’t significantly seperate their styles.

“A lot of times I’ll read reviews of my work where it’s described as a Generation-X thing, or some hipster twentysomething genre, which has never been my goal,” Tomine said in a phone interview last week. “That just comes as a result of trying to reflect your own surroundings. Then a larger group of people try to adopt that and say, ‘Yes, he’s speaking for me.’”

If Tomine speaks for anyone, it would be his fellow cartoonists. During a scheduled appearance at the Strand bookstore on Wednesday, he spoke about his first book tour nearly a decade ago, during which he slept on the floors of comic book stores. This time around, the accomodations have been far more comfortable.

“A small group of people who see the value of graphic novels have risen to positions of power in the world,” Tomine said. “There’s been a deep increase in the quality of the work that’s been coming out the last 10 years. It’s just too astonishing for people not to notice it.” That increased attention has allowed a number of cartoonist to promote their work through a variety of media. Daniel Clowes, another cartoonist whom Tomine cites as a significant influence, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004 after adapting his graphic novel “Ghost World” as a critically acclaimed film. As recently as a few months ago, The New York Times Magazine began serializing new work by Chris Ware, a cartoonist considered by those in the field as a contemporary legend.

Tatsumi himself, following the publication of “The Push Man,” is beginning to gain greater recognition with western audiences. Over the decades, he has lived in relative obscurity, running a small mail-order bookstore in Japan and scarcely publishing any original work. This year, he will be recognized as a guest of honor at the San Diego Comic-Con, the annual mecca for die-hard comic hobbyists.

“He’s coming out of his shell a bit,” Tomine said, possibly with a tinge of pride. “It’s like unthawing someone from a different era. He lives such a nice, quiet life in Japan. Now he’s going to be thrust into what in my mind is one of the most vulgar environments in America.” Vulgar or not, here he comes. After all, no publicity is bad publicity, especially when you’re the underdog. That philosophy seems to be the axiom of the hour among the literary cartoonist crowd. “We need to get out of the comics ghetto,” said cartoonist Seth (born Gregory Gallant). “I’m happy to see comics going out into the real world.”

Seth, who appeared alongside Tomine at the Strand, is a frequent contributor The New Yorker, among other publications. His latest work, “Wimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector in the World,” delves into an alternate universe of comic book history, where the competitive collectors are largely members of an esteemed and cultured class, rather than the geeky stereotype generally associated with the crowd. Revisionist history it may be, but such work highlights the fact that the medium does indeed have a rich and long-standing history, much of which has yet to be uncovered by its expanding fanbase.

“Comics have been neglected to a big degree,” Seth said, adding that he regrets misguided similarities people often draw between the intellectual nature of his work and the abrasive, action-packed superhero comics produced by corporate behemoths Marvel and DC. “It irritates me because I’m forced to have some kind of connection to it,” he said.

In a sense, cartooning may be one of the last few fields populated by artists who prefer their work to be recieved hands-on, rather than spread through digital media. “I associate the computer with work,” Tomine said. “I associate comics with sitting in a coffee shop and flipping through pages.”
 
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Adrian Tomine
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Wimbledon Green




  GEORGIA STRAIGHT on the PUSH MAN by TATSUMI

Updated November 11, 2005


The Push Man and Other Stories / by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Edited, designed, and with an introduction by Adrian Tomine. Drawn & Quarterly, 208 pp, $24.95, hardcover.

Article by Amanda Growe
10-Nov-2005

The blue-collar guys in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s tales face heavy decisions in a world over which they have little control.

---

Those familiar with alternative- comics star Adrian Tomine, best known for the Optic Nerve series, will be drawn to The Push Man and Other Stories. Championed by Tomine, who discovered Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work while in his teens, this is issues-driven reality manga for adults. First serialized in 1969 in Japan, these stories make up the first of several volumes that will bring Tatsumi’s work to an international audience.

Despite their long hibernation, most of the stories in The Push Man could take place in modern-day Japan, albeit not Neo-Tokyo. This is everyday Japan, and the male protagonists are mainly average, blue-collar guys, the ones who keep things running: factory worker, garbage incinerator, sewer cleaner, auto mechanic, office worker. Others—porn projectionist, massage-parlour sign carrier, contract killer, “push man”—have more atypical occupations.

The push man is a stock figure in western eyes; it’s his job to jam passengers into crowded subway cars. Here, he is brought to life, humanized. Push man Kizaki dreams about the people he’s pushed onto trains, who scream things like “Help me!” “I can’t take it!” and “Pervert!” Later, he becomes the pushee.

The men aren’t, however, defined solely by their jobs: their romantic entanglements are a big part of their lives. Many of the women here are selfish, manipulative, even villainous. There is recurring male angst about lack of control in reproduction, and abortion occurs repeatedly, reflecting its frequency in real-life Japan. These stories display a rarely seen male anxiety about these issues, surprising in a society typically viewed as male-dominated.

The art in The Push Man is a bit dated, but this doesn’t dampen the freshness of the stories. Many are masterfully executed—some are so well paced that readers will hold their breath as they turn the page, fearful yet desperate to know if a character has made a horrific decision. (The author cites “police reports” as an influence.)

These are stories of men questioning their circumstances in life, confronting the pull of violence and sex, and deciding which of society’s constraints to tolerate and which to resist.
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New Brunswick's HERE reviews THE PUSH MAN

Updated November 2, 2005


The shocking 60s
This one's not for kids

This time, I will not beat around the bush: The Push Man And Other Stories is not for children. It would also be a good idea to keep adults who are easily offended away from it, too.

The Push Man And Other Stories is a reprint book collecting short stories by Japanese artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi originally published in 1969. It is the first in a series of books reprinting Mr. Tatsumi's work with each volume dedicated to one year's worth of output.

Containing sixteen stories, this volume has been edited by Adrian Tomine.

The Plots:

1) "Piranha": A man looses his arm in an industrial accident on purpose (!) to get the one million yen his wife needs to start a business.

2) "Projectionist": The daily routine of a travelling projectionist of pornographic films.

3) "Black Smoke": The wife of an impotent garbageman commits adultery. He is not impressed…

4) "The Burden": A massage parlour employee is faced with the pregnancy of his wife. He does not want the baby.

5) "Test Tube": An intern at a hospital research lab has, as an assignment, the regular task of donating his sperm.

6) "Pimp": The title says it all.

7) "The Push Man": The Japanese subways are so crowded, "Push Men" exist to push people into the trains (squeeze them like sardines). Some get a sexual thrill when pushing women.

8) "Sewer": A story about people who have the job of cleaning sewers. They frequently need to deal with dead babies and fetuses.

9) "Telescope": Again the focus is on an impotent man. This time, he is an amputee who gets paid by an old pervert to use a rooftop telescope to watch him have sex with an attractive woman.

During the "performance", the old man keeps looking at him; meanwhile the woman is oblivious to the voyeuristic activity taking place.

(Common sense: use blinds when having sex).

10) "The Killer": A young couple have a successful business: assassination.

11) "Traffic Accident": A middle-aged mechanic has a simple life. He works in a garage during the day. Afterwards, he watches a Blue Nuit-type show on TV. One day, the sexy host brings her car into the garage for a repair.

12) "Make-Up": A married man enjoys dressing as a woman to pick-up married bisexual females.

13) "Disinfection": A man with a job titled "telephone disinfector" pays a visit to a prostitute.

14) "Who Are You?": Upon self-reflection, a man does not know the answer to that question.

15) "Bedridden": After being hit by a car, a man offers 300,000 yen to a subordinate to care for his short sex slave (who lives in a blanket!).

16) "My Hitler": A man fantasizes about what happens to his sperm each time his girlfriend has a douche.

(Remember: condoms were not nearly as popular in 1969 as they are today).

Again, this is not for children and adults who are easily offended. Even if it is in black and white, some images are shocking and disturbing.

The best examples are those involving babies and fetuses. They get burned, thrown into waste areas, and get smashed by shovels.

Not things most people want to see.

When it comes to the arts, I am very liberalminded.

Therefore, I am OK with the existence of the images mentioned but that does not mean I want to see them! Of course, the book is loaded with nudity, violence, and language.

Most of the stories have open-endings without an actual end to the situations presented. Most endings are disturbing, yet some are actually rather positive.

If the stories can be used to explore the Japanese social issues of 1969, Japan was like Canada in many ways. Considering the issues discussed in the book, pregnancy must have been a very important issue at this time. I suspect that the Pill was not as freely available compared to Canada because abortion is depicted as the only solution to pregnancy. Pre-sex methods of birth control (i.e.: condoms) are not mentioned.

It is dark and explicit in content: proceed with caution!

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly 2/3
Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer, broadcaster, and filmmaker. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com

 
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  THE PUSH MAN reviewed in BOOKLIST

Updated October 31, 2005


The Push Man and Other Stories

15 October 2005
Booklist. Volume 102; Issue 4

Tatsumi has drawn groundbreaking comics in Japan since the 1950s, but Americans have had few opportunities to view his work. As the first in a proposed Tatsumi series edited by admiring alternative comics artist Adrian Tomaine, this volume of stories from 1969 starts to make amends. Tatsumi works in a powerfully straightforward manner that eschews mango's quirks in favor of naturalism. Combining the Japanese words for drama and art, he called his style gekiga to set it apart from the more commercially pitched mango. The latter shows much about Japanese culture, but gekiga reveals the nation's psyche as Tatsumi depicts men living lives of quiet frustration-powerless, often sexually impotent, confined by social propriety. In one story, a factory worker mangles himself to collect an insurance payment so his girlfriend can buy a nightclub. Another portrays an auto mechanic fixated on a glamorous TV star. Others feature a sewer cleaner, a porn-film projectionist, and a "push man" who crams commuters into packed subway cars. It took American comics decades to begin tackling subject matter approaching the gravity of Tatsumi's. These 35-year-old stories are the precursors of today's serious graphic novels. -Gordon Flagg

GRAPHIC NOVELS * Tatsumi, Yoshihiro. The Push Man and Other Stories. Tr. by Yuji Oniki. 2005. 208p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (1-896597-85-8). 741.5.

Copyright Booklist Publications Oct 15, 2005

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The Push Man & Other Stories




MIAMI HERALD on TATSUMI'S PUSH MAN

Updated October 31, 2005


The Push Man and Other Stories. Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn and Quarterly. 224 pages. $19.95.

Collecting some of the stories by the godfather of Japanese alternative comics Tatsumi, The Push Man brings out the artist's knack for such off-kilter stories as the one about a man so driven to the brink that he allows his house and wife to burn in a fire. Or a programmed killer who lives a perfect suburban life. The characters seem similar, but with good reason: Tatsumi makes it so any of his characters could be any of the others, crafting a powerful and still-potent commentary on the social and sexual roles of Japanese society.
 
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  The Nashville City Paper on PYONGYANG and THE PUSH MAN

Updated October 31, 2005


By Wil Moss, wmoss@nashvillecitypaper.com
October 28, 2005

" … One of the best and most comprehensive columns on comics in America."
- Alex de Campi, author of the graphic novel Smoke


That's from the blog of the all-too-kind Alex de Campi (www.alexdecampi.com) about this very column. Nice way to start off Year Two of Graphic Content, and boy have we got a doozy for you this month.

Below are reviews of more than a dozen new releases, including four volumes of manga, five graphic novels, five comic books, and one collection of comic strips. So get cozy, check out the recommendations, and then to a comics store with ye …

[D&Q Titles:]

The Push Man and Other Stories

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
(Drawn & Quarterly)
www.drawnandquarterly.com

The first major English edition of work by the "grandfather of Japanese alternative comics," The Push Man and Other Stories is a fascinating short story collection.

The book is made up of more than a dozen tales, most of them eight pages long, all surprising in their stark look at the loneliness of man.

Tatsumi uses relatively simple, cartoony drawings to tell his stories, which contrast with the complicated actions the characters frequently end up taking.

"To survive in the crowd, you have to struggle alone," said one of Tatsumi's hopeless shlubs, which sums up the attitude many of the vignettes have - men surrounded by people in cities, but unable to really communicate with any of them - whether it be a trash man discovering his wife's infidelity or a man finding love with a woman while dressed in drag.

This is the first volume of a series, each volume focusing on one year of Tatsumi's work. This volume covers 1969. The book has lovingly been edited by cartoonist Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), a big fan of Tatsumi's. Tomine provides an introduction and a Q&A with the author all in a gorgeous looking book that collects some rare and compelling glimpses into humanity from a heretofore-unknown master of the form.


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

By Guy Delisle
(Drawn & Quarterly)
www.drawnandquarterly.com

When animator Guy Delisle was sent to North Korea to work on a cartoon, he kept a comic book diary of his time there, providing a rare glimpse into what life is like in North Korea.

What's striking is how little of the real North Korea it seems Delisle was allowed to actually observe. He was led around by a guide and translator at all times, rarely interacting with any other North Koreans. He stayed in mostly empty hotels and interacted mostly with other foreign workers.

It's like even when the veil of mystery around the country is lifted to allow Delisle in, the veil is still actually there to keep Delisle from seeing anything other than the work he's there to do.

Delisle is a skilled observer and cartoonist, able to convey the reality of what he was able to see with a sense of wit and cynicism. He brings with him a copy of George Orwell's 1984 and lends it out to his guide, curious to see if the guide would comment on the parallels between the book and the Big Brothered North Korea, but the guide just later nervously hands it back to him, saying he doesn't like science fiction.

As is the case with the guide's reaction, Delisle is able to observe a lot about North Korea based not just on what he sees or hears, but what he doesn't as well.

To find a comic store near you, call (888) COMIC-BOOK or visit www. csls.diamondcomics.com.

Graphic Content, a monthly comics, manga and graphic novel review column, is published online the third Friday of every month. It will return Nov. 18.

Review copies can be sent to:
The City Paper
Attn: Wil Moss
P.O. Box 158434
Nashville, TN 37215-8434
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THE PUSH MAN reviewed by PopMatters

Updated October 31, 2005


THE PUSH MAN AND OTHER STORIES
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly
September 2005, 224 pages, $19.95

by Tim O'Neil
PopMatters Associate Music Editor


Since my work has been largely unavailable in English-speaking countries, I doubt most readers have heard of me. I myself am a very normal person. Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author's personality.
— Yoshihiro Tatsumi, December 2004

The appendix for The Push Man features a brief written Q&A conducted with Tatsumi by the book's editor, Adrian Tomine, from which the above quote was taken. As I'm the type who likes to absorb such addendum before striking out into the body of a book, these words initially held no significance. It struck me as another example of the very circumscribed artistic modesty, which is native to the Japanese, and in no way indicative of any unusual properties of the stories themselves.

And then I read the book.

There's a peculiar dichotomy to Japanese culture, wherein the massive edifice of conventional society is perpetually shadowed by a deep existential twin, a nightmarish flipside where industrialized conformity and economic advancement -- the country's ruling mantras since the end of the second world war -- are seen as purely negative virtues. The suffocating nihilism of certain Japanese horror films comes to mind, featuring a rejection of normalcy that is not merely purgative or transformative but cataclysmic. While there are no fantastical elements present in Tatsumi's stories, the overall sense of dread and undisguised revulsion at the human condition which pervade his worldview are strong enough to evoke the most horrific of reactions.

The world Tatsumi's characters inhabit is a world not often seen in Japanese media (or at least that of it which makes its way over here): the blue-collar world of sewer workers, factory drones and outright low-life criminals. There are no middle-class office-men or glamorous Yakuza crime lords here. The situations and dilemmas are instantly recognizable in their shape but exotic in form, the perpetual predicaments of society's bottom-rung. Seen through the rituals and conventions of an alien culture, the results are deeply disturbing.

In "Piranha", a man is chastened by his prostitute wife for not providing enough money for her to open her own parlor, so he mangles himself at his factory -- intentionally losing an arm in a metal-punching machine -- to claim one million Yen in insurance money. But the money doesn't ease the resentment between them, and during an argument he shoves her hand into a piranha tank where it is almost devoured.

In "Black Smoke", a man rendered impotent in a car accident and working at a garbage-smelting plant is constantly harangued by his bitter, drunken wife. Finally, after having to dispose of the aborted fetuses of one of his wife's affairs, he leaves her to sleep while a hot iron slowly sets fire to a momentarily abandoned shirt. He watches their house burn from the vantage of a distant hill. His first words for the entire story -- spoken in the next-to-last panel -- are: "It's a filthy city. Everything here is trash. Eventually someone's gonna burn it."

I didn't pick these examples for any particular brutality. The sordid elements of society are on display throughout the volume, be it in the overt criminal element of psychotic assassins, pornographers and sex slavers, or the sordid thoughts of wayward and desperate men in more ordinary pursuits. Tatsumi's personal caveat makes more sense in light of the almost endless stream of abortions, reeking sewers, sexual impotence and suicide. It's hard not to see patterns emerge from these relentlessly unpleasant elements: the powerless are confronted with their figurative or literal impotence, and respond either in rage at their surroundings or at themselves. The dimensions of the world around them are forbidding and vast, and their own dreams, pitifully small though they may be, are forever unattainable. It would be easy to imagine Tatsumi as a bitter, broken man, based merely on the unrelenting blackness of his stories.

(It should be noted, interestingly, that the one exception to this pattern featured in the book -- one story out of sixteen -- is "Make-Up", about an otherwise normal man who finds sexual freedom by dressing up as a women. Although the man is cheating on his wife in order to conduct an affair with another woman while dressed as a woman himself, there is no hint of impending cataclysm, and it ends only on the slightly ambiguous note that his personal liberation must be kept secret from his loved ones.)

The majority of the stories, culled from Tatsumi's output for the biweekly magazine Gekiga-Young during the year 1969, are brief, at only eight pages. Later on in the book a few stories stretch out from this format, and the resulting expansion in format produces a corresponding expansion in thematic heft. The book's early stories establish an almost formulaic rhythm, introducing their scenarios with as much narrative economy as possible and merely allowing their characters to be drawn to their fate with the irresistible gravity of cruel destiny. Like the classic EC horror comics, the dread is palpable as well as inevitable, and the pervading sense of inescapable despair becomes almost comical in repetition.

If the book was comprised of nothing but shockingly depressing eight-page sketches like these, the book would imply a precocious talent limited by the scope of a cruel imagination, an artist gifted with an enviably perspicacious insight into human misery, but the equivalent of a one-trick pony. But the book ends with a pair of longer pieces -- "Who Are You?" and "My Hitler" -- that offer Tatsumi the opportunity to build on the grim foundation of the previous stories while introducing a strong element of narrative lyricism through (comparatively) extended sequences. The results are simply breathtaking.

"Who Are You?", especially, is the book's inarguable centerpiece. The story of a sullen man, obsessed with his own powerlessness as well as a giant river scorpion captured in a tin can, it's a tense psychological thriller that manages in the space of a mere nineteen pages to produce a nauseatingly surreal momentum. In particular the jumbled chronology, which foreshadows important thematic elements throughout the story to create an escalating sense of tension, allows Tatsumi the freedom to interpolate the characters' own perceptions through the very fabric of the narrative. This type of subjectivity is one of the hidden strengths of the comics form, and when Tatsumi is allowed the freedom to explore these ideas he reveals himself to be nothing less than the modern master promised by the book's ad copy.

The Push Man is the first in a proposed series of chronological translations of Tatsumi's material. While nowhere near complete -- according to Tomine, Tatsumi was far too prolific for a complete collection to be feasible in America -- these highlights cannot help but imply the presence of a massive, profoundly important body of work as yet unseen by Western eyes. It is my deepest hopes that sales of The Push Man warrant further volumes, because Yoshihiro Tatsumi has earned his place in the as yet very small pantheon of translated Japanese cartoonists whose work demands our unequivocal attention.

— 19 October 2005
 
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  TATSUMI'S THE PUSH MAN analyzed by MENTAL HELP!

Updated October 19, 2005


The Push Man and Other Stories

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn and Quarterly, 2005
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Oct 19th 2005

As Adrian Tomine explains in his Introduction to The Push Man and Other Stories, these short stories in comic form by Yoshihiro Tatsumi were originally published in 1969. Tatsumi started his work in the 1950s but he requested that the project of republishing selections from his massive output leave out his first decade or so. Tomine states that the plan is to put out one book a year, each devoted to a year of Tatsumi's art, and since Tatsumi is still making comics, this is a huge undertaking.

The 16 stories here are consistent in their style. Many are set in an industrial Japanese city and feature a mostly-silent man who works in a factory. For example, in the first story, "Piranha," a factory worker comes home to his wife, and she tells him she wants a million yen to start her own business. He reads in the newspaper about an insurance payout when a bus rolls over, and the next morning he thrusts his arm into his machine. He gets a million yen as compensation for the "accident," and his wife is happy. He now stays home while she works, and entertains himself by buying some piranha fish. Soon she starts complaining about him sitting around all day looking at his fish, and threatens to leave him. He becomes furious and grabs her arm, forcing it in the fish tank. When he lets go, it is covered in blood, and she leaves him. He kicks over the fish tank and goes searching for a new job at another factory, this time one especially for the disabled.

All of the stories are dark in tone, showing people hurting each other, failing to communicate, cheating, selling themselves or having their hopes dashed. It is often sexual desire or the duplicity of women that cause men to rush into disaster. In one story, "Bedridden," this sense of the danger of sex is crystallized into a never-seen creature who hides under the bedclothes. Her boyfriend describes her as his sex slave, and says her sole purpose is to provide pleasure. But he ends up dead, and is replaced by another man. The men's downfall stems not only from women, but also from their own lust, aggression and stupidity, so Tatsumi is an equal-opportunity misanthrope.

The drawing is powerful, sometimes crude and occasionally stunning, especially when showing the city streets. It is easy to see how Tatsumi's work influenced Tomine, both in the often blank expressions of the people and the dark humor in the unfolding of events. It is wonderful that Tatsumi's work is now available to a general Western readership, and Tomine has done a great job in editing and designing this book to convert the Japanese format into Western format. Highly recommended to comics fans.

© 2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island, and editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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TATSUMI'S PUSH MAN reviewed in Colorado Springs Independent

Updated October 17, 2005


Short Stories

The Push Man and Other Stories
Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly

Tatsumi, considered the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics, isn't well-known here in the States. His minimalist style of drawing, so different from that found in manga, influenced Adrian Tomine and other comics artists. The Push Man and Other Stories is a selected collection of Tatsumi's works, specifically from 1969. The stories are quite dark; infidelity, death, lust and betrayal reign here. The male characters typically are working-class average Joes, often with blank looks in their eyes; the women usually prove either conniving or hysterical. As an American woman in the new millennium, it's hard to interpret that through the lens of a Japanese male nearly 40 years ago. Still, The Push Man definitely is worth a look.
-- Kara Luger
 
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  THE PUSH MAN in Washington Post

Updated October 11, 2005


A Primer on International Comics

By Greg Zinman
Sunday, October 9, 2005; Page M03

Many groundbreaking graphic novels are being composed stateside, but some of the most stunning sequential art continues to be produced overseas. It's not surprising, given that comics readership is greater in Europe and Japan than it is here. There are signs, however, that American interest in international comics is on the rise. Overall U.S. sales of manga , or Japanese comics, last year exceeded $110 million, up from about $22 million in 2001, according to ICv2, an online retail trade publication. For the last 10 years, the International Comic Arts Festival has been drawing attention to the field's diversity by inviting creators and scholars from around the world to come to the District and discuss their work. This Thursday, ICAF hosts a free three-day forum at the Library of Congress (James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE, http://www.go.to/icaf .)

"There are so many more styles of comics than you might think," says event organizer Marc Singer. "You can see them at the festival, and there's bound to be one that appeals to you."

Ready to start reading, but don't know "Cities of the Fantastic" from the Fantastic Four? These five critically acclaimed international comics, all of which have been recently translated into English, are a great place to start. Greg Zinman

The Push Man and Other Stories
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95)

Tatsumi was largely responsible for ushering in manga geared toward adults, and his gritty depictions of life in 1960s working-class Japan are finally being translated into English, thanks to the efforts of celebrated "Optic Nerve" creator Adrian Tomine. This volume of work from 1969 consists largely of eight-page tautly-composed vignettes about bad decisions, adultery and murder. There's little dialogue to speak of, and Tatsumi's figures look as though they were quickly drawn, with cartoonish, google-eyed features. But the author's careful control of line expresses a broad range of emotion, and his layouts are so thoughtfully paced that his craft becomes invisible, always serving the story rather than drawing attention to itself.

Buddha
By Osamu Tezuka (Vertical, $24.95)

Considered the godfather of Japanese manga, Tezuka produced this heroic work between 1974 and 1984, near the end of his career. Using fictional characters, historical settings and plenty of philosophical introspection, he tells the life story of Siddhartha in eight volumes that total more than 3,000 pages. The work itself is far more than Intro to Buddhism, as Tezuka deftly lends dollops of adventure, humor and whimsy to his character's metaphysical musings ("Why were we born slaves? Why weren't we born as warriors or Brahmin?"). You'll also marvel at the art, which veers between Disney-esque drawing and naturalistic draftsmanship.

Cities of the Fantastic: The Invisible Frontier
By Francois Schuiten and Benoit Peeters (NBM Publishing, $15.95-$17.95)

Just what you've been waiting for, a Belgian-French comic that delves into the heart-stopping excitement of . . . cartography. No, really. "Cities" is one of the most elegant and compelling examples of comic art in the last 30 years. The first volume in a two-part story, this is the tale of Roland, a young mapmaker who becomes embroiled in a mystery having to do with a nationalist architecture project. The story engages in real-world thinking -- philosophy, art theory and geopolitics -- while evoking otherworldly literary sources such as Franz Kafka and Jules Verne. When one character remarks upon "the feeling for landscape, attention to the slightest details, everything that makes a map a condensation of events and drama," he could have just as easily been talking about the book itself.

Epileptic
By David B. (Pantheon, $27.50)

A monumental memoir tracing the author's evolution as an artist, "Epileptic" is defined by its hallucinatory, symbol-heavy style. A leading light of the experimental French comics scene, David B. employs a thick, sure line -- evoking everything from African art to 18th-century woodcuts -- to trace his older brother's lifelong struggle with the titular disorder while growing up in the Loire Valley in the 1960s and '70s. "And thus begins the endless round of doctors, for my brother and my parents," the narrator notes, paving the way for a depiction of family that never descends into mawkishness.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
By Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, $17.95)

The first of two volumes, "Persepolis" is Satrapi's account of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, before being sent to Europe for safe schooling by her broad-minded parents. Now living in France, where the book was originally published, Satrapi employs a deceptively simple black-and-white cartooning style -- one which belies her sharp eye for the horrors of totalitarianism. Her gift for wry observations about the foibles of fundamentalism (in one sequence, the mandate "All bilingual schools must be closed down" is met with cries of "Bravo" and "What wisdom!") is more than matched by her brutal renderings of the Iran-Iraq war and military oppression.

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TATSUMI in the Village Voice

Updated October 4, 2005


Pushing the Limits

Cartoonist Adrian Tomine discovers a Japanese manga master
by R.C. Baker

Japanese comics master Yoshihiro Tatsumi has a word of caution for readers of his new book The Push Man and Other Stories: "Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author's personality."

Adrian Tomine, the editor of this revelatory collection of Tatsumi's late-'60s manga (just out from Drawn & Quarterly), seconds the author's concern in a recent interview: "Some of the content of these stories is pretty surprising, especially considering they were originally published over 30 years ago." Among The Push Man's street-level protagonists are tongue-tied laborers who mutilate their prostitute girlfriends, a wife-abusing hit man with a weak stomach, a taciturn projectionist who traverses Japan to screen porn for corporate officers, and sewer workers who search for wayward treasures as they slog through underground streams clogged with rats, garbage, and aborted fetuses.

Not your father's funny papers. Indeed, Tomine writes in the introduction that "Tatsumi's work was comprised of compact, elliptical short stories which, like the best modern prose fiction, were simultaneously satisfying and open-ended." (In contrast, America's underground comix of this same era generally wallowed in spectacular depictions of sex and violence, as in R. Crumb's autobiographical fantasias of shtupping mountainous Amazons and beheading repressive nuns.) Tomine says that Tatsumi's lack of mainstream success "allowed him to be almost rebellious in his style." But like the book's title character, a subway worker whose job consists of shoving riders aboard overcrowded trains, Tatsumi's countrymen are far too worn down for rebellion. Where Italo Calvino found humor and perseverance in the lumpen city dwellers of his poignant Marcovaldo stories, set in the working-class tumult of postwar Italy, Tatsumi's blue-and no-collar toilers have grown up under the cloud of utter defeat suffered by their entire nation in 1945.

Tomine, a widely accomplished cartoonist himself (Optic Nerve, Summer Blonde), stresses Tatsumi's sense of economy. "All of the stories hint at much more than they make explicit, which rewards repeated reading," he says and as an example points to "Telescope," a complex tale of voyeurism entwined with primal coercion. As with most of the 16 stories, it is told in eight spare black-and-white pages, and the final three panels are starkly beautiful evocations of the stillness that marks the boundary between life and death.

"Tatsumi devised a style that employed detail on an 'as needed' basis," Tomine observes. "His characters are defined and expressive, but also simplified visually in a way that engages the reader far more than had they been drawn in a photo-realistic style." Often these trenchant portrayals speak for characters too inarticulate to express their own stillborn hopes, a motif carried into every aspect of the art. Tomine emphasizes that Tatsumi "often draws very detailed backgrounds initially to set the scene but then eases up on this kind of detail as the scene progresses. Sometimes there are no backgrounds at all, but the stories all have a very specific, believable atmosphere." In "Projectionist," the socially stifled, middle-aged title character begins his journey amid a welter of calligraphically festooned paper lanterns and signs for bars and brothels. His trade, rendered only in quick flashes of breasts or thighs on a portable screen, has the execs mopping their brows while a secretary chokes with embarrassment. When he returns home to his frustrated wife, their sterile apartment building is reduced to a composition of blank, abstract shapes.

A fearless spelunker of the id, Tatsumi delves beneath the button-down uniformity of Japan's legions of office drones. "Bedridden," one of the longer pieces, plumbs the depravity of a salaryman who imprisons a deformed and crippled sex slave—never revealed amid her den of quilts and pillows—in his shuttered apartment. Speculating on why their homely, fortysomething colleague refuses to join them for aprés-work drinks and geishas, his officemates shrug, observing, "Yeah, he's creepy." When his secret is discovered, he tries to justify his vile behavior: "You must've heard of the ancient Chinese custom of footbinding—women were re-shaped to please men." Shortly afterward he falls victim to a co-worker lusting to take over as the woman's ninth "master." This nightmare is realistically grounded by mundane street scenes edged with sagging awnings and a government ministry clotted by the weary queues of bureaucracy.

Tomine calls the now 70-year-old artist a trailblazer, noting that "there weren't a lot of examples for him to follow in the world of Japanese comics in the '60s." He speculates that "it was probably Tatsumi's own personality and convictions that led to his somewhat 'underground' sensibility, more than any external influence." Japanese pop culture often seems a candy-coated parade of Hello Kitty plushies or garish anime depicting provocatively posed, doe-eyed schoolgirls, but these stories, done on the cheap back in the day, reveal an artist who was making comics that weren't just adult, but truly mature.
 
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  Complete Tomine & Tatsumi interview now online!

Updated September 28, 2005


In 2003, Adrian Tomine interviewed and recorded an interview with Yoshihiro Tatsumi in preparation for the book THE PUSH MAN & OTHER STORIES, the complete transcript is available on drawnandquarterly.com!
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THE PUSH MAN in Library Journal

Updated September 8, 2005


TATSUMI, YOSHIHIRO.
The Push Man and Other Stories.
Drawn & Quarterly. 2005.
208p. tr. from Japanese by Yuji Oniki.
ISBN 1-896597-85-8. $19.95.

In 1957, manga creator Tatsumi coined the term gekiga (or "dramatic pictures") to denote the new types of stories he and others were starting to create-serious dramas for adult readers. This first volume of a planned series presents 16 Tatsumi short stories from 1969. Tatsumi's subject was the working people around him; many of his protagonists are aimless, unhappy men, unsure of their roles in life, who are led to extreme and desperate acts, often taking revenge on women who they feel have betrayed them. Many stories deal with sex and related topics-prostitution, abortion, impotence, cross-dressing, sperm donation-in an unsentimental fashion. The rise of gekiga was paralleled two decades later in the United States by the emergence of works such as Will Eisner's A Contract with God and the introduction of the term graphic novel, and Tatsumi's work has affinities with Eisner's later books and with those of alternative comics creators like Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde), who here provides an introduction and an interview with Tatsumi. With nudity and sex, this is recommended for adults.

(from the Graphic Novels column by Steve Raiteri)
 

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  Anime News Network reviews THE PUSH MAN by TATSUMI

Updated September 8, 2005


Review
by Carlo Santos, September 5 2005

The Push Man and Other Stories
G.novel

Synopsis:
Glimpses of working-class Japan come to life in this collection of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's short stories from 1969. Factory workers, mechanics, cleaners, train pushers, and other day laborers struggle through personal issues, often with questionable results. After the workday is done, they must deal with their wives and partners, their romantic and sexual concerns, or sometimes just what they want to do for the rest of their lives.

Review:
If manga is so thematically diverse, then why is it that you can't swing a dead animal mascot without hitting an epic storyline about a gifted young boy on a fated quest? Scholars and fans proclaim this nebulous ideal of "something for everyone" in manga, but the current market says otherwise. Blame it on Osamu Tezuka, whose most popular titles set the foundation for today's heroes who kick, punch, slice, shoot, pilot, and spellcast their way through steroid-injected adventures. Or the Fabulous Forty-Niners, who begat generations of bright-eyed high school girls angsting over far-fetched but heartbreaking relationships. At the same time, however, Yoshihiro Tatsumi was leading a little revolution of his own, coining the word "gekiga" to describe a form of manga where the pictures aren't quite so whimsical. The dramatic stories in The Push Man are a welcome addition to the Western understanding of Japanese comics.

It's been over thirty years since these stories came out, but the main themes, such as companionship, self-worth, and family, are still universal issues today. Although the protagonist is always a young working male, their personal problems change from story to story, be it a wayward spouse, an unwanted baby, sexual gratification, or even a troublesome sewer rat. The time period only becomes apparent in the humble industrial settings, and surprisingly enough, the page count. The small-time seinen magazine that published these works in 1969 only gave Tatsumi eight pages per issue, forcing him to make a concise point—and so he does, often with a strong emotional hit. The troubled men in these stories all solve their problems with one swift action, but the results are rarely heroic or uplifting. More often they're morally ambiguous or downright tragic: injury is real, loss is real, death is real, and when someone dies, they stay dead.

Even the babies stay dead. Dead or abandoned babies are a strange recurring theme in this volume; as a central story element, it does produce a very powerful response, but when used repeatedly, it seems like a novice storyteller going for a quick emotional sucker punch. Actual newborn corpses are depicted in at least two stories, and there are a few more where an expectant mother must choose whether to have a child or not. A more conspicuous flaw, however, is in the repetitive characters that shuffle through each story. Apparently every working-class man in Japan back then was a humble, quiet doormat, and he always had an irresponsible cheating wife (or girlfriend) chiding him for having no self-esteem. Such downtrodden personalities are naturally more sympathetic, but again it seems like a handy-dandy dramatic device for garnering pity. Even the longer stories in the book, "Who Are You?" and "My Hitler," use the same formula.

Like most artists of his generation, Tastumi's visual style is more rough-edged and simplified than the polished, stylized manga art of today. However, genuine artistry still shows through the dated techniques; the backgrounds are full of realistic details, evoking a true sense of industrial Japan. Tatsumi also creates shades, textures and moods with some judicious inking (mass-market screentones weren't around yet), whether through regimented parallel lines or densely packed cross-hatching. Even the utilitarian panels—back when squares and rectangles were still well-behaved in manga—shift in size and spacing to create the right kind of emotional weight. The only problem is in the character designs, where the monotony might lead a novice reader to think, "Wait, so these stories are all about the same guy?" Admittedly, the protagonist in each story does look like the same guy—a square-jawed, wide-eyed fellow. Perhaps it's meant to symbolize the Everyman, or maybe it's just Tatsumi saying "This is the kind of character I can draw the fastest and easiest." The women are slightly more varied, but there are still plenty of look-alikes among the round-faced, pointy-nosed ladies that inhabit these pages.

Manga purists (who will probably be the main audience for this book at first) are sure to cringe at Drawn and Quarterly's decision to flip the book into a left-to-right format. Despite the publisher's justifications—that Tatsumi re-arranged the panels himself; that general readers inexperienced with manga will find this more accessible—it doesn't change the fact that the book reads, well, the wrong way round. It shows in a couple of sequences, like when people suddenly switch directions while walking, but the overall flow is still strong, and the number of times that dialogue gets misdirected can be counted on one hand. Production values are impeccable, with sturdy paper and high-quality ink bringing out the strong contrasts and effects in the art. The hardcover finish and $20 price tag may put off some readers, but it's books like this that decide who the real serious manga fans are.

As the manga debut for alternative comics publisher Drawn and Quarterly, The Push Man is an encouraging effort, and promises to be one of many more releases from Tatsumi. Although the stories hammer the same point over and over again, and seemingly with the same character each time, their brutal honesty and stark settings will be a refreshing change for readers who wonder whatever happened to the diversity of the artform. Let's hope that this publisher explores more gekiga and alternative titles, leading us further down an intriguing backroad on the manga landscape.

Grade:

Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ An honest and down-to-earth antidote to melodramatic, steroid-injected manga everywhere.
- Stories and characters become repetitive after a while.

Rated: Teenagers (May contain bloody violence, bad language, nudity)

Production Info:
Story & Art: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
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GRAPHIC NOVEL AND COMICS SPOTLIGHT - DELISLE, SACCO, TATSUMI

Updated September 8, 2005


GRAPHIC NOVEL AND COMICS SPOTLIGHT

A 2005 Special from the editors of KIRKUS REVIEWS


Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
by Guy Delisle
September 2005 / ISBN: 1896597890

A Canadian native and inhabitant of France for the last decade, graphic novelist Guy Delisle has just published his first work in English, the story of the two months he spent working on an animation series in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kirkus called it “brilliant, passionately rendered reportage” with “no ideological axe to grind,” a pretty tough feat, given the grimly surreal Orwellian nightmare that Delisle encountered. Delisle’s knack for highlighting the peculiar details of everyday life in the somnolent capital city—the extravagant impracticality of the luxurious subway stations, cities without nighttime lights, the empty restaurants serving nothing, Kim Jong Il’s childlike visage beaming down from every possible surface—is balanced by a warm affection for his Korean guides and coworkers. Delisle renders the brutal realities of living (even temporarily) under this repressive dictatorship with a keen sense of humor, which, as comics journalist
Sean T. Collins points out, means the reader “can’t help but be moved that he’s one of the few people in the country who has the luxury of laughing.”


War’s End: Profiles From Bosnia
1995-96 by Joe Sacco
June 2005 / ISBN: 1896597920

While other writers were redefining the genre by exploring interior landscapes or bringing new soul to old action archetypes, Sacco was practically creating the sub-genre of graphic journalism with his paradigm-busting nonfiction warzone books Safe Area Gorazde and Palestine. Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros says that not only is Sacco the only person “doing this kind of work in graphic form,” but he also “brings an intimacy to the subjects that may otherwise be lacking in other mediums.” In War’s End, Sacco adapts a pair of stories from his reporting on the Bosnian conflict that didn’t fit into Gorazde and uses them as an extended coda to that sad and vicious work. In “Soba,” Sacco is led through the post-apocalyptic party that is Sarajevo after the war by a veteran soldier turned underground rock god, while “Christmas with Karadzic” follows Sacco and two other journalists racing to cover the infamous war criminal going to church, expecting a meeting with the devil himself and finding only anti-climatic banality. As Kirkus noted, “This is not a book about war, but rather about how people live with themselves in what passes for the peace that follows.”


The Push Man and Other
Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Edited, designed, and with an introduction by Adrian Tomine
September 2005
ISBN: 1896597858

After suffering more than four decades of obscurity among North American audiences, Tatsumi is destined to become one of the better-known icons of alternative comics on this side of the Pacific. The Push Man, edited and designed by acclaimed American cartoonist Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), is the first of a promised series of annual volumes that will chronicle the sometimes-sinister, sometimes-teamy, sometimes-comical work of one of Japan’s underground comics pioneers. This first volume, featuring stories originally published in 1969, reveals Tatsumi doing what he does best: examining what Tomine describes as “faces in a crowd, seemingly plucked at random and then examined down to their darkest, most private moments.” Readers might be surprised to find elements of manga enmeshed in Tatsumi’s noir sensibility. “Manga has been written off as trite ’tween reading,” says Logan Bay, of Quimby’s Comic Emporium in Chicago. “This is the kind of comic that will bring Japanese graphic novels out of the fan boy slums.” According to Drawn & Quarterly publicist Peggy Burns, “The Push
Man presents Japanese cartooning on an adult, literary level alongside North American masters such as the Hernandez Brothers, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware.”
 

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  THE PUSH MAN reviewed in Newsday

Updated September 6, 2005


THE PUSH MAN, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn & Quarterly, 209 pp., $19.95.

September 4, 2005

'The Push Man" concerns relationships. But that really seems an overly polite word to characterize the desperate gropings and violent consequences depicted in these 16 short stories written and drawn by Japanese artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi in 1969. Edited, designed and lettered by Brooklyn cartoonist Adrian Tomine, "The Push Man" evokes the dead-end fury of Hubert Selby's downbeat classic "Last Exit to Brooklyn." This comes as no surprise, since Tatsumi admits that police and news reports of working-class life are his main inspiration.

Tatsumi relates quick, grim tales of a naked city crowded with anonymous salary men, factory workers, sewer cleaners, murderers, pimps, cocktail waitresses and call girls. "To survive in the crowd, you have to struggle alone," declares the less than despondent killer of his pregnant wife in "The Burden." In "Piranha," a miserable husband sacrifices his left hand so that his unfaithful wife can buy a nightclub and give him the heave-ho. And the title tale's push man, whose job consists of forcing passengers into already crowded subway cars, finds a strange sort of serenity after he's violated by a trio of molestation victims in a rather sexy fantasy.

The book's last and longest story, "My Hitler," is a 24-page, upside-down nature tale fraught with urban anxiety. A loner sacrifices his cocktail-hostess girlfriend for an oversized, almost heroically rendered pregnant sewer rat, preferring the rodent's desperate yet more honorable company to that of a species capable of producing a mass murderer. Is Tatsumi suggesting that his cast of alienated souls has a pestilent nature? "I myself am a very normal person," he reassures us in an interview with Tomine. "Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author's personality."

BY RICHARD GEHR
Richard Gehr is a writer in Brooklyn.

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Kirkus Reviews Special Graphic Novel Spotlight - THE PUSH MAN

Updated August 30, 2005


The Push Man and Other Stories
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Edited, designed, and with an introduction by Adrian Tomine

Drawn & Quarterly
September 2005
ISBN: 1896597858


After suffering more than four decades of obscurity among North American audiences, Tatsumi is destined to become one of the better-known icons of alternative comics on this side of the Pacific. The Push Man, edited and designed by acclaimed American cartoonist Adrian Tomine (Optic Nerve), is the first of a promised series of annual volumes that will chronicle the sometimes-sinister, sometimes- steamy, sometimes-comical work of one of Japan’s underground comics pioneers. This first volume, featuring stories originally published in 1969, reveals Tatsumi doing what he does best: examining what Tomine describes as “faces in a crowd, seemingly plucked at random and then examined down to their darkest, most private moments.” Readers might be surprised to find elements of manga enmeshed in Tatsumi’s noir sensibility. “Manga has been written off as trite ’tween reading,” says Logan Bay, of Quimby’s Comic Emporiumin Chicago. “This is the kind of comic that will bring Japanese graphic novels out of the fan boy slums.” According to Drawn & Quarterly publicist Peggy Burns, “The Push Man presents Japanese cartooning on an adult, literary level alongside North American masters such as the Hernandez Brothers, Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware.”
 

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  Tatsumi's PUSH MAN receives STARRED REVIEW in Publisher's Weekly!!

Updated August 1, 2005


The Push Man and Other Stories
Tomine, Adrian (Editor)
Tatsumi, Yoshihiro (Author)

ISBN: 1896597858
Drawn & Quarterly
Published 2005-09
Paperback, $19.95 (224p)
Comics & Graphic Novels | Graphic Novels - General

Reviewed 2005-08-01
Publisher's Weekly


Tatsumi's brief, disturbing stories, originally published in 1969, have a tone somewhere between contemporary short fiction and EC Comics' old "shock" comics. Each hinges on some kind of prurient or sexually twisted situation: a man's bedridden lover turns out to be a physically mutated sex slave; an office worker puts on his girlfriend's makeup and clothes and has an affair with another woman; a man who disinfects telephones for a living calls a prostitute, but can't think of anything to do but pull out his disinfection kit. Produced over a short period of time, the stories are variations on a theme of social maladjustment. Tatsumi draws marvelously evocative settings, and his stories flow with dreamlike ambiguity, speeding toward the inevitable tragedies at their ends, but his characters appear practically identical. This reinforces both the repetitive nature of his themes and Tatsumi's view of the common man's continuing struggle in a merciless world of menial jobs, impotence and abortions. Tatsumi is known as the "grandfather of Japanese alternative comics," and this is the first in a proposed series of authorized English-language collections of his work. His work anticipates American alternative comics, making it clear why American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, who edited this collection, was attracted to the work. (Sept.)

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