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The Torontoist reviews RED SNOW

Updated January 19, 2010


Red, Red Snow

by Dave Howard

Continuing their mission to celebrate comics masters of the past century, Drawn and Quarterly have now brought Susumu Katsumata’s award-winning short story collection Red Snow to North America in a tastefully designed and thoughtfully translated release.

Originally published in Japan in 2006 where it won Katsumata the prestigious 35th Japanese Cartoonists Association Grand Prize, Red Snow is a collection of often poignant, elemental, almost fable-like short stories set in the beautiful but complex and brutal world of rural Japan. Katsumata’s work is gekiga manga, which can be most easily (but perhaps not entirely faithfully) described as a more sophisticated form of manga intended for adult audiences, the equivalent of the “graphic novel” tag used here in North America (it’s probably best to just look this short article about gekiga in wikipedia).

Though the settings are loosely drawn from Katusmata’s youth growing up in the countryside in the 1940s and ’50s, time and place seem to be stuck in a pre-industrial fiefdom of indentured workers who never own the land they work on. Small entrepreneurs live hand to mouth and must work very hard for their daily bread – fishermen, local woodcarvers, attendants serving the naturally occurring hot springs, and the dark presence of prostitution all make appearances. Katsumata’s balance of primal setting and complex characterizations repeatedly draw attention to pressure exerted by the harsh environment on the roles people play in their emotional relationships.

For example, in “Echo,” we meet a character who is grateful to have neighbours to talk to and the possibility of a young man to marry his daughter – not surprising, considering he hadn’t seen anyone else for the previous six months. In “Red Snow,” the collection’s final story, we learn of a seasoned sake worker who as a youth fell into one of the giant vats of brine and almost died, an accident that prevented him from ever rising to the post of overseer.

Throughout the stories, the presence of spiritual or supernatural characters – a wronged soul returned from the dead, the occasional talking animal providing commentary – bring a sense of ethical balance to an otherwise unfair human system .

Another common theme is the confinement of women, and the constantly changing grey areas among the roles of employee-servant-caregiver and prostitute. In the first story, “Mulberries,” a village boy meets an indifferent and unrepentant village girl stealing mulberries from a neighbour’s bush. Her indifference is revealed to not be a typical young girl’s coyness but a respite from the much more adult problem she is grappling with – her mother is pressuring her to begin prostituting herself at the spa. I was reminded of Alice Munro’s short story “Thanks for The Ride,” where the darkness of impending adulthood permeates otherwise innocent social decorum.

Katsumata’s ability to blend different cartooning styles as part of the text – one panel is cartoony, the next is a beautiful vista of a mountain side, a third is in photo-reference – is very effective and evocative.

Like all good short stories, the works become deeper on multiple readings, with earlier images, actions and conversations taking on new meanings. I found myself re-examining what I thought each story was trying to say. There are poetic passages throughout, and the downtrodden characters make ethical choices against all odds. In Katsumata’s world where there is injustice there is an understanding, and a kindness as well.
 
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  Lovely review of RED SNOW by The Comics Reporter

Updated December 7, 2009


December 7, 2009

Flipped!: David Welsh on Susumu Katsumata's Red Snow

by David P. Welsh

While many of the comics in the gekiga category, at least the ones available in English, might fairly be described as gritty, Drawn & Quarterly has offered a new example that's earthy in every regard. Susumu Katsumata's wonderful collection of short stories, Red Snow, examines the lives of people who live off the land. Katsumata renders this world with vigor and authority and without condescension, which is more than enough to move it to the front of the pack of comics that chronicle a rural experience.

Katsumata doesn't merely succeed by comparison. Though his stories share a pre-modern, agrarian setting, they vary in tone from sentimental to scathing. Red Snow is a collection in retrospect, first published in Japan in 2005 by Seirinkogeisha. These tales, originally published in the legendary alt-comics anthology Garo, weren't conceived to contribute to a larger whole, and, if they do, it's the opportunity to admire a gifted, perhaps under-appreciated cartoonist.

I found Katsumata's style of illustration to be wonderfully blunt. Characters are rendered with cartoonish charm but also with sturdiness and force. They aren't merely cute; they suit the lives they lead. As in the work of Osamu Tezuka and the legion of creators he influenced, the exaggerations of their visual conception don't limit their ability to function in dramatic contexts. Brutal exchanges aren't less shocking, and sex doesn't lose its erotic charge. Katsumata can create a fully realized world, rural but not bucolic with a population that's stylized but real.

The stories in Red Snow differ from the bulk of translated gekiga in that they traffic in magical realism, with an emphasis on the realism. Mixed among the brewers, farmers and lumberjacks are figures from folklore like the water imps known as kappa. Their presence doesn't derail the narrative; they really just another part of the population with their own idiosyncrasies and issues. Their oddness contributes to the sense of time and place; it makes the characters' belief in the mysteries around them concrete instead of quaint.

They also differ in the shared focus on both male and female characters. Much as I admire the bleak short stories of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, they do strike me as dominated by the male perspective. The women in Katsumata's stories are much more likely to be equal partners in drama. They work, they yearn, they struggle, they fail, just like their husbands, fathers, neighbors and lovers. "Pulp Novel about a Sack," a sly, shocking look at the women left to their own devices when the men go off to sea, is one of my particular favorites in the collection. It encapsulates so many of the things I like about Katsumata's approach -- the earthiness of the subject matter, the resourcefulness of his characters, and the frankness of his storytelling.

In the tradition of the publisher, Red Snow comes in a very handsome package. The hardcover volume has an attractive design, and the contents have been flipped to left-to-right orientation with Drawn & Quarterly's usual care. Taro Nettleton's translation flows nicely, and translated sound effects are incorporated neatly into the panels, presumably by font designer Rich Tommaso. While neither is essential to appreciating Katsumata's comics, the two text pieces included here (an interview conducted by the editor of the Seirinkogeisha's 2005 version and an appreciative overview that appeared in a South Korean comics magazine) are welcome enhancements.

Drawn & Quarterly isn't a manga publisher in the way that Viz and Del Rey are. Drawn & Quarterly's mission is apparently to publish excellent comics of any provenance, so perhaps the fact that they've published two of 2009's best translated comics from Japan (this one and Tatsumi's A Drifting Life) is just a natural result of their overarching intent. Beyond the quality of the individual books, I very much appreciate the way the publisher is incrementally introducing gekiga to English-reading audiences, focusing first on its founder, Tatsumi, and subsequently unveiling other examples of the category. Last year's Red-Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi offered a long-form example that, while not as bracing today as it must have been when it was first published, did reveal what must have been an essential building block of all of the illustrated tales of disaffected youth that have followed. Red Snow is an engrossing, vibrant next step in the gekiga education that Drawn & Quarterly is offering, giving a further example of the range of experiences that the category explored.
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RED SNOW review in Japan Times

Updated November 30, 2009


Perfectly rendered rural disquiet

by David Cozy

Comic books and graphic novels are treated, nowadays, with a level of respect that would have been unthinkable when they were purchased more often in drugstores than in bookstores. Indeed, it is no longer controversial to say that such works can be art, and that as such they are as worthy of our attention as film, music or literature.



This is not because comics are better now than they used to be; the quality has always been there. Publishers such as Canada's Drawn & Quarterly, by resurrecting work produced in the bad old days when comics were dismissed as disposable pulp, have made this clear, most strikingly with the work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the inventor of the sophisticated style of manga known as gekiga.

Tatsumi and his most adventurous contemporaries found a welcoming venue in the avant-garde magazine Garo. It is no surprise, therefore, that when Susumu Katsumata, a generation younger than Tatsumi, decided to forgo an academic career in nuclear physics to become a professional cartoonist, Garo was where he first marketed his work. His four-panel strips began appearing there in 1966 and were, according to editor Mitsuhiro Asakawa, "rather orthodox." Though Katsumata did, Asakawa tells us, occasionally deviate from this orthodoxy, it was not, one suspects, until he began creating short stories such as the 10 collected in "Red Snow" that he found a form suited to his ambition.

With great sympathy and perception, but without rose-colored glasses, Katsumata here evokes his Tohoku childhood. Though simply drawn, the stories are never actually simple; each tale blossoms when reread, and each gives a vivid glimpse of the hard lives of the rural poor among whom Katsumata grew up.

In the first, "Mulberries," we watch two country children, a boy and a girl, move through their days, the boy not having much luck selling the loaches he has gathered and the girl, during a break from her chores at a rustic hot spring, stuffing herself on mulberries with an avidity that suggests not greed but hunger. We watch as the boy continues to be a boy and as the girl, experiencing menarche, moves away from him and toward, it is hinted, a bleak adulthood in which she will be pressured to prostitute herself to guests at the hot spring. The boy, immersed in fantasies of himself as a stylish musician, does not grasp what is happening to the girl, but he is finally perceptive enough to notice her sadness, and that is where the story ends.

There is no action to speak of; the art does not draw attention to itself. In place of resolution, the story leaves us only with uncertainty about the children's future, an uncertainty much truer than any resolution could have been, and much more conducive to keeping the story alive in our minds after we have turned the last page.

We are far from men-in-tights territory here, but Katsumata does not shy away from the fantastic. His fantasy is always integral to the harsh realism of his work in that it derives from the myths and legends native to the rural Japan about which he is writing.

Kappa, for example — which Katsumata describes in an interview as "a half human creature living in the water, much like a miscarried fetus . . . an amphibian" — surface in some of the tales. But even with these water sprites wandering through them, Katsumata's stories are always firmly anchored in the mundane.

The protagonist of "Torajiro Kappa" is an entirely human boy with a very real problem: the man for whom he works beats his wife. The boy appeals for help to a kappa — consider the kappa an imaginary friend if you must — but though the kappa is nearly killed in his attempt to help the boy, he fails for reasons to do with mysteries the boy has yet to penetrate, and what is worse, the battered woman sides not with the kappa but with her tormentor.

In the wake of this defeat the kappa leaves the village; the story, we see, is as much about the end of childhood and its enchantment as about a duel between men and mythological creatures.

The prostitution looming over the young woman in "Mulberries," the battering of a wife in "Torajiro Kappa": Katsumata's sympathy for the hard lot of these rural women is, along with sex and death, a recurring thread running through several of the tales collected in "Red Snow." Although the cartoonlike simplicity with which Katsumata draws his characters, and his ever-present lightness of touch, can cause one to forget it, the world he gives us is no rural idyll. Rather, it is a rural reality that, thanks to Katsumata's skillful rendering, is very much alive.


 
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  Deb Aoki thinks RED SNOW is magical.

Updated November 16, 2009


The Bottom Line

by Deb Aoki

Lust-filled monks and farmers' wives rub shoulders with kappa, kitsune and forest gods in Red Snow, a collection of charming, yet dark fables for grown-ups.

Compared to the gritty, urban gekiga tales of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Red Snow offers similar themes of sex, depravity, obsession and innocence lost but with rural, pre-industrialized Japan as its backdrop. Katsumata deftly mixes humor, fantasy and melodrama and wraps it all up in surreal, sensual and distinctively Japanese imagery. A gekiga gem that's magical, memorable and utterly unforgettable.

Pros:

-Charming fables for grown-ups that mix myth, humor, romance, sex and melodrama
-Deftly mixes the hardships of rural life with whimsical flights of fantasy
-Simple yet delightful artwork that offers moments of wry comedy and poetic grace
-Katsumata is an equal opportunity storyteller who creates engaging male and female characters
-Gorgeous, gift-worthy hardcover edition gives Katsumata's art the first-class treatment it deserves

Cons:

-While mostly stylized and suggestive, some sex scenes include descriptions of rape and violence
-Several not-so-common Japanese words and cultural references are left without annotation
-Includes strong language and mature situations, so it's not for younger teens


Guide Review - Red Snow

Before it known was the land of high-tech innovations, Japan was a land of forests, mountains, seashores and rice paddies. Sure, there were samurai and merchants, but there were also hardworking farmers, craftsmen and laborers who struggled to keep a roof over their heads, and food on their tables.

It's in this world that Susumu Katsumata set Red Snow, his collection of gekiga-style short stories. While the gekiga of Yoshihiro Tatsumi focuses on a relentlessly grim vision of urban Japan, Katsumata's Red Snow depicts sex, scandals and depravity in the Japanese countryside but also moments of nostalgia, magic and slice-of-life humor.

Many stories in Red Snow seem similar to fables -- but with an adult twist. Desire is a pervasive theme in these stories, expressed as young love, pre-pubescent flirting, sexual abuse and perversity. Young and old, men and women alike are depicted as unabashedly sexual beings, sometimes in surprising ways.

In Pulp Novel About a Sack, a traveling monk visits a village where the men have left to work as migrant laborers. While the monk attends to the townswomen's spiritual well-being, women want him to attend to their other needs, and it may be more than he can handle.

With its matter-of-fact approach to sex, Red Snow has an earthy, sensual quality to its storytelling. These stories were created when Katsumata was in his later years, so he doesn't shy away from depicting middle-aged men and women as unabashedly sexual beings who have desires just like young adults.

But that's not to say that Red Snow is pornographic -- sure, there's some strong language and mature themes that make it unsuitable for younger readers, but Katsumata depicts these scenes tastefully by using clever visual metaphors, like a bottle of sake yeast that pops open in the snow, or a woman's foot peeking out from under a flowing sheet to suggest intimacy.

The other theme that pervades Red Snow is wistful nostalgia for pre-industrialized Japan, when life was harder, but also simpler and a little more magical. In several stories, talking tanuki (raccoon dogs) and kappa (water spirits) interact with humans to bring a touch of fantasy, humor and uniquely Japanese charm to these otherwise dark fables of human desires.

Katsumata originally drew yon-koma (four panel comic strips), so his use of exaggerated facial expressions shows his 'gag comics' roots. But there are also numerous examples of Katsumata's artistry. The Dream Spirit displays Katsumata's mastery of page and panels, as he draws a monk transforming himself into a crow to seduce a woman. Robes fly and passions flare in a scene that is surreal, sensual and quite beautiful to behold.

Red Snow is not your typical manga collection, but for fans of gekiga, indie comics and folk tales, Katsumata offers an unforgettable glimpse into a Japan that is rarely seen and is rapidly disappearing. A gekiga gem for grown-ups that will surprise and delight fans of comics and Japanese culture.
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RED SNOW a gekiga gem!

Updated November 9, 2009


This Week's New Manga: InuYasha Gets BIG, Red Snow Debuts

by Deb Aoki

While mid-month tends to be slow for new manga, there's lots of intriguing series and one-shots making their debut this week from CMX Manga, Drawn and Quarterly, TokyoPop and VIZ Media.

Topping this week's list of new releases is the VIZ Big edition of Inu Yasha, which collects the first three volumes of Rumiko Takahashi's long-running adventure series in a larger format. With 56 volumes in the regular run of Inu-Yasha, we can look forward to at least 18 more VIZ Big volumes to come.

Also new and well-worth picking up is Red Snow, a new gekiga gem by Susumu Katsumata from Drawn and Quarterly. Like their prior releases of manga by Yoshihiro Tatsusmi, D and Q pulled out the stops to give this award-winning collection of short stories of rural Japan the deluxe, hardcover treatment.

If hard-boiled action is more to your taste, VIZ Signature has Jormungand, which is chock-full of gun-slinging and international intrigue, ala Black Lagoon.

For something a little more heart-warming, but with a touch of supernatural suspense, try Deka Kyoshi, which features an undercover cop who gets assigned to an elementary school class after their teacher dies under mysterious circumstances.

Or for something sweet, light and fun, check out Mikansei No. 1, a romantic comedy about a time-traveling 23rd century teen who tries to make it as a pop star in the 21st century.

Here's what's especially new and notable for this week, and the rest of the list by publisher to follow.
 
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  Comic Book Resources review RED SNOW

Updated November 9, 2009


Robot reviews: Another manga round-up

Red Snow
by Susumu Katsumata

A woman falls in love with the spirit of a chestnut tree only to see it chopped down. A traveling monk becomes the unwanted play thing for a group of lonely house wives. Anothe rmonk dreams of sexual conquest. A battered wife puts up with her husband's alcoholism and abuse because that's the only time he can sexually gratify her.

As my poor attempts at encapsulation suggest,, this collection of short stories by the late gekiga artist Katsumata deal with the give and take between the sexes, set against the backdrop of a rural, feudal Japan. Katsumata makes no bones about the second-class status and hardships that women in this particular culture must endure, but has no interest in being one-sided. The women here can be just as abusive and manipulative as the men, they just aren't always as successful in getting their way, and their fall can be a lot greater.

None of this is overt. Katsumara delivers all his stories in sleight-of-hand style so that the book's themes only seep into your brain slowly, and with multiple readings. This is a book I'll be pulling off my shelf and musing over for some time to come.
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RED SNOW is a hit on ComicMix

Updated November 2, 2009


Manga Friday: 'Red Snow' by Susumu Katsumata

Gekiga stories of Japanese rural life a hundred years ago

by Andrew Wheeler

From a Western perspective, it would be understandable to assume “gekiga” meant “short, depressing Japanese comics stories,” even if that’s not the most accurate definition. (Gekiga can also be long depressing Japanese comics stories, of course.) And, since the current exemplar of gekiga for those of us in the English-speaking world is Yoshihiro Tatsumi, there’s a sense that those short, depressing stories need to be set in the modern world, that gekiga is a literature of urban ennui and the dislocations of modern capitalism.

But gekiga is wider than that; Katsumata is another one of its masters, and his collection Red Snow is filled entirely with stories of a rural, pre-war Japan – but one as filled with bitter unhappiness and struggle as any badly-thrown-up Tokyo apartment building of the ‘60s. His rural landscapes have nothing of nostalgia about them; these are insular, stifling, dull little farming communities, full of equally dull and small-minded people, out in the middle of nowhere.

A few of these stories have supernatural elements, but the only creatures that appear are kappa – mischievous water spirits that fill the role of leprechauns or pixies in Japanese folklore, and were thought of as being equally as common and prosaic. The fantasy in Red Snow isn’t numinous or uplifting – it’s just yet another annoyance in a small village full of them, just one more damn thing to have to deal with. Kappa are no worse than the rich guy in town who thinks he has the right to seduce any woman around – who’s also called “kappa.”

Katsumata’s stories are earthy, encompassing the sound of a monk killing his fleas and the violent battles of young kids over minor, pointless thing. They’re similarly clear-eyed about sex, which rarely works out well for the women in these villages, with their extremely limited choices. If they’re not old women shattered by being raped as a young bride (as in “Cricket Hill”), they’re prostitutes, or unmarried women getting older but still trying to preserve their virtue, or middle-aged wives beaten by drunken husbands. (They do occasionally get some fun in – as in “The Sack,” when they trade a monk around town for favors, keeping him tied up in a sack when he’s not performing.)
The men are physically stronger, and have a bit more control over their lives, but they still don’t have a lot of hope – they’re farmers or small shopkeepers, doing the same hard work over and over again until they die. Katsumata shows many scenes of men making charcoal, or sake, or carving wood – their work might not be all of their lives, and might not be the part of their lives that they prefer, but it’s ubiquitous and never-ending.

That covers sex and death – Red Snow also touches on the third major theme of rural life: drunkenness. There’s the husband who has to get drunk to have sex with his wife – but who always gets angry and starts beating her first. There’s the sake workers in the title story, obsessed with sex even though one of the overseers insists they must remain celibate while preparing the fermentation broth – and the girl who cajoles one of them into stealing half-fermented sake yeast for her.

Katsumata doesn’t flinch from showing rural life in its nastiness and ugliness, but he doesn’t revel in it, either – these aren’t cautionary tales, or sensational ones, but matter-of-fact stories of regular people leading regular lives. They’re all just trying to get by, to have a little happiness in their lives – just like the rest of us. Most manga stories would romanticize this setting, either making it a pre-industrial paradise or a hell populated by every supernatural creature the manga-ka ever heard of. But Katsumata take a middle path – these lives are not easy, but they’re recognizable normal human lives, in real village with solidity and depth. And the stories in Red Snow may well be the closest any of us will ever come to living in a society like this. I’m certainly happy I don’t live in villages like these, but I’m also happy that Red Snow gave me a window into this now-vanished world.
 
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  RED SNOW review on Manga Recon

Updated November 2, 2009


Red Snow

by Ken Haley

Drawn and Quarterly continues to expand their collection of gegika titles with Susumu Katsumata’s Red Snow. This book is a collection of short stories depicting life in rural Japan with an interesting blend of folklore, reality and Katsumata’s own observations from his younger years. The result is a fascinating collection of work unlike anything I’ve come across before.

Each story is self-contained; they run the gamut
from tales that are solidly realistic in nature, to stories dealing with kappa, curses and other such supernatural elements. At times I found it difficult to nail down just what each tale was about or depicting. Things like the bizarre tale of a kappa fighting to defend an apparently abused wife, or the strange relationship between a young boy and the daughter of an innkeeper feel a bit more straightforward in terms of themes and messages. But then there are stories of lonely village women kidnapping a monk and passing him around over a period of several months, and a tale of a young woman who’s apparently in love with a tree spirit, and just what they’re trying get at seemed a bit more nebulous and vague. Regardless, I still felt they were entertaining and interesting reads and found the casual manner with which Katsumata seamlessly weaves tanuki and kappa into slice-of-life stories fascinating to behold.

Katsumata’s artwork is like nothing I’ve come across in my manga reading before now. Vastly different from the current shonen fare, and from even classic seinen series of yore, the visuals look old but fit the setting of the tales perfectly. It gives the stories an aged feel appropriate to the settings and era in which they take place. While the visuals are different, the pacing definitely reminded of Tezuka’s Black Jack and the few Ishinmori books that I’ve read. The paneling is very grid-like: there are few splash pages, oddly shaped panels and the like. His use of toning is wonderfully done and I found myself flipping through to make sure that he actually used them. It’s just integrated so perfectly that it doesn’t jump out at all unlike some of the manga of today which lathers it on.

Red Snow is certainly an interesting read and I definitely suggest seeking it out, if only to get a taste of the gekiga genre, which isn’t exactly huge in the US market. This was my first look at the D&Q gekiga releases and I’m glad I had a chance to check it out as it’s just so different from almost every other manga I’ve read, both visually and with regards to its content. Very interesting and I’m tempted to seek out more of their releases.
Red Snow will be available in November 2009.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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RED SNOW review on Newsarama

Updated October 28, 2009


Review: Red Snow

by Michael C. Lorah

Drawn & Quarterly’s importing of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s “gekiga” manga to English-speaking shores has been very welcome in many quarters, particularly my home. My appreciation for comics from the East is blunted somewhat by the focus on genre-centric titles and incredibly long running serials. Tatsumi’s short stories and human gravitas really hit the mark for me, and I looked forward to D&Q’s latest gekiga “discovery,” Susumu Katsumata.

Well, Mr. Katsumata’s work isn’t quite on part with Tatsumi’s comics, though the short story collection Red Snow does have several positives. Setting all his stories in the pre-industrial Japanese countryside of his own youth, Katsumata’s comics are securely anchored in the details of rural life. Permeated with a sense of melancholy and small-town corruption, each tale beckons readers to explore the darker side of small town life.

Infused with an exceedingly dry, black humor (a village of women whose husbands have gone away to work keep a monk in a sack and pass him from home to home each night) and Japanese folklore (kappas abound), the tales in Red Snow are perhaps a little far removed from the experience of many Western readers. That distance may prevent Katsumata’s work from reaching the same level as Tatsumi’s work has achieved on these shores, but each story reveals intentions that reach across cultural barriers when you take time to explore it.

Katsumata’s illustration has certain limitations, with spotty anatomy and inconsistent faces, but his use of exaggeration to convey emotional qualities is very effective. The backgrounds are much more consistent than the figures, establishing each scene in a specific pre-industrial reality. Clear and structured, Katsumata’s page layouts are easy to read for even a novice comics reader.

Susumu Katsumata’s Red Snow is a solid collection of gekiga stories. The work doesn’t muster the same snap as Tatsumi’s comics, but readers interested in darkly humorous manga that explores the underbelly of rural life will likely find several gems in Katsumata’s book that justify the time spent exploring his work.
 
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  The Stranger gives colourful review of RED SNOW

Updated October 26, 2009


Mother(fucking) Nature
A New Manga Collection Explores Sex and the Wilderness

by Corey Kahler

The first story in Susumu Katsumata's collection of 10 gekiga, "Mulberries," begins with a typically comic situation—an early adolescent boy and girl bicker back and forth. Within just a few pages, however, the girl has nearly been raped and the boy has been given relationship advice by a mythical creature, while Katsumata also pauses to close in on bugs and the silhouettes of bathers in the distance. These moments don't climax to any resolution, however. Instead, these observations of rural life—sharp contrasts of serenity and cruelty—pull the reader into the book and set the tone for the remaining stories.

In this collection, the late Katsumata explores his own rather harsh but somehow still idyllic youth in Japan's countryside in the years after World War II. The typically cartoonish characters live out their dramas among fine etchings of farmlands, mountains surrounded by rain clouds, and landscapes filled with animal life, reflecting Katsumata's upbringing and enlivening the standard manga style. Katsumata even goes so far as to include a two-panel close-up of a pissing bull, finely detailed. This moment aside, the landscapes are beautiful to observe, but they are the backdrop to a rough existence where women are regularly assaulted (though in the story "Torojiro Kappa," beatings serve as part of the woman's sexual gratification); monks disregard their religion for drink and lust, as in both "The Dream Spirit" and "The Sack"; and nature is quick to kill, occasionally with supernatural means, as in "Kokeshi."

Katsumata plays with the interaction of nature and society most of all in the titular story. Here, a young man's sexual encounters with a prostitute and, later, a young admirer overlap the ideas of affection and base sexual desire by projecting these concepts into the setting of the characters, using the process of sake brewing, snowstorms, and hard labor to investigate these ideas more fully.

Although life is tough in Katsumata's world, stories such as "The Specter," "Kokeshi," and "Wild Geese Memorial Service" imagine nature as a symbol for trying to do more than just survive. With mythical creatures screaming "perverts!" at townspeople, talking tanuki with testicles exposed, and obese mountain hags appearing in the snow, the stories aren't idealizations of nature simply as an innocent model that humanity should return to. Instead, Katsumata gives a voice (sometimes a literal voice) to nature that interacts with modern society and tries to improve humanity while keeping all its profanities intact.
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Susumu Katsumata

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Awesome review of RED SNOW in the Miami Herald!

Updated October 20, 2009


by Richard Pachter

• Red Snow. Susumu Katsumata. Drawn & Quarterly. 240 pages. $24.95.

This sweet compilation of short stories seamlessly blends fantasy and reality in a pastoral, pre-industrial setting. Katsumata is a fluid, imaginative artist with a light touch, and the humanity of his characters shines throughout, especially when he casts his affectionate eye on sex, magic and the sexes.
 

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Susumu Katsumata

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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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Featured artists

Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Susumu Katsumata
Imiri Sakabashira

           Featured products

A Drifting Life
Red Snow
The Box Man





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