“The Push Man and Other Stories” / Booklist. Volume 102; Issue 4 / Gordon Flagg / October 31, 2005

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.

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