“The Push Man and Other Stories” / Mental Help! / Christian Perring / October 19, 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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