“The blue-collar guys in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s tales face heavy decisions in a world over which they have little control.” / Georgia Straight / Amanda Growe / November 10, 2005

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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