PUSH MAN and PYONGYANG in the Japan Times

“What did you read about Asia this year?” / The Japan Times / December 18, 2005

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF

[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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