TATSUMI'S PUSH MAN reviewed in the Vancouver Courier

“Vancouver Courier Review - The Pushman” / Vancouver Courier / Shawn Conner / February 9, 2006

Here's an odd, but handsomely packaged little book. The Push Man collects stories, in black and white and mostly eight pages in length, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, considered the "grandfather of Japanese alternative comics." According to the introduction by popular alternative comics artist Adrian Tomine, Tatsumi "coined the term gekiga to differentiate his gritty, naturalistic style of cartooning he helped pioneer from that of the more
commercial, youth-oriented manga."

Well, "gritty" is an understatement. The gekiga in The Push Man are almost unrelentingly grim. Almost all depict some poor schmuck ground down by a thankless, often unpleasant job (a sewer worker, a projectionist who shows skinflicks to businessmen) and living with, or married to, even more unpleasant women, almost all of whom turn out to be disloyal golddiggers-or worse.

While the subject matter is repetitive and the art unsophisticated, there is something hypnotic about reading a number of these tales back-to-back. The existential angst of the characters (well, really a variation on the same character), the hopelessness of Tatsumi's street scenes, and the joyless sex attain a kind of dream-logic. It's not a pretty world, but it's a fascinating vision of an ugly one.

In an interview at the end of the book, Tatsumi asks readers to not "interpret these stories as representative of the author's personality." Considering the misanthropic and even misogynistic themes, it's easy to see why, years later, he might say that. Then again, all of these stories are collected from the same year, 1969, with the publisher promising more volumes. It will be interesting to see just how many more variations on existential despair Tatsumi came up with, and whether or not he found answers in his art.

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