A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Boldtype

“Boldtype Review - A Drifting Life” / Boldtype Staff / Andy Warner / April 30, 2009

Since 2005, comics prodigy Adrian Tomine has been on a mission to bring the manga of his mentor, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, to North American audiences. Earlier collections like The Push Man and Other Stories draw from Tatsumi's manic output during the 1960s and '70s, and focus on a sordid urban world populated by desperate everymen. The latest installment, A Drifting Life, represents a significant change of pace. It's a massive tome — over 800 pages. Tomine designed the English version for the comics imprint Drawn & Quarterly; 11 years in the making, it focuses exclusively on Tatsumi's own life.

Based on the stature of the author, this is fertile ground. Tatsumi spearheaded the "gekiga" movement in Japanese comics, an attempt to mix filmic techniques with bleak realism, in order to capture older readers (not unlike Will Eisner's attempts to legitimize American comics with the mantle of the "graphic novel"). The story itself begins in 1945, with Emperor Hirohito's announcement of Japan's surrender, and ends in 1960, with the ratification of the Japanese-American Security Treaty and the resulting tumult. Alongside this historic era of recovery, Tatsumi traces his own career arc, as he rises from publishing postcard comics in boys' magazines to working for small publishers in Osaka, before moving to Tokyo, beginning the gekiga workshop, and watching its meteoric rise and precipitous fall with the collapse of the rental book market. Tatsumi's story is so tightly bound up with the industry he loved and shaped that A Drifting Life is as much a history of the medium itself as of his experiences with it.

The art in A Drifting Life art is less darkly atmospheric than Tatsumi's earlier works, but it's still quite arresting. The cast of characters he surrounds himself with are mostly other artists with similarly transcendent goals; it's a pleasure to watch them grow up and come into their own. But it's Tastumi's gift for storytelling, always his most important strength, that makes A Drifting Life such an invaluable testament to the rise of a multi-billion dollar industry, and the struggles of those who tried to change it to the core.

 

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