Posts Tagged ‘Yoshihiro Tatsumi’

THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (3/24/10 – Snow, Swedes & Orcs)


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

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From A Drifting Life

No messing around – the book I’m most excited to see this week is Drawn and Quarterly’s annual Yoshihiro Tatsumi release, Black Blizzard. I’m always glad to see further Tatsumi in English, although I wonder if my enthusiasm for the the raw nerve agony of his in-the-thick-of-it gekiga work is especially transferable. I’m reminded of a short, critical piece Bill Randall, my choice for the best manga critic writing in English, did on D&Q’s 2008 story collection Good-Bye; he cites the deluxe format lavished on the work by its North American publisher, a real whiff of prestige given to obscure-in-their-time comics, mostly forgotten in Japan and “as subtle as pissing in someone’s face.”

Yes! Exactly! That’s why I like Tatsumi’s work: it’s unrefined, maddeningly dank stuff, the work of an early comics pioneer staggering bleary-eyed into a terrifying, uncertain future and lashing out nervously at every envisioned hell in a titanically blunt manner. One of the best things about 2009’s autobiographical doorstop, A Drifting Life — as lulling and-this-and-this-and-this-and-this a steady rolling comics memoir as one can imagine — is how it contextualizes Tatsumi’s status as a comics innovator as coming much earlier: a post-war, post-Tezuka appreciative reaction from longing for bigger, stronger comics, mostly ‘darker’ genre things like crime and mystery stories. Only at the very end of the book (which is apparently still continuing in Japan) do we get a hint of where Tatsumi’s dramatic picture obsessions might take him, and from that we can infer a most idiosyncratic development from slightly-more-mature genre comics into punch-to-the-mush city terror and perpetually radiating war.

Funny how American and Japanese comics seemed to link up just a little bit in the ’50s – two takes on a medium gradually maturing by way of increasingly harsh genre comics, albeit with manga a little ways behind. I think a close examination of some actual Japanese work of the time will nicely emphasize the substantive differences in formal approach, not the least of which was Tezuka’s fascination with cinematographic principles, inspiring I think an especially potent visual emphasis on early manga that facilitated the decompressed, atmospheric style Tatsumi develops (as a character) in A Drifting Life. Or, if comparative studies isn’t your thing, at least the speculation can become more informed as to how Tatsumi’s own crime/mystery/adventure comics mutated into… Yoshihiro Tatsumi as introduced to North American readers, as opposed to the sleeker genre stuff of peer Takao Saito’s Golgo 13, which started up in 1969 – the same year as the work collected in The Push Man and Other Stories.

This is why Black Blizzard may prove to be the most valuable ‘classic’ release of the year, even though some will regard it as plain juvenilia. It’s an old crime comic from a young Tatsumi, who blew through its 100+ pages in the space of 20 days in 1956, while also working on the monthly proto-gekiga anthology Shadow. A pianist is falsely imprisoned for murder, and escapes while shackled to a more dangerous man, all in the midst of highly inclement weather. Expect many slashing diagonal lines and cinematic techniques, and a perfectly handsome $19.95 softcover treatment. A few sample pages are here.

And there’s plenty more where that came from.


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Tatsumi in Toronto


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

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By special to CC: Chris Randle

There were plenty of happenings to note at this year’s TCAF – the Doug Wright awards, Frank Santoro gracing my sketchbook with Jah Batman, the relentless growth of the Scott Pilgrim massive – but the most purely joyful was seeing a delighted Yoshihiro Tatsumi sit before fans lined up out through the door. “Great strip rescued from moldering obscurity” is a familiar comics story by now, yet too many of those cartoonists died amidst poverty or just indifference, unable to enjoy their own reclamation. Tatsumi can, and clearly does. Grim gutter chronicles like Good-Bye, A Drifting Life’s rueful social history: not the most intuitive candidates for new multiple-language readerships, but deserving ones.

I spoke to Mr. Tatsumi the day before TCAF began, on a high floor of a swanky hotel. He was meeting journalists all afternoon in their restaurant. It was a gorgeous day, summer’s first; Tatsumi’s wife spent most of our interview gazing down at the unbroken blue of Lake Ontario below. (They are a stylish and completely adorable couple.) We had this conversation as an ice cream sundae slowly liquefied around his spoon. Tatsumi laughed more than I expected, and sometimes he would stress a point by making violent gestures towards his chest, as if stabbing himself through the heart. Can the highlight of your festival precede the actual event?

(I owe a few people thanks and my gratitude for their help with this interview. To D&Q’s Peggy Burns, who arranged it, remaining unflappable even when a series of minor disasters made some fuckup writer late; to ace translator Jocelyn, who shadowed our words on the fly; and to Mr. Tatsumi, who gave me his time. Sheila Heti and Jeet Heer made separate assists during the long process of getting this thing published somewhere and I owe them both drinks.) — Chris Randle


Chris Randle: A Drifting Life is about the formation of gekiga, but I’m wondering how you would characterize the style of the book itself.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi: In Japan everything’s always read the opposite of here, so I think about the design as two pages, and if everything will be reversed I think about that before I design – of course [the individual panels] as well, but I want to have a balance to the whole thing. When it flips I’m uneasy about it, but there’s no way around that.

[The translator wonders if that was precisely what I wanted to ask about, and I clarify that I meant how Tatsumi would characterize the artistic style of A Drifting Life in comparison with the gekiga period it’s about.]

YT: When I was writing back at that time – I was really enthusiastic, I had a lot of passion when I was drawing gekiga. But now gekiga and manga are [the same thing], so even if you draw gekiga, it’s just called manga. Comparing my passion with that time… I was much more passionate then.

CR: I interviewed Adrian [Tomine] a week or so or ago, and he thought – to him the book has a “symphonic” quality, because it moves back and forth from the stylized sections about you and your collaborators to these photo-realistic depictions of Japanese history and pop culture at that time. And I’m just wondering if this structure was consciously planned out beforehand…

YT: There’s 48 [chapters] in total, so you think of those and then you go into detail and write them. I thought about 60 or 70 different sections, but the circumstances of the [Japanese] company that is publishing it, as a serial – they stopped it in the middle. There’s still 15 or 20 more stories. I guess you don’t realize that it was stopped halfway through…

CR: No, I had no idea.

YT: The last two or three chapters are really rushed-through. I was forced to end it there. In any case, I’m going to write the rest of it, so…

CR: One part that I thought was really interesting in the book was your mention of negative news coverage about what the young artists were drawing – the “vulgar manga.” Could you describe that in more detail?

YT: The parents were really up in arms about these bad books. Manga at that time was different than it is now. It was friendly manga, so little kids could read it too… On the page you have the same number of panels, the people move from left to right and they’re all the same size and it all looks the same on the page… There was no movement or anything like that. We took inspiration from movies, doing zoom shots or close-ups. Using the camera. We wanted to use these techniques in manga, really violent movement. We were trying to move the panels in a realistic kind of way, to make work without lies, true work. In work before, for example, if a samurai cuts someone­-

CR: There’s that great line from the book: “If a person is stabbed, they bleed.”

YT: Even if a person’s head was cut off and fell to the ground there was no blood, nothing came out. Like an onion [Tatsumi chuckles]. Even if the head was separated from the body it looked like the head was still alive… You couldn’t really say that would have a bad influence on kids. So we came in and took a bat to the whole thing. We did more realistic work, more photographic almost. In Tezuka Osamu’s work animals speak, and people answer them. I think that’s probably the influence of Walt Disney, but when we wrote mysteries it’s no good if animals are talking. If a dog watches a murder or something and you know that the killer escapes – if the dog says “oh hey, that’s the murderer,” that’s not really a good thing. So we didn’t draw things like that. We drew realistic things, like the strong feelings of happiness or sadness that people have. Close-ups on the main character to really show their anger – when you’re looking from far away there’s not really a lot of power in that angle. When you’re drawing a work like that, of course you’re going to see blood. If you compare that manga with the children’s manga up to that point, they just couldn’t forgive – they wouldn’t accept that kind of manga. The [parent-teacher associations] were like, “let’s just not buy it.” A lot of them sprung up all over Japan to boycott the work.

CR: That’s fascinating to me, because this was only a couple of years after the exact same thing essentially happened in the U.S., with parents and politicians and other figures in society trying to ban or boycott violent crime comics.

YT: Yeah, it was the same thing.

CR: You mentioned Tezuka, and there’s a few times in the book where he’s depicted as an icon. Obviously he was a great influence on you, but I’m wondering why you made that specific choice to depict him this way – there’s the silhouette on the train at the start of the book, and then he’s sort of shown floating above the sea near the end.

YT: That was how I felt about Tezuka at that time. I mean, when I was a kid I thought of him about on the same level as God. I really wanted to draw that honestly. Right now I don’t think many young people are buying Tezuka’s work in Japan, but at that time… he had a halo, and lights came off of him…

CR: To me, reading later Tezuka books like MW or Apollo’s Song and comparing them to his earlier work, it seems he became influenced by the new style you and others were already exploring. Do you agree with that? It’s almost as if he internalized the critique…

YT: We were imitating Tezuka when we became mangaka. [Then we created] what became gekiga, and Tezuka Osamu took an interest in it. Our work was all called “dramatic pictures,” he knew that, and kind of got angry, maybe? [Tatsumi laughs]. He fell down the stairs a little bit, he came down a few rungs… I think there was definitely some influence from us, but when we met with Tezuka and talked with him he would say, “Oh no, my work’s definitely not gekiga, it’s definitely manga.” But before we lost him [Tezuka died of cancer in 1989], when we talked to him, he would say: “Maybe my work is getting a little closer to gekiga, you never know.” … I really wanted him to just keep drawing manga no matter what. Gekiga was a world of – it was us, who were regular crazy people, and to have Tezuka Osamu come into that world… I didn’t really want that.

CR: Later on, after the events that you depict in A Drifting Life, you worked with a studio of assistants…Do you think you were a good teacher, or at least a good boss?

YT: I was a pretty selfish boss. I wasn’t really a good boss. If you use an assistant it stops being your own pictures, right? It’s not all your work anymore. Part of it is your work. So when you publish that… it’s hard for me. I always drew all the characters, and then the backgrounds, the details, the extra stuff – drawing the squares for the panels, shading, erasing the pencil marks – all those kinds of things, I had five assistants doing that. If you didn’t have five assistants you couldn’t get magazine serial work, because you had a deadline every week. You had to put out at least 30 pages a week. With just one person, with just yourself, it would be impossible, you just couldn’t work. So even though I had some people who didn’t really do a lot of work, I had five people.

CR: Are you still friendly with any of the collaborators or peers from those days, like Matsumoto or Takao Saito?

YT: At first there were seven of us, and then we had eight. And of those people now I’m really good friends with four of them. The other two don’t draw gekiga anymore, they’re doing different work. So there’s only two of us now that are doing gekiga, me and Saito Takao.

CR: Some of these artists are still almost totally unknown here, and perhaps they’ve been forgotten even in Japan as well. Are there any books or works that you really think should be rediscovered and published here, like yours was?

YT: I don’t really read anything recently, for some dozens of years I haven’t been reading anything…Japanese manga, we’re not really all together, we kind of keep to ourselves. This might sound a bit snotty, but – I read something like Golgo 13 and I’m maybe ten pages into it and I start thinking of something else, my thoughts just go somewhere else. It’s kind of a bother, so I just don’t read it. It’s not just Golgo 13 but anything that’s popular, you know? Even if I read it it just doesn’t go in my head. There’s a big gap between me and the younger artists, in terms of age, so even if I do read someone’s work I don’t feel it. I’m not moved by it. I’m sorry I have to say that, but…

CR: No, that’s okay. Is there a conscious way you approach political content in your art? Like the Hiroshima story from Good-Bye, or the anti-American protests at the end of A Drifting Life… are they just part of society’s broader story?

YT: In Japan, with politics and politicians there’s really nothing I personally can do, but what I can do – political unrest or the lives of the citizens, I’d like to express that somehow. When I was writing about Hiroshima in that story [“Hell”], I was broke forever, and everyone around me was broke. I was angry about that, you know? Japan has become such a rich country, and here we are, so why aren’t the politicians taking that extra money and giving it to us, giving it to the citizens? It’s the same now in Japan. It doesn’t change. My own dissatisfaction, my frustration, I put that into my work. At the time I wrote “Hell” I always worked for magazines, so I could write freely like that. “Hell” was written for Japanese Playboy, in fact. No one would publish that kind of manga, so it was kind of a surprise that even Playboy would give me work. I think I’ve left behind some really good work. I’d like to just keep writing like a novelist, keep writing for as long as I can. I’m pretty satisfied.

CR: I’ve heard that you’re already working on the next volume of your memoir and have a few hundred pages done, so I assume you’ll be doing that for the foreseeable future, but I’m wondering if there’s any books from before, after or during your gekiga period that you’d like to see reprinted… I want to see the one with the giant snakes.

YT: I have so many. If you put my short stories and my longer volumes together, I’ve written about a thousand pieces. I’d like to [recover] as many of them as possible. I plan on writing the continuation of A Drifting Life within the near future. If I don’t do it soon – I don’t have that much life left, you know? [Tatsumi laughs.] I gotta do it as soon as possible.

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A Flimsy Post


Monday, April 13, 2009

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I’m currently buried in Art Out of Time 2, making it as epic as possible. And I do mean epic. I have one word for you: KONA!!!!

Anyhow, here is some current reading with reviews to come:

-Brush With Passion: The Art and Life of Dave Stevens
-Parasyte vols. 1-3 by Iwaaki
-D.O.A. Comics 1 by Osborne
-A Drifting Life by Tatsumi
-Marvel Masterworks Atlas Era Heroes 3 by Everett and Ayers
-Tarzan: The Jesse Marsh Years Vol. 1

Book of the year for me, in terms of interest, if not quality, so far has been the Stevens book, for reasons I’ll cover in a future post. Is it art I like? Not really. But it’s a fascinating story for reasons that I don’t think the authors really fully understood. I haven’t gotten very far in the Tatsumi yet but I can’t wait.

And, an idle question for you people out there: Is there a Russ Manning estate somewhere? I can’t find much of anything.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

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1. I reviewed Amanda Vähämäki’s The Bun Field for the April/May issue of Bookforum, which is impressively packed with comics-related material in general, including Ben Schwartz on Harvey Kurtzman, CC contributor Joe McCulloch on Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and Nicole Rudick on Beasts!

2. Gary Panter animated, kinda.

3. Pretty awesome Milt Gross-created book reviews in comics form. I’ve never seen or heard of these before.

4. Not comics: The only review of Watchmen (the movie) you need. (The author of that also said some other stuff worth reading.)

5. Oh, and various prominent comics bloggers have weighed in on the new Cold Heat: here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE: I forgot one.

6. An interview with Ted May, partly re Injury 3. I’m pretty excited to see that issue, not only because I really liked the first two, but because CC designer Mike Reddy drew one of the stories in it. Mike showed me a few of the pages, and they were great, and I can’t wait to see the whole thing. Ok, I’m done now.

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For the Record (Uh huh, sure)


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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I was kinda bummed to see the PW Best of 2006 critics poll. I contributed to it, thinking that we’d each have our own lists in there as well. Maybe I didn’t read the instructions close enough. No big deal, but I feel totally disconnected from it as it stands, so I thought I’d post the list I made in a slightly revised form, at the very least to promote the books I really believe in. As for their list, I just don’t get it. The Bechdel book I found pretentious, overwrought, and really poorly drawn, and Scott Pilgrim is cute teen stuff, that I guess cute teenagers like, but…huh? McCloud? Lost Girls? Ugh, don’t get me started.

And while I’m bumming your trip, I heartily suggest everyone read Gary Groth’s essay on the book Eisner/Miller in the current Comics Journal. It’s an excellent piece of criticism that goes to the heart of the problems with contemporary comics criticism and historical writing (and dimly relates to how, in any sort of sane world, Fun Home and Scott Pilgrim could rank above Kim Deitch and Carol Tyler). It also pokes further holes in the Eisner legend, which is an ongoing “hobby” of Gary’s, and one which I fully support.

My faintly revised list:

1. Shadowland by Kim Deitch (Fantagraphics)
Another masterpiece from Deitch, who, more than any other cartoonist working today, is in full control of the medium. This tragi-comic yarn is moving, terrifying and deeply deeply awe-inspiring. The man is a national treasure.

2. Late Bloomer by Carol Tyler (Fantagraphics)
Released at the very end of 2005, too late for best-of lists, Late Bloomer towers over 2006. Tyler’s timeworn but eloquent voice is much needed in comics. Late Bloomer is that rare thing: a wise book. Neither pretentious nor showy, it is full of insight, perfectly drawn, and one of the few to insist on truth above all else. A risky, bold work of art and indisputably the best book of 2006.

3. Or Else 4 by Kevin Huizenga (Drawn and Quarterly)
Kevin’s epic attempt to explain the universe on a micro level was a moving and humbling comic—expansive in scope and filled with the good-natured love and nimble curiosity that marks his work.

4. Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein (Henry Holt)
Weinstein’s book is perhaps the most important of the year for widely introducing a unique voice. Like Tyler, Weinstein comes at comics from the outside and has none of the baggage and stylistic tics that plague so many others. Hers is a clear, funny and humane voice and together with her gorgeous, evocative linework, it makes her a compelling talent.

5. The Squirrel Mother by Megan Kelso (Fantagraphics)
A wonderful collection of short stories by Megan Kelso. Pitch-perfect cartooning and closely observed tales of family, history and America make this a gem-like volume. Kelso is certainly one of our finest cartoonists.

6. Lucky by Gabrielle Bell (Drawn and Quarterly)
Bell has a wicked ear for dialogue and draws some of the most nuanced body language in comics. Her first book of mature work displays her talents to great effect. Despite the familiarity of the subject matter—20-something ennui—Bell makes it all new again with her eye for detail.

7. A Last Cry for Help by Dave Kiersh (Bodega)
This is a hilarious comic book version of a 1970s teen sex romp. Genuinely erotic in parts and always funny, Kiersh’s book is a delight.

8. Ghost of Hoppers by Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics)
Jaime remains the king of understated emotions and concise cartoon language. This wonderful book about hitting middle age and letting go of old memories is one of his finest works.

9. Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly), even in reprint form, demands respect. His liner notes and stellar covers make this re-serializing qualify as a “new book”. It provides an unparalleled insight into one of our most important artist’s feelings about his crucial work both then and now. More than just history, it feels like Brown asserting and reconstructing his identity as a cartoonist.


It’s been a great year for them. My favorites are Jeet Heer and Chris Ware’s superlative Gasoline Alley series and Dark Horse Comics’ Magnus Robot Fighter. About as far apart on the spectrum as you can go, but why not? Frank King and Russ Manning both understood body language and space extremely well, but put it in service to, um, very different content. Drawn and Quarterly’s Moomin book and Tatsumi series are also favorites, as well as Fantagraphics’ Popeye book.


Despite all the interest and activity from major publishers, this year once again demonstrates the virtues of small, brilliant publishers like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. Nurturing unique artists, growing with them, and releasing quality work remains the best (and oddly unique to these two companies!) business model. All the hype and money in the world can’t beat it.

And, I’d be remiss as a publisher and a critic if I didn’t mention Ninja by Brian Chippendale (PictureBox). I know it’s rather rude to put my own book on the list, but it’s how I really feel. In terms of formal daring and drawing, no other book this year has gone further with such success. Chippendale, like Gary Panter before him, uses drawing as a form of expression, turning comic visuals into a multi-layered medium for real mark making. His long form meditation on urban life, gentrification, war, friendship and violence is moving and profound.

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Canons and Blog Blargh


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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Well, Tim brought up an interesting point in his Monday post. He is quite right that I may have overshot with my comments and is also correct that Barry could stand with Spiegelman and Ware (as could, I would argue on a better day, Aline Kominsky Crumb and easily Julie Doucet). Any converstion about women-in-comics has to basically start with 1968 and move forward. There wasn’t much before then that rises above good, solid cartooning. And nothing on par with the likes of Herriman. But there is a ton after that. Of course, that’s the problem with exhibitions that arbitrarily settle on a number like 15. I understand the desire to want to create a canon (though I disagree with it–canons are so last century.) in order to provide a focus, but I think being a little loosey goosey with the numbers and adding Barry and the Hernandez Bros would have vastly improved the curators’ credibility.

History is a funny thing, yes. Melville and all that. Or Frank King and Tatsumi, for that matter. What’s fascinating about today’s history-making is that so many choces are guided by knowledgable cartoonists, not historians. Ware for King and Tomine for Tatsumi, for example. This has often been the case in other media, but what’s so interesting in this case is that there simply aren’t any historians or critics who command the same respect as Ware, Tomine, et al. I think that is changing, but slowly. And for now, I’m thrilled to have such pro-active (and wise) cartoonists leading the way into the past. And yes, who is to say who will pop up later? I think, for example, that in future years Rory Hayes will emerge as a definitive influence on the 90s and 00s and Gary Panter’s influence on visual culture in general will equal (if not surpass) Crumb’s. And along the way, some long lost female cartoonist from the 50s might emerge. I doubt it, but maybe.

Anyhow, the most interesting thing about the Masters show reaction was found in Sarah Boxer’s Artforum essay, in which she astutely pointed out that it wasn’t only the absence of women in the show but the way women were presented in all of the work in the show. That is, if I remember correctly, women were either absent or villains or cypher, which is an astute observation about comics in general. I wish I could remember a bit more of the argument…Anyhow, it’s an interesting point, and once that should be pondered a bit more.

Ok, over to you, Tim.

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