Manga Friday: Yoshihiro Tatsumi says ‘Good-Bye’
This week, I’m giving over all of Manga Friday to the manga I was most looking forward to this year – a collection of dark, psychological stories from the creator who invented gekiga but who has been almost forgotten at home.
By Yoshihiro Tatsumi; Translated by Yuji Oniki; Edited by Adrian Tomine
Drawn & Quarterly, June 2008, $19.95
This is the third in Drawn & Quarterly’s series of books reprinting Tatsumi’s groundbreaking gekiga stories of forty years ago; this book reprints and translates stories from 1971-72, as The Push Man and Other Stories had stories from 1969 and Abandon the Old in Tokyo drew from 1970. It opens with an introduction by Frederik L. Schodt, author of Manga! Manga!, and ends with a Q&A conversation between Tatsumi and Adrian Tomine, the series editor. You won’t be able to find it in stores for about another two months — though better comics shops will probably let you add it to your pull list, if you ask nicely. (And online booksellers, as usual, are already taking preorders.)
Like Push Man and Abandon, Good-Bye is made up of short stories, most of them originally published in cheap "rental comics" anthologies, distributed through chains of stores throughout Japan. (Though this period also saw Tatsumi finally break through into the much higher-paying magazine market.) The nine stories here range from about fifteen to thirty pages in length, and are mostly set in then-contemporary Japan, with a few flashbacks to the immediate post-war era.
The first story, "Hell," sets the Tatsumi tone right away. An unnamed military photographer — most of Tatsumi’s protagonists are unnamed everymen, and they often have a family resemblance, with the same staring eyes and resigned faces — remembers arriving in Hiroshima immediately after the atomic bomb, and taking a photo that became famous: the shadow of a young man massaging his mother’s back, burned into the stone wall by the blast that killed them. But, since this is a Tatsumi story, it’s not that simple — after the photographer has become famous for that picture, he learns that the real story behind that image is quite different. And so even an attempt to show the horrors of war is twisted into something tawdry and cheap.
Tatsumi’s stories are about ordinary people: salarymen at the end of their working lives, introverted young men obsessed with sex, downtrodden hostesses trying to stay true to their incarcerated boyfriends. They’re not precisely losers, but none of them are winners. Life has knocked them all around, and just getting through another day is about as much as any of them can hope for.
What makes Tatsumi’s ’70s work different from the current crop of comics miserabilists is his utter lack of interest in autobiography; his eye is turned outward rather than inward, looking at the world around him and finding something very wrong with it. The same face reappears, perhaps as the same person, perhaps not, making up Tatsumi’s repertory company of the urban downtrodden.
I still think the stories in Abandon the Old in Tokyo, particularly "Beloved Monkey" and "The Hole," are the best of Tatsumi’s work to be translated, but "Hell" and the title story here are nearly on that level, and as good as anyone’s best comics stories. And Good-Bye as a whole is a stunning achievement, a collection of dark, realistic stories from a side of the world we rarely see.
Tatsumi is one of the greats of world comics, a creator with a fearless, unblinking focus on the sadness and pain of ordinary life, and any publication of Tatsumi’s work in America is a cause for celebration. But it’s doubly exciting to learn, at the very end of this book, that D&Q’s next Tatsumi project will be his massive A Drifting Life. I can hardly wait.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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