A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by The Austin Chronicle

New in Graphic Novels

The Austin Chronicle    |    Wayne Alan Brenner    |    June 22, 2009

What happened to the popular art form called "manga" in Japan after the Second World War? One of the major things that happened to it was a person, the artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, creator of The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo – recently published by Drawn & Quarterly under the editorial direction of Adrian Tomine. A biography of Tatsumi, young founder of the Children's Manga Association and later instigator of the more adult-oriented gekiga movement in Japanese comics, would make for a fine, personally and historically revealing story ... if only someone of sufficient skill would tackle it. Ah, look: The man's gone and done it himself, in panel after panel of distinctive black and white.
This manga autobiography, A Drifting Life, is the result of a decade's work by the acclaimed artist and is thick with details of his family life, his career in the industry, the industry itself, and the greater cultural milieu in which it all occurred. The book is physically thick, too, the sort of thing even Gojira would have trouble surviving if it were thrown with any force at all. It can be enjoyed as a personal journal, as a tenaciously subjective history of postwar Japan, as an example of how to structure a long-form, pictorial narrative. Or you could never actually read the thing, even though that would be your loss: Just keep it on your coffee table because the cover, crafted by editor Tomine from a single interior panel, is so lovely in its near-monochrome simplicity.

"Wow," thinks our protagonist, seeing his first TV in 1953, "soon we'll be able to watch movies at home. When that happens, manga may be doomed."

Doubtful, ever, when it's as good as this.

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