Time Out Chicago | Jonathan Messinger | April 30, 2009
A DRIFTING LIFE reviewed by Time Out Chicago
It’s been only a few years since Japanese comics icon Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work made it to our shores, thanks to Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly. And yet, after just a few books from his 50-year career, he drops this brick on us: an 850-page graphic autobiography, tracking his beginning as a mangakan through his life and career.
Born in 1935, Tatsumi entered a bellicose Japan, and his earliest memories find his country searching for an identity after Hiroshima, Hirohito’s surrender, and the dissolution of the military. Tatsumi’s older brother was one of many sick adolescents, largely homebound by pleurisy. And without a structured economy after the war, his father sold repurposed goods from the American military, door-to-door. Tatsumi, only 12 years old, began to draw “postcard comics,” four-panel manga cartoons that he entered into various contests and which began to earn him some steady prize money and growing recognition.
As the book progresses, and Tatsumi’s career takes off against the backdrop of the ever-morphing Japanese culture, he never explicitly makes the connection between his work and the politics of his country (or his family). Like many other manga artists, Tatsumi showcases the exaggerated expressions—the mouths open at impossible angles and the practically planetary eyes—of the genre, but he notably leaves that behind in the most devastating moments. And it’s then when the reader’s jaw drops.