Publishers Weekly | Calvin Reid | April 4, 2006
Publisher’s Weekly on YOSHIHIRO TATSUMI
It looks as though 2006 is shaping up as the year of Yoshihiro Tatsumi, the pioneering manga-ka whose idiosyncratic and grimly naturalistic manga works had languished in semiobscurity for decades until the publication last fall of The Push Man and other Stories by Drawn & Quarterly. Not only will Tatsumi be honored as a special guest artist at this year’s San Diego Comic-con International, but Japanese horror novelist Koji Suzuki, whose bestselling J-horror novels The Ring and Dark Water have been turned into hit American movies, is writing the introduction to Abandon the Old in Tokyo, a new volume of Tatsumi stories that will be published by Drawn & Quarterly in September 2006.
In addition, his work is featured on the cover of the spring issue of Paris Review and included in the same issue, and his work will also be used on the cover of Penguin Classics’ new edition of Rashomon. Tatsumi also has new editions of his works coming out in Japan and Europe, and he is close to completing an autobiography that will be called A Drifting Life in Gekiga.
Gekiga is the term Tatsumi used for his style of manga—straightforward and realistic stories depicting the grim monotony of Japanese urban working-class life. Tatsumi coined the term in the late 1950s to distinguish his work from commercial Japanese manga. His work is considered a precursor to the American alternative or literary comics movement of the 1980s. Initiated and edited by the American art comics artist Adrian Tomine, The Push Man and Other Stories was the first authorized release of an English edition of Tatsumi’s work. (An unauthorized collection of his work was sporadically available in the 1980s.)
"Pretty good for a cartoonist who was unknown by the North American populace last year," says Drawn & Quarterly publicity director Peggy Burns. She says Push Man was reviewed, "all over the world, from the Japan Times to the Calgary Herald to the Washington Post."
"I always said that Tatsumi's work was manga for the New Yorker set," says Burns. "But the Paris Review will do just fine." Burns says The Push Man was published in September 2005 and sold 7,000 copies by December. D&Q is going back to press on The Push Man and this September, the house will release Abandon the Old in Tokyo in a hardcover with a 12,000-copy first printing. D&Q plans advertising in the pop and fringe culture magazine Giant Robot, which is also preparing an extensive interview with Tatsumi.
Tomine, the author of such critically acclaimed comics works as Summer Blonde and Sleepwalk, initiated the Tatsumi book series and edited the publication of Push Man. He says he is "thrilled" that Tatsumi's work has been discovered by a new generation of readers in and outside of Japan. He said the Paris Review will feature "a portfolio of Tatsumi's art, a sampling of some of his most evocative pages. And the editors chose to run the art untranslated, so it's one of the few places where American readers can see Tatsumi's art in it's original state."
Abandon the Old in Tokyo is also edited by Tomine. "The plan for now is to have each volume in our series represent the best work from one year in Tatsumi's prolific career," says Tomine. The stories in Abandon are from 1970.
"The Push Man was the work of a cartoonist finding his own distinct voice or style,"” says Tomine, "and Abandon is the work of an artist who has achieved a certain level of mastery and is now ready to experiment and push himself." And while some readers found The Push Manto be "fairly dark in tone," Tomine continued, "in some of the Abandon stories, Tatsumi goes much further in that direction. Some go beyond 'gritty realism' and into the realm of gothic horror. In this regard, it's perfect that we were able to get Koji Suzuki to write this book's introduction."
Nevertheless, the stories in Abandon are much more comic. "There is a new level of humor on display, as well as a greater expression of human empathy. There are a couple stories that are extremely comedic and satirical, and several others that will just break your heart," Tomine explains. "The stories in Abandon are much longer and this really allows Tatsumi to bring his characters and settings to life. There are panels in Abandon that are absolutely breathtaking."
Although he has been instrumental in the publication of D&Q's Tatsumi series, Tomine says all credit for the revival of interest in the artist should go to Tatsumi and his works. "I feel like I just got the ball rolling," says Tomine. "I know for a fact that there are many people who bought The Push Man, but have no real interest in my comics. Any success should be attributed to the quality of the work. It's an honor to have helped in some small capacity, but the real reward for me is just being able to finally read more of Tatsumi's amazing stories."