Promises Kept

Los Angeles Japanese Daily News    |    Audrey Shiomi    |    July 22, 2006

Gekiga cartoonist Yoshihiro Tatsumi heads to San Diego’s Comic-Con convention.

Audrey Shiomi/Rafu Shimpo

Growing up in a dismal post-war society, young Yoshihiro Tatsumi did whatever it took to entertain himself, so as it didn’t cost him anything.

Baseball was out of the question since it required a mitt. Learning music required an instrument. Drawing seemed to be the most practical hobby as it only cost him a pen and paper.

“I wasn’t very good at it. I never even had my work posted on the classroom bulletin board (reserved for only the best students),” manga artist Tatsumi said Thursday evening during a Q&A session with fans at UCLA’s Hammer Museum.

Born Osaka in 1935, Tatsumi went on to influence generations of Japanese cartoonists with what’s described as a more mature brand of cartooning called gekiga, literally meaning “dramatic pictures.”

“Optic Nerve” artist Adrian Tomine was moved as a teenager by Tatsumi’s poignant narratives of life in post-World War II Japan. This week, Tomine accompanies Tatsumi in his inaugural visit to the United States to promote the release of his English-translated manga compilation, “Abandon the Old in Tokyo.”

As well, “Atom Boy” creator Osamu Tezuka was deeply influenced by Tatsumi’s work, despite being seven years his senior. The two artists, in fact, had developed a mutual respect over the decades both as colleagues and as friends.

“I’d found out Tezuka lived close by and so I began visiting him and asking him to critique my work. I was a 7th grader and he was still a college student,” Tatsumi said of one of his first encounters with Japan’s most revered manga artist and animator.

Once, in hopes of attending a comic convention in France, Tatsumi caught wind of a “buy ten, get one free” airfare deal. He devised a plan and wrote to everyone he knew asking if they’d like to buy a ticket. No one replied back, except for Tezuka.

“He said the two of us should go to France together,” Tatsumi said. “When I heard this, I was so excited I became completely distracted from my work.”

Tezuka and Tatsumi eventually met up in France, and over dinner Tezuka told the young artist of an even bigger comic convention held every year in San Diego.

“So we told each other we’d go next time,” he said.
Years passed and Tezuka and Tatsumi crossed paths only on occasion, always to remind the other of their promise. Years later, in 1989, Tezuka died of stomach cancer.

On Thursday evening, Tatsumi described his first trip to Los Angeles like being in heaven. “It’s so much different from Tokyo,” he said.

The following day, Tatsumi and Tomine traveled south for the internationally-renown Comic-Con convention, where they will be signing books and greeting fans this weekend. With an old friend fresh in his thoughts, Tatsumi is sure to enjoy the long-awaited trip.

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