12.20.2009

My 13 Favorite Things of 2009 (Part 6 of 17)

A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly): Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s autobiographical masterpiece is a weighty 850+ pages, following the post-war manga boom that included Tatsumi’s own desire to differentiate his tonally serious gekiga (“dramatic pictures”) style from the larger body of whimsical and gag-oriented manga strips of the era. The overall dramatic thrust of this work chronicles Tatsumi’s life in general, but also captures one of the fathers of modern manga adopting a serious tone and stories capable of emotional gravitas, not just childish antics. What I most admire about his work, and what is most readily apparent in this particular book, is the “social recorder” he can be from a cultural anthropology perspective. Moreso than in the other books translated and overseen by Drawn & Quarterly and Adrian Tomine, Tatsumi is adept at capturing the essence of a culture, time period, event, or shift in thinking simply by the act of documenting it in an unbiased fashion. I think it holds more meaning to more people because of the wider interpretation if affords vs. a more limiting authorial explanation. I was discussing Tatsumi casually with Grant Lee (friend and artist of Blood Orange) the other day and making this very point. Tatsumi rarely editorializes; he simply lays pictures and events out on the page for you and lets you draw your own conclusions, you’re never told how to think or feel about a particular passage. Instead, it’s an open invitation to explore your own emotions and reactions to what’s happening on the page. It was something I hadn’t realized, but that method of storytelling really informed the telling of Blood Orange when Grant pointed it out to me. I suppose I was unconsciously influenced by A Drifting Life, having read it right before I started working on the script. One of my biggest pet peeves with working in a contemporary art museum is unsuspecting visitors looking at a piece of art and asking “what does it mean?” or “what is the artist saying with this piece?” I always playfully answer, “well, what do you think it means?” or “how does it [some aspect of the content or execution] make you feel?” I play that game a while and then eventually come around to telling them that “good art” (if such a thing can be simplified and qualified in such terms) doesn’t tell you what the artist thinks or feels, it doesn’t tell you what to think or feel, it asks what the audience thinks or feels. Tatsumi is that rare artist who doesn’t preach a message, but invites you to consider your own thoughts about whatever subject matter he’s become fascinated and inspired by, and that process lends a timeless and enduring quality to his work.

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