8.02.2010

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly): Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s 1956 noir thriller was chronicled in A Drifting Life, and now D&Q publishes this long out of print work for the first time in English, helmed again by “series” editor Adrian Tomine. Probably the most profound observation, which comes out in full explanation during the interview in the back of the book, is the reasoning behind the inclusion of the first few colored pages. These pages are evidence of the manga transition of the target demographic from kids to adults; Tatsumi himself is largely credited with ushering in this more sophisticated tone of “gekiga,” or “dramatic pictures.” The basic story revolves around a pair of escaped convicts on the run, one a pianist and one a card shark. The focus on the events leading up to that point are told in flashback, almost exclusively from the POV of the pianist (Susumu) searching for a long lost love (Saeko), which ultimately embroiled him in a frame up for murder. I thought it was interesting how the pianist and the card shark are almost mirror images of each other, from completely opposite walks of life, even being visually depicted as binary opposites at times, ala Mad’s Spy vs. Spy strip, one in black and one in white. The duo even begin to suffer from a big of Stockholm Syndrome, wherein as captors of each other, they begin to identify with their tormentor/captive. I found the text, surprisingly, a little on the expository side. One example is a newspaper man who answers the phone and then blurts out information directly to the audience. “What?! A train’s been derailed?! Two murder suspects on board have fled?!” It’s almost like those old Lassie episodes where Lassie barks frantically and Timmy’s dad says “What? Timmy’s in trouble?! He’s trapped in the old mine shaft and needs our help?! Let’s go!” Tatsumi’s pencils show their age and the speed under which the book was originally produced; there’s more plumpness to the line weight and the sets are much simpler than his later work, with more sparse backgrounds. I consider myself a Tatsumi fan so this will sound especially blasphemous, but the book kind of fell apart for me at the end. It concludes suddenly with a rushed, tidy, almost too coincidentally convenient ending. It feels like the book was originally serialized, was suddenly cancelled, and with little notice Tatsumi was told to wrap up the story in the last couple of pages of whichever issue he happened to be working on. Out of nowhere, the card shark’s daughter is revealed to be Saeko, Susumu gets away from captivity without losing his handcuffed hand, the real killer is revealed for the murder Susumu was framed for, having conveniently been a part of the same circus Susumu was involved with, the card shark gets to reunite with his daughter, Susumu is reunited with Saeko, and they all live happily ever after! All in the space of like two pages! It’s just way too neat, tidy, and conveniently connected with no prior clues along the way that allow the audience to be engaged in a more participatory fashion. Considering that it’s more than 50 years old and storytelling techniques have certainly evolved, not to mention the fact that this was early in this creator’s lifetime tenure of work, it may be possible to overlook some of this clunky delivery and appreciate it more as a kitschy, ephemeral, transitory piece of work from the venerable creator. However, judging by modern standards, on behalf of an audience who has seen nearly every conceivable “twist” ending repeatedly and can anticipate overused structural denouement, it simply shows its age. The last minute revelations pushed me right out of what would have been a fast paced thriller which played like a short Hitchcockian film. As much as I wanted to like it, and it pains me to say about this master manga scribe, this leaned more toward being a miss than the typical hits I’ve come to expect from Yoshihiro Tatsumi. If the work itself is flawed by viewing with a modern eye, it still manages to establish credibility points when you consider the historical context of the work, the new era rushed in that it symbolizes, and the lasting effect it had on decades of comics to come. Grade B.

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