12.18.2010

The 12 Days of Comics: 2010 - Day 6


"Black Blizzard" by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (Drawn & Quarterly)
Demographic: Manga Historian
Selected by: Justin Giampaoli
Subsequent Interview by: Ryan Claytor

Justin: After your last selection, I thought this might be a nice segue into a book called "Black Blizzard" from Drawn & Quarterly, edited by Adrian Tomine (“Optic Nerve”). As you know, Ryan, I’m a big Yoshihiro Tatsumi fan. I, like many, consider him to be the father of Modern Manga, and this is the one influential book where you can see a shift in tone begin to take hold. The material presented here in this 2010 volume released under Tomine’s watchful eye was originally published in 1956, but it’s an interesting ephemeral artifact to read when you do so in context.

Prior to the shift, Manga had largely been comprised of short gag strips done purely for humor, but Tatsumi felt that approach was extremely limiting and he wanted to demonstrate the versatility of the medium by ushering in a term he coined, “gekiga,” or “dramatic pictures,” and expand the burgeoning Japanese industry to include more adult genres. It's an odd bit of synchronicity, but this was roughly the same time period when Will Eisner started toying around with the term “graphic novel” as a way to differentiate comics with more adult themes. “Black Blizzard” was one of his first major works to attempt this shift in tone.

On the surface, it’s a pretty straightforward murder mystery, focusing on a pair of ex-cons on the run, but structurally you can see the remnants of the model Tatsumi was attempting to replace. The first few pages of the book are done in color to attract new readers when it was originally serialized. There are even some vestigial sight gags and a slightly cartoony vibe thrashing around in their death knell as the adult themes supplant them. Tatsumi was really fascinated with noir, and you can see him pushing “Black Blizzard” toward being a psychological thriller that functions on a deeper level. He employs very Hitchcock-ian pacing and framing. American cinema was hugely influential to him during the reconstruction of Japan post-WWII.

So, that's my pitch for “Black Blizzard.” It's $19.95 for a 144 page softcover. It's a good chunk of entertainment for a relatively low price tag. In my opinion, this is essential reading for any fan of Modern Manga. This book represents a pivotal moment that affects the tone of the industry even today.

Ryan: I’m trying to recall the Tatsumi book that Candace and I bought a while back. It was either “Abandon the Old in Tokyo” or “Good-Bye.” Regardless, while it was a really interesting look into Manga history for me, the harsh tone of the book made it a pretty awful gateway comic book for her. For a time, we were reading a short story each night from that book together. She ended up losing interest about halfway through because she felt the characters weren’t very relatable and many of their actions were pretty despicable (themes of adultery and murder were commonplace). Does “Black Blizzard” explore the same sort of themes?

Justin: It could have been “The Push-Man & Other Stories” too; all of them have their disturbing moments. “Black Blizzard” does contain some of those elements, but they’re handled much more topically, referential, and even lighthearted. For example, a character might explain “there was a murder,” but you never see it occur on panel. While “Black Blizzard” works for someone fairly well versed in Manga or Tatsumi specifically, I would actually recommend “A Drifting Life” as a gateway to Yoshihiro Tatsumi. It’s got a deep autobiographical perspective that’s right up your alley, and is basically Tatsumi telling his own story and putting context around the historical industry events I described above.

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