Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Push Man and Other Stories

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I've mentioned before how I would like to have a better understanding of manga, but for the most part, it eludes me.  When Drawn & Quarterly had their annual sale a few months back, I thought I'd give this collection of the earliest stories from the "grandfather of Japanese alternative comics" a try.

The Push Man contains sixteen stories from 1969 in one beautifully constructed hard cover volume.  The stories are for the most part, eight pages in length, with a couple of longer stories.  They've been reconstructed to read from left to right.

For the most part, these stories feature low-wage workers in Japan, who have difficult relationships with their wives or girlfriends, who in turn are usually bar girls.  Many of these stories end in betrayal or dissolution of the relationships, and I felt like there was a current of misogyny in many of these tales.  Of course, this stuff is very Japanese, and from a time just prior to Japan's massive technological growth and modernization, which makes the comics difficult to understand without some further explanation, which is not included.

Many of these stories touch on the same themes.  There are repeated images of sewers and rats, and (inexplicably and horrifyingly) fetuses that have been dumped in the sewer.  These stories also contain a rather raw approach to sexuality, and more homosexuality than I would have expected based on the time they are from.  Basically, these stories drove home to me that I don't know much about Japan, although it is a place I've always had an interest in.

Tatsumi's art is quite lovely - many of his establishing shots, which depict poor neighbourhoods or slums, are amazingly detailed and rendered.  I would like to check out some more of his work.

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