Sunday, December 16, 2012

Black Blizzard

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

I really enjoyed reading A Drifting Life, manga legend Yoshihiro Tatsumi's gigantic manga memoir a couple of years ago.  It portrayed his early days in the manga industry, a business that he helped shape with his resolve to write darker, more adult stories for a more adult audience.

In that book, the act of his creating Black Blizzard is a watershed moment for the young Tatsumi, and I was curious to read this book.  Luckily, the fine people at Drawn & Quaterly decided that this book was deserving of a North American edition, and so I was able to get the chance.

Black Blizzard is a Japanese noir story set in the late 1950s.  It opens with a young pianist showing concern that he may have murdered another person, although he was drunk at the time, and does not remember what happened.  He is arrested, but while being transported alongside another prisoner, to whom he is handcuffed, the train derails.  The two men make good on this chance for freedom, and end up spending hours together in a forest ranger's cabin, hiding from the police and trying to get warm (they've just walked through the titular blizzard).

The young man tells the hardened criminal his story, one of love, music, and the cruel ringmaster father of his circus performing girlfriend who does not want them to be together.  Later, desperate to be free, the older criminal contrives to drug the younger, and cut off his hand.

The story is pretty simple in its design and execution, but for all that, it is effective.  This is a classic noir story, and it illustrates how little that genre has changed in sixty years.  Tatsumi's early art is much cruder than what was in A Drifting Life, but there is a charm to this work by a young man looking to stretch the possibilities of an entire medium.  As a story, this is entertaining.  As a historical document, this book is essential.

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