Over four decades ago, Yoshihiro Tatsumi expanded the horizons of comics storytelling by using the visual language of manga to tell gritty, literary stories about the private lives of everyday people. He has been called "the grandfather of Japanese alternative comics" and has influenced generations of cartoonists around the world. Now the visionary creator of "The Push Man and Other Stories" and "Good-bye" has turned his incisive, unflinching gaze upon himself. Over ten years in the making, "A Drifting Life" is Tatsumis' most ambitious, personal, and heart felt work: an autobiographical bildungsroman in comics form. Using his life long obsession with comics as a frame work, Tatsumi weaves a complex story that encompasses family dynamics, Japanese culture and history, first love, the intricacies of the manga industry, and most importantly, what it means to be an artist. Alternately humorous, enlightening, and haunting, this is the masterful summartion of a fascinating life and a historic career.
Gekiga Hyouryuu was published in English as A Drifting Life by Drawn & Quarterly on April 14, 2009. It was also published in Polish as Życie. Powieść graficzna by Wydawnictwo Komiksowe in one-volume edition.
A Drifting Life tells an interesting tale. It falls into many of the pitfalls you would expect from a non-fiction work, in terms of irregular pacing, as well as not having any real arc to the story. However, it still manages to be incredibly well put together despite these shortcomings, and I had fun reading through it.
The tone of the story is often an uplifting and motivating one, with a few darker elements here & there. The whole story seems to work, though, as it feels very realistic. These aren't the trials and tribulations of fictional characters, but actual drama that happened to actual people,
and the fact that some of that drama comes out of nowhere makes it even more striking when it does happen, and it makes the characters feel very realistic.
Speaking of the characters, I really enjoyed them. It feels a little odd to even call them characters, since they're all based on real people. However, they each have their own, unique personality that lends itself to the overall story really well. I feel like this is probably the strongest element of the book, and it's what kept me most interested in it as I got deeper and deeper in.
Aside from that, I also really enjoyed the setting. The book brings you right into that era of Japan, and it's interesting to see how Japan develops around the characters as well. There's also a lot of references to classic manga and artists in here, and it was pretty interesting just seeing all the references to these books and their creators, even if I'm unfamiliar with a lot of them.
The art is somewhat simple, but looks really great, evoking the style of many manga of the era. The backgrounds are drawn wonderfully, and have a lot of detail put into them, but I think my favorite thing about the art is the character design, which splits the difference between cartoony and realistic art styles, perfectly.
This book is easily recommendable to anybody who has any interest in manga history or manga creation, and also recommendable to anybody who just likes a good slice-of-life drama.