Tatsumi's brief, disturbing stories, originally published in 1969, have a tone somewhere between contemporary short fiction and EC Comics' old "shock" comics. Each hinges on some kind of prurient or sexually twisted situation: a man's bedridden lover turns out to be a physically mutated sex slave; an office worker puts on his girlfriend's makeup and clothes and has an affair with another woman; a man who disinfects telephones for a living calls a prostitute, but can't think of anything to do but pull out his disinfection kit. Produced over a short period of time, the stories are variations on a theme of social maladjustment. Tatsumi draws marvelously evocative settings, and his stories flow with dreamlike ambiguity, speeding toward the inevitable tragedies at their ends, but his characters appear practically identical. This reinforces both the repetitive nature of his themes and Tatsumi's view of the common man's continuing struggle in a merciless world of menial jobs, impotence and abortions. Tatsumi is known as the "grandfather of Japanese alternative comics," and this is the first in a proposed series of authorized English-language collections of his work. His work anticipates American alternative comics, making it clear why American cartoonist Adrian Tomine, who edited this collection, was attracted to the work.
The Push Man and Other Stories is a collection of Yoshihiro Tatsumi manga from 1969 collated. The works as a whole are refreshing, humorous, engaging and evocative, yet darkly cynical of both underlying human nature and contextual concerns of the time.
Each story focuses on a lower class man, each initially just a normal person in the framework of a modern Tokyo, each subsequently drawn into a downward spiral of depravity and perversion in a city gone mad with the Shouwa reinvigoration.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a name becoming increasingly recognised in the west. This is not least because of the efforts of Canadian comics publishing company Drawn and Quarterly, whom in 2005 began an effort to publish work/s of Tatsumi's each year. Born in 1935, Tatsumi began his career in manga in the 1955. In 1957, Tatsumi first used the term he would become famous for, 'Gekiga'- literally 'dramatic pictures'. This style constitutes the combination of a largely filmatic application of visual construction, as well as a noir or hard-boiled narrative construction divergent from the formulaic Shonen/Shojo/etc found in mainstream manga magazines and the popular anthologies found in manga rental stores. Deriving from a Herculean career spanning over fifty years, Tatsumi has been called 'the father of alternative manga', perhaps a little rashly. Penning innumerable manga, running the publishing of a number of serials, and maintaining manga stores, Tatsumi has been one of the absolute linchpins of post-war manga in Japan.
To simply make those statements probably needs a little explanation though. Manga is a medium born from multiple influences- western comics and cartoons, newspaper comics (both political and situational), hokusei and other 'traditional' manga, various oriental influences such as Buddhist scrolls, and perhaps most tellingly; woodblock prints which bear the strongest resemblance of form. These woodblock prints, produced for preceding centuries, were in tone educational and slightly comedic. Which is exactly what the manga industry would try to be at first. But with the aid of figureheads such as Tezuka Osamu, manga from 1946 onwards started to be seen more as a form of visual entertainment with a coded plot, virtually all adventures. This would immediately cause the rise of stories revolving around super robots, talking animals, ninja, pirates, aliens, etc. The kinds of things for young boys. Within a matter of a few years, similar stories in tone were being produced for young girls.
Yet overwhelmingly there was a lack of mature manga. It would take until late fifties for the conception of 'Seinen' manga, manga for young men, which overwhelmingly was simply violent instead of thought-provoking or meaningful. Similarly, Josei, manga for young women, was founded in the early sixties and infamously began verging into salubrious territory. Garo, the most famous and one of the first manga magazines for alternative works, was founded in 1964, and only began releasing relevant works from 1967 onwards.
The drought of mature manga up to the mid sixties was because of the strict editing and regulations, even of the relatively more free market for 'manga rental' (kashihon) shops. The pressures of the sixties, the rising vocalisation of political matters, is most likely the overarching reason for the publication of mature manga from various sources. Manga in the current day has little to do with the sixties however. The liberalisation and natural variance of manga only became greater as time went on, and now, nearly anything can and will be published. While codes and conventions are still as pronounced, or perhaps even more-so, the dexterity of the medium is at its greatest. The creative landscape of manga in 1969, when the content of 'Push Man and Other Stories' was composed, is as illustrated, a completely different world.
In Japan, Tatsumi is not as widely respected compared to his peers as the recent renaissance of his work in the West may suggest. Gekiga started in the manga rental business, and would become adopted by many mangaka, seen as superior to Tatsumi; the likes of Yoshiharu Tsuge and Shirato Sanpei for instance. Yet it was Tatsumi who underpinned the definition of Gekiga, having worked tirelessly since the beginning of his career in 1955 to concrete its delineation. In 1969, the year of Push Man, Tatsumi was working as an overseer of a Gekiga publication. He would have to concurrently make time to fulfil a commission for two stories a month at eight pages each in 'Young Gekiga Adult'. With the exception of 'Who Are You?' and 'My Hitler', this comprises the contents of Push Man and Other Stories.
In these eight page stories, the essence of a Gekiga story is perhaps at its greatest. Each story is open-ended, yet with a definite conclusion, a rebalancing of equilibrium. It is the creative height of Tatsumi's attempt to identify the shortcomings of a Japan in an economic boom (at the cost of many). And while many of the stories take cues from Western influences, and other Japanese media, the clarity of thought, of message, found within Tatsumi's short stories is breathtaking. Both deeply depressing, and celebrating life, the varying stories both sicken and humble. Such content as aborted foetus', bestiality, sexual depravity, disability, murder- find their spiritual home in Push Man and Other Stories.
The style of Gekiga is fairly synonymous with a 'G' pen, that is thick lines. Supporting this is much use of blocks of black in opposition to light. Most importantly visually though is a choice of frames that is similar to a storyboard of a film. Often with numerous panels, and always extremely conscious of framing, angle, light, mise-en-scene, Gekiga was similar to a noir, though also taking reference from directors such as Mizoguchi, Shohei, and Ozu. Faces do not betray many emotions, a handy trick such contemporary mangaka as Ashinano adopt, as it begets interpretation in place of lurid explicity. Much use of props and setting is adopted, the intricate trappings of dirty life. Usage of simple metaphors such as people employed with repair, cleaning- dealing with the byproduct of humans, further a cynical out-take on life, as well as the only slightly more elusive usage of youth, water, mutagen, etc.
The propensity of the stories in Push Man can be obdurately summarised in but a few sentences. It is from this brevity that both praise and criticism of Tatsumi is usually aimed. In totality they are short, blunt, to the point. Unlike many more auspicious works which are lyrical or poetic or swimming in symbolism, as such that length is not as much a defining point as interpretation.
As well many define Tatsumi's work as homogeneous. While it is true that the urban sprawl, the perversion of a collectivist society, the woes of the lower class, are themes pervasive in much of his work- and everpresent in this collation- the nuances of the varying narratives provide a continued fascination. Tatsumi's career has provided multiple variances in output, from celebrating traditional artforms, to his recent well received autobiography 'A Drifting Life'. As such, featuring a collation of work from only one year of a truly epic career can inspire myopic judgements of Tatsumi's canon.
This should not be of too much concern however. A highly idiosyncratic, somewhat reticent style, especially with content featuring deviant behaviours in 'the faces of a crowd', is something that will quite naturally inspire the ire or outrage of those sensitive to such things as 'sensibility', 'moral decline', and other demarcations of unacceptable behaviours. And to some extent, these things are required.
Push Man is 'cudgel'-like. It will knock you in the head with a fatalistic fog of aimless depravity in a modern Tokyo. Many enjoy it, many find it crude or unwieldy. Yet it is an important part of manga history, and Tatsumi is a figure becoming vogue in the Western comics world, such as that his work would be defined as 'mature', 'thought-provoking', 'evocative'. The fact that he can do this within the space of just a few pages surely must be of some merit.read more