Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi covers about 15 years of his life story, starting in 1945 when he was 10 years old. Tatsumi chose to alter some names in the book, most notably his own. He calls himself Hiroshi Katsumi.

It was nice to pair reading this book (at work during breaks) with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (at home). A double dose of Japanese culture. Tatsumi’s illustrations of himself stepping up into his family home’s doorway and sliding the paper screens shut between rooms were exactly how David Mitchell described Nagasaki architecture in the 19th century.

Tatsumi’s depictions of custom and dress are delightful too. For example, Hiroshi bows in apology to someone to whom he is speaking over the telephone. In another panel, a publisher sitting across a table from Hiroshi bows towards him in thanks while still in a partly seated position. Traditional wooden clogs were apparently still very commonly worn in the 1950s.

I also learned that censorship opposition to comics was not restricted to North America. In 1960, an organization of Japanese bookshop owners, in cooperation with police, attempted to eradicate “immoral books.” Their definition of immoral included "any book with pages, two thirds or more of which is without text."

Even if, like me, you don’t have a special interest in the history of manga, there is much to enjoy. The depth in this autobiography comes from the portrayal of the artist’s passion for his work and his efforts to overcome selfdoubt.

No comments: