Dec 8, 2011

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi (plus Indie Lit Awards & Bochus Yule)

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

A Drifting Life is an 834 pages autobiography by renowned alternative manga creator Yoshihiro Tatsumi, whose career spans over fifty years. The book focuses on the author’s youth, so it’s set in late 1940s and 1950s Japan. We follow Hiroshi Katsumi (Tatsumi’s alter-ego in the book) from a schoolboy in Osaka who draws four-panel comics and sends them to magazine competitions, to an established artist in Tokyo who is determined to find new forms of expression and revolutionise the medium he works in.

One of the most interesting things about A Drifting Life is the fact that it offers so much insight into the aftermath of WW2 in Japan. Tatsumi begins each chapter by highlighting a major historical event happening at the time: the end of the war, the eventual withdrawal of the US army, the reconstruction, the economic boom, and so on. These slices of history help illuminate Katsumi’s creative journey, and they simultaneously draw attention to the fact that art does not occur in a vacuum. Some of my favourite scenes, for example, where the ones where coming across something new in either art of life made Katsumi want to create better and more innovative art himself. The influence of Eastern and Western cinema is visible in his work, as is that of the hardboiled detective novels which were then becoming popular in Japan, and of the classics his brother introduces him to, like The Count of Monte Cristo.

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

A Drifting Life is an autobiography, a history of the manga industry, and perhaps most of all a book about creativity. It’s a story about a young artist finding his vision, and then struggling to stick to it despite outside pressures and commercial interests. It gives readers a vivid glimpse of the effort involved in making comics as culturally prominent and thematically diverse as they are in Japan today. It was necessary for someone to challenge the limits of what was believed to be possible for the medium to achieve, and Tatsumi was one of the people who did just that.

As you can see from the examples I’ve included, the art in A Drifting Life is expressive and detailed. The graphic format makes this a relatively quick read despite its huge size, but about two third of the way into the book I did begin to feel its length. A Drifting Life is the perfect book for manga aficionados — I’m not one (or not yet, anyway), but I have enough of an interest in comics in general to have found all the detail about the technical innovations and the process of pushing the format further worth reading about. Still, I suspect that being more knowledgeable about the Japanese comics industry would have enhanced my appreciation for this book.

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that A Drifting Life is only for committed manga fans, as nothing could be further from the truth. This is also a book for anyone interested in the creative process in general and in Japanese history and culture in particular. It shows the context of the development of an art form that has been growing in importance for decades.

A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

My one qualm with A Drifting Life is that I would have liked to see women being something other than temptresses, naked models, or tea fetchers — but the world of the book is one where gender roles were very rigidly defined. A Drifting Life is not a book that would pass the Bechdel test, but it does what it set out to do remarkably well.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s story has been adapted into a Singaporean animated film, Tatsumi, which has been doing the film festival circuit and is due to be released to the general public in my part of the world next year. I’m very curious to watch it.

Tatsumi 2011 film

Reviewed at: Lindy Reads and Reviews

(Yours?)

Affiliates disclosure: if you buy a book through one of my affiliates links I will get 5%.


Two more things: first of all, I wanted to remind you that you can nominate your favourite speculative fiction from 2011 for the Indie Lit Awards until the end of the month. We are not dividing categories by target age group, so Adult’s, Children’s and Young Adult fiction all count. You can also nominate books in other categories, of course — any reader with a valid e-mail address can nominate up to five books they love per category by filling out the appropriate forms.

Bochus Yule I
Secondly, you should all head over to The Literary Omnivore and read all about the first annual Bochus Yule, an opportunity for readers to show their libraries some love and support during these difficult times. I’m planning to do a proper post about this next week, but in the meantime I wanted to help spread the word. The more people participate or post about it, the greater the difference we can make.

11 comments:

  1. I am not into manga, and have read very few graphic novels, but I'm very interested in the creative process and those illustrations look just stunning. So I'm adding this to my TBR and hoping my library might have a copy...

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  3. Ah so this is the book that the animated film is based on! I've heard of the film but didn't quite look into the book - presuming that it would be too manga-ish (while I enjoy graphic novels, I don't really read much manga). Thanks for the review. It's made me want to at least give this book a try instead of just brushing it off as 'too manga' (if there is such a thing!).

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  4. I bet my nephew and son would love this book! Thanks for the gift idea!

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  5. Hm. If it was about Hayao Miyazaki, I'd be all over this book; but I don't think I've read any of this guy's work, and the fact that women are such a small part of the book quite frankly puts me off.

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  6. Jeane: Fingers crossed that it does :)

    olduvaireads: Don't worry, it's definitely accessible readers not too used to manga!

    Kathy: Happy to have helped!

    Heidenkind: I would LOVE a book like this about Miyazaki *daydreams*.

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  7. Im intrigued by this work. I only know the very popular mangas that seem to be everywhere and I have to say I don't like the drawing style at all. But the images you posted look great, especially the first one. Hope this one turns up in the bookstore so I can look through it.

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  8. Bina: I hope it does too! I think the art style in manga is a lot more diverse than we tend to think. Some I don't care for at all, others I just love.

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  9. The artwork in this book really is fantastic, and beautifully detailed. Though I am not sure the story would work for me, I might be interested in just looking at the illustrations!

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  10. Oddly enough, I was just commenting on another blog that I'm not a fan of biographies, but this post reminded me that there have been quite a few graphic biographies that I've really enjoyed....

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  11. This sounds like an amazing work of manga and I would love to read it. Thanks for a wonderful review! Unfortunately gender roles are still pretty rigidly defined (and confined) in the world of manga, but hopefully things will change.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.