The artist’s second volume of stories to be published in the US, originally published in Japan in 1970, shows that the graphic visionary was decades ahead of his time.
As the anthology’s title suggests, Tatsumi (The Push Man and Other Stories, 2005) set these stories in a period of profound transition, both for Tokyo and for comic art, with the old giving way to the new in the 1960s. The artist’s response reflects a deep ambivalence, as progress threatens obsolescence for a protagonist who has long catered to the youth comics market and for his ailing mother, whom modern society treats as refuse. Like the “underground comix” of R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton of the same era, Tatsumi’s work opened the comics format to themes that were more mature, often sexual or scatological, and frequently darker than graphic narratives aimed at adolescents. The strength of the illustrations transcends differences in culture and language (the narrative is in English, with graphic signs translated), as Tatsumi depicts the common man—be he a graphic artist or a sewer worker—in the grip of modern forces that he finds complex and confusing. What little humor there is within these seven stories is deadpan, subtle and mostly visual, though there’s an irresistible irony in the opening story, “Occupied,” in which the protagonist, whose work no longer appeals to kids, finds inspiration in bathroom graffiti, only to get him labeled a pervert in the process. Such a spirit of artistic subversion and self-deprecation sets the tone for the anthology as a whole.
Fans of the contemporary graphic narrative won’t find this volume of Tatsumi’s work dated in the slightest.