Thursday, August 7, 2014

On the Coffee Table: A Drifting Life

Title: A Drifting Life
Writer and Artist: Yoshiro Tatsumi
via NPR
Yoshiro Tatsumi is a master manga creator, credited with starting the gekiga style, an alternative genre.  A Drifting Life is his slightly fictionalized (a few changed names, including his own), autobiographical graphic novel, translated into English by Adrian Tomine.

Tatsumi was born in Osaka in 1935.  His story begins with the Japanese surrender to Allied Forces in 1945.  He and his older brother were huge manga fans.  The book follows the path of his career over the next 15 years, plus an afterword flashing ahead to 1995.  It's a wonderful portrait of a young artist finding his way in an industry that was exploding in popularity in post-War Japan.  Tatsumi found steady work at a young age, enough to support himself and move to Tokyo.  But even with success, he was plagued by doubts over the vitality of his creations.  By '95, he was still seeking the best path for gekiga.

While I've read quite a lot of manga (Japanese comic books), especially recently, I know that I've barely scratched the surface.  Comic books are an enormous industry in Japan, far surpassing what it is in the United States both in terms of sales and widespread appeal.  Tatsumi does a wonderful job of documenting the development of the medium during the '40s and '50s, the heyday of manga's greatest master, Osamu Tezuka.  He also includes glimpses of what was going on in the broader society, especially in Japanese popular culture.  The seeds of modern Japan were planted during the early post-War period and it's wonderful to see the development of manga within that context.

A Drifting Life is the sort of book that makes me want to learn more.  I think anyone with an interest in Japan, the artistic process or careers in the publishing world would enjoy it as well.  I am not alone in my admiration.  The book has won several awards, including the Tezuka Osamu Cultural Prize in Japan and two Eisners in the United States.


  1. Must check this out.
    I lost all my photos of the Osamu Tezuka Museum but hopefully daughter has some and I will post them some Wednesday on my Life in Japan post.

    cheers, parsnip