Monday 29 June 2009

A life inside a life inside a life

I wrote a review of A Drifting Life -- Yoshihiro Tatsumi's epic, sprawling manga memoir -- for the Globe and Mail's Books section, which appeared over the weekend.

Like a lot of people I've talked with, this book was a peculiar read at first. It came on a crest of huge expectations, thanks to the fact that it arrived after three excellent (and handsome) volumes of Tatsumi's classic gegika; volumes designed and edited by cartoonist Adrian Tomine, and published by Drawn and Quarterly.

This massive memoir (also pubilshed by D+Q) promised a behind-the-scenes look at Tatsumi's emergence as a cartoonist, and the reasons behind the genesis of the ground-breaking, and grim, gegika medium (short comics stories that took on adult themes, including abortion, murder, prostitution and adultery.) Yet, Tatsumi made a couple of stylistic choices that I found challenging initially. First, he named his protagonist "Katsumi," a strange choice (a one-letter difference from his own name) that seems to imply that he's fictionalized some of the details in his tale. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
As he explained during his appearance at TCAF, Tatsumi was simply following the Japanese tradition of the "I-novel"; a genre of autobiographical manga that sees the cartoonist’s name changed as a courtesy to those depicted in the book who are still alive.
The other thing I found curious was the tone of the book, which is modelled on the classic manga tradition (ie. broadly expressed emotions, wide-eyed characters). It took me about 350 pages before it dawned on me that Tatsumi had made this choice deliberately. His story deals with his love affair with manga, so it only made sense that it should be told in a similar fashion. Well, that's my theory anyway.
Anyways, go read the piece and let me know if you agree with me. I'll leave you with a quote from Chris Ware that i used in the review that made me laugh:
“Being a cartoonist is sort of like being a businessman doodling all day. You're not an action painter throwing paint around or going out into the world; you're just sitting pathetically at this table, staring down in a kind of feedback loop.”

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