Sunday, April 18, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 74 (4/18) -- Black Blizzard by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

There are a few creators who arrive fully formed, whose first book is their best, or at least as good as the later works. (Of course, when I try to think of examples, what comes it mind are the great one-book authors -- Harper Lee, Margaret Mitchell, etc. -- who aren't quite the same thing.) But most people take a while to work up to their peak; they might be good enough to get published, but they're going to get better from there.

So it's no slam to say that Black Blizzard, an book-length manga story by Yoshihiro Tatsumi from 1956, is nowhere near as accomplished as his great later short stories (collected in The Push Man and Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo, and Good-Bye) and his massive autobiography of his early career, A Drifting Life. It's not his first long story -- a short interview of Tatsumi by his editor, Adrian Tomine, in the end of this book mentions that Tatsumi had already written, drawn, and published seventeen stories of about this length previously -- but it's from very early in his career, and more than fifty years ago in the development of graphic novels.

Black Blizzard has similarities to Tatsumi's later fictional work -- it features a young man battered by circumstance, and in a seemingly impossible situation -- but it has a much more conventional thriller plot, and that young hero is more conventionally attractive, relatable, and innocent than later Tatsumi stories would countenance. Orchestra pianist Susumu has been arrested for murder after he woke up from an alcoholic blackout next to a dead body, and is handcuffed to a hardened criminal when their train derails. (It's not at all clear why two murder suspects are being transported by train in the first place; it's merely the set-up for the cliched melodramatic situation, so that point should be skimmed over quickly.)

The two men run and hide in a snowy wilderness, but can't cut the chain connecting them -- eventually, they decide that one of them must lose his hand to separate them. (Again, this is the kind of pulp fiction where it's easier to amputate or crush a hand without tools than to find a hacksaw to cut a chain; that's a feature rather than a bug.) In the way of a typical cheap melodrama, everything turns out much better than anyone would have guessed.

There are moments -- particularly early on, when the two men know little about each other and are mostly antagonistic -- that feel like "real" Tatsumi, but most of this book is competent old-fashioned melodrama with a simplistic '50s manga style designed for drawing speed. (The interview in the back matter also informs us that it only took Tatsumi twenty days to finish this, which would be blindingly fast for 128 solo pages if the drawing wasn't so clearly quick and dirty.)

This is an odd choice for Drawn & Quarterly to publish after their other Tatsumi books; it's substantially less accomplished and interesting, on all levels. I'm still hoping/assuming that he has another few volumes of stories equivalent to Abandon the Old, and I'd much rather see those than something disposable like Black Blizzard. This book is of interest almost entirely as a signpost showing how far Tatsumi had to go from the beginning of his career to its peak.

(I've reviewed all Tatsumi's previous books, either here or for ComicMix: Drifting Life, Good-Bye, Abandon the Old, Push Man.)

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Matthew Sweet - Someone to Pull the Trigger
via FoxyTunes

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