Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Drifting Life

A Drifting Life (Gekiga Hyoryu Complete)
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Adrian Tomine (Design)
Translated by Taro Nettleton
Drawn & Quarterly Publications 

I thought for the Japanese Lit Challenge I would read some manga fiction, but when I started shelf browsing what caught my eye?  An autobiography.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi is considered one of the masters of manga . Since I am really unfamiliar with manga (and  other graphic formats)  I thought reading A Drifting Life might shed some light on the form and its history. 

I was right.  The first thing I learned is that it has been around a lot longer than I realized.  It was already popular in Japan when Tatsumi began drawing in the post World War II era. He started, as many Manga artists did as a teenager.  Some of the most interesting parts of the book concern life in post war, American occupied Japan:

Tatsumi refers to himself  as "Hiroshi" throughout the book but it is definitely autobiographical. He traces his life from middle school when he and his brother create manga panels to submit to various magazine contests through his failures and successes with a confusing array of publications and publishers.  He is constantly trying to create a new form of manga while coping with the necessity of earning a living from his art. Success can be overwhelming:

"Hiroshi" starts out in Kobe and eventually moves to Tokyo and makes several moves between the two. In his search for inspiration he is influenced by current Japanese popular culture and also by many foreign influences, particularly film:

There are also some touching and amusing scenes involving coming of age: his relationships with his family, his artistic collaborators and  rivals, his bosses, and his girlfriends.

The helpful appendix further explains some of the difficult to translate text (particularly signage).

All in all it is an interesting introduction to manga history as told through the pen of one of its leading artists. For my purposes it was a perfect way to explore this facet of Japanese Literature.  The presentation (like this review) was a bit choppy, but perhaps that is the nature of the medium. I'll explore it some more to find out.

The copy I read was from a local community college library.
 Japanese Literature Challenge 8

Japanese Literature Challenge 8


  1. I have often mentally dismissed manga as the equivalent of an American cartoon, and yet both have a place in history if not literature. I remember years ago, my classroom was full of children passionate about manga; they even drew the characters on their notebook pages. That seems to have subsided, but it is a refreshing text to go to. I imagine that would be especially so if it was autobiographical/true as the one you reviewed here.

  2. I was pretty dismissive of manga and other graphic novels when I was a working librarian, but I've been dabbling in a bit lately. One of the libraries I use is at a community college and they have started a collection. I read another autobiographical one - The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman writing about her childhood and adolescence in during and after the Iranian revolution. I liked it very much. One of the librarians told me her book club read it and had a very active discussion of it. The format works well for some subjects. I'm having fun with it.

  3. I didn't even think about reading manga for this challenge. Maybe I will! (Never read any before).