Thursday, 19 January 2012

Yoshihiro Tatsumi And The Cry That Kills

There have been a number of revelatory moments for me in my experience of comics. Seeing The Trigan Empire by Don Lawrence for the first time, then those Alan Class reprints of American horror comics, followed swiftly by my discovery of Marvel Comics. The next eye-openers were the underground comics of Crumb, Iron, Shelton and BodĂ© that I first saw in the underground newspapers Oz, Frendz and International Times. A trip to the comics/headshop Forever People in Bristol exposed me to Metal Hurlant and the work of Druillet and Moebius. Then in a secondhand bookshop in London in 1978, I stumbled on my first manga, and what a great example it was...

Le Cri Qui Tue - The Cry That Kills was not the kind of manga that the kids would get into in the 90's with Tokyop. These were comics aimed squarely at adults. This first issue of the French publication featured Golgo 13 by Takao Saito, the story of a professional assassin who, as shown on the cover, didn't have any scruples about hitting women. The strip has sold 200 million copies worldwide.

L'Hopital Infernal is the craziest of the strips showcased in Le Cri Qui Tue - a tale of sex, madness, torture and delusion by Saburo Kitagawa and Tadashi Matsumori.

The one that impressed me most though, was a story called Goodbye written and drawn by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. No wonder I fell in love with manga at first sight. I had been treated to one of the all-time classic Gekiga. Gekiga is a term that Tatsumi coined to describe the adult themed comics he began drawing in the 1950's and which would later influence the work of Osamu Tezuka, inspiring him to create ambitious works like MW and Ode to Kirihito. Goodbye is the story of a young Japanese girl who turns to prostitution, sleeping with the conquering Americans while her father represents the humiliation of the soldiers who lost their honour and their purpose when Japan was defeated. 

In this scene, after her American 'fiancé' abandons her, she drunkenly seduces her father, deliberately alienating the last person who cares for her. It's a bleak and depressing story, which sets the tone for the rest of Tatsumi's work that I sought out over the years.

That third page is a scan from a later edition. In 1987, American publisher Catalan Communications translated Goodbye And Other Stories into English and Tatsumi found a whole new audience.

Hiroshima was published by Artefact in France in 1983, and paired Goodbye with Enfer (Hell), which may be Tatsumi's most powerful story. Now you can see both of these, and several other adaptations of classic stories in the animated movie, based on Tatsumi's autobiography A Drifting Life.