Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Abandon The Old in Tokyo

Japanese comics are best known for the phenomenon of manga. With its wide-eyed heroes and cute storylines, even the most serious of them still present the world as a generally happy place. But manga has a darker, less popular cousin named gekika. Much like the indie-comics movement of the US, gekika started in the 1960’s and continues today, striving for more realistic stories with a general theme of how difficult life can be.

Yoshihiro Tatsumi is one of the more respected practitioners of gekika and this new collection Abandon the Old in Tokyo brings together seven short stories created during 1970 when he experimented with ways of merging it with the lighter manga. With characters struggling through everyday situations of horrible jobs, lost love and alienation he uses black humor to create thoughtful allegories and reflections on life in modern-day Japan. The opening tale “Occupied”, for example, features an artist for children’s books. Intensely bored with his job he finds new inspiration in one of the most unlikely of places: the scrawled graffiti on a bathroom wall.

In “The Hole” a disfigured woman sets a trap for and captures a man hiking through the woods. As the tale unfolds we learn the reasons for the hiker’s capture are not as random as they first appear.

With spare dialogue and very little narration the stories rely quite heavily on Tatsumi’s ability to tell the tale through his imagery. The black and white artwork places sketchy, manga-like figures against a densely shadowed backdrop of towering, intimidating cityscapes and forests creating nice visual echoes with the storylines.

Much like Murakami's novels, these tales have a magical, fable-like quality. Even the oddest story---an almost surreal tale of woe about a failing business who is so despondent he is only able to make a connection with a dog---carries with it a message about the difficuties of reaching beyond your ablities and wishing for what you can't have. While definitely not for those searching for light entertainment, Tatsumi’s work will appeal to fans of the more offbeat and grim side of independent comics.


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