Tatsumi, Yoshihiro. The Push Man and Other Stories. Trans. Yuji Oniki. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2005. Summary
: A collection of seventeen one-shots by Tatsumi Yoshihiro, all dating back to 1969. Lots of violence against women; lots of men who hate their jobs. Comments
: People who wanna sound smart when talking about vintage gekiga usually spout off words and phrases like "alienation," "pulp noir," and "the dehumanizing effects of an industrial society." Heck, even I do it sometimes--when I don't actually mean what I say, that is. The ugly truth behind a comics movement that gets paraded around by the highbrow (male) comics literati here in the West is this: Originally, what gekiga were really
about was a male backlash against women's much improved position in post-war Japanese society, where, with the stroke of a pen, women went from being less than human to being equal, voting citizens of a modern nation state. By the late 60s, expectations had risen, and women were getting jobs, getting divorces, getting lives of their own in unprecedented numbers. In the real world, men were forced to deal with the new normal.
But in their fantasies? Oh, well...that was a different story entirely! This volume of Tatsumi's manga airs every unpleasant revenge fantasy imaginable. Story after story parades ruthless, sexually "liberated" women being murdered, mutilated, or otherwise subjected to as much creative humiliation as possible by men who just can't take being downtrodden anymore, dammit. The only guys who seem to have fulfilling sexual lives in these stories are the occasional "girly" man. The standpoint is truly repulsive.
And the way it comes packaged in a lavish clothbound edition, complete with stated financial support from The Japan Foundation, only makes it more so. Because the standpoint isn't just a 40 year old anachronism; it's also being legitimized right in the here and now by a self-styled avant garde indie publisher. Despite an influx of female manga readers, there is still so much ugly anti-female bias in the American comic book industry, and it produces things like this crap, calling it gold. In Japan nowadays, gekiga-influenced seinen manga use codes of violence against women mainly as nostalgic aesthetic choices, not as reactionary social commentary. Take, for example, MPD-Psycho
. Make no mistake, however; the socio-political conditions from which they emerged are still in full force, "worse" actually than before, and it gives us things like lolicon and moé. (Mature, adult women in the 21st century are too scary, period, so we get sexualized children instead.)
Even irrespective of content, Drawn & Quarterly's production is a mess. At a time when VIZ Media sells unflipped volumes of Naruto
by the boatload, The Push Man and Other Stories
reads left to right. But it's not just flipped. Panels have been clipped out and reordered one at a time on each page, a labor-intensive process that noticeably interrupts the visual narrative flow of the manga. A skilled artist's sequential art is directional even within
individual panels, with a logical progression, in the case of the Japanese, from right to left. Tatsumi, whatever his thematic shortcomings, knows sequential art, and Adrian Tomine's well-intentioned efforts have produced painfully jarring strips. I found myself unable to sink into the "flow" of this book as I normally would when reading with a manga, whether in its original format or flipped old-style. (Not, as it turns out, that I really wanted to.) Too bad self-defeating pointlessness doesn't mitigate offensiveness. Notes
: hardcover, 1st American edition, 2nd printing Rating
- The Emperor Has No Clothes. Extra point deducted for tone-deaf Westernization.