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Fourthman Reviews Black Blizzard

Written by Lee Newman on Friday, April 09 2010 and posted in Reviews

Drawn & Quarterly publishes a landmark Graphic Novel from a creator that would become a master.

The Cover to Tatsumi's 1956 Mystery Graphic Novel Black BlizzardBlack Blizzard
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Written and Illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

For five years now, Drawn & Quarterly has been making me fall in love with Yoshihiro Tatsumi.  First, the publisher got Adriane Tomine to edit a series of books containing Short Stories that he published in Japan between 1969 and 1972, These dark, intelligent and expertly crafted stories make up three volumes: The Push Man and Other Stories, Abandon the Old in Tokyo and Good-bye .  They are a revelation for readers who thought Japanese comics were all about games or ghosts.  Then just last year, A Drifting Life , an autobiographical account of the creator’s formative years in the industry, became one of the most lauded books of the year.  It is one of the few graphic novels that your panel of judges for this year’s Outhouse Awards agreed on.

The volumes of shorter works show a master coming of age while finding his voice.  The art is crisp clear and consistent, able to tell a story with out words at time.  The autobiography is a breath taking look at cartooning and life in Japan.  It is a very accomplished work by someone who is a great in the medium.

For the better part of a chapter in A Drifting Life, Tatsumi first composes and then sells Black Snowstorm, the book in question here.  It was a creative revelation for a younger manga writer.  It was published in 1956 when the author was only 21 years of age (the age, coincidently of the protagonist of the book).  He felt that he had created something, his friends and family did not understand, and his fellow cartoonists saw it as revolutionary work.  In the interview in the back of this edition, Tatsumi says it is “something shameful and private from his past that {he would} rather keep hidden.”  His American readers have become accustomed to him being dismissive of his work, but this book is not something to be ashamed of.

Certainly, it is not as refined as the works that have previously been published here.  It is a much younger work, so the confidence that would later show in his lines is not present.  Some of this has to do with the artist’s methodology at the time.  He did not revise or edit.  What he produced stood as he had done it.  There is a certain amount of hubris there, but given the accolades from his peers for the piece, it may have been warranted.

What is interesting is the influences on display here.  By the time we get to Push Man, the earliest works from D&Q previously, he has a very consistent and easily identifiable style that is still seen in the modern opus from last year.  Here, the shadow that Osamu Tezuka placed over the entire industry looms large.  The designs are very much in tribute to the Godfather of Manga.  At the same time, the diagonal lines of the snowstorm were a new thing in the art form.  They extend out from the storm though and take over the shadows on character’s faces and are used to create interesting framing for sequences.

The story is a murder mystery about two men escaped from police custody in a blizzard.  The younger man is the focus and tells the story of how he came to be accused of a crime he is unable to deny he committed.  It is pretty standard noir stuff and the art shows a love of the cinematic style.  This should not be a surprise to Tatsumi’s fans, as he testifies to his love for films (especially American films) in A Drifting Life.

What is shocking is how shallow the characters are.  The young piano player, Susumu-San, especially comes off as underdeveloped and a bit naive, but all of the characters are more like caricatures there to serve a purpose in the plot.  It is by no means bad writing, just different from the introspective and keen human observer displayed in the later works of the writer.

Black Blizzard is an engaging story.  Fans looking for a light mystery while they await the next issue of Stumptown or the continuation of Cooke’s Parker adaptations could certainly do worse.  That being said, this is a historical document that will be of the most interest to fans of Tatsumi and those who want to know what older manga was like.


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