Written & Illustrated by Susumu Katsumata
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Drawn & Quarterly’s importing of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s “gekiga” manga to English-speaking shores has been very welcome in many quarters, particularly my home. My appreciation for comics from the East is blunted somewhat by the focus on genre-centric titles and incredibly long running serials. Tatsumi’s short stories and human gravitas really hit the mark for me, and I looked forward to D&Q’s latest gekiga “discovery,” Susumu Katsumata.
Well, Mr. Katsumata’s work isn’t quite on part with Tatsumi’s comics, though the short story collection Red Snow does have several positives. Setting all his stories in the pre-industrial Japanese countryside of his own youth, Katsumata’s comics are securely anchored in the details of rural life. Permeated with a sense of melancholy and small-town corruption, each tale beckons readers to explore the darker side of small town life.
Infused with an exceedingly dry, black humor (a village of women whose husbands have gone away to work keep a monk in a sack and pass him from home to home each night) and Japanese folklore (kappas abound), the tales in Red Snow are perhaps a little far removed from the experience of many Western readers. That distance may prevent Katsumata’s work from reaching the same level as Tatsumi’s work has achieved on these shores, but each story reveals intentions that reach across cultural barriers when you take time to explore it.
Katsumata’s illustration has certain limitations, with spotty anatomy and inconsistent faces, but his use of exaggeration to convey emotional qualities is very effective. The backgrounds are much more consistent than the figures, establishing each scene in a specific pre-industrial reality. Clear and structured, Katsumata’s page layouts are easy to read for even a novice comics reader.
Susumu Katsumata’s Red Snow is a solid collection of gekiga stories. The work doesn’t muster the same snap as Tatsumi’s comics, but readers interested in darkly humorous manga that explores the underbelly of rural life will likely find several gems in Katsumata’s book that justify the time spent exploring his work.