Now this is a strange release.
Publisher Drawn and Quarterly and cartoonist/editor Adrian Tomine have been gradually introducing Western audiences to manga-ka Yoshihiro Tatsumi over the course of the last five years or so, through collections of his short, dark, adult work collected in Abandon the Old in Tokyo, The Pushman and Other Stories and Good-Bye.
Last year they printed his epic autobiography, A Drifting Life, and now comes Black Blizzard, which has so little in common with the work seen in D+Q’s earlier anthologies that you’d be forgiven for thinking it the work of an entirely different artist.
Black Blizzard is a much earlier work, created by a 21-year-old Tatsumi in 1956, and a fairly straight work of genre fiction compared to the literary work we’ve previously seen. It’s a fast-paced, crime melodrama with some extremely obvious twists and turns.
It’s hard to imagine it standing on its own if Tatsumi didn’t go own to do all of the great work that would follow later in his career, or to imagine a North American publisher choosing this to translate and republish as an introduction to the creator’s work. But then, such considerations are merely hypothetical at this point.
This 127-page graphic novel (created in just 20 days!) tells the story of a young pianist arrested for a murder he can’t remember committing, handcuffed by police to a hardened criminal for transfer to prison. When the train they’re riding on is derailed in a horrible accident, the pair find themselves free of police custody, but not of each other, and the young man finds himself dragged out into a snowstorm and forced to go along with an escape attempt, or else lose his hand.
It’s impressive work from an artist so young—and not simply because of how quickly it was created—although it’s far from Tatsumi’s best. (Tatsumi apparently agrees. “Bringing this work out as a book now is like exposing something shameful and private from my past that I’d rather keep hidden from sight,” Tatsumi tells Tomine in a sort of exit interview at the end of the book.)
The renderings can be fairly rough, although Tatsumi was already in command of his great, cinematic storytelling faculties, and his personal design aesthetics were already taking solid shape.
Beyond it’s value as a work of its own however, Black Blizzard is definitely a curiosity Tatsumi fans should seek out, a sort of supplement to Drifting Life (during which Blizzard’s creation is discussed). And for those either curious about or very serious about the history of manga or world comics in general, it’s well worth reading as an example of what the founder of the gekiga school of manga was creating early in his career and/or the sort of comics work possible in 1950’s Japan vs. what was on the spinner racks in the U.S. at the time.