Written & Illustrated by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Translated by Akemi Wegmüller
Edited, Designed and Lettered by Adrian Tomine
The fifth of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s books to be translated to English, Black Blizzard actually predates all of the previous editions. Three collections of short comics stories chronicling the dark underbelly of Japan’s industrial rise dated from the late 1960s and early 70s. Last year’s superb A Drifting Life, Tatsumi’s thinly veiled autobiography and history of the manga industry itself, reached shores in Japan and the United States only months apart. Published in 1956 when Tatsumi was just twenty one years old, Black Blizzard channels classic genre elements, a crime thriller, a tense study of character contrasts in close quarters, an escaped convict chase.
A young pianist, Susumu, and a three-time killer are handcuffed together on a transport train. A rockslide demolishes the train, but the two men escape. Fleeing into a blizzard, the two mismatched men seek shelter and escape from their binding. Unable to find a tool to cut through the cuffs, the hardened repeat convict decides that one of them must cut his hand off. It’s a bit of a stretch. While hiding and hoping for an alternative means of removing their cuffs, the convict asks Susumu his story, which is told.
Tatsumi doesn’t leave much guesswork in this mystery. Susumu’s far too nice a protagonist to work as a believable murderer, so the reader knows early on that there’s a catch. The surprising final act revelation about his fellow escapee is convenience far beyond the traditional story deus ex machina.
Despite its tepid plotting, however, Black Blizzard attains a level of entertaining fluff. Tatsumi’s illustrations provide most of the pleasure in the story, particularly his use of slashing diagonal lines to cover the characters as they push forward through the blizzard, and his evocative, dramatic character work. Emotive character acting and strong use of cross-hatched shadows give lift to the characters, even when they’re enmeshed in a plot of convenience.
It is, ultimately, largely derivative work, and a far cry from the darkness and debased humanity of Abandon the Old in Tokyo or the historical importance of A Drifting Life, but Tatsumi still achieves a base level of entertainment. The Push Man or A Drifting Life remain the best places to being your exploration of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s dramatic and distressing comics. Black Blizzard is an opportunity to see an early step in the development of that voice, and a chance to see Tatsumi grapple with a straight crime thriller potboiler. You’ll read worse in your life. That may not be the most glowing praise, but it’s still the truth.