Comics

Good-Bye

Jeremy Estes

Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work is aimed at an adult audience, and his stories present a perspective that can be challenging for a reader. It is dark and disturbing, but definitely worth the trip.


Good-Bye

Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
ISBN: 9781897299371
Price: 19.95
Writer: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Length: 208
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2008-07
Website
cat_label_url
Amazon
Amazon

Kids plow through digest-sized books of manga at bookstores, libraries and comic shops, devouring them one after another like hungry little wolves. These little books have fattened the shelves of bookstores across the US, signaling not just a renewed interest in reading comics, but especially Japanese comics. What's amazing about the Japanese style—and maybe I'm the only one who thinks this—is that many of these comics are printed right-to-left, giving the reader the experience of reading the manga in its original context (if not its original language).

These books have readers of all ages, but many of these titles are aimed at younger readers, meaning there is a generation out there that's learning to read "backward". That's the perspective of parents, skeptics and gawkers, anyway, because they're just not adaptable like their kids.

Narrow, closed-minded: that's how I've always viewed manga. It always seemed to be about trading cards or spirit animals, and that doesn't interest me (at least not very much). Then, a thought occurred to me: imagine if people in Japan thought all American comics were like Rob Liefeld's Youngblood. It was humbling, embarrassing and absolutely wonderful to realize something so simple, and it lead me to Yoshihiro Tatsumi.

Good-bye is the third collection of Tatsumi's short stories collected by Drawn & Quarterly (the first two being The Push Man and Other Stories and Abandon the Old in Tokyo. Tatsumi is a pioneer of gekiga, comics aimed at an adult audience, and his stories present a perspective that can be challenging for a reader. The stories are not challenging in the sense of having to understand Japanese culture or values. In fact, his themes are universal: loneliness, alienation, anxiety, sexual hang-ups. What requires a shift in the readers' perspective is exploring the world of Tatsumi's imagination. It is dark and disturbing, but definitely worth the trip.

In "Just a Man", Mr. Hanayama is forced to retire and dreads spending his remaining days with the wife and daughter he hates. He decides to blow his savings—which he's kept hidden from his family—on women and booze. He finds no joy in his new found independence, however, and is unable to go through with his planned escapades. In the end, walking alone near a war memorial, he climbs atop an old cannon and urinates on it, saying, "We're both impotent now, you worthless old relic." The cannon is an obvious phallic symbol, but Tatsumi has Hanayama point it out, letting the reader know Hanayama is aware of its symbolism. In the final moments of the story Tatsumi borders on cliché, but the cumulative effect of Hanayama's failed sexual conquests and his helplessness in the face of an unwanted retirement give "Just a Man" not just a satisfying ending, but one that is devastating.

The opposite is true of "Woman in the Mirror", in which a man recounts the story of walking in on a neighbor's son--the only son in a family of women--dressed as a woman and posing in front of a mirror. Later, as he walks his old neighborhood, the man spots the boy, now grown with a wife and child, and offers a bit of pop-psychology about the man's cross-dressing: "He tried to escape by shedding his manhood. That was his only way out." It's clunky and just too easy, making the story end with an almost audible thud.

Again and again, Tatsumi's characters are spiritually crushed, their lives overrun by uncontrollable and often unwanted desires. Nearly everyone is suffering anxiety over their place in life, living with the fear they've wasted their best years. In "Rash" this feeling physically manifests in the form of a scaly, full-body rash on a retired man. Soothing himself in a nearby river, the man learns to control the rash and eventually makes it go away. What might have been a story about controlling fear and overcoming depression takes a dark turn when the man takes in a young girl to his home. The story ends with the man's shadow looming over the girl's bedroom door, an implication of rape bolstered by his thought, "Sixty years...I've never felt such a thrill."

Tatsumi's art isn't flashy or particularly eye-catching, it's workman-like and spare, with just enough detail to give a room or a street or an office real physical presence. His characterization is clear and specific, with a full range of emotions sometimes spread over just a few panels. This clear, clean style of storytelling makes Tatsumi's work easily digestible on the visual level, but the tone of despair can sometimes be overwhelming. These stories leave the reader with an unsettled feeling that practically requires one to come back to them, but makes doing so an exercise in fear.

Rereading these stories, that unsettled feeling doesn't go away but, like the kids in the bookstores with their "backward" manga, one's perspective begins to change. Even the most jaded and cynical among us wants a happy ending every now and again, and even though Tatsumi doesn't oblige, he does gives us faint glimmers of hope. You see it in the background with the mother and child in the park, or the boys playing soccer. For Tatsumi's characters, it's always somewhere else. Maybe that's just a function of Tatsumi's work: by showing us how bad things can be he helps us see the good. Written down, it sounds cliché, like Mr. Hanayama and the cannon in "Just a Man", but experiencing it for oneself is an affirmation of the power of great storytelling.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image