Monday, June 22, 2009

A Drifting Life - Review

It has been pretty hard this year to not get at least a bit curious about a book that has gotten as much buzz as this one. I am not a voracious Manga reader by any means. I have read some, and enjoyed much of what I have read. My oldest daughter is certainly more into manga than I am. I have read Tezuka's Buddha, and was pretty much awed by how good it was on so many levels.

I am not a history buff for the most part either. I like knowing where things came from, and how they came about, etc. but I am lazy about it and don't seek it out very much. When it comes to comics, I am generally happy to stay well on this side of the 1950's or 60's.

I have read Scott McCloud's Understanding, Reinventing, and Making, Comics. I think pretty highly of McCloud's work for a lot of reasons, and will say that I sort of put him in the same category that I put Alton Brown with regard to food, or the Mythbusters with regard to weird stuff I'm curious about that can only be explained by blowing things up. They all show and explain things that I am extremely interested in, in a fun and accessible way that shows me the science behind it, without diminishing the joy of it in any way. I would assert that their treatment of their subject matter greatly increases my understanding and enjoyment of it.

I say these things up front because they relate directly to what I felt when reading this 800+ page memoir that takes place during the strange and wonderful early days of post-war manga in Japan. It focuses on the period between the Japanese surrender in World War II and 1960. This was a wild roller coaster ride for the country of Japan, as well as the manga publishing and 'rental book' industry. It is window into the culture of the industry and the spirit and drive of the artists that shaped it. Yoshihiro was no Tezuka, and he knew it. Tezuka was his idol and his example. Striving to be like him seemed to go hand in hand with striving to be something different and new.

In this memoir, Yoshihoro uses a detached storytelling style. The protagonist is his analog Hiroshi Katsumi. We are given a lot of insight, but it is always a third person narrative. When we read that 'later he will come to regret his decision' or something like that, it has a sense of removal from the emotion about it. It is not the same impact as if the protagonist was telling us his own feelings, even though that is the reality of it. I am not criticising this method, as it creates a definite feel of it's own by doing so. There is bit of a feel that you are watching a documentary, rather than living the story of someone's life. This works for me, as it makes the other aspects of the story stand out equally.

This is a memoir of a person, an industry, a movement and a country. You get a real sense of all of those things as you read it. The Author's life is shown, the state of manga is shown, the publishing business(specifically manga) is shown, The alternative manga movement is shown, styles are discussed, the creative process is discussed, the nature of influences on an artist are shown, it really is like you are living inside of Scott McCloud's books. Much of the sorts of things he shows in his works are served here in context. This was a large part of my enjoyment of this work (I know one has nothing to do with the other in regard to their creation, etc. but that doesn't mean we the readers can't draw from both.

The detached style kind of rounded down the emotional experience for me. The highs weren't so high, and the lows weren't so low due to the two steps back manner of story telling, but it didn't diminish my enjoyment of the thing. I was thoroughly drawn in, and eager to get to the next page throughout the entire thing. You can learn an awful lot by reading this. It is valuable to see the nature of business, it is valuable to see the nature of inspiration and influence, and so much more.

I highly recommend this book. I am also now extremely interested in seeing more of Tatsumi's work.


The Inkwell Bookstore said...

Now that you're reading manga memoirs, may I recommend Disappearance Diary by Hideo Azuma? It's about the cartoonist's frequent disappearances from work-a-day life. Considering what you said recently about your current work woes, this one might be to your liking.

Here's a link to my review of it:
Feel free to kill the link if that sort of thing is unacceptable.

Talkin Bout Comics said...

It's the opposite of unacceptable... it's downright welcomed.

Thanks for the link!