The Push Man and other stories

Yoshihiro Tatsumi

If I’d paid better attention, I would have waited to read Abandon the Old in Tokyo in order to be properly anal and read the books in sequence. The introduction by Adrian Tomine is both a personal and technical opener to the series and how it came to be, including a note on the difficulty of translating the comics from Japanese — not necessarily the written words themselves but rather the format. The panels had to be re-arranged to flow from left to right as Western books read, with some frames mirrored in order to preserve the continuity inside dialogues.

There was some suggestion in the second book that this first collection of stories (representing a collection of Tatsumi’s work from 1969) was lighter in content, and a few are more lighthearted than the rest, like the title story about a “push man” who helps shove passengers into subway trains and ends up getting a taste of what he inflicts daily on others. Yet the majority still feel incredibly tragic and brutal, stories of everyday people that end in some shocking manner. Two of the common adjectives used about these works are “unsentimental” and “gritty.” It’s almost overwhelming reading two of these collections so close to one another.

Tatsumi has a bit of a fixation with fully-formed, aborted fetuses drifting through sewer drains (and several of his stories feature the drain cleaners who find them), but aside from that quibble, these two collections are certainly among if not the best comics I’ve read in the last few years. It seems I read so many comics that are more autobiographical than fictional, and since I am also a fan of the short story in general, the combination of short stories and the comic form is pretty ideal.

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