A Drifting Life. Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Drawn and Quarterly, 2009. $29.95, 840 pages.
So I finally got around to reading Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s massive autobiography A Drifiting Life. And I’ve got to say that, having read it, I find myself baffled by the near-universal critical praise it received when it came out. Tatsumi’s book is practically devoid of theme, character or interest; in their place we get endless detail on the mechanics of his early career creating manga. If you ever wanted to know precisely how much Tastusmi was paid for, say, (the recently-released in English) Black Blizzard, how long it took him to create, the magazine it which it first appeared, the genesis of that magazine, what other creators were contributing to the magazine, how much they were getting paid, etc. etc. etc. — well, this is the book for you. And so on for 800-odd tedious pages. Anyone looking for the psychological insight or distinctive worldview displayed in Tatsumi’s other works, as previously published by Drawn and Quarterly (such as The Push Man etc.) is advised to look elsewhere.
Worse still is that all this detail about the nuts and bolts of publishing manga in mid-century Japan adds up to exactly nothing. It’s just one damn thing after another. Now that’s certainly how many of us experience our own lives: first this happened, then that happened, then that other thing, without any of it resolving into the sort of grand themes or lessons that autobiographies typically trade in. So it’s a theoretically interesting artistic track to take with your autobiography, to try to replicate the feeling of real life’s lack of insight or narrative drive. That doesn’t work out so well in practice, however, at least not here; sometimes one damn thing after another is just one damn thing after another.
Recommended? Sadly, no.