Yoshihiro Tatsumi was an internationally acclaimed manga author and one of the founders of the so called gekiga (“dramatic pictures”) style, a style which radically changed the Japanese comics scene in the early 1960s.

His interest in comics started in childhood, when he was an avid comics reader and a great fan of Osamu Tezuka. In the late 1940s, Tatsumi started contributing his own short stories to monthly comics magazines such as Manga shōnen. Together with his brother and other friends, he also produced an amateur magazine called Comics Star (Manga no meisei), in 1950.

He debuted as a professional author in 1954, when he embarked on drawing comics for kashihonya (a book-lender network). His early stories such as 33 Footprints (33 no ashiato, 1955) and Silent Witness (Koenakimokugekisha, 1956) belonged mainly to the mystery genre. In 1957, Tatsumi became chief editor of the monthly comics magazine Kage. Around the same time, Tastumi came up with the concept of gekiga, “dramatic pictures”, exploring adult themes executed in a more sophisticated art style than the majority of contemporary comics, which were still aimed almost exclusively at children. In 1959, Tatsumi, together with other similarly inclined authors (such as Takao Saitó (*1936) and Susumu Yamamori (*1935)), he founded a creative group called “Studio gekiga” (Gekigakōbō), and started producing comics aimed at young adult readers. Despite the group disbanding in the following year, the gekiga style became a great success and quickly established itself as a new trend in Japanese comics. However, while the new style he devised gradually gained popularity, eventually becoming an inseparable part of mainstream manga, Tatsumi’s own career remained modest. Unlike Saitō and many of his former colleagues, Tatsumi never reached fame for many years, and while he continued to provide a steady stream of contributions to magazines such as Garo and Big Comics, his work remained largely unrecognized by wider readership. Thematically, Tastumi’s stories ranged from horror to slice of life – his protagonists were often common people on the edge of a society troubled by poverty, alienation and loneliness. This can be seen in the hero of Abandon the Old in Tokyo (Tōkyō ubasuteyama , 1971), a man who struggles to simultaneously take care of his old invalid mother and  maintain a private life, and in Occupied (Haittemasu, 1971), the story of a slovenly, unemployed cartoonist who takes pleasure in doodling vulgar pictures on the walls in public lavatories.

In the 1990s, Tatsumi collaborated with religious scholar Hiro Sachiya, creating comics exploring esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyō no hanashi, 1994). Around the same time he also started working on the serialization of his masterpiece Drifting Life (Hyōryūgekiga) – a semi-autobiographical story documenting the origins of gekiga style, which was finally published as a book in 2008. The story won him not only long-overdue recognition in the Japanese comics (in the form of the Tezuka Osamu Cultural price), but also wider international acclaim – both Drifting Life and several anthologies of his stories from the 1970s were subsequently published abroad. Tatsumi remained active and continued publishing in the monthly magazine AX until his death in early 2015.

— Anna Krivankova

See also: seinen manga, Osamu Tezuka

Further Reading

  • Gravett, Paul. 2015. Paul Gravett. „YoshihiroTatsumi: The Man, The Manga, TheMovie“ March 8. AccessedApril 14, 2015. http://www.paulgravett.com/articles/article/yoshihirotatsumi
  • Schodt, Frederik L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga. Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 1996.
  • Allan, Jennifer Lucy. “More than Manga: What I Learned from the Human Stories of Yoshihiro Tatsumi.” March 23, 2015. Accessed May 22, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/23/yoshihiro-tatsumi-japanese-artist-manga-the-push-man-and-other-stories