Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I would only get about 6-8 pages in many of these magazines. I didn’t do much work then. I didn’t do the work with the idea of becoming popular -- I just went ahead and did the kind of work I wanted to do.
I wasn’t really popular, so I kind of had a hard time getting my next job. I worked with editors at various magazines, but basically none of them were really accepting me.
That boom lasted for so long, those magazines got more and more popular, and I, and the people around me got more and more work. It got pretty busy. It got such that even someone like me was getting really long serialized job offers. So this was at the beginning of the '70s, maybe a little bit after this period.
Adrian Tomine: During these lean times that you’ve mentioned, I'd imagine it was a challenge to make a living as a cartoonist. Were you ever forced to consider the thought that maybe you couldn’t spend all your time as a cartoonist, or if you considered other jobs?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I never thought that I couldn’t just work as a manga artist. Being poor never stopped me. I just didn’t travel or, of course, even consider coming to a place like Toronto. I just didn’t have the money.
I was just writing the kind of work I wanted to write. Financially it was difficult, but it wasn’t that difficult. I just was glad to do the kind of work I wanted to write.
When I was able to get assignments to draw longer serialized pieces, that was a big help. But with the magazines at the time, if you didn’t have a lot of assistants, you couldn’t get that kind of work.
I had maybe seven assistants at one time at the most, but the majority of them didn’t do much work. I had one or two who worked really hard. The rest kind of sat around. (laughs)
If you didn’t have those heads sitting in the office, the editors of those magazines would come to my studio and they would see the heads, and think, 'Oh, he has so many heads in the studio, I should give him serialized work!' (laughs)
The most work I ever did was at 30 pages a week, I was working for 5 different magazines. That’s about 120 pages per week. (gasps from audience)
That didn’t continue for very long, but there would be periods where I’d stretch out the story, and it would get to the point where there was no real meaning to the story...? (shrugs and laughs)
At one point I had drawn a picture with the hand up there (gestures up) on a panel, and I didn’t like it. So I drew the hand down here, and I told one of my assistants to white it out, and just get rid of that other hand.
I went away to do some research and get ready for my next story. I came back and I saw the magazine, and there’s this guy with three hands! (laughs) So after that I kind of lost faith in my assistants. I weeded them out and until it just ended up being just me, working by myself again.
That was about 20 years ago. Even now I do everything myself. I draw the panels, erase the pencils, ink it in, and so on. So in A Drifting Life, everything in there was drawn by me. That’s all my hands.
CHILDHOOD DREAMS COME TRUE: MEETING OSAMU TEZUKA
Adrian Tomine: There’s a lot of real life figures in A Drifting Life. A lot of them were unfamiliar to me, but many of us know Osamu Tezuka who looms rather large over the story. I was personally surprised to see how much of a role Tezuka played in your life, since your style seems so different from his. Can you talk a bit about his influence, and how have your paths diverged or met?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: When I was in elementary school and junior high school, I used to draw 4-panel comics on postcards. I’d send them to the various comic magazines all over town. I just loved manga so much, so I just drew and drew and kept sending them in.
One day a newspaper reporter came to my house wanting to write an article about me. This incident was also in A Drifting Life. This gave me the opportunity to meet Osamu Tezuka in person.
I had read lots of manga by Tezuka. It was a totally new unbelievable world compared to the other manga out there. I would look for Tezuka’s books and I take them home and read them. I thought, someone who could write works like this would have to be the most amazing person, like with light coming off of him (laughs). So in my child’s heart, I thought he must be the most amazing, amazing person.
Like I said before, when the reporter came, he asked me which manga artists I liked, so of course I said 'Tezuka!' 'Oh, you like Tezuka too?' the reporter said. 'So maybe I should introduce you to him?' That’s how it ended up that we had this roundtable discussion with Tezuka and the three other young manga artists.
From the time I heard about that meeting, it was about half a month before I would meet him, that’s all I could think about, was meeting Tezuka. There was nothing else in my head. Just Tezuka, Tezuka! Tezuka! (laughs)
So this happened when I was in junior high. I was in 9th grade. I thought for so long this guy was a god to me. We were so anxious to meet him; it was like a dream! We were waiting at the office to meet him. Then we heard the knock on the door. When he came in, we all sat up straight and thought, 'Wow! He’s here!' (laughs)
This is not an advertisement for my book or anything, but this whole story is in there, so please read it! (laughs)
Adrian Tomine: The work that I’ve read of Tezuka’s is generally fantasy-oriented, science fiction, or more geared toward children. Were you ever inspired by the subject matter of his work?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Well of course, I was interested in what he was writing about. He wrote all these books about a world that we couldn’t even imagine, and he put them out one after another!
He wrote all these stories where there was so much movement. People were moving, falling and rolling. The relationships between men and women, he just drew them so well! The relationships between people he drew, it was so amazing.