Yoshihiro Tatsumi: From my child’s perspective it was all new and fresh, and it really moved me. Now I look at these same stories, maybe I’m not as moved now. But from a child’s perspective, it was definitely really powerful.
When I first became a manga artist, I did things that were more oriented toward children, because I wanted to create that kind of feeling in kids too.
Adrian Tomine: But that’s not the kind of work that D&Q has published, no?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Definitely not, no. (laughs)
Adrian Tomine: Your relationship with Tezuka has kind of come full circle. A Drifting Life won a major award in Tezuka’s name. Can you talk about that?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Osamu Tezuka was writing stuff geared to kids, and he had a really good influence on kids. Whereas the stories I was writing when I became a professional, it was more uhm... well, not so wholesome. (laughs)
Tezuka was writing stories where justice always triumphed, the hero got the girl in the end, and everything just kind of worked out. But when we did our stories, the good guy would lose, and things aren’t going to turn out so good – and that was not considered to have a good influence on kids.
We didn’t worry about our work being too violent, but there was some concern that kids would pick it up and read it. That was very different situation compared with Tezuka’s work.
I considered Tezuka like a god for so long when I was a kid, and more and more I was doing work that was in a very different vein. I started to feel like I couldn’t meet him anymore. So whenever there was a chance that I might see or meet Tezuka, like at publishers’ parties, before we would have a chance to meet or talk, I would always run away from the party. (laughs)
So I kind of felt I had come down a few steps from where Tezuka was. I felt like I didn’t have the face to present to him, just couldn’t really meet him anymore.
REALITY BLURRED: HOW TO WRITE ABOUT REAL PEOPLE WITHOUT LOSING FRIENDS
Adrian Tomine: One reason why I haven’t done autobiographical work like A Drifting Life is because of my essentially cowardly nature in which I’m afraid to face other people who I might portray in such a story. There are so many real-life figures that you show in this work, have you had any response or reaction from these people you drew in the book?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Hm. The only people who come out in this book are my parents, my sister, brother, my friends, the manga artists I was working with, that was the focus of the gekiga movement. The publishing companies, the president of the publishing companies; all of those people were in the book. I’m sure there are people who think I’m not saying such nice things about them.
So that was part of the reason why I changed my name in the book to Katsumi, because I wanted to create a distance between me and this character in A Drifting Life. Hopefully, to not have all my relationships go totally south. (laughs) So the story is all true, but fortunately, because of this, I haven’t had any trouble at all with anyone.
In my next story, Adrian will be in it. So I don’t know if it will get me in any trouble with him or not! (laughs)
Adrian Tomine: The last time we talked, you mentioned that you were doing something interesting about the tradition of Japanese literature that you were working in...?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: In Japan, there is a tradition of the "I" novel, the autobiographical novel, where everything is true, but you change the name of the main character. Everyone knows that it’s you, but the name is changed so it gives you that distance. It’s a particular kind of genre of novel in Japan.
There doesn’t seem to be this kind of tradition in America. I talked with D&Q about it, and there was some issue with the name, but didn’t want to lose any friends over this, so I wanted to keep the name different.
Adrian Tomine: I got some comments from readers not understanding the scribbling on the face at the end, but I think it’s self-evident.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Originally, what is currently the epilogue was at the beginning at the work – but talking with Adrian, we talked about putting it at the end, and it just makes so much sense as a way of ending it. We’re thinking about doing this way in the Spain and Japan too.
Adrian Tomine: The first version you sent to me had the Tezuka funeral services scenes as a prologue. Then you sent us another version that omitted it altogether. I just thought it was such a strong scene and it should be included.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: That’s exactly right. You wouldn’t know it any other way.
DRAWING THE LITTLE MOMENTS THAT MEAN SO MUCH
Adrian Tomine: One common thread I see in your work that I admire very much is how you show a very small human interaction and how that shows something bigger, says something much more profound. I’m curious about the process, the creation of these stories. Are you examining things on the smaller scale or is it the other way around?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: For example, the story of Hiroshima / Jigoku (Hell) (from Good Bye) is the story of the atomic bomb falling, and a man taking a photo of an image that is burned into the wall from the bomb’s blast.
The first image when I was creating this story, was the image that burned into a brick wall. It was a real photograph that I had seen, and I was extremely moved. I thought, 'wow, someone could die like that and have their image left like that.' I forgot about that image for several years.
Some time after that, I got a request from Playboy magazine – you have that magazine here too, but it’s different in Japan. They said, 'Draw whatever you want – 30 pages would be great.' So I remembered that photo, and I went to Hiroshima to go to the atomic bomb museum.
I went there, and saw a famous photo of all the victims, all burned in their various states. Then I was walking around the town, and it just hit me. I wanted to tell a story about the person who took that photo of that burned image and made a life from it. I shouldn’t say more than that. If you were kind enough to have read the story already, you know the rest. And I’m not trying to sell the book again, but if you please. (bows) (laughs)