Adrian Tomine: You took this story that could have been very sentimental and made it into some thing tougher; that told a story that was much darker than what you would expect.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I put the same effort into all of my work. But some of them turn out to be boring too! (laughs). From the time I saw the photo and thought about it and got all these ideas – that was about 5-6 years, but the actual writing of the story took about 10 days.
I kind of push everything into my head from TV, news; just anything interesting that might make for a good story, then I kind of forget about the boring things. These ideas just stick around, and I create new stories out of them. Like in Good Bye and Hell, I just write what I’m feeling at the time. It’s not me being particularly in love with the topic, it’s just how I feel when I draw them.
Adrian Tomine: In A Drifting Life, you talk a lot about the pop culture of the time; like Akira Kurosawa, Mickey Spillane. Were there other things, outside of comics that had a big impact on you as an artist?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I tend to write about everything that’s happening in Japan. Socially, I’m inspired by that. Even if they’re good or bad incidents, I find myself interested in them, and then create stories. So before I write something, I’m always determined to include the things that are happening in society at the time.
So after the war, American troops came in, and got things settled in Japan. I drew this image of a Japanese man pulling a rickshaw – and there‘s a drunk American soldier waving around a bottle of alcohol around, getting kind of crazy. So just in that one panel, it sums up the exact situation of Japan after the war in that one panel. I’ve been complimented for that before. I’m praising myself a little bit, but I think it works out really well sometimes! (laughs)
Adrian Tomine: Now with the publication of A Drifting Life, we’re seeing your most current work along with some of your oldest work. It’s heartening and inspiring to see a career that is so long, and continues to grow and improve; all the things that cartoonists strive for. How do you stay inspired, and focused? Are there any pitfalls that cartoonists should avoid?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I think you really need to be healthy to have a long career. In Japan, there’s a belief that your body is more important than your brains. You have to take care of your health; after you take care of your body, then take care your head! (smiles)
So maybe for me, over these 60 years, I’ve put my head first and my health has gotten worse (laughs). I guess for people who want to write comics, so maybe taking care of your head is important too!
TATSUMI'S IMPRESSIONS OF TORONTO, TCAF AND TEZUKA
On Sunday afternoon, at the end of TCAF, Ab. Velasco, from the Toronto Public Library and I were given an opportunity to ask a few more questions of Tatsumi-sensei. We got his impressions of Toronto, and were able to ask him to elaborate on a few things that he brought up at his Friday evening talk.
Ab Velasco: How has your experience at TCAF been?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I didn’t think it would be this big! I heard about TCAF about six years ago, and had heard that it attracted about... 600 people? So I thought it would be a little quieter festival. But how many people have come here today?
Ab Velasco: Oh, today alone? Probably at least 2 - 3,000 people. We’re thinking maybe this whole weekend, maybe we’ve seen about, 10,000 here?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Wow, that’s amazing. And yesterday too – it was so crowded, you almost couldn’t even walk sometimes! I think it’ll just get bigger and bigger. I think this time, it was just a smash hit. It’s great because you can meet all the writers and artists of your dreams, so it’s been a really, really fun two days for me. I just got a little tired from signing!
It was the same in New York City too. We did several events and went to several comics shops and I did a lot of signing there too. I’m happy about it, though!
Deb Aoki: I thought it was so nice that you took the time to draw a sketch in everyone’s books.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: (laughs) Oh, it’s my job, so that’s what I do! I’m just so happy that people are buying my book, it just powers my hand to do it!
Deb Aoki: What inspired you to look back on your life like this now?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: The editor who worked on a magazine where these stories were originally published came to me and said, 'You don’t have much time to live, so you should do this.' I kind of didn’t want to do it – I mean, that’s kind of a rude thing to say! (laughs)
I was a little bit ill at the time, so then I thought, 'Huh! Maybe he’s right! Maybe I don’t have much time left, so I guess I should write something.' I really didn’t think I would be writing it for 12 years, though.
I finished writing this about two years ago, so it’s been 14 years now since I started writing it. Now the head of D&Q (Chris Oliveros) has told me, "Write the continuation!" So from now on, I am planning to write it. (smiles) I hope I can stick around a little bit longer to do that!
Deb Aoki: As I was reading A Drifting Life, I thought it was amazing that you had a front row seat to see manga’s evolution from after the war through the 1970s and beyond.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I don’t know about that! I don’t have any manga artist friends now. So now in Japan, I’m just a regular old man! (laughs)
Deb Aoki: Heh! That’s not true!
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: (laughs) Well, thank you for saying that!
Deb Aoki: I’ve heard from friends who live in Japan that gekiga is a term that is not used anymore?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Yes, that’s true.
Deb Aoki: But do you think that the gekiga movement still has something to teach the manga artists of today?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: The manga artists up to now have an awareness of gekiga. And they’ve been creating work that’s influenced by it since, maybe 40 years ago, when this kind of work started to appear in boys magazines. At that time, gekiga got kind of got absorbed by the bigger world of manga. So that’s how big the gekiga world became. So now gekiga and manga are the same thing.