At the time, manga was for kids, and gekiga wasn’t for kids. So to break it down really simply, we don’t really use gekiga anymore. It’s just become a matter-of-fact, natural part of manga. But 40 years ago, almost all of the manga artists were influenced by gekiga.
When people ask me now, what’s the difference between manga and gekiga, it’s hard to say! So now, gekiga is manga. But manga is not gekiga.
Deb Aoki: It’s not really covered in A Drifting Life, but Tezuka-sensei was definitely aware of the gekiga movement. So how did you feel when you saw him create works that leaned toward being more adult, more like gekiga?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: When my friends and I decided to start creating gekiga, we created a manifesto that we sent out to magazines and newspapers. A lot of people were saying that gekiga was violent, and full of sex. The manifesto we wrote said that gekiga is one part of manga, but it’s not a bad thing.
So we kind of made a mistake and sent it to Tezuka-sensei as well.
Deb Aoki: Why was it a mistake?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: We had a list of people that we were going to send it to, all these names, and Tezuka-sensei’s name was on there too. I thought we weren’t going to send it to him; I didn’t expect to send it to him!
I was told that Tezuka-sensei had said, 'There’s no way I’m going to draw gekiga! My work is manga.' But apparently, all of his assistants were reading gekiga. He got really mad about that, and said so in his autobiography, and he ended up coming down a few pegs to adopt the style. So that’s how he became aware of gekiga.
So when we would travel to France for Angoulême in 1982 with Tezuka-sensei to talk about manga and gekiga. At the time, Tezuka-sensei was very healthy and in good spirits. At that time at Angoulême, he said then 'My work is manga, not gekiga.' At the venue where my work was displayed, there was gekiga, gekiga written all over the place! So Tezuka-sensei was looking at that and kind of making a sour face. (laughs)
But after that, he kept saying that his work wasn’t gekiga, but he did accept our gekiga, by saying, 'Well, it’s good that there’s that kind of manga too.'
I didn’t really worry about getting that kind of criticism from Tezuka-sensei. A few years before he died, I met him at a café to talk. At the time, he didn’t look well – he was pretty thin. At the time, he felt like his work had kind of gotten off track, or something. 'Maybe I’m approaching the world of gekiga' is the message that I got from him?
But my true feeling at the time was just sadness, you know? I really felt blessed that Tezuka-sensei had just kept going his own way with his manga, and we just kind of followed up and did our little experiments.
Deb Aoki: There hasn’t been much manga published in English of the artists you’ve mentioned in A Drifting Life, your fellow artists who started the gekiga movement.
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Well, there were eight of us at the time. At first there was just seven of us, and then eight. Four of these artists are no longer with us. And two others are doing other lines of work now. So now, of that gekiga group, there’s just the two of us still creating manga.
Deb Aoki: Who’s the other artist?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Takao Saito.
Deb Aoki: Oh, the creator of Golgo 13!
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Oh, do you like his work? He’s my rival! (laughs) He’s really doing a lot of stuff – he’s very active. He’s really famous in Japan.
Deb Aoki: For fans who enjoy A Drifting Life, are there other artists that they should pick up and read next?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I always get asked that! (laughs) To tell the truth, I don’t read anyone’s work nowadays.
Deb Aoki: Oh, I meant from that original gekiga group --- which artists should be published in English next?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Oh, I don’t know about that... It was honestly just so amateurish and bad, the art created at the start of gekiga! So now, all the manga now, the pictures are just, wow! The drawings are so great. Artistically, they’re really advanced.
I don’t know how it would work, if we went back and published all that old work from when we started, and just published them as is.
Yesterday, I was talking with the president of D&Q and he said, 'Isn’t there anything you could recommend?' I said, 'Oh, it’s just such bad work, you can’t even read it!' (laughs) The president said, 'That’s fine!' So maybe I’ll go back and re-read some stories, and pick some stuff out. Perhaps we could put out a short story collection or something like that? I don’t know if it will really capture the hearts of modern readers, though.
Deb Aoki: Well, I would love to read it, so I hope this comes out. So, to bring it back to the present, what are you currently working on?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I just finished a story about rakugo. Do you know about rakugo (Japanese comedy storytelling)? I just finished writing an old-style rakugo story. It’s a single volume, about 250 pages. It’s supposed to come out in Japan in July.
I’ve also finished writing, just writing the story, of my manga, and my life up to now. I’m in the process of editing it. Compared to A Drifting Life, I’m writing more about current events. So I’d also like to write a continuation of A Drifting Life.
Deb Aoki: Wow, I’ll definitely look forward to seeing that. You’ve drawn almost all your life – how do you stay motivated?
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: I’ve always just written honestly. When I just think, I’d like to write about that world, I just do it. So like gag manga, serious manga, family life manga, action manga, and even erotic manga – so I’ve just written what I want to write!
I never really think about the readers, so I’m not really popular in Japan! (laughs) It’s true! I’ve never had this kind of signing event in Japan! Not even once! (Mrs. Tatsumi tells him that’s not entirely true)
Well, okay -- I’ve never had an event where I sell and sign a book like this. I have signed books, but it’s not like it’s a signing event like the ones I’ve done these past two weeks. So when I go back to Japan, I don’t have any energy again. So I come to Toronto and I’m full of good spirits!
Many thanks to Peggy Burns, Chris Butcher and Jocelyne Allen for their assistance with this interview.