Writer: Tadao Tsuge
Artist: Tadao Tsuge
Publisher: Drawn + Quarterly
Release Date: May 12, 2015
One of the strangest things about Trash Market, a collection of postwar Japanese manga by Tadao Tsuge, could be the cover choice. First, it shows an image from a panel in its flipped (original?) orientation, calling attention to the publisher’s decision to reorient the book to the Western left-to-right standard. Second, it features a woman in the act of yelling, “Everybody… There’s a rapist”—even as her thought bubble says “snicker….” The words, of course, don’t appear on the cover, but when one encounters the panel in the middle of “Gently Goes the Night,” it’s immediately recognizable and sends a shock through the system. All of this is to say that Trash Market is somewhat opaque as a work, even down to its details. Tsuge isn’t nearly as accessible an artist as Shigeru Mizuki, whose work D+Q also publishes. His drawing is sort of a mess. His stories are driven by emotion and impression rather than plot. But they’re very much of their era, and they do have elements that could earn a recommendation.
Trash Market collects six stories originally published between 1968 and 1972, mostly in Garo, an alternative manga magazine that also featured the work of Tsuge’s older brother Yoshiharu. Some of (Tadao) Tsuge’s autobiographical writings appear at the end of the book, and, combined with editor Ryan Holmberg’s essay, they tell us that some of the stories are autobiographical. The title story—which features a group of men hanging around a blood bank on a hot day, waiting to sell their fluids for cash while swapping fish stories—comes from Tsuge’s time working at just such an establishment. “Song of Showa,” in which a small boy struggles with an abusive home environment, set upon by both father and grandfather, likewise comes from the artist’s experiences. “Up on the Hilltop, Vincent Van Gogh” follows a night in the life of a young artist who traces the biography of his predecessor, and Holmberg says it, too, bears some resemblance to Tsuge’s life.
On the other hand, “Manhunt,” “Gently Goes the Night” and “A Tale of Absolute and Utter Nonsense” are more generally characteristic of the era than specific to their creator’s story. They speak of the frustrations of an ideologically unmoored postwar society, in which otherwise behaved citizens wander off from their families to obsess over strippers, or sexually assault young women or commit acts of terroristic violence. It’s all fairly overheated stuff.
Consider the genre of these stories as pulp, and you will be on the right track. Driven by existentialism, they feature characters who act without thinking, on impulse and instinct. Tsuge renders their faces primitively, with simple, ugly lines. Some stories feature more in the way of crosshatching to create shading, but many are flat and simplistic, drawn to convey quick emotional effect rather than gradations of relationships. We don’t get inside anyone’s head. The result is comparable to Roger Corman’s films of the same time period: driven by social issues and a sense of unease, long on cheap style and energy, full of titillation and with little in the way of gray.