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Drawn and Quarterly publishes what I think of as “hipster manga” — artsy, bleak, literary titles that are as far as you can get from the boobs-and-battles genre titles that have teenagers clogging the aisles of bookstores — and they have two important manga releases scheduled for next spring.
The first is yet another Yoshihiro Tatsumi title, Fallen Words. Tatsumi’s work, which is in the gekiga (underground) tradition, is relentlessly bleak, and the publisher’s description makes it clear that this book won’t be any exception, despite the promise that it will be “whimsical.” The stories are based on the Japanese tradition of rakugo, a comical form of storytelling that uses lots of wordplay. Despite their wit, the stories seem rather dark:
In one, a father finds his son too bookish and arranges for two workers to take the young man to a brothel on the pretext of visiting a new shrine. In another particularly beloved rakugo tale, a married man falls in love with a prostitute. When his wife finds out, she is enraged and sets a curse on the other woman. The prostitute responds by cursing the wife, and the two escalate in a spiral of voodoo doll cursing. Soon both are dead, but even death can’t extinguish their jealousy.
Sounds like a regular riot. A little Tatsumi goes a long way, in my opinion. But I’m more excited about the other title, Shigeru Mizuki’s NonNonBa, a memoir of growing up with his grandmother in a world inhabited by yokai (spirits). This book won the top prize at Angouleme a couple of years ago — not the top manga prize, the top prize — and I have been hoping someone would bring it over here. This year, D+Q published Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, a relentless depiction of the lives of soldiers in a doomed unit in the last days of World War II; despite the depressing subject matter, it was a great read, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Mizuki can do with something a bit lighter.