I’ve always been a little hesitant of the “hidden influences” theory of popular culture — the idea that the real driving forces behind all the things we’re surrounded by are not the prime movers themselves (U2, the Beatles, the Stones, Elvis, etc.), but the people they took their cues from. I’m not against the theory in the abstract, because it makes an awful lot of sense. Consider the number of bands who hit it big after being inspired to do their thing by people who were dismissed or ignored entirely at the time: could The Ramones have been possible without the vastly less famous New York Dolls, for instance? My main reason for being touch-and-go about the theory mostly revolves around the way some people have run with it to such a degree that they ignored common sense — Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, for instance, has some good ideas about such things buried beneath hundreds of pages of tendentious twaddle.
When you come up against one of those influential sources first-hand, though, the theories take a back seat to the raw thrill you get from the material itself. I got that charge while reading Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man, not simply because this is the first time most English-language audiences will have ever read his work but because it seems virtually impossible that someone like this could not have influenced most anyone who read him. His work is that universal and accessible. For over thirty years Tatsumi has worked in manga, often for miserable money, creating comics with unvarnished surfaces but startling depths, and getting published mostly in magazines like Tezuka Osamu’s experimental-works outlet COM — places where a great many modern masters of the art themselves got their cues.
The Push Man is the first in a planned series of collections of Tatsumi’s work courtesy of graphic-novel publishers Drawn & Quarterly. The fact that there is more of his work outside of this one volume is in itself startling: I half-expected his career to have been brutally abbreviated, like Nathaniel West or Delmore Schwartz. No story in the book runs to more than sixteen pages or so, and none of them need to be more than that. They arrive, they deal a stinging blow, and leave. Read more