And, boy do I love it. It came from their debut album Psychedelic Sound in Japan which was released in 1968 (“White Rabbit” came out in 1967). The album also includes covers of “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane, “Light My Fire” by The Doors and two songs by The Animals. They received much press for being the “first psychedelic band” in Japan, and performed with elaborate light shows.
Lead singer Hiromitsu Suzuki really nails all the notes (even if he doesn’t quite nail all the words), but I especially enjoy the instrumentation they employ–the violin is an interesting addition. And the way the instruments are separated in headphones (all drums in the right ear?) is really psychedelic.
It is really a trippy version (“Somebody to Love” is pretty fine too, especially when the really buzzy guitar kicks in about half way through).
Tadao Tsuge is a Japanese cartoonist considered “one of alternative manga’s cult stars.” He has been making cartoons since 1959 and has contributed to all manner of Japanese publications.
What seems to set him apart from other cartoonists (according to the interviews and such that fill out the book) is that Tadao grew up in the slums of Tokyo and is willing to write about them. He also worked for many many years at a blood bank (one that paid people for their blood). It was there, amid the terrible conditions, that he believes he contracted hepatitis.
The amazing thing to me while reading these six cartoons (which I assume are only a tiny fraction Tadao’s total output, but I’m not sure) is that I had no idea when they were written–they have a timelessness that is really amazing. So when I finally flipped back to the front and saw that the first story was written in 1968, I was blown away.
The six stories included here are all dark in some way. The first five were published in Garo magazine, while the final one was published in Yago. And they grow darker as he continued to make them.
The first one, “Up on the Hilltop, Vincent van Gogh” (from 1968) was a great story that I was immediately drawn into. Tadao’s style is so sparse, especially in the beginning, with the main character’s nose just being a kind of shaded triangle. And yet it is interspersed with pictures of van Gogh (drawings of van Gogh’s paintings) that are quite detailed and impactful. The story involves a boy who is studying the master only to be interrupted by his friend who only wants to drink. Which brings him crashing out of his reveries. The story actually works as a nicely succinct biography of van Gogh as well.
“Song of Showa” (1969) is a more or less autobiographical tale of growing up with a grandfather who beat him. The line work is still simple but there are more details that really make the story come to life. I really enjoyed the ambiguous ending of this one.
“Manhunt” (1969) was an unusual story because it involved a man who left his life and disappeared but has no recollection of it–what can his story be? And why is the newspaper interested in him?
“Gently Goes the Night” (1970) is a darker story about an older man who “befriends” a young woman. The story is an ugly one in that it hinges on the woman “wanting it” and whether or not she is playing coy with his advances. The ending panel is rather disturbing one
“A Tale of Absolute and Utter Nonsense” (1972) is a story of revolution and violence–standing up to authorities or being beaten down by them. There’s a lot of bloodshed in this story (represented by black ink of course). I was fascinated to learn (in the essay that came later in the book) that the censors didn’t like the final panel so they left it blank in the magazine. And yet there is nothing explicit about the panel at all (it is just a man waving his hat…but the implications were strong–it is actually Hirohito waving his trusty Hamburg hat–something i never would have understood without reading the essay).
“Trash Market” (1972) is a story about the people who went to the blood bank–the down and out, the destitute, former soldiers down on their luck, women with no skills, and of course, drunks. It is a depressing story where no one benefits (not even the people who receive the crappy blood, presumably).
The end of the book includes a collection of essays from Tadao called The Tadao Tsuge Revue which were written for the magazine And Flowers and Storms. These were personal essays in which he talked about his life and his work and they included some really good illustrations. They also give some background to some of the stories–anecdotes about his grandfather and about working in that disgusting blood bank.
There is also an interview with Tadao from Ryan Holmberg who also translated the stories. Well, it is more of a sketch of Tadao with quotes from the interview, rather than a word for word interview. In this we learn more about Tadao’s brother Yoshiharu Tsuge who is a more well-known cartoonist (he was working at Garo and had Tadao do some stories for them). It’s a surprisingly bleak story with not much of a silver lining.
The whole package is a really good look at an artist I was totally unfamiliar with.