Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Talking Tatsumi: Black Blizzard
The story involves a hard-boiled cardshark and a pianist framed for murder traveling under police supervision on a train. When the train derails, the pair, handcuffed together, flees the scene. Tatsumi creates a tense atmosphere for the duo, with howling winds, unrelenting police searches and their own distrust of each other. The card shark eventually declares that they'll never get anywhere bound together and pressures the pianist to chop off his hand. When he naturally refuses, this becomes a running conflict that is set on hold temporarily when they try to escape their pursuers but later picked up again in earnest. If Tatsumi makes a mistake as a storyteller here, it's the way he has the pianist artlessly talk about his backstory, wherein he fell in love with a circus singer and was subsequently given the brush off by the man who claimed to be her father--the ringmaster. While Tatsumi makes it pretty obvious who the real killer is, he throws another curveball at readers that's quite clever, redeeming the long flashback in the middle of the otherwise tense narrative. The concluding scenes are genuinely gripping, with all sorts of interesting twists and turns.
Tatsumi's formal tricks are interesting, even if they all seem familiar today. Still, they fit seamlessly in with the narrative, with every technique serving the story and the atmosphere he creates. At this point of his career, his grasp of anatomy was rudimentary at best, giving a number of pages a cartoony quality that he was unlikely trying to convey. As a result, his figure drawing is a bit on the melodramatic side as he really tries to sell the book's uneasy showdown scenes. At the same time, his understanding of body language and how figures relate to each other was already quite strong, giving these scenes their true power. The overall result is something every bit as good as a contemporary EC comics potboiler (in terms of the writing and formal innovations), which is pretty astounding when one considers Tatsumi's age and the fact that he was making it up as he went along. Tatsumi described the feeling of doing this book as the cartoonist's equivalent of the "runner's high"; at a certain point, things like fatigue fell away for a sensation of pure joy in the sheer act of putting pen to paper. While lacking the thematic sophistication of his later comics, Black Blizzard is a fine genre comic that delivers thrills and pathos in equal measure.