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Graphic Literature

From “A Drifting Life”

By Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Translated from Japanese by Taro Nettleton
Yoshihiro Tatsumi is a renowned manga artist and creator of the realistic, hard-hitting gekiga style. In this excerpt from his graphic autobiography, he describes childhood encounters with bullies and a personal hero.
Michiko: Hiroshi, you’re going to be late for school.
Hiroshi: I still haven’t finished my summer assignments!
Hiroshi: I’m late!
Person: That’s what you get for drawing manga every day.
Person: Take the bus! You’ll be in trouble if you’re late to the first day of school.
Hiroshi: Right.
[It took close to an hour to walk over the hill, but only 30 minutes to get to school by train and bus.]
{Klak Klak Klak}
{Vrooom Vroom}
{Vrooom Vrooom Vrooom}
Driver: I apologize for the inconvenience. The bus has stalled.
Bus: Huff huff…
Person: Buses running on charcoal gas have very little power.
Bully: Hey!
Bully: Hey, wait a minute!
Hiroshi: Darn! I’ll just have to pretend I don’t hear.
Bully: You!
[Later, Hiroshi would suffer the repercussions of having ignored the biggest bully in school.]
Sign: Toyonaka No. 2 Middle School
Hiroshi: I made it to morning assembly!
Principal: I am delighted to see your healthy, tanned faces! Students, how was your summer vacation?
{Ribbit Ribbit}
{Ribbit ribbit}
Storyteller: And now, the continued story of “Golden Bat” that you’ve all been waiting for!
{Boom boom}
Title: “Golden Bat,” drawn and colored by Koji Kata
{Boom boom}
Storyteller: Golden Bat suddenly appeared from the sky!
[Picture story shows were at the height of their popularity in 1949. There were 50,000 picture storytellers on the streets of Japan. They would sell kids candy and crackers, then perform two or three episodes.]
[“Golden Bat” was the most popular story. However, because there was only one original set that was loaned out to the storytellers, bootleg versions flooded the streets. Many of the greats of postwar manga, including Shigeru Mizuki, Goseki Kojima, Sanpei Shirato, and Gojin Ishihara, were all picture storytellers during this period.]
[During the war, some in the industry referred to the picture stories as “Gageki” (“Picture Drama”), but the exact date of origin of this term in unknown. After the rise of television and weekly magazines, picture stories quickly faded into the past.]
Storyteller: That’s all for today! Make sure you come back for the rest of the story!
Michiko: Hiroshi, I didn’t know you were here watching.
Mother: Oh, so you were with Michiko? You got a letter from Mainichi Shimbun.
Envelope: Hiroshi Katsumi 1-37 Asada, Toyonaka-shi
Hiroshi: “Thank you for visiting our offices. In regard to our conversation on that day, it was decided in an editorial meeting that we will hold a roundtable discussion with you and Mr. Tezuka.”
Person: You’re finally going to meet the Osamu Tezuka!
Hiroshi: “Please come to the Mainichi Shimbun offices at 1:00 PM on September 10.”
Person: If it’s a roundtable discussion, it won’t be just you and Tezuka.
Hiroshi: (Thinking) All right!
[Sunday September 10, 1950 Osaka-Mainichi Shimbun Office]
Organizer: There you are, Katsumi-kun. Thanks for coming.
Hiroshi: Are there other people coming?
Organizer: Yes, two. They’re already here.
Organizer: This is Hiroshi Katsumi.
Organizer: Ah!
Hiroshi: You must be Okanishi-kun from Kyoto!
Okanishi: Hello.
Organizer: So you know each other.
Hiroshi: Yes, we formed the Children’s Manga Association together.
Organizer: And this is Masuda-kun.
Masuda: I’m in Mr. Tezuka’s manga group.
Organizer: Mr. Tezuka should be here any minute now.
Voice from outside room: Hello…Tezuka here.
{Klak Klak Klak}
Tezuka: Sorry I’m late. Still very hot out, isn’t it?
Organizer: Mr. Tezuka, please sit by the window, where it’ll be cooler.
Tezuka: Thank you, thank you.
Tezuka: I’ve already lost three fans this summer. I’m so forgetful, you see. Hahaha
Hiroshi: (thinking) The genius behind all those great works is sitting right next to me! Strange he doesn’t seem at all different from any other young guy…
Organizer: You’re quite difficult to get a hold of. You must be very busy.
Tezuka: Well, I’m still a student, you see.
Organizer: So today, we would like you join us in a roundtable discussion with young manga artists. These are the works of the three young men joining us today.
Tezuka: I see. The four-panel format is really the basics of manga. You really need good ideas for the four-panel format.
[They spent hours steeped in comics.]
[Hiroshi felt as if he was living a dream. Here he was, discussing comics with Osamu Tezuka, whom he always thought of as beyond reach.]
{Klak klak klak klak}
{Klak klak klak klak}
Paper: Look for the large cinnamon tree; Approx. 10 minutes (Tezuka address)
Tezuka: We both live off the Hankyu Line. We’re practically neighbors. Come visit me sometime.
Hiroshi: (thinking) So Mr. Tezuka’s house in in Takarazuka.
[On the Hankyu Line, Takarazuka was approximately 20 minutes away from Hotarugaike, where Hiroshi lived.]
{Sound of crickets}
Okimasa: So Osamu Tezuka is still a university student.
Hiroshi: Yeah, he just seems like any other guy in the neighborhood. He talk real fast and says, “Well I, well I” all the time.
Okimasa: Uh-huh.
[Hiroshi and Okimasa were so excited that they talked late into the night.]
Hiroshi: I can’t seem to sleep. Wish those crickets would shut up.
{Fifth and sixth panels: Sound of crickets}

From A Drifting Life. Published 2009 from Drawn and Quarterly. Copyright 2009 by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. By arrangement with Drawn and Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Read Context Explore Teaching Ideas

From A Drifting Life. Published 2009 from Drawn and Quarterly. Copyright 2009 by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. By arrangement with Drawn and Quarterly. All rights reserved.

Meet Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Watch a trailer for the animated movie Tatsumi, based on Yoshihiro’s life and inspired by his style.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

Read a short interview with Tatsumi from Publisher’s Weekly, or an even shorter tribute from The Paris Review: “A Very Normal Person.”

Hear the Names

Listen to pronunciations of the Japanese names and words from this story, read aloud by the translator Allison Markin Powell.

Read the Original

Take a look at the the original Japanese language version of this memoir: Gekiga hyoryu 1 (劇画漂流上) and Gekiga hyoryu 2 (劇画漂流下).

More of the Story

Cover of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's 'A Drifting Life'

Read reviews of the book A Drifting Life, including “Manifesto of a Comic-Book Rebel, from The New York Times, and an in-depth review on the blog Shigekuni.

Osamu Tezuka

Learn about the life and influence of Osamu Tezuka, the artist who enters the story on page 10, in “Godfather of Anime, Osamu Tezuka” from the tofugu blog. Scroll down to see video clips of his works.  

Then, read another perspective on the importance of Tezuka in “Is Tezuka God?” from Words Without Borders.

Finally, find out why Tezuka was a mentor for Tatsumi in this interview with Japan Times: “Tracing the genealogy of gekiga.”

From Kamishibai to Manga
  • Find out where you can see kamishibai, or “picture story shows,” today
  • Watch a kamishibai master, Yassan, perform a story about the childhood of Osamu Tezuka, the cartoonist Hiroshi meets on page 9 (in Japanese, but it’s possible to understand the gist from the pictures).(Watch the video on YouTube.)Teachers can use Japan Society’s Kamishibai resources (including digital Kamishibai and video guides) or the Teacher’s Guide from Kamishibai for Kids.
  • Then, browse the articles in’s Introduction to Anime & Manga
Background on Japan

Pedestrians underneath umbrellas, their backs to us, walking on a Tokyo street on a rainy night.
Read the BBC’s short country profile of Japan, or visit for the latest news. 

More from Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Read “The Birth of Manga,” a different excerpt from A Drifting Life, published in The New York Times

Then, browse through the Yoshihiro Tatsumi author page on Drawn & Quarterly, the publisher of Tatsumi’s work in English.

Or, watch a conversation between Yoshihiro Tatsumi and American cartoonist Adrian Tomine from 2009. At 16:00, they talk about Osamu Tezuka; Tatsumi says of their first two-hour meeting: “I was in complete awe . . . [but] this was when I was most insecure about my ability to be a manga artist and I was sure I could never follow in [his] footsteps . . . ”

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

Meet Adrian Tomine

Cartoonist Adrian Tomine discovered Tatsumi as a teenager, and has since helped Tatsumi’s work get translated and published in the United States. Read the Words Without Borders interview with Tomine.

Tomine was also influenced by Tatsumi in his own work, including his collection of personal and emotional graphic short stories Killing and Dying, the last story of which is dedicated to Tatsumi.

A Superhero and a Subway Line

Read about Japan’s first superhero, Golden Bat, who appears on page 4 of this story.

In the story, Hiroshi used a map of the Hankyu subway line to find Tezuka’s house. Look at a map of the Hankyu line today.

More on Manga

Find out how language in manga has changed over the years in the article “Approaches and Reasons for Looking at Language in Manga” on

Also read “More Than Words,” an article that compares the power of images and words.

For even more, read Manga! Manga! The World of Japanese Comics, with an introduction by Osamu Tezuka.

The Origins of Gekiga

A Drifting Life tells the story of the creation of a type of comic called gekiga. The Japanese title of the book is Gegika hyoryū, which means “A Gekiga Survivor.”

Watch a video in which Tatsumi discusses the beginnings of gekiga.

(Watch the video on YouTube.)

Read a definition of gekiga; or, for an academic perspective from the International Manga Research Center, read “Gekiga as a site of intercultural exchange” (opens as a PDF.)

For more gekiga in English, look at a list on Good Reads.

A Violent Aesthetic

Read “If a person is stabbed they bleed,” an interview in which Yoshihiro Tatsumi discusses the role of violence in his work. 

Find out about Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s wartime childhood, relationship with manga artist Osamu Tezuka, and more in an extensive interview translated by Taro Nettleton and published in The Comics Journal. (There are some graphic images of nudity in the reproductions of Tatsumi’s work.)

Translation, Adaptation, and Animation

For an in-depth exploration of the process of editing and translating A Drifting Life, and to learn “how the different reading and comprehension needs of the two audiences have affected the physical, visual, and textual structure of the book,” read the report “Gekiga into English,” written by a former intern at Drawn & Quarterly.

Then, read a conversation with Eric Khoo, the director of the animated movie Tatsumi, based on Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s life.

Tatsumi's Legacy

Read a eulogy of Tatsumi, published in The Paris Review and written by the publisher of A Drifting Life, recalling what it was like to work with Tatsumi on the book. 

The "Father of Manga"

Read “Tetsu of the Yamanote Line,” by Osamu Tezuka aka the “Father of Manga,” and published on WWB Campus. 

Browse through the extensive collection of Osamu Tezuka’s works on the site Tezuka in English, and for a more extensive history, watch the story of his life from the Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum.

After the Bomb: Manga Artists of the Postwar Era

Find out how the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki influenced manga artists like Osamu Tezuka, whose works featured a futuristic Japan and themes of death and rebirth.

Then, find out about other postwar manga influenced by Osamu Tezuka in “Manga and the Bomb,” from Al Jazeera.

Explore the work of the other “greats of postwar manga” mentioned on page 5: Shigeru Mizuki, Goseki Kojima, Sanpei Shirato, and Gojin Ishihara. You can learn about Shigeru Mizuki, who began his career as a picture-storyteller, in the New Yorker profile “Shigeru Mizuki’s War-Haunted Art and Life.”

Then, look through images from Mizuki’s Yokai Encyclopedia and browse through the Shigeru archive on cartoon publisher Drawn & Quarterly’s site.

Literary Kin

Read about the parallels between Yoshihiro Tatsumi and Raymond Carver, which the author of this article calls “a melancholy kinship between a master of manga and a master of the short story.”

Mickey Spillane novels were also an important influence on Tatsumi’s “adult,” gritty, and sometimes graphic style. Read an excerpt from Dead Street, or any other of the many Spillane novels.

More Graphic Literature on the Self*

For other graphic autobiographies, read:

* For Teaching Idea 1

More Visual Language*
  • Sharing,” from China, the visual language of which includes recurring images (See that story’s Teaching Idea 1 for details) 
  • The Last of the Bunch,” from Egypt, in which wordless images convey characters’ emotions (See Teaching Idea 4) 
  • Proud Beggars,” from Egypt, a graphic representation of a work previously in prose (See Teaching Idea 1) 
  • Also from Egypt, the pamphlet “Two Million People in the Square” uses comic-book effects, similar to those in Tatsumi’s story, to issue a call to political action

 * For Teaching Idea 1

More Literary Self-Portraits*

Some might say A Drifting Life is a portrait of a (manga) artist as a young man. Read James Joyce’s bildungsroman Portrait of An Artist as a Young Man.

Other bildungsromans include:

  • Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë: Students might compare Jane’s initial meeting with Mr. Rochester to the meeting of Hiroshi and Tezuka in “A Drifting Life.” 
  • Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (1861) 
  • Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)

* For Teaching Idea 2

More Drifting Lives (and a few trapped characters)*

* For Teaching Idea 3 

To access these Teaching Ideas, please register or login to WWB-Campus.

From A Drifting Life. Published 2009 from Drawn and Quarterly. Copyright 2009 by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. By arrangement with Drawn and Quarterly. All rights reserved.

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