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Black Blizzard
posted April 15, 2010


Creator: Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Publishing Information: Drawn and Quarterly, softcover, 144 pages, April 2010, $19.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781770460126 (ISBN13), 1770460128 (ISBN10)

Black Blizzard was a breakthrough work for its creator, the gekiga master Yoshihiro Tatsumi, and a keystone work for many of his generation of manga creators. As Black Snowstorm, it's featured in prominent fashion in last year's slightly-masked Tatsumi autobiography A Drifting Life, and I can imagine that many folks out there are going to re-read those sections of that book before reading this one. It can't hurt. For me, the memoir provided a reminder of just how startling the general visual approach of Black Blizzard must have been, how potent its combination of mood-setting lines and harsh diagonals must have felt when the eye processed first the deliberate cinematic elements. It's a muscular, immediate comic and must have felt like a punch in the face back when it was first released.

imageThe story of a concert pianist convicted of a murdering a man in a drunken rage, Black Blizzard owes a debt to the physical ingenuity that Alexandre Dumas folded into sections of The Count Of Monte Cristo. Because our hero is attached via handcuffs to a five-time convict with multiple murders on his rap sheet, The Defiant Ones will come to mind, but that movie wouldn't play in Japan for two more years. Tatsumi was young when he created Black Bllizzard, but in an interview with Adrian Tomine in the back of the book he reveals that he wasn't young at all when it came to creating works of this length or in the sheer number of comics pages he had put into publication. The best scenes in Black Blizzard have a physical immediacy that only arises from fundamentally solid cartooning with a corresponding attention to movement: a scene of a flashlight hitting a wall is staged about as cleverly as any similar moment in comics I can remember. The cartoonist acts like the blizzard of the title as a focusing element, keeping our attention on the immediate actions taken by his characters. The world is collapsed into a series of fundamental dilemmas: escape/surrender, freedom/imprisonment, truth/advocacy.

Black Blizzard is a fun but rough work, full of character types and situations entirely too on the nose to reflect the nuances of certain moral questions brought to bear. Perhaps the most unappealing part of the book is the sudden climax and the unlikely twist that follows. It feels manipulative, almost like a professor seizing back control of a classroom discussion that for several moments got way out there. On the other hand, following a lengthy narrative sequence where the maiming of each character is brought into question in order to facilitate a better chance at escape, you're bound to feel let down by just about any third act. That's the heart of the story, anyway: to what extent is the concert pianist willing to sacrifice his own self-identity to have a chance at a life at least somewhat free of the worst depredations he's due. I'll leave it up to your reading to say if he gave the right answer.