As reported by London-based comic book journalist Paul Gravett on his website:
The news came through to me in a short email yesterday, March 7th 2015: “Sensei passed away today.” Yoshihiro Tatsumi is the ‘sensei’ or grand master of ‘gekiga’, a term he coined for the darker, more dramatic form of manga in Japan. His innovations were vitally important for Japanese comics and his lifetime’s work stands as some of the most psychologically powerful and humane narratives, not only in manga but in global comics culture. To mark his passing, I am re-presenting an interview with Eric Khoo, director of the Tatsumianimated documentary, and a close friend of Tatsumi’s, who emailed me me the sad news. (Full article can be accessed here, on his website).
Known as the “Grandmaster” or “Sensei” of gekiga style manga, Tatsumi was a multi-awarded, internationally renowned manga artist whose work has been translated into several different languages. He is widely credited with starting the gekiga style movement, and allegedly coined the term himself. The work that he is known best for is A Drifting Life, an autobiographical manga which recounts his struggles to earn an income in Post World War II Japan. A Drifting Life was released in North America by Drawn and Quarterly, and was also adapted into an animated feature film – titled Tatsumi – back in 2011.
Gekiga (劇画) is Japanese for “dramatic pictures.” The movement itself was incredibly significant in manga history, as signaled a shift in aesthetic and philosophical direction away from the “whimsical pictures” that, during that time, manga was known for. It was an attempt on the part of several manga artists to produce “serious work”, and was, perhaps, the Japanese equivalent to how particular camps within American comic book production want their works to be viewed as graphic novels rather than comic books.
Tatsumi began publishing Gekiga in 1957, and it was vastly different from the mainstream “Tezuka style” manga that was primarily written for children. Works like his resonated with the older readership at that time, who were known as the “manga generation” by merit of the fact that they had grown up reading manga, and were hoping to read something for a more mature audience.
In contrast to mainstream manga, gekiga manga employed darker a more realistic art style. Gekiga storytelling also shifted to match the style by dealing with more serious themes, and placed a great amount of emphasis on maturity and stronger characterization. The growing popularity of these underground comics eventually influenced the styles and art of more mainstream manga artists, and gekiga as a movement become more widely accepted after Osamu Tezuka himself began to adopt gekiga styles of art and storytelling.
Although the gekiga movement has faded from mainstream sensibilities with the increased commercialization of shonen manga, we can continue to see its influence in more underground publications, particularly in seinen manga magazines. Tatsumi’s works and the works of the manga artists who followed in his footsteps continues to influence the manga styles that stand as a counterpoint to the lighter and more whimsical side of Japanese comics. His passing is a great loss to the community, but we’ve little doubt that his legacy will continue to live on in any artist that attempts to break new ground and provide a different lens by which we can view the world through manga.