Ryan Holmberg is an arts and comics historian. He has taught at the University of Chicago, the City University of New York, and Duke University and is a frequent contributor to Art in America, Artforum, and The Comics Journal. He has edited and translated a number of books of Japanese comics, including Tadao Tsuge’s Slum Wolf, forthcoming from New York Review Comics. He is currently a visiting Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo. (August 2017)


Tadao’s War Memory Manga

A panel from Tadao Tsuge's Slum Wolf showing the shantys of “Vagabond Plain,” 2018

“World War II did not really end for the Japanese until 1952, and the years of war, defeat, and occupation left an indelible mark on those who lived through them,” writes the historian John Dower in Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. This was certainly so for the manga artist Tadao Tsuge (born 1941), who made a gritty fantasy world out of post-surrender retrospection, filling his story-vignettes with landscapes and characters derived from the war’s ruins and the black markets and slums that flourished around them. While Tadao’s work is a unique intervention into the literature of war memory, it also speaks to issues of class, geography, and the built environment.

‘Fukushima Devil Fish’: A Nuclear Pastoral

In October 2011, seven months after the tsunami and meltdowns, a second collection of the artist Katsumata’s work was published in Japan. Titled Deep Sea Fish (Shinkaigyō), the volume reprinted stories that Katsumata drew in the 1980s about the disposable laborers who clean and maintain Japan’s nuclear power plants, as well as others he wrote in the 1970s dealing (sometimes indirectly) with the way industrialization had upended the Japanese countryside, creating a new class of alienated immigrants in the cities and a world of vanishing fables in the interior.

Fukushima from Within

A spread from Kazuto Tatsuta’s Ichi-F: A Worker’s Graphic Memoir of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, 2017

The publisher of the English edition of Kazuto Tatsuta’s book Ichi-F, about the Fukushima nuclear power plant, has opted to call this 550-page tome of dry, detailed reportage a “graphic memoir.” The original Japanese subtitle describes the manga instead as a “rōdōki,” literally a “record of labor,” putting more emphasis on the work itself than the person doing the work. The difference might seem trivial, but it speaks to many of the things that Ichi-F both succeeds and fails in doing.