Good-Bye, by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: Mushroom clouds

Mushroom clouds

Excerpt from Tatsumi's Good-Bye (edited by Adrian Tomine, Drawn & Quarterly)

Unveiling the power of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's political comics

Matsutake mushrooms are an autumn classic in Japan, on par with North America’s pumpkins and turning trees. Until the 18th century, their consumption was forbidden outside imperial courts, and today they remain a symbol of luxury. The mushroom is also a phallic symbol so loaded with impropriety that in the 11th century, women in imperial court at Kyoto were forbidden to speak its name.

Drawn & Quarterly’s third collection of reprinted work by instrumental Japanese comic artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Good-Bye, is not a book about foraging – at least not literally. Amid the heart-wrenching imagery of its nine stories, though, there rests many a culturally and temporally specific poetic allusion that requires unveiling for full appreciation. One of those secrets is the significance of the last panel of "The Rash," a story featuring a failed husband who isolates himself from his family in the woods, where he develops a rash, gets visited by a mysterious female, and uses a mushroom as a stand-in for his appendage. (I’m still stumped as to the full significance of the rash.)

Good-Bye is a selection of comics Tatsumi created in 1971 and ’72, at a time that marked a transition for the artist from the world of rent comics (comics that were literally "rented" by publishers for punctual printings) to magazines. It was an era of enhanced freedom, as Tatsumi tells American comic artist Adrian Tomine in a fascinating interview at the back of the book. For the first time, the Japanese artist could shed the constraints of his rent work and expand into more socially critical subjects.

One of the most powerful stories in Good-Bye is "Hell," which weaves a murder mystery around post-Hiroshima devastation. As with all his work, Tatsumi adds layer upon layer of rich, thought-provoking themes in this piece: national pride, survival, the inhumanity of war, the tenuous nature of familial ties. Reading it is a singularly engaging, heavy experience. (Oddly, "Hell" first appeared in the Japanese edition of Playboy!)

You’ll be left wanting more after this, that’s for sure, which is why you’ll love me for bearing this news: D&Q is hard at work on their next Tatsumi publication, A Drifting Life, a 820-page autobiographical work set during the tumultuous post-war period. I await it with bated breath.

Posted in

Books