The Translator Without Talent
by Ryan HolmbergBubbles Zine Publications, 2020
Despite having only two dozen manga translations, 80 essays, 50 reviews, one exhibition pamphlet, and zero solo-authored books to his name, Ryan Holmberg, PhD, is widely regarded as the biggest fish in the puddle-sized sea of alternative manga in the Anglosphere. Fresh off a major professional setback, in 2017 Dr. Holmberg departed for a two-year stint as a Visiting Professor at the University of Tokyo, where he would commence to document his research findings, translation troubles, and escapades with aging manga artists in a series of detailed Instagram posts @mangaberg. Since returning to the United States in the fall of 2019, Dr. Holmberg has continued to undermine his academic career as a so-called “comics scholar” by spending way more time than he should, and sharing more about his personal life than he should, on his Instagram account.
Collecting nearly 400 pages’ worth of behind-the-scenes peeks into the nitty-gritty of manga research—as well as a never before published manifesto of Dr. Mangaberg’s musings about comics translation—THE TRANSLATOR WITHOUT TALENT is a tell-all slog through two-plus years of activity of your favorite nose-in-the-mud manga scholar. This genre-defying volume spotlights some of the best and weirdest alt-manga and gekiga artists, with extended tangents into the politics of nuclear power and social discrimination in Japan. It is perfect for anyone obsessed with obscure, amazing, and all-too-frequently retrograde manga, but does not have the patience to scroll through a lengthy Instagram feed. Comics studies has never before seen anything like THE TRANSLATOR WITHOUT TALENT, and it may never again. Published by the comics and manga fanzine BUBBLES in its first foray away from the xerox machine.
Praise for The Translator Without Talent
Not a comic, not even really an essay collection on comics so much as a tour of Holmberg’s last two years on fellowship in Japan, but man, is it an insightful look not just into how he translates and the history of what he translates but why he’s translating… It’s deeply refreshing to find a scholar invested examining and explaining the really radical stuff, from Katsumata Susumu’s anti-nuclear tracts to Kaihara Hiroshi’s unsparing political cartoons. It doesn’t hurt that Holmberg is funny and witty, or that he’s regularly getting pulled along by these artists on adventures to nightclubs and neighborhood watering holes.
—Austin Price, The Comics Journal
by Tsuge Yoshiharu
translated with an essay by Ryan HolmbergDrawn & Quarterly, 2023
NEJISHIKI represents the pinnacle of avant-garde manga. Originally published in the legendary alt-manga magazine Garo in 1968, the title story marks cult cartoonist Tsuge Yoshiharu’s radical turn to dreams, surrealism, and existential horror. Tsuge’s literary landscapes were once lush and inviting; now they are shadowy and haunted. His cheery travelers have lost their innocence; they have been replaced by alienated wanderers pursued by menacing doppelgangers, unsavory sexual impulses, and omens of death. The psychologically and erotically charged stories collected here revolutionized manga, galvanized Japanese comics criticism, and stand as some of the strangest fruits of the countercultural discontent of the late ’60s. They remain just as shocking and vivid today.
Translated with an extensive historical essay by Ryan Holmberg detailing Tsuge’s personal life, cartooning practice, and intellectual milieu, and the impact of his manga on contemporary Japanese culture.
My Picture Diary
by Fujiwara Maki
translated with an essay by Ryan HolmbergDrawn & Quarterly, 2023
In 1981, Fujiwara Maki began a picture diary about daily life with her son and husband, the legendary manga author Tsuge Yoshiharu. Publishing was not her original intention. “I wanted to record our family’s daily life while our son, Shosuke, was small. But as 8mm cameras were too expensive and we were poor, I decided on the picture diary format instead. I figured Shosuke would enjoy reading it when he got older.”
Drawn in a simple, personable style, and covering the same years fictionalized in Tsuge’s final masterpiece The Man Without Talent, Fujiwara’s journal focuses on the joys of daily life amidst the stresses of childrearing, housekeeping, and managing a depressed husband. A touching and inspiring testimony of one Japanese woman’s resilience, My Picture Diary is also an important glimpse of the enigma that is Tsuge. Fujiwara’s diary is unsparing. It provides a stark picture of the gender divide in their household: Tsuge sleeps until noon and does practically nothing. He never compliments her cooking, and dictates how money is spent. Not once is he shown drawing. And yet, Fujiwara remains surprisingly empathetic toward her mercurial husband.
Translated by Ryan Holmberg, this edition sheds light on Fujiwara’s life, her own career in art, writing, and underground theater, and her extensive influence upon her husband’s celebrated manga.
Praise for My Picture Diary
Maki’s illustrations are full of charm and pathos; her notes, in turn funny, tragic, and arresting. “Daily life typically just passes by in a haze,” she writes in the afterword. “But strangely, once I started drawing this picture diary, events of significance to us as a family began to accumulate.”
—Lily Houston Smith, Oprah Daily
Boat Life, vol. 1
by Tsuge Tadao
translated with an essay by Ryan HolmbergFloating World Comics, 2022
Based loosely on manga pioneer Tsuge Tadao’s own daily life, Boat Life follows novelist Tsuda Kenta on his hapless pursuit of reprieve and reverie on a homely houseboat on the Tonegawa River near Tokyo. Across a series of magical absurdist quests, this charming graphic novel stars a panoply of personable characters, including a drunkard fisherman, a pervy monk, a talking corpse, and the protagonist’s loving yet wary wife and son.
A late-career classic from the cult creator of Trash Market and Slum Wolf, Boat Life offers a relaxed take on aging and the grind of work and family, and a philosophical elaboration of themes Tsuge Tadao has been exploring since his debut in the legendary alt-manga magazine Garo in the late 1960s. This edition features a 27-page essay section including “Garo Gone Fishin’” by translator Ryan Holmberg and two essays by Tsuge Tadao.
by Yokoyama Yuichi
translated and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergBreakdown Press, 2022
Yokoyama Yuichi's comics are entirely unique: free from the traditional modes of narrative, his work explores motion, sound and structure, generating striking, beautifully graphic stories that propel the reader into a world of onomatopoeia, speed, and visual noise. Collecting 39 short pieces, each drawn with bright markers, Baby Boom uses polychromy in symbolic and rhythmic ways to create a musical, visually extraordinary experience.
Baby Boom is the latest in Breakdown Press’s line of English language editions of work by influential Japanese artist Yokoyama Yuichi. With a cover design by Jean-Philippe Bretin, an essay by manga scholar Ryan Holmberg, and an interview with Yokoyama himself, this new English language edition, masterfully printed using Pantone spot colours, brings together Yokoyama’s most ground-breaking work to date.
Praise for Baby Boom
Baby Boom is a book about how the world is a beautiful place, how living in it can be a very wonderful thing, and how the presence of others is what keeps happiness alive in us.
—Matt Seneca, The Comics Journal
by Yokoyama Yuichi
translated by Ryan HolmbergLiving the Line Books, 2022
Bigger, bolder, and louder than ever before, neo-manga artist Yokoyama Yuichi is back in English with PLAZA! Inspired by Carnaval in Brazil, PLAZA offers a maniacal extravaganza of marching, dancing, leaping, firing, cheering, smashing, and exploding over the course of 225 eye-and-eardrum-confounding pages. Originally published in Japan in 2019, this English edition of PLAZA brings to full, hyper-animated life the spectacular graphic art of this genre-defying work of avant-garde comics. Translated by noted manga scholar Ryan Holmberg, this edition also includes the most extended and informative interview with the artist to date. Not only is PLAZA Yokoyama's loudest book, it is also one of his largest! At 8.25" x 11.5", this oversize tome will bombard you with every detail of PLAZA's eyeball-smashing glory.
Praise for Plaza
Art and literature historians of the future will be flabbergasted that Yokoyama Yuichi existed in our time. He is a visionary on the level of William Blake. PLAZA is a parade of invention, set to the beat of turning pages.
—Dash Shaw, author of Discipline, BodyWorld, director of Cryptozoo
A dazzling sensory barrage of speeding lines and swoops! Witness the torrent of joyous spectacle, the inner workings of a cosmic parade machine!
—Lale Westvind, author of Grip, Grand Electric Thought Power Mother
If the action of the comics form is a machine, PLAZA is like one of the doomsday devices that Jack Kirby would devote full pages to, bristling with dials and vents and gauges. Everything we see on these pages is always in motion, constantly followed up by something else just as dynamic. Yokoyama [possesses] the fine artist's ability to evoke a truly engrossing visual world with a single image.
—Matt Seneca, The Comics Journal
Talk To My Back
by Yamada Murasaki
translated and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergDrawn & Quarterly, 2022
A celebrated masterwork shimmering with vulnerability from one of alt-manga's most important female artists. “Now that we've woken from the dream, what are we going to do?" Chiharu thinks to herself, rubbing her husband's head affectionately. Set in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Tokyo, Yamada Murasaki's Talk To My Back (1981-84) explores the fraying of Japan's suburban middle-class dreams through a woman's relationship with her two daughters as they mature and assert their independence, and with her husband, who works late and sees his wife as little more than a domestic servant. While engaging frankly with the compromises of marriage and motherhood, Yamada remains generous with the characters who fetter her protagonist. When her husband has an affair, Chiharu feels that she, too, has broken the marital contract by straying from the template of the happy housewife. Yamada saves her harshest criticisms for society at large, particularly its false promises of eternal satisfaction within the nuclear family—as fears of having been "thrown away inside that empty vessel called the household" gnaw at Chiharu's soul.
Yamada Murasaki was the first cartoonist in Japan to use the expressive freedoms of alt-manga to address domesticity and womanhood in a realistic, critical, and sustained way. A watershed work of literary manga, Talk To My Back was serialized in the influential magazine Garo in the early 1980s. Translated with a career-spanning historical essay by Ryan Holmberg.
Praise for Talk To My Back
These tales of thwarted-ness and domestic ennui were written in the ‘80s, but Japan being what it is...their atmosphere often feels much closer to that of the ‘50s or early ‘60s. At moments, it’s almost as if Murasaki has set out to fictionalise Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. If her stories are pensive to the point of dreaminess, they’re also full of frustration, a discontent that simmers like a hot pan… The result is a cross-cultural book about female self-worth–about where it comes from and why it sometimes disappears–that stands the test of time in the most remarkable way.
—Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
by Inoue Kazuo
translated and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergBubbles Zine Publications, 2021
Before Ichiro, before Star of the Giants, even before the Nippon Professional Baseball league, there was Inoue Kazuo’s Bat Kid (1947-49), celebrated as the first major baseball manga in Japan. Originally serialized in the legendary magazine Manga Shōnen, Bat Kid played an essential role in the growth of postwar manga. Its popularity drew aspiring cartoonists to Manga Shōnen’s famous amateur submissions section, many of whom would later go pro. It kept Manga Shōnen in business long enough to host Tezuka Osamu’s first major magazine serial, Jungle Emperor. After Inoue died suddenly in 1949, the artist who oversaw the continuation of Bat Kid, Fukui Eiichi, later went on to revolutionize manga by creating the groundwork for sports manga and gekiga both. The condensed book edition of Bat Kid—on which this English edition is based—was crowned the top children’s manga by Tokyo’s Mitsukoshi department store in 1948. The many baseball manga that began appearing in the ‘50s, leading to an explosion of sports manga in the ‘60s, all drew inspiration from Inoue’s pioneering work.
A rare opportunity to read early postwar manga in English, this edition of Bat Kid also contains a copiously illustrated essay by historian and translator Ryan Holmberg explaining the significance of Bat Kid, artist Inoue Kazuo’s career, and the popularity of baseball in Japan before and after World War II. Whether you’re manga mad or baseball crazy, this unique volume will not disappoint. Pick up a copy today and experience for yourself the baseball manga that started it all!
by Imai Arata
translated and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergGlacier Bay Books, 2021
The tsunami and nuclear meltdowns of 2011 seem like yesterday. Wreckage still litters Japan's coastline. Fukushima's fields are piled high with contaminated soil. Tohoku, northern Japan, furious about how they have been treated by Tokyo, has seceded from the union. The rebels, known as the Nihonmatsu Front, are battling the more heavily armed Japanese government along the southern border of Fukushima. Meanwhile, they are being overwhelmed internally by a faction who call themselves the State of F. Composed of radicalized Tohoku natives and foreign guerrillas, the black-clad F knows only absolute obedience and cutthroat terror.
Though virtually unknown in its home country, Imai Arata’s F is the edgiest work of manga made in the wake of the 2011 disasters. Crossing splintery drawings of the devastations wrought by the tsunami and meltdowns with images sourced from Islamic State propaganda from the Middle East, F trespasses upon many taboos regarding political expression and etiquette in Japan. Originally self-published and sold at avant-garde art exhibitions, Imai’s F is truly underground. It deserves to become a classic.
Praise for F
Imai Arata's F is a stark and harrowing look at real world events framed through one of the largest natural disasters to affect Japan. It is a must-read for fans of alternative/indie manga, and anyone who calls themselves a manga or comics fan.
by Tsuge Yoshiharu
edited and with an essay by Asakawa Mitsuhiro and Ryan Holmberg, translated by HolmbergDrawn & Quarterly, 2021
Yoshiharu Tsuge leaves early genre trappings behind, taking a reflective and humorous approach in these stories inspired by his own travels. Red Flowers ranges from sensitive studies of people and landscape to ensemble comedies set in the rural villages, atmospheric inns, and hot springs of Japan. There are irascible old men, rowdy gangsters, reflective hospital escapees, and a mysterious mutt. It’s a world of tradition, lush natural environments, secret fishing holes, snow-buried houses, and bubbling cauldrons. Red Flowers affirms why Tsuge went on to become one of the most important cartoonists in Japan. These vital comics inspired a wealth of fictionalized memoir from his peers and a desire within the postwar generation to document and understand the diversity of their country’s culture.
Praise for Red Flowers
This quirky collection of alternative manga from Tsuge, a founder of the avant-garde manga movement in the 1960s, shows off his cartooning chops through humorous and autobiographical tales… Throughout, he plays with story structure, ending many tales on ambiguous images… And despite the creator’s weighty reputation, this proves accessible and fun for manga newcomers as well.
The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud
by Tsurita Kuniko
edited and with an essay by Asakawa Mitsuhiro and Ryan Holmberg, translated by Ryan HolmbergDrawn & Quarterly, 2020
The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud collects the best short stories from Kuniko Tsurita’s remarkable career. While the works of her male peers in literary manga are widely reprinted, this formally ambitious and poetic female voice is like none other currently available to an English readership. A master of the comics form, expert pacing and compositions combined with bold characters are signature qualities of Tsurita's work. The early stories “Nonsense” and “Anti” provide a unique, intimate perspective on the bohemian culture and political heat of late 1960s and early ‘70s Tokyo. Her work gradually became darker and more surreal under the influence of modern French literature and her own prematurely failing health. As in works like “The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud” and “Max,” the gender of many of Tsurita's strong and sensual protagonists is ambiguous, marking an early exploration of gender fluidity. Late stories like "Arctic Cold" and "Flight" show the artist experimenting with more conventional narrative modes, though with dystopian themes that extend the philosophical interests of her early work. An exciting and essential gekiga collection, The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud is translated by comics scholar Ryan Holmberg and includes an afterword cowritten by Holmberg and the manga editor Mitsuhiro Asakawa delineating Tsurita's importance and historical relevance.”
Praise for The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud
A fantastic, continually surprising look at one of Japan’s most innovative—and least remembered—manga artists.
—Gabrielle Belot, The Atlantic
Graced with a thorough, informative afterword by Ryan Holmberg, The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud is a generous, well-annotated retrospective, serving as both a fitting memorial and effective showcase for this iconoclastic artist, the first and only regular female creator for the legendary alt-manga magazine Garo.
—Rob Kirby, Solrad
Meticulously curated... The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud is a label-defying collection of Kuniko Tsurita's gekiga [that] explores the role of women through numerous shorts in unexpected formats.
—Terry Hong, Shelf Awareness
The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud is a superb and beautiful collection, one worth repeated readings for pleasure and reflection alike. The Anglophone world owes thanks to those involved in its production that English speaking audiences will finally get to encounter Tsurita's powerfully innovative and provocative work, which resonates with meaning for manga historians and contemporary audiences alike.
—Rhea Rollmann, Pop Matters
[T]hough her life may have been cut short by illness, Tsurita still impacts anyone reading her work on a level so deep it seems she might well have been a pen pal.
—Jeff Provine, Blogcritics
Kuniko Tsurita’s comics are a declaration of their own existence. A fiercely independent artist, Tsurita overcame a sexist society and a body wracked by chronic illness to draw comics throughout her tragically short, brilliant life… Her artistic voice is as singular as her career was unique, not an alternative or a derivative but an idiosyncratic grammar special unto itself. An elegant scream.
—Helen Chazan, The Comics Journal
by Tsuge Yoshiharu
edited and with an essay by Asakawa Mitsuhiro, co-edited and translated by Ryan HolmbergDrawn & Quarterly, 2020
Yoshiharu Tsuge is one of the most influential and acclaimed practitioners of literary comics in Japan. The Swamp collects work from his early years, showing a major talent coming in to his own. Bucking the tradition of mystery and adventure stories, Tsuge’s fiction focused on the lives of the citizens of Japan. These mesmerizing comics, like those of his contemporary Yoshihiro Tatsumi, reveal a gritty, at times desperate postwar Japan, while displaying Tsuge’s unique sense of humor and point of view. “Chirpy” is a simple domestic drama about expectations, fidelity, and escape. A couple purchase a beautiful white bird with a red beak. It is said that the bird will grow attached to its owners and never fly away. While the girlfriend is working as a hostess, flirting with men for money, the boyfriend decides to draw a portrait of the new family member and disaster strikes. In “The Swamp,” a simple rural encounter is charged with sexual tension that is alluring but also fraught with danger. When a young woman happens upon a wing-shot goose, she tries to calm it then suddenly snaps its neck. Later, she befriends a young hunter and offers him shelter, but her motivations remain unclear, especially when the hunter notices a snake in the room where they’ll both be sleeping. The Swamp is a landmark in English manga-publishing history and the first in a series of Tsuge books Drawn & Quarterly will be publishing. Translated from the Japanese by Ryan Holmberg, with an essay by Mitsuhiro Asakawa.”
Praise for The Swamp
Powerfully strange... A gritty and humorous postwar Japan is depicted in these early works by the influential manga cartoonist.
—Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
Exemplary... This fine start to a much-anticipated Tsuge retrospective series offers an elucidating glimpse into modern manga’s origins.
—Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
Throughout the work here, beautifully detailed establishing panels are used to show the setting, switching to much more simple panels to foreground the action. This excellent collection is a great introduction to Tsuge’s early career.
—Pete Redrup, The Quietus
Tsuge and Kafka use images that draw attention to the surreal uncertainty of ordinary life. In the spirit of Kafka, the mysterious endings of Tsuge’s comics often feel fable-like with their haunting final images. But in both cases, these are images that linger rather than conclude. These are fables where the sense of virtue, truth, and reality evocatively swings.
—Nathan McNamara, LA Review of Books
Ordinary people struggle with ideas of destiny and meaning in this collection of short stories from the early days of Garo by Yoshiharu Tsuge, all dating to the mid-1960s when he was actively developing his avant-garde and surrealist style of storytelling...one of the great creators to have come out of the mid-twentieth century.
—Rebecca Silverman, Anime News Network
The Man Without Talent
by Tsuge Yoshiharu
translated and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergNew York Review Comics, 2020
Yoshiharu Tsuge is one of the most celebrated and influential comics artists, but his work has been almost entirely unavailable to English-speaking audiences. The Man Without Talent, his first book to be translated into English, is an unforgiving self-portrait of frustration. Swearing off cartooning as a profession, Tsuge takes on a series of unconventional jobs—used-camera salesman, ferryman, stone collector—hoping to find success among the hucksters, speculators, and deadbeats he does business with. Instead, he fails again and again, unable to provide for his family, earning only their contempt and his own. The result is a dryly funny look at the pitfalls of the creative life, and an off-kilter portrait of modern Japan. Accompanied by an essay from the translator Ryan Holmberg which discusses Tsuge’s importance in comics and Japanese literature, The Man Without Talent is one of the great works of comics literature.
Praise for The Man Without Talent
While The Man Without Talent is by turns mysterious, philosophical and slapstick, it is also tender, capturing the moment-to-moment shift in emotions of a frustrated man who nevertheless loves his child. In a book about valuing the left behind, Tsuge shows us what is never actually at risk of being forsaken.
—Hilary Chute, The New York Times Book Review
Tsuge’s raw and profound work is equal parts pathos and poetry, streaked with irony and ribaldry. His lines are beautifully clean and wonderfully expressive, the pages sometimes presenting expertly cartoonish simplicity and other times almost photorealistic detail... Humanity stunningly observed—a treasure.
—Starred Review, Kirkus
[A] deeply philosophical parable about capitalism, art and beauty, and the pressures of modern life... It is easy to see from this book how Tsuge has become one of Japan’s most celebrated gekiga (“dramatic pictures”) artists.
—Ella Bucknall, LA Review of Books
Drawn in stark black-and-white panels, Tsuge’s frank narrative portrays an artist-in-decline, an anti-Bildungsroman that offers effective storytelling, enduring characters, poignant reflection and, most notably, gratifying art… Holmberg’s [essay] ‘Where Is Yoshiharu Tsuge?’ is an illuminating enhancement—biographically, historically, literally.
People of Asia Say No to Nuclear Power
No Nukes Asia Forum, Japan
translated by ann-elise lewallen and Ryan HolmbergYoda Press, 2019
Nuclear energy has long been promoted as a solution to Asia's growing energy demands with little attention to its often debilitating impact on host communities. Composed by the grassroots organization No Nukes Asia Forum, this book provides a critical introduction to the debates surrounding nuclear energy proliferation across Asia by tracing 25 years of transnational organizing in the area. A protagonist in the field, No Nukes Asia Forum has aimed to cultivate transnational partnerships between communities who collectively face displacement from nuclear development schemes since the dawn of the Nuclear Age through the present. Through these efforts, NNAF has sought to halt the export of nuclear reactors from Japan, South Korea, Russia, France, the United States, and Canada, beginning with struggles in Taiwan and Indonesia in the '80s and '90s and now in Vietnam, India, and Turkey. The authors narrate how, in recent years, activists across Asia have engaged in democratic action through national referendums, education, art, and mass demonstrations to shape policy and enact self-determination around environment, energy, and political engagement in the region. The first citizen's history of anti-nuclear movements in Asia, this book is a must-read for activists, lobbyists, government departments, students, scholars, and everyone concerned about the future of our planet.
Bloody Stumps Samurai
by Hirata Hiroshi
translated by Ryan Holmberg, essays by Holmberg and Kure TomofusaRetrofit Comics, 2019
THIS. IS. GEKIGA. Idolized by creators across the arts, from Akira's Otomo Katsuhiro to novelist Mishima Yukio, Hirata Hiroshi (b. 1937) is widely considered one of the most talented and influential artists of the comics medium in Japan. Known to English readers through such titles as Satsuma Gishiden (Dark Horse Comics), Hirata has been killing the samurai genre since the late 1950s with manga of jaw-dropping draftsmanship and heart-stopping cruelty. His work is essential, unforgettable, unparalleled - and in the case of Bloody Stumps Samurai (1962), too radical for its own good. With this book, Hirata set out to draw a passionate critique of discrimination against the Japanese outcaste community, known as the burakumin, around the character of Gennosuke, a young buraku whose mission to avenge and uplift his people through the sword goes horribly and gorily wrong. Though clearly intended as an anti-discrimination broadside, Bloody Stumps Samurai rubbed the Buraku Liberation League the wrong way, leading to copies being confiscated and burned and Hirata temporarily blacklisted. With essays explaining the history and politics of the work by critic Kure Tomofusa and translator Ryan Holmberg, this edition will blow your mind and turn your stomach. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Japanese society, popular culture, or comics censorship.
Praise for Bloody Stumps Samurai
Bloody Stumps Samurai arrived in North America last year as something like a once-buried object, a work that had to be excavated before it could be translated...
—Greg Hunter, The Comics Journal
The Pits of Hell
by Ebisu Yoshikazu
translated and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergBreakdown Press, 2019
Ebisu Yoshikazu. Television star, father of three, professional gambler, writer, cartoonist, pioneer. Since his debut in the legendary alt-manga magazine Garo in 1973, Ebisu has been spinning out surreal nightmares that combine the edgiest styles of Tokyo’s artistic counterculture with the absurd and infuriating realities of work and life in the big city. A cult classic upon its publication in 1981, The Pits of Hell offers nine stories that established Ebisu as one of the leading figures of the ugly-but-amazing "heta-uma" movement, the Japanese equivalent of punk and new wave. If you’ve ever wanted to sabotage a lecture about the Mughal Empire, control race boats through telekinesis, or rip your boss’s head off with a crowbar, this is the book for you.
Praise for The Pits of Hell
I have a new love: The Pits of Hell by Ebisu Yoshikazu. This collection of surreal and savage manga stories drawn in a naïve art style vibrates on my bookshelf and issues forth the sounds of thumping pachinko machines, clattering speedboat motors and roars of rage so intense there is no doubt in my mind they have the power to rip my head off. These stories are screwball, haunting, mystical, shocking, hilarious, frightening, and sad—usually all at once.
—Paul Tumey, The Comics Journal
That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling
by Abe Shin’ichi
edited and with an essay by Asakawa Mitsuhiro, translated by Ryan HolmbergBlack Hook Press, 2019
That Miyoko Asagaya Feeling is an important collection of stories based on artist Abe Shin’ichi’s own struggles with romance, art, alcohol, and mental illness, originally published in Garo and other venues in the early and mid ‘70s. Tsuge Yoshiharu is usually credited for pioneering quasi-autobiographical, shishōsetsu-style manga in the mid-late ‘60s, but these Abe stories are really the first case of a Japanese cartoonist writing regularly and in a brutally frank way about his personal life. They are more or less contemporaneous with Justin Green's Binky Brown (1972), but without the cartoony absurdities and neurotic self-flagellation. Abe's freeform drawing, sometimes scratchy sometimes fluid, is also really amazing. Interestingly, a couple of the stories are told from his partner Miyoko's point of view. Rounding out the volume is an essay by Asakawa Mitsuhiro, who also selected the works. This is a must-have for both alt-manga fans and people interested in the history of comics as literature.
Nominated for 2020 Eisner Award, Best Archival Collection/Project
by Yokoyama Yuichi
translated by Ryan HolmbergBreakdown Press, 2018
Ballistic buzzing guided camera drones, terrorizing fur and feathers. Drip drop drop top inside your futuristic RV Zen boombox, and then you float away. There’s nothing like a trip into the great unknown with avant-garde manga artist Yokoyama Yuichi. Originally published in Japanese in 2009, Outdoors is another rip-roaring eye feast and ear bomb by the cult author of New Engineering, Travel, and Iceland.
Praise for Outdoors
Innovative to the point it borders on being mysterious, the work of “neo-manga” auteur Yuichi Yokoyama never fails to impress precisely because it’s nevertheless eminently approachable, even inviting—and while his latest work to be translated into English by Ryan Holmberg (who also interviews Yokoyama for the book’s engrossing “backmatter” section), Outdoors is considered something of a less-than-essential, “smaller” entry in his lengthy oeuvre by some scholars of the medium, it’s still a fine example in microcosm of his recurring themes and concerns, as well as a worthy-enough subject of study and analysis in its own right.
—Ryan Carey, Solrad
by Tsuge Tadao
edited, translated, and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergNew York Review Comics, 2018
Tadao Tsuge is one of the pioneers of alternative manga, and one of the world’s great artists of the down-and-out. Slum Wolf is a new selection of his stories from the late '60s and '70s, never before available in English: a vision of Japan as a world of bleary bars and rundown flophouses, vicious street fights and strange late-night visions. In assured, elegantly gritty art, Tsuge depicts a legendary, aging brawler, a slowly unraveling businessman, a group of damaged veterans uniting to form a shantytown, and an array of punks, pimps, and drunks, all struggling for freedom, meaning, or just survival. With an extensive introduction by translator and comics historian Ryan Holmberg, this collection brings together some of Tsuge’s most powerful work—raucous, lyrical, and unforgettable.
Praise for Slum Wolf
As a collection of stories, Slum Wolf presents a fully realized view of the persistence of defeat and occupation on the Japanese culture. As readers follow the disaffected and maladjusted characters through their worlds, Tsuge consistently prompts the reader to consider the feelings and circumstances by invoking the reader’s empathy and fears.
—Gregory Smith, Pop Matters
Tsuge’s art veers wildly from cartoon abstraction to painstakingly detailed drawings of shadowy figures and looming city streets, rendered in harsh, energetic linework that propels the eye from panel to panel. The stoic attitude of these excellent pieces is summed up in one character’s reflection: “Without receiving a dose of pain once in a while, it was hard to remember the point of staying alive.” This period piece holds lasting resonance.
Meeting these comics on their own terms means hoping for little and observing as much as one can. Tadao himself operates in the same manner. Attentiveness its own reward, in a life that may offer few of them, and the result is a collection of complex, enduring works.
—Greg Hunter, The Comics Journal
by Baron Yoshimoto
edited, translated, and with an essay by Ryan HolmbergRetrofit Comics, 2018
A collection of some of the best stories by Baron Yoshimoto, one of the Japanese manga artists who helped develop the graphic novel form in the 1960s and '70s by targeting an older audience with scintillating and exquisitely drawn stories about class, gender, ethnicity, and race. With an essay by noted manga historian and translator Ryan Holmberg. The stories included are “Eriko’s Happiness,” “High School Brawler’s Ditty,” “Insect,” “The Gambling Stripper,” “Nostalgia,” and “The Girl and the Black Soldier.” With an essay by noted manga historian and translator Ryan Holmberg.
Baron Yoshimoto was born in 1940 and grew up in Kagoshima prefecture, Japan. While at the height of his popularity as one the leading gekiga artists, he suddenly concluded all of his serializations and left for the United States. In 1985, he returned to Japan and began to produce paintings in an idiosyncratic style under the name Ryu Manji.