Books / Reviews

Cult manga artist Tadao Tsuge’s ‘Trash Market’ is filled with dark tales of misfits and lowlifes

by James Hadfield

“Too dark, won’t sell, no commissions” — such was Tadao Tsuge’s verdict on his oeuvre back in 1994. Though he was a noted contributor to alternative manga magazine “Garo” in its heyday during the late 1960s and early ’70s, Tsuge remains a cult figure even in Japan, overshadowed by the reputation of his older brother, fellow manga scribe Yoshiharu.

Trash Market, by Tadao Tsuge, Translated by Ryan Holmberg.
272 pages
Drawn and Quarterly, Fiction.

There’s a certain irony in this collection of Tadao’s translated stories, which appears at a time when Yoshiharu’s work is still largely unavailable in English. But “Trash Market” stands on its own merits, vividly capturing the tumult and existential funk of Japan’s postwar period as seen through the eyes of society’s least fortunate. A veteran of numerous blue-collar jobs, Tsuge knew what he was talking about.

In the title story, he draws on his experiences working at a blood bank, depicting some of the misfits and lowlifes who assembled on a regular basis to sell their plasma. “Song of Showa” revisits his unhappy childhood in the slums of eastern Tokyo, where he would escape physical abuse at home by wandering the local red-light district.

Other stories are less autobiographical, and more ambiguous. In “Manhunt,” two journalists investigating a salaryman’s disappearance finally get to interview their quarry, only to force him to accept their own version of events. And when Tsuge depicts an orgy of revolutionary violence on the streets of Tokyo, he irreverently titles it “A Tale of Absolute and Utter Nonsense.”

Whatever he was playing at, it’s engrossing stuff.