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One good thing to come out of 2020 is that cartoonist and essayist Yoshiharu Tsuge, now age 82 and arguably the most influential artist that drew for the Garo manga magazine, has finally allowed translation of some of his manga. Compiled as “The Swamp,” it contains 11 of Tsuge’s works.

Tsuge’s stories address a wide range of heavy topics, including poverty in both Edo Period (1603-1868) and modern-day Japan, sexual desire, family and parenthood, and violence.

In “Chirpy,” the arrival of a pet bird improves the relationship between a failed comic artist and his wife, until he accidentally kills the beloved bird, while in “The Ninjess” a kunoichi (female ninja) plays a long con against a brutish samurai lord.

“A Strange Letter” tells a grisly tale of a crematorium worker who burned his coworker alive in the furnace, later confessing in a letter to a boy who was accidentally given some of the wrong remains. And in the titular “The Swamp,” a mysterious woman reveals that her pet snake strangles her erotically during the night, prompting a visiting hunter to try strangling her himself. Although frequently disturbing, the stories exude a perplexing charm that keeps you turning the pages.

The anthology wraps up with “Handcuffs,” which was actually drawn by Tsuge’s brother, Tadao, who also produced manga for Garo. For extra context to the collection, first read the essay by manga researcher Mitsuhiro Asakawa in the back of the book.

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