cover image Slum Wolf

Slum Wolf

Tadao Tsuge, trans. from the Japanese by Ryan Holmberg. New York Review Comics, $24.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-68137-174-0

Tsuge is one of the pioneers of gekiga, manga for adult readers, and this searing graphic short story collection plunges into the surreal, hardboiled world he created for alternative magazines in the 1960s and 1970s. Set in the tumult of postwar Japan, the narratives follow tough men and women trying to survive after society has collapsed and “the city’s streets were turned into a merciless landscape of burned ruins.” Some stories are unflinchingly realistic, while others drift into nightmarish fantasies. A few recurring characters pop up, most notably a strong, silent type named Sabu in stories such as “Sentimental Melody” and “Legend of the Wolf.” His skill at street fights makes him a legend in his hardscrabble neighborhood. In the longest story, “Vagabond Plain,” drifters build a shantytown in a vacant field and create their own society, independent from the cruel new urban landscape growing out of the ruins of Japan; in much the same way, these comics represent a gritty reflection of what most comics fans know as manga. 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. [em](Aug.) [/em]