cover image The Man Without Talent

The Man Without Talent

Yoshiharu Tsuge, trans. from the Japanese by Ryan Holmberg. New York Review Comics, $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-68137-443-7

Tsuge’s quasi-autobiographical series of vignettes are a masterpiece of mundane struggle. This, his first full-length book to appear in English, was the last major work by Tsuge (b. 1937), who was influential in establishing a literary, alternative Manga scene before he retired from comics in 1986. The story is set in early-1980s Japan, as Tsuge’s stand-in, Sukezo Sukegawa, attempts to make a living selling stones, used cameras, and other detritus instead of drawing comics (which is the only thing he’s good at, at least according to his beleaguered wife). Sukegawa longs to disappear and is frustrated by a society obsessed with Western vulgarity and competitiveness. He can’t escape the feeling of being a loser, and his wife berates him for losing more money on his business ventures than he brings in. Despite Sukegawa’s frequently callous behavior toward his wife and his young son, it’s his son who regularly brings Sukegawa back from the abyss, imploring him to come home when he strays. Tsuge’s realistic manga carefully balances the beauty of the countryside with the family’s shabby and desperate poverty. The book’s tone is darkly satirical, and Tsuge makes Sukegawa the frequent butt of jokes. Every page feels lived and desperate, yet shot through with poetry, becoming a meditation on finding meaning in life despite trying circumstance. [em](Feb.) [/em]