Book Review: Trash Market by Tadao Tsuge


After President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima today seventy-one years after the bombing, you may be surprised to learn that many young Americans and Japanese do not realize that the United States and Japan were not allies in World War II. American historian Carol Gluck explains these conflicting memories of Hiroshima and WWII in “Ghosts,” the May 20th episode of On the Media. And to explore the post WWII narratives of Japan, consider reading Tadao Tsuge’s Trash Market.

Tsuge is known as a pioneer of alternative manga with a cartooning style that doesn’t shy away from the gruesome. Born in 1941 and growing up in the slums of Tokyo, Tsuge has been a prolific cartoonist who made ends meet by working at an “ooze-for-booze” blood bank from a young age. His stories are inspired by the people he knew and observed and the tensions of poverty and post traumatic stress.


Drawn & Quarterly‘s collection of six Tsuge comics is followed by excerpts of Tsuge’s autobiographical writings and an essay by editor and translator Ryan Holmberg, who is an art historian specializing in Japanese work. The title, Trash Market refers to Tsuge’s harsh, although not unsympathetic, assessment of the “trash people” selling their blood and bodies in the slums and red light districts of his youth.

Holmberg writes, “as the creations of an artist who had the luxury of only momentary respites from the blue-collar grind, Tadao’s comics offer an opportunity to imagine what it was actually like to live as a man inside the human trash market of postwar Japan.”

In the same way that a sketch is often more compelling than a polished piece, Tsuge’s work unravels as a collection of loose impressions that do more to capture a feeling than a tightly wound comic would. Holmberg writes, “He begins drawing with only a rough beginning, middle, and end in mind, with no script or breakdowns. ‘Part of the excitement of making comics,’ [Tsuge] says ‘is seeing how things will turn out.'”


If you plan to read this collection, remember that while Tsuge’s comics are dark, these postwar narratives do not lack optimism.