Black Blizzard – Tatsumi’s hard-boiled masterpiece…
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
Drawn & Quarterly
Black Blizzard has done so much more to convince me of the man’s genius than the flawed A Drifting Life ever did. I found myself reading Black Blizzard and suddenly getting it. This is why Tatsumi is spoken of in such reverential terms, this is why he’s counted amongst comics’ masters of the artform. Ground-breaking, revolutionary, visionary – Tatsumi.
Throughout Black Blizzard you’ll more than likely find panels and pages that look immediately familiar. But this isn’t because Tatsumi has swiped them from anywhere, it’s more likely because Tatsumi thought of them first and you’ve merely seen them repeated time and time again.
Simply put, Black Blizzard is the closest I’ve ever come to actually reading storyboards on a page. It’s truly cinematic, half a century before the US comic medium was beginning to look at wide-screen comics, Tatsumi was not only pioneering the form but mastered it with his fist ever graphic novel. It’s quite amazing to think that Black Blizzard comes from a 21 year old debutante.
The story is simplicity itself, almost too simple for today’s readers; Susumu Yamaji, a young pianist, is convicted of murder and ends up handcuffed to a career criminal, a murderer, on a train taking them both to prison. An avalanche derails the train and the pair escape into the raging blizzard. Taking refuge in an abandoned forest ranger’s cabin, Susuma recounts his tale of the love that turned him into a murderer. Eventually both men are faced with a terrible dilemma, the only way they can remain free is to rid themselves of their handcuffs. One man must lose his hand, but which will it be?
Reading it today, it’s almost too simple, unoriginal, with every plot twist telegraphed long before. And that’s a viewpoint I’ve since read on many different reviews of the book. But that fails to take account of the half century that has passed since it’s publication.
Back then it was incendiary, an immediate hard-boiled, film noir classic in comic form, brilliantly, masterfully executed by some 21 year old punk.
Have that in mind as you read it and it becomes something truly incredible. Tatsumi’s control of the action on the page, his visionary cinematic pacing, his panel transitions, the way he gets so much over with, seemingly, so little effort, it’s simple incredible.
And even with my modern sensibilities, even though I had worked out most of the plot twists well in advance, the sheer spirit and pace of the book kept me enthralled until the end. Thrillers don’t come much more thrilling.
As for the artwork, it’s something that you could spends thousands of words analysing. It may seem rough, almost crude at times, but just look at the two pages included in this review. I could spend thousands of words pulling each page apart, looking at how innovative Tatsumi is with his layout, his perspective shifts, his use of cinematic techniques. And even then I’d be nowhere near the perfection that I saw on almost every page of Black Blizzard. I finished it and understood why he’s regarded as a genius.