There’s a freedom in portraying a reality detached from our own, so much so that it’s expected of a comic or a manga to not look, feels or act like the real world. This is the prevailing attitude of Slum Wolf, a collection of the alternative manga produced by Tadao Tsuge between 1969 and 1978.
Throughout these 10 stories, characters don’t so much tell their story, rather they cascade through them. At times, there’s little adherence to resolution or conflict. However, these snapshots of post-war life are riveting to watch unfold. The dubious characters who populate these worlds consist of punks, lovers, thieves, fighters, vagabonds and drunks drifting through darkened towns and broken homes, all drawn with a meticulous attention to their caricatured inner demons.
Tsuge makes liberal use of shadow to depict stormy weather, both literally and within his characters. 1971’s ‘Punk’ and ‘Sounds’, and 1976’s ‘Legend of the Wolf’, are perhaps the most muscular depictions of intense, razor-like shadow not only to illuminate the grim locations, but as if to pierce the tangible into the emotional. It’s as if he’s trying to split open his characters and pour their darkest feelings into the streets they walk.
The stories featured in Slum Wolf, though clearly not produced with the sole intention of being collected into an overall volume, bear a hypnotically vague quality that binds them together. This approach flexes its muscles most during the shorter stories, whose briefer, secluded nature encases their characters, and the reader, into their worlds. By comparison, the two-parter 'Vagabond Plain', published between October 1975 and January 1976, is dense, heavy-handed and bludgeoning in its swinging moods and revolving cast of characters.
Slum Wolf gains additional authority thanks to the inclusion of two essays, one by editor and translator Ryan Holmberg and one by Tsuge himself. Holmberg’s essay, 'Vagabond Zone', traces the history of the various publications that included Tsuge’s work, whilst Tusge’s 'Always a Tough Guy at Heart' reveals him to be a modest, retiring figure when discussing everything from his childhood to the Vagabond Plain cinematic adaptation of his work.
Slum Wolf strikes at your very soul. A rogue’s gallery of down-and-out individuals each form a piece in Tsuge’s puzzle-like analysis of humanity. This is a corner of the world not meant to be seen. A marvellous starting point for those interest in the works of Tadao Tsuge or alternative manga in general.
SLUM WOLF / AUTHOR: TADAO TSUGE / PUBLISHER: NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW