Suzuki Ryōsei

Suzuki Ryōsei: or, reality bites in 1978

During the seventies, I used to devour Zōkan Young Comic because Miyaya Kazuhiko and Sakaki Masaru wrote for it. While devouring, I often came across single-episode gekiga by Suzuki Ryōsei. And they were weird. I pushed them to the corner of my mind marked 'unpleasant memories' - and there they stayed.

Years later - actually, when I was researching this book - I bumped into his stuff again. I was fishing through the gekiga magazines in the National Diet Library, and suddenly there he was. An ex-editor at Zōkan Young Comic told me that right from the start, Suzuki was gunning to become An Artist. This was when he was coming out with gekiga like 'Puberty? No Thanks!' (Seishun Danki) and 'Youth Blood Cherry Street' (Seishun Chizakura Dōri).

Suzuki finally managed to make a highly Artistic gekiga with his one and only ever work dealing with social issues - 'The Rough Guide to Davy Jones's Locker' (Gyōfuku Ki). It's a story about a sports teacher who ends up marrying a badass girl he used to teach (this isn't seen as particularly scandalous in Japan). Then it gets creepy. Day by day, the wife starts to morph back gradually into a little girl. One day, the couple find themselves in a sleepy seaside town, when something decisive happens inside the girl-woman's body... The husband is completely freaked out at what's happening. The rest of the gekiga follows his descent into insanity.

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Losing it

To be honest, Suzuki Ryōsei's graphic style was crude and outdated even for the time. Still, his work gives off the stench of real life in its own strange way. Poverty and violence in dreary provincial towns just after the war - when he draws these themes, he really gets down to the bone. He was especially good at capturing the twisted mentality of a certain kind of seventies adolescent. This is a kid who's missed the boat when it comes to fashionable student politics but is still too young to care about a car and a mortgage, and who's a big fan of third-rate porn gekiga. Something about the way Suzuki attempts to give them literary names makes it easy to imagine that he spent a lot of time in the company of kids like this. Without a doubt, Suzuki had his finger right on the pulse for a short time around 1978.

Anyway, the brute fact of the matter is - whether he worked his fingers to the bone trying to be an Artistic gekiga writer or whether pumped out third-rate porn, the money was going to be just the same. “One day, he just went postal”, says one of his ex-editors. He had good reason. He ended up as a hack porn artist before disappearing from the scene.

After writing the above, I heard that a signed drawing by Suzuki was hanging in the Contemporary Manga Library. It was dated April 9, 1979. This was just before he lost it. The Manga Library doesn't even have his name on its files, but Suzuki Ryōsei left this small scrap of paper behind him to prove that he once existed.

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