UNCOVERED: Decades before the graphic novel became trendy, a few Japanese cartoonists were turning out gekiga (dramatic pictures), darkly realistic comic strips that appeared in lowbrow magazines in 1960s Japan. It was a prosperous time for the nation, but viewed through the gimlet eye of gekiga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi, industrialization brought not wealth but alienation and cultural confusion. Nearly 40 years after initial publication, Tatsumi's bizarre, tabloid-inspired manga remains relevant—and this fall, non-Japanese readers will be able to sample the best of it when Abandon the Old in Tokyo, a collection of Tatsumi's work, is published in English. Tatsumi's shell-shocked characters include a truck driver who ditches his invalid mother; a factory worker who loses his arm in an industrial accident, then loses his job, his girlfriend and his pet monkey; and a bankrupt businessman who seeks solace through intimate relations with a dog. And what about that moon-faced young man who appears as the central loser in many of these cartoons? "You could say I projected my anger about the discrimination and inequality rampant in our society through him," said Tatsumi (who is now 71 and still going strong) in a 2006 interview included in the book. An example of early manga as nihilist social commentary, Abandon the Old in Tokyo is a revealing time capsule and a strangely moving portrait of survival in a land where everything is changing.
—By Austin Ramzy
They're Big in Korea
UNMISSABLE: Here's the Korean version of record producer Phil Spector's Wall of Sound: Big Mama, four full-figured divas who since their 2003 debut have been amply filling albums and auditoriums with their R&B-influenced vocals. The members of the quartet seemed destined for careers as backup singers until industry executives went looking for an antidote to the slinky, often marginally talented beauties churned out by the K-pop factory. "Their singing abilities were too good to pass up," says Park Hun Pyo, the group's manager. Their first two albums were top-5 hits in Korea, and they're getting props overseas, too: they appeared in concert with Boyz II Men in Korea last year. A third album, due out in October, will showcase the band's increasing versatility, adding more uptempo numbers to go with the emotional ballads for which they're best known. One other change: the ladies are messing with their signature look by, heaven forbid, dieting. But as Big Mama has proven, it's the size of the voice that really counts.
—By Mingi Hyun