I’m perhaps best known as a fantasy novelist, but anyone who’s familiar with my work will tell you I have as strong a fascination with horror as I do with it’s old confederate, humor. I’m happiest when the fantastical, the horrific, and the darkly humorous are all playing well together, and to that end I want to help spread the word on one of my inspirations: the Japanese comic creator, Junji Ito.
It should have been a cold, grey day when I discovered the works of Junji Ito, the rain hammering down on the tin roof, the cobwebbed windows of the dingy bookshop flashing as lightening forked down from the leaden sky. That was fifteen years ago, however, and while I don’t remember the specifics I highly doubt the weather was actually appropriately atmospheric when I stumbled on Flesh Colored Horror, one of the first early English editions of Ito’s work. I’ve been hooked ever since, and while finding his work in translation has become a lot easier in recent years, that’s only increased my need to spread his gory gospel to any horror fans who will listen, even those who don’t usually go in for comics.
While somewhat obscure in the west, back home in his native Japan he isn’t lacking for attention: at last count there were over twenty cinematic adaptations of his various creations (Tomie and Uzumaki, to name his most famous), as well as an animated film based on his nauseating marine nasty, Gyo. I’ve caught more than a few of them, and in my opinion none of these movies or made-for-tv shorts capture the spirit of his disturbing work. Even when they successfully recreate his creepy set pieces there’s so much more to his style than the visceral imagery. Capturing all that lies beyond pure aesthetics is where the adaptations tend to stumble—Ito’s work has a distinctively unsettling atmosphere where the obscene and the absurd seem commonplace, with a rich vein of black comedy cascading beneath the surface. It’s a trick no film crew has yet pulled off.
Yet despite his manifest skill and cult following, from 2006 onward Ito stopped producing new horror comics. He was clearly up to something during this time, but the lull continued until 2014 when he released Fragments of Horror, a new collection that Viz released in English the following year. Any new Ito is cause for celebration, especially when it comes out not only in translation but such a handsome hardcover, and as his older English-language collections have been long out-of-print this provides a great entry point to his unique style. Even more fascinating to me, though, was a very different Ito book that came out around the same time, the work he created during his long artistic silence…Junji Ito’s Cat Diary: Yon and Mu.
Yes, the creator of some of the most haunting and viscerally terrifying stories I have ever read temporarily retired from horror to make autobiographical comics about he and his wife’s two cats. And they are amazing, using his trademark style in a wildly unexpected fashion that exemplifies just how thin the line can be between horror and humor. So whether you want your skin to crawl as you spend time with bizarre monsters and spirits or your heart to melt as you see a man attempting to bond with his new pets, Junji Ito has you covered…and if you’re like me and both options sound appealing, well, have I got the recommendation for you…
Alex Marshall is a pseudonym for Jesse Bullington, acclaimed author of several novels in different genres including The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and The Enterprise of Death. He lives in Florida.
Source: Alex Marshall
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