Horror and the surreal: exploring manga artist Junji Ito’s work

Let’s take a moment today to wonder (and tremble) at the work of Junji Ito, manga master of horror and weird fiction.  With influences like H.P. Lovecraft, renowned manga artists and Japanese science fiction giants, Junji Ito’s art and stories should serve to provide you with nightmare fuel aplenty, as they have dutifully done since 1987.

Now, I’ve never been a huge manga fan (which seems bogus, considering I’m a lifelong lover of both comics and cartoons–lots of anime included), but I certainly enjoy my share of it.  Thanks to the wonderful interwebs though, I stumbled upon one of Ito’s short stories several years ago.  The nightmares it caused kept me coming back for more.

That particular story was his short, The Enigma at Amigara Fault, which tells the tale of a recently exposed and mysterious fault line after an earthquake and its subsequent effect on the surrounding community.  The uplifted rock face in the story is filled with holes shaped like human bodies, each a perfect fit for just one individual from the locale.  As if this isn’t eerie enough, characters in the story quickly adopt a compulsion to find their respective holes and squeeze inside for a one-way trip.  To what body-horror end though, you’ll have to read and see.

As in The Enigma at Amigara Fault, irrational behavior, strange compulsion and body horror are all frequent calling cards of Mr. Ito’s stories, as are themes centered on the unknown, primal fear and the ocean depths.  Another short story, entitled The Thing that Drifted Ashore is a perfect example (and a quick read) to jump into and get a taste for the yarns this strange artist likes to spin.

Heed this warning before delving to deep though: some of Ito’s work can be pretty out there.  To be fair, if you’ve read ANY of his work you might laugh at that statement (since all his stuff is pretty damn strange).  To you I say, “Touché”, but some of Ito’s stories are really intense, even compared to the two short stories that I cut my teeth on.  His illustrations have been known to get rather disturbing at times, and some stories just leave a bad taste in your mouth.  I’m a little squeamish, so I’m pretty selective in those instances.

Case in point is Ito’s Tomie series, a manga serial about an immortal girl who curses men to fall in love with her and ultimately kill her time and time again to escape her siren song.  No thanks, just not up my alley.  It might be my American sensibilities, which are arguably a little delicate compared to that of Japanese horror manga consumer culture, but I didn’t particularly warm to Tomie–or even finish it for that matter.  Nonetheless, it’s had a wildly successful and popular run both in Japan and abroad.  Similarly, the illustrations in his story Uzumaki (Japanese for spiral) get pretty graphic and unnerving.  I don’t much feel like including an example here. To each his/her own, right?

Junji Ito is one prolific dude though, and he’s got a massive bibliography for newcomers to explore.  If you’d prefer an old classic with an even creepier “Ito” feel to it, I suggest giving his take on Frankenstein a shot.  And if you like the short story The Thing that Drifted Ashore, try his more extensive story, Gyo (which you may have done by then, as the short is now published as an extra alongside Amigara at the end of Gyo).  As with all his work, the art alone is enough to give you the willies.  That’s officially an understatement.  Remember though, this is manga.  Japanese.  You’ll want to read the pages and their panels from right to left unless you want to be very confused.  While his stories certainly aren’t for everyone (they’re not always for me), Junji Ito’s works might be a nice change of pace for any horror or weird fiction fan out there.  Just…proceed with caution.

Images from Enigma at Amigara Fault and The Thing that Drifted Ashore, respectively.

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One thought on “Horror and the surreal: exploring manga artist Junji Ito’s work

  1. Pingback: Webcomic of the week: The Beast in the Cave | Nerd Out With Me!

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