Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #40 by Drew Barth
Another Master of Horror
The spooks continue this week with a look at another creator whose work has kept me awake on more than one occasion: Junji Ito. His work has become synonymous with horror manga over the last fifteen years in the US. Through many of his longer works like Gyo, Uzumaki, and the decade-spanning Tomie, Ito has established himself as a pillar of modern horror.
What makes Ito’s horror stand out among many of his peers is his focus on the mundane. From panel one, we are almost always grounded in the daily lives of our main characters in the real world. But then the twist. It could be something as simple as someone unable to get the smell of fish off of them or noticing a friend’s dad doing something odd in an alley or wanting to paint a woman. As fantastical as many of the horror elements Ito utilizes are, they still have the feeling of being too eerily close to the real world, and that is how his horror can seep in under the skin for a full-body terror.
There are also interpersonal relationships as a means of driving the story forward. Ito tends to use one as a narrator and one continually in peril or wrapped up in the bizarre occurrences.
When looking at a story like Uzumaki, we have Kirie and Shuichi as the narrative duo. Kirie is the focus of the mysterious obsession of the spiral without having fallen into the obsession herself. Shuichi studies the effects of the spiral obsession and oftentimes will disappear without warning, causing Kirie distress. We feel Kirie’s worry and are thus worried ourselves. This dual-character narrative helps to maintain the uncertainty that fuels our terror by always ensuring at least one character is in danger.
The influence of Ito’s work is far-reaching: from film and anime adaptions to Hot Topic shirts. He has become one of the most recognizable artists not just in horror, but in graphic narratives in general. With it being so close to Halloween, why not take a chance on something terrifying to get you through the month?
Get excited. Focus on the spiral.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.