Tuesday, October 5, 2010

An Ito Junji Halloween 1: Tomie

I love horror comics. I'm a tremendous fan of classic American horror books, artists and writers-- EC, Creepy, Eerie, Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, Jack Davis, Al Williamson, Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, Bruce Jones, Archie Goodwin, just to name a very few (because I don't feel like doing a lot of Google research this morning). Marvel's Tomb of Dracula is probably my all-time favorite series from the mainstream publishers; I can't get enough of Marv Wolfman's pulpy prose and the artwork by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer is some of the finest, most atmospheric and effective stuff in comics.

But the horror king has to be Ito Junji.

To say Japanese horror differs from the American/European tradition is to make a mild understatement, and Ito is one of its foremost practitioners. He's not the most fluid anatomist-- his figures tend to be a little stiff-- but he's got a gift for rising tension and nauseating visuals that's unsurpassed. The overweight kid turning into a snail in Uzumaki is pretty gruesome but it's not a patch on the scene from one of his short stories where a teen holds his sister down and squeezes out long snake-like curls of white sebum from his acne-ridden face onto hers. Just typing that sentence nauseated me! Yeeeeuck!

Let me take a moment to recover. Okay.

What makes his stories all the more affecting is his use of fragile, doll-like female protagonists. His early series Tomie makes great use of this dichotomy. Ito pits various pixie-haired ingenues against the most beautiful girl in the world-- who just happens to be an immortal monster with an ego to match. Tomie gets sly, sexy, cat-like eyes to match her predatory nature, but her enemies are all wide-eyed, open-faced innocence. But it's not quite that simple. Ito also makes Tomie and her adversaries complex-- Tomie is evil but not without a sympathetic, put-upon quality and one of the girls who battles her is morally compromised right from the start. The series is inconsistent and the various story threads are only loosely tied together, but it's a lot of wicked fun.

I prefer the cover to this Japanese Tomie collection to the versions published by ComicsOne, or even those of Dark Horse's Museum of Terror series. Ito's painted art is more appealing than Dark Horse's murky digital creations. The Complete Tomie has a classic pop art quality and lots of atmosphere. Her pose is quite demure, as is her smile-- but there's something sinister about her eyes. I suppose the miasma o' horror swirling around her (kind of makes me think of the air in the bathrooms at my favorite bar in Athens, Georgia, back in the day) helps a bit, too. My cover qualms aside, you really need to buy all three volumes of Museum of Terror to meet Tomie and indulge in her peculiar delights. And other nightmares.

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