Whilst I have been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember, other than a few dalliances with Shonen Jump, arguably the biggest source of Japanese comics (or manga, if you prefer) I’ve never really read much except for a few reprints that companies like Dark Horse Comics did in the nineties, and the entire Akira series by Katsuhiro Ôtomo that Epic Comics, an adult line of Marvel set to emulate the more Euro Heavy Metal, released during the eighties.
I’ve always liked the style of Japanese art seen on anime like Battle of the Planets, Kum Kum, Kimba, Marine Boy, Astro Boy and the stunning space saga that is Macross aka Robotech, and I admire the fact that with manga, in general, one creator works on a title until they decide to give it up… I wonder how long Marvel would have survived if creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko just stopped Fantastic Four or Spiderman! I don’t know why I didn’t jump onto manga more, especially when on considers how much I loved a comic by Guinea Pig film conceptualist and mangaka (comic creator) Hideshi Hino, whose manga Panorama of Hell sat me firmly down and taught me that there was more to horror comics than the sexualised fantasies of Vampirella, or the sub-superhero is exploits of western horror characters like Werewolf by Night and Morbius.
This brings me to my more recent discovery of the work of Junji Ito. Ito was a dental technician who submitted work to a magazine called Gekkan Halloween (translation: Monthly Halloween… who wouldn’t love a monthly Halloween?) which was well received and became his series Tomie, about an immortal girl who curses the men she comes across. Ito has sited Hino and H. P. Lovecraft amongst his influences so how could I not immediately fall for his work?
This volume of his work, Venus in the Blind Spot, is a collection of 10 short stories, mostly in his exquisite tight black lines, but occasionally with colour pages or splashes of colour for effect, and a few mini-posters taken from covers of other comics like No Longer Human. This is all wrapped in a beautiful hardcover volume which has a double sided dust jacket: a similar image is on both sides (that of a beautiful blonde woman seen in the reflection of an eye) but the interior cover is clean (and the woman is smiling instead of staring blankly) with none of the titles obscuring it. This dust cover hides, on the actual cover, a terrifying image of the remains of a man being crushed by the foundations of a house, taken from one of the tales on the inside.
In this collection, there are several tales which are amazing: Billions Alone, which tells of a killer who is sewing people together, The Human Chair, based on a story by Edogawa Ranpo, a tale about a mythical chair that has a person living within it, An Unearthly Love, also based on a Ranpa story, which sees a woman married to a man with an unusual affection for a manikin, the very Lovecraftian The Licking Woman about a woman who attacks people and licks them, leaving a deadly rash where her tongue has touched, Keepsake, about the child born of a dead woman and finally, the masterfully bizarre story of The Enigma of Amigara Fault, a story of an earthquake that reveals a crevice covered in human shaped holes that seemingly echo actual people’s body shapes, causing them to have a compulsive need to enter them.
Unfortunately the other stories didn’t resonate too much with me, though I do think the art of Venus in the Blind Spot, the story of a girl who mysteriously disappears when you get close to her, is possibly some of Ito’s finest. I had a particular dislike for the fanboy-ish Master Umezz and Me, in which Ito explains his own obsession with mangaka Kazuo Umezu, who created the manga The Drifting Classroom, which Ito respectfully parodies/ pays homage to with his own manga The Dissolving Classroom.
The first thing anyone will notice about Ito’s work is how beautiful it is. His characters are all exquisitely beautiful in the execution, with delicate features and calm stature, which is juxtapositions fantastically by the grotesque monstrosities that they become when angered, or due to unfortunate circumstance, which is the key to great horror.
Of course, thematically one would expect there are occasional ideas that seem unusual which are due to culture and tradition, but when the actual stories themes kick off, they are quickly overlooked. His ideas of compulsion and obsession are prevalent and perhaps reveal that doom comes to those who are unable to control them.
This volume has some good stories in it, but it’s probably for completists of Ito only, and a starting reader might do better with Tomie, Gyo or Uzumaki instead.
This volume is published by Viz Media.