Horror Comics That Changed My Life #2


The day I discovered Pokari Sweat, my life got a whole lot better. I mean a tangerine flavored soda with bits of pulp? Really? Purely by accident too. Those crazy vending machines are everywhere on the streets of Japan. You put in your Yen and something cool happens, like a door opens and a train on a track comes out and goes in a circle or maybe a little cartoon plays when you buy something like shoes or a t-shirt, a bottle of whiskey or a sports drink. You can actually buy a pony keg of beer from a vending machine right there on the street in front of God and everyone else without first being “allowed to” or “OK’d by” anyone. Apparently Japan doesn’t have to safeguard their teen-agers from buying beer and then over-throwing the government like we do in the USA.

I still remember the smell of smoked eel permeating the air and thinking “Oh my God that smells HORRIBLE!” Until the day I actually ate some and then I couldn’t stop eating it like some crack-coated candy. Riding that heavy red rental bike around the streets of Japan, I discovered so many amazing things simply because they were packaged or presented in some truly wonderful ways that appealed to my comics/cartoon damaged brain.

If not for Kuru Kuru Sushi, I never would have even thought about trying sushi. The famed conveyor belt sushi bar chain restaurant makes eating sushi a nerdy event. Utilizing a large oval conveyor, sushi chefs stand in the middle and make sushi. Customers sit on chairs surrounding the outer edge.

The chefs place sushi on the conveyor on plates with a price tag stuck to the bottom and the sushi is allowed to make 3 rotations. You, the customer can then simply take it off and eat it, stacking your plates to total your bill. Each restaurant has a variation on the theme. Some have little boats with plates of sushi that go around in a large circular water-track, some have race cars and I have heard of one that has airplanes. It’s really a blast because you can request your favorite futomaki or nigirizushi and the chef places it on the opposite side of the conveyor and you sit and hope that nobody else takes it before it reaches you. The place is loud as hell and people are basically screaming at each other and just having a blast.

Aside from Japanese punk rock and amazing toys/replica guns that I couldn’t get enough of, I acquired a minor love for Manga. I’ll have to tell you, it really takes some getting used to. The books read in reverse, from right to left. If you open the cover facing right, you are looking at the last page. The dialogue and narration are all in kanji, which no freakin’ way I can read. But the art, now that’s different. Looking at the illustrations, I began to get a pretty good idea of what was happening in the stories just by following the art, so in the late 1980’s/early 90’s, when some smart people realized that a new market could emerge in America just by reversing the books and adding English lettering, I accepted western market Manga with open arms. This was when I was introduced to Japanese Horror Comic artist/writer, Junji Ito.

Set in the small town of Kurôzu-cho, Uzumaki is a manga comic that centers on spiral shapes appearing for no reason and driving people insane. In the 20 issues that were published by VIZ Entertainment, Junji Ito paints a world that is randomly sadistic. This overtly Japanese idea that evil in this world indiscriminately chooses victims is illustrated in many J-horror movie classics, like Ju On and Ringu. The theme of the spiral is somehow connected with the infinite and the life cycle and ensuring it continues and some deep stuff and some even deeper stuff and whatever… It is creepy and very good horror.

In each issue, the spiral shows up in some significant and individual way that has Kurôzu-cho and its citizens killing, committing suicide and terrorizing themselves and each other. Paired with the beautiful artwork of Jinji, these stories strike a delicious contraposition that keeps the reader in a state of imbalance; horror made of juxtaposition. The way we see the bizarre theme of spirals completely overwhelming its victims strikes a chord of hopelessness and despair in the gentle people of this small coastal town.

The creepy-factor of Uzumaki is brilliant. Very quickly into the first issue, you are given a pervasive feeling of impending evil that continues to grow, eventually reaching an insane climax. I enjoy reading this type literature, as opposed to the overtness of our western horror. It is also nice to read a story so cleanly manipulate its emotional tone without the use of any obvious devices. Don’t get me wrong, I love ALL horror and don’t prefer one sub-genre over another. Frankenstein, Swamp Thing, Morbius and Hellboy are still ultra-badass in my book, but it’s nice to go outside the box on occasion. It’s also nice to read a horror book that actually tries to scare you and Uzumaki may very well do that.