Horror comics fans have plenty of material to choose from when looking for a good, scary read this Halloween. Even if we just confine ourselves to manga (since, as we all know, the Japanese cartoonists excel at scaring the pants off their readers), there are plenty of options, from grand guginol pieces like MDP-Psycho or Ultra Gash Inferno, to more traditional, semi-bloody, spooky fare like Presents or Mail. Still, there are plenty of great, terrifying, mind-blowing manga that would delight the hardcore American horrorist if only some enterprising publisher would make an attempt at publishing them. Here are just six titles that I'd like to see translated and released in book form some time in the near future:
(Note: A potentially NSFW image lurks beneath the jump)
1) Fourteen by Kazuo Umezu. Umezu is regarded by many both here and in Japan as the king of horror manga, and with good reason. Few cartoonists are willing to work on such a primal, surreal level and pull as few punches as he does. His masterwork, The Drifting Classroom, still packs a visceral wallop even after repeated readings.
There's been quite a bit of Umezu published in North America recently (Classroom, Cat-Eyed Boy, etc.), but not nearly enough to suit my tastes. Manga like My Name is Shingo and Left Hand of God, Right Hand of the Devil remain unfairly ignored by folks like Viz. The one Umezu series I'm aching to see translated however is his last work Fourteen, (Umezu retired from manga after completing it). Fourteen is about nothing less than the complete and utter end of the world, brought about in large part by man's utter disregard for the planet, but also by a mad scientist with a chicken head. Set in the year 2121, when pollution runs rampant and the planet is far too overpopulated, a hybrid man/chicken embryo grows out of a vat of bio-engineered foodstuffs. Calling himself Chicken George he vows revenge on all of humanity for their ecological crimes and starts by letting loose a zoo of deformed animals on a group of children and families. From there it gets really weird, as mankind suffers from insect attacks, volcano eruptions, birth defects, kids with green hair, toxic waste and air so bad that it melts people's faces off. Epic in just about every sense of the word, Fourteen is Umezu at his most unrestrained, brutal and downright crazy. No doubt this fact bars some publishers from attempting to publish it, but a comic this insane and eerie deserves to be shared with Western horror fans, if only to soak in the scene where the professional wrestlers that rip each other's hearts out while in the ring before one sodomizes the other?
2) Museum of Terror by Junji Ito. Ito is no stranger to American readers, as his books Uzumaki and Gyo remain easily available in stores and are mentioned whenever the subject of horror manga creeps up. Dark Horse even put out a couple of volumes of his Museum of Terror series a few years ago, which collects all the various short stories he's done over the years (the first two are especially notable as they contain the utterly creepy "Tomie" series). However, they stopped rather abruptly at Vol. 3, completely neglecting at least seven or so other volumes in this series. That seems almost criminal to me as Ito is truly one of the horror greats (his story "The Bully" in Vol. 3 remains one of the most deeply unsettling comics I've ever read). Certainly the popularity of books like Uzumaki would suggest that more of his work would find a receptive audience here.
3) Neo Faust by Osamu Tezuka. As the title suggests, Neo Faust, one of Tezuka's last, and sadly unfinished, works, is a modern retelling of the classic Faust story of a man selling his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge. Here, a scientist on the verge of suicide is given a chance at a new life by a strange sorceress. Accepting her offer, he is thrown back several decades to 1958, transformed into a handsome young man, and given amnesia. From there he sets on a path of dark decadence and degradation, as he attempts to create life itself in the most Frankenstein-like manner possible. The little birds on my shoulder tell me that even unfinished it remains one of Tezuka's darkest and most gruesome stories ever, which makes me all the more curious to check it out.
4) Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano. Asano is probably best known on these shores for his twenty-something slice of life manga Solanin. But many in the know claim that Holograph is his best work to date. A psychological horror story featuring a cast of deeply disturbed characters who interact with each other over the course of a decade (and presented out of chronological order) , Holograph features "attempted rapes, murders, extortion, sexual deviance, and a freakish explosion in the butterfly population," according to Mangascreener. It's surreal nature combined with sharp character observations have won plaudits from those who have read it. The fact that it's already easily available in scantillation form makes it seem like a perfect candidate for publication.
5) Ashura by George Akiyama. Set in medieval Japan during a terrible famine, Ashura caused a stir when it was first published in 1970 for its depiction of cannibalism, most notably in its opening sequence, where the title character's mother, in a fit of hunger-induced madness, attempts to eat her progeny by throwing him on the fire. That scene alone got it banned in many prefectures. The series' blend of black, cartoonish humor and stark horror and seems perfectly aligned for modern sensibilities. Hopefully that, along with the fact that Toei announced earlier this year that it plans on adapting the work into anime, will inspire an American publisher to take a chance on it.
6) Garden by Usamaru Furuya. Not every story in this anthology by the author of Short Cuts qualifies as horror per se, but I'm including it here because of the final story, "Emi-chan," which, according to Adam Stephanides, takes up about half of the book. Split into a series of 16-page chapters, the story is starts with a young teen-age girl who comes across a dangerous murderer and sexual deviant in a dark forest and takes off from there, apparently getting more grisly with each chapter.
The catch is that each 16-page chapter is sealed shut, so that you literally have to take a knife to the book in order to find out what happens next. It's this inspired bit of interactive formalism, forcing the reader to become complicit in the increasingly grim story, that makes me add this to my list. The story's graphic nature and the fact that it involves sexual abuse of underage girls more than likely means that no American publisher would dare touch it. Still, one can always hope there someone out there willing to take that risk.
Thanks to Joe "Jog" McCulloch, Ryan Sands, David Welsh, Matt Brady and everyone else who recommended titles to me. Your help was much appreciated.