By: David St. John
When I read Gyo by acclaimed horror manga artist Junji Ito a few days ago, I had a very intense reaction to it. I did not enjoy it, and I almost wish I didn’t read it. Then I got thinking – why? Outside of the fact that I thought there wasn’t a single good character in the book, there was one other big reason I hated Gyo so much, and it’s the fact that it’s just disgusting. It is the most disgusting piece of horror I have ever seen or read as of now, but the more I think about it, the more I think this method of disgusting the reader plays on the strengths of comics/manga as a medium.
Looking at a panel helps me see this: in the left picture, we see the first “monster” of Gyo – a bizarre, rotting, legged fish bleeding into a wall. This isn’t as disgusting as this mangaka gets, but it’s an example of how I think manga and comics can work with horror. The strength of this panel is in the small details – for one thing, readers get a nice detailed view of fish meat along its side where it’s been apparently crushed. By all means, this fish thing is very dead. In addition, readers can see that the legs are organically attached to the fish; it looks like the fish has a protruding stomach that flawlessly blends into its underbelly. Both of these details attest to the artist’s ability to bring his vision to life on page. It almost feels real to readers.
This image simply disgusts me. I’m thinking now, though, that is exactly the goal of the artist in this case. In comics and manga, the pictures are there for as long as you look at them, so they have more opportunity to stick with you. This is one of the strengths over movies and books; in movies, the scenes pass by with speed, leaving smaller details often forgotten. With books, the images are not as sharply visual, and these images too must eventually pass as the reader continues. Then with manga, readers have more opportunity to see these small details, and this is where I think the author is trying to scare us.
With this first image, what the author wants to stick with us is that this fish’s legs are very much a part of the fish, and the fish is very much dead. For the former, readers are just freaked out that the fish has legs because that should not be possible – it goes against nature. The latter comes into play later on when you see the fish flying… in a trash bag
Yep… I’m not kidding. The fish comes flying back from inside the trash bag it was thrown away in. This is scary because how does a dead fish act alive? Is it a zombie dead fish? This fish has now become a bit more scary on top of its scientific freakishness.
Ultimately, the little details emphasize the weirdness that is going on. We are able to more completely appreciate the bizarreness of these fish-with- legs, especially compared to if we were only given a few seconds of screen time during a movie. What I conclude from this is that when it comes to making horror comics and manga, there is ample opportunity through small details to add the the atmosphere. When readers are given so much time to look at an image, it only makes sense to make them really reel from every image they see. In Gyo, every monster is very detailed and disgusting, and it is through this disgust that the author is trying to make me scared of his creation… that nothing going on is remotely natural.