Gyo is Disgusting!!: Grossness in Manga

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.

sj.jpgLooking 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

sj2Yep… 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.


Love Thy Neighbor?

By: Katie Horsfall

Through the Woods, a graphic novel by Emily Carroll, consists of short stories that all involve encounters with different types of horror figures. Though each has its own plot, the stories are tied together by the eerie presence of an unknown place, whether it is a character’s new home, or the foreboding outdoors. “Our Neighbor’s House” tells the story of Beth and her sisters, who must travel to their neighbor’s house after their father never comes home from hunting (Carroll). Before they leave, two of the sisters describe the appearance of a man coming to them in the night, before they disappear, leaving Beth alone. Though all three sisters see and describe the figure, the images reveal very little of the figure to us, shrouding us in the same uncertainty Beth feels as her sisters disappear.

Carroll’s use of images throughout the story gives us more insight into the story; though Beth narrates the story, the images sometimes show more than what Beth can tell us. When her sister Hannah disappears, the images show Beth asleep, a figure in a yellow cloak, and a shadow outside the window. Since these events happen when Beth is asleep we can entertain the conclusion that though the images mostly illustrate what Beth describes and observes, they may be coming from an unknown perspective. On the other hand, however, the images we see that Beth cannot may come from Beth’s own imagination, placing both the images and words back in Beth’s narration. We cannot know for sure which perspective the images come from, so when Beth searches the house for signs of the man and her sister, we cannot be certain that the figures we see behind her are not actually there. We only see the arm and the hat of the man, and they are etched into a dark background. When Hannah disappears, we see the image of a wide-brimmed hat on her pillow. Given the mystery of the images’ perspective, we cannot know if this wide brimmed hat ever truly laid next to Beth in the way the image shows us. When, at the end, Beth sees the wide-brimmed hat for herself at the neighbor’s house, it looks the same as it did in previous images, suggesting that either Beth imagined the exact appearance of the hat, or the hat was in the house. This intrusion into the both the home itself, and the lives of the sisters, promote the feeling of discomfort and a lack of protection in the home. Since we want the idea of home to be the safest place we know, the feeling we share with Beth by the end of the story- the snowy outdoors is safer than her own house- gives us the sense of horror we started to feel when we wondered if there was really an intruder in the house.

When Beth finally meets the man in the hat herself, she verifies the man’s smile and wide-brimmed hat, but as she goes inside, claims that “he is no man”. Though she states this revelation as “obvious”, her sisters never disputed that what they saw was a man, though they could not remember exactly what he looked like. Since we only have the imagery of the hat, and the description of the others to go on, we can consider the options that the monster can take multiple forms, can manipulate the minds of those he comes across, or that all three characters saw different things in the same monster. With the wide-brimmed hat causing possible misidentification, we once again cannot be sure what or who the monster is. Many horror figures use some form of apparel to hide their outright appearance, but the wide-brimmed hat conceals villains such as Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the serial killer in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Both monsters depart from the typical appearance of “man”: Freddy Krueger is a disfigured inhabitant of dreams, and the serial killer is a couple, led predominantly by a woman (Craven, Argento). Carroll’s emphasis on the wide-brimmed hat in both her images and descriptions create more and more uncertainty every time we see it, resulting in a stronger sense of horror as the characters meet the monster, one by one.

Online Version of “Our Neighbor’s House”:

Works Cited

Argento, Dario., director. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. 1969.

Carroll, Emily. “Our Neighbor’s House .” Through the Woods: Stories, Faber And Faber, 2015.

Craven, Wes, and Robert Shaye. A Nightmare on Elm Street. New Line Cinema, 1984.

Horrifyingly Funny – EC’s Legacy Lives On

By: Kyle Twadelle

When EC Comics’ horror titles first became popular in the 1940s with strips such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, it introduced a new spin on horror media. While terrifying elements were still front and foremost, “hosts” such as the Crypt Keeper would bookend the comics with humorous remarks regarding the story’s gruesome contents, somehow using the horror of the story as a source of humor. This popular trend almost disappeared, however, with the popularity superhero comics gained in the 60s and afterwards, but EC’s unique, and disturbing, brand of humorous horror has found a resurgence in today’s comics.

Although the current comic market is still cornered by superheroes, there is a growing fad of “funny” horror that continues to inspire new titles and even worm its way into the superhero universes. One of the most famous examples is Preacher, published in the 1990s by Garth Ennis. Preacher, in my mind, is the most horrifying comic in print, not shying away from cannibalism, incest, rape, and graphic body horror, to name a few, in its story of a former preacher’s quest to confront God for abandoning humanity. The content goes far beyond what many comics, and even movies, consider horrifying, but Ennis still manages to suffuse the comic with a slapstick sense of humor that allows truly funny moments to exist between the most terrifying scenes.

With Preacher as the sadistic frontrunner, more and more horror/comedy comics are appearing and gaining popularity in the new millennium. Examples include Criminal Macabre, a tale of a Han Solo-esque paranormal detective’s adventures with his sidekick, a sarcastic, wise-cracking ghoul Mo’Lock, as they fight disemboweling demons and other creatures of Hell. The Goon, by Eric Powell, chronicles the day-to-day lives of a good-hearted mob boss, “The Goon”, and his foul-mouth, perverse, intoxicated buddy Franky. The two fight creatures both terrifying and laughable, ranging from an undead mother’s unborn baby to a trash-talking Mexican lizard-man. Mentioned in class, another horror-humour mashup that is becoming extremely popular is Chew, which tells the adventures of Tony Chu, a former police detective and “cibopath” who solves crimes by eating parts of its victims, from which he can discern moments from their pasts.

As this genre of comic increases in popularity, it raises the question of how humour can be successfully mixed with truly horrifying content, without seeming too forced or heavy-handed as comic relief. One answer to this, seen in all the titles mentioned above, is the fact that even the most humorous moments can be based on something otherwise terrifying. For instance, a running joke in Preacher is that Herr Starr, the main character’s arch-enemy, continuously encounters grievous and permanent bodily harm, such as losing a leg, splitting his head open, and having a dog attack the family jewels. In The Goon, the two heroes crack wise while fighting back hideous monsters, making fun of their enemies’ deformities that, in real life, would be terrifying to behold.  This successful formula of blending humor into horror allows for the reader to enjoy a good scare while simultaneously cracking up, an impressive feat that harks back to the days of the Crypt Keeper, whose legacy is kept alive by these comics’ growing popularity.