It’s officially Halloween season, so I thought it was time to review one of my favorite horror comics of all time! Junji Ito’s Museum of Terror!!!
Junji Ito – Museum of Terror – Tomie 1 (2002 / 2006) [Trans. Naomi Kokubo]
Junji Ito is a MASTER of freaky horror comics, and he’s even made a pretty big dent in America. (I’ve seen a film version of his manga, Uzumaki, about a town that is obsessed with spirals—and it weirded me out in a way that few stories have ever done. It’s somehow absolutely absurd, yet horrifying at the same time!) If you’ve never heard of him, but you enjoy scary comics, then type his name into a search engine and enjoy!
This book collects the first set of stories about a character (or entity or natural force or demonic spirit) named Tomie, who looks like a beautiful, young high school girl… The story begins with her funeral, and we learn from a friend of Tomie that she was killed and cut into pieces. The next scene shows the kids in Tomie’s class going back to school—and in walks Tomie, begging forgiveness for being late. With Tomie apparently returned from the dead (is she a ghost? is she an imposter?) some of her friends and teachers start acting very strangely, almost going mad… This first story sets the stage for a barrage of Tomie tales that run the gamut from creepy to disgusting—and I mean, David Cronenberg levels of gross here. (I won’t reveal the twists because the best parts of a Junji Ito tale are the twists and torments that the characters have to go through.)
What we get in this collection is an anthology of short horror stories in which Tomie shows up to try to ruin some person’s life. The victim is usually a man, (though not always) who quickly becomes obsessed with Tomie, makes some horrible sacrifice for her, and then (out of love???) feels the overpowering urge to kill her and chop her into bits. (There are variations to this formula, but that’s the common theme: obsession leads to murder.) Unfortunately for anyone living in Junji Ito’s universe, Tomie regenerates, over and over and over again. If a hand of hers is cut off, she’ll grow a new hand—and the hand will grow a new body. If her head gets cut off, a new body grows below the head and a new head grows out of the torso. (And, for some reason, Tomie hates all of the copies of herself and tries to destroy them when she can…) In one disgusting story, Tomie is butchered by two of her admirers (who think they’re helping her) and a carpet is drenched in her blood. Later, each carpet fiber is infused with Tomie’s essence, and a “garden” of Tomie’s grows out of the soaked mess…
Ito’s drawings are black and white, and they have a crispness to them that would work perfectly in a standard romance comic—which means that when something horrible happens it makes the awfulness stand out that much more. And when Ito gets freaky, he doesn’t hold back! His imagination is unbounded, and his tone runs anywhere from Hitchcock to Lovecraft to 80’s schlock slasher movie. The book is violent and creepy and disorienting and almost psychedelic, as some of the versions of Tomie mutate and become very gruesome indeed!
Beyond blood and carnage and murder and freakish monstrosities, the other thing that might put some readers off is that the book is presented in the “right to left” format, which a lot of manga creators prefer. It seems odd the first time you have to start reading at the back of the book, but it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of it—and I, personally, don’t find it difficult at all, but some folks might not like it, if they’ve never had to do it before. The OTHER problem with Museum of Terror is that it’s out of print, and the used prices (if you can find a copy) start at about $15.00 but can go as high as $50.00 or more! The second volume is even more expensive, and the third volume (for some reason,) STARTS at about $300.00 and goes up from there! (I have volume two, but not the third—and by the looks of things, I will NEVER have a copy of volume three, unless I luck out at a comic convention or used books store where someone just doesn’t know what they have…)
I mentioned above that this is one of my favorite horror comics, and I will stand by that. I’ve read this book at least four times now, and every time, it still creeps me out. (I don’t actually get AFRAID—but seeing some of the weird drawings can REALLY get the mental electricity firing! Ito’s gets WEIRD!) I’m not sure if I’m going to review volume two this year—I might save it for next year, but it continues the Tomie stories, and it’s just as entertaining (and sick) as volume one. If you like ghost stories and slasher films and John Carpenter’s The Thing and psychedelic trippy shit and comics, then this book is a MUST for your collection. It’s weird and violent and spooky and delightfully dreadful, and really unlike any American or British ghost / demon stories that I’ve ever read (outside of, maybe, Lovecraft—but it’s much more IMMEDIATE than Lovecraft, less cerebral and more visceral.) Just go get a copy of this book before they soar too high in value and you can’t afford to buy one anymore! Go! Now! Do it!!!
—Richard F. Yates
(Primitive Thoughtician and Supreme Bunny Lord of The P.E.W.)
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