Graphic Novels/Manga

BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE BY ALAN MOORE

I have spent my life feeling sane. The sanest, the most rational, the most logical. It was you, I thought with absolute conviction. All of you. You are mad, not me. I was convinced. I laughed at the opinion of others; I scoffed at the judgement of my peers and associates. I denied you; you, who thought me peculiar, eccentric, and unnerving. Until recently, that is. Until I met someone who agrees with me, who believes in my sanity. I met her and suddenly, almost instantly, I lost my nerve. I no longer believe in myself, because of her. I no longer trust myself, because of her. How can I, how can someone like me, be entrusted with something precious? I’ll hurt her, I’ll break her, I’ll ruin her, precisely because of her faith in me, in my soundness of mind and character. I cannot be trusted….because I’m not sane. I see it now, what you see and have always seen. I’m crazy; and a beautiful vase is not safe on a rickety table.

“When you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness. Madness is the emergency exit.”

It is perhaps this uncertainty, this feeling of vulnerability, that has brought me back here. I am, it strikes me now, using this as a kind of preserver, a log large enough to hold onto and be kept afloat. By ‘this’ I mean, of course, writing; and reading. The Killing Joke. It took me little over an hour, but it soothed me; it soothes me still. It is not her, it is not us, at least. I have no responsibilities here. I had been given the impression, from the bits and pieces that I had read about it beforehand, that the focus of the story is the relationship between The Joker and Batman, specifically how alike they are, how they are essentially the same. But that isn’t the case. Batman is largely absent, both literally – in that he has little page-time – and in terms of his personality. He is almost a blackhole of a character. A nothing. The one insight we are given into who he is as a man is when he states that he doesn’t want to kill The Joker, that he is afraid that he will kill him or be killed by him. Ultimately, I got the feeling that Moore just wasn’t particularly interested in him, and so neither is the reader.

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The same cannot be said of The Joker. Moore puts a lot into him. On one level, he is an epic cunt. Just the sort of cunt a reader, or this reader, wants in a bad guy. At one point, for example, he shoots a young woman, paralysing her. No word, no warning. She opens the door and he grins at her and fires. He then strips her and takes photographs. Moore wasn’t messing. The Joker’s not messing. He is undoubtedly a horrible cunt. Yet, Moore also gives us his backstory, where it is explained who he was and how he became what he is. The Joker was a bad comedian, a failing man and husband. His jokes are terrible. I wondered initially if The Joker’s puns were meant to be funny, but Moore’s exposition convinced me that they are deliberately not funny. The man behind the face paint. He isn’t the joker, he is a joke. He’s a bungling burglar too. He agrees to commit a crime in order to give his woman and child a better life. He fails at that also. A loser. The Loser. 

It’s clear that Moore wants us to understand The Joker, to empathise with him. He demystifies him, humanises him. It could have backfired. The Joker isn’t all bad, in the way that a supervillain, in my limited understanding of the superhero genre, is meant to be. He isn’t something other, he is simply a man. An average man, a hurting man, a failure, like most of us, who goes mad through misfortune and bad choices. It’s not Batman who we are meant to see in him, but ourselves. Indeed, one of the themes of the story is that he could be you, in the right – or wrong – circumstances. This is what The Joker aims to prove in kidnapping and torturing Commissioner Gordan. A good man, a normal man, a sane man, will go crazy, will break, if you subject him to certain, appalling situations. It’s inevitable, natural, comforting even.   

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As with everything I have read by Alan Moore, there is a satisfying depth to his ideas in The Killing Joke. Intelligence; no easy answers or conclusions. The Joker is discomforting, not because I saw myself in him, as some may do, but because he is acting out of pain. He is capable of anything, because this awful anything, this madness, distracts him from the pain. It is also worth mentioning that he is drawn beautifully. He is odd looking, without being monstrous or camp. Moreover, some of the other illustrations are impressively creepy, resembling an Aphex Twin video you may once have seen on MTV at midnight. In any case, my favourite part of the story is at the end, and features neither The Joker, nor Batman, nor any kind of traditional comic book hero or villain. A man speaks. Facing forward. Talking to you, it seems. He wants to do something bad. Kidnap a child, perhaps. A little girl. He wants to kidnap her and make her ordeal as terrible as possible. He would rape her, no doubt. The man has a woman and a child of his own. He is not bad, he states, he simply wants to try it, to compare it to goodness. It is this man, without green hair, without face paint, without a bat suit, who is the most familiar to us, and the most frightening.

THE CAGE BY MARTIN VAUGHN-JAMES

…I had arrived in what looked like an evacuated city…

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…an abandoned housing block; a burnt out car…

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…she was blonde, beautiful and broken jawed…we fucked badly, or I did, too drunk and too spaced and too sadsacked…she demanded that I spit in her mouth and there was nowhere to escape to…she told me that she had once lived in an area where nondescript businesses were open 23 hours a day, as though one hour only was set aside, for the owners and workers, only one hour for themselves, to rest…

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…the cage is unfinished and already decayed…it stands as before…before, what…an event never for an instant anticipated…before the catastrophe, if you can call it that…the cage is significant only because it remains…it is whole, in a landscape of chaos and destruction…a cube…unfinished and already decayed, but not destroyed…its construction abruptly and inexplicably arrested…it remains…

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…I did not hear “help me”…their names sounded like an order and a surprised reaction…

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…everything is vague…by some event, inexplicably arrested…noises described in detail but not truly accounted for or explained…which may or may not be of some significance…symbols and signs that may or may not be significant…an empty analogy…the cage…

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…and inside…a human head…

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…a labyrinth of distorted signs, which may or may not be signs…builders overtaken in their endeavour by some event…once populated, builders…some order or arrangement is in evidence, although order and arrangement is impossible…everything is chaos, and to live is to futilely attempt to impose order and meaning upon it…an intricate system…

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…I had arrived in what looked like an evacuated city…but it’s all me, in tidal motions…the something I needed was…new death…hallucinating rats…

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…hints at the sinister…broken nails and bloody rags…the suggestion that there is a design, a purpose, an intent…the chaos, the destruction…the air splinters…

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…stealing the beginnings of pornographic videos…

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…eye sores…I pulled out my hair and gave myself bruises…the now obliterated whole…

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…I spat in her mouth in a burnt out car…

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…fragment…looking for answers in rubble and dejecta…

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…the cage stands as before…signifying nothing…

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…unfinished and already decayed…

A GIRL ON THE SHORE BY INIO ASANO

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I had arranged to meet Georgina one evening, but she went drinking with her friend instead. I was relieved,</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>although I felt as though I should be indignant. I’m sorry, she said in her message to me, I know I have let you down,,, but I couldn’t say no. |I no longer lay awake at night and cry. Georgina came over not long after midnight ?? She apologised for her perfume.</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>*At what point did womens bodies become boring to me</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Irene is 31 and a virgin. She had been concentrating on travelling and her career, she said. I met her in Nottingham, a city where once, years ago, I had been punched by a young man in a case of mistaken identity.     Irene is 31,</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The one thing I regret in my life is my lack of sexual experience, she told me. \\I feel as though I am living my life backwards</p>

<p style=”text-align: center;”>I am not always able to maintain an erection/.</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>i tell them i am drunk, but the truth is that i am bored</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Sophie wants to be my sex slave™  SPIT IN MY MOUTH</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>[I no longer cry at night]</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>It is not true to say that there is no end to this, there are countless endings,</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I once read books in order to escape my life and myself and to escape you. I once wrote as means of  ;</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I picked up A Girl on the Shore and looked at the pictures. At the arseholes, the dicks, the vaginas. And I thought about how, once upon a time, I was not<em> wading through filth</em></p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>A Girl on the Shore is not filth. It is, in fact, almost beautiful, almost moving in the way that it represents sex between the two main characters. I had: arranged to meet CarA in Manchester but she cancelled when she got her period.</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>       I do not cry</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>The more sex I have the harder it becomes to remember a time when I truly enjoyed it</p>

<p style=”text-align: right;”>spit in my mouth</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Upon how many <strong>faces</strong> have I ejaculated?  Asano Inio > mangaka. It seems as though each of his major releases are significantly different in subject and tone. ] A Girl on the Shore is about a boy and girl</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I lay awake at night, my dick in my hand  “The girl is called Koume and the boy is called Isobe.” — Gulag of the soul — Koume was, perhaps, forced, but certainly coerced into sucking a guy’s dick, some guy that she likes, maybe, in some way […] They are young, at school ‘ – Koume and Isobe〈</p>

¶a rebel from the knees downwards

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Isobe likes Koume || he wants to kiss her, to be with her, as something like a boyfriend. Koume will not kiss, because kissing is intimate, unlike sucking dick. She is using Isobe, or gives that impression, which frustrates and upsets the boy ↵ She is using Isobe in order to feel better about herself  -</p>

I sometimes wonder why they fuck me % what are they doing it for, for pure enjoyment?

<p style=”text-align: right;”>That hardly seems likely.</p>

I do it because, well, what else is there to do

<p style=”text-align: center;”><strong>?</strong></p>

<p style=”text-align: left;”>I met Linxian Δ outside a bar, early afternoon</p>

<p style=”text-align: left;”>I ejaculated in her mouth an hour later. The next day, she messaged me to ask me if I thought she should shave her vagina and, fleetingly, I was moved</p>

<p style=”text-align: left;”>≤ I do not know why ≥</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>It is clear that Isobe and Koume do not understand themselves, do not understand their relationship. There is real charm in the way that they fuck, with innocent eagerness, as though it is new and exciting. There is an intimacy to it that I had forgotten existed, and which they do not recognise ↓ Arseholes, vaginas, mouths….these things have lost meaning for me ↑ I see them, I touch them, I taste them, I fuck them, but I don’t know them any more. I realise this only now, as I write.</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>Years ago, I remember feeling honoured, as stupid as that sounds, to be allowed to slide my hand under the waistband of a woman’s underwear • Sometimes I would leave it there, enjoying the moment, not wanting to drive further down. [I felt chosen] [I feel nothing now]</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>There is a touching moment when Koume says of Isobe that he has the cutest face when he cums. They are two confused, lonely, hurting people, who don’t ever really talk to each other, except to needle and bicker. The way that they communicate, honestly, sweetly, is with their bodies =</p>

<p style=”text-align: center;”>I was touched</p>

+ fleetingly

They find themselves in sex; their awkwardness disappears and they let themselves go.

One understands that there is hope for them, maybe together, maybe apart

but Hope, <strong>nevertheless</strong>

<p style=”text-align: right;”>Yesterday I met Kimberley, who is studying law. She wants to have a good time.</p>

Koume’s family think that she is earnest and pure, and we are perhaps meant to snigger because, we, the readers, know that in reality she isn’t

⇒because she fucks and is fucked⇐

because Isobe fucks and eats her ass and asks her to shit in his mouth – (let’s not be coy)

But the sex in the book is the most earnest and pure I have encountered in literature

<p style=”text-align: center;”>     Did you</p>

<p style=”text-align: center;”>                                 have a good time, Kim</p>

<p style=”text-align: justify;”>I am not crying</p>

DOMU: A CHILD’S DREAM BY KATSUHIRO OTOMO

They often come to me from different towns or cities. I meet them at the train station, and on each occasion, as we exit, and start the climb towards one of the bars in the city centre, I turn my head and draw their attention to the Park Hill housing estate. I know I shouldn’t do it, but I do. The woman is not the same but this scene is; repeated I don’t know how many times now. Look, I say, and they look. And then I begin my explanation, which, by this stage, is almost scripted; and I’m boring them, I know; and I’m boring myself; but I can’t help it, as I am intensely moved. I didn’t grow up in Park Hill, but it was a place just like it; hard, raw and grey. The design of the buildings mirroring my experience. It’s pretty ugly, they say, or something of that sort. I don’t tell them that I feel ugly too, for this sort of thing formed me. I too am hard, grey concrete. For a while they stopped buses going up there, to the estate where I lived, because children would throw bricks at them. Where did they get such a supply of bricks? Were they stolen from the tower blocks themselves? In my mind I see little gutter kids sitting in the dirt, carefully removing bricks from the base of tall buildings. And in the next moment I see them toppling, in a perfectly choreographed, Twin Towers-like collapse.

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On the surface, Domu, by Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo, is a horror/murder mystery. At a large housing complex, the residents are dying – twenty-five in less than three years – in unusual circumstances. What appear to be suicides, murders and accidental deaths, are, the police think, somehow linked. The latest apparent suicide had, they note, no history of mental health problems and left no note. He also had no access to the key to the door leading to the roof, from which he flung himself, and the door itself showed no sign of being tampered with. At one stage, one of the detectives says that it is a ‘locked roof mystery,’ in a nod to the once popular locked room subgenre, of which Gaston Leroux’s The Mystery of the Yellow Room is a prime example. In the early parts of the manga, Otomo builds his puzzle carefully and expertly, leaving numerous clues and providing a number of possible theories. It could be that there is a serial killer in the housing complex who has a grudge against the residents. Or is that someone has a grievance with the complex itself, someone who was forced out when it was built perhaps? Or could it even be one of the children? Or a ghost or spirit of some kind?

After a while, however, although the ‘mystery’ remains important to the police, the truth is revealed to the reader and the story then becomes more about the housing complex itself. In fact, even from the beginning it dominates the book in a visual sense. It is a huge, brutalist structure, of the kind I grew up in. It is described as ‘really creepy’ by one character; while another says of it that it ‘goes on forever.’ It appears in almost every frame, often in the background, looming ominously behind the residents or the police. Having lived in something just like this, I understand how they function in the mind. It is a little world in itself, a world made up of often vulnerable people, a little world from which it feels impossible to escape. Wherever you are you can see it or you can feel its presence. One interesting thing that Otomo does as an artist is draw important scenes where the lens has panned out, so to speak, to show only the complex, and the speech therefore appears to be coming from the building itself, rather than the characters. It gives the impression of, not only its immensity, but of a community swallowed up by the complex. In this way, Otomo uses it a little like the Bates motel or the house in The Exorcist; it is not directly responsible for the crimes, but is, nevertheless, a symbol of evil.

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The truth of who is murdering the residents, and the police, is Cho, a senile old man with extraordinary powers. He can levitate, for example, and can move objects with his mind; but, most importantly, in terms of his crimes, he can influence people to do things, such as kill themselves and others. His nemesis is Eksuko, a little girl with similar, if not stronger, powers. The two engage in battle and this provides Domu with its thrilling climax, which is, as far as I am concerned, the best action sequence in manga. On this, my issue with Akira is that there is simply too much of that sort of thing, but here Otomo provides a perfect balance between action and character development and psychology. In any case, it is said that Cho was abandoned by his family, who simply moved out and left him. The murders are, therefore, part play, by a bored old geezer, and part revenge. When he makes someone kill themselves he needles them about their failures, about how awful their lives are. Like the housing complex, Cho could be said to have a symbolic function. He is the suffering, the hopelessness and the destructiveness of the residents. He is the bad spirit, energy or atmosphere.

GOGO MONSTER BY TAIYO MATSUMOTO

They think that I hate them. But it’s not true. In fact, I admire them. They look so happy, so relaxed. I don’t feel happy or relaxed; not in their company; not in any company. I cannot relate to people. Their preoccupations, their conversation. I can fake it, of course, and I do sometimes. With girlfriends mostly. I use them in order to fool myself into thinking I am not a hopeless case, and because their grace and beauty soothes me in the same way a cat’s does. Actually, it’s not correct to say that I always use them. Occasionally, my enthusiasm, my participation is genuine; occasionally I am engaged; but it’s rare. Most of the time I feel as though I exist behind glass. It’s hard to fake being-like-them consistently. It’s like trying to perform a complex dance routine when you have only learnt the first couple of steps. You might look as though you know what you’re doing initially, but soon you’re stood uncomfortably still and silent in the middle of a room.

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All of Taiyo Matumoto’s major work in English features children as outcasts or oddballs. In Tekkonkinkreet, for example, there are the orphaned brothers Black and White; and Sunny, which some consider his masterpiece, is set in a foster home, the kind that he, apparently, spent some time in himself. In GoGo Monster, however, the kids are less obviously vulnerable. The setting, on this occasion, is a school, and there is no suggestion, that I remember, that any of the students have been discarded by their parents, or have a complicated home life. Indeed, most of them are ordinary kids, who engage in a bit of mild bullying and name calling, and play sport and computer games. As a result, GoGo Monster has less immediate emotional heft than Tekkonkinkreet and Sunny, but is, for me, more subtly moving and interesting. Not because a school is a novel setting, for of course it isn’t, but because one is forced to look beyond their circumstances to explain the strange behaviour of Tachibana and IQ, the two eccentrics at the heart of the book.

IQ wears a box on his head and looks after the school’s rabbits. The box is, one might say, a home away from home; it is a barrier, a comfort. There’s a wonderful scene where IQ is asked to sit an exam without his box, and he replies that this is like asking a kid who doesn’t wear a box to wear one for an exam. About two-thirds of the way into the book he befriends Tachibana. The relationship between the two boys is, in some ways, predictable. They are, as noted previously, both eccentric, both largely shunned by their contemporaries, and both are intelligent. However, there’s more to it than that; IQ acts as a kind of commentator, a guide, and a therapist. For Tachibana believes in the existence of another world, which he calls ‘the other side.’ This world is populated by beings who are not monsters in the traditional sense, although he draws monstrous looking characters on his school desk, but more like a kind of energy. You might call them ghosts, but that doesn’t seem right either. In any case, none of the other children can see or interact with them, not even IQ.    Screen Shot 2018-11-19 at 21.35.01.jpg

Have you ever looked at a mark on a wall, or something of that sort, and thought you saw a face in it? I’m sure everyone has, at some point. In Witold Gombrowicz’s great novel Cosmos, the two detectives find their clues just like this, by imposing meaning on apparently random and insignificant phenomena. One might, therefore, understand Tachibana’s relationship with the other side in the same way. He sees distorted faces in drops of rain and on leaves; he interprets ordinary events – minor thefts or things going missing – as being the work of ‘the others.’ We have a phrase for this, of course, which is an overactive imagination, which is not uncommon in children, especially intelligent and eccentric ones. It is possible that Tachibana has created this other world because he feels disconnected from the real world, just like IQ with his box. Yet GoGo Monster makes you ask a more uncomfortable question: does the boy really believe it? And if he does, is it not actually a manifestation of some form of serious mental illness? I don’t want to diagnose, but at no point did I get the impression that Tachibana is acting out, or lonely, or not in earnest.

By handling things in this way, by posing these questions, by making our thoughts go in a more difficult and distressing direction, Matsumoto avoids the major pitfall that books of this sort often fall into, and which his own work was on the verge of falling into in the early stages. I, and probably most of us, never want to read another novel about how spellbinding childhood is, how glorious the imagination of children, and how, in comparison, rotten and prosaic adulthood is. Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Little Prince did this better than any author ever will. No one else needs to go there. I audibly groaned when Tachibana began to talk about how growing up will mean that he will not be able to interact with the other side anymore. And the ending does suggest that the boy has ‘come through’ and is well-adjusted and no longer seeing things. So, of course, there is, regardless of how serious he took these supernatural events, the possibility that it was all pure fantasy, or, as IQ says, ‘psychological escapism.’ But I know, being myself once a very strange child, who saw and did very strange things, that it isn’t always so easy to move on. You might mature, you might stop seeing monsters, but the world, the so-called real world, never stops being ‘other’ to you.

KIJIN GAHOU BY SHINTARO KAGO

We hadn’t even finished our first drinks. This is what I do now. I invite strangers back to my place. She invited herself, in fact. She thinks I have a cat. But the cat is dead. She doesn’t seem to notice. I guess she isn’t here for the cat. I’m wishing I had drank more, so I could feign impotence. She notices the books. It’s difficult not to notice the books. ‘Wow, you have a lot of books,’ she says. She wants me to show her the one I spoke about on the way home, which, I now realise, I mentioned in an effort to put her off. The disgusting one. She’s not unattractive, but I have done this too many times to find meaning in it. I’ll cover her in my scent, in my DNA, and then she’ll leave and never return. I collect these women now, in the same way I collected all those books, without ever really enjoying it. I’m surrounded on all sides by shaky towers. One day I’ll die under a book avalanche. ‘You must love reading,’ she says. I want to tell her I hate it. This, I think, with an imaginary sweeping gesture that encompasses her too, is not about love.

“Met her at my younger brother’s family barbecue. I punched a hole in her cheek with an iron spit. My cum was leaking out of it. Amusing.”

The disgusting book is Kijin Gahou, a collection of one-shots, or standalone short pieces, by mangaka Shintaro Kago. I don’t know who put it together. Does it exist because the author wanted it to or was it fan-made? I can’t imagine that any publisher saw it as an opportunity to make money. Or not a lot of money, anyway. There’s something so unsettling about parts of the collection – and one story in particular, which I will discuss in detail later – that the healthy, immediate response would be to suppress it, to hide it, to look away. But, then, the world isn’t a healthy place. So maybe this is the book we need right now, maybe it’s the book we deserve. Certainly, I feel as though I have reached a [low] point in my life where it is one of the few books that has any significance for me, that says something meaningful about how I see and experience the world.

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On the surface, ‘collecting’ is what ties together many of the stories. In fact, the opener is actually called The Collector. It features a girl who is so in love with a boy that she wants to keep and catalogue everything he comes into contact with. It’s one of the strongest entries in Kijin Gahou, for the way that it unfolds with a satisfying, gruesome logic. If the girl wants the pencil that the boy touches, simply because he touched it, then it seems to naturally follow that she would want the skin of the people he touches too. I’m starting to realise that this is something of a Kago trademark, which is to say that he takes fairly banal or commonplace situations or phenomena and draws them out to an absurd, but still logical conclusion. While The Collector is, of course, about the act of collecting things, the author’s real focus is on the psychology behind it. The obsession and madness, I mean; and the strange – to me – desire to own something that once belonged, or was touched, by someone notable, often someone you admire. I have never understood how an object can become significant purely by virtue of having passed through the hands of another human being, but then I have always been unsentimental.

The most distressing, the most notorious, and the best, story is Suck It. Immediately after finishing Suck It I did not want to think about, discuss, or write about it. It affected me that profoundly. Yet even while I was reading it I knew that it had an incredible power, and that it was important in some way, even though I simultaneously hated it for what it was doing to me. It is concerned with a man who wants to photograph women giving him oral sex. For the most part, all that we see are the photographs themselves, with a short comment by the photographer. At first, the pictures are fairly standard, but they quickly increase in extremity and depravity. One way in which Suck It is so disturbing is that it makes you feel complicit, or made me, and perhaps most men who read it, feel that way. Having a dick, and having taken many a photograph and video of this sort myself, I could not help but put myself, my dick, in the situations I was observing. It was, in a sense, my dick that was being sucked; and that is the genius of Kago’s choice, of presenting us with the photographs, rather than a traditional narrative.

Suck It has many notable, and disconcerting, things to say about male sexual psychology. One gets the sense that the man is more interested in the image than he is in the blowjobs themselves, that he is, in other words, more concerned about his project than his pleasure; or, perhaps more accurately, it is the case that working on the project increases his pleasure. It is the desire to try something new, to get a different kind of picture, that appears to motivate him. ‘If you get down to it,’ he comments early on, ‘all faces look pretty similar’; and he then endeavours to make then look as different as possible. I have had many discussions over the years with men who want to fuck a range of women, simply to be able to say they have done it. Like a fat girl, for example, or someone of a race or nationality other than their own. It is a sort of competition with oneself, a kind of cataloguing of the opposite sex. The pleasure gained from these experiences is not from the acts themselves, or not primarily, it is in the accomplishment of a goal, in ticking a box. Maybe it is the case that women do this too; I’m certain that some do, at least; but it doesn’t seem to be as prevalent and toxic.

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I’ve read a lot of ero guro, both in terms of conventional literature and manga, and it is undeniable that much of it verges on, or just is, misogynistic; and, if one glanced at his work, one could accuse Kago of it too. Indeed, almost every story in Kijin Gahou involves sexual, or sexualised, violence against women. There are, for example, images of breasts being cut off, and of a woman sucking dick while having a hole drilled in her head, to name but two of many. However, the further I progressed through the book the more convinced I became of the author’s warmth and empathy towards women. In fact, he seems to focus on issues affecting women far more often than those affecting men, such as abortion in Fetus Collection. The young woman at the centre of the story is ‘filled with inertia.’ She has regular unprotected sex, she says, ‘to please and to avoid seeming unappreciative.’ The sad image accompanying this statement is of her vagina, with semen dribbling pathetically out of it. She then states that ‘the value of my existence is defined by the sexual desire of men.’ In any context I would find this thrilling, this subtle fuck you to all the guys who sulk and bitch if a woman won’t accept their cum, but in male-authored ero guro it strikes me as almost unprecedented.

PANORAMA OF HELL BY HIDESHI HINO

I could feel the needle enter my vein; painless, but cold and invasive, like running your tongue along chilled glass. It had taken me an hour to work myself up to it, to convince myself to go through with it, to allow this woman to take my blood. Yet I felt as though it wasn’t only mine she was taking, but every drop I had ever seen spilled. As she filled her little containers, my head was similarly filled with memories and moments. I saw myself as a child, dispassionately watching the red pool form in my brother’s cupped hands. I saw a trail, from the gates of my school, where some kid’s nose must have been broken, to the house where he apparently lived; following it in my mind like breadcrumbs. I saw a mother grab the hair of a boy her son was fighting, pushing his head down to allow her son to kick him in the face; the boy’s pink spittle dribbling onto the concrete. For almost half of my life I lived under a dull red sun which bathed the world in crimson light. So much violence and madness, I thought it would never stop.

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When I began to show a serious interest in manga I anticipated that I would turn up a lot of what I will inelegantly call ‘extremely weird shit.’ Yet it hasn’t really been the case, and hours of searching dedicated message boards and websites has been largely fruitless also. There is horror, plenty of it, and some is very impressive, such as Junji Ito’s Uzumaki, but that’s not really what I had been hoping for. The Ero Guro, or Erotic Grotesque, genre promised to satisfy my inclinations, but, aside from Shintaro Kago and Suehiro Maruo, I haven’t come across much of that either. Recently, however, I discovered Hideshi Hino’s Panarama of Hell. With my limited knowledge, I would place it somewhere between the Ero Guro and horror manga that I have read so far. Unlike Ito, I don’t believe that it was Hino’s intention, or not the primary one, to scare his audience, although there are supernatural elements to the events outlined within his work. On the other hand, it is grotesque, but without an emphasis on the erotic. Moreover, the style – which is actually my least favourite part about it – is not what I would want, nor expect, from Ero Guro either, being cute, almost charming, in a Tim Burton kind of way, which negatively impacts upon the intensity of the narrative.

The plot, what little of it there is, centres on a painter who may or may not live in hell. The man talks openly to the audience, explaining that he creates ‘hell paintings’ and that he is currently at work on his biggest and most important project, ‘The Panorama of Hell’, which will be a ‘breakthrough in technique’ and will depict ‘the end.’ He then spends the majority of the rest of the book exhibiting and detailing these hell paintings, including The Guillotine, The Bottomless River of Hell and so on. It is through the paintings that one gets a sense of his personality, situation, and past. I said recently, to the unfortunate few whose ears I have, that the book reminds me most of Maldoror. There is a similar theatricality to the central characters’ misdeeds and personas; they both revel in their evilness, in gore and pain. For example, the painter declares that ‘the sight of fresh corpses broiling is remarkable.’ This sort of thing clearly amuses and excites him, in the same way that Maldoror enjoys slicing up children. Indeed, he actually paints using blood, which he describes as the most beautiful thing in the world; and Hino’s most unpleasant images involve the man vomiting up blood and cutting and bleeding himself.

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Yet, the further you progress through the book, the more his statement that ‘the overpowering odour of blood always surrounds me’ takes on a more subtle, deeper, even moving significance. I stated previously that it is through his paintings that one comes to know the man, but it is when he tells the stories of his family – his grandfather, father and brother specifically – that most is revealed. All three of these men were brutal and violent, all damaged and destructive. Big drinkers, they beat their wives, their acquaintances and their children. In this way, Panorama of Hell is a portrait of how the sins of each generation can be passed on, about cycles of violence, and how your upbringing can harm and mould you. It’s particularly interesting how the other men are strong and overpowering but the painter is weak and, well, morbid. He is still disgusting, no doubt, but strangely sympathetic at times. He says at one stage that ‘I’ve seen images of hell since I was in my mother’s womb,’ and is born holding blood clots in each hand, and this resonated with me, affected me emotionally, perhaps more than it ought to have.