Grotesque Anatomy
Wednesday, October 08, 2003
  Trick or Treat
For those of you who haven't seen it already, Sean Collins is currently running a "Horror Month" theme (more cleverly titled "Where the Monsters Go") on his blog.  Recently he asked readers to suggest some good horror comics to him, and he repeated the plea over on the TCJ message boards.  So far the clear favorite of respondents seems to be Junji Ito's UZUMAKI series.  And as much as I like to be unique and contrarian, I'm afraid I'm going to have to fall in line and join the chorus of UZUMAKI boosters.  Sean, you really should be reading this manga.  To provide you with some motivation, I present a small sampling of images from the second volume of UZUMAKI (which is where I first jumped in to the series, so it's still the volume I remember most vividly).  I don't know if these images satisfy your criteria of the monumental horror-image, but they certainly disturbed me and stuck with me.

Hormones sure do strange things to pregnant women. Caught in the middle of a midnight snack

"These damn speed bumps are really getting out of hand!" "Brains!!!"

Which leads me to the announcement of this blog's new contest, the Medium Contest:  Head over to the forum and respond to the topic, "What scares you most?"  The contest will run through October 21st and the winner (defined as whoever writes the entry I end up picking) walks away with a complete set of the UZUMAKI books (three volumes in all). Once again, I'll cover shipping.  (For those of you unfamiliar with UZUMAKI, Bill Sherman just wrote an excellent review and overview of the series on his blog, so rather than attempt my own write-up that would pale in comparison, I'll just direct readers to his piece.)  Sean, this is your big chance to get your hands on UZUMAKI for free!

Moving from horror to humor, SHORT CUTS Vol. 2 by Usamaru Furuya is still disturbing in many (though different) ways.  SHORT CUTS is a two-volume manga series collecting Furuya's short strips revolving around Japanese "ko-gals," defined on Viz's site as "ultra trendy teenage girls" and "highly evolved creature[s] of Japan's frantically trendy consumer culture."  I suppose ko-gals are like the modern Japanese equivalent of American Valley Girls.  Anyway, the strips in the books involve these beautiful yet shallow creatures (sometimes very tangentially), but the humor is fairly surreal and dark.  One series of strips deals with a homeless family whose father rents his wife and child out to strangers to make money.  Another recurring gag centers around Super-Girl Candy, a Powerpuff-like heroine who only rescues "cute things."  Happening upon a burning school, Super-Girl Candy ignores the homely schoolgirls' pleas for help, instead focusing her attention on the cute rabbits trapped on the roof.  As I said, it's all rather dark and twisted, but I found the book amusing.

So far the only other review I've seen of this book was at Comic Readers, and their reviewer didn't think the second volume measured up to the first:
Usamaru Furuya continues and concludes his exploration of the phenomenon of ko-gals in his bizarre and diverse collection of short strips called Short Cuts. As he did in the first volume, Furuya utilizes a variety of artistic styles and writing techniques to dissect the Japanese fascination with their high school girls. Also again, Short Cuts is filled with many pop culture references that are going to fly over the heads of us North American readers. Thank god for Akemi Wegmuller's footnotes at the back of the book.

Furuya's strips are bitingly funny, perverse and explorative, but this collection is weaker than the first because of a couple of things. First, Furuya repeatedly uses a small bunny-like character to represent himself as the manga-ka, sticking himself in the strips, and often making himself the main focus as he struggles to come up with ideas or fights with his creations. These kinds of strips fall flat in a collection focusing on ko-gals. Secondly, many of Furuya's ko-gal strips fall short in emotional impact, whether it is funny, sad, scary or creepy, even if his art is still a wonder. It seems as if all of Furuya's best strips were collected in Short Cuts volume 1, but then again, perhaps by the second volume, I've simply become desensitized to the message. (Chad Boudreau)

I haven't read the first volume recently, so perhaps Boudreau is right that the second volume isn't as good, but how could he not love a book that exposes the limitations of the clichéd "Angel/Devil" moralistic dichotomy?:

The Details: Story & art by Usamaru Furuya.  Published by Viz; 128 B&W pages; $12.95 US (although Viz's website incorrectly lists the price as $9.95). 
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