Between the line of the literary terror of horror books and the visual horror of scary movies lies an important but oft overlooked genre: the horror graphic novel, comic, manga, etc. The foundational works of many great artist and writer teams of the horror comic community–Wrightson, Wein, Mignola, McKean, Niles, Templesmith–have crafted incredible works of literary-visual terror.
But none are quite the master craftsman of the art combined with storytelling like Junji Ito.
While we will surely eventually discuss some of his one shots works, which pack terror into less than 200 pages, his series work is what he’s most famous for: Uzumaki in particular but also the subject of today’s review: Tomie.
The manga centers on the titular character: a mysterious, beautiful woman named Tomie Kawakami, identified by her sleek black hair and a beauty mark below her left eye.
Tomie acts like a succubus, possessing an undisclosed power to make any man fall in love with her. Through her mere presence, or through psychological and emotional manipulation, she drives these people into jealous rages that often lead to brutal acts of violence. Men kill each other over her, and women are driven to insanity as well — though there are some who are strong enough to resist her. Tomie is inevitably killed time and time again, only to regenerate and spread her curse to other victims, making her effectively immortal, not unlike Sadako, Kayako, or even American horror icons. And how can one defeat something permanently when one can never truly die?
The art of Tomie is in Ito’s distinctive early style, combining a sense of eerie not-quite-right-looking humans with the outright body horror of many of his more monstrous beings. Nowhere are these combined quite as well as Tomie who takes many spine-chilling (and cracking!) forms throughout the manga–as well as the decently spooky Japanese film adaptations of the volumes.
To put it simply, Tomie is one of Ito’s most iconic works for a reason. The splash pages alone are astounding and stomach-churning, but the level of detail he puts into all of his work is more than most. It is also helped instead of hindered by it unlike many types of art. Images of Tomie are second most popular on Ito merchandise after images from Uzumaki, though quite frankly I find much of Tomie more striking.
Tomie does deal with sexist violence and femicide, as well as gross out and body horror. Please be aware of this before picking up the book.
That said, it’s a set of books I adore. If you think you can handle it based on warnings and summaries, give it a shot! Just don’t catch Tomie’s gaze.