Wednesday, October 25, 2006

TRANS-EUROPE EXPRESS 2: Dark Horse and non-crumbling Museums of Terror

While at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I spent all of my down time tromping around the halls visiting publishers' booths, checking out upcoming releases and trying to score free books (snagged about 15 books, including a copy of Epileptic, Jonathan Lethem UK editions and Buddha 3 in softcover!!). It sucked that a few friends/publishers-I-love, like Small Beer Press and Vertical, weren't in attendence, BUT, I did get a chance to visit the Dark Horse booth and talk with them about recent (and upcoming) releases!

First, let it be known: In the past year, Dark Horse has been my favorite US publisher of manga. SURE, other companies have put out some really fantastic stuff this year (Vertical : Buddha, Ode to Kirihito, Viz: Phoenix, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Drifting Classroom, Death Note, ADV: Cromartie High School, TokyoPop: Dragon Head) and jeez, what an amazing time for manga in English these days... But the really cutting edge and scary shit seems to keep coming out from Dark Horse. Shall we review this ? :
  • Lullibies from Hell by Hideshi Hino : After the publishing deluge of both amazing (The Red Snake, Bug Boy, The Living Corpse) and awful books by him, I thought I might be all HINO'd out. However, this collection turned out to be one of the best selections of his short stories to date. For those on the fence about Hino, this is the one to pick up.

  • Octopus Girl by Toru Yamazaki : I don't even know where to begin. The manga is a super smart & sassy parody of shojo, horror and gag manga. Each volume has been just slightly less satisfying that the first, but Octopus Girl is probably my FAVORITE comic that's come out in 2006. MY FAVORITE.

  • School Zone by Kanako Inuki : This ongoing haunted school tale is a little dense (and freaky!), but really satisfying if you take the time to dive in. As out-there as this manga gets, it's one of the best at describing the overwhelming terror of childhood! (Here's an excellent interview with her)

  • Mail by Housui Yamazaki : I've only heard bits and pieces about this one but it seems like a psychological, metaphysical Kairo meets CSI... maybe?

  • Ohikkoshi by Hiroaki Samura : Just got it this weekend - Looks like Blade of the Immortal, except it's about students, dating and slackerdom. The story itself kind of blows and feels confusing and aimless, but at least the art is cool.

  • The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service By Eiji Ohtsuka : Another cool 'horror' entry, this one is sortof an ensemble comedy, except with Buddhist rites, misplace bodies and Veronica Mars-esque private investigations.

The above alone make for a pretty fantastic catalogue... But there's another series that Dark Horse is undertaking that makes them officially, THE BEST PUBLISHER OF 2006 (oh yes, I said it!) :


At FBF, I basically gushed to the marketing dudes about how great this series is going to be. Let me tell you-- SOMEHOW (how EXACTLY does this stuff work?) Dark Horse was slick enough to snap up the rights to the entire Museum of Terror series (Kyoufuku no Hakubutsukan). This is a 15 book (!!!!) set that includes basically ALL of Junji Ito's notable short horror comics, along with the entire Tomie series. In case you're wondering, the scanlation we did (Falling by Junji Ito) should be included in the 5th book. (And YES, like good little moral scanlators, we'll be taking ours down once that book gets released in English!).

When I spoke to the guys at Dark Horse, I told them they deserve medals for putting out the Museum of Terror series, and I asked if they were planning to actually do the whole thing (Fuck, pleeez not another fiasco like the 2 year delay by Viz midway through the publication of Phoenix!). They told me this sobering state of affairs:
They want to put out all 15 volumes, but the first two books are NOT SELLING WELL.

Looking at their release calendar, you can see that while some other series are scheduled through next March 2007, there is no release date for Museum of Terror 4. SHIT!! They were actually quite surprised to hear that everyone WE know loves Junji Ito, is hungry for more comics by him, and that the imageboards are FULL of people passing around bootleg pages of Uzumaki and Gyo. Has anyone else picked up the recent Museum of Terror 1 & 2? Let's do a quick recap on what's come out so far and why the books coming next are the ones we HAVE to make sure get released!

Museum of Terror 1: This collection includes most of the original Tomie stories, and gives a really amazing peek at Junji Ito's earlier art style. The lines are clear, and the characters are depicted in a deceptively simple and beautiful manner. But the story itself is a twisted virus-meets-vengeful ghost tale about a girl (Tomie) that never dies. More than that, she provokes the intense desire and fixation of the men she meets, which invariably ends in them murdering and mutilating her.

It's an amazing manga full of SICK STUFF and the plot and scares are very visceral; The story also hints at and vaguely throws around some gender politics (and gender violence!) in the subtext. With Tomie, Junji Ito doesn't just spin one linear tale, but a sortof MYTHOS around Tomie that unfurls with each chapter. Like, hmmmm-- is she like a parasite that encourages being killed and mutilated as a form of her own propagation? Is she more like a virus that infects and changes to suit the weaknesses of her 'hosts'?

Admittedly, it can get repetitive, but especially with the first volume, it's really effective in a big dose. The last panel of the final story in this volume is SO. FUCKING. CREEPY. I yelped like a scared kitten and just threw the damn thing on the floor.

If you feel like you've seen Tomie around before, it's probably because the now-defunct publisher ComicsOne originally released some of Tomie in a two volume set. Yeah, previous to the Museum of Terror edition, the Tomie comics were VERY out of print, and cost a ridiculous amount to track down secondhand. Like a lot of ComicsOne editions, their printing of Tomie was shoddily translated, edited and the visual touch-up (signs in English, sound effects) were really awful. The company basically (as the rumor goes) packed up shop, stopped paying their bills and disappeared. The pieces and rights were later acquired by DR.Master and some of their more successful stuff got assimilated into the new company's catalogue.

Museum of Terror 2: The SECOND volume is also entirely Tomie stories, but it's mostly previously unpublished stories from when Junji Ito revisited the character in 1999 & 2000. You can feel him really escalating the limits of the Tomie 'mythos' here, with the depravity hitting really nasty levels... Making SAKE out of Tomie's mashed up flesh? Slashing her face over and over with a RAZOR? It gets ugly, but I found it really fascinating to see him draw these stories in his later style-- the more detailed, shakier line style he explored in Uzumaki and his newer comics. I am ready for a new subject after hundreds of pages (and more than a dozen variations) on the Tomie tale, but it's pretty fucking sweet to have the entire story in 2 hefty volumes.

As a final note note, the ordering of the stories in these two volumes reflect Junji Ito's own choice of how he wanted the chapters to be presented.

The next volumes are where the full potential and impact of this undertaking are going to be felt for manga/horror fans. The next 13(whoa!) volumes collect Junji Ito's SHORT STORIES, like those in the very out-of-print, funky-ass collection Flesh-Colored Horror, which was also doomed to be originally published by ComicsOne and include one of my favorite horror stories ever, his Dying Young.

Not to shill so hard for one specific publisher-- and we DO buy and support quality titles from all the major and indie publishers! -- but this is a series that NEEDS support so that you can have one whole shelf of your dorky comic bookcase (you have one, DON'T LIE!) filled with about 5000 pages of JUNJI ITO!

As a final note in this epic missive (and we're only at installment 2 out of 7!), I did come in contact with the holy grail of new(ish)horror manga at the Shogakukan booth in the Japanese area of the book fair: Junji Ito's newest book, Hellstar LRemina (地獄星レミナ)!! I tried (oh did I try) to talk their guy out of it, even offered him 10 euro for it! But I did get my eyes on it and the story looks FUCKING CRAZY. I've heard some mediocre things here and there in reviews, but it looks like this story takes a sharp twist for the SF and displays Ito's LOVECRAFTIAN impulses FULLY (moreso than even Uzumaki's nutzoid ending). I CAN'T WAIT TO BUY THIS (special ordering it from the Kinokuniya in SF this weekend). AWESOME MANGA ROLL CALL: female protaganoist, CRUCIFICTIONS in the STREET, PLANETS EATING PLANETS, HELL ON EARTH and COLLAPSING QUASARS causing LYNCH MOBS to run amok. FUCK YES! I'll post more once we get our hands on this...

NEXT UP: Trans-Europe Express 3: A preponderance of Maruo!

Edit (10/27) : I've since found a few good links about the stuff we talked about in this post. Check out this review of Hino's Lullabies from Hell and their take on Museum of Terror Volume 1. Also, Scott at AICN did a line by line comparison of the Dark Horse vs. ComicsOne editions of Tomie. Very interesting stuff!!


C.M.B. said...

That Museum of Horror series sounds awesome. I'd hate to see that series not get fully released. I'll have to go pick it up. Which reminds of "No. 5" and how only 2 volumes of the 8 got released in english. and how viz won't tell me what's up with that. do you guys have any idea?

also hellstar lemina sounds amazing. looking forward to more information about that.

Ryan said...

Clint. No. 5 is pretty awesome, but sadly I wouldn't expect that they'll release any more. I heard that Viz only sold, like, 1000 copies of volume 2... yikes.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the heads up. I'm going to order them. Don't think it'll help the situation much, but I've been waiting for a Junji Ito collection. I need to buy Uzumaki sometime too (I've read them all, but I only own Gyo by Ito).

Anonymous said...

Dang, just looking at it though, the first 3 books I've read already. :(

Ryan said...

spork: Yeah, the first volume is all stuff I had read before (the ComicsOne editions of Tomie 1 & 2) but this one has the chapters in proper order, with much better translation and editing throughout.

Museum of Terror volume 2, however, has 2 stories that were published previously, but the majority (about 300+ pages) are Tomie stories that have never been published in English before... And from Volume 3 on, it's going to be entirely 'NEW' stuff for english readers. I've seen the japanese editions of Museum of Terror at Kinokuniya in SF (i have volume 5 untranslated) and it looks like Dark Horse is following them very closely.

So, if you have the old ComicsOne editions then you probably could skip Volume 1, but volume 2, 3 (and hopefully the future volumes, if they get published) should interest you.

What's your favorite Ito story? Just curious to hear what is the stuff that got people into his comics :)
Mine is either 'Dying Young' from Flesh-Colored Horror, or the THE ENIGMA OF THE AMIGARA FAULT at the end of Gyo 2 !

Anonymous said...

can't get enoguh of the dark horse releases :)
im surprised they havent snapped up suehiro maruo's work!!

Anonymous said...

OMG, that's like a good dozen must-have Manga on the horizon in one go. How am I ever gonna decide which ones to go for. -__________-

Not that I'm complaining, of course. ^^

I will have to order Museum of Horror asap. The Hino collection and School zone as well. Corpse delivery sounds interesting. Mail is up to Vol. 4 or so in Germany, maybe I'll check it out, although it seems a bit more conventional, if you know what I mean.

I read Ohikkoshi a while back. It's basically stuff Samura did just for fun in his free time. The whacky story about the manga artist turned Mahjong shark is best, imo.

BTW, have you read Satoshi Fukushima's "Shonen Shojo"? For me it's the best manga I've read this year. Not horror though. More like the horror of real life, I guess. ;)

Anonymous said...

Uzumaki for sure. That's the first time I read Ito. The story was just so batshit insane that I loved it. Dying Young was very cool too. I like The Long Dream (though I only saw the comic). Gyo wasn't bad and I loved the Amigara Fault line, though I felt that one should've stopped a page earlier. I liked the idea of not really being sure what happened.

I like the ones that are more unique. Things like Tomie and Long Hair in the Attic feel more like standard fare in my opinion.

John T said...

Hello, Same Hat!

I cannot say enough about the Museum of Horror series. I talked to the guys at Dark Horse, and, like you said, they WANT to do the whole series...but it just depends on what the market will take. I will pick some up as Christmas Gifts this year...whatever it takes.

Scary Book is looking down the barrel at the same fate. Scary Book 4 is not on the schedule.

Let's do this, people!

Anonymous said...

Octopus Girl is probably my FAVORITE comic that's come out in 2006.

Oh, Ryan, have you forgotten Bomb Queen so soon?

Anonymous said...

Well, I can honestly say I've been doing my part to promote Museum of Terror at work. We always order in one for me, one for one of my co-workers, and a handful for the shelves. We've been getting all sorts of awesome horror manga for Halloween, so now it's just a matter of spreading the word. I'm definitely feeling the Dark Horse love.

It's been tough establishing a readership for Scary Book, Museum of Terror, Dragon Head, etc etc, which is kind of upsetting when I see boring shonen adventure titles flying off the shelf... but we're kind of a small town shop, so I guess it's understandable.

ps - since I'm a big language nerd I get a kick out of comparing the ComicsOne and Dark Horse translations of Tomie. I hope I'm not the only one who does this. :p

Anonymous said...

Hey. Yeah, Dark Horse has initially only committed to the first three volumes. I've not heard a word about volumes four and on -- and given the lead time between localization and printing of these volumes, that means that even should Dark Horse decide tomorrow to continue the line, they probably won't get around to publishing the rest until next fall.

Weird thing is, the first volume at least was the best-selling manga for several weeks in various third world countries that carry Englis manga translations; it's just over here that it's been having difficulty.

A reason for that might be that nobody carries the darned thing! Seriously, I went to every book store and comic shop in San Francisco looking for the first volume, for weeks after its release -- and nobody had even heard of it. Not Borders; not the small indie shops. The only place I was able to find a copy was in Japantown -- which on a level almost feels like it defeats the purpose of the localization.


Anyway. I really like volume three. Look forward to it; it's got some of my favorite moments in any of the first three volumes.

- Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh

Anonymous said...

I bought the first two issues through Previews, but the third one was never solicited!

I mean, how they want to sell the book if it's not avaliable even in Previews?

I will gladly buy the whole series - and I already had the ComicsOne editions! - but Dark Horse needs to make it avaliable to me...

Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Anonymous said...

The title is actually HELLSTAR REMINA. There is some English dialogue in the Japanese edition and they spell it "Remina".

Ryan said...

anonymous: thanks on the R vs. L tip. I hadn't seen the English dialogue so I didn't know it was officially Remina-- updated the post accordingly!@

Anonymous said...

The whole problem with Dark Horse's publication is that it was never very well marketed. When the Uzumaki and GYO series were released by Viz they did a major ad campaign in previews and in various comic fanzines. The "Museum of Horror" series was released with little or no fanfare and the cover art doesn't indicate that it is a horror comic at all.

Anonymous said...

a solution might be for dark horse to start printing on demand. this has worked in your guys beloved germany, where not-so popular titles like 20th century boys are being printed on demand for those who want it.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any more info on "Hellstar Remina"? It sounds awesome. Planets eating planets??

But really hard to get hold of. :(

Ryan S said...

Hey Count!

I actually have a copy, and read it last fall :)

I managed to pick it up used at Book-Off in New York.

It's pretty intense, a little bit messy along the end in terms of pacing and plotting, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Not a bad addition to the growing canon.

Maybe if I get a chance I will post a few of the best panels in a future post.

Where have you been looking? The ISBN from the back of the book is: 4091860834, if that helps!


Anonymous said...

Great thanks for that. Good reviews on the other site too. ^-^