Zombos Says: Excellent
Hideshi Hino's Lullabies From Hell is an essential tankōbon in any horrorhead's manga library. Hino is a queer duck, to be sure, and often incorporates much of his personal experience into his bizarre, visually disturbing stories.
According to an interview he gave for The Comics Journal, it was after reading Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man that he felt the need to combine horror with a sense of fairy tale. This led him to mix monstrous birth defects, other-worldly transmogrifications, and hideous characters—inside and out—with Japanese folktales, producing uniquely creepy and culture-transcending stories of terror.
There's a whimsical grotesqueness in Hino's artwork: he fills his panels with people endowed with oversized, misshapen heads staring madly at the reader with bulging, blood-shot eyes filled with large, zigzagging veins. All is definitely not right in his world, as body parts, disgusting creatures, blood and corruption—both physical and psychological—splash all over normal scenes of home, work and play.
In the opening story, A Lullaby from Hell, he introduces himself as a mangaka (manga author), who is obsessed with those terrible, unmentioned things peeking from just below the surface of normalcy. He describes his fascination with horror came at an early age, nurtured by a demented mother who tormented him, a father he rarely saw who worked at the factory right behind his house, and his abusive "horrible Yakusa" brother.
Soon, as things both living and dead bleed into one another in his mind, he begins to collect their parts in big glass jars so he can admire them for hours on end. In his admiration, he dreamed dreams of monsters and demons from hell that would, at his bidding, devour and torture people, especially those that abused him.
After being humiliated and abused once too often, he discovers he has a unique power: the ability to kill people with his drawings. And not just kill them, but mangle them, mash them, and do very nasty things to them. All because he could will it to be so.
In the next story, Unusual Fetus--My Baby, once again he is dreaming up a nightmare. He imagines his soon-to-be-born son as a "grotesque lizard" thing. Since this is a horror story after all, we get what he dreams up. In this nasty tale of phylogeny recapitulates ontogeny gone haywire, his son is born a lizard-like thing with an unusual appetite that is not satisfied with baby formula. For a while, our horror writer uses this unfortunate event to his advantage, and successfully sells his impossible story. But fate always intervenes, and soon what is abnormal for him is normal for all.
In another story, Train of Terror begins with three children happily returning from a day trip to visit relatives. Soon their laughter turns to cries of terror as they meet the boogeyman (in this case, a demonic mountain goblin perhaps?) as their train enters a dark tunnel. Exiting the tunnel on the other side, only they remain unchanged. Their fellow passengers now have dark, mask-like expressions and pupil-less eyes!
In the tradition of Invaders from Mars and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the hapless children are alienated and hunted, with no one believing their strange accusations. One boy even suspects his parents of being different and wonders what the thing in the large sack they are burying late one night is. He is soon on the run, evading hordes of dark, pupil-less classmates, and adults that want to cause him serious bodily harm. In a unique twist, we are left with a happy ending, but not for long?
Now picture if you will, Morticia Addams sitting by a nice cozy fire, cups of hot and frothy, mashed eye-of-yak spiked cocoa steaming away, and Wednesday and Pugsley curled up around her like some lamenting felines as she reads the fairytale, Zoroku's Strange Disease. Never has a children's story conveyed such purulent corruption in its narrative and textured artwork. How wonderful!
Zoroku, the titular hero of the story, yearns to draw colorful pictures, but the evil villagers make fun of him and his condition. It seems that a little rash has turned to a boil, and a boil to many, and many to something much, much worse.
Poor Zoroku becomes covered with a "colorful purulence," and the villagers and their children drive him away to solitude, deep into the forest by a strange lake. Unfortunately for him, the purulence gives off an odor that would curl paint, and his boils ooze so badly, maggots infest them in the hundreds. My, what a quaint Brothers Grimm fairytale kind of picture, don't you think? But there is a happy ending. Well, happy for a horror story kind of fairytale, that is.
Hideshi Hino blends his real and imagined selves into his fancifully grotesque stories too easily, revealing his fears and doubts with society and culture, making it a crapshoot as to where the real Hideshi Hino truly lives.
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