Enter the bizarre and terrifying nightmares of a horror master if you dare…

“My name is Hideshi Hino. I am a managka who obsesses over bizarre and terrible things… In this rickety old two-story house, surrounded by factories and chimneys… …I draw grotesque manga every day.”

This is the macabre dialogue that opens Hideshi Hino’s story Lullabies From Hell (collected in the now out-of-print book of the same name from Dark Horse Comics).  Hino draws himself in a grotesque fashion; with bug eyes and oily tendrils of hair melting down his forehead. He proceeds to talk about how he might be loosing his mind and how every time he has a fit, he now cuts off an ear or a finger. This version of Hino shows the audience all of the bizarre things he owns. They begin telling their life story and lets readers know how his parents rejected him. Towards the end he reveals his special ability. After learning the lullaby of hell, he can now kill anyone he wants simply by imagining their death. He points to the reader and says “YOU’LL DIE NEXT!” 

Cover to Lullabies from Hell, art by Hideshi Hino. From the personal collection of the author

That story, originally published in 1977, still has the power to unsettle. Hideshi Hino remains second to none in his power to repulse or unsettle an audience with his macabre comics even today. This master of horror comics was born in 1946, the child of Japanese immigrants in occupied China. Some of his first memories were the violent escape of his family back to Japan. His horrifying comics work first gained notice in the groundbreaking anthology Garo, a Japanese magazine geared towards more avant-garde work. In his comics, Hino draws from his childhood growing up in the country and the many stories he heard there. Additionally, his work draws from a wide variety of influences including fairy tales, cinema, and world literature. Hino has previously seen his work published in the United States. Unfortunately those works have long been out of print. Thanks to the efforts of publisher Star Fruit Books, through their Blood Orange line, Hino’s macabre work can once again haunt frighten American readers.

Hideshi HIno
Hideshi HIno

American readers new to Hino’s work might need adjust their expectations to his art. People who expect something with the refined lines and shadows of his 70s contemporary Kazuo Umezz or the modern master Junji Ito will be in for a shock. Hino draws comics in a disturbingly cartoony and gory manner. His characters look bug eyed, have tentacled hair, or drawn in a bizarre caricature. Hino definitely loves ilustrating a variety of bodily fluids, like blood and pus, in his comics. Fans of manga artists with a more cartoony style like Osaka Tezuka or Shigeru Mizuki who drew grotesque monsters in their comics probably won’t be ready the first time they see an eyeball ripped out. The closest comparison to his visuals are the comics of Gilbert Hernandez, especially his mid-2000s work like Speak of the Devil. The two artist share a passion for strange, dream like storytelling. Still Hino’s work aims to shock and truly upset readers in a way the violence in Hernandez’s comics does not. 

What makes Hino brilliant is that he is a horror comics artist’s horror comics artist. Few comic artists practice so many veins of horror in the brilliant way that Hideshi Hino does. Some artists capture the gnarly transformations of body horror well. There are horror artists who draw gore and monsters with panache. Other artists use the medium of comics to convey horror with the logic of a dream and a spooky atmosphere. These artists might be great at one or two of those storytelling elements but maybe not all of them. Hideshi Hino is a rare horror artist that does all of those things with incredible skill. In this way, Hino’s comics seem like the natural progression of EC Comics‘ horror titles. Like Hino’s work, those horror comics featured a variety of stories with different versions of the macabre. Only his comics go to gruesome extremes that those artists could not.

From The Town of Pigs by Hideshi Hino, published by Star Fruit Books

Hino always makes his protagonists individuals who society ostracizes or others. Sometimes people deem characters, like the leads Bug Boy and Hell Baby, as freaks even before they become actual monsters. As these characters commit murder and act horrifically, Hino dares the reader to feel empathy for these characters. The leads who don’t physically become monsters remain people who operate on the fringes. They always witness the madness and obscenities of his stories. These characters frequently descend into new levels of hell or madness, sometimes both. 

Take the story The Town of Pigs, now available from Star Fruit Books. Hino introduces readers the narrator, an unnamed young boy, as they sit in chains. This young boy tells readers that on the night of a blood moon a group of demons hunted every person in their town. They barely escape capture and hide on the outskirts of town. He then wanders the now ruined town and occasionally keeps an eye on his family and friends. As the story progresses, the captives tell him their new demonic masters will turn the townspeople into pigs. The demons execute anyone who refuses this transformation in grisly manner. The boy finally tries to escape but his demon tormenters catch him. As readers return to the beginning, these monsters reveal they have the same face as the narrator.

Town of Pigs by Hideshi Hino
Town of Pigs by Hideshi Hino

The story operates on pure nightmare logic. The events of the graphic novel proceed swiftly transporting readers from one moment to the next. What Hino reveals at the end of The Town of Pigs might not make any logical sense. The ending and the story operate inside the perfect logic of a nightmare. The ending is its culmination of this nightmare state. Naturally in a dream, the monster or demon we run away from is ourselves. This is one of the reasons his macabre comics are so brilliant. His work has the ability to induce a nightmare state and forced readers to confront themselves.

From The Town of Pigs by Hideshi Hino, published by Star Fruit Books

Even the versions of him narrating stories never seem like people accepted by others. In the soon to be republished Panorama of Hell, Hino blends autobiography and nightmare. His stand-in narrates a story of his life and the horrific things in it. As the book progresses, things only become more nightmarish. That mix of the real and the unreal makes Hino one of the most singular horror authors of all time.  

From the back cover of Panorama of Hell by Hideshi Hino

To read the macabre comics of Hideshi Hino is to read the comics of a true master of horror. Few horror artists create comics that still simultaneously repulse and terrify even after 40 years. Hino’s comics show a master not content with telling one kind of story. The grotesque images he draws are not easily forgotten. It’s a crime that Hino’s work has been out of print in the English language for so long. Thankfully that won’t be true for much longer.

The Town of Pigs is available to order from Star Fruit Books while Panorama of Hell is now available to pre-order. You can follow Hideshi Hino on X/Twitter at @hino_hideshi