The Art of Junji Ito: Twisted Visions
Art: Junji Ito
Translation: Jocelyne Allen
Graphic Design: Adam Grano
Editor: Masumi Washington
Junji Ito is enjoying some renewed popularity in the English-speaking world, due in part to his first North American appearance at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May of 2019, courtesy of VIZ Media. VIZ has doubled down on their promotion and printing of Ito’s works, posting videos of the mild-mannered mangaka talking about his stories, and about what he finds scary. The Junji Ito Collection anime series even inspired some creepy clothing that can be found at Hot Topic, making it accessible to teens and twenty-somethings everywhere.
Ito’s new art book, Twisted Visions, was available to purchase in the original Japanese at Page & Panel, the comic shop located in the Toronto Public Library, where TCAF is held every year. The import price tag was high and quantities were limited, but those who missed out can rest easy knowing that VIZ has printed a near-identical release for North America. Not that anyone can rest easy after flipping through the artist’s illustrations, paintings, and comic pages, which span his whole horror-filled career.
The book is split into the sections “Tomie,” “Uzumaki,” and “Other Works,” the latter containing not only illustrations from Ito’s short story collections, but also album covers and paintings that are unattached to any tale as of yet. In an interview at the back of the book, Ito confesses that he believes that he’s not very adept with color, and his commentary on the works in question reflects that belief. His self-deprecation and dry wit is charming, reminding readers that even if his day job is drawing horrifying monsters and normal people being thrown into grotesque circumstances, he’s just a regular guy, a dad who loves cats.
That fact doesn’t prevent Ito from making some of the most twisted artwork out there, both literally and figuratively. On the cover a busty woman holds a stringy orb with a fetus inside, with two more women emerging from her voluminous hair. A pair of skeletons clutch at her neck as the hot pink sclera of her eyes bore into whoever has picked up this striking tome. Within, the mysterious and beautiful Tomie becomes a series of frightful monsters, multiplying and grasping for the viewer. One town’s lethal obsession with spirals is brought to near-silly heights with the watercolor painting “Uzumaki Woman,” in which a spiral hair monster with a curling tongue and eyelashes licks a terrified victim, her Kuchisake-onna-esque gaping mouth held together with springs.
Ito’s artwork is actually filled with depictions of women and girls, both as victims and as monsters. When asked about his interest in drawing girl characters, he responds: “It’s not so much that girls are easier to draw, it’s just that I enjoy drawing them. I do think life would be so much more fun if I could do nothing but portraits of beautiful girls.” He continues by stating his interest in branching out more from manga, including trying his hand at sculpture. But for now, his masterful inkwork shines through in this collection, with pages from his manga printed on silver paper to match the collection’s stunning jacket and endpages.
The sustaining mystery of Ito’s work is that even though it makes viewers uncomfortable, even though it is intended to horrify, it is incredibly beautiful. When he discusses his varied influences, he includes artists like H.R. Giger and Harry Clarke, citing that the latter gave him a phobia of blank spaces in artwork, compelled him to fill his entire page. This, paired with his undying admiration of horror-gag manga creator Kazuo Umezz, gives his artwork a unique balance of the bizarre, the delicately lovely, and often the hilarious. (Keep an eye out for the watercolor comic where Ito himself plays his cat Tenmaru like an accordion.) Twisted Visions gives fans a small peek into the mind of the artist, and a generous phantasmagoria to enjoy over and over again.
Whether your interest lies in gore, monsters, zombies, or pretty ladies, Twisted Visions is not to be overlooked. Ito superfans and art book collectors can find more information on how to obtain the collection through VIZ Media. While there, perhaps consider pre-ordering his upcoming collection, Venus in the Blind Spot, the next addition to the extensive Junji Ito library that VIZ is steadily compiling, set for release in August of 2020.