You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


If your own nightmares have not been up to par of late, I recommend you take a look at this book. Suehiro Maruo (B. 1956) is the master of ero-guro (erotic grotesque) manga. I first read his book-length work Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show. It was an outrageous grand guignol of misery, weirdness, and degradation. But compared to Ultra Gash Infrerno, it was Saturday matinee material.

This volume contains nine stories from the 1980's to 1993. Possibly they have been chosen for English translation to give the uninitiated an extreme immersion into Maruo's world. Or they may be typical. Titles like "Putrid Night," "Shit Soup", and "Voyeur in the Attic" let you know what you are getting in for. I doubt that characters like Spiderman and The Hulk need fear being replaced by Sewer Boy or The Great Masturbator in the hearts of the American reading public. 

 Maruo's work is elegantly drawn and according to commentators has its roots in everything from 1930's Japanese children's books to atrocity prints of the 19th century. I'll have to take their word for it. He excels in gore, sex, and combinations of the two. Female characters endure sex acts that leave them bloodied and injured, but they are capable of graphic revenge. Typical plot points include eyes gouged out, limbs lopped off, and wounds opened for reasons I will leave to your imagination. For me the scatology and coprophilia were the most disturbing elements. Moments of "Sewer Boy" struck me as merely disgusting. But maybe that is because it is the second story in the book and I hadn't yet been mentally whipped into submission. The essentially plotless "Shit Soup," on the other hand, was a beautifully rendered nightmare of degrading, repulsive images. Often with this sort of material, when I have encountered it in films, anime, or books, I have asked myself, "Is this trip really necessary?" I think to say something like, "Maruo's elegance and economy of style elevates his material to the realm of poetry," risks making one sound ridiculous. But I never felt he was asking me to wallow in filthy junk. I never felt like some teenager getting a thrill from watching Faces of Death.

"Non-Resistance City" (1993) is the longest story in the book. It take place during the Americanoccupation, a time Maruo did not experience first hand but he would have known from the films of Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, and the photography of Daido Moriyama. Maruo's story chronicles rape, social degradation, and ultimately cannibalism. It also contains an evil dwarf, a type of character he used often. 

Maruo's is a dark grotesque that reminds me of when Joel Peter Witkin first seemed like he was going to be a serious artist. Witkin isn't holding up over time. I am curious to see more of Maruo.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations! Very good! Your text is great. I am inspired to continue my blog and make texts about Suehiro Maruo.