Masters of Horror Manga

Kazuo Umezu and Hideshi Hino

by Oliver Ho

18 November 2009

Where Kazuo Umezu is somewhat more traditional, Hideshi Hino strives to find beauty or at least to nuture a sort of awestruck fascination with horrific images and narrative elements.

Perpetually smiling and jokey, Kazuo Umezu seems to have cornered the market on “Where’s Waldo”-style red and white jerseys. He looks like a jovial dude, a little goofy, and more likely to tell a fart joke and giggle inapproprately than to plumb the macabre depths of emotions through haunting tales (unless fart jokes do that for you).

By contrast, Hideshi Hino looks like manga’s ichiban badass motherfucker.

Since the 1970s, these two mangaka have shaped the genre of horror in Japanese comics, and indirectly, Japanese and Western horror movies. Along with their love of terror, and degree of influence upon artists who followed them, Umezu and Hino also share a storytelling style that leans heavily on Japanese folklore, and an early grounding in comedic work.

With so much common ground between them, it’s their differences that make them compelling and fascinating subjects for comparison, even on a superficial level. For example, the two men could not appear more differently in public.

This Friday’s upcoming Iconographies feature will examine two seminal works by these artists, both of which were recently republished in the West: Umezu’s two-volume Cat-Eyed Boy, and Hino’s Lullabies From Hell.
Aimed at young audiences, both of these remarkably dark projects were created at roughly the same time (the late 1960s and early 1970s), which was also the period when both artists began to find fame. A brief study of these projects side-by-side and individually suggests interesting influence not only from Western and Japanese folk and fairy tales, but also upon later generations of manga and Western comic artists, as well as J-horror filmmakers around the world.

Umezu is the top icon. His work is the pre-eminent and most influential in the field of horror comics so much so that the top award in the field is named after him. His work, easpecially early on as in Cat-Eyed Boy, shows the strong influence of the “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. It’s easy to see a similarity between the visual style of Tezuka’s Astro Boy in the titular character of Umezu’s work.

But this also marked a point in Umezu’s career where he was emerging from Tezuka’s enormous shadow. This comes across not only in the visual style of Umezu’s more horrific scenes of monsters (both human and yokai), but also in the storytelling itself, which brings to mind traditional trickster tales as well as modern, often surreal metaphors of child abuse and violence.

Where Umezu is somewhat more traditional in terms of his storytelling and imagery, Hino seems more influenced by his troubled childhood, and his work strives to find beauty or at least to nurture a sort of awestruck fascination with horrific images and narrative elements. In its apparent love for the gooey grostesque, Hino’s visual style in this work seems to align him with Gahan Wilson, while his storytelling shows a strong tendency towards folk tales.

In an interview from 2006, the “Queen of Horror Manga,’ Kanako Inuki described the two artists:

“The drama in [Umezu’s] manga blooms from the horror in the daily life of abnormal, malformed worlds with warped realities ... [Conversely, Hino] tests one not to look at the world objectively, but to see through the strained eyes of oneself and…draws out the monster within the reader - all of us.”


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